It's That NaNoWriMo Time of Year

My picture nameThe leaves are turning brown. St. Helen’s has a fresh cap of snow on her rim. And students are returning back to college. All this means one thing to me. No, not the start of autumn. NaNoWriMo is almost here. For those of you who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month. And for the past 6 years, the founder of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty, has been getting would-be writers out of their funks, writing complete drafts of novels. 50,000 words in 30 days.

This is my 4th year participating in the event. Each October, it’s the same. I make a mad dash to sign up for the event and then spend the next 20-25 days trying to come up with the slightest inkling of a good story idea that could carry me through writing 50,000 words. I bug everyone I know with my talk about my possible novel. I get my family and friends involved, I toss ideas out about possible stories to forums and on IMs. I even collect scraps of interesting news tidbits and cool sounding random generated plot ideas to get my imagination going. And lucky you, this year I’m going to share with you my ideas on how you can prepare yourself for drafting and writing a novel. Who knows, maybe this is enough to convince you to join me in the NaNoWriMo madness this November.

In my first year, all I had was the idea. And that was enough to carry me through. Two years ago, not only did I have an idea but I wrote down a character questionnaire and created a rough plot outline. I still feel that the novel that came out of that process could be the one I could shape into something sellable. So, I repeated the technique last year as well. I’ve been a 3-time winner too and have 3 years worth of first drafts to play around with. This year, seeing that I’m on the hype with my hipster, I’m organizing myself a bit differently. I’ve got 3 different ideas for possible novels this year. Sadly to say, I have no idea which one of them may prove to be the best at generating 50,000 words in 30 days. Therefore I’ve pulled out some of the D*I*Y Planner forms and come up with my own version of project management to prepare myself.

The Project Card
I use a project card to capture the working title, genre and quick and dirty ideas for my novel. Grab a blank one and note the title on top. Then on the description lines, jot a quick plot summary or story idea in those lines. Fast and loose. It can be as simple as stating “the story is going to be a murder mystery” or “Cindy is lost in a different dimension and needs to find a way home.” In the objective line, write down 50,000 words in 30 days; as this IS your ultimate goal. In the Note field, jot down any ideas for genres, characters or settings. If you think you may need more room then skip the quick notes and go onto the next card tips, using those cards for more advanced descriptions of characters and locations. Use the rest of the bulleted lines on the cards to start generating ideas for your story. List every idea for a scene, plot, or scraps of conversation you can envision your characters having on these lines. Whether or not they get used is up to your novel. But it’s important to get them down so that you have the ideas handy for when you get stuck. In the past years, I’ve used these lines to create a loose-form outline of events for my stories. Starting at the opening scene and ending with how I want things to wrap out. Then, during November, I keep the card out while I write and start working through the notes, one bullet point at a time.

The Character Card
Even if you do not have a main Project card done, you can still come up with characters for your novel. As Chris Baty is fond of saying, “No Plot? No Problem.” You can start working with potential characters instead. Take out a checklist/matrix card or blank index card for each character and write their name at the top of the page. Now write down their vital statistics: their age, birth date, hair color, eye color, etc. Skip a line and go a bit deeper into what makes that character special. Write down their favorite color, favorite food, music, book, etc. The more detailed you can get about your characters, the more real they become and the better off you know how they’ll react to the funky situations you can throw them into during your novel. If you need more suggestions on what to “ask” your characters, use google to find a character questionnaire. There are a lot of writing sites and resources out there for you to get inspired about who your characters are and what they like.

The Setting Card
Similar to the Character Card, the Setting card is done on a checklist or matrix or blank index card. On this card, I list the setting at the top of the card. If the setting is a store or singular location, I’ll start describing the place, noting names of regulars or things that make this location stand out from all the others. If it’s a town, I may jot down interesting street names or identifying who lives where and how close to another character they are. Sometimes, especially when it comes down to writing your “masterpiece” these details become important and you don’t want to all of a sudden have your main protagonist living off of one street and then moving without moving their things to the other side of town.

Group any Character and Setting cards you have under a project card if they belong to a particular idea. For example, if I am writing a mystery story, and I have 3 characters and 2 settings that work for that novel, I’ll place Suzi, John and the crazy murderer character cards under the project card entitled “Murder most written”. After those cards are added to that project, I can place the bookstore and the all night coffee house settings under that. This way, when I run off with my powerbook to visit my favorite writing coffee house during November, I can grab that stack of cards with me to refer back to. Also, If you have made multiple project cards after already deciding on what you’re going to write for NaNo 2005, you can set those aside in your Someday/Maybe folder as possible ideas for future NaNoWriMo novels.

If this project-oriented method seems a bit strict for your taste, you can always remember to use index cards for basic plot outlining. Grab a new pack of cards, pull out the first card and write down the very first scene in your book. Just some fast and quick notes on what is going on. "Character gets rescued", "Climax: big fight", etc. Then take another card and write what happens in the next scene, and the next, until you can write the words THE END on it. Throughout the month, refer back to the order and see if it all makes sense. Does it make sense to introduce the main character’s love interest before or after they meet? If something sounds wrong or off, or you need to move a scene up or back a bit, take the card and move it to where you think that scene works best. Need to add a few more car scenes? Grab a few more index cards and write those into the novel’s outline.

