Structure > NaNoWriMo

This post will be of more interest to my fellow writers than readers. I’m giving up my chance to finish NaNo on time to focus on overhauling my plot, starting by giving myself a crash course in structure.

November’s been a really horrible month. We don’t need to go over that. It’s been a particularly bad month for my NaNo project, A Gentlemanly Murder. When I started writing on the first of November, my protagonist didn’t have a name. I finally came up with a name for him, and an opening scene five days later, but then I decided I needed to finish Morgen Song before I went further and set it aside. Morgen Song had a rogue ending that needed to be wrestled with, and while I was pinning that down, November hit in earnest. Finally Morgen Song behaved itself. I sat down with A Gentlemanly Murder, had a brilliantly productive day, work up the next morning and realised that something had gone wrong.

Something has gone wrong is not an unusual feeling for me. Three-quarters of my stories have gone off the rails at some point, requiring a lot of hard work wrestling, cutting words, revising and long walks before they emerge. I think they emerge better for the struggle, but I know I can write really strong stories without that fight–Deep Magic, The Biggest Scoop and Banging the Supernatural are examples of this. Worse, the fight is hard work. It brings with it doubt and writer’s block and ends in a lot of time wasted, whether in time not writing or in revisions later.

I’ve got a feeling that the solution lies in my plotting. I want to be a better outliner, but pretty much all the books I’ve read on how to outline your novel talk about structure instead. After much resisting, I’ve decided to accept the inevitable, and am giving myself a crash course in structure by spending some time with some old friends, namely Michael Hauge, James Scott Bell, Libbie Hawker and Monica Leonelle.

Michael Hauge spoke at the RWNZ 2016 Conference and was amazing. His story mastery workshop was really, really good. I’ve been revising the notes I took from his conference but if you’re interested, check out his product page–he recommended Writing Screenplays that Sell and The Hero’s Two Journeys  for people at the conference who wanted more info of what he was talking about.

What’s really cool is that as I’m re-reading, I’m noticing how well Hauge’s key plot moments and structure ties into James Scott Bell’s pivotal moments. I am a huge fan of Write Your Novel From the Middle, and just read Super Structure, which, while covering a lot of the same ground as Write Your Novel From the Middle, enlarges on the pivotal moments. I found it good because Bell’s moments really resonate with me.

If you haven’t heard of Take Off Your Pants, I will be very surprised! Libbie Hawker does a great job of articulating how theme ties into character and conflict and the outline that she suggests working with is what helped me get Morgen Song back on track at last. The way she approaches her outline is very, very similar to the way that Monica Leonelle works, with the difference that Leonelle brings her marketing savvy to the process in Nail Your Story. Leonelle also provides a copious amount of worksheets. In the past, I’ve been daunted by the sheer amount of worksheets to work through but no more. I’m hoping the time I invest now will equal faster drafting and less revisions later.



  1. I’ve never been a fan of worksheets either and haven’t used them. My first “winning” NaNo novel was plotted completely on index cards, and honestly, that was the best outlining I’ve ever done and may need to go back to that in order to get this third Shifters & Mages novel done…

    1. I’m really sorry, Skye–I thought I’d replied to this! I’m actually really envious of people with index cards. James Scott Bell uses them, too. They’re not a thing in NZ, or if they are, they’re not readily available.

      1. Imma gonna have to send you some. lol I have only used them the one time. I see so many people using them, and they work well for them, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Might have to do it again. Scrivener works the same way, but there’s something about physically writing a detail on a card, shuffling through a stack, and putting them in order that’s kind of… fulfilling in a way that Scrivener’s outline program won’t ever be.

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