It's That NaNoWriMo Time of Year
The leaves are turning brown. St. Helenâ€™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 donâ€™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, itâ€™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 Iâ€™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. Iâ€™ve been a 3-time winner too and have 3 years worth of first drafts to play around with. This year, seeing that Iâ€™m on the hype with my hipster, Iâ€™m organizing myself a bit differently. Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 â€œthe story is going to be a murder mysteryâ€ or â€œCindy is lost in a different dimension and needs to find a way home.â€ 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 itâ€™s important to get them down so that you have the ideas handy for when you get stuck. In the past years, Iâ€™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, â€œNo Plot? No Problem.â€ 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 theyâ€™ll react to the funky situations you can throw them into during your novel. If you need more suggestions on what to â€œaskâ€ 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, Iâ€™ll start describing the place, noting names of regulars or things that make this location stand out from all the others. If itâ€™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 â€œmasterpieceâ€ these details become important and you donâ€™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, Iâ€™ll place Suzi, John and the crazy murderer character cards under the project card entitled â€œMurder most writtenâ€. 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 youâ€™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 characterâ€™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 novelâ€™s outline.
No matter how you do it, itâ€™s all about the writing. Iâ€™ve found that the more planning Iâ€™ve done for NaNo, the easier it is to get me to the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. When I donâ€™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... Iâ€™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.