I envy pantsers, I really do. Pansters are those people who can sit down open a word document or pick up a pencil and through some form of sorcery let the words just flow out of them. They get the words on the page without any prep work. No planning, no outline, no world building or created a new dwarfish language, and yet they manage to get it done.
This guest post is by Letitia Jones. Jones constructed her first story after she watched Michael Jackson zombie-walk across her screen and onto the page of her Lisa Frank notebook. She grew up in Germany, the firstborn daughter to Army parents. In 2010, she penned her first NaNoWriMo novel while studying abroad in Manchester, England, rediscovering her love for writing. Since that first attempt, Jones has graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, moved back to Manchester and started a Creative Writing masters program at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is working on her second NaNo-novel. Photo by Paolo Camera.
When I first attempted NaNoWriMo I thought I could pants my way through it. I gave it my all, it and I ended up with a gargantuan knot of plot holes and twists the likes of which Stephen Hawking could write papers about till the sun burned out. Sheldon Cooper could delight himself for years unraveling that mess I created. I found out that year, the hard way mind you, that I am a plotter. With that revelation the following year in October I sat down to plot my novel and I won NaNo in 27 days. The next year I won in 24 days the following year I won in 15 days and last year I won NaNo in 7 days. Now this is going to be a how to guide to writing 10,000 words in a day, smarter people than I have given advice on that front and I encourage you to seek them out and learn from them. I sure did. Rachel Aaron runs a thread on in the fanatsy forum offering help and advice; you can find her at www.rachaaron.net.
What I am going to impart to you is how I plot and plan my novels. You know the saying, “Everything you need to know in life you learned in kindergarten,” well that principle can be applied even in plotting. If it takes you longer to describe your plot than it does to send a text message you need to go back to the drawing board.
Like many of you I’ve thousands of books. Books about dragons, books about wizards, little girls in rabbit holes, wicked witches, pirates and after pulling myself out of the trenches its hard to image that a tome like Lord of the Rings can be boiled down into a simple sentence, but I assure you it can be. The Song of Ice and Fire can be boiled down to a simple sentence as well, and it is from those simple sentences that we get some of the greatest works of fiction of our time. We could spend all day dissecting GoT and LoTR but we’re here to talk about your work.
We are going to start with a simple sentence, free of characters, subplots, or twisty ends love triangles, I’m looking at you YA authors lurking in the shadows. Just start with a simple sentence.
A girl meets a boy.
There wasn’t that easy. No fuss no muss. Nothing could get be simpler than that. A girl meets a boy. It’s a tale as old as time, and still as sweet as the first go around. Now we are going to take this simple sentence and give it an equally simple resolution. Again we don’t want anything flashy or fancy.
A girl meets a boy who changes her life forever.
Now we have a plot that will take us from the beginning of our story to the very end. Now this is where things are going to get interesting. Moving right along, we’re going to add adjectives for the girl and the boy. For edification, an adjective is a describing word, which qualifies a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified.
A streetwise girl meets a noble boy who changes her life forever.
Now we rolling folks, let’s go ahead and add in a villain. Sometimes you just may have a antagonists, but for our purposes we’re going with a villain. We are going to go through the same steps from above.
Start with a simple sentence.
A wizard wants to rule the world.
Now lets combine that simple sentence with a resolution.
A wizard wants to rule the world by stealing a lamp.
Add to that simple sentence with resolution some adjectives.
An evil wizard wants to rule the world by stealing a magical lamp.
Now let’s combine our first sentence about the boy and girl with the villain sentence adding in the final resolution.
A bad wizard wants to rule the world by stealing a magical lamp, but a streetwise girl that meets a noble boy who changes her life forever thwart him.
I know I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s a grammatical mess but the key here is simplicity. You want to keep your plot as simple and as basic as you can in the beginning, before you start to write. This approach will allow you to create and destroy characters, subplots, and plot twists with wonton abandon and ease. See how easy that was! Plotting is not some mystically Holy Grail that you have to assemble the Fellowship or the Avengers to find. You don’t have to be Einstein to sit down and plot out a novel. It’s as easy as a girl meets a boy. Now go forth my intrepid writers and conquer Camp NaNoWriMo with the skill of an Avenger trying to save New York City.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.