NaNo Prep and Plotting

As our heroine is poised to begin her NaNoWriMo preparatory work, dear Reader, she finds herself mulling methods. (She also finds herself procrastinating by noting the many options in this blog article.) I’ve written about plotting before, but I’ve learned a good deal in the meantime. Perhaps I can summon some of it into something worth reading. Let’s try, yes?

While the title here is “NaNo Prep and Plotting,” most of this information is applicable to any project. As an example, I recently used clustering to plot a flash story. It just wasn’t showing itself to me via the usual means, so I tried something different. Voila! There it was, exposed and waiting to be written.

Johanna Harness, founder of the #amwriting site and hashtag on Twitter, has explored many plotting methods. As a result, her blog is often my go-to for information which is accessible and useful. I’ll use a couple here as well as other sources.

I call my entire process of prep “outlining.” That’s misleading. While I begin with a basic – and extremely loose – outline, I may more deeply explore the plot and/or characters using other methods. Having recently discovered the benefits of clustering, I will likely use it at some point. Describing arcs for structure may figure into the preparation. You get the idea.

I consider myself a combination of a pantser as well as a plotter. No matter how carefully I plan and plot, my story ends up wandering into places I hadn’t known existed. Secondary characters take on lives of their own and become far more important than intended. Never fails – thank goodness! As such, I don’t plot so tightly there’s no room for breath and movement within the structure of the plan.

Right. Time to address some plotting methods:

Clustering: The reason Johanna Harness suggested I try clustering for my short story is the oddities of my migraines. That is to say, I can write with a migraine, but cannot plot or edit. Johanna sees clustering as a right brain/left brain process. It uses (*gasp*) pen and paper and is simply bubbles of words all over the page, just willy-nilly. While it goes against all my instincts, I found it immensely helpful – even with the migraine. (YMMV) Check out Johanna’s blog article for more on clustering. She speaks to it far better than I.

Snowflake Method: Randy Ingermanson is generally known as “The Snowflake Guy” and his Snowflake Method for novel writing is immensely popular. This article is chock full of interesting ideas on what he calls “designing a novel.” As no two novels are exactly alike, no two snowflakes are, either. His position is, however, novels can be designed. This article teaches how to do that. Please read the entire article to get the full impact.

Phase Drafting: It’s Just a Phase is an article from 2003 by Lazette Gifford. It’s no less useful today. Lazette brings fresh thoughts to the subject of outlining a project. She leaves room for growth and fleshing out the story. Don’t miss this one.

Big Board Planning: Here’s another one from Johanna Harness’s blog. Do you cleverly organize your ideas on note cards or post-it notes? (Do you think you should but don’t?) I didn’t start the post-it notes idea until Johanna showed me Big Board Planning. It’s as simple as taking a large poster board and putting your cards or post-its on the board. I use a tri-fold board so I can fold it up and put it somewhere safe. Johanna has some ideas for how to organize the colors and placement in this article so please do give it a read.

There are more to be found. With NaNo breathing down my neck, my goal is to at least get the outline done using clustering as needed. Big Board Planning beyond that will be gravy. I may need to take breaks writing in November to BBP my way through a section. Who knows? Anything can happen during NaNo. (Twitter users, many of us will be using the #NaNo hashtag. It’s shorter and we get a good group of encouraging wrimos. Please join us!)

I’m interested – what works for you when you work on a project?


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2 thoughts on “NaNo Prep and Plotting

  1. johannaharness October 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm Reply

    Aw, Jess. You’re too kind.

    When I started novel-writing, I thought I’d find the writing process that best fit my style and I’d stick with it. What I found is that books are more like children: what works with one won’t necessarily work with another. If a method isn’t working, try something else. Just keep moving.


    • JC Rosen October 14, 2011 at 3:46 am Reply

      That’s an important point, Johanna. Each project is different and requires a different approach. A writer doesn’t want to write the same story over and over, no matter how successful the first is. Try different methods and see what new tricks you find. Thanks, Johanna. I always learn from you.

      Take care,


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