Surviving Nanowrimo # 4: To Outline or Not To Outline

There a two kinds of writers. A plotter outlines their story before writing a word of the first draft. A pantser works by the seat of their pants and discovers their story as they write. Some writers are a combination of the two. If this is your first novel, you might want to try the plotter strategy. With your second novel, try the pantser strategy. Then choose. Each writer has to discover what works best for them. Neither is wrong.

With my first draft, I am the second kind of writer. I have to trust the story to lead me to its resolution. Once I have a protagonist I care about–one that’s interesting, one I like, one that causes readers (and me) to ask questions about–I need to answer five questions:
1.What does this protagonist want? In Chad’s case, she wants her surfboard back.
2.Why do they want it? It’s the closest thing she has to a best friend.
3.What’s stopping them? Is it an external obstacle, a Voldemort, or is it an internal flaw, or is it both? In the Chad story, it’s distance and the trickery of her ex.
4.Will the protagonist get what they want? We’ll see.
5.What lesson will the protagonist learn, even if they don’t get their desire? She can stand on her own two feet.

When I begin writing the story, I don’t have the answers to those questions. This is how I discover the answers to those questions. I do not fill out a character bio or create an outline. I write several a scene which features the protagonist. For instance:
1.A scene where the protagonist acts: Chad is teaching a class of fourth graders,
2.Or a scene where others are discussing the protagonist: The school’s principal is discussing Chad bringing her surfboard to school,
3.Or a scene that provides a setting for the protagonist to act: A coming storm when Chad has to choose between teaching her class or going to the beach and riding the waves the storm sends in.

A scene is one of a series of incidents that together lead to the end of the story. It usually occurs in one place at one time and features characters in a situation. In the scene the main character must have a goal. It should be a goal that leads to the character’s story goal.

Though I don’t fill out an outline, I have seven stop points (scenes) I anticipate when I begin.Think of them as stop lights along the way to the destination at the end of the story.  But I don’t have a clue what will happen at each stop point until I write them.

But I am giving an example of the plot below so you will have an idea of the points. If you are a plotter, you can use these for the points on your outline. The eight points are divided into three acts.

Since I plot out my story as I go along, how come I know so much about “Chad and the Surfboard.” I’ve wrote the rough draft of the novel a year or so ago.

ACT 1:SETTING. In this section, the reader is introduced to the story, the major characters, and the world where the story will occur.

1.HOME. This is a scene where we meet the protagonist in their world. In Chad’s case, she is at her brother’s birthday party.

2.INCITING INCIDENT. This is when the protagonist gets a kick in the seat of their pants. It is the scene (or series of scenes) that forces the protagonist out of their comfort zone. And the protagonist doesn’t have a choice.

In a romance, it might be where Mary meets John and they hate each other. But Mary can’t get John out of her mind. In Chad’s case, she might get fired from her job teaching. Then she discovers that her boyfriend has maxed out her credit cards and drained her bank accounts to pay for a trip to Indonesia for surfing.

The rest of Act 1 the protagonist spends resisting the journey she will have to make. Chad hates what happened to her. Her best friend tells her, “I am not surprised. You always lay down and let the smucks run over you.”

It is possible that it may take several scenes for the protagonist to finally make up her mind to go after what she wants. In Chad’s case: to have revenge on the s.o.b. I have also learned that a major flaw Chad has: she picks the wrong guys.

3.PLOT POINT ONE. So far I have been driving down the road that is my story, then I come to a dead end into another road. I have to choose to turn left or right. Once the character decides to go on the novel’s journey, she must take an action to implement her choice.

Since Chad is stone cold broke, she dresses up in a disguise and robs a bank to get the money to follow her ex to Indonesia.

ACT 2. OBSTACLES. From here to the mid point of the novel, the protagonist faces a series of obstacles which prevent her from implementing her plan.

Obstacle 1. Chad’s plane is caught in the middle of a storm and crashes into the sea.
Obstacle 2. Chad is saved by one of her fellow passengers. It’s a guy that wants to be her knight in shining armor.
Obstacle 3. The two of them end up on an island with cannibals. The guy turns out to be a jerk when he abandons Chad. Through her own efforts, she escapes the cannibals.

4.MIDPOINT might be called a False Resolution. This is the scene where the protagonist believes they are either victorious or they are defeated. But she is neither. If she thinks she is victorious, she will spend the second half of Act 2 falling off a cliff. If she believes she is defeated, she will end up having to climb another mountain.

Chad finally catches up with her ex. He has won a major surfing award. He turns over the money to her.

OBSTACLE 4. Just as he’s about to kiss her, a second woman shows up and accuses him of betraying her and takes the money. Just when it looked like Chad was on top of the world, she isn’t. She feels like she can’t get a break.
OBSTACLE 5. The police show up to arrest her. She escapes with her ex’s help
OBSTACLE 6. Her ex sells her to a gang lord and she ends up waiting to be turned into a prostitute.

5.PLOT POINT TWO (Dark Night of the Soul.) This is where the protagonist is at wit’s end.

ACT 3: RESOLUTION.

6.CLIMAX. The protagonist gathers her resources.

Not knowing where she is, Chad overcomes her guard and escapes. She is chased by the ganglord’s thugs. But she eludes them, using her smarts to do so. She finds herself on the beach and sees her surfboard. She grabs it and heads for the water. One of the guys catches her but she kicks him where the sun don’t shine. Then she heads out to sea, catches a wave and it takes her away from the beach. As she does, she sees the thugs beating up her ex.

7.RESOLUTION. Chad wins a major surfing award and pays the bank back its money.

8.FINAL SCENE. The final scene should somehow mirror the opening scene. Chad shows up at her brother’s next birthday party. She is on probation for the robbery. A guy walks up to her. “Would you like to go out?” She says, “No thanks. I already have a relationship with my surfboard.”

Have I answered my questions? What did Chad want? She wanted revenge. Deep down she wanted to quit allowing her relationships to drag her down. Why did she want that? She was fed up with being used. What would stop her? She didn’t trust herself. Did she get what she wanted? Yes because the ganglord was angry at the ex for betraying him. What lesson did she learn? Sometimes a surfboard is enough.

It’s a good thing to remember this is a rough draft and not a final draft. With a second draft, I will outline and strengthen the characters.

When initially thinking about a novel for Nanowrimo, I knew I would write 50,000 words. I split Act 2 into Part 1 and Part 2. So I divided my Acts into four equal parts of 12,500 words )with Parts 1 and 2 equal parts).

Once I have written my first draft, I often use an outline for my second draft. Because I may have forgotten elements in the story, I use a strategy called Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.

Next “Surviving Nanowrimo # 4: The Devil Made Me Do It.”

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