If you’re reading this, you’re probably getting ready to embark on the amazing adventure that is NaNoWriMo!
That’s fantastic, I adore NaNoWriMo, the atmosphere is addictive, it’s such a buzz.
You’ve probably been told that your best chance of succeeding at NaNoWriMo is to have at least some basic idea of a plot before you dive in. I’ve got to be honest, I agree. Now don’t get me wrong, pantsers have and do win NaNoWriMo! I’ve done it myself. It is easier if you have some form of a plan though.
Outlining is a huge topic, there are so many methods, and this is the quick guide. I’m going to break it down into the broad strokes, starting with the simplest most bare-boned outline, and going more and more indepth from there.
The very barest of outlines.
The very barest outline, to my mind at least, is going to be this. Put together a single sentence that sums up your core plot. My sentence for Infernal Ties is:
Evie’s twin Quin has gone missing, she’ll do whatever it takes to get him back, even ally with the very supernals she hates.
Then go down and write a sentence for the core plot points. Some people like to use freytag’s pyramid for this:
You can write a single sentence for the core parts:
Opening scene, what changes to start the plot, what’s the big climax, and how does it all end.
That’s the bare bones of a book right there, and that could be all you need for NaNoWriMo. It gives you something to focus on, to build towards, without taking away the sheer glee of discovering all the bits in between.
For those who want a few more details.
That might not be quite enough of a framework for some of you, and that’s completely fine. We have to do what works for us.
If you want a few more details, a bit more scaffolding to work around, then I recommend trying these two methods:
Either, write a full paragraph for each of the core parts. Describe the opening scene, the moment everything changes, and so on. Give it one hundred and fifty words, or however many work for you. Get it straight in your head. That still gives you all that wriggle room between, great if you want a surprise and some excitement in there.
Try writing a single sentence per chapter. Aim for around about thirty sentences. Just one sentence to act as a guide post.
Infernal Ties might look like this:
Evie fretting over Quin not coming home.
Evie confronts the lycans.
And so on.
For those who really like to outline.
This is where you can start really digging into those outlines.
One method here, would be to give each chapter a paragraph of what happens. Write down the core conflict and the mini plot arc that happens in that chapter.
Another is to break down your entire plot into the core plot, and subplots, and types of scene. This is something I did for one of my books (it freaked me out, it was too much for me). Then colour code each of those things. So have your core plot as say orange, your romantic subplot as lilac, your subplot about a government conspiracy as baby blue, your action scenes as green, your romance scenes as yellow, and so on.
Then, break each chapter down into those headings. Which plot or subplot is it focusing on? Give a description of how it does that. Then what type of scene is it? An action scene, a love scene? Explain what you’re hoping to achieve within those parameters.
For example, (I pulled this story out of thin air):
Main plot – (discovering the necromancer’s father and stopping the evil sister from taking over the world.)
Bob, the necromancer, finds a note hidden in an ancient leatherbound book that was stashed away under some dried flowers that his Mum had been oddly protective over. Said note has his father’s name on it, something he’s been striving to find out for years. He wonders if his Mum knew it was there, and if so, why she kept it so hidden. Begins looking at places where he can track down the name.
Just as Bob is about to head to the library to do his research a pair of ninjas leap in through a window and try to snatch the note. Bob was caught unawares but kicks ninja ass. This shows Bob’s fighting prowess and makes the reader wonder who the ninjas were, how they knew Bob had the note, and why they want it.
Subplot: (getting to know his half-sister better)
Jane, the half-sister, bumps into Bob post ninja fight and is torn between concern for Bob’s health, and fury that the living room is now a mess. They have a verbal sparring match that leaves Bob frustrated.
When I did this, I then put those colours into a spreadsheet so I could see how balanced the plot and subplots were, and how the scene types ran throughout the book. Did I have a glut of romance and not enough action? Was there a big gap in my main plot progress?
My spreadsheet looked like this:
I write shortish chapters, at 900 – 1200 words, so there were about 65 chapters. Each with details and colour-coding like that.
In the past I’ve written out character arcs and woven them into the outline, for example, Bob’s might look like:
Starts off closed-minded and hating the necromancer community, gradually comes to realise that they’re one big family and they’ve been looking after him. At the end he’s becoming a pillar of the community and a diplomat for them in the larger supernatural society.
That can then be broken down into a chapter by chapter outline, to run alongside the main plot and subplot outlines.
As I said, this is a quick rundown of outlining methods and approaches, there are lots of methods and ways out there. You have to do what works for you. Don’t be scared to play, and experiment. If you want a great book on outlining then I recommend 2k to 10k by Rachel Arron. It’s only 99c, I have read it myself and definitely recommend it.
You can also look at how I’ve gone about planning this year’s NaNo novel here.
For those who’re curious, here’s the complete outline for a book I’ll likely never write. (Click to enlarge it and make it readable).
If you found this post helpful jump over to Amazon and check out my Urban Fantasy.