Since I’m recovering from my elbow surgery and NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, this is the first of several republished articles from 2012 about preparing for the event. Enjoy!
This is the pre-NaNo question on everyone’s lips: Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you spend all of October (or all of the intervening year?!) planning a detailed outline, scene by scene, with pages of character sketches and location descriptions, and a fully laid out plot? Or do you go into November 1 with the adrenaline rush of pure, barely-controlled panic because you have NO idea what you’re going to write, and you can’t wait to see what happens?
Personally, I’m in the middle. I start knowing my general plot (meaning how it starts, where it leads, and the ending), my main characters, and sometimes any important secondary characters. My main characters have names and a general background. I use giant (really giant, about 5×8″) sticky notes to put these up on my door. I know the setting (usually location is what gives me the idea in the first place), and I know where their going, and I’ve done general historical research (all my novels have a historical element). That’s pretty much it.
Some of you are getting heart palpitations at the thought of this little – or this much – preparation. That’s okay; this is what works for me. It allows me to be creative and go with the story, but keeps me from veering off onto word-eating tangents. Since my NaNo event goal is always to finish the novel, not just cross 50,000 words, I need some structure to keep me on track.
It seems to me, anecdotally from reading the forums on NaNo’s website, that there are more planners than pantsers, although I could be wrong. A lot of people don’t even know about NaNo until right before – sometimes even during! – and they just hop on board and go. I think that’s awesome! The majority seem to need some structure, and some need a lot of structure, to have the confidence to undertake the challenge.
So some questions:
Which are you, and why?
If you’re a planner, and your plan starts to go awry (we all know that, sometimes, characters have a mind of their own!), what do you do? Go with it, or get back on track?
(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’: ”This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org.”)