I wrote a post last year about how to edit your NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know what that is, here is the official link to the competition. Basically, it’s writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Sound crazy? Yes, yes it is. And so, so much fun! I’ve done it three times. Once I reached 50,000 words and the other two times I got somewhere near 35,000 words. I think the reason why I didn’t finish the other two times was because I hadn’t prepared and plotted properly.
I’m fixin’ to change that. Hopefully this helps you. I’ve plotted novels so many ways and this by far is the best. I mean the very BEST plotting I have ever done. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error, started and finished four books, and started and NOT finished about twelve. I’ve always either gotten sick of the story or have no clue what happens after the honeymoon stage of a new book idea wears thin.
So what’s my secret to writing 12,000 words in one day, plotting the whole novel the next day, and currently being halfway through my manuscript after only three weeks?
Caffeine. Just kidding, I’m trying so hard to kick that habit to the curb.
The secret is marrying the writing program Scrivener and the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder!
If you are unaware of the program and the book and you are wanting to plot a novel, buy them now. I mean now! Scrivener was like $40 and so awesome! There is a learning curve, so learn the program before NaNoWriMo starts. Also, read Save the Cat before NaNoWriMo. I know it is a formula for screenwriting, but it works for novels just as well. It will help your brain think in story structure before you even begin writing. So, before I show you my plotting technique, I’m assuming that you at least know the basics of both Scrivener and Save the Cat. I will try to be as simple as possible.
First: I thought of the word count I wanted to end at. 80,000 words for a young adult novel sounds about right for a starting point. I divided that into 40 chapters. 2,000 words per chapter, give or take. Along the left side of Scrivener in the binder section where it says draft, I named my book. Then I clicked on the green circle with the + sign 40 times and added in my chapters below.
Second: I started placing the Save the Cat plot structure at my chapters. I divided it into four parts first, even though there are fifteen major plot points. Chapter one – opening scene. Chapter ten – catalyst. Chapter twenty – midpoint. Chapter thirty – Dark night of the soul. Chapter forty – final image. These are all reference to Save the Cat. I started plotting big picture. What is my catalyst? What even is a catalyst? I put Blake Snyders definition in the white synopsis section on the right side and my story catalyst in the yellow note section. If you don’t see these sections in Scrivener, then press the i (inspector) in the blue circle in the top right corner and they will pop up. (See my bottom right photo below) Leave the inspector open as you write and plot. I did the same in chapter 20 – midpoint, 30 – dark night, and 40 – final image.
This four part story structure reminded me of J. Scott Savages class at Storymakers. He is a fantastic presenter and has many great writing tips on his blog. I’m highlighting him because he is my boy’s favorite author and he has another book releasing in a couple weeks. Anyway, you can check him out HERE.
Third: I filled in the rest of the plot points. (See above left photo) After a bit of shuffling around, this is where my other fifteen plot points landed. Yours might not fall where mine did. No worries, this is how stories vary. I don’t want yours exactly like mine. 🙂
Chapter One – opening scene
Chapter Two – theme stated
Chapter Five – set up
Chapter Ten – catalyst
Chapter Twelve – debate
Chapter Thirteen – break into two
Chapter Fifteen – B story
Chapter Seventeen – fun and games
Chapter Twenty – mid-point
Chapter Twenty three – bad guys close in
Chapter Twenty seven – all is lost
Chapter Thirty – dark night of the soul
Chapter Thirty two – break into three
Chapter Thirty five – finale begins (gathering team, execute plan, high tower surprise, dig down deep, execute new plan)
Chapter Forty – final image
The thing I love about having this always visible in the left hand side is because I know what is coming and where my story should be heading. Before, when I wrote in word, I’d have different documents, plot books, and sketchbooks that I’d have to reference to on a constant basis to remind me where my story was headed. Now it’s always there. Pressing me forward, encouraging me. I take writing sessions in clumps and tell myself “just write to the B story or the debate, come on, that’s only 3,000 words away” or something like that. Or I look at the word count per chapter (at the bottom of middle screen) and encourage myself “only 400 words left to write in the chapter. You can do it!” It’s all a mind game, you know.
Forth: Because I love the readers of my blog, I have taken the time and highlighted the key elements for every plot point. I have put these under the white lined synopsis section on the right hand side of my Scrivener program. I still think you should read the whole book though.
* Chapter One – opening scene – Very first impression. Sets the tone, mood, and type of story. Shows the starting point of the hero. Must Hook the reader. The opening and final image should be opposites. Because of some of these things, more often than not, a prologue doesn’t work. Here is a post I wrote about that.
* Chapter Two – theme stated – Pose a question or make a statement (usually not by the main character) What is the story about?? State it loud and clear and follow through the goal with action. Is your hero’s goal clearly stated? A hero never asks questions. Is your hero active or passive? Do things happen too easy for your hero?
