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Story Mapping: Part 1

Like many an aspiring novel writer, I decided to try NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to churn out the ideal 50,000 words, at least not while juggling my teaching responsibilities, but even 10,000 words would be an accomplishment for me. It would be and honest start to a novel I’d wanted to write for some time.

And so I began. I enrolled in NaNoWriMo online and began plugging in my word count each day. It was exciting to watch the line graph rise. When NaNoWriMo ended, I decided to try 750 words, which pushed me to write 750 words a day. But I got to a point where I was struggling to eek out the word count. So for a few months, I wrote here and there. Then the following November, I entered NaNoWriMo again with a few new ideas.

This time, I felt as though I was more immersed in my characters’ lives. Many of the scenes I developed felt more realistic. Once again, I fell short of the ideal 50,000, but I still came away feeling accomplished, yet I knew that my draft was far from complete. In fact, my writing wasn’t even sequenced in a logical fashion.

While I could easily research the broader historical timeline, it became a little trickier when I tried to gather the details of my friend’s life in 1940. Then again, did it really matter whether or not I followed the exact sequence of her life if my plan was to turn this into a work of historical fiction? This realization released me from the burden of getting her story with creativity-crushing precision.

Okay, so now what? I shared some of my writing with my critique group. They had some great ideas, but I still didn’t have a clear sense of my story arc. What was the climax or turning point? Where should I end? Should I set the story up for a sequel, or just try to tell the whole story in one book?
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear Kathy Kovach speak on the subject of plotting, and it struck me that character motivation plays a pretty significant role in the plotting process. Maybe I needed to do some deeper digging to find out who my characters really were and what drove them. I decided to tap into Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

The first twelve chapters are designed to help a budding novelist better understand their characters before walking through the next twelve chapters, which focus on developing the plot. Perfect.

I pulled out my handy colored pens and opened a brand new notebook. Let the planning commence…

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