Guest Post: NaNoWriMo Plotting with Sketchbooks


Everyone around me is plotting. Plotting for novels, plotting for short stories, plotting for projects they’ve started and not yet finished. I’m plotting too and I’m plotting alongside a lot of other people for the exact same thing: National Novel Writing Month.

It’s the sixth year I’m doing NaNoWriMo and I’m hoping for my second win (Please, don’t even do the math there, it’s embarrassing.) and I sort of figured other NaNo-ers are scouring out how everyone else is going about plotting (I know I am…) to get into the groove, so, I decided I would share here a bit how I do things.

I like to create what I call a History Book. It’s a go-to book I carry around with me everywhere while working on the story and it has everything and more I ever actually wanted to know about my story and the place it takes place in. I’m a big fan of writing many different stories in the same place, so having a book that contains every piece of background material for the setting I can turn to is really instrumental.

What I put in the book though? Those are the fun parts…



It starts with the Sketchbook. I use a sketchbook to organize all my thoughts. I’m not much of an artist and I likely won’t draw inside of it, but, the space is big enough to cut pictures out of magazines and glue them in. For my project (which I call Stereoport) I have squirreled away countless issues of Juxtapoz and cut them apart, pasting images of settings on each blank page of my sketchbook, before I even start writing inside of them. Having a visual to work with starts to get my brain flowing with the sort of people who would inhabit the areas and create the art that I’m staring at.


I’m a big settings person and I can’t even begin to try and tell a story without understanding where it is taking place. The opening pages of my sketchbook are mostly collections of ideas of streets and places the characters can inhabit. The feelings of the citizens as a whole, the politics, the culture. The foods they enjoy eating, the disasters that have gotten them to where they are. Stereoport is a bit complicated because it deals with several types of gangs and each one of them is given a spot in the book, just in case I may want to write a story about a different gang the next time I visit their world for storytelling purposes.



Once I start to get the feel of where these people are living, I can start to pick out who I want to tell a story about. This is where it starts to get a bit difficult for me, figuring out a character’s motivation and trying to understand where I can pull a plot from. This time around, I found a few really helpful online resources (particularly L. Scribe Harris’s Character/Motivation/Conflict Groundwork Workshop) and started filling them out in my sketchbook. I have a rough time with plot and this helped me out a lot.



Now that I’ve got the characters and the setting, I can get to the most difficult part and the part I am getting into now, sketching out the entire plot and scenes. A lot of people use note cards and stuff for this, but, I actually have begun using Scrivener for Windows once I got to this point. Writing it out in the sketchbook would be nice, but, if the plot proves to be unworkable, everything in the sketchbook starts to seem wrong, but, if I plot out the story outside of the book, the History Book maintains itself as a resource to the place, the people and another place I can go back and try and pull a plot out of later on. So, instead, I use the note card feature in Scrivener and flip through the pages of my sketchbook to get the story started, that way when November comes, I’ll be ready.


This is the awkward way I plot all my stories and it is in no way totally useful to me, but, a lot of people like to pick and choose different things from all sources and put it together in a way that works for them. What sort of stuff do you guys use? Does of this sound like it could helpful to you? Do you even have some decent advice to make this method work even better. Let me know! I’d love to hear it.


This awesome photo-filled post is brought to you by the super pleasant wearer of awesome funky red glass, Melissa Dominic whom I’m totally going to ask to make me maps if I ever publish  Red Dust and Embers to Ashes!


Melissa Dominic is a writer, mapmaker and a historian of places that don’t exist. She keeps a field journal of her writing, life  and novel-expectations at BrokenNerves.Net You can also find her NaNoWriMo profile here.


9 responses »

    • I totally will! Heh I make the most horrifically bad maps for my fantasy stuff just so I can remember the town names and whatnot! A child could make a better one! hehe

  1. Pingback: Blips, Blips and More Blips | broken nerves

  2. I kind of love this idea! Dreams are going to be a big part of my Nano this year, so I’m thinking this will definitely help with visualizing them. Thanks for sharing!

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