Open Thread: NaNo'ers

How do ya'll (those of you who are writers, I mean) do plotting? Do you outline? Do you Freytag? Do you Snowflake? I'm still trying to find the way that feels most natural to me.



Angelia Sparrow said...

I go in with characters and a rough plot idea. As i write, odds and ends come to me, and I end up outlining somehwere around the 30,000 word mark, so i can be sure I get to the end properly and hit all the points I need to. Sometimes, Naomi and I just fly seat of the pants with onlt a rough checklist of events. This is when we wake up and discover we have 9 sex scenes in a 120 page book, and 4 of them get interrupted. (as we did last night)

ZMiles said...

I loosely lay things out in my head (usually just a collection of 'where I begin, where I end, some specific scenes in the middle), then do the first draft. Once that's done, I see where the plot's gone, fix any problems with it, and then do the second draft.

chris the cynic said...

As I've previously mentioned, I've never found a way that works for me. So for any who don't have a good answer, you've got company.

Randall M said...

Do you outline? Do you Freytag?Do you Snowflake?

I only recognise one of theses terms in this context. Even following the link left me with no idea how you would "Freytag".

Aidan Bird said...

I used to do a play by play sort of outline, but then realized that it was way too restrictive, and I never ended up using it.

So instead, I sit down and work on my characters. I have a long character template that I spend days working on - learning all about how the characters think, their history, what they do for a living, what their motivations are, what desires they have, their weaknesses, and all that wonderfulness. (If you'd like, I can post it on my blog and share the link here.)

After that, I interview the characters one by one - at least the main characters and the main villians. This is my most favorite part of my preparation for any story.
Knowing my characters inside and out, really helps me keep the story going, focus o
Next, I work on the setting for the world - if it's set on my Elivera world, then I draw maps and write a bit about the culture of that area. If it's set on Earth, I look up maps and write about the culture of that area of history. I spend the majority of my preparation time on characters and world-building.

In three to five sentences, I write out the main plot for the story. After that, I take each character, brainstorm possible subplots that would work with the main plot, and write two to five sentences about the character and their subplot.

Once I have this barebones description of the plot and a few subplots, I write one to two sentences that describe the triggering event that starts the story. I then write one or two sentences to describe the climax, and one or two sentences for the resolution.

After that, I start writing. This seems to work the best for me since any detailed outlines about the plot are always useless, because the characters can and will surprise me and thus their actions will alter the climax and/or resolution. I find it easier to just write the barebones, thus giving me plenty of room to expand and develop as needed.

Aidan Bird said...

P.S. The reason I work so much on the characters is to help me to understand all their motivations, desires, weaknesses, strengths, and ways of thinking which can alter the plot's conflict, climax, and resolution. I suppose you can say I'm a very character driven author.

Ice said...

I tend to write things that are more plot driven rather than character driven. So for me, I typically get the idea for a triggering event, and then do a rough outline of what might happen along the way. I tend to be a very visual person, but I'm no artist, so when I'm brainstorming the plot, I'm picturing the scenes as I want them to happen, and depending on the story, I might write my outline in the format of screenplay or storyboards.

It's al very loose, and its not unusual for my story to end up in a wildly different place or genre than what I originally anticipated. In fact, I had a character, midway through a story, reveal to me that she may be a little on the queer side. I've yet to determine what that will mean to the story...

Rainicorn said...

I've had good results both ways. I didn't do NaNo last year (grad school ate my life), but the year before I made it up as I went along, and the year before that I prepared for weeks in advance with a whole collage of different-colored Post-It notes on my wall; and I'm pretty pleased with both those novels - or rather, first drafts... It's the edit/rewrite process that's my Achilles heel!

Mary Kaye said...

I plow into it with little idea where I'm going, and eventually--sooner or later--get stuck. Then I start using outlining, noodling, side writing, etc. to try to get unstuck.

This is the pattern of both my finished books and my unfinished ones. The novel of which I am the most proud started off as ten pages which then got stuck and sat in a drawer for about a decade; but, remarkably, it never really got stuck again, and I wrote the whole thing (about 140K) in four months.

Both of my NaNo attempts stalled around 30K. They tend to be more weakly plotted and are therefore harder to unstick, so for me NaNo is not really a win.

depizan said...

I tried nanoing last year without much success. Though it may have helped with my nearly decade long writer's block, which would count as a kind of success.

