To Plot Or Not To Plot? That Is The NaNoWriMo Question…

With #NaNoWriMo2017 about a week away. The oldest of questions has reared its ugly head at my writing desk… To plot or not to plot..? Whether you attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time or the eighteenth time you’re probably contemplating this fundamental question. Though if your one of the original 21 people who took part in the first NaNoWriMo way back in 1999 you’ve probably have figured out your own approach by now. If however, you’re a NaNoWriMo virgin, then it’s a safe bet you’re wondering what the best approach is… So this post is for you…

If you have never heard of NaNoWriMo, you can find out what I am talking about here at an earlier post on the subject… It has calendars and all sorts…

There are two main approaches people take to NaNoWriMo, the plotters approach, and the ‘fly by the seat of your pants‘ approach, and to be clear from the start, there is nothing wrong with either of them. They both have advantages and disadvantages, and most people probably end up falling somewhere between the two. At the end of the day, you should take the approach you feel will suit you best, and ignore any advice to the contrary, but it helps to know the options. So in the somewhat vainglorious hope that it may be helpful to someone, here is a brief summing up of the approaches…

 

30 days of plot...

Pantser’s And Pantsing…

Flying by the seat of your pants‘ should require little explanation, but everyone loves a helpful definition… The phase technically means to decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a predetermined plan… or to pilot an aircraft without all those irritating navigation aids and other clutter in the cockpit. In terms of NaNoWriMo when someone is referred to as a ‘Pantser’ it is someone who just sits in front of the keyboard and starts to write. Just throwing everything down in the hope of building up- momentum and just keeping going. Pantsers embrace their imagination and intuition in full and just run with them. Which is you can pull it off is a neat trick.

Upside to Pantsing:

  • Lack of self-imposed constraints.
  • Freedom to roam where the story takes you.
  • The wild abandon of creation…

flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-experiences-experimenting-in-games-education-16-638

Downside to Pantsing:

  • Running out of steam.
  • Writing yourself into a hole.
  • Lack of cohesion.

Plotting like Machiavelli…

There are many ways to plot a novel NaNoWriMo, and many degrees of plotting. The whole idea of which is to construct a framework in which to write. These can be as details or not as you wish. Brain maps and post-it note plot walls, as well as plot grids (often referred to as the J.K style these days), are all popular. Some claim they are essential to guide you when you write, particularly with NaNoWriMo as you can build them to give structure to your writing and keep you focused on the overall plot, which helps you to avoid wrong turns and dead ends…

Upside to Plotting:

  • If you know where you’re going its easier to follow the path.
  • Avoids wrong turns and lack of cohesion.
  • Keeps you going as you know whats ahead.

Post-It-Writing-Outline

Downside to Plotting:

  • The constraints of your plot path can seem binding.
  • Hampers wild creation.
  • Knowing where you’re going can make the journey more of a bind.

The Minimalist Approach…

As you’re not actually writing there is nothing at all wrong with plotting everything, it’s not cheating in any way; indeed there is a lot of encouragement to do so. There is some conjecture that Plotters are more likely to be successful than Pantsers, there is, however, no actual documented proof of this. No study I am aware of at any rate. It is, however, the route most people encourage you to go down. Some preparations before you sit down on November the first to write your first words are advisable at any rate. Even if it is just a title (which you need to register anyway), the names of the main characters and a vague direction of travel. Otherwise, the blank page will just stare at your for a while, but how much plotting do you actually need?

Well, you don’t need any, as the dedicated ‘Pantser’ inside me will tell you. I have always written with only a minimal amount of plotting. I find forcing characters to follow a plot is a bit like herding cats. Yet that’s a lie to an extent. I plot as well as any plotter. I just aim for a fluid approach to plotting. I like to plot a few chapters ahead, and the further ahead, the more grey in the plot, but I stick to broad strokes rather than tie myself down. The vast majority of the story takes shape as I write, and as ideas occur to me. I keep a notepad open and scrawl in notes as I go when something occurs to me, normally when a character says or thinks something unexpected. The plot evolves ahead of the story, and I have a vague idea where it is going, though I can’t swear its where it will end up, as I write the notepad will grow, generally experientially. I may write my 1330 words on the 1st, but by the end of that, I will have five more plot points on my list. By the end of the second day, it will be eleven or twelve. Plots, like characters, evolve organically, and like any organism, they can start to do what you least expected at the start, which is why I like to write that way.

