A month from now, I will be joining the ranks of the thousands of other writers participating in NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50K novel, starting November first and ending November thirtieth. Sound insane? It is. Why do it? I can only reply in the words of George Orwell: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand“. But I digress. Yes, NaNo can be hard and daunting. However, it doesn’t have to be. You are allowed to plan, prepare, and outline before November first, and I’m here to tell you — command you — to do so. Here are six steps that are essential to your NaNo prep.
1. Know Your Protaganist. This is the most important. Whatever you do, learn about your MC. Here’s are two great questionnaires to learn about your character: http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/106. In Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, I read that the most important thing to know about your MC is what his greatest desire is. What does he yearn for? Once you know that, you can (mostly) predict all his actions, because he deepest want drives all he does.
2. Create a Character Chart. List all the characters that you know of right now (I assure you others will suddenly appear when you actually sit down to write it). List their names, ages, appearances, who’s related to whom, and any other important details. You don’t need to know everyone as well as you do your MC — actually, it would be great if you could, but I’m guessing you don’t have the time to interview each — but do have a good idea of who they are. The chart will be a great reference for when you’re writing.
3. Describe the Setting(s). Write a list of all the different settings — it might just be a few different buildings, if your story is set in one town, or several countries, if you’re attempting to emulate Tolkien. Describe each as well as you can and briefly write what will happen where and what features of the place, if any, affect the plot.
4. Briefly fill out each part of a story. By part I mean: the setting (characters, background, scenery), the conflict (what gets in the way of the MC’s desire), and the resolution (pretty obvious). It’s very simple, but sometimes in the midst of details about characters and countries, we lose the big picture.
5. Write Up an Outline. Obviously, the plot is going to change when you write it. It just happens. You sit down with a plan, and all of a sudden, the story takes an unexpected twist completely opposite of the way it was supposed to go. Still, write a general outline of how you think things are going to work out. You don’t have to have all the details or parts right away; leave spots empty if necessary and fill them in later once you’ve ironed out the kinks. Like I said, the end result will probably be different, so be flexible while writing. This is just to help you not feel so overwhelmed when you sit down on November first and have the whole unwritten story before you.
6. Build Your World. If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, this is crucial. This site is an excellent resource (although a bit overwhelming!): http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/. If you’re doing historical fiction, now’s the time to research, not on November twenty-ninth in the wee hours of the morn. If you’re writing plain ol’ fiction, you still need to figure out what the character’s house, town, office, etc. is like, and what social statue they’re in, what country they live in, etc.
So, there you go. Six steps for prepare for the beast. Do you agree? Do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear them!