Never mind ‘Winter is Coming’ folks -- the weeks are slipping away and ‘NanoWriMo is looming.’ Here's some tips to help get you through the rough stages.
Yep, it’s that time of year once more. Again, I said to myself, I’m going to do Nano this year and yet, I’m head down into a full revision of my trilogy (the produce of three Nano wins) and I have made no plan on how to plot out any of the three big ideas I have for my next projects.
Writers are always tempted by the shininess of projects-that-dare-to-entice in favour of the fading light on projects-that-are-yet-to-breathe. The dilemma: dive into another project, risk derailing this one and become a writer who can never finish what they started? I.E. abandon the fight with our own white walkers, or scarper to the sunnier climes of Meereen, get drunk, make new friends, have some laughs, a bar brawl and get thrown into jail? Therein runs the danger we might not be bailed out.
The problem with revision and edits is that it doesn’t much resemble the creative process and excitement that comes with discovering the first draft, even though, conversely, in later drafts you go on to discover more about your characters and plot you hadn’t anticipated prior. So the temptation is crucifying. Especially when you have several strong ideas to pursue. Yes, it would be fantastic to surrender to creative abandon and just write without having to think about shaping, pacing, teasing out themes, getting the message across -- all the headachey stuff that comes with revision. But books do not become books without all those headaches. Not unless you have little sense of standards, that is.
I’m still not decided if I’m going to participate in Nano, and if I do I will be completely pantsing it, which I’ve never done before (I’ve always know the ending, roughly, which gave me a focal point to head towards).
So, here’s an approach that might help you if you are uncertain on what your Nano project should, or would, look like, or if you’ve never written a book before and have no idea about story structure, or don’t have the time to learn before ‘November is coming’.
My best advice if you are taking the seat-of-you-pants route is to work scene-by-scene on the basis of Goal, Conflict, Outcome; Reaction, Dilemma, Choice (as in: what decision does the protagonist take?) This way you can outline a few chapters at a time as you go -- or even just one chapter at a time -- and provide your writing with some much needed focus and drive. It might not yet encompass the destination but at least you'll have some kind of a road map.
The main story problem, goals and obstacles should organically grow and with them a clearer picture of where you are headed. Just make sure you keep asking yourself those questions in that order. Everything else is cladding. And you never know, maybe the heat of all that forward momentum will lead you to Meereen, or somewhere like it, after all.
The other advantage of using this structure is that, because you don’t have a preconceived plan of what should happen and where, it inherently feels more flexible. When writing is forced into places it shouldn’t organically go it becomes contrived and that’s what we all strive to avoid.
Another vitally important piece of planning you can use as a guide and will help give some backbone to your story is the emotional arc -- how does your character begin and how will they end up, psychologically? Maybe they are cowardly at the start and brave by the end, for example. For a better understanding of this type of plotting, watch my ten minute free video: How to Plot Your Story Arcs.
So, Nano is looming. But hopefully, sticking to this rough plan will not leave you feeling banished to the cold.