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It’s October! Which means it’s time for writers everywhere to prep for National Novel Writing Month. I got my start writing novels through my participation in NaNo so this awesome organization will always have a special place in my heart. I even worked as Municipal Liaison one year when our region in Vancouver, WA found themselves short a volunteer. Having been on both sides of the NaNo experience, I’ve compiled several tips for you to help you prepare. Whether you are a plotter or a panster, I’ve got something for everyone.
First, download your favorite calendar. Here’s a fun Dr. Who themed one, but there are tons. Either look around or make your own. I love all the goodies and print-outs that come with NaNo every year. Having that calendar at your fingertips can keep you motivated and on track with your word count.
Did you register on NaNo’s site and entered your novel info. Giving your not-yet-written novel a name and a description (if you know it) is exciting and motivating. If you don’t already know that info, October is a great time to work that out. Not only does it feel good to see your novel come to life on their site, developing your story (and maybe even your cover!) can give you some clarity when it comes to plotting out your story.
Plot, you say? But I’m a panster. It’s cool, everyone. I’ve got something for everyone here today. I’m going to talk to those of you who can’t get your head around plotting, but first I’ll give you my perspective on the plotting controversy.
My first NaNo novel is sitting in a drawer. It’s a hot mess and it will never see the light of day. Partially that’s because I didn’t plot –at all– and partly because it was first NaNo and I had zero idea what I was doing. There were so many details I hadn’t considered. Details that would have helped me tremendously had I worked some of this out ahead of time. Let me save some of you a bit of time.
You don’t have to plot every detail of your novel in order to have some semblance of structure moving into November. If you can find some clarity around your genre, your protagonist, antagonist, setting, narrative decisions, and point-of-view, then you can rock this NaNo even if you have no clear idea about where your plot will go. Let me tell you how these general things can help you.
Genre: If you know your genre, you can understand ahead of time which tropes you will be working with (or ignoring), as well as length expectations. For example, if you know you want to write a YA novel, you’ll know that you’ll need to be aware of how much sex and naughty language. If you are writing traditional romance, you’ll want to be sure that you’re lovers end up together or you’ll have a riot on your hands. Know your genre and you’ll already know some things about your book and what your November will feel look like.
Protagonist: Depending on your genre, your good guy might have some characteristics that will definitely be “required”. The more you can learn about your characters before you start writing, the more informed your writing will be come November 1. If you know that your protagonist is going to start out shy and end up a hero, the beginning of your book will have a certain feel compared to the end.
Antagonist: What is the nature of the relationship between your good and bad guy? Are they ex-lovers? Family members? A detective and a murderer? The more you know, the better you’ll be.
Setting: This is another place where your genre may inform your setting choices. If you are writing a cozy mystery, then you’ll need to be sure your setting is a small town with a quaint main street type of feel. If you are writing hard-boiled mystery, then you’ll set your sleuth up in a city and it will have a grittier feel. Once you know where your novel is set, you can do some research. Finds some pictures of your planned location and even some physical descriptions if you’ve never been there. Having these resources at your fingertips once the writing begins will save you some precious time.
Narrative Choices: How are you going to tell your story? Will you start in the middle and then move back to the beginning? Maybe you’re opening scene will be toward the end of your story and then you’ll plan on circling back. Think about the way the story in Pulp Fiction is told. Remember how they hop around all over the place and leave you guessing? That’s a narrative choice. Anyone watching the new TV show “This is Us”? I won’t give any spoilers away, but they make some interesting choices in the telling of that story that the viewer doesn’t put together until the very end of the first episode. How you tell a story can make a big difference. Knowing that before you begin writing can inform the order in which you write the story in the first place. So think about that a little bit.
Point of View: Who is telling this story? Is it an all-knowing narrator? Maybe, as is the fashion lately, your storyteller is an unreliable drunk? Maybe we get the story through your protagonists point of view? Or what if the bad guy is telling the story. There are millions (maybe that’s an exaggeration, but a lot!) of ways to tell your story. Make that decision ahead of time and it will be another way you can lock on to your 50,000 word target.
Now take just a second and look at all those details you can hone in on without plotting a single scene. Feels good, right?
If you are a plotter (in any form) take a look at what comes next. Because you can do all those things I just mentioned and then dig into your specific plot and you’ll be rock solid this November.
Assuming you’ve looked at some of those facets I just talked about it, you are ready to dig in to plot.
To plot your novel, you should ask yourself what the central conflict is in your story. If you can’t think of one, this is a good time to work that out. You need conflict and tension and continuously rising stakes. Then determine the following super basic bones of your story.
How will you grab your reader? You need something to hook them in the first couple of pages. Got that in your mind? Okay write that down.
Next, where will your character pass the point of no return when he is solidly in the mire of the conflict and has no choice but to keep going? Identify this first plot point and figure it should go about 20-25% of the way into your story.
Okay, now that you’ve got that first plot point worked out, when does your main character finally figure out what they need to do solve the problem? They aren’t doing it yet, mind you, they just now have a piece of information that will help them figure out how to solve their own problem. That’s the second plot point and should come about half way through the second act of your novel.
The third plot point is the beginning of the third act. Your main dude is going to take specific actions now to save himself or resolve the conflict. You can also call this the climax.
That’s a super quick skeleton plot format for you, but even some of you pansters might be able to get comfortable with that. Look for more tips this month from Bibliocrunch and get ready to rock your next novel this November!
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Auburn Seal is the author of eight books including historical fiction, cozy mystery, paranormal romance, and science fiction. She doesn't believe in dipping her toe in the water of experimentation, but rather jumping in and making the biggest splash possible. Her first book, Roanoke Vanishing, was published in 2013. Discover more about Auburn and her various projects at www.auburnseal.com