NaNo starts tomorrow! Who’s excited? Who isn’t ready? Who is like ‘wtf is NaNo? That’s an iPod right?’ It is finally that time of year, commonly known as November, where writers around the world spend the month writing a 50,000-word novel – aka National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNo, aka not-happening-this-year-but-will-win-one-day.
Here’s a little last minute outlining prep to kickstart your month.
Outlining Your Novel
A lot of people outline their novel in October so that they are prepared for NaNo to begin, however, it is never too late! If you are the kind of writer that likes to jot down all of the chapters and plot points and all things structural before writing a single word, then an outline is very important. And if you haven’t done so already and are brave enough to tackle an outline and a novel all within 30 days then I wish you the best of luck (and offer you a few tips).
There are a lot of different methods to creating the perfect plot, taking into account expositions, conflicts, resolutions, climaxes, and the like. The typical novel structure is divided into three acts.
Act I is the exposition – setting up the characters, the world, and the main themes.
Act II is the development – take your characters on a journey, introducing conflicts and trials and new situations.
Act III is the conflict-to-resolution – your characters go through hell and find their way out.
Act III is the recapitulation – return to the themes and traits of the exposition with variation. (In this case, Act III may be the shortest).
There are different theories on where the climaxes and plot twists should be positioned in the story, though personally, I think it depends on your own story and what would work best for you. I like to put in a plot twist in the middle of Act II and then a bigger one (or a climactic moment) at the end of Act II which throws the characters into chaos for Act III.
Here is a link to Katytastic’s video on