October 5, 2017

NaNo Prep: Getting a Handle on Our Story

Orange sand in hourglass with text: Ready for NaNo? Understanding Our Story

Many writers will spend the month of November dedicating every spare minute to writing as they participate in National Novel Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo or just plain NaNo). So now is the perfect time to start thinking about what story idea we want to explore next.

A common assumption about NaNo is that people write gibberish (or close to it) to meet the word count demands, cramming 50,000 words into a 30-day deadline. To be sure, some people do write messy stream-of-consciousness rambles that don’t add up to a story. But NaNo writing doesn’t have to be poor quality.

I’ve participated in NaNo for five years, and twice I’ve “won”—meaning I successfully reached 50K words. (And two of the years I “lost,” I participated as a NaNo Rebel and finished the books I was working on, so those are still a “win” as far as I’m concerned. *smile*) Every NaNo book I’ve written is published (or will be published), and one NaNo story won the National Readers’ Choice Award, so I know what the quality of NaNo writing can be.

To make NaNo work for us, we need to figure out our goals for the experience—and there’s no wrong answer. However, if our goal is to create coherent stories during the mad scramble for words, we should try to understand story structure.

My health issues over the past year and a half (six surgeries and twice as many complications!) kept me from offering my in-depth story structure workshop live last year, but now that we’re approaching NaNoWriMo season, it’s time…

It’s Here! The Lost Your Pants? Workshop!

That’s right. My popular Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story workshop is now open for registration. *smile*

Whether we’re a “pantser” (writing by the seat of our pants) who just wants to learn a minimalist approach to story development, or a plotter who wants to understand how plot and character arcs work together, this class might be able to help.

Attendees will receive several tools (worksheets and beat sheets) developed especially for the workshop. Also, the class will help us prepare for NaNo, as the tools help writers work out enough story direction to make “fast drafting” techniques work for them.

This workshop consists of two sessions:

  • Tues., October 24th, 9 p.m. Eastern (New York) time/6 p.m. Pacific time
  • Thurs., October 26th, 9 p.m. Eastern (New York) time/6 p.m. Pacific time

Both sessions are recorded for registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience. It will not be offered as an OnDemand class for later registrants.

General Admission:

Learn techniques and receive tools developed especially for pantsers.
More Info »

Gold Level Admission:

Gold Level also includes a Phone Consultation to discuss your Story Plan.
More Info »

Platinum Level Admission:

Platinum Level also includes a Phone Consultation and Editorial Analysis and Feedback for your Story Plan.
More Info »

As a regular reader of my blog, I’m passing on a discount to this workshop, as you’ll hear some stuff you already know from my posts here. Use the Coupon Code JAMIBLOG to get an additional $10 off my usual “Jami’s friends and readers” discount already taken off the price on my site.

(Or if you signed up on my Workshops page to hear about when the class would run, look for your special coupon code in an email from me!)

How Does Knowing Story Structure Help Us?

I’m a die-hard-and-proud-of-it pantser, so I developed this process for myself. In other words, I promise my fellow pantsers that I’m not one of those authors who will tell you that you need to plot because otherwise “you’re doing it wrong.” *smile*

However, if we’ve seen articles about pantsing vs. plotting before, we know that many writers and editors don’t respect the pantsing process. Pantsers are often considered hacks who can’t put together a coherent story.

But I believe that most problems experienced by pantsers come down to whether or not they understand story structure. And a lack of understanding story structure will cause issues for plotters too.

Sure, some writers are instinctively able to put together (mostly) coherent stories while drafting. But without conscious knowledge of the underlying structure of stories, they might struggle to fix problems in revisions.

Other writers put together words willy-nilly and end up with tangents and a story that doesn’t hold together. Or they might zoom through the first several chapters, but then get stuck halfway and not know where to take the story next.

And still other writers want to plan their stories in advance, but having a story outline doesn’t necessarily prevent problems. After all, their plan doesn’t do any good if it’s simply chaos that’s been written down.

All of these writers have one thing in common: A strong sense of story structure would help them during planning, drafting, and/or revisions.

Doing #NaNoWriMo? Make sure you understand story structure. Click To TweetAny author—a pantser or a plotter—will struggle with a story if the structure isn’t sound. If there’s a premise but no plot. If the plot arc isn’t solid. If the emotional growth is stagnant. If the stakes don’t increase. If the scenes don’t have goals. Etc., etc.

On the other hand, any author—a pantser or a plotter—will be more successful at writing a story filled with connections and meaning if their knowledge of structure is complete. Especially if they fully understand how the plot and character arcs work together over the course of the story.

Who Is this Workshop for?

I jokingly refer to this workshop as my “plotting for pantsers” class, but it’s really about how to plan our stories at a high level and work our way down only as much as we need to. We’ll learn the basic “need to know” plot points and character development steps, and more importantly, we’ll learn how those elements all play together.

(And yes, I say “we’ll learn” because every time I give this workshop, the conversation we have in the chat helps me understand all of the intricacies of story structure better too. That’s one of many reasons this class isn’t offered OnDemand. Due to my health issues, I couldn’t present it last year, and I had my worst NaNo ever. Coincidence? I think not. *smile*)

Attendees will receive exclusive tools to step them through a unique process that helps writers no matter where they fall on the pantser/plotter spectrum:

  • Those who write by the seat of their pants will learn how to plan “just enough” to keep both their freaking-out inner editor and their diva muse happy.
  • Those who plot a story in advance will learn how to use flexible tools to create a coherent outline before drafting.

This workshop shares additional planning layers we can use at any point in our drafting process. The tools help with planning both the plot and character arc, as well as seeing the conflicts and obstacles we can use in the middle of our story to kick start our writing again. When we have to get in 50K words in 30 days, we need to quickly overcome those times we’re stuck. *smile*

Great! But What If the Times Aren’t Convenient?

The last time I presented this class was two years ago, and unlike the rest of my workshops, which are available OnDemand, registration for the Lost Your Pants? workshop is opened only once a year. However, everything is recorded for attendees.

The webinar recordings include all audio, slide presentations, chat window with questions from attendees, etc. It’s almost as good as being there. *smile*

It’s an intensive class that includes oodles of exclusive materials and always goes over on time because I make an effort to answer every question and help people with their stories. So while this class will be recorded for registrants, the recordings won’t later be made available for others.

In other words, between the fact that it’s only given as a live class and that I don’t offer it very often, I recommend that anyone wanting to take this workshop sign up this time around.

Bummer, What If I Can’t Budget It This Year?

I’ve written several posts over the years with tips on how to get started with our story. So if you’re not able to register for the class, I can at least point you in the right direction for some of those posts here. *smile*

If you’re participating in NaNo this year, I wish you luck! I’ll be doing NaNo this year too (buddy me—I’m Jami Gold). And if you sign up for my workshop, don’t forget to use the JAMIBLOG coupon code! *smile*

Also, remember that I’m currently running an open call for guest post proposals! Have an idea for a guest post? Let me know! And here’s more information.

How important do you think story structure is for storytelling? Do you have a good handle on story structure? Are you participating in NaNo this year? What are you working on for NaNo? Do you have any questions about the workshop?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Mark R Hunter

I’m a plotter, and do some editing as I go: My discovery writing has resulted in a box full of unfinished manuscripts. So, although I have decided to do NaNoWriMo this year (my outline is already done), I’m going to go at my usual rate and don’t really expect to “win” … but I will, because I’ll end up with a finished manuscript!

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

I’m not sure whether I’m going to do NaNo this time around but that’s what I said last year! Last year I finished a book I’d already started and although I didn’t make an extra 50k on it, thanks to it being part of a series, I was able to make the word count by working on the next book. Apparently, that’s legit these days! I’d be doing the same thing this year, finishing the second book and if necessary, working on the third to make the word count. It’s a continuous story that I already have planned out so it’s not a problem 🙂 I’m disappointed with the lack of progress I’ve made this year on the first book, but I think that’s because of problems I identified that require some serious reshuffling and additional writing. I blame Larry Brooks and his Story Engineering :p There was also a missing element which I hadn’t been able to pin down but have now managed to figure out. It’s made the whole story so much more tangible, like I could grasp it in my hands 🙂 I guess I have made some progress, just not the writing kind! There is a weird thing that tempts me to do it again. I had trouble settling on a name for my MC, first she was Shannon, then Megan, then Addie and finally, Jess. I decided to join my regional group last year and the ML was called Addie. Amongst the other attendees, there…  — Read More »


Hey Jami, I reread your post on the type of planning we may need. Perhaps my personality or style has changed, but I find that I can’t do either type of planning… Even fhe main plot beats and characters arc beats cannot be known in advance— these beats emerge as I write. This is not to say that I’m “talented” or anything, but that my mind’s way of processing information for creative writing might be different.

What I can do is to pay attention to when these beats do surface in my story. (Not sure if “character arc beats” or “character beats” are terms that you would use, but you get the idea.)

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