It is that time of year again!
Yes – November! And for some, it’s the month where you grow out a beard with the enthusiasm of all around you in order to raise money for charity; for others, it’s the countdown to Thanksgiving and Good Friday and all that is wrapped up in that; and still others, it’s just the month between Halloween and Xmas that has no purpose but to move past quickly so they can get to the gingerbread and mistletoe. And then there are those of the writing inclination: for us, November is Nanowrimo – that is, National Novel Writing Month (even though, I have realized it isn’t National so much an International, but whatevs.)
For this month, I am participating, which means that by midnight, November 30th I will have written a 50k word novel, or at least have written 50k words that may one day (after multiple revisions and more words) be considered a novel!
I will chart my progress here on the blog on Mondays and Fridays, and since it’s Nano, the days I am not charting my progress I will also post a book review for you guys! On Mondays, I will post a discussion on novel writing things – plot, characterization, how to stay motivated and determined, and such things. And on Fridays, I will go through the number of words I wrote, where I am in lieu of the entirety of the novel and what predictions I can make for the following week.
This Monday’s topic is: Plot.
You kind of know what it is, right? Phrases like “And the plot thickens!” are pretty normal now, and even if you don’t have an iron-clad definition of “plot” you basically understand that it refers to the events in a book, some would even say it’s another word for “story” entirely.
Dictionary definition time: According to Wiki, Plot is a literary term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, how the reader views the story, or simply by coincidence.
So, plot is basically what moves the story along.
Fair, so why do we need to talk about it at all?
Well, plots can get murky. Better yet, they can go seriously off rail and you’re left at the end of Nanowrimo wondering how your character – who was on a mission that required a certain trajectory – was now spending ten pages discussing the merits of the Marvel universe movies with her potential love interest, instead of on mission (true story). How does that happen – particularly when you already know the type of trajectory that your character is on?
I suppose it happens when you start writing – writing isn’t a simple thing – it’s you, in your own head, narrating to yourself as your fingers write or type out your thoughts. And if you’ve ever cataloged your own thoughts, say while grocery shopping or taking the metro, you know that your thoughts are not usually very linear for very long. In fact, I would hazard a guess that your thoughts jump around all the time – we’re made that way, we are getting tonnes of information in every given second and our brains process it all in milliseconds, and sometimes that process just leaks into our conscious thoughts – and then suddenly because you typed in the word “milky” to describe the skin colour of a character, you’re brain is now on other milky things – like the galaxy or soggy cereal or even some science experiment from the tenth grade. And then when you review your work, you realize there was a three page break from the action where you’re discussing other milky things. Or worse, you’ve just written the word “milky” in six different sentences in one action sequence. And yes, that can totally happen.
See, a plot – as demonstrated by that handy plot mountain above – is a lot about action. Like I said, a plot is what moves the story along – so, at its most basic level, a plot is the action that gets you from scene to scene, culminating in that climax and resolution scene where you were driving towards for the whole of the novel. “Action” does not actually have to be … well action. It can be the thoughts and responses a character goes through – a million little revolutions in their thought process that gets to “I think, therefore I exist” or “By Jove! I have been thinking about this all wrong!” , but in a lot of fiction, particular genre fiction, it tends towards little physical actions that build towards that climax.
So, the question becomes now – how do you stay on that ascending plot mountain?
Well, for one – I find sketching it out is a good start. I literally sketch out an uneven arrow like the one above and then pencil in big life events. For example, for my current novel, I have something like this:
I basically do a basic sketch of the mountain and just start filling in events and emotions my characters have while experiencing these events, and use it as a very basic outline that I refer back to every few chapters or so, in order to determine whether or not I am still on that same trajectory.
So now that you have my basic solution to the off-plot problem, you ask yourself why this matters? I mean, maybe you’d be into having a tangential discussion of the plausibility of surviving the Zombie Apocalypse (re. Zompocalypse) between the bit where you decribe the small town your characters live in and then going on to describe the heartbreak and longing of their personal relationships. Fair enough – this chart and exercise does not prohibit that – in fact, I would say it makes those little sideroads you take to the climax more distinct because you’re keeping the overall trajectory in mind, and so all your asides will be in light of the overall plot, and so while also divertingly entertaining, also important to the story itself.
Basically, with the general mountain sketch in mind, you’re more likely to actually have a cohesive story (because you’re sticking to the plot) than if you were to wing it.
So give it a try! Let me know how you like it, if I am crazy or whatever you feel like commenting!
And now I go to write some more intrigue!