Tom shares his tips on plot development

Tom Ostler (aka tomster) gave a terrific workshop Saturday, October eighth. Held at the Nichols Library Community Room (we thank the Naperville Public Library for their sponsorship!), the session was highly interactive and covered strategies for plot development and tips for successfully navigating NaNoWriMo. In one exercise, Tom had us answering four questions in response to a generated plot (in our case: during a rave a young samurai unknowingly arrives at a nudist colony). The four questions:

  • Who are the main characters?
  • What are the main plot points?
  • What is the source of tension?
  • Where does the story take place?

We were give ten minutes to plot things out. Amazingly, I think that almost everyone came up with cohesive and interesting plots to this rather silly scenario. Once the NaNoWriMo forums are available again (hopefully Monday, October 10th), I’ll start a thread so people can share what they came up with.

Here are some of the abstracted plot lines/twists that I gathered from what people shared:

  • a hidden life
  • must rescue a sibling
  • a secret society
  • the hero must make a choice
  • will the hero regain his/her honor?
  • aliens
  • the hero is convinced to switch sides
  • a quest to attain status
  • hero takes a wrong turn
  • hero repents and realizes his true path
  • interrupted training
  • fish out of water

Some of what I learned on Saturday (there was a lot more, but it is available in Tom’s slides):

  • Plot is moving your character through the course of your story; true, it is a simple concept, but it is one that many authors have difficulty with.
  • Stories can be enriched through a sub plot. Sub plots can be added in after NaNo (one way that your 50,000+ word novel can become a modern novel length of, say, 175,000 words)
  • Writing is an exploration of the human condition
  • Holly Black’s pep talk (2010 NaNoWriMo) was excellent.

    an excerpt

    • No one can tell if the writing was fun or if it was hard.
    • You don’t have to believe you can; you just have to do it.
    • There aren’t good books and bad books. There are finished books and books that still need more work.
    • Figure out what happens next. Before you quit for the day, write a little bit of the next scene. That way, you are never looking at a blank page.
    • Write for your reader self, not your writer self. You are the best audience for your own work.
    • Talk it through.
    • Give yourself regular rewards.

    Over the course of this November, you are going to feel frustrated, despairing, elated and exhausted. You will walk around in a foggy haze at your job or the bank or the supermarket. People will talk to you for twenty minutes and you won’t have heard a word they said because you just thought of a fantastic new subplot. You will look up things on the internet that make you look like a serial killer. But it’s good practice—just think, once you become a professional writer, that’s how you’ll behave all the time!

We have two more prep sessions coming up on the 15th (at Nichols Library) and 22nd (at 95th Street Library): see for details. One nice surprise was seeing Joe (Corrupted Flame); he will be NaNo’ing again this year! From left to right: Joe (Corrupted Flame), me (NewMexicoKid), Tom (Tomster), Dave (TRRDEDEAN).

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