With NaNoWriMo less than two weeks away, our heroine thought it might be helpful to share some tools. They can be used for any project, of course. Some may work for you, some may not. Just as we all learn differently, we all approach our projects differently. As an example, clustering only works for me as I unsnarl a plot point rather than for huge swaths of plotting. I tried the method and learned how to label it for my writing toolbox. Other methods have been tossed aside when they didn’t work for me at all.
I’m a hybrid, neither pantser nor plotter. I call my prep process “outlining,” but that’s a misnomer. My outlines are basic and very loose. I use the outline to describe story and character arcs in general terms. I also input bits of research I don’t want to lose in the process. I fill in a spreadsheet of characters’ information as I go. Okay, I *try* to do that.
While I may explore major plot points and characters more deeply using other methods, I don’t do the intense planning many do. There are times I wish I did. Most of the time, I’m grateful for allowing the story and characters to wander into places I didn’t know existed in the story’s landscape. Secondary characters take on whole lives. It never fails, and thank heavens for it. As such, I don’t plot so tightly there’s no room for breathing within the structure of the writing.
Johanna Harness, founder of #amwriting on Twitter (archives for the site), explores many plotting methods. Her blog and YouTube channel are often my go-to for inspiration. Her info is always accessible and useful. I’ll share a couple as well as some other plotting methods.
Clustering: Johanna first suggested clustering for a snarled up short story because of the effects of my migraines on my writing. I can go full tilt writing with a migraine, but cannot plot or edit for beans. She sees clustering as a right brain/left brain processing difference. To do it, one uses (*gasp*) a pen and paper, drawing bubbles of thoughts all over the page, willy-nilly. I found it helpful when I had a migraine, though mine looked more like a flowchart. I guess I just think too linearly. Check out Johanna’s blog article as well as her video (embedded on page) for more on clustering.
Snowflake Method: Known as “The Snowflake Guy,” Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for novel writing is immensely popular. He calls his process “designing a novel.” Take a look at this article which is full of interesting ideas. As no two novels are exactly alike, no two snowflakes are, either. The article teaches how to design a novel which is perfectly individual. Please read the whole article for full impact.
Phase Drafting: This article by Lazette Gifford, It’s Just a Phase, is from 2003. It’s no less helpful today. Lazette’s ideas about outlining a project are fresh and inspiring. She leaves room for growth and fleshing out the story. Don’t miss this one.
Big Board Planning: This is one of my favorite methods. It’s another by Johanna Harness and you can see the video about it. Do you organize your ideas on note cards or post-it notes? (Do you think you should, but don’t?) I started the post-it note habit when Johanna turned me on to Big Board Planning. It’s as simple as taking a large poster board and putting your cards or post-its on the board. It’s handy for juggling bits of your story, putting them together like a puzzle, or for putting reminders amid the storyline notes. I use a tri-fold poster board so I can fold it up and put it somewhere safe. Johanna shares ideas on how to organize using colors and placements. Scrivener has a version of this, but I like it being tactile.
There are plenty of methods to try. Read about each you find and glean which bits might work for you. You may end up – probably will end up! – creating an entirely new method, one based solely upon your needs as a writer. With NaNo breathing down my neck, I’ll be trying new combinations of tools. I may use clustering to get the basic outline of plot points figured out. (Bet it still looks like a flowchart.) I’ll use a spreadsheet for data on each character’s physical and personality characteristics. Big Boarding may help me if I get stuck during November.
Who knows? Anything can happen during NaNo!
Interested in adding me as a writing buddy on the NaNoWriMo site? Please do! I’m JC_Rosen. (clever, huh?)