My few successful (that is to say finished) short stories have been, variously, the result of writing prompts, the result of following a bit of advice that Harry Harrison got (which led him to his Stainless Steel Rat books) - write first lines until you find one that intrigues you enough to carry on, and the result of a general idea - two characters meeting - which rapidly ran away with me. The two short stories I'm working on now each began with general plot ideas and a few scenes (and characters, of course).

Weirdly, I seem to be turning to the PD James method of writing (write scenes, assemble them into a story), something I'd never thought I'd even try. But I've got scenes, damn it, and I might as well get them down, even if I'm having plotting issues with one of the short stories.

I definitely don't follow Freytag's plot thingy.

Jeldaly said...

I have my characters, and a plot idea of 'okay, somewhere in there, X needs to happen, leading to a climax of Y. Also, Z will coincide with Y, and I'll also have a bit of a plot with Q and C that I'll tie in with X...'

Michael Mock said...

@ Depizan - I had a moment a while back where a bunch of scenes that I'd been... noodling out, I guess? I mean, at the time I really thought they were just false starts... anyway, I was looking them over and realized that actually, while I'd been undecided about my starting point, the scenes fit together pretty well. So the idea of writing scenes and fitting them together later - strange as it would have sounded to me a month ago - really could work.

I'm very much a seat-of-my-pants writer. If the story is carrying me along, I don't need a formal outline; and if it isn't, I have yet to find any approach to outlining that will save me.

Ana Mardoll said...

I have bought something called "Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success" by K.M. Weiland and it has been very interesting so far. Zie differentiates between Outliners (which I definitely am) and Pantsers and the relative differences. It's been a good read but I'm only in the first 50 pages or so. My biggest problem is that I don't have a tool that outlines in the way I WANT to outline -- I've been trying to force Scrivener into my method, but it's not working as well as I'd like.

I dug around the NaNo forums thinking there'd be some outlining threads, but the forums are big and a little overwhelming to me.

Will Wildman said...

I've tried really detailed plotting before and it puts me off - I feel restricted and lose the sense of exploration that can pull me forward. My 2011 NaNo was a ground-up re-engineering of an old fanfic (now in an original world with original characters) that I had been thinking about for about five years. My current nanocamp story that I'm working on now is based on a handful of ideas that I got maybe a month ago. Both projects have been about as easy to write, which apparently tells you how useful the five years of plotting were. Though, admittedly, the 2011 NaNo had an incredibly detailed backstory, whereas with this one I've just been making stuff up as I go.

What's tended to work best for me is having... I guess I could call it a map and a destination? Like, I know where I'm going (ideally, the ending, but a key plot point like 'and then they get trapped inside the building' works too) and I have a general sense of what kind of narrative terrain lies between here and there (if I go that way I may have to slog through a media fiasco, but if I follow this argument to its source I could end up on some slippery ledge over a precipice of inter-protagonist enmity) and then I take a somewhat random walk through it all and improvise along the way.

One thing I think I'm finding is that I can get great results out of making something up completely at random and then trying to justify it. In the first scene I had a character mention getting abducted, practically as a throwaway joke, but since then it's become both a character-establishing incident for them and a core plot point for the midsection of the story, because once it was on the page, I had to make it make sense. Things like that I think let me exercise the skills I developed in fanfiction, where justifying random stuff that you didn't plan yourself is standard operating procedure.

Samantha C said...

I often don't know exactly how my stories are going to come together until they do it, which is frustrating. A lot of the time I'll try to just start writing with as many ideas as I have - here's an opening scene, let's just write it and come back to it later.

I do use outlines, but they're more like scene descriptions. I think my outlining is influenced by being a musical theatre fan, and the way scenes are outlined in their playbills.

Scene: Mary's house, evening.
"All I Want" - Mary
"Growing Up" - Mary's Mother
"All I Want Reprise" - Mary and John

If that were a scene in my story, my outline would probably look like:

Mary alone at her house, trying to decide on her next steps. Her mother comes home, argument ensues when she explains her choices, and mom doesn't think they work. Mom storms off; in time for John to arrive and confess his feelings.

There are a thousand ways for that same scene to actually play out, but I have the where, the who, and the why and what. I know what particular beats I'm leading up to, and many times it takes much longer to get to them than I envisioned, but I get the rising tensions I need just from trying to corral it into the right places eventually.

