How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo Success

Photo of typewriter and the words: NaNo Survival & Success

Hundreds of thousands of people are signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year, just like they do every year. And like every year, most people won’t hit the 50,000-word finish line they’re supposed to reach from November 1 to November 30. Almost 90 percent won’t, if you tally up the scattershot figures.

The biggest reason why is because people don’t plan ahead. That’s the main thing that separates the “winners” from the “losers” (it’s called “winning” if you reach the word count). One group spends hours deliberately preplanning their novel, and the other plops down on November first with a pot of coffee and a couple vague ideas, thinking 50,000 words will magically pour out.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic, folks. But you can finish in time, with a solid first draft, if you spend the time now preparing.

There are three main areas to plan: plot, characters, and setting. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to think about for each section.

Plot
You can get as detailed as you want with your plot planning, but there are some areas you will want to figure out for certain:

  • Genre
  • Premise
  • Beginning
  • Ending
  • Key events in between

Some people will make a scene-by-scene outline that includes all kinds of details and even the position of the moon. They’re called “plotters.” The writers who recoil at the previous thought are called “pantsers,” as in “fly by the seat of their pants.” They sit down and write what comes to them as it comes to them. Under normal circumstances, I tell writers to do what feels best. Either way can be successful. But when you’ve been writing for twenty plus days in a row and your last three lines have come from you falling asleep on the letter Z, you’re going to be thankful you at least outlined your key events.

Characters
For your story to feel believable and not one dimensional, you’ll want to have thoughtful, fully realized characters. This is why you’ll want to create a character profile for most of them. (The waitress with only three lines gets a pass.)

Your profile should include:

  • Physical characteristics: (eye color, hair color, build, etc.)
  • Life basics: (job, hobbies, etc.)
  • Strengths & weaknesses (physical, mental, and/or emotional)
  • Fun facts (favorite movie, favorite food, etc.)

You won’t need to include every detail about every character in your book, but knowing so much about your characters will help you better assess how they will react in any given situation.

As you create your characters, be sure to invent an antagonist (bad guy) for your protagonist (main character) and at least a few side characters. You’ll also want to think about their relationships with each other. Who is your character’s best friend? Who’s their love interest? Who do they have a positive relationship with? Who do they have a negative relationship with? Who do they tell their secrets to?

Setting
Setting is important to establishing the feeling and mood of a scene. A scene taking place in a shopping mall cafeteria would have a starkly different feeling than one happening in a darkened cave, for example.

Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself about your settings include:

  • Where does the story take place?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Does it take place in many settings or in one setting?
  • How do characters travel from one setting to the next?

You’ll also want to consider your characters’ relationship to settings. A king would have different feelings about his castle’s throne room than the person who is plotting the king’s death, for example. Characters’ relationship to the setting may influence their behavior in the scene.

Organize Your Thoughts
One way to organize all of these details is to use a workbook. I have created one called The One-Month Novel Workbook. It includes 64 pages of worksheets covering all of these topics and more, along with writing-success guides and self-care ideas.

The workbook comes as a digital download and in print. You can learn more about it, and the book-coaching program I have created for this contest, here: https://www.dotanddashllc.com/shop

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Passive Voice vs. Active Voice

Passive voice vs. Active voice

Many writers use passive voice without realizing it and knowing what it is. This is a problem because it makes sentences difficult to understand. Passive voice confuses readers as to who or what is doing the action of the sentence. The solution is to use active voice.

In this lesson you’ll learn: what passive voice is, how to recognize it in sentences, and how to correct it and make it active voice.

Let’s start by looking at these two sentences:

“The man ate the sandwich.”
“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Does one of them seem unnecessarily wordy and awkwardly phrased? That’s what using the passive voice often does to your writing.

 When you use active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. But when you use passive voice, the subject of the sentence receives the action.

Look again at the first sample sentence. In it, the man (subject) is eating the sandwich (doing the action). The subject is an active participant in what’s going on. This is active voice.

Now look at the second sentence. Here the sandwich is the subject and the man is receiving the action of eating. This is passive voice.

Why is active voice better?
Active voice makes your writing clearer and more concise. Using passive voice can make your writing overly wordy and vague, often resulting in sentences that technically make sense but don’t sound quite right.

There’s also a difference in tone between active and passive voice. Active voice often sounds much stronger and clearer. Meanwhile, passive voice sounds slipperier and more evasive—almost like you’re trying to talk around something rather than addressing it head on.

How to write in active voice
Let’s go back one more time to the man and his sandwich:

“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 1: Identify the subject of the sentence.

The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 2: Identify the action of the sentence.

“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 3: Ask who is doing this action?

“The sandwich was eaten by the man.”

Step 4: Rephrase the sentence so the person doing the action is the subject of the sentence:

Then you get: “The man ate the sandwich.”

A quick way to find who or what does the action of a sentence is to look for the words “by the.” What comes after that is usually the subject. Sometimes it’s going to be a little more complicated than this and you might have to use the context of the surrounding sentences to figure out who is doing the action.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that you should always use active voice and never use passive voice. Sometimes passive voice does work better. For example, if the action is more important than who or what is doing that action, and you want to highlight that in your writing, then using passive voice makes more sense. The important thing is to use passive and active voice consciously—know what the effect of using each one will be and which one will most effectively convey what you want to say.

Maud Grauer wrote today’s post. She is new to Dot and Dash and will be working with Erin to write these informative blog posts here and on the Dot and Dash blog, along with other future educational materials. You can email her at Maud@dotanddashllc.com.

Compliment vs. Complement

compliment vs. complement

Compliment and complement sound the same but are spelled differently, so it’s easy to get the two confused in your writing. In this blog post, we’ll discuss their definitions and learn how to remember the two spellings.

Compliment as a verb means saying something nice. As a noun, it means the nice thing that is said.

Examples
Verb: The rat complimented the mouse’s suspenders.
Noun: The rat’s compliment made the mouse smile.

Complement as a verb means to complete. As a noun, it means something that completes.

Examples
Verb: The mouse’s suspenders complemented his outfit.
Noun: The suspenders were the perfect complement to his outfit.

How to remember the difference
Complement sort of looks like the word complete, and it means to complete.

Think complement = complete.

You can also note that both words have an E in the middle (rather than an I).

Quiz
Fill in the blanks below with compliment or complement. The answers are below.

1. Rupert’s jeweled brooch _______s his look.
2. The expensive car was the _______ to her “perfect” life.
3. Tina _______ed her by saying, “You look hotter than a dead raccoon in the afternoon sun.”
4. Hilda hoped to get an A on the test, which would _______ her semester’s perfect grades.
5. The suitor’s _______ was her favorite part of their date.
Answers:
1. complement 2. complement 3. compliment 4. complement 5. compliment

Capital vs Capitol

capitol building with dome against blue sky

Photo by Caleb Perez on Unsplash

Today we’re going to learn the difference between capital and capitol and a method to remember which is which.

Capital means the city that houses a state or country’s main government. It also means money and business assets and the type of letter that is not lowercased. In this post, however, we will be using the first definition.

Examples:
London is the capital of England.
Atlanta is the capital of Georgia

Capitol means the building in which a legislature meets. A legislature is the group of politicians that has the power to make laws.

Examples:
The Capitol Building in Washington, DC, has an iconic dome.
The politicians debated a bill at the capitol well into the night.

How to remember the difference:

“Capital” has an A.
A = Atlanta (capital of the state of Georgia)
OR
A = Athens (capital of Greece)

“Capitol” has an O.
O = dOme
Capitols are often in buildings with domes.

Erin Servais is a book editor, author coach, and founder of Dot and Dash LLC, an author-services company that focuses on women author-entrepreneurs. To learn how she can help you with your next writing project, check out her website.

You can also read her blog about writing here.

Follow Erin on social media:

Twitter: @GrammarParty
Instagram: @dot_and_dash_llc
Facebook: facebook.com/dotanddashllc

What are mass nouns?

a guide to mass nouns

Mass nouns, also called “uncountable nouns”  and “noncount nouns,” are substances, objects, and concepts that cannot be divided into separate parts. By their nature, they can only be plural.

Think about emotions. Let’s take happiness, for instance. Happiness exists as a general idea. You can’t break happiness down into its particles. You cannot hold in your hand one happiness or two happinesses. Thus, it is a mass noun.

The same goes with “sand.” There are beaches filled with sand, but you can’t find one sand. However, you can dig your hand into the ground and come up with grains of sand. This illustrates one of the rules with mass nouns.

You explain how much of a mass noun exists by placing a describing word in front of it.

  • a grain of sand
  • a piece of news
  • a gallon of water

Another rule is that English treats mass nouns as if they were singular, even though they are plural. For instance, instead of using the verb “are,” use “is.”

Correct: This juice is delicious.
Incorrect: This juice are delicious
Correct: Greed is dangerous.
Incorrect: Greed are dangerous

And if a verb drops an “s” with plural nouns, it will keep the “s” for mass nouns.

Correct: The cheese tastes yummy.
Incorrect: The cheese taste yummy
Correct: Your jewelry looks expensive.
Incorrect: Your jewelry look expensive.

Types of Mass Nouns
Here are some of the categories mass nouns fall into with examples:

  • weather: rain, snow, sleet, sunshine
  • feelings: anger, happiness, fear, courage
  • liquids: orange juice, tea, water
  • gasses: air, helium, argon
  • states of existence: childhood, sleep, sickness
  • ideas: advice, motivation, existentialism
  • powder: flour, makeup powder, powdered sugar
  • foods: cheese, rice, pudding, butter

Other Examples

  • traffic
  • art
  • chaos
  • currency
  • education
  • furniture
  • information
  • luggage
  • marketing
  • livestock
  • music
  • patriotism
  • power
  • wood

Erin Servais is a book editor, author coach, and founder of Dot and Dash LLC, an author-services company that focuses on women author-entrepreneurs. To learn how she can help you with your next writing project, check out her website.

You can also read her blog about writing here.

Follow Erin on social media:

Twitter: @GrammarParty
Instagram: @dot_and_dash_llc
Facebook: facebook.com/dotanddashllc