* Chapter Five – set up – Plant every character tic that needs to be addressed later.
Show how and why the character needs to change to win. Show what the hero is lacking. The calm before the storm.
* Chapter Ten – catalyst – Life changing events. It’s the opposite of good news. First moment when something BIG happens.
* Chapter Twelve – debate – The last chance for the hero to say “this is crazy.” Should I go? Do I dare? Moment of truth. Make a firm decision and off they go.
* Chapter Thirteen – break into two – Moment when we leave the old world. Hero must make the decision himself. The act of stepping from act one into act two must be definite. (Blake Snyder uses the three part story structure, which is great too.)
* Chapter Fifteen – B story – The love story portion. The story that carries the theme of the book. B-story is a breather. Can introduce a brand new bunch of characters.
* Chapter Seventeen – fun and games – The promise of the premise. It’s the core and essence of the book cover. What about this book is cool? Heart of the book. We take a break from the stakes and see what the idea is all about. Lighter in tones than other sections.
* Chapter Twenty – mid-point – It’s either an up (where hero seemingly peaks) or down (false collapse.) Stakes are raised at midpoint. Fun and games are over—back to the story. False victory or false defeat. Nothing is as good as it seems.
* Chapter Twenty three – bad guys close in – Mid-point bad guys are defeated. Bad guys decide to regroup and send heavy artillery. Internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy begin to disintegrate the hero’s team. Forces against the hero tighten their grip. Headed for a huge fall.
* Chapter Twenty seven – all is lost – Opposite of the midpoint. False defeat—all hope is lost. All aspects of the hero’s life are in shambles. No hope. “Whiff of death”—
if it isn’t an actual death, hint at something else; dead goldfish, plant, etc. Old world, old thinking, and old character dies. Maybe attempt of suicide—that’s how low the character feels.
* Chapter Thirty – dark night of the soul – Darkness right before dawn.
The hero reaches way down and pulls out the last, best idea that will save himself and everyone around him. But at that moment the idea is no where in sight.
“Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?” attitude. Hopeless, clueless, drunk, and stupid.
We admit our humility and humanity. We must be beaten and know it to get the lesson.
* Chapter Thirty two – break into three – Tadaa—realize the solution. The characters in the B story and conversations discussing theme in the B story, and thanks to the hero’s last best effort to discover a solution to beat the bad guys who’ve been closing in and winning A story, the answer is found! A and B story intertwine. An idea to solve the problem has emerged.
* Chapter Thirty five – finale begins – (gathering team, execute plan, high tower surprise, dig down deep, execute new plan) ACT 3 begins—Wrap everything up over the next few chapters. The lessons are learned and applied. The character tics are mastered.
Turning over old world and a creation of a new one—all thanks to the hero, who leads the way based on what he has experienced in the upside-down world of Act Two.
Dispatching of all the bad guys in order:
Lieutenants and henchman first, then the boss.
The chief source of the problem must be dispatched completely for the new world order to exist. New society is born.
* Chapter Forty – final image – Opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real. The End 🙂
(example of my Break Into Three in chapter 32)
Fifth: I begin to fill in the story. Based off the turning points above, I’ll write my theme, or mid-point, or dark night of the soul, or final image scenes. This has helped me tremendously to see where my own personal story is going. I don’t outline scene or spaces between the beats or turning points. I’ve got to have some freedom and creativity! And it’s nice to have it all plotted out so that when I wake up in the middle of the night, dreaming about a scene that isn’t where I currently am writing, I jump up and write a quick scene in a future chapter.
Sixth: Now when I have a quick idea or gem of dialogue come to me (usually in the shower or in the middle of the night!) I put them in the yellow note section on the left hand bar or on the bulletin board which is another very cool thing about Scrivener.
* I highly, highly recommend plotting before you start Nanowrimo or begin a new novel. This system alone has made writing easier and faster for me.
Now, let me say something about writing in such a formulaic way. If everyone did it, books would get boring. This is what I found works best for me after reading endless plot books, sitting through many conferences, and after a lot of trial and error. However, many people are considered pantsers and I have also written books that way. The wonderful thing about writing, is the variety. It’s the creative process. To me, I thought plotting in such a way would kill the creative process. But the more I write and want to do this professionally, the more I realized that I needed a system and schedule.
This blog post took forever to research and write and I hope it was helpful. Regardless, it’ll be good for me to have as a reference. I just wanted to share because I think this would be a great way to plot a NaNoWriMo and it gives you a month and a half to plan and plot before the craziness begins.
Was this helpful? Do you use another method to plot your novel, or are you a pantser? I’d love to hear about it! Thanks!
Good luck and happy writing! You can check out more of my writing tips HERE: