I've been learning from the experts how to plot a novel, using resources that were free to me (or almost). Besides reading chapters out of books I didn't want to buy at Half Price Books, I've been using the following:
James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish)
This is published by Writers Digest, in their Write Great Fiction series. I was able to borrow the Kindle version free, thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, but when I found a like-new paperback copy at Half Price, I nearly bought it again. I certainly would recommend it to anyone who has trouble moving from concept to story, or whose stories seem to wander around aimlessly. Bell does not present a rigid template (as some writers do), but he discusses the different parts of the story and what they need to do (beginnings, middles, and endings each have a chapter), and he gives you strategies for getting them to do that. He also gives you exercises at the end of each chapter, which I have not used but I guess many might find them helpful (I imagine they make the book more usable in classroom settings, too.)
Feeling a bit sad that I would have to return Bell's book at some point, I serendipitously purchased, for the bargain price of 99 cents, the Kindle version of Eddie Jones's Plotting Simplified: Story Structure Tips For The Break-Out Novelist
, which, although it is just a 24-page booklet, seems to do a good job of synthesizing several good books on plotting, including Bells' Plot & Structure
, and Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel
(which I've perused in the bookstore). This little book was written as supporting material for a plotting class taught at writers' conferences, but it also makes a good summary of plotting concerns and techniques for cheapskates like me. I'll use it after I've returned the Bell book and need some reminding.
My third helper is Randy Ingermanson's How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method
, available free on his web site, AdvancedFictionWriting.com
. This method takes you from a single sentence summary of your plot to a fully elaborated plan, including character sketches, which can guide your writing. He also sells some software that takes you through the Snowflake method (and will even generate a book proposal from your notes). Ingermanson suggests that his Snowflake Pro software might be helpful for writers who already have a first draft but who need help putting it into working order.
With these three helpers, I feel confident in planning and write the first draft of my sci-fi novel. Some writers might feel itchy thinking about front-loading the writing process with all this planning, but I'm a contemplation-then-action kind of person. I know it will make it much easier for me to sit down at the keyboard and just crank through to the end. Will I have the first draft done by the end of NaNoWriMo? No. But once I've got the plan finished, I'm going to try to write the first draft in a month's time, even though that month won't fall within the confines of November. So it'll still be "my NaNoWriMo novel," (and that is as close as I've gotten to an actual working title).