Nano LotD 9: Manageable Chunks

Today’s link is a lie. Rather, it’s not a link. I’m going to post something I thought would be helpful for the organizing NaNo hopeful.

Let’s talk about Eating the Elephant.

Writing a novel sounds like a huge massive undertaking. And it is. No one is going to argue with that, I hope.

But don’t scare yourself into thinking you have to write a whole story in a day or even a month. Your story might end up being a lot longer and your NaNo goal might be the first (or second) 50k words.

You need 1667 words every day to make this 50k goal. But, like me, you might be a bit overwhelmed with how to plan that out. I know myself. I know a need a plan going into this. I’ve got my concepts, my paragraph-long synopsis, my character bios, and a list of milestones and candy bar scenes. It still feels a whole lot like eating an elephant- where do I start? How do I turn this list of ideas and questions into a story? What’s all this blank space in my outline? What I do have against what I don’t feels… well… elephantine.

So here’s how I eat this particular elephant: Manageable chunks.

I divide my story into 8 parts. Here’s a chart I made to show these 8 parts for different story-lengths.


Now don’t think I’m being literal here. The thing is, I can’t wrap my head around 50k or 90k without breaking it up. Eight parts–which are not even going to be equal parts, just missions within the story (and a guess on how many scenes are needed)–I can do.

For instance, I wrote that The Hunger Games is divided fairly equally into 8 parts. Part 2 and Part 3 are both a teensy bit longer, but for the most part, they all get similar space treatment.

But I can tell already from my outline, that my inciting event will happen early in Part 1 so that my Part 2 (from inciting event to the first plot point) will be longer. In my milestone list, I have the estimated word count I want to hit by that milestone. That flags two important things for me…

  • What must come before that milestone to make it clear
  • How many scenes I have to play with before that milestone
  • Blank spaces – scenes I need to add in to beef up a particular section

Please, please don’t think I stick to these counts as actual. Some authors nail them down to the page, others don’t. I am actually able to visualize how much ground I can cover in 11,250 words (1/8 of 90k). I can handle 8-10 scenes. I can’t handle 75-85. That way lies madness.

So about these parts…

Part 1. Getting to know the character. In which I flag scenes by what characters, conflicts, and world-building elements that need to get set up. Build to inciting event.

Part 2. Still getting to know characters. Show character reacting to inciting event.  Flag scenes by more new characters, conflicts, and world-building stuff. Build to first plot point, in which the character can’t go back.

Part 3. React and deal with ramifications of first plot point. Character has a mission, a goal, the major story question. Character should be trying to achieve the mission but fail or be prevented, not have all the pieces of the puzzle. Now we’re ramping up conflicts, building towards the first pinch point (antagonist comes in to make things harder for character or another major setback).

Part 4. React to first pinch point. New plan with knowledge of enemy, or continue to push harder on Plan A. Still wheel-spinning and pieces of the puzzle missing, or the fruits of the character’s efforts are yet unrealized. Something still needs to happen to turn this character from wanderer to warrior…

Part 5. The Halfway point! Larry Brooks calls this the “parting the curtain of superior knowledge“. Character overcomes a demon, comes up with a successful plan of action, starts succeeding, or learns something that changes their understanding of the story. We’re building up to the second pinch point, in which the enemy or story antagonist tries even harder to stomp the character.

Part 6. React to the second pinch point. Build to the second plot point. Character is being heroic, accomplishing stuff, getting ready for the end, reaping the fruits of earlier efforts, maybe resolving some of those early sub-conflicts. Perhaps there’s a lull before your second plot point where it seems like all is lost (perhaps not.)

Part 7. React to the second plot point. All information and characters are in place, either foreshadowed or met. Build towards the climax, character knows what he’s gotta do and has the things he needs to accomplish his goal.

Part 8. The climax and resolution. Character fights the bad guy, saves the day, gets the girl.

My description of parts starts strong with specifics and peeters out about the halfway point. There’s a reason. The stuff that happens after the first plot point will depend entirely on your story. These 8 parts need not be equal in words-written and some of them may not be distinct (to a reader). I’ve read books where the first plot point was a sequence that lasted from the 22%-30% mark. I’ve also read books where the second plot point jumped us right to the final showdown and the climax was very, very long.

So you do have freedom, this is not meant to be a rigid iron structure to stretch out your story, but a way to think of the story in manageable chunks and help you get an idea for which sections of your story need more planning and emphasis.

For example, I’m planning a mystery so some milestones revolve around information reveals. My goal is to make sure that the character finds out things at a good pace and that the twists are organic and not born of character stupidity. So my current outline and lists mark these potential problems to make sure that my story planning addresses them. Otherwise, I will get overwhelmed. These 8 parts keep my chunks manageable.

How about you? How do you eat the elephant of story-planning?

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One Response to Nano LotD 9: Manageable Chunks

  1. Pingback: NaNo: Reading With Attention | Barb Rude

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