NaNoWriMo Writing Tips: How to Move the Plot Forward

At some point during NaNoWriMo, you’re probably going to find yourself in a plot hole. Maybe your story is stuck in time, moving too quickly, or it doesn’t make any sense. Now what?

The clock is ticking, and the days left in November are dwindling. You have to do something about it!

I’ve come up with a few different ways you can battle through writer’s block that will hopefully see you through to the end of 50,000 words and 30 days. Feel free to mix and match these ideas as you see fit to make them your own.

Summary

  • Use flashbacks
  • Kill a character
  • Create a new quest
  • Incorporate a new desire
  • Create a new conflict
  • Utilize strong emotions
  • Establish a time constraint
  • Travel to new territory
  • Discover a secret
  • Reach out to other writers

Use Flashbacks

If you’re stuck going forward, try going backward.

Spending some time showing what your character has been through can prepare the reader for what the character is about to go through. If your character is about to make an irrational decision, showing a bit from their past will provide some much-needed insight as to why they would make that decision.

Using flashbacks can be a bit confusing if you don’t have a set structure, so if you’re in the middle of the story and decide to do this, take a minute to decide the best way to execute it.

If you don’t intend to do flashbacks often, you could get away with the character getting lost in thought while they do the dishes. If it’s going to happen often, a section break might be more fitting. You could go the route of dedicating entire chapters to flashbacks, making your reader jump back and forth to different times or places. Choose whatever makes the most sense with your story.

Kill a Character

This may seem like an easy way out. It may even seem like a trope if you frequently kill off characters. Or, maybe it seems outlandish and unnecessary! If you’re comfortable going this route, there are many ways you can incorporate a meaningful character death that will move the story forward.

Be cautious if you choose to remove a character. You may find yourself in a deeper plot hole if you took out someone who had a more significant part in the story than you realized! Before you do anything drastic, analyze everyone’s part in the story and make sure you have an idea of what to do next once they’re gone.

Kill the Main Character

This is for sure a bold move. But, if your story has a few main characters, consider killing one of them. It will provide plenty of emotion, mess up your characters’ plans, and most importantly, force you to come up with a new plot.

If one of your characters has The Answer, what happens if they die? Your other characters are left to find The Answer themselves, and the trauma of losing someone will likely make the task more difficult.

Removing the star of the show will allow you to bring in new blood or shift the focus to someone else who seems to be taking over the story. Sometimes the writing process will reveal that the secondary character you created isn’t so secondary after all. Removing the primary character will allow the others to shine.

Kill a Secondary Character

What happens if Batman loses his Robin? Or if Sherlock loses his Watson? If the main character loses their sidekick, it can cause them a world of heartache and trouble. Now they must learn to rely on someone else. If they’re the closed book kind of person, you get to explore their journey of opening up to someone new.

If you consider this method, allow this character to exist long enough that your readers can develop some kind of attachment to them. It will make the situation have a more significant emotional impact and allow your readers to better understand your main character’s emotions following the death.

Kill the Voice of Reason

Maybe your main character is high-strung or prone to thinking with their heart and not their mind. Who’s the person in their life who keeps them grounded? Kill them.

Maybe your character relies on phone calls from their mother who lives out of state to keep them sane. Removing the mother from the picture could open up new opportunities for the character, such as reconnecting with a family member at the funeral or becoming an independent person.

Kill Someone Insignificant

First of all, nobody is insignificant, but in books, characters can be insignificant to the story.

This may sound like a waste of words in your story, but hear me out.

Some characters are mentioned only once in the story, such as the butcher in the deli your character stops every week. The butcher’s death could cause the deli to close, and now your character’s routine is thrown off, and they have to find a new normal.

Sometimes you can hear of a death in the news that upsets you. Maybe the person was close to the age of one of your loved ones, and it causes you to think about how you wouldn’t be able to live without them. Or maybe the cause of death makes you think of a time you were in a similar situation. Put your character in this scenario and allow their train of thought to affect their actions moving forward.

How can an “insignificant” death become significant to your character?

Create a New Quest

Plots are rarely A → B, and nobody gets to their goal without a bit of hardship.

Plots have subplots. Subplots may even have subplots. As long as your character gets from the beginning to the end without straying too far off from the story’s focus, adding a subplot to fill out the story won’t hurt.

Let’s say your character is getting married. They’re excited and in love, and they know for sure they want to go through with the marriage. Yawn, right? What if their former lover dies and they are invited to the funeral? Attending the funeral may bring back fond memories and cause the fiance to think the flame never burned out, thus putting the soon-to-be newlyweds in a rocky place.

Maybe a fantasy character has a quest to go to the enemy’s castle, obtain an item, and bring it back to the queen. What if they get lost or end up at the wrong castle? Maybe they pick up a sidekick along the way, but that sidekick ends up being the enemy’s spy.

Adding a new quest may not always be the correct answer. There’s no point in making your characters go through something that won’t affect the outcome of the original plot in some way.

Incorporate a New Desire

Desires aren’t straightforward. When you’re hungry, you don’t just want food; you want to feel satisfied, taste something delicious, and avoid starvation. Every desire has layers, and some are easier to see than others.

In five words or less, what is your character’s desire?

Now, think about the complexity. Is their desire all on the surface? If so, find a way to make it deeper.

Nobody simply wants to get married. Depending on the person, they want to have someone they can depend on for the rest of their life. Or, maybe on a subconscious level, they’re hoping to fill an empty space in their heart that was created long ago.

Any desire can be complex. If your character’s isn’t, expanding it will not only add more to your plot, but it will make your character more dynamic.

Create a New Conflict

A story centered around a character who hates their annoying neighbor likely isn’t enough to get forty chapters. But maybe the annoying neighbor steals pets and lawn care equipment or harbors a dark secret buried in a hidden cellar, and the main character learns about it while the neighbor is on vacation.

Add a new conflict if your story seems dull to read or doesn’t have enough to get you to 50,000 words. This could be caused by a new character, a major event, a minor event, or even something caused by a secondary character. What happens if your main characters get into an argument and don’t want to work together anymore?

If you add a new conflict to your story, try adding something that isn’t quickly resolved in a few chapters. Concrete events like a canceled flight or a flat tire might cause a snowball effect, but they’re also likely to wrap up quickly and not add much to the story.

Try messing with emotions for conflict. A broken promise can cause trust issues that last until the final chapters of the story. You don’t have to mention the broken promise in every chapter, but you can base the character’s decisions around it.

Utilize Strong Emotions

Most of my suggestions already deal with emotions, but I think they deserve their own section because emotions are powerful. Think of all the commercials that try to manipulate you by making you feel sad or nostalgic.

If your characters don’t have feelings, your story will likely feel flat. But, if all of your characters are dynamic and show emotions, one flat character will feel surprisingly dynamic in comparison. Your reader will wonder why they seem so dead inside, and you get to reveal the reason later in the story.

How can emotions improve your story? How can they add layers?

Remember, the goal is to write an entire novel, so complex emotions that take some time to explain or reveal should be what you’re looking for.

As you’re trying to develop ways to put emotion in your story, remember that not all emotions have to be negative to make an impression! Joy, confidence, optimism, and curiosity aren’t negative, but they’re compelling enough to create new plot points.

Establish a Time Constraint

Your pregnant character doesn’t have three years to make up her mind about where she’s going to live before the baby is born. Your hero doesn’t have more than five minutes to diffuse the bomb.

When your characters have all the time in the world, there’s no stress and no motive to get the job done.

Once your time constraint is established, you can move to the fun part: what happens if your characters fail?

What happens when the mother has nowhere to go after her baby is born? What happens when the bomb explodes?

You don’t have to make your characters fail, but you should have an idea, so your characters (and yourself!) have the motivation to complete the goal in time. Sometimes you need a terrible thing to happen to spice it up, and consequences are certainly a way to make it happen.

Travel to New Territory

If your story is getting stale, try taking your characters somewhere else.

You could send them on a wild goose chase only to have them realize the answer to their problem was where they began. Or, maybe you decide to move a family across the country, and now everybody has to make sacrifices and adjustments.

If life is too easy or the scene is too familiar, move.

I’ll emphasize once again that you shouldn’t do this if it’s pointless. If the wild goose chase didn’t teach someone a lesson or foreshadow a future event, or the cross country relocation didn’t allow anyone to have a change of heart or a new perspective, consider why you did it in the first place. Were you desperate for a word count, or did you have a goal in mind? (Don’t forget, you’ll have plenty of time after NaNoWriMo to fix all your regrettable last-minute decisions.)

Discover a Secret

Secrets, secrets are no fun unless I am a part of one.

Kids chanted that in elementary school, but I find that it still holds true.

Is there a secret your character could discover that will turn their life around? Could it ruin a life? Improve a life?

Many stories are founded upon a juicy secret waiting to be discovered. Having a secret will give you a lot of opportunities as a writer. You can choose if you want your reader to be in on the secret or if you want them to know as much as your character does. With a little bit of planning, you can allude to the secret in chapter four but not mention it until chapter twelve and not reveal any answers until the end of the book!

When you have a secret, everyone wants to know it. It will give your characters motivation, and more importantly, it will keep your readers hooked.

If it’s in the middle of NaNoWriMo and you’re considering adding a secret, make sure it’s not coming out of nowhere. The secret needs to be believable, and it should seem like something that existed from the beginning of the story unless it exists because of events that have happened during the story.

Reach Out to Other Writers

Talking to other writers may be what you need to iron out the ideas that are wadded up in your brain. I find that simply talking about my problems out loud allows me to find the solutions mid-sentence.

Reach out to other writers in your circle and ask if they’re willing to lend an ear. If you don’t have any writer friends, maybe your non-writer friends will suffice.

I encourage you to look at posts under the #NaNoWriMo and #amwriting hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. Many writers use these hashtags, and I’m sure there are people out there looking to make new friends and discuss plots. You can always find me on social media or start and join conversations on this post!

Review and Revise Your Current Plot

Now that you have some ideas look over your plot outline. If you’re not the planning type and don’t have an outline, create a quick one by listing out the main points and subpoints, just like you did for essays in school.

What are the big plot points in the story, and what are the essential events between them?

Now, look at the big plot points. Make sure they’re logical. Does Plot Point A logically lead to Plot Point B? Are the events between them realistic?

If everything in your jotted outline makes sense, shift your focus to whether or not it’s intriguing. Sure, it makes sense for John to quit his job because his boss upset him, but is that interesting? What did John’s boss do? Did the boss simply nag John to death, or did he force John into some shady business?

Not every word in your story will have your reader on the edge of their seat, but the outline should have you feeling that way. If it doesn’t, it’s time to revise it and add in some more events that will give your story the spice it’s lacking.

I hope this post can help at least one person get out of the hole they dug themself into. Remember: what’s written today can be edited tomorrow.

If you have more suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Good luck, and happy writing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s