We’re halfway through Camp NaNoWriMo Planning Month! If you’re anything like me, all this planning has you excited to jump in and start writing or editing. Here’s my advice for what to do with all the excitement: bottle it up. Let it keep building inside you and let it keep filling your head with ideas and your heart with feels. Because come April, you’re going to need all the excitement, motivation, and passion you have on reserve (and then probably some more).
This week, we’re getting ready for camp by taking about plot. I’m going to be honest here: I struggle with plot. I have no problem admitting it. I have always had trouble creating conflict, tension, or challenges for my characters. It’s not that I don’t know what plot is or haven’t studied plot arcs. I just simply don’t like creating conflict. I want everyone to get along, everything to go smoothly, and everything to work out in the end. Of course, I know that life isn’t like that and a story like that would be b-o-r-i-n-g.
I’m telling you this for two reasons: the first is that I want to admit I’m no plot expert. It’s something that I am still working on, and I imagine it will always be my biggest writing challenge. This post does not come from a place of expert authority. It comes from humility and research and an honest attempt to understand and learn the art of crafting a compelling plot. The second reason is that I want you to know that there are ways to work around YOUR writing challenges. To admit you have them without admitting defeat.
So let’s do this.
From what I’ve learned, there are essentially two types of stories: action driven stories, and emotionally driven stories. Action driven stories are all about plot, while emotionally driven stories are all about character. I like to imagine this as a spectrum, with all stories falling somewhere between the two types.
As you can see, it’s not that a more plot-driven story is any better or worse than a character-driven story, they’re just different. (Also, note that I am making generalizations and going off my own opinions of books that I have read. I haven’t read the Harry Potter Series of LOTR, but from what I know I would think they belong right in the middle of the spectrum.) I am personally drawn to more character-driven stories, but I also read the Hunger Games series in a weekend. It’s all a matter of preference, and in the end, it doesn’t matter where your story falls on the spectrum, only that it falls with intention.
The Big Picture.
Figuring out where you want your story to fall on that spectrum is crucial to the planning, writing, and editing process. Again, there is no right place to fall in order to write a bestseller. But determining what you want the heart of your story to be about – whether it’s character or action – is essential.
Both Drafters & Revisers: Try creating your own plot/character spectrum with your favorite books. This exercise will help you visually see what kind of stories you like to read, and maybe that will help you figure out what kind of story you want to write too!
Drafters: Think about where you want your story to fall on the spectrum. And if you don’t know yet, that’s okay! Try to figure out how you want your story to feel – do you want your reader to be on their toes, anxiously turning the page to figure out what happens next? Or do you want your reader to feel like they’re falling in love right along-side your characters? Then, think of books you have read that make you feel that way. Where do those books fall on the spectrum? What made them good books in your opinion? As you determine where your favorite books fit in and how you want your own story to fit in, you’ll get closer and closer to figuring out the plot/character balance.
Revisers: Here’s what you need to consider: Where does your WIP as-is fall on the spectrum? Is that where you want it to be? What could you change to make it more character driven? Or more plot driven? What would that add to or diminish in your story? As you work through these questions, you should be able to see how to move forward in improving your WIP. If you find yourself in a place where you feel confident about the plot but could use a little work on character, return to last week’s packing list and focus there.
The Medium-sized Picture.
Once you’ve figured out how much you want your story to be driven by plot, you can start planning out what that plot is actually going to look. The good news is that whether your story is primarily plot-driven or character-driven, the structure is the same.
Drafters: Start mapping out your plot! This might take a bit of trial and error, especially if this is your first major writing project. (And if it is – I am SO rooting for you!) Take a look at a few different ways to break down plot structure and figure out what you think will work best for you. Here are some of my favorites:
I recommend printing out a copy of the structure that makes the most sense to you, and then start filling in the events, revelations, or experiences that will make up your plot. Or, you can draw it yourself!
Revisers: Your job is re-evaluate your plot and make sure it’s working in the way you want it to. If you didn’t plan out your plot before drafting, take the time now to identify the plot points in your story. Are they happening where they should in the scope of the whole novel? To help you with this, here’s a worksheet I’ve created to track the big moments and the page # they occur on. This will enable you to see the pacing of your story in a quantifiable way. Click here or the image below to get the free download!
The Small Picture.
Good news: next week’s packing list will be all about the scene-by-scene plot planning we all know (and love) as outlining! (Which IS exciting if you’re a planner like me.)
The Packing Lists.
Click the links below to download the third packing list!
Alright campers! That’s it for this week. I hope these packing lists are helping you prepare for Camp. I can’t wait for us all to start actually writing together! And remember – if you want to be in the WBT Cabin Facebook Group, click here or the image below!