Posts Tagged pantsing

Planning your story – a checklist for success: and win Nail Your Novel in print!

chapbkI could have called this post ‘pantsing – a capsule wardrobe’, but along with novel-nailing that might have been a metaphor too far.

Some writers plan to the ennnnnth degree. Before they write, they prepare a trunkload of ideas, route maps and background. Then we have the scribblers who travel light. Just the barest plot twist, perhaps a skinnily-honed last line or a little black denouement. (Actually, I’m warming to this wardrobe theme.)

So if you’re in the former category, what mustn’t you forget? And if the latter, what’s the bare minimum you can get away with?

Today I’m at a festival called Chapter Book Challenge, a month-long event that aims to galvanise writers to write a chapter book in just a month. I’m zoning in on the essentials for the drafting process – and as an added bonus, commenters on the post (THAT post, not this one!) will get entered into a draw to win a paperback copy of Nail Your Novel, original flavour, which is packed with essentials for getting you from first idea to final draft. Come on over to find out what every well-dressed novel is wearing...

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A site to help you fill the gaps in your story outline

I’m shuffling ideas for The Venice Novel and I’ve come across a fantastic site that’s helping me clarify where I want to take the story.

It’s called Television Tropes and Idioms. But don’t be fooled by its name. Tropes doesn’t mean cliches; it means story conventions and readers’ expectations. In fact, you can use the site as a cliche and stereotype warning – it tells you what’s already been done to death so you can keep your story and characters fresh and original. And the site includes movies and novels as well – of all types, all genres (and even stories that don’t fit easily anywhere).

I’m using it to fill gaps. At the moment I have a rudimentary cast of characters and a fundamental conflict, so I need to see what else could gather around it. Poking around in the subject sections (‘topical tropes’, in the left sidebar) suggested a lot more places I could take the characters and ways to develop the plot. It also gave me ideas for more defined roles my characters could play.

If you want to hit a particular genre, zip down the left-hand sidebar and look up ‘literature’ and you’ll find a list of categories to clarify where you fit. You can also check you’ve covered enough bases to satisfy readers and identify possibilities you might not have thought of.

But even if you don’t fit traditional pigeonholes (like certain folks I could mention), you can look up story ingredients, such as ‘war’, ‘betrayal’ or ‘family’ – just for instance, under the latter you get a delicious sub-list with suggestions like ‘amicably divorced’, ‘hippie parents’, ‘dysfunctional’.

Some writers get their first inspirational spark from a setting – if that’s you, you can research how other authors have done your setting justice, from pre-history to ‘4000 years from now (and no jetpack)’.

One of the other things I like about it – very much – is its tone. No judgements are made about whether genres are fashionable, overworked, lowbrow or highbrow. It’s all about celebrating how stories work – or sometimes don’t. As we know, that comes down to the writer’s skill anyway, not whether a ‘subject’  is en vogue. And after a few hours in the company of their rather breezy descriptions, not only will you be better informed, you will be spurred to avoid the lazy story decision.

If you’re sprucing up your outline – especially as NaNoWriMo looms – spend an afternoon exploring Television Tropes and give your story a thorough workout.

Do have any go-to sites when you’re planning a novel – and how do you use them? Share in the comments!

You can find tips for researching, outlining and what makes a robust story in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Available on Kindle and in print. You also might like my multimedia course with Joanna Penn – more than 4 hours of audio and slides with an 86-page transcription – find it here.

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Repost: Nail NaNoWriMo! A routine to help you finish

As NaNoWriMo gets under way, how are you doing?

Are you finding NaNoWriMo easier than you thought it would be, or harder?

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo because other projects have got in the way, but I have had to write several novels to tight deadlines – 50,000 words in two months, finished and ready for a publisher to see. It was effectively two NaNoWriMos back to back, which I did several times. I had detailed synopses, but I had to just get my head down and pound out the words. It taught me a thing or two about keeping myself at the keyboard.

Here are my top seven tips.

1. Are you getting into the scenes enough? If you’ve written a synopsis, you’ll have summarised everything. The first draft is where you turn it into living, breathing scenes. That’s how you meet the wordcount, because it takes a lot more words to write a scene blow by blow than it does to say ‘Vanessa confronts the woman who betrayed her’. In your NaNo draft, DO NOT summarise anything. Show, not tell. Try writing to music – it can help you immerse yourself. If scented candles do it for you, give yourself a Proustian boost!

2. Are you worried about the quality of what you’re writing? Don’t be. NaNoWriMo is about inventing. Editing is not allowed until the month starts with a D but you might be better leaving it until J is involved. You can’t edit as you invent, your brain doesn’t work that wayand you’ll never make the wordcount if you stop to fret over what you’ve written. So let the scenes unfold in your head, write down what’s happening and to hell with how it reads.

3. Are you getting stuck in your story? Use reincorporation. Find a thing or a character you put in the story before and work it back in to solve your problem. This is the single most useful way to solve a story problem.

4. Are you giving yourself enough credit? Make yourself visual awards. Find a way to visually represent how far you’ve got – a thermometer with coloured bars, a graph climbing slowly skywards, or any combination of these. Put them up in your work area. Yes this is just like in infants’ school where the teacher puts up rows of stars. We are primitive at heart. Reward your inner child for writing so much.

5. How NaNo is your environment? Theme your writing area. If you’ve made an ideas scrapbook for your novel, put up pictures and make the edges of your monitor or your desk into a mood board. Change them regularly to keep your interest and sense of immersion, or to kick-start your writing for the day. In December, tinsel and stuff helps you feel Christmassy; in November, decorate for NaNoWriMo.

6. Will you be derailed if you miss a day or fall behind? Everybody falls behind a little, because we all have lives to live as well as books to write. A sudden birthday or crisis need not derail your NaNo plan. Make sure your writing plan includes some slack so you can steal back time if you need to. If it doesn’t, rewrite it NOW, while you still have plenty of room for manoeuvre.

7. Remember NaNoWriMo is an experiment. You are experimenting with your muse and your writing habits by setting yourself a challenge – and a difficult one. Experiments don’t fail or pass; they produce what they produce. Some of it will be nonsense, and some will be sublime invention. This is why it’s a good thing to do, despite what its critics will say. Stay the distance and see what happens. Enjoy the journey and the surprises. That’s what it’s all about.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, how’s it going? Post up a link in the comments to let us all cheer you on! If you’re a past WriMo, what advice would you give to this year’s runners?

You can find tips for researching, outlining and what makes a robust story in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.

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