Sundry Saturday ~ Before NaNo

Taking plot notes!

NaNoWriMo will start in less than a week and even though I know about the world and characters I’m going to write about, I haven’t laid out my plot…which is not a bad thing in and of itself. I’m not a Plotter actually, nor am I Pantser. I’m a Plantser. 

  • Plotter Otter – has a detailed plot, scene cards, and whatever else is needed to keep themselves on track to finish their 50k.
  • Pantser Panther – starts everything on the 1st day of NaNo. No notes, no plots, no outlines, nothing of the sort on their journey to 50k.
  • Plantser Platypus – has a bit of an outline, but “just writes” for some of it too. Uses some tricks from Plotters and Pantsers alike to reach 50k.

I like being a Plantser, not just because I lay claim to the coolest of the three animals (sorry otters and panthers!), but because for me, this is what works – a “skeleton” frame for plotting, then writing from Point A to Point B. 

What do I mean by a “skeleton plot” though? First off, it’s not the graph made to derive a date for a specimen. I use the term to talk about a bare bones structure, the loose outline of my story. The Pantser part of it comes when I flesh it out. (Have I mentioned I write horror?). How do I assemble a bare bones skeleton? 

First I try to guesstimate what my end word count will be. Let’s take 50k, and make a short story out of it. Chapters have an average range between 2,000-5,000 words. I’m okay with this range (I haven’t done especially long or short chapters), so I’ll take my usual of 4,000 words per chapter and come out to around 12.5 (I’ll settle for 12) chapters at 4k each.

Hmm… let’s make this story about a woman looking for her family after the end of the world. Problems she can encounter are other people, the environment, and of course internal conflict/growth. First off, a sentence about the basic idea (more of a tag-line really). 

A woman wanders the wasteland looking for her family, but when she tries to help another family stay together, she’ll have to chose between what use to be and what can be. (Reading this, it seems as if I’ve stumbled upon two themes – the importance of family first and foremost since there are two parts to it, and possibly a second theme in the idea of progress.)

Ch. 1 – Woman is looking for family. She comes to a surviving town on the edge of what used to be a lake. She enters, and asks about her family as she trades. (This shows off the character, the problem, the setting, and sets up the story).

  • Starts – Woman seeing a settlement by a dried out lake with empty boats. 
  • Ends – Trader mentions they’ll need some water before they can trade it to her; a commotion draws her away. 

Ch. 2 – Problem #1 – while she’s trading, there’s a commotion from the gate. A family wants to join the community, but are being refused because they “come from that radioactive place” and “are radioactive themselves!” She has some knowledge about radiation – enough to know that if they were radioactive, they would be sick enough to show signs. She tries to tell the community that, but they ignore her, and the family.

  • Starts – Lured by the commotion, she listens to see what the problem is. 
  • Ends – Goes to sleep.

Ch. 3 – Problem #2 -During the night, one of the locals is murdered. No one is sure who did it, but quickly the blame is cast on the family – they killed someone so that the community would be forced to let them join.  Woman rolls her eyes, says the guy probably got himself killed in a fight or something. Trader tells her he might have information about her family, but he’ll only trade it for some fresh herbs. She asks why someone else can’t get it and he says everyone else is busy, and travelers are the only time he can get herbs. Reluctantly, she agrees. (Goal Progress)  

  • Starts – Wakes up to the murder
  • Ends – Leaves to gather herbs

And so on until Chapter 12. This set up allows me to keep on a decent track of being from Point A to Point B, but also gives me the freedom to decide the details of my town, what the herbs actually are, and more. All the fun of the discovery. Throughout the chapters I can easily see the scene it starts with, where it ends, and some of the more important plot points that have to happen on the way.

One of the family members is going to join up with her, so she has to go outside. Why does she have to go outside? Her goal is finding her family, so I tied it to that. What does the trader need? Probably not water – one person isn’t going to carry enough for his family or for him to trade. Food? Again, if she already had the food, she would have traded it. What about something so small, so insignificant, none of the other people there would go out of there way to get it? And, in a community after the end of the world, what might people be bored of? Bland food. 

I found this works best for me when I tried to pants my entire YA sci-fi novel. It…needs editing. A LOT of editing. And to be honest, I have no interest in editing it since I know what a complete and horrible mess it became. I finished my latest manuscript using this method, an A dystopia, and I’m much happier to be editing that since I know I semi-followed the plot line. Sure, I need to fix some big things in there: the first fight didn’t take place in the right area, and because of that, the second fight needs to be moved as well. I’ll also be cutting out two characters who would be better off in the sequel.

As I said before, this is what works for me, and I’m a happy little Plantser Platypus. What about you?

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