Outlining for NaNoWriMo

by Ginger Fuller

*NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, participants try to write a 50,000-word novel; this event occurs annually. Ginger Fuller shares some outlining strategies she learned while participating in NaNoWriMo in 2022.

I do my best writing organically, sitting down with a vague idea and getting to work – so the idea of intense outlining and planning is a daunting one. Faint memories of three-act structures and archaic plot graphs come to mind, but I was on the hunt for something more compelling. Fortunately for me and other writers in need, the NaNoWriMo website offers a wealth of strategies to lean back on. 

The Jot, Bin, Pants Method was inspired by a blog post by Cassandra Lee Yieng. Essentially, it involves making a list of every scene you want to include in your future book (even if they contradict each other), and then slowly narrowing down and ordering these scenes until you have a detailed plot structure. Based on my experience, this method can be helpful if you have a general idea of where you want the story to go, but lack specific details or turns. 

The “Plot Rollercoaster” Method is likely familiar to most readers and writers. It breaks down the plot structure into six essential elements: set-up, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. To utilize this method, you would write a few sentences describing how each element appears in your story, This method is likely more appropriate for shorter or less complex stories, or as a starting point for brainstorming a larger plot. 

The Nine-Step Plot Dot is a version of the classic Hero’s Journey structure. This method breaks the plot down into nine parts: the Ordinary World, the Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure, the First Plot Point, the First Pinch Point, the Midpoint, the Second Pinch Point, the Second Plot Point, and the Final Battle. This strategy asks you to think about your main character’s “journey” and write briefly about how each of the nine points appears in your story. This structure is ideal for a larger story that centers around a single character and has been used to great effect in franchises like Star Wars or Harry Potter. 

Finally, Katytastic’s 3 Act/ 9 Block/ 27 Chapter Outline is a more developed version of the classic three-act structure. As the name states, it breaks down a plot into three “acts”, and each act into nine “blocks,” eventually creating 27 smaller categories that can be developed into chapters. This bare-bones structure forces an author to really boil down and clarify the elements of their story, which can be helpful for someone with a slightly more developed story concept in mind. 

Ultimately, each writer has a different method of outlining that works for them, and it may take a few tries before you can determine which works for you. Depending on how much time/attention you have to devote to the outlining process, you may find that using multiple different outlining methods may produce the best results. To anyone participating in NaNoWriMo this year, best of luck! 

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