Prepping for NaNoWriMo: Step Three – The Plot Outline
The Plot Outline – Losing the Confusion
Once you’ve got your summary, it’s time to create your plot outline. There are a myriad of ways to do this. Don’t believe me? Just Google “how to outline a novel” and see how many things come up! Writing a plot outline doesn’t have to be difficult or confusing, however.
The essential thing is to find what works for you. What works for Stephen King (creating characters and seeing what they’ll do as you’re writing (aka “pantsing”)) does not work for a majority of writers. And especially if you want to conquer NaNoWriMo, having a well-thought-out plot will put you miles ahead of the competition.
You’ve already got a summary that makes you excited to read your book. Now it’s time to stretch out that summary to include all the elements of a good story. My method(s)? I combine a few different plotting methods, but I’ll talk about my favorites here.
First, I divide my story into four parts: Act One; Act Two, Part One; Act Two, Part Two; and Act Three. Then I pull out my checklists of plot elements I’ve created for specific genres and have that handy. My checklists contain both essential elements for each part of the story and optional elements, allowing me to pick and choose what will work and what won’t for the particular story I’m trying to tell. They are based on the research of Alexandra Sokoloff (found in her Screenwriting Tricks for Authors books, here) and here) and provide me a base from which to start, knowing my options and what I’m going to need to ensure no plot holes.
The Presentation Board
I have a tri-fold cardboard presentation board I use for plotting and outlining my books. I’ve divided this into four parts and labeled each part with their essential elements. On sticky notes I have optional elements and movable elements. I can place these all over the board, replacing with specific plot ideas as I go along. I also put pictures where it helps to see a place or device. Having a visual representation of my story makes me think a little more clearly and objectively about the story as a whole. I’ve used not only a presentation board, but two white boards on my wall, divided into portions. But the best part about the presentation board? It folds up and can be put away. This is essential for those of us writers who have children at home! White boards are wonderful if you can put them away, or if they’re on a wall where little fingers can’t reach.
When you’ve finished structuring your plot on the presentation board, it’s time to move to Step Four, The Chain of Causation.