It’s almost here. In a matter of days, the one month countdown until NaNoWriMo begins….there are generally two basic strategies used to tackle writing 50,000 words in 30 days, being a planner/plotter or a pantser.
As the names suggest, a planner spends time plotting out and planning to write their novel; this often includes research, flushing out characters, testing out plot points, and more. Pantsers, on the other hand, fly by the seat of their pants, going in with minimal to no planning on November 1st, perhaps only the a stray idea they plan to turn into a novel.
As mentioned in this post from last year, my first attempt at NaNoWriMo was very much attempted as a pantser. I went in with a vague description of a character and pieced together a direction to go during the first week. It was incredibly difficult for me. I spent so much of my time trying to figure out the other characters I needed to form and write into the story, as well as creating setting and a plot to follow as I went, that it was maddening trying to write a story that I would want to read.
It was obvious that being a full on pantser did not work for me.
The next time I gave NaNoWriMo a real chance, which I count as last year, I found what approach works best for me; the plantser approach, or the planner/pantser combination.
What does it mean to be a plantser?
Well, it could take any form that works for you, but generally it uses both approaches, and I plan to use it again this year; which is why October is a month of planning and preparing.
In my opinion, the best thing about being a plantser is the fact that I have more of a foundation going into my WIP, which means it’s a lot easier to make things happen in the story. With that in mind, there’s no reason at all not to go off in another direction, if it suits the story, and factor that in as you move forward.
Essentially, that’s why a combination works best for me, and many others, because it’s also individualized. You can do as much or as little preparation as you wish, becoming only as detailed as suits you. For instance, I had copious amounts of jots and notes about various characters, or facts about the novel, some of which didn’t necessarily need to be included in the novel, but helped in the writing of it.
It works best when you know what details you need to weave the story together while you’re writing it, and get those down during the planning period.
The best details to plan include:
- Character details and descriptions- birthdays, graduation dates, degrees, school names, family names, nick names, relevant history that makes them who they are in the novel, their motivations, etc.
- Setting details- major settings (or at least one) might be good to establish, especially if dealing in fantasy or other worlds that need more context and description; perhaps you need to research real places first and make specific references to make the setting come to life, etc.
- Some major and sub plot points- making a note of major things that need to happen throughout your novel is a good idea, it helps you link your beginning and end, and it can help you from getting too stuck in the middle; noting subplot points you want to weave in are also good to note, and you can always change or add as you write
- Essentials timeline- this becomes more important dependent depending on the kind of novel you’re writing and how many things need to happen in particular order, but a timeline of big happenings or significant dates to characters can save a lot of time later, both in writing and in revising
I personally found these helpful last year and helped me keep to my word count a lot easier since there was less time scrambling for important details. Instead, all I had to do was scan my notes and I was off again. If I decided to make a change, I could easily enough by looking at my notes and doing so.
I definitely strayed from the plot points I originally wrote in October, adding, switching, and altering as needed along the way. For instance, I noted a plot point as simply “vibes and feelings” in relation to another character and just saying “next vision,” leaving the details to come to me in the moment or to be thought on until that time.
In the end, everyone finds what works for them, falling in and out of their stride and, as long as they don’t give up, find themselves winners of NaNoWriMo and novel writers. You do what works for you, and for me, it’s a combination approach. Having a flexible plan is usually what works best for me.
What about you? What’s your style?