Winter…er, NaNoWriMo is coming. 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).
Usually this time of year I’d be offering my Lost Your Pants? workshop to help writers get their story idea into shape before the first of November. But all my work on my new workshop—Between the Sheets: Create a Deeper Romance with the Romance Beat Sheet—meant that I didn’t have time to give my biggest, longest workshop too.
Never fear, I can share the many years worth of “NaNo Prep” posts to help get you off on the right foot with NaNoWriMo. *smile*
How Much Do We Need to Prep for NaNo?
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.
Are you ready for #NaNoWriMo? How can we *get* ready? Click To TweetI’ve participated in NaNo for eight years, and twice I’ve “won”—meaning I successfully reached 50K words. (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. And the other years, I still got words down, and some words are better than no words. *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.
In other words, how much we need to prep depends entirely on us, our writing process, and our goals for the experience.
The Two Types of Story Planning
Posts abound this time of year about planning for NaNo so your story will end up as a decent first draft. But do you know what kind of planning will help you the most?
At their essence, all stories are about change. Most stories consist of (at least) two arcs tracking that change: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. They start at Point A and things happen in a cause-and-effect, action-reaction chain to end up at Point B.
Story/plot arcs are about the “what” or the “why.” What happens to make things change? Why is the story happening now and not a year ago?
Character/emotional arcs are about the “who” and the “how.” Who is facing the obstacles and has to change to succeed? How are they changing?
What type of planning should we do to get ready for #NaNoWriMo? Click To TweetMost stories are a mix of those plot-driven and character-driven questions. But we might not need to plan ahead with both. Some of us can write by the seat of our pants (pantser) with one type of arc more than the other type.
We don’t want to spend hours working through a character background sheet if we’re good at winging the character aspect of our story. Alternately, we don’t want to waste time completing a story outline if we’re good at making up the plot turning points as we go. So we need to figure out what style of planning will work best for us.
The Basics of Planning for Plot
If we’re better at making up characters as we go along, we might want to focus our planning efforts on the main story turning points.
- What drags the character into the story and forces them to make a choice to get involved?
- What raises the stakes and tension during the middle of the story?
- What’s going to make the character lose hope before the end?
- What’s going to push the character to change and face the obstacles at the end?
We can plan a lot more, obviously, but that gives us a starting point and an ending point. That Point A and Point B will give us a direction as we write. And even if we’re the pants-iest pantser, that much planning is less likely to freak out our muse than doing a full story outline.
Plot Planning Resources:
- Learn what beat sheets are and how they work. (Want more details? Check out my OnDemand workshop on Beat Sheet Basics or if you write romance, check out my new OnDemand workshop on the Romance Beat Sheet.)
- Decide which beat sheet to use. (Pantsers: Stick with the Basic Beat Sheet or the Romance Beat Sheet—everything else is too detailed—and check this post and this post for tips on how pantsers can use beat sheets too.)
- See if we can identify the major turning points of our story.
- Think about how those turning points might affect the theme or characters.
- Make sure we’re raising the stakes as the story progresses and won’t have a “sagging middle.”
- If we’re going to use Scrivener for our NaNo draft, set up our beat sheet in our Scrivener project, even if we write romance.
The Basics of Planning for Character
On the other hand, if we’re better at making up scenes and plot points as we go along, we might want to focus our planning efforts on the character arc. That means we have to know the character’s Point A and Point B.
Some people find character arcs harder to “see” because they’re more mental than physical. But in character terms, Point A and Point B means we have to know their destination (what they want) and their beginning (what’s holding them back).
- What does the character long for and desire? (story ending)
- What choices are they making that keep them from their dream? (story beginning)
- What do they learn? (how they change)
- What are they willing to do at the end that they weren’t willing to do before? (story climax)
Character Planning Resources:
- Plan how they’ll change and what they’ll learn.
- Explore their internal struggle through Michael Hauge’s ideas of longing, wound, false belief, fear, identity, and essence.
- Think about how we might show our characters’ false beliefs.
- Use the Positive and Negative Trait Thesauri to gain insight into our characters’ flaws, traits, behaviors, etc. (Here’s a list of traits to use during brainstorming.)
- Explore the Writers Helping Writers tools on character development for flaws, positive traits (this post and this post have more about how to use this tool), profile questionnaire, and backstory (this post has more about using these last two tools).
- Think about how the plot and characters will affect each other, or if we write romance, how all 3 arcs (plot, character, and romance) will affect each other.
- Getting into a Writing Groove: How can we get in touch with our muse? Can music help us get into a “writing mood”? What are some Scrivener tips to increase our writing productivity? What other drafting tools might help?
- Finding the Start of Our Story: What should the starting point of our story be? What opening scene will best get across the right impression, lead to the rest of the story, and grab readers’ interest? Learn what story opening might work best, how to avoid an opening page infodump, and an alternate approach for figuring out the best story beginning.
- Essential Elements of a Story: Does our story contain all the essential elements? Does it have the bones of a good story? Learn what elements we need for our story to be strong, have a purpose and an arc, and how we can make it even better.
- Build Arcs & Don’t Get Stuck: What should we do if we get stuck in our plot? Or with our character? How do we develop a character arc? How can we avoid a “sagging middle”? What do we need to include in our story’s climax?
- Nitpicky Issues that Can Wait for Revisions: Should our protagonist be on the first page? Should we avoid prologues? What about first-page clichés? How can we skip time between scenes?
If you’re participating in NaNo this year, I wish you luck! I’ll be doing NaNo this year too, working on a nonfiction project. (Buddy me!—I’m Jami Gold. The NaNoWriMo site redesign wiped out all my buddies. *sob*)
Are you planning on doing NaNo? Do you feel ready for it? If not, what aren’t you ready for? (Do you have any questions that I can help with?) What do you find harder to write or plan: plot or character?Pin It