Right now, we’re in the midst of October. This means, of course, that November is right around the corner. And, for me, November means National Novel Writing Month. By extension, this means that October is typically a mad dash to plan a story, write out character profiles, and construct some kind of outline so that I’m not lost in the literary woods during the month of November. This is not always easy, and it doesn’t really help that there about a gazillion ways to plan a story. There are different techniques, different things to focus on, and different ways to even structure your story at the most basic level. Throughout October, I’ll be talking about several ways to plan a story, based on tips from Chuck Wendig’s 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story. Please go check out that post because Chuck Wendig is super awesome.
So, the tip that I want to focus on today is all about tentpoles. When planning, Chuck suggests creating tentpole moments within your story that you leap to while you’re striving toward your ending. Chuck says, “You might have five, maybe ten of these. Write them down. These are the elements that, were they not included, the plot would fall down (like a tent without its poles). The narrative space between the tentpoles is uncharted territory.”
What bits of your story are absolutely essential to the plot? This question will help you establish those tentpoles, and it might force you to make some hard decisions. At this stage of the game, some of your original ideas might be cut because you’re sticking only to the most important things that will hold up the “tent” of your story. Once you have these, write them down so that you can refer back to them as you’re in the thick of writing the story.
Another reason I love this philosophy is that it leaves you so much leeway! Sure, you have those solid tentpoles in your story, but you’ve also got vast swaths of wilderness between each pole. In that wilderness, you’re free to lead your character through rough terrain until they arrive at that next tentpole.
I hope this bit of advice helps you. Happy writing!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan