There are two kinds of writers (and people, I’d say) in this world: plotters and pantsers. And for either type, crossing over to the other side is the stuff of nightmares.When it comes to tackling a big fast drafting project for something like NaNoWriMo (there’s less than two weeks to go!), though, even the most diehard pantser could learn a trick or two from us outlining jedi. Lucky for you, as a screenwriter-turned-novelist (and back again!), I’m a definitely plot devotee. I will happily tell you that I have managed to convert a pantser (or ten) in my time. (Just ask Dhonielle!)

Here are some smart – and painless – tips to get you grounded on plot before you kick off your NaNoWriMo adventure.

Write your elevator pitch. This pithy one-liner will explain the meat of your story in a single sentence. The idea is to sell the reader on the story with the basics: who, what, where, when and especially why. But in the process, you’re also selling yourself on the story, and ensuring that, you know, there will be some semblance of plot involved! Because plot is helpful.

Commit and plan. Once you’ve got the five major elements of your pitch down, you’ll be able to see if your project is sustainable for the format you intend it to take – whether that’s a short story, screenplay, novel or other medium.

Start small! Then let it snowball. I admit, my longest outline was a hefty 40-plus pages. But you don’t have to go that far to get yourself on the road to a happy, fulfilling CampNano experience. Nope, even a skeleton outline will do as long as it keeps the story moving. Here’s what I do to get moving:

  • Start with your single sentence elevator pitch.
  • Expand that one sentence out into three: beginning, middle, end.
  • Expand those three sentences out into three paragraphs for beginning, middle and end, adding details to each section.
  • Break those three paragraphs out into multiple paragraphs for each section, adding even more details – and turning those details into potential scenes.
  • Group the scenes (and use flash cards if you want to, for easy movement) into paragraphs of action, which then magically become chapters!
  • Voila, you should now have a skeleton outline featuring three sections of multiple paragraphs outlining your chapters by beginning, middle and end.

Refine your outline – just like you would the draft. Writing a story, script or novel is like piecing together a puzzle. Not everything will fit just right the first time around – and pieces may be missing. Rework and move things around until it feels stable, doable and, well, right.

Talk it through. Share it with a critique partner or two while you’re working on this outlining stage. I always say two brains are better than one, if they’re the right two brains. And sometimes a pal can articulate the insight or twistiness you’re scratching at but just can’t reach. Plus, having people invested at this early stage will up your accountability for later.

Make a schedule. (And let it slide sometimes.) Having the roadmap – as detailed or bare bones as it may be – will help you plan your time wisely, especially if you want to stick to daily or weekly word count goals. But remember: CampNano is supposed to be fun! Don’t torture yourself if you miss a day or two. (Or ten. Hey, it happens.) And if you’re smart, you’ll build in some room for slacking off here and there. After all, we all need a break sometimes.

Revisit often. As you dig into your Nano project, use your outline as a guide. But remember it’s just a tool to help you along, not the work itself. Things will inevitably change once you start writing. It’s an outline, so nothing is set in stone. If you need to, go back in, twist and tweak as necessary so that it works naturally with the story you’re trying to tell.


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