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.
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:
- 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.
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 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