JonathanPelikan said...

I tried looking for good references on outline techniques/tools at NaNoWriMo but got lost in the vast, endless roiling seas.

I'm probably not going to participate officially in the month but, like last month, I'll definitely use it as a chance to force myself to write for pre-existing projects that haven't been getting enough love this year from me. (Like that whole alleged 'novel' thing I have sitting here.)

Outlining. Hm. On the one hand, I really like doing this; I'll print up a page or two that just says, basically, this thing happens. Then this thing happens! etc. Almost like writing my own cliff notes version before I actually lay down the story. I also tend to do a lot of backstory/worldbuilding, etc, pages and pages of that, so if I do participate in NaNoWriMo it'll probably be set within my persistent sci-fi universe.

Since this is an open thread on writing, I'll talk a little about what I'm doing today, then~

Military SF. Space Navy. Trying to look for sources that will allow me to write such a thing in a way that seems believable and also cool. It's the balance I've got to strike.

One of the smaller examples of this is when I was prowling TV Tropes yesterday and came across, oh, just tons of stuff. Wikisurfing happily off the Battlestar Galactica page when it made reference to a wonderful three-trope combo:

When the Cylons show up and bad business is afoot, Mission Control gets on the horn and gives a simple, formulaic, and professional announcement: "Action Stations, Action Stations.. Set Condition One throughout the ship. This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill." I love that sort of authentic-sounding military lingo, jargon, etc.

Also, a cool quote from an IRL submarine during the cold war: "This is the Captain speaking. We're just about to enter the patrol area. From now until the time we return there will be no drills. All alarms are real."

CleverNamePending said...

In November I went at a story I had been turning over in my head for a few years but had no solid outline for. Just a vague idea of "this happens, and later on this needs to happen and these are the characters and this is what they're doing and why..." It went alright, but I felt the pacing and the characterizations where all really skewed.

This month I'm working on a book that I started plotting out about two days before I started writing it. I've had a few long road trips, so I've been thinking out scene wise how it needs to play out during them (I'm a bit more then halfway through the plot with it). I've got a series of little paragraphs that just are quick "this needs to happen" and I've been writing based off those, and a really bare bones cast list. The scenes are often a lot bigger then their little blurbs would lead you to believe, but it's just something to keep me organized. I like this method as I have a much better handle of pacing, when I need to introduce things, when I need to start bread crumbing plot points, and where to slip in foreshadowing. It also is a lot harder to get stuck since each little paragraph serves as a great writing prompt. I think I'll try about the same method next time I do NaNo, but maybe give myself more then two days head start on the planning.

depizan said...

Not related to plotting, at least not directly, but I just came to the conclusion that one of the stories I'm working on will need a warning. For bad thing.

[ distressed author ]
I am the worst person ever!!11!

[/ distressed author]


Fluffy_goddess said...

When I first started writing, I'd outline *obsessively* -- character sketches, maps, timelines, etc. Problem was, I can tell myself the entire plot of a novel in a single afternoon, hitting all the scenes that interest me the most, and start from there; by the time I've been working on actually getting it down for a month, I'm bored of it and getting hit with the inspirations for a bunch more.

Nowadays I try to write scenes and short stories, in the hopes that they will eventually either fit into a coherent novel, or else can be compiled into an anthology-style book. (The latter is far more likely, with some of mine. The Arthurian Legend one, for instance, has stories from every different character's point of view, in various 'styles' to try to mimic their internal voices. It all hangs together because I wrote a timeline of when I want major events to happen, but it winds up requiring a lot of editing and rewriting to become readable.)

Ana Mardoll said...

My novel has a trigger warning page! Is it is a really bad thing? *hugs*

Makabit said...

Early drafts get done with a greater or lesser sense of where I am going, and minimal planning, planning starts in the second draft. Sometimes this works remarkably well. With my 2010 Nano I hadn't a clue what was going on except for what the big secret at the end was supposed to be, and I just sort of aimed at that. It came out, I think, very well for a first draft, (not that I've properly edited it, mind you), and all sorts of things came out in the pantsing that I had never envisioned. (I really liked the part where the teenage Jewish kidnap victim managed to join a band of Canterbury pilgrims to get back home.)