No matter how you do it, it’s all about the writing. I’ve found that the more planning I’ve done for NaNo, the easier it is to get me to the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. When I don’t do a little bit of plot outlining or characterization I find that my writing tends to be harder and unfocused and my husband notices that I whine about not being able to write more. In any case, I am looking forward to reaffirming that I can write 50,000 words of a single storyline this November. Even if I am not ready with an idea. If anyone reading this article is out there and ready for NaNo, and wants to talk about their plots and characters and ideas... I’d love to chat and maybe you can help me figure out which one of my piles I can use for my novel this year.

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Hello, fellow NaNoer!

I'm a three-time Nano winner, too. Yay, us!

The first three years I did traditional quest fantasies -- a trilogy, in fact. This year, just for the sake of variety, I'm going for Dark Fantasy instead. :D

I've never done character or settings on index cards, but I do use them to work on my plot. One thing I do that is slightly different: I build my plots by starting from just a single 'visualized' climax scene. This is always a tense, highly dramatic scene, usually full of action as the protagonist finally overcomes (or not) the antagonist. As I mull that scene over it feels more like I'm directing actors in a mental movie rather than writing. I *see* the scene happen. If I don't like the way the action is playing out, I mentally rewind and have one of the characters try something different. Only when I find this climax scene emotionally satisfying do I move on to putting anything in words, and then it's just a few sentences of action summary on an index card.

After that, I systematically create a causation chain of linked effect:cause working 'backwards' in plot time. It's simply a matter of repeatedly asking, what happened just before this scene that caused the characters to be at that location, at that time, doing whatever happens in the scene? Scene P happens because Scene O happened before it. Scene O happened as a result of Scene N, and N occurs because of M, which in turn was a result of L and on and on.

Once I have around 20 linked scenes (for a NaNovel) I start checking to see if the next earlier scene would be a suitably reader-hooking starting point. Once I have found that starting scene, I then go back to the climax and rough out a scene or two, no more, to wind down after the tension of the climax, and bingo! Finished plot outline.

I know it doesn't seem like building your plot backwards is a sensible plan, but it absolutely guarantees you don't get 50thou words in and realize you don't have any idea how to end the thing. ;)

I'm in awe of writers (-:

I'm in awe of writers (-: The thought of finishing a good book seems a much more daunting a task than finishing a series of paintings. I wish you all well with that!

btw. I hear that character and setting cards are already in the works as part of the upcoming diyplanner creativity pack.


Other NaNoers!! I was a

Other NaNoers!! I was a winner two years ago and couldn't participate last year (two jobs, bleh). This year, I'll definitely be able to play again.

*cracks knuckles* Time to start thinking up characters and a plot.

Thanks for the reminder, and the suggestions on using DIY Planner pages for the planning.

I'm giving NaNoWriMo a whirl

I'm giving NaNoWriMo a whirl for the first time this year. Like innowen said, all I have is the idea. I'm not even sure how it's going to end. I guess what I anticipate is that the story will sort of end itself. Dangerous optimism? :P We'll see.

I'm looking forward to it!
Morning person by habit, not by nature.

yay! another into the fold

oh, you are going to have a great time with it. i wish i could say that it gets easier every year. sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. i was scared my first year, but in a strange way... not having prepped meant no expectations. not knowing the rhythms of my writing habits for this competition was a good thing. i think.

in any case, before NaNo, the most mileage i ever got from a story hovered around 6,000 words. it pleases me to know i have full novels running around up in my imagination, just waiting to spill onto papers.

feel free to email me if you need courage, advice or pep talks!
here's to NaNo 2k5!

50,000 words or BUST!

I have also signed up. I vacillate between not aspiring to write a novel, and observing the world through the "murder mystery plot element" lens.

Mainly I write a short column of observations for the local paper and a food column, about 1800 words a WEEK. To do NaNo, one would have to do almost that much a DAY.
So I thought, what could it hurt to see what it's like. To see how far I get before I crash and burn.

I have done no prepping yet regarding plot or characters. Maybe it's time to dust off some of those murder mystery bits.


actually, nano writing is a bit less than that... only 1666 words a day. although i know that i strive to reach 2000 words a day.

hitting higher word counts gives me the ability to take a few extra slack days and days off. i'd love to talk to you further about your mystery ideas as i'm leaning towards something that MAY have lots of mystery elements and that's a genre that i know relatively little about. i tend to stick with dark or urban fantasy.

i think you're going to love NaNo, it's a challenge but it's also a lot of fun.


Thanks for sharing

I have just signed up at NaNoWriMo and am very excited about smashing throught the barrier of "one day I will write a novel". I write a lot of short stories but never get around to writing a full novel. This will be a very big challenge but I feel that I am up to it. I had never heard of this contest before you posted it here so I am very glad that you did. Now, to find a good topic for my novel. You can bet that my hPDA will be a very big part of my success.

Cards, cards, cards

I was fascinated to read your suggestion of exploring/researching/planning your work with cards. Not only have I done almost exactly that (since grade 9? a long time ago) but recently I acquired a powerful software tool to "automate" the process. SuperNoteCard from was a steal at $29, and they have a very usable trial version so you can test it out and see if it fits before you bite-the-bullet. BTW they also have a Screenplay version for people who write such things.