This is my style, I don’t recommend it as such, it is just what works for me, in particular when I am working within the confines of NaNoWriMo, because I find it better not to worry about where I am going, and just to steam ahead. However, it may help people new to NaNoWriMo to have a glimpse of my own plottings. Also, I intend to blog along as I write this year, with a short post each day on my NaNoWriMo experience. I suspect the blog-a-day will fall down occasionally, as the NaNoWriMo writing will take precedence but we will see how that goes. So having a glimpse of the planning makes sense as well, with that in mind…

The Elf-Kings Thingy…

This is my working title, mainly because I haven’t really figured out what the ‘Thingy’ is, just that it is missing, and the hunt for it is one of the main plot threads. So far I have a few brief character sketches (and here I am cheating slightly because they are characters from my ‘scrap ends’ which I am going to use as the basis for the novel), This is also nothing like anything I normally write, which is why I chose it. This way I get a break from my usual fiction and the sequel to Passing Place and the First Hannibal novel can take a back seat for a while. After all, this is supposed to be purely for fun (which is the best excuse in the world if it turns out to be a load of codswallop…) What I end up with will be whatever it turns out to be.

Brief Characters Sketches…

Mr Spleen, a practical lawyer (thug), technically a zombie, dusty, very dry sense of humour, some would say arid, very English. Viciousness hid behind polite apologies with no weight behind them ‘I’m sorry but I need to remove your tongue…’

de’Manfess, Mr Spleens partner, (another thug) not human, (not sure what he is, werewolf, demon, beast…)   rhymes everything, badly, as a rule, vicious with no apology, kept in check by Mr Spleen… Think Lord Byron on cocaine…

The Elf-king, every bad, mad king ever. Hern the huntsman with a bit of Joffrey thrown in. Ruling a court of lackwits and lackeys… Unthinking tantrums reminiscent of a two-year-old commonplace…

The girl, A girl from the real world who by accident or someones else design ended up ‘borrowing’ the Elf Kings thingy. Nieve, and in wonderment of the world…

The Queen, ice cold to the Kings hot-bloodedness. Calculating, never contrite. Despises the King for his weaknesses, but is crueller in that she thinks about what she is doing and does it anyway…

Chapter Briefs, with plot pointers…

Chapter 1.  introduce de’Manfess and Mr Spleen, Practical Lawyers, Start with de’Manfess, and Spleens general disparaging, end with a phone call…

Chapter 2.  Earlier, The king’s court, a lowly courtier trying to explain that the ‘thingy’ has been ‘stolen’ to the king. The king’s wrath. Calling in the ‘practical’ lawyers

Chapter 3. The girl, recalling a dream, where she went to a strange place, hints at being called there. Then discovers strange object on her bedside table. The dream was not a dream, she has the thingy, in the mortal realm.

Chapter 4. Planning to cross into the mortal realm the lawyers are ‘accosted by the queen’s guard and brought before her. She insists they bring the Thingy to her not the king…

Chapter 5. The girl goes to school, with the thingy in her bag, strange occurrences, hears voices, sees odd doors, doors form her dream, meets a cat, who is not a cat (esqwith?)

Chapter 6. some more stuff happens here…

In summary

Okay, you get the idea, so far it is far from original, but then again there are only so many stories, what makes something truly original for me is the magic that happens when you start to write. That will happen no matter how much you plot, or if you just fly by the seat of your pants. By the time I get to November the 1st, the plotting will be further along and so will the character sketches, but not much further. Perhaps I will know what the ‘Thingy’ is, beyond just a slightly odd piece of innuendo…

To everyone reading this who has decided to give NaNoWriMo a go, best of luck. You will hopefully be able to follow my progress via my blog, at least until I have no time to write the blog because I have fallen behind with my word count.  You can also track my progress on the NaNoWriMo site at https://nanowrimo.org/participants/mark-hayes you can if your doing it yourself even be a writing buddy if you are mad enough…

Speaking of calendars, as I did very briefly much earlier in the post. Here is my favourite one, which I did not use on that original post earlier this month…

nanowrimo_calendar_by_reapthebeauty-d31npzj

 

Much more NaNoWriMo to come obviously but until then adios…

Mark

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