Three-Day Novel Plotting

If you participated in the Three-Day Novel contest and hit a wall somewhere along the line, it might be because you didn’t do enough planning before plunging in to write your story! An excellent way to be ready to write like the wind is to plot your story using the age-old, time-tested, reader-friendly patterns of the Hero’s Journey and Three-Act Structure.

And it will help immensely to have your plot points all laid out in front of you on plotting boards – visible, touchable, flexible – to use during the writing.

Fill-in-the-Blank Plotting shows you, step by step, how to do this, and results in a flexible plot for your story that can be altered when necessary (and yes, it will be!) as you write.

My friend, Sheila Wyborny, has entered the Three-Day Novel Contest (held each Labor Day weekend) for several years.  This year, she ended up with about 120 pages in three days . . . and had time to reread/edit/polish her story during the contest time parameters!

The reason she was able to do this: extensive advance planning of her plot, and writing character studies of each character.

If you ended up off on a side road while writing your three-day novel . . . you can still salvage that story and finish it. Look for how you can improve the plotting structure now, and then revise the novel draft to fit your new, better plot.


Greetings, Plotters!

I see some of you are gearing up for the 33rd annual Labor Day 3-Day Novel Contest! (Shakes head in amazement.) Good luck to all!

It’s described on its website as:

It’s a thrill, a grind, and an awesome creative experience. How many crazed plotlines, coffee-stained pages, pangs of doubt and moments of genius will the next contest bring forth? And what might you think up under pressure?

I like the descriptions of novels by past winners of the contest. Like from 2000:

Small Apartments [by Chris Millis] is the offbeat tale of an obese, slovenly peeping tom, his odd brother, his pothead neighbour, and their quest to hide the body of an unfortunate landlord. The story is accented along the way by murder, strange fingernail collections and the occasional blast from a treasured alphorn.

Okay! For my part, the thought that comes to mind regarding writing a novel in three days:

Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.

Creative fools! And let’s face it, that’s most writers . . . including the successful ones.

By the way, that “fools” quote is from Alexander Pope, English writer, who published in 1709 his long-winded (but amusing or insightful in parts) poem, “An Essay on Criticism“:

True Ease in writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
‘Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence,
The Sound must seem an Echo to the Sense.

So . . . let the 3-Day Novel dance begin!

I’ll share this note I saw yesterday on Jane Yolen’s Facebook page.

I find stories (and poems and bits of nonfiction) happen when my fingers are (literally) on the keys. I have often said “stories leak out of my fingertips.” Oh sure, I think a lot about stories, too, but as is the way with my world, I much too often forget what I’d thought an hour or a day or a minute before. Once I sit down some amalgam of what cogitation had occurred gets transmogrified onto the page. It’s magic.  (. . .)

Maybe that’s why I sit down to write so often since one day the magic won’t be there. Carpe Diem.

By the way, I recommend signing up for Jane Yolen’s Facebook page. She shares good insights into the state of being an active, professional, successful, versatile, thoughtful writer. Also, she has a Journal page on her website with more outstanding bits of useful thoughts about the process of writing great fiction. Highly recommended. (I worked with Jane a few years ago as editor of the original version of her Take Joy book, a lovely collection of essays on the writing process.)

My question: is the writing process magic for you?

Are you often surprised? Wonder where that idea came from?

And if so . . . how magic is it for you? What’s the balance of intuition and advance planning in your fiction (published or in-progress)?

What’s your take on it? At this stage in your career, how helpful is it to have specific, structured advice (such as a step-by-step approach to plotting, as in Linda George’s Fill-in-the-Blank Plotting)?

And to what degree to you rely on the magic?

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!

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.

[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.

[Post by Linda George]

Mercy, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had time for blogging . . . or anything fiction!

But I’ve started a new novel now. So it’s time for me to pull out my trusty plotting boards and get my story structured correctly . . . so I won’t end up in a swamp somewhere instead of at the lake, which is where I’m supposed to end up in this story! I’m writing a mainstream novel this time, and as always, getting the plot well structured before I get very far into the book is essential.

(And as you know, that’s the focus of my recent book, Fill-in-the-Blank Plotting.)

Titles are really important to me, so I’ve also come up with what I consider a nicely intriguing (working) title: Dancing with an Old Pair of Legs. (Yes, there’s significance in that title, on multiple levels, which won’t be understood until the last chapter – the kind of title I love in the books I write and read.)

As I start, the first thing I do is to outline the novel using the twelve key steps of the Hero’s Journey.

Then I’ll move those twelve-step events into the three-act structure. Once all those blanks are filled, I’ll have my synopsis, which will be tweaked and polished and ready to submit with the finished book someday.

In a comment following this one, I’ll offer a way to look at the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, also using the Hero’s Journey. With the recent interest in that book (and the movie version), I’ll show you how the text closely follows the Hero’s Journey. I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Classic stories always fit the Journey, and that’s why it’s such an incredible tool for those of us who write fiction.

Last but not least, for this blog, I’ll be able to add more tips and ideas and discussions from this point onward. I appreciate YOUR COMMENTS, QUESTIONS, and SUGGESTIONS. I’ll be happy to respond to them in a timely manner.

Happy Writing!
– Linda George, author of Fill-in-the-Blank Plotting (Crickhollow Books, 2009)

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