With Camp NaNoWriMo just around the corner, writers all around the country are gearing up to have some productive fun in April. National Novel Writing Month is technically in November but writing 50k words in a month is too fun a challenge to try only once a year.
If you’re like me and getting hyped up for Camp NaNoWriMo, then you might already have a plan for getting those 50k words on the page. But if you’re a newbie, then maybe you aren’t sure how to proceed. For one thing, April is getting closer and closer AND SHOULD I HAVE AN OUTLINE???
No worries! To use NaNoWriMo’s terms, you could either be a “plotter” or a “pantser” or even a little bit of both.
Plotter: A writer who maps out the story before writing it.
There are various levels of plotting; there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. You can meticulously plan out your novel, jot down a quick outline, or just begin writing with a few story beats in your head. It all depends on your writing process and how you best get in the right headspace.
If writing a detailed outline hypes you up for the actual writing, then this could be the path for you. However, if meticulously jotting down ideas before you even begin the writing journey makes you want to go to the dentist instead…maybe you’re not a plotter after all.
Either way, it’s always fun to try plotting your novel out, just to see what happens! A lot of writers swear by outlines and even consider them necessary before the writing even begins. A lot of writers just like to jump into the story. But no one can deny that a good outline can give you more direction for your story.
I’ve been known to be, at one point or another, both a plotter and a pantser. When I first started writing, I had no outlines at all and just wrote whatever I wanted. My first drafts, however, suffered from extreme cases of Directionless Drivel.
Of course, I also wrote my first novel when I was twelve, so maybe I shouldn’t have set my hopes so high, to begin with.
Gradually, I began to see the benefits of writing outlines. The more I wrote, the more I realized that my stories needed some sort of direction or else my characters would keep wandering through the enchanted woods forever (I mean that both figuratively and literally; as a quick side note, it’s actually quite telling that my characters got lost in the woods so often, as they were just as lost in the story as I was writing it).
Wandering Character #1: Do we have any idea where we’re going?
Wandering Character #2: Well, we’ve already circled this pond five times.
Wandering Character #3: Nah, I’m 100% sure that’s a different pond.
Wandering Character #1: Hmm…how ’bout we fight a dragon? Spice things up?
So, I started outlining my novels. They weren’t chapter-by-chapter notes or anything, but the vague story beats that gradually took shape and created something resembling an arc. Suddenly, each character had a goal, and each chapter had a purpose.
I have to admit, I felt a bit more like an all-knowing being, guiding my characters like some glorified puppet master.
BOW TO ME.
It is possible, however, to overdo it. Recently, I’ve gone a bit overboard outlining my novels. When I get a new idea, it’s tempting to grab a pen and notebook and start outlining before I’ve even let the idea sit for a while. During outlining, sometimes I fall out of love with the idea already just because I’ve discovered the story’s mysteries too quickly.
It’s not as fun being all-knowing when there’s nothing new to discover. If I know everything about the story already, why bother writing it?
Basically, if you’re a plotter, then it’s best to choose the level of outlining to do for your story. If you love to know every little detail about the story, then maybe you’ll write dozens of pages of notes before Camp NaNoWriMo even starts. If you’re a low-key plotter, maybe you’ll just jot down a few directional ideas and call it good.
Me, I’m somewhere in the middle. I like a lot of wiggle room when it comes to surprising, as my characters, if they’re left to their own devices, are masters of surprise and tend to play little practical jokes on me to the point where I discover that they’re actually the all-knowing beings, and I’m the poor sap demoted to scribe, writing it all down.
And what a hapless, happy scribe I am.
So, let this be a lesson to you, kids: Find the right amount of plotting for your story and don’t be afraid to do your plotting a little differently than others. There’s no reason to get too detailed or leave too much to the imagination. Don’t let your characters wander aimlessly for lack of direction (trust me, it’ll be a long time until they discover that they didn’t even need to circle that stupid pond). In the end, it’s all up to you; you might need to experiment a little to find that sweet spot between a 100-page outline and a checklist of story beats.
But…what if you’re not a plotter? What if writing any sort of outline makes you want to bolt out the nearest door, window, or very thin wall? Well, this might mean that you’re a pantser. But fear not, friends! You can toss that map to the side and get lost in the woods for a while. I’ll be doing a ramble on this exact topic soon.
Until then, happy writing! And for God’s sake, give your wandering characters a map.