Hundreds of thousands of writers are signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. Like every year, most won’t hit the 50,000-word finish line between November 1 to November 30.
The biggest reason why is because they fail to plan ahead. Story plotting is the main writing tactic that separates NaNoWriMo “winners” from “losers” (it’s called “winning” if you reach the word count). One group spends hours deliberately preplanning their novel (in "Preptober"), and the other group plops down on November first with a pot of coffee and a handful of vague ideas, thinking 50,000 words will magically pour out.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic shortcut, folks. But you can finish your first draft in time, if you spend the time now preparing.
There are three main story areas to plan: plot, characters, and setting. Here’s a breakdown of the main points to think about for each section. (Check out our Novel Planning Workbook to guide you through planning down to the details.)
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 character profile should include:
Physical characteristics: eye color, hair color, build, etc.
Life basics: job, hobbies, etc.
Strengths & weaknesses: physical, mental, and emotional
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 secondary 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 Story Ideas
One way to organize all of these details is to use the Dot & Dash has Novel Planning 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.
We also provide Writing Accountability Coaching to help writers stick to their goals and finish their books, NaNoWriMo or no NaNoWriMo. Writing is often seen as something you do all by yourself, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are struggling to make progress on your work in progress, Writing Accountability Coaching can be your answer. You can book a free mini coaching session here to try out the service. You'll leave with answers, direction, clarity, and a next step.
Erin Servais is the founder and managing editor of Dot & Dash, where she and the team provide author coaching, book editing, and sensitivity reading services to women authors.
Dot & Dash empowers writers through positive-minded and collaborative author services, giving you the trusted guidance to go from outlines and ideas to polished and published.
To learn how we can help you reach The End, schedule a chat with Erin.