How to NaNoWriMo: Finding a Plot

How to NaNoWriMo: Finding a Plot

So after learning how to get started, you’ve decided you want to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year, eh? Well, here are your next steps.

First Things First

The first thing you need to remember about NaNoWriMo is that it’s going to be a first draft.  It is NOT about having a picture-perfect final manuscript.  Nope.  Almost definitely not going to happen! (But if it does, please let me know how you did it!)

NaNoWriMo is for getting your story out on paper.  It’s for exploring your characters and your fictional world.  It’s usually not pretty, but by the end of the month, you have a great starting block to launch the next draft from.

Finding a Plot

There are a couple of ways you can start finding a plot.  The two most basic ways are to come up with a situation and/or a character.


To create a situation, you first need a setting.  Will your story take place in a contemporary world?  One that you’ve created from scratch, or a tweaked reality, like Harry Potter?  This choice will determine what kind of story you can tell.

Finding a plot doesn’t always come easily.  Limiting yourself can actually be helpful in this case.  Try these steps:

Determine your genre: If you’re using a contemporary setting, you likely won’t have dragons in your world.  If you’re doing a Western, you’ll likely have cowboys.  Knowing your genre will give you a starting point.

Decide if you want to overlap genres: This can either help or hinder, so be careful.  You should find something unique and interesting about your world, even if it’s contemporary.  Maybe you create a steampunk world that uses dragons instead of airplanes.  Okay, this may be a little too much for some, but find something to make me want to read your story.

If you do overlap genres, make sure they mesh well enough to make it work.  Take something like Firefly, a great example of a space Western done SO right!

Pick a plot device: Is it a journey; is there a problem that needs solved?  Does a mystery need cracked, or a heist planned?  Even if you don’t know the end goal yet, deciding on a plot device will help you in your journey to finding a plot.

Get some details: Now that you have your basics, you can flesh out your story!  This is where you’ll add characters that will work with your setting.  In your planning, you may have found several ideas that sounded interesting.  Play with them all a little bit, until you find one that works best for you right now.  Don’t forget to write down any other ideas you had, though; you may want to write them later!


You can also go about finding a plot by creating characters.  Maybe you’re like me and have a slightly crazy fascination with a certain type of character.  For me, it’s dragons.  I read every single Pern book I could when I was a teenager, and I haven’t been able to get enough of dragons since then.  No dragonslaying, though; I’m way more intrigued by the interaction with dragons.  Given this, it makes sense that for NaNoWriMo, I’m going with a dragon idea that I’ve had for maybe a year now.

If you have a penchant for a certain aspect of a genre, this should make it easier to find a plot.  With a starting block, you can jump from there.  Pick a basic character (a 16 year old girl, say) and give her an unusual hobby or job: maybe a trapeze artist.  Give her flaws and strengths that will make her unique and interesting, then work on a backstory.  Maybe this girl’s brother worked with dragons, but was badly burned in a training accident, leaving him completely disabled and barely alive.  Now she has a deep hatred of the dragons, but she finds a fledgling, just as badly injured as her brother, and has to get over her hatred as she helps nurse it back to health.

One Shapes the Other

That’s an example of characters shaping setting.  It can go the other way too, though.  Starting with a dragon pretty firmly puts me in a fantasy genre.  Using a Western genre could have given me a similar plot line, but the genre would have affected it as well.  It could have also yielded an even more interesting (in different ways) story!

Finding a plot to work with isn’t an exact science.  You’re going to have to play around with a lot of different options.  As you think of ideas, they’ll sprout into other ideas, which may or may not be related.  They might also be better, though, so don’t stop just because you think you’ve found a workable plot!  If you haven’t found the plot that makes you excited to write, keep going.  Remember that you’re going to be playing with it for the rest of this month and next month, and maybe beyond.  Make sure you find a plot that you wake up excited to write.

Having trouble finding a plot?  I’d love to help!  Drop us a line or a comment.  If you’ve found a plot, share a one-sentence summary!

This post is part of the How to NaNoWriMo series.  Check out the other posts below:

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