I really tried to plot the one I'm in now, and it wouldn't work, in part because I spent too much time trying to fit small bits I'd done before into the plot. Now I'm just forging on ahead, and I think I'll have to throw half of it out, but I'm figuring out some of the plotting things I couldn't figure out before as I go.

Pantser for life, I'm afraid. I so want to be able to outline and know where this thing is going.

depizan said...

Oh I don't feel that other people are bad for writing warningy things. That's a me only hang up. (Though I'm a pretty wussy reader, and miss out on many good things that are too dark for me.)

There are far worse bad things, but if the author would hide their eyes if it were a movie, maybe the audience should have some warnings? (I love the idea of warnings, but am still hazy on the proper protocol. Pretty sure maiming people qualifies, though. Stupid villains. *flails about being horrible forever*)

Ana Mardoll said...

My feeling about TW as a reader is not that I use them to NOT read the work -- I have few triggers THAT strong -- but that I use them so that I know what to expect going in and I'm not shocked-out-of-the-blue by triggers.

Example: I went into The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (the movie) without knowing what it was about and was SERIOUSLY triggered. Then I read the book (so obvs the trigger didn't STOP me), but because I knew what was coming, I was able to cope with it without the shakes and uncontrollable crying.

depizan said...

Which is why one ought to warn people for anything that might trigger or upset them. I still wish there existed a master list of everything one should warn for.

Not writing anything in need of warnings would be another solution, but I seem to be failing at that.

Will Wildman said...

I still wish there existed a master list of everything one should warn for.

Well... there is, but it's 'everything ever'. The first two things that leap to mind when I try to think 'harmless' are kittens and birthday cake, and I don't doubt there are people in the world who have endured things that would cause either or both of those to trigger them.

I would think that a lot of the common ones (graphic violence) can be picked up fom context - murder mysteries and urban fantasy probably will have it, fluffy/lusty romances and legal thrillers probably won't, and the exceptions hopefully telegraph themselves. What I get stuck on is how to handle it when the goal is to startle the audience (at least, those parts of it who will react to startlement in the desired manner) with a sudden shift. Giving fair warning to people who really don't need to be shocked by the terrible event that's going to get sprung on the protagonist still needs to happen somehow, even while lulling other readers into exactly the right sense of false security.

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Limblessness

I put my TW page at the end of my book with a link from the beginning to people who wanted to get there in advance. I'd love to know how many people actually linked back to look before reading.

For violence, I think there are ways to indicate the level of violence in a work without being too spoilery. "Gtaphic violence" makes me think, like, "Sin City"; "Fantasy Violence" makes me thinks "Lord of the Rings"; "Discussion of Limb Loss" could be anything from that Celtic book I read by that mainstream author I can't remember where the king got a Silver Hand to a background character discussing how he lost his legs in the war and could the hero spare a dime.

Jurgan said...

I like this. I was doing NaNoWriMo, but got stuck for several months because I had gathered my characters and then had no idea what they were going to do. Eventually, I got over it by asking each of them "what do you want?" In the process, I realized that one of them desperately wanted to kill another, and suddenly I had a plot.

CleverNamePending said...

I'm torn on TW. When I get into the things that merit it (EX: In my current project the main character looses her arm.) I am usually blind siding and traumatizing my character with it, so it feels like cheating to use a trigger warning. That moment is when Shit Gets Real, and even if I put "WARNING: LIMBLESS-NESS" I don't know if that would prepare people for the incredibly violent and awful nature of how she looses her arm if that IS a trigger for them on top of that.

depizan said...

Yeah, 'everything ever' is kind of what I thought it would be. (And probably why I can only find lists of standard warnings that mainly consist of things too dark for what I write.) Hell, in my case, the title of the story is (or should be) a hint that things don't go entirely well within.

As for the element of surprise, I can think of a way that might work for online or even e-books: layered warnings. Shown warning is general, say, "violence" (or "graphic violence," "fantasy violence," whatever would be appropriate). Then there's a textbox thingy you can open if you want to know more, which would have more specific trigger warnings. Then you can highlight in the textbox for very specific.

TW: Limblessness

To carry on with Ana's example...
(Shown warning) Violence (inside textbox thingy) Discussion of Limb Loss (highlightable) Character loses hand in duel.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't think that epub does highlight / cascading text, but internet HTML certainly can/will.

In Pulchritude, my TW page read:

The following potentially triggering content is included in this novel:
Descriptions of violence, spilled blood, and animal-on-human attacks.
Allusion to the fear of potential rape in frightening situations.
Depiction of captivity and emotional manipulation within captivity.
Discussion of mental illness, including ableist terminology.
Abusive parenting, including verbal abuse and emotional abuse.
Involuntary and painful body transformation.
Patriarchal societies and their detrimental effect on the inhabitants.

I felt/hoped that would "prep" the reader for the content without outright spoiling who has what happen.

depizan said...

Reading your list, it struck me just how many trigger warnings most fiction ought to have. And trigger warnings attached to fiction might have saved me from reading/seeing a few things I probably shouldn't have read/seen. (Or better prepared me for them, which is the point.)

Does leave me in a weird place with regard to fan fic, though. I didn't warn for anything that was par for the course in the universe, on the assumption that people reading it are probably familiar with said universe. (What I want to warn for is not out of bounds, by any means, just nastier than I usually get as a writer.) But I'm not sure now... *frowns* I almost want to put up a generic warning for the universe: "The following potentially triggering content is commonly found in this universe, including my stories: LIST"


Only downside to trigger warnings (and I realize it's trivial compared to the good they do) is that they make everything sound unrelentingly awful. Or maybe that's just because I am the biggest wuss ever. If everything did have warning lists, I'd learn to parse them, just like one figures out movie reviewer euphemisms, Death by Newbery Award, and the like. And would probably save me from scanning the last pages of novels, trying to tell if everyone lives. (Biggest wuss ever, that's me!)

Will Wildman said...

Only downside to trigger warnings (and I realize it's trivial compared to the good they do) is that they make everything sound unrelentingly awful.

I wasn't pleased with that either when I started adding them on my blog, so I developed what seemed like a good compromise - rather than 'trigger warning', I just have a 'content' line at the start that lists some potentially-triggering stuff (if it's a trigger for you, you don't need me telling you that this is a trigger warning) contained within, followed by the 'fun content' line that is basically there to make it clear that not everything is awful. From my latest post, for example, we have this at the start:

(Content: references to bigoted language and violence. Fun content: robot cupcakes and Euler’s identity.)

Partly this is strategic - there are people out there who will get endlessly snippy about 'trigger warnings' while happily composing a tweet that is 90% hashtags, and I figure the best way to confound them is to normalise the trigger warnings until, to someone with no triggers, it's still instinctive because that's just how hashtagging works - you compile a list of relevant stuff, both the good and the bad. People who whine about trigger warnings are going to sound much more obviously daft if they have to shift to complaining about not liking certain tags.

Extrapolating from this, if I were drafting a warning page for a final draft expanded version of my 2011 NaNovel, I might have it go something like:

This novel contains scenes of graphic violence, references to rape, references to miscarriage and infertility, death by stabbing, severe nonfatal burn injuries, mentally-conditioned enslavement, severe depression, extremely questionable poetry, wizard acrobats, hot dudes in kilts, one-person orchestras, strategic pillow forts, and one or more triumphs of love over fear and enmity. No promises on what order these will arrive in.

Which I think could about hit that balance of letting people know what they're in for without spoiling much and without being pure gloom (though hopefully still ominous).

Ana Mardoll said...

Will, I think I love that idea. At least, I love what you've written.

depizan said...

Huh, I like that idea. It certainly solves the "unrelenting awful" problem while still conveying the same information. Now I know how to apply proper warnings without making it sound like I'm George R.R. Martin or Quentin Tarantino.*

*No insult intended to either!

depizan said...

Does this sound like a reasonable content warning for the Star Wars universe?

"The Star Wars universe contains - in no particular order - war, violence (usually not graphically depicted), maiming, torture, genocide, destruction of planets (sometimes inhabited), zombies, super weapons, terrorism, a tendency to conflate evil and insanity (or just a lot of villains who are probably also in need of some mental help), mass murder, fantastic racism speciesism, ableist language, sexist people, swearing, and probably a few potentially unpleasant/disturbing things I've temporarily forgotten.

It also contains spaceships, varied assortments of humans and aliens, mystical powers, heroism, adventure, spaceships, daring rescues, improbable powers of persuasion, hope, triumph over adversity, good people defying bad governments, friendship and/or love triumphing over any number of things, and did I mention spaceships?

A large number of these things will be mentioned and/or contained in my fics, character blogs, and general blogging about the game."

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