#NaNoWriMo: Prep and Plotting


JC Rosen's NaNoWriMo Prep and Plotting

Photo by Robert (Jemimus)

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

Johanna Harness, founder of #amwriting on Twitter (archives for the site here), 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 discovered the benefits of clustering, I often use it in the “outline” at some point. Describing arcs for structure may figure into it. 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 didn’t know existed. Secondary characters take on whole lives and become 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, 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 DraftingIt’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 PlanningHere’s another one from Johanna Harness’s blog. She also turned it into a YouTube video, which is embedded on the page. 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. Scrivener has a version of this, but I like it being tactile.

There are more to be found. With NaNo breathing down my neck, my goal is to get the outline broken down using clustering as needed. Big Board Planning beyond that would 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.




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One thought on “#NaNoWriMo: Prep and Plotting

  1. john ross barnes October 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Jesse. I had missed all of these the first time around, and I think a couple of them might be of good use to me. You know me, I have no idea what I’m doing until I read it later.


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