Boil down your novel to one question

It's that time of year again! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us! I am not participating this year as my main priority right now is revision and I'm not in a place to really work on something new, but good luck to everyone who is!

I was thinking about the years I did participate in NaNoWriMo. I always approached it as a "plantser"--a hybrid between a plotter and a pantser. I had some vague idea of the plot at the beginning--or sometimes I might even have a reasonably detailed outline--but it almost always changed as I was writing it.

One of the most challenging things about NaNoWriMo for me is figuring out plot. If you're anything like me, your plots can get a little complicated. Sometimes when you're in the middle of writing, you can get so bogged down that you don't even really know what the story is about anymore. If your a pantser, you figure it out after you write your first draft (or while you're writing it). If you're a plotter, you figure it out before. But at some point, you're going to need some plot structure. 

There are tons of ways to think about structure. The three-act structure, the hero's journey, etc. Today I'm going to give you a really simple way to think about plot structure. If you could boil down your novel to one question, what would it be?

Every narrative arc in a novel, movie, TV show, etc. can be summed up in one main question. Will Dorothy make it back home to Kansas? (The Wizard of Oz). Will Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy end up together? (Pride and Prejudice). If you have a series of books, there may be one question driving the whole series (Will Harry defeat Voldemort?) But each book needs to ask it's own question.

I think this is a good way to think about plot when you're in the middle of drafting because it doesn't mean stopping to make a detailed outline. It just means taking a few minutes before you sit down to write to think about what is driving the plot of your book.

So this week, I encourage all of you--especially those of you who are in the middle of your NaNoWriMo projects--to take some time and see if you can boil the plot of your novel down to one question. If not, you may need to think about the plot structure and figure out which question should be driving the plot. Is it a question of characterization? Will your character learn or grow? Is it a question related to some journey or quest? Will your character achieve his or her goal? These are all some good things to think about as you power through. 


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