Archive for the ‘plot outlines’ Category

I’m not really a fan of his novels (seem a bit sappy for my taste), but I love some of the lines from this interview with Nicholas Sparks in The Daily Beast about Sparks starting a novel without much planning, and the dire problems that can ensue.

Such as: “I thought I had most of the story in my mind, and I got two thirds of the way through. It was only then that I realized I shouldn’t have started it at all.”

My favorite line from the interview:

I hit up strangers in the street for an ending.

Now after that “painful” experience, he swears by four personal rules:

  1. I have to know how the characters meet.
  2. I have to know what’s driving the story.
  3. I have to understand the conflict,
  4. [I have to know] how the story will end.

Here at the Plotting for Writers Blog, we tend to agree . . . that a little advance plotting goes a long way!


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50,000 words. In one month. Have fun!

That’s the premise of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.”

You start writing like crazy on November 1. And try to keep going . . . and going and going . . . until the great & magical word-counting wizard behind the curtain says you’ve reached the goal: a 50,000-word novel by midnight, November 30.

So here’s the question:

Will you be a plotter or a plunger?

You’ve heard, I’m sure, the famous advice given by E.L. Doctorow:

Writing is like driving at night. You can see only as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Perhaps you also saw a brief interview with Philip Roth (in AARP Magazine, July/August 2006), where he admitted, answering a question from interviewer John F Baker about how well Roth’s great books resulted in conveying what Roth had in mind when the work was started:

What I have in mind when I start to write could fit inside an acorn – an acorn, moreover, that rarely if ever grows into an oak. Write fiction and you relinquish reason. You start with an acorn and you end up with a mackerel.

Roth goes on to suggest: “Chance and staying power. That’s the hand the imagination is dealt.”

True, some do drive only by virtue of those headlights. But I’ve found that the more experienced the writer, the less they think (or can or wish to talk in detail about) their real methods. In contrast, emerging successful writers do tend to use outlines, and plan more thoroughly, and think more consciously about the architectural design of their works.

How ’bout you? Planning to plunge into the icy waters of November’s NaNoWriMo novel without a solid outline for your novel?
Planning to head down that foggy highway guided only by your headlights (and if your old car is like mine, one of the headlights is out and the other is a little dim)?

I like this advice from an SF writer, Ruth Nestvold, a finalist for Tiptree and Sturgeon awards, writing here in a 2005 article titled “True Facts About the Art and Craft of Writing”:

The wonderful thing about that [Doctorow] quote is that it can be understood nearly any way you want. . . . But for those who write like me, always a little ahead of yourself, the headlights are also a great metaphor, since they open up the path ahead of me as I proceed. And I see no problem with knowing what my destination is—even people who drive at night usually know where they’re going.

One of the big differences between us is that whether I can see the road or not, I have usually taken a long look at the map before I set off.

Now that’s good advice!

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Thanks to everyone who contributed to past posts!

I want to talk about what is involved in “filling in the blanks” when plotting a story.  Having been an elementary teacher for so many years, and knowing how much my students liked “filling in the blanks” instead of writing essay answers, I longed for a way to do that when plotting a story or a novel.  When I learned about the three-act structure, it helped tremendously, but I still had to rely on my mind to tell me, “What happens next?”

Then, I heard about the Hero’s Journey, but the question remained.  Then, Ridley Pearson talked about writing scene descriptions on index cards for his best-sellers, and I realized he was, in essence, filling in blanks in his plot.  By combining all three methods on plotting boards, I created blanks I could fill–first the 12 steps of the Journey.  Then, after moving those filled blanks to the three-act structure, I filled in the blanks around them in the structure.  Once all the blanks had been filled, the plot was done–along with the first draft of the synopsis!

Can a novel actually be planned by “filling in blanks?”  YES!!!  And the Hero’s Journey tells us what goes in the blanks.

Writers who have heard me talk about this combination of methods have said the new method was “revolutionary!”  A revolution is simply a new way of circling the same facts.  And that’s what FILL-IN-THE-BLANK PLOTTING is.  A new way of looking at an old challenge.

If you have another way of plotting that works for you, please share it here!  Perhaps, as happened in my experience, a new way of circling the task of planning a story may be born!

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I am available to speak for clubs or conference! 

My most requested topics are plotting, synopsis, and strong writing. 

Contact me through this site by leaving a comment and your contact information and I will get back to you ASAP.

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[Post by Linda George]

Here’s a useful look for writers at the classic Where the Wild Things Are, by the great Maurice Sendak . . . inserted here into the structure of the Hero’s Journey.

With the recent interest in Where the Wild Things Are, I thought it would be useful to use the actual text to fill in the blanks of the Hero’s Journey. You’ll be surprised at how perfectly the few words of that classic book fit into the Journey. No wonder it’s a classic!

Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 1963.)

Max wears his wolf suit and makes mischief.

his mother calls him “wild thing!”

and Max says, “I’ll eat you up!”

so he is sent to bed without his supper.

That night in Max’s room, a forest grows magically “until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max.” And so Max sails off to “where the wild things are.”

He comes to the place where the wild things are, and they “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws”

till Max orders them to “Be still!”

and tames them by “staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once” until they acknowledge him the victor and call him “the most wild thing of all.”

and make him “king of all wild things.” Then, cries Max, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

Then Max orders them to stop and sends the wild things off to bed without their supper. Now Max realizes he is lonely, and wants “to be where someone loved him best of all.”

From a place far away, he smells good things to eat, so he decides to return home. The wild things don’t want to see him go. “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so.” And they roar and gnash their teeth and roll their eyes, but Max steps into his private boat, waves good-bye, and sails back to his own room.

. . . where he finds his supper waiting for him . . . “and it was still hot.”

Short but sweet. It’s a powerful story, told in under 350 words.

Classic stories so often fit the Hero’s Journey. That’s why it’s such an incredible tool for those of us who write fiction.

Making sure our stories fit that powerful structure (one facet of my book, Fill-in-the-Blank Plotting) gives us a great way to ensure the reader’s involvement in the story, which is every storyteller’s goal.

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November. 50,000 words. And have fun!

That’s the premise of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.)

Per its website, NaNoWriMo is a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.” You start writing like crazy on November 1. And you try to keep going, and going, and going. The goal: write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, November 30.

Here’s their statistical history (“winners” I think means all who finish the month and hit the magical word-count!):

1999: 21 participants and six winners
2000: 140 participants and 29 winners
2001: 5,000 participants and more than 700 winners
2002: 13,500 participants and around 2,100 winners
2003: 25,500 participants and about 3,500 winners
2004: 42,000 participants and just shy of 6,000 winners
2005: 59,000 participants and 9,769 winners
2006: 79,000 participants and 13,000 winners
2007: 101,510 participants and 15,333 winners
2008: 119,301participants and 21,683 winners

They claim (and cite) a number of NaNoWriMo “winners” who found publishers, including a New York Times #1 Bestseller! (Do we think this is really a good way to write a novel? No comment.)

Anyhow . . . for those who want to get a headstart:
Question: If you want to enter, do you have to start on Nov. 1?

[The Plotting for Writers blog is so glad you asked!]

The answer: Yes.
[I.e. you have to “start writing” on Nov. 1)

According to the contest rules:

bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.

But . . . here’s the thing!

Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure.

Ah ha! So . . . if you want a good chance of finishing the month with something that not only hits the word-count-o-meter but also makes sense . . . start your plot outline! Now!

You’ll be so glad . . . when mid-November fatigue hits and you wonder what was I thinking when you decided your hero/heroine should . . .

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