NaNoWriMo Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.


I am forever amazed at authors who tell me that they write their books without first outlining the plot of their stories.

Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Would Be Author: “Plotting? NOOOOO! I'd never do that! I'd be crushing my muse! My characters take me on their journey, not the other way around….”

Me: “Yeah, right, whatever….Um, how long have you been working on that book?”

Would Be Author, after a long silence: “Well, let's see…I started it in the third year of Obama's second term in office…”

You get my drift.

Dear NaNo Newbie: I never want to have that same conversation with you.

I never want to see the pain in your eyes when you hear that NaNo Pal Such-and-Such just finished his novel/got an agent/sold his book to Random House. Why? Because I know you'll be thinking, “That could have been me, had I only (a) gotten beyond the first chapter (b) figured out where my story was going (c) hadn't run out of steam….”

By the way, “steam” is a euphenism for “plot.”

Which gets us back to the iceberg at the bottom of this tip: Create an outline for your story — so that you actually have a plot.

Non-plotters are what we scribes call a “pantser”: someone who writes by the seat of their pants.

Even published authors do it. Many of my writer pals, in fact (Hey! Yeah, YOU! You know who you are…)

They are the ones who (a) work 10 hours a day for the same 3,000 words it takes a plotter to do in, say 4 hours, or (b) turn in their manuscripts after their editors deadlines, and yet (c) still stubbornly insist it's the only way they can write….


Writing is a discipline, and plotting is the foundation in which your wonderful book will be built.

Don't get halfway through it, then kick yourself because it needs a character who should have entered 40 pages earlier, or because you have to substitute more action in place of all that middle-of-the-book navel gazing…

Admit it: YOU were navel-gazing, too…weren't you?

That's because you got lost in the wilderness of your wonderful mind…

The breadcrumbs are your plot.

You will still see all those wonderful characters on the way to your final destination, but your novel's outline is the map that takes you there.

Think of it as your GPS system, that tells you the next turn—the next waypoint— on your journey, to your final destination: YOUR NOVEL.

This outline will route you through many twists and turns. Along the way, you'll write in many interesting characters that actually DO something in the story which moves the plot forward: up some very challenging plot hills, and down into scary abysses–

All the while allowing the reader to care–no, to LOVE–your hero or heroine.

Bottom line: give your story a great beginning, and page-turning middle, and a satisfying ending.

Think 30 chapters (estimate) in 300 pages (again, nothing written in stone) —

And write something on each page — in each chapter — to make readers want more of your hero(ine).

You may argue, “But doing an outline confines you to those plot points!”

I disagree!

Your outline is the path that takes you from Point A (your first word) to Point Z (The End). Along the way, feel free to stop and smell the roses you find there, be they a character who comes to you out of the blue, or an incident that allows you to meander in a field along your way to your final destination–

The completion of your book.




Okay, now, tell the truth: Do you plot, or pants? And tell me why…

— Josie



4 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.

  1. Oh Jo,
    I’m somewhere in between. I’m a plantser. I generally write some sort of a short synopsis (say 1 page) to figure out what my story is about and what is going to happen. But that is as far into plotting as I get. I’m also a very non linear writer. I simply cannot start at chapter one page one and go anywhere with it. I can however imaging that hot exciting scene that happens halfway through the book and write that!
    Thanks for the tips. Good stuff. I like your would be writer.

  2. LOL! Amy, that’s what SO MANY writers do. It’s a great start — but I could see where you’d stall out somewhere along the line. I feel that, the fuller the outline, the quicker the words will flow. I think Would Be Writer will be an ongoing character in my NaNoWriMo tips in the upcoming days. 😉

  3. Thanks for this post, I am a first time novelist and NaNo participant, have been feeling the need for an outline but not made one. This has finally given me the impetus to put a basic one together, now that I’m 5000 words and 4 chapters in. I can already tell it’s going to be extraordinarily helpful.

  4. Hi, Jenny,
    Trust me, you will not regret the process. Think of it as if a good friend asked you, “So, what is your story about?” Then answer it, telling it from start to finish.
    Each plot twist should be a separate sentence. If you need more than one sentence to explain it, make those sentences their own paragraph.
    The great news: whenever you’re stuck on your POV (point of view), revisiting this outline — this map — will help keep you on track, and help you maintain your pace.
    Good luck!

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