The NaNoWrimo Success Series: 5 Steps to Help You Plot Your Novel Today

NaNoWriMo may be over, but if you're looking to plot your novel these tips still apply!

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Alright writers, we are officially 2 weeks away from this year’s NaNoWrimo.

It’s time to get serious.

If you’ve been following the NaNoWriMo Success Series, then you have committed to making this NaNoWriMo your best one yet and you’ve spent the last week creating an awesome storyboard full of inspiration for you new story.

Now that you’ve done the fun part, it’s time to kick it into gear and outline your plot. You can find tons of articles, posts, and books about plot/plot types/plot theories.

That is not what this post is.

Here you’re going to find concrete steps to take your story from point A to point B. That way when NaNoWriMo starts, you have one less thing to worry about. Let's get started!

What is Plot?

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, here is the best description of plot I’ve ever read:

Why Should You Outline Your Plot Now?

There are some writers who like to outline every aspect of their story, and there are those who prefer to open a blank page and go. Usually I would say do whatever works for you, but NaNoWriMo doesn’t allow that. Once November 1st starts, you need to write ~1,700 words a day if you’re going to have a ~50,000 word novel by December 1st.

When you’re juggling this intense daily word count with class, work, family, and more, every second counts. If you want to have a successful NaNoWriMo you need to start outlining your plot now. That way no matter how much or how little time you have to write everyday, you always hit the ground running.

Even without the time constraints of NaNoWriMo, plotting your story can only help. Look at J.K. Rowling’s – the first author to become a billionaire, and she spent five years planning her series before she sat down to write page one.

If it helped out J.K. Rowling, I think it’s safe to say it can help us too!

The Five Elements of Story

Before we talk about how to plot your NaNoWriMo novel, it’s important to examine the five elements of story. No matter the form or genre, you can identify the bullet points below in every story.

  • Character’s Goal
  • Character’s Opponent
  • Character’s Obstacles
  • Final Conflict
  • Conclusion

If you don’t believe me, look at any movie trailer ever. Let’s take The Martian  since the story of how this self-published book became a successful movie adaptation is a dream for all writers.

  • Character’s Goal: Survive and get back to Earth.
  • Character’s Opponent: Mars (or Nature)
  • Obstacles: Growing Food & Water, Making Contact with NASA, NASA rejecting a rescue mission
  • Final Conflict: The rescue mission
  • Conclusion: Remains to Be Seen…

Now you’re probably thinking, why do movie trailers basically give away the entire story? It’s because stories are nothing new. The plot of The Martian is not something you have never seen or heard before. It’s simply Life of Pi, 127 Hours, and Any Mount Everest Movie ever set in space.

Movies can afford to give so much away in the trailer because it is the characters, the setting, and how that story is told that makes viewers buy tickets. These are the same elements that will make readers pick up your book, and these are the 3 elements that are in your control as a writer. Luckily, we will cover each one as  NaNoWriMo approaches!

How To Make Your NaNoWriMo Plot Outline: A 5-Step Process

  • Step 1: If you took my advice and created a storyboard , start by taking a stroll through your board. This will open your mind to all the things that could happen in your story. If you don't have a storyboard you can move onto step 2, but think about starting one!
  • Step 2: Make a random list of every event you picture or have thought about being in your story. This doesn’t mean all of these scenes will make it into your first draft; this is just a brainstorming session. For this step, you can write as many or as little as you want, but try to get at least 10 different story events.
  • Step 3: Now that you’ve made a list of all the events you currently picture happening in your story, put those events in order. This is where your plot begins to grow!
  • Step 4: Now that you have a plot list, analyze how the five elements of story appear throughout your list. By doing this, you can see how to push your plot forward in a meaningful and organic way. Ask yourself the following:
    • Character’s Goal: Is your character’s goal clearly defined? Does each event bring the character closer to achieving his/her goal?
    • Character’s Opponent: Do you have a clear opponent that keeps your character from easily achieving his/her goal? Is that opponent at work throughout the entire story?
    • Character’s Obstacles: Do you have 3-4 big obstacles that your character must face and overcome?
    • Final Conflict: What is the final conflict in your story? What is the concrete event where you character achieves or fails to achieve his/her goal?
    • Conclusion: How has your character changed after this journey? How can you show this change?
  • Step 5: Use your original list of story events and the five elements of story to edit and finish the first draft of your plot outline! As you edit and think about how to make your plot a good story, it’s important to analyze every single scene on your list. One way to do this is below:
    • Story Event: Protagonist visits his grandma.
    • Five Element of Plot Questioning
      • What element of story is this?
      • How does it relate to the character’s goal?
      • If it doesn’t push the character forward in his goal, what does it reveal about the character?
      • That he is a sweet person who cares about his grandma?
      • Is there a way to reveal more about the character and push him towards his goal at the same time?
      • What if the opponent puts his grandma in danger and this event becomes an obstacle?
      • What could happen then?

Now that you have a plot outline you are one crucial step closer to being ready for NaNoWrimo! Remember, your plot outline is a living and breathing thing. If you’re being diligent, it will evolve before November 1st and it will continue to evolve when you are writing.

So there you have it! Have fun outlining your plot and tune in next week for my post on creating awesome characters. If you can’t wait, check out my other character post: Kick-Ass Characters: How To Create Epic Characters in 4 Easy Steps.

Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi is the #1 NYT and International Best-Selling author of book and upcoming movie CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE.