Outline as Road Map in Planning for NaNoWriMo

Free-For-All Friday: Outline as Road Map in Planning for NaNoWriMo

Hello everyone! As many know, NaNoWriMo starts on Tuesday, Nov 1st, and many of us writerly types are frantically preparing summaries and character sketches and outlines and so forth as we await the NaNo kick-off at midnight.

A couple weeks ago, I thought I was doing well on keeping up with my schoolwork and would have plenty of time to prepare for and do NaNoWriMo.  And then early last week, the semester blew up in my face and things have been pretty crazy around here ever since.  I have not, therefore, had much time to think about my NaNo story, let alone do any of the usual detailed planning I usually do.  But I’m hoping I’ll still be able to pull off NaNo with some effort, little sleep, and lots and lots of coffee.  *crosses fingers* So last night, I finally decided on a title (which may change later, but maybe not), and a wrote a summary/blurb thing.  I also have a fairly decent handle on the main characters.  But where I usually have a pretty detailed plot outline by now, I have only the bare bones of the major plot points.  I’m going to be doing a lot more pantsing this month than I usually do.

That’s not to say I ever follow my outlines all that closely anyway.  But they are useful for direction.  I think of them as a detailed itinerary and road map for a long road trip, that gives me very clear instructions of where to go and when.  BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t get sidetracked or take alternate routes when I see some interesting or useful sign on the road.  Sometimes when I get sidetracked I can improvise my way back to the main road, and continue on with my itinerary with just that small addition.  Sometimes I get so far off the beaten path I have to simply make up a new route altogether and revise my itinerary accordingly.  But I still like to have the initial road map to begin with.  At least then I know where all the major landmarks, highways, and rest-stops are.  So to speak…  Otherwise, I might end up forgetting what state I’m in, let alone where I was headed.

I think it’s completely possible to have this kind of initial plan and still be a pantser at heart.  Because even with the map, you still never know what you might run into or where you might end up there might be a roadblock, construction, a sign pointing to really interesting scenic route or tourist trap you just can’t resist, and so on and then you have to improvise and quick-step your way back to your main plot/goal (and maybe you even change your mind and decide you’re not going to Los Angeles, you’re going to Las Vegas instead).  I highly recommend at least a basic list of important landmarks and highway exits to get you started.

But that’s just my two-cents.  *shrugs*

In any case, this time around, I don’t have the whole map and itinerary to work with.  I just have 5 or 6 of the major landmarks I have to reach with no clear idea how exactly to get to them.  It ought to be interesting…

If anyone wants to add me to your Writing Buddies list (once they get that up and running on the site), I go by “YummieYami” there (don’t ask, long story).  Also, for anyone who might be curious, here’s the summary I’ve come up with for my story, which is a weird, twisted retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid (set in an epic fantasy world I’ve created for a series of books):

Seaspell

When Jemirai, third daughter of King Uzon’yr of the Bheidien the People of the Sea risks not only exposure to humans, but human lives as well, Uzon’yr fears little can be done to make his angry, callous, rebellious daughter change.  And then he comes to a decision: he will turn Jemirai into a human and send her to live among them in hope she will learn patience and compassion.  To prevent her from using some magic to reverse his decision, Uzon’yr takes her voice as well.  And then he sends her to the sea-side principality of Emen, where the advisor of the heir-apparent, Prince Garan, was once Bheida himself, before becoming human for the love of a woman.

Prince Garan, at his advisor’s behest, takes the mute, cast-away princess under his care, despite his preoccupation with the illness of his father and his unwillingness to assume the throne.  Unknown to him, his cousin Duke Akthon has plans for the throne himself, believing Garan too soft-hearted to be an effective ruler.

Jemirai, meanwhile, resists her new life as a human, and is desperate to return to the sea.  Then an ancient sea-demon called Wave-Waker appears to offer her a wager: if Jemirai makes Garan fall in love with her within three months and kill him on their wedding night, Wave-Waker will return her to the sea; if she fails, Wave-Waker will devour Jemirai’s soul.

Jemirai accepts.  But that’s just the beginning.

So, who else is doing NaNo?  What’s your project about?  Do you do a lot of planning for it, or do you just go at it and see where you end up?

Writerly Habits 4: Plotter Addicts and the Pantsers Who Love Them

Hi, my name is Amanda Rudd and I am an addict.  A Plotter Addict.  There, I said it.  I am addicted to character sheets, bullet-pointed lists, timelines, researching, drawing diagrams and maps, writing thousands of words of history and backstory and world-building descriptions (plenty of which never makes it into the actual story).  I do not, like some writers I’ve met, plot out every single scene for every single chapter (okay, SOMETIMES I do…), but I DO always have all major plot points mapped out (leaving it up to the first draft to figure out how all those plot points proceed, one to the next and so on).  I have all of my major characters as fully fleshed-out as I can manage before I begin.  I generally know how the story will end (though there are a few excepts to this rule).

This is not to say that I always end up FOLLOWING everything I planned out.  I believe that carving your plot plans in stone and never allowing yourself to color outside the lines is a very dangerous habit.  I imagine it would be stifling, leading to complete frustration and/or boredom with the story, and completely remove any sense of adventure or discovery in the writing itself.  And that sense of adventure and discovery is, for me, one of the main attractions of writing.  So, I plan and diagram and map-out to my heart’s content, and for the most part I stick to the major points as I write, but I never hand-cuff myself to the plan.

This has led to some very interesting circumstances.  For instance, as I mentioned above, I generally know how a story will end.  That is often one of the first things that comes to mind (and sometimes it’s the only thing that comes to mind, and I have no idea how I’m going to get to that ending).  However, I have a few stories where I know everything EXCEPT the ending.  This is generally because the direction of the plot and the natures of the characters lend themselves to several possibilities of how the story could end, all of which would be equally plausible but of different tones with different reactions from the reader.  And so all I can do is write the story and see where it leads me, hoping that something within the writing itself, in the way the characters evolve, or in the ways I do or do not change the plot, lead me to the RIGHT ending for the story.

I have also written myself into a number of corners, especially when I deviate from the plot plan I had originally devised.  This can be frustrating, but it can also be fun and even illuminating.  It is thrilling when I find ways of working myself out of the corner I’ve backed myself into, without having to change anything fundamental about what had led me to that point.  And it is also thrilling to see how these situations and my working-out of them, changes the plot from then on (or not).  However, there are still many times when I’ve simply had to go back and re-write whole scenes in order to insure that I simply don’t end up in that corner to begin with.

In the mean time, pantsers have simply jumped into the writing, and occasionally throw a pitying glance and shake of the head in my direction.  “Poor Amanda,” they say, “she’s spent days, maybe even weeks, planning all this stuff out, only to discover she won’t end up following more than half of it.  Why doesn’t she just quit the foreplay and get down to it?”  I’m sure they have a point (though pantsers are in just as much danger of getting stuck as I am), but I’m afraid it’s too late for me to change.

There is much more I could say about plotting vs. pantsing, but far wiser bloggers have written on the subject before, and I now defer you to them.

Chuck Wendig’s “Pantser versus Plotter: The Hoedown Throwdown Shakedown Takedown” is a fantastic article advocating for plotting in Chuck Wendig’s imminently “calm and balanced manner” (or rather, the opposite).

Cid Tyer discusses “The Novel Notebook” – a brainstorming/planning template created by Lynn Viehl.

And here, paranormal romance author Kait Nolan compiles a collection of resources/templates to help in the planning process.

You’ll notice that these links tend more toward the plotting side because plotters like to share the methods of planning that they have found to work for them, while pantsers just get to pantsing it.

So, writers, which are you?  Plotter or pantser?  Or perhaps a little of both?