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Nov 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tip #11: What To Put On Plot Cards

Kimberly's Wanderings has a great post on plot cards, with many helpful photos.

These are my personal tips for NaNoWriMo. You know the drill. Take only what works.

You may notice that other writers are pressing ahead with their manuscripts, whereas I’m still diddling around with my outline. There’s method to my madness, though, so I’ll continue to spend this week refining my outline. I’ll burn through several different kinds of outline before I’m done. Any one of these methods might alone suffice for you, but I use all of them. Every time. Seriously. It helps me figure out my plot inside and out, and each kind of outline helps me with a different stage of deepening the story.

For the purpose of these tips, I’ll present the kinds of outlines one per day, but in practice, I often work with two or three at the same time. It’s faster and I attack the story on multiple fronts.

I start with tried and true method of outlining, playing with plot cards. You take a nice deck of line or blank 3x5 index cards (or 5x7 if you prefer) and write down your plot points on them. Start with the scenes from your beat sheet, if you have nothing else, and then start filling in other cards with everything else you think you’ll need to include.

Then comes the fun part. Clear a table (in my house, this is an Issue) and spread your cards out in order. Shuffle them around. Combine them. Write new ones. Play with your plot. It’s all pretty fluid at this point. The plot cards allow you to honor that and experiment with shifting your scenes around into different orders.

If you have this idea that outlining is bad because it squashes your creativity, you’re not doing it right. There are lots of places for you to gush creativity all over the place. The brainstorming stage is a bonanza of creativity. In fact, if you just start writing whatever pops into your head without brainstorming first, you might end up writing a lot clichés. Clichés are like mosquitoes, ready to swarm you and bite. Good ideas are like nearly extinct reclusive Amazon jewel-skinned frogs that must be hunted down with great peril and sweat. Brainstorming allows you to push past the cloud of jungle mosquitoes until you reach the frogs.

Keep in mind that you’re still in the brainstorming phase all through the outlining phase. Playing with the plot cards also involves brainstorming and it definitely also involves juicing your imagination.

Some things that you should put on plot cards, the better to place perfectly in your story include:

- Introducing major characters (introduce each one in a separate scene, if possible) 
- The Inciting Incident
- Monster Attacks (or Various Bad Stuff That Happens, as suits your genre)
- Cliffhangers for each act
- Actions That Forward The Main Plot
- Actions That Forward The Subplot(s)
- Clues To The Mystery (including Red Herrings)
- Necessary Infodumps & Foreshadowing
- Juicy Scenes You Can’t Wait To Write (even if you haven’t figured out how to get there yet)

List these things on separate cards at first. As you move the cards around, look for opportunities to combine them. You especially will want to place potentially boring things, like Infodumps and Introducing New Characters, into exciting scenes that involve Monster Attacks.

Careful, though! Some things are better kept separate, for instance, introducing major characters and introducing subplots. That’s because it can get confusing if you try to wave too many flags in front of the reader at once. Once these are introduced, it’s easier to have more people on stage at the same time or to host events that further both the main plot (say, the mystery) and the subplot (say, the romance).


Ink in the Book said...

This is my post favorite way to plot out my story. Nothing excites me more in my writing time than to grab a pack of index cards and start writing scenes out colored coded cards:)

scott g.f.bailey said...

"If you have this idea that outlining is bad because it squashes your creativity, you’re not doing it right."

This is so true. I was telling someone on Friday that I'm writing my current novel with no outline, but I realize that means no written outline. I'm always thinking about the story, though, and always making notes (mostly the scenes I want to write though I've no idea how to get there yet).

Anyway, having all the "Aha!" plot moments at the start of the process lets me concentrate on the details of the story/narrative while I'm actually writing the scenes. And getting into the habit of thinking structurally about the story, and keeping that habit while you go on to write the prose, is a good thing that will help you spot problems once you get into the writing. And, of course, seeing the entire process as one of continuous brainstorming leads to better ideas as you go along, often enough.

Cicada said...

This is very much the case with my own writing, but with an added twist of what Scott said: I never stop thinking about my plots and characters. At work I often find myself trying to act as my characters might, just to see if I know them well enough or if I need to revisit this process.

Another thing I tend to do is to brainstorm with others present. My best friend will often hear me out, point out cliches, mention points of stupidity (like a character acting unrealistically oblivious to things, etc), and even add in their thoughts on what might be a good twist every now and then. At a cafe in San Francisco I even got a barrista into the thrall of this and together we came up with the whole idea for the next book in my trilogy with more intricate details than I had planned on making until book 1 was done!

Starr K said...

I have not started my NANO piece, but that's because it was a week into and I realized that with school, work, work and reviewing I didn't really have time. But I am excited to get started. Why you may ask, because everything is plotted out on cards already so I'm not worrying about losing the idea, the plot or other important things. And I really enjoyed using the cards.