I can feel it in my bones: NaNoWriMo starts soon. If you meant to do some novel planning this month but never quite got around to the planning part, here are a few questions to help you think through your story arc.

These questions are based on Hollywood screenplays, the hero’s journey, and the work of writers who are much smarter than I am—looking at you @RachaelHerron and @LaniDianeRich and @darynda. I didn’t invent any of this.
And, it's totally okay to do no outlining and just wing the whole dang thing! Or do your planning in a wildly different way. But I've found these questions useful. So.
To start, you’ll need a main character. Let’s assume your main character is an orphaned boy whose horrible extended family has forced him to live in a cupboard beneath the stairs. Question #1: What’s missing from your main character’s life?
All of us are missing something. Maybe it’s a feeling of danger or true love or a sense of higher purpose. Maybe it’s a large animatronic penguin that can dispense boba tea through its nostrils. For our orphaned boy, it’s a sense of belonging.
Great! We have our first answer! Let’s stash it away for later.
Question #2: What opportunity or problem can present itself? The best opportunities or problems usually turn the character’s life upside down in some ginormous way.
In our example story that I am completely making up all on my own, the opportunity could be that the boy is summoned to a school for young wizards! Or something else. Doesn’t matter. It just needs to yank your character out of their metaphorical cupboard and give them a goal.
And now we come to Question #3: What are the stakes of your main character succeeding or failing in this new mission? What do they stand to gain and what will they risk if they lose? The higher the stakes, the more page-turnery the story usually becomes.
The stakes often rise as the story unfolds. The boy gets to wizarding school and learns that his house is in competition with other houses for a championship cup! He also learns that his parents were murdered and the murderer is now coming after him. Yikes!
Anyhoo, by about the 25% point in most books, you’ve met the main character, seen them get pulled out of their ordinary world by a big problem or exciting opportunity, and understand what’s at stake if they succeed or fail on their quest.
The interesting thing is that your book’s ending is often contained in its beginning. And this brings me to the last question. Question #4: How might your character fail to get what they want, but still get what they need?
Hint: the thing they want is often just an extension of the problem or opportunity from Question #2. And the thing they need? That’s all Question #1.
For our wizard friend, the killer ultimately comes for him. The boy has his chance to avenge his parents and save the world from darkness. Instead, the killer escapes. The problem is unresolved. The menace continues.
But the ending still feels satisfying because he gets something more important than revenge. He gets a family. Finally, someone has his back.
Wow, this was long! Anyway, those are 4 questions I like to ask myself as I try to feel my way through story-planning. There are 1,000 other equally good ones! What questions do you find most helpful?
Also, if you’d like more advice for your noveling journey, my book No Plot? No Problem! has entire chapters dedicated to animatronic penguins, and feels like an endless Hagrid hug. https://t.co/Cz7HerZYK7. [fin]

More from Writing


Simple Writing Trick to Avoid Plagiarism when using Templates

This may be useful for anyone but the examples here are more relevant to scholarship applicants

In other words, how to avoid the copy & paste syndrome.

Kindly RT to help others.

The past week brought some concerns about plagiarism in scholarship documents. For example:

Plagiarism is unacceptable at any level in academia and may lead to several undesirable outcomes, including revocation of admission offers or conferred degrees. So here is how you can prevent or rid yourself of the copy&paste syndrome

1. Don't use any template at all.
Just follow the darn instructions, or use helpful tips scattered all over the internet. Worry less about perfection.

I understand this may be hard for less experienced scholars. So if you must use a template, continue with the thread.

2. If possible, find more than one template.

This helps you identify the flow of ideas and the commonalities in the template. You can then develop your own unique document from this knowledge.

If you are still confused and must use a template, continue with the thread
Things we don’t learn in this article: that the author wrote David Cameron’s speeches during the period when they were intentionally underfunding the NHS and other services, directly creating the problem the author is concerned about now.

We also don’t learn that the paper it’s written in stridently supported those measures and attacked junior doctors threatening strike action over NHS cuts and long working hours, accusing them of holding the country to ransom.

We aren’t reminded that NHS funding and the future of health provision was a central part of previous election campaigns, and that attempts to highlight these problems were swiftly stomped on or diverted and then ignored by most of the press, including the Times.

I’d underline here that “corruption” doesn’t just mean money in brown envelopes: it describes a situation where much of an organisation is personally motivated to ignore, downplay or divert from malfeasance for personal reasons - because highlighting them would be bad for careers

Foges was Cameron’s speechwriter at the height of austerity; Forsyth is married to the PM’s spokesman; Danny F is a Tory peer; Parris is a former MP; Gove used to write for them regularly, and that’s before we get to professional mates-with-ministers like Shipman or Montgomerie.

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