National Novel Writing Month is less than 1 month away, and I have no idea what I’m going to write. Or, rather, I have too many ideas:
- Should I go with the super-human dystopian YA novel that I almost wrote last year?
- Perhaps I continue work on the sequel for The Heather and the Falcon? It’s already started, but just barely, and I could easily write another 50,000 words on this story.
- Maybe one of the ideas in my writer’s notebook would make a nice novel. There are so many of them to choose from.
- Or is there a new, undiscovered story lurking somewhere in my unconscious just waiting to be pulled out and set on paper?
Whichever one I choose, I’m going to approach planning for this novel the same way I did in 2011 and 2013, the years I “won” NaNoWriMo. It’s been a good strategy for me, so I thought I’d share my tips with you. I hope you’ll find them useful!
- Write a one-paragraph description of the story’s main conflict. You want to clarify the central focus of the novel early on. It might change as the story develops, but having a guideline helps with later plotting.
- Draw a map. Both my novels have been fantasy, but don’t ignore this step for real-life settings. Being familiar with your story’s geography limits the need for looking up where the characters will be traveling or how far they are from a place, and that leaves more time for writing.
- Name the main character(s), and write a character sketch. By the time I start my novel, I have a name and complete physical description for my MC, along with their Myers-Briggs type, archetype and basic back-story. At least two full pages in my writer’s notebook are devoted to them. There’s a huge amount of information out there on this topic, and I’ve been collecting it on my “Building Characters” board on Pinterest, if you want more ideas.
- Repeat step 3 for important secondary characters. The better you know all your characters, the easier they will be to write. For the MC’s love interest or best friend, these character sketches might be quite extensive. For a character that’s not as important, a paragraph or two can suffice.
- Make a list of names. Even if you have lists of all your characters ready, you’ll always need more names and it saves time if you don’t have to look any up. I draw a line down the middle of a page in my writer’s notebook, then write male names on one side and female names on the other. This leaves just enough space for a brief description of each character I assign the name to.
- Write a flexible plot outline. When I was taking creative writing workshops, my professor told us to never decide the ending before we start writing. For something like NaNoWriMo, it helps greatly to have a direction, but don’t set your outline in stone. Some writers will lay-out 40 scenes in detail. I usually opt for a bullet-point progression of main plot points, which allows for flexibility in the scene structures as my characters develop. For my NaNoWriMo novel last year, I thought one of the three main characters was going to die, and by the end of the story they ended up killing the character who was supposed to kill them. Since I didn’t feel bound to a ridged plot outline, I just let their character develop naturally.
- Choose a point of view. There are few things more annoying than starting out a story in fist-person point of view and then deciding to switch it to third person. Or vice-versa. It’s almost impossible to catch all the “he”s or “I”s and change them to make the story consistent again. So pick one now, and stick with it. My 2011 novel had one main character, and was character-driven, so it’s first-person from her point of view. My 2013 novel followed three characters, so I wrote it in close third-person.