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Plotting for NaNoWriMo & Winners

Do you jump right in?

I’ve always thought of myself as a pantser, despite the fact that my left brain generally rules all other areas of my life. So I was surprised to find potential scene lists for my first two manuscripts while flipping through old notebooks the other day.

Apparently I did more planning in the early days than I remember.

I’ve made several attempts at becoming a planner/outliner, and my best-written book to date was borne of a rough outline and the 30 days of literary abandon known as NaNoWriMo. Yet I still resist moving into the outlining camp.

It’s probably a patience thing. I’m always eager to jump right in when a story is pulling at me. But then several months later I’m floundering, usually after hitting the midpoint and realizing the conflict isn’t strong enough, or that I’ve written myself into a corner.

Which brings me back to the need for a better outline. And I’m starting to think I may have been doing it wrong. Or rather, that I wasn’t patient enough to do it right.

Or do you plot your course first?

With NaNo again looming, I recently picked up K.M. Weiland’s book Outline Your Novel. And instead of answering the exercises with “I kind of have an idea of what should happen there, but I'm not ready to commit”, I forced myself to brainstorm actual answers.

And guess what? Some of the ideas I came up with are awesome (if I do say so myself). Even something as simple as coming up with a premise sentence brought an epiphany on how to raise the stakes.

I’m even more excited to write the book than I was before. And with a decent outline to follow, I won’t get stuck wondering what comes next when I finish a scene.

I don’t see myself writing 80-page outlines any time soon, and the pantser in me still gets the freedom to change the storyline if a better idea comes along, but if this goes well, I may just be a convert. Again.


Thanks to everyone who participated in my blog’s birthday celebration! Here are the winners (chosen by

– Signed copy of Scrivener For Dummies: Dave

– Free Scrivener online class enrollment for 2013: Beth K.


Photo credits:
Cliff jumping: By Rafi B. from Somewhere in Texas 🙂 (Flickr) CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Charting a course: By U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Eboni C. Cameron (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Reply

    NANO forced me to become a sort of planner. I need to check out Outline Your Novel. I did take a class through Margie Lawson’s accademy recently on plotting and found that answering questions about my characters works for me. It’s not as linear as an out line. I revolt agains anthing that uses numbers.

    • Reply

      Diana: I don’t like numbers either (at least not for this). I’m trying to fill in Michael Hauge’s story structure (which fits pretty well with Larry Brooks’ as well), and have my GMC for the H/H and antagonists figured out.

      KM Weiland’s book is good because she knows we don’t all want to write a linear list, and she eschews roman numerals. 😉

  2. Reply

    I normally fly by the seat of my pants, sometimes it works out. I want to be able to plot, but lack the patience. Even when it comes to those detailed character outlines, I end up doing one character and don’t want to do any more lol, but I’ll check out the book you recommended. Each year I have the problem of trying to figure out where I am going to write at because I need to be able to access my writing from different places do the amount of time I spend at work. I’ve tried online word processing in the past and it’s a crap shoot to how it will workout. I was going to go with Google docs this year, but just recently decided against it. Any recommendations? Right now I am thinking of just using my thumb drive, but if I mistakenly leave it at work, home or God forbid misplace it, I am out of luck.

  3. Reply

    licensedmentalhealthcounselor: I’m with you on detailed character outlines. My characters don’t respond to interviews, but I find that writing a few potential scenes helps me get to know them. Even if I don’t use the scenes later they’re not wasted.

    A good option for Scrivener when you want to work from various computers is Dropbox. You can sync to it pretty easily. There’s a video tutorial on it here:, or check out Synchronized Folders in the User Manual section on Cloud Integration and Sharing. The key when saving a project to any kind of external disk (Dropbox, thumb drive, etc) is to close it first, otherwise when you open it you’ll be asked to make a copy.

    Good luck!

    • Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation, TonyL. Not sure if I should wish you luck with NaNo, or for a new project. Either way, have a good November! 🙂

  4. Reply

    Hmm … odd behavior. Happened once before when I tried to leave a comment on your blog. Comment never showed up, and when I tried posting it again it said there was a duplicate comment. Guess I’ll try one more time. Apologies if this shows up twice.


    Well, this is the third year in a row I swore I’d have a nice outline prepared for the month of November. Nope. Once again, it didn’t happen. The pantser mentality has me firmly in its grip, even though my inner outliner tries to fight its way out. Perhaps after NaNoWriMo I can try sitting down and at least make some sort of outline. Is there one specific book on outlining that you’d suggest starting with?

    • Reply

      No duplicates, Dave, so not sure what’s going on. My outline won’t be as complete as I’d like, and I’ve won NaNo without one. Either way, you’ll figure your story out, just maybe in a rough draft instead.

      If you’re solid on structure, then the book I mentioned in my post seems like a good one. If not, I’d start with Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. He’s amazing at breaking down structure into something that really makes sense. If you can identify all of the parts of your story per his teaching, you’ll have a great outline. I also really like Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat.

      • Reply

        It’s probably something on my end of things causing the problem with the comments. I’ll see if it happens again.

        Thanks for the pointers. I think I’ll start with the Larry Brooks book. And maybe Blake Snyder’s as well 🙂

  5. Reply

    I’ve got a very short outline, and it’s only for the beginning of the book. I’m already nervous about hitting a wall around day 5 or so. But I’ve done this three times already and have always made it to the finish line. Like you, Gwen. I’m always impatient to jump right into the story and then often find myself stuck later on. I’d like to be more of a plotter, too. Not too precise and detailed because then I would probably get bored with the story, but I would like to have a better handle on the plot when I get started. I’ll be on the look out for the outlining book you mentioned. Good luck with Nano!!! 🙂

    • Reply

      Maura: You can do it! That’s the great thing about NaNo. It reminds you what you can accomplish, even when it seems daunting.

      I’m like you. I want enough plot points to keep me on track and make sure I have a story, but not so much that I get bored. I still haven’t quite finished my outline, but I’m much farther ahead than I usually am at this point.

      Good luck to you to!

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