October 19, 2011

plotting for nanowrimo

It is less than two weeks until National Novel Writing Month begins. Are you prepared?

If you're a plotter like me, you need to know where your story is going and why before you write those first words come Nov. 1. This year, I'm already in much better shape than I was last time around.

Last Nov. 1, I decided to give NaNoWriMo a try for the first time. At 8 p.m. that night. I had an idea, a few characters, but no real plot. I was stressed, had no idea what my book was really about and have been paying for it since with revision after revision.

This year, I'm going with a more relaxed, more structured approach. Instead of throwing together a quick outline and character charts the day I plan to initiate writing, I'm doing it now. I also have a few twists that make this story planning different than any other time.

In previous posts, I've mentioned ways to develop characters, plan the 10 key scenes of the story and ultimately develop a chapter outline. For this book, I've done it all in a quick, mobile and easily accessible way. I'm creating a book planner to go. Here's how.

First, I picked up these supplies at a local drug store:
•  A pack of index card
•  An index card holder
•  Highlighters
•  pens

Next, I plot out the basics of each character on a card. I include their name, brief description and the role they will play in the story. I use more than one card for main characters.

Then, I determined the 10 main scenes that will appear in this book. Each scene gets a card. On one side I write the gist of the scene and on the other, I include what number it is in the order (1 through 10) and what kind of a scene it is (i.e. The Opener, Point of No Return, The Ending, etc.).

What is nice about this is that when I need to really consider the direction my story is taking, I place the cards in the order they would appear if I drew out the chart. I'm a visual person, and this definitely helps.

Another perk? If I decided I need to flip a scene or two around, I could do it easily.

I'm still working on the chapter by chapter cards, but again, it's the same benefits as the scene cards. They're easy to flip around. Plus, it helps me focus on each scene or chapter as it happens. Looking at one card at a time seems less daunting than reviewing a whole packet of info.

Then, I organize all of those index cards in the index card holder. I organize the tabs as I need them. For this book, I have four tabs named so far:
•  Main characters
•  Supporting characters
•  Top ten scenes
•  Chapter outline

I still have one tab up for naming, so we'll see if something comes of that.

In the end, it's so compact and easy to cart around. It slips into my purse, and I always have it, and spare index cards, with me. That means, if I have an idea, or want to remember where I'm at, I'll know.

What about the rest of you plotters? What are you doing to plan your books? Do you think this method would be at all beneficial?

Please feel free to post a comment or contact me on Twitter @lmchap. Be sure to vote in my NaNoWriMo poll, located at the top of the right-hand column.


  1. I've never really been a big fan of index cards, but this is a place they would be just right. A very good idea.
    I'm still debating whether to do NaNoWriMo. I want to, but I'm starting a new branch in my career which will require a lot of traveling, beginning in November, so the timing is really off. You do inspire me, though!

  2. See, I love index cards only slightly less than post-it notes, but more than highlighters. I was *that* nerdy girl in class who made flash cards for math problems and vocab. :) I totally understand travel being an obstacle. It's hard to focus when you're constantly moving. I took two trips during NaNoWriMo last year, and used my time in airports and on airplanes to do a big chunk of the writing. It's not easy, though, and I was sick, unkempt and emotional by the end of November. Thanks for reading!

  3. Laura,

    I love this idea! As a "beginner" I've tried all different kinds of plotting tricks (story board of post-it notes on my wall, little journal where each page is an outline of something, full-fledged notebook full of ideas and concepts) but at 50k in, I'm stuck! I'm also a first time NaNoWriMo contender this year, so I think your idea might be the perfect solution to get me back on track and finishing this novel by Nov. 30th. I'll be heading to the local drugstore on my lunch break today, pretty excited!!

    Side note- The system is buggy for leaving my name, so I'll put it here. :) S.K. Wills on Twitter (@Midnyghtskie)