Nano Zen

In recent years, Nanowrimo has grown to such massivity that it’s impossible to keep up on the forums anymore, but back when I did, I noticed a fairly common phenomenon known as Plot Death.

Plot Death goes a little like this – Person wakes up one day with a fantastic story idea.  They are so excited.  They can’t wait to get started on writing it.  So they do character profiles and interviews.  They draw maps.  They research time periods, exotic locales, interesting viruses, different octopus species.  They figure out each scene, each chapter, every step of the story in as much detail as they can manage.  Their outline is threatening to reach Nano sizes itself.

And then it happens.  Somewhere along the line the person realizes something’s wrong.  Something’s wrong with the plot, something’s wrong with them, something – but all enthusiasm they had for the project is gone.  Instead, they dread November.  They try to pump life back into the plot, but it’s too late.  The story is dead.

Plot Death is a horrible affliction, but it’s easily avoidable.  So, in 2005 or 2006 or somewhere around there I started preaching Nano Zen.  The idea is simple.  You take everything you have for your story – plot, characters, setting, etc. – and you put it in a box in your mind.  And then you close the box and put it in a corner and DO NOT TOUCH IT for the entirety of October.

I realize this is a little late for this year.

People say to me “But Kit, how can you be prepared enough if you don’t think about your story for a month?”  That’s just the thing.  It’s not that you’re not thinking about your story.  In fact, by not thinking about your story you actually think about it more.  Your subconscious takes over.  You start to get scene ideas in the shower.  The person across from you on the train reminds you of your main character.  The radio manages to give you a major plot twist.

Some people need a huge amount of organization to write a story, but the fact of the matter is that for a lot of us it’s a more organic process.  There has to be some room to let the story grow on its own.  You can know a lot about the story without killing it, but the truth is it might take you a while to figure out what your comfort level is.

Because Nano has time frame rules – you cannot start writing until November 1st – some people channel all their enthusiasm into planning and end up overplanning.  How much overplanning causes Plot Death depends on the person, but overplanning has been proven to be a direct cause of Plot Death.  So lock your story away.  Let it grow naturally.  Channel that energy towards making friends on the forums or within your region.  I like to make icons and banners and covers to drain off some of that excess energy.  It allows me to work on things related to the story without actually worrying about anything.  (I am terrible with graphics.  It still helps.)

So take a deep breath.  Stop worrying.  Nano is supposed to be fun.  Relax and let your story grow on its own.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Catana on 2010/10/27 at 2:32 PM

    You make a very good point. I’ve never suffered from plot death, at least not fatally. I’ve learned that I need to plan in as much detail as I can, but sheer mental fatigue sometimes makes me realize I need a time out. During that time away, all kinds of stuff is going on in your brain, and that’s what you have to learn to trust. I still have a long way to go on this year’s outline, but I decided the heck with it. I started a four day vacation today — forget NaNo. I’m reading a new novel, instead. I’ll get back to business Sunday, and that will be plenty good enough.


    • My outline for this year isn’t done as much as I would like either, but we’re also moving to a different state this weekend, so if it gets done, it gets done, and if not, that’s what November’s for. Enjoy your break (and your new book)!


  2. Good advice, I rarely write out an outline for my stories, in fact right now the closest thing I have for an ‘outline’ is the what my prologue, or what happens in the prologue, or opening chapter so far. Maybe if I focus more on that I can get some more direction and idea out of the following chapters are doing atleast for general purpose of direction 🙂


  3. […] looms ever closer, my friends.  (Also, it’s my birthday!)  I talked last year about Nano Zen and Plot Death — this cheats Nano Zen a bit, but I do think it’s important. […]


  4. […] it’s a little early in the year to be thinking about Nanowrimo, but we’ve talked about Nano Zen before and I will need to have a decent idea of what I’m going to do before October to go […]


  5. […] it’s a little early in the year to be thinking about Nanowrimo, but we’ve talked about Nano Zen before and I will need to have a decent idea of what I’m going to do before October to go […]


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