8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo
I promised not to leave you guys hanging with my last post. Now that I have a lot of you beating your shields ready for NaNo, I’m going to give you battle tactics to come out victorious (or maybe at least alive).
Sure, NaNo is great to just learn to turn off the Inner Editor and get those 50,000 words DOWN. But, if in the end, all we have is a gelatinous ooze that eats people and attacks the city? They call in the National Guard to take out our WIP, because no revision can tame it.
What to do? This post is incredibly redacted, but it’s a blog. So roll with it 😉 .
These tips will work for any novel, but they are SUPER important in NaNo, lest we write ourselves into the Corner of NO Escape by November 10th. These tips will ward off plot bunnies, keep the muse cooking, and hopefully help you finish.
Last I checked, finished books sell the best.
A lot of time when I’m called in to repair critically injured plots, the main problem is…well, the problem. It’s passive. If your story involves “protecting” something, “escaping” something, “avoiding” something? Not going to work.
Think of it this way. I want to write a story about protecting the princess or the world will be robbed of all glitter and chocolate and all the people will be super sad. Oh-kay. What’s the plot? Stick her in a giant human-sized hamster ball and make sure it’s heavily guarded? Guarding is not ACTIVE.
A teenage boy inherits the power to time-travel but he will rip the space-time continuum if he does. He must never learn he can time-travel or use his powers.
Again, oh-kay. So does the book involve distracting him with video games for 65,000 words?
I call this The Containing Communism Conundrum. Didn’t work in the Cold War, likely will be equally ineffective/frustrating in a novel.
And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I will get a bunch of comments with, “But Such-and-Such did this and it was a TOTAL HIT in 1875.” Have fun storming the castle. I won’t stop you.
I will, however, wager that the stories one might be tempted to cite, really DO have an active goal.
Core Story PROBLEM
Novels are simple. Solving a PROBLEM. Why do we dig reading novels? Because of life. Life is just one problem after another and it never ends…EVER. Don’t believe me? Come check out my laundry room or peek at your e-mail. We like it when characters go up against something seemingly insurmountable and WIN. It FINISHES.
Maybe it takes 20 books to finish, but it does eventually END. As a caveat, within the series, the problem of that
episode book will be SOLVED.
Lately we’ve been watching the series Grimm. And yes, I’m slow to series namely because I like to binge and also, if I watch something in the first season and LIKE it? Surefire way to kill it. Still sorry about Firefly.
Anyway, for those who’ve not watched Grimm, it’s a take off the old Grimm’s Fairy Tails and the Grimms are humans with special abilities to spot and stop the beasties living among humans and causing problems. Granted, there is a BIG problem involving seven keys and world domination, but this is obviously not solved in ONE episode.
Now, the werewolf that robs the convenience store in the opening scene? He’s apprehended or killed by the end of 50 minutes.
ACTIVE: Wow, who/what ate the poor QT clerk and took all the Snicker’s bars and stole the Slurpee machine? This person/thing needs to be stopped.
What will happen if your protagonist fails? The bigger the stakes the better the story. These can be outward or inward stakes but there must be stakes. Oh, and inward stakes need an outward manifestation. They also need to be BIG or…who cares?
For the literary folks, I like to cite The Road. Man and Boy have an ACTIVE goal. Reach the ocean. No idea what’s there, but seems like a good idea. Here’s the kicker. Humans somehow did something that killed every living thing on the planet, except people (and I’m really ticked McCarthy never divulged what that was). Thus, humans have devolved to cannibalism.
The point of the book is less about making it to the ocean and more HOW they make it. If they stop to snack on some fellow travelers? They fail. The stakes are Would you die (stave to death) to protect what it truly means to be human, OR would you resort to the animal state?
Perfect characters are boring. Good story problems force the protagonist to do what he or she would NEVER have done in a GAZILLION years had the problem never surfaced. The inciting incident rattles the character’s cage and the first turning point is when the protagonist steps out of the comfort zone. The comfort zone is also a coping mechanism that has worked great up until said story problem.
For instance, in The Labyrinth Sarah is doing just peachy hiding in her room with her toys and costumes and refusing to grow up. It’s easier to resent her parents and baby brother. She calls on the Goblin King to take the baby away and WHOA! He shows up, takes the a baby and offers her all her dreams.
And any preteen girl who saw this movie took another 20 years to figure out why she didn’t take the deal.
But, since that would have made for a seriously short movie, Sarah has to go face the Labyrinth lest she be grounded FOREVER for selling little bro to the Goblin King. She must leave the safety of her carefully constructed world and see her flaws. Life isn’t fair and love is about sacrifice, not control.
Every strength has a counterpoint. The very thing that makes ANY character good at what he or she does is also the Achilles Heel. Most characters are not evolved enough to know what their blind spot is and that’s okay because that would make them boring. Heck, it takes years of expensive therapy for most of us to pony up to what we always knew our biggest problem was/is.
I HIGHLY recommend the Positive and Negative Trait Thesauri for help. If a character is funny and charismatic, they can also be flaky and undependable. Show me a great leader and I’ll show you a control freak. Give me a loyal person, I’ll show you a sucker. Scarlett might have been a spoiled brat and a pit-bull, but she had what it took to keep it together when $#@! got REAL.
The plot serves to help the character see, then face, then overcome the blind spot/weakness and harness the counterpoint (the strength).
RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN. You may need to know why such-and-such is a certain way as WRITER-GOD, but that might not be good for the story and the reader. Keep secrets. Reveal slowly. Ever been on a date with someone who told you every intimate detail of their lives and the waitress had yet to bring the Bloomin’ Onion? Don’t be THAT
The Force was better before it was EXPLAINED. Metachlorians?
Secrets drive great fiction, and for more on that, check out this post on being a great secret-keeper so that THIS post isn’t uber-long.
Books must eventually end or they are called Days of Our Lives. Is Stephano still around?
When we create an ACTIVE goal for our character(s), our ending should be far clearer. I’m not a plotter. More of a plotser (I know my main story points and riff from there). But, though I don’t do outlines, I will tell you that it seriously helps to at least have an idea where you’re going.
In The Labyrinth we KNOW the ending. Sarah solves the Labyrinth and has baby bro home before she’s hauled away by police yelling, “The
dingo Goblin King got the baby!”
The Death Star is blowed up. The Ring of Power is melted. Buffalo Bill is stopped from making more human-skin-lady-suits and senator’s daughter rescued (and has to have even MORE therapy about being a size 14). The Deadites have to be defeated, the portal closed, curse broken, disease cured, wedding stopped, Voldemort destroyed, Amway stopped, etc. etc.
These are the broad strokes that should help tremendously. They’re simple, but NOT easy. Despite what others may very mistakenly believe, writing a novel is HARD. Most people cannot do it. And just remember that the same folks who are telling you writing books is “easy” are the same people who were willing to pay you a hundred bucks to write a 500 word paper for them in college 😉 .
What are your thoughts? Do these tips help? Make you want to go run in traffic? Have you skipped one or all of these steps and ended up with a plot so complicated you didn’t even understand it? Hey, I’ve been there.
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
September’s Winner: Taylor Grace. Please send your 20 pages (10,000 word WORD doc to kristen at wan a intl dot com). You an also choose to instead send a one page query or synopsis. Congratulations!
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.