Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 6 - On Plotting

Okay, I'm a wee bit behind.

Because I was at the Delaware Book Festival from the 1st to the 4th, I didn't get started on the new Jack book until yesterday morning.

So far, I've got about 3200 words done---about 13 pages. Not bad, but I'll need to step it up if I want to reach my 50k quota. Especially since I promised two author friends I'd read their current manuscripts, and next week I'll be in Wisconsin and Tennessee for four days, and I still have a 10k novella due, along with a short story collaboration that I'm working on with F. Paul Wilson, which has always been a dream of mine since I've been reading him since 1982 and I think he's a God so I don't want to screw it up.

It's going to be a busy month.

That said, in my free time I've been thinking a lot about the new novel, and even though I don't have an outline for it I've already got a pretty good idea of what I want it to be about. Which begs the question: What is plotting and how is it done?

I've talked with many authors, both newbie and pro, who have difficulties with plotting. Personally, I think it's the easiest part of writing. I believe the main goal of plotting is to make the reader want to know what happens next. To do that, there are some pretty simple tricks that anyone can master.


1. Give your character a goal. All narratives require a quest of some sort. It could be a quest to catch a killer, or get a boyfriend, or find self awareness, but in every case the story begins with the hero deciding upon the goal and beginning the quest.

2. Don't let your character reach her goal. The plot then comes down to making it difficult for the character, throwing obstacles in her way. Other characters with opposing goals, the environment, and turns of events can all conspire to make reaching the goal more difficult.

3. Use what you've got. If you're stuck, reread what you've already written. Chances are, your subconscious has already planted something in the manuscript that you can build upon. The car trouble alluded to in chapter 3 can become a huge problem in chapter 8. The sneeze in chapter 1 can become the flu in chapter 11. The argument in chapter 4 can become divorce papers in chapter 9.

4. Think about the worst thing that can happen. After you've written a character for a few dozen or hundred pages, and have gotten to know her like a family member, you're going to better understand her goals, fears, and motivations. Think about the most horrible thing that can happen to her, then make it happen.

5. Overcome the obstacles and reach the goal. That's it. You've written a narrative. Congrats.

If you're struggling to write what happens next, or you're stuck in the boring middle section of the book, go back and seed it with more goals and obstacles and foreshadowing. And try to avoid being obvious or overt. While all stories follow the narrative structure, good writers make the structure invisible.

Happy writing!