Top tips for fast novel plotting

I’ve been posting for a while now about ways of getting started on National Novel Writing Month – or of writing any novel, quickly. Knocking out a novel in a month is something to challenge even professional writers except maybe Barbara Cartland.

sleeping-man-with-newspapers-mdAs I explained a couple of weeks back, the way to start is by planning the overall story structure so it can blend with a ‘seat of the pants’ approach to the details and specific wording. The plan builds from your logline, and gives you the character arc; the points where your character changes along their journey. That’s where the drama flows – anything else tends to be contrived and melodramatic.

All this needs defining before the narrative parts of the plot (Hobbits walk through the Shire, Hobbits stay overnight with Farmer Maggot, Hobbits get chased to the Bucklebury Ferry…) These have to be anchored into the character arc without being contrived (characters get lost in Mirkwood = Bilbo discovers his hero strength).

The thing is, many authors start with the narrative story – the story begins as a few cool scenes, like in the movies. How do you make those come together at the key places where your character pivots?

My answer is to write down each scene – a few notes – on scraps of paper, and see how they fit the pivot points of your character arc. Do any  help show the particular aspect of character you are looking for? No. Can it be re-jigged to do so?

After a while, you’ll have the jigsaw – a reasonable plot, linking with the essential character arc. They’ll be disconnected scenes. But wait, there’s more (I should call this the ‘Ginzu Steak Knife’ method of writing). Is there an over-arching plot? A scenario or setting? A general plot? Write it down – in sections. Do these fit the narrative pivots you’ve assembled? No, but it’s a start – and with revision, re-jigging, and so forth, I bet you can assemble the jigsaw, with the right dramatic plot turns for the character hooking at points where the main underlying narrative also swings.

While that may seem a bit claustrophobic by comparison with free-form writing, don’t forget that the actual creation of the words follows. This is where ‘seat of the pants’ shines. And if a fresh idea comes floating in, as ideas always do – well, maybe the plan can be re-cast to suit.

The key advantage of doing things this way – or by some similar plan – is that planning, even for a few minutes, can often save hours of re-casting and re-writing. And when the pressure is on to produce, as it is for National Novel Writing Month, and as it is for authors who have contract deadlines, there is no other way forward.

And if this method doesn’t work – and it maybe won’t for everyone – can you adapt it to one that does it for you?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: More NaNo writing tips, NaNo inspiration posts, writing news, and other stuff – watch this space.

2 thoughts on “Top tips for fast novel plotting

  1. Scenes for books often pop into my head. I’ll make a note and put it in the folder. Often that one idea works into a whole novel. I refer to that folder when I need a scene idea for whatever book I’m working on. Most of the time, the characters give me scene ideas. I just need to type faster. 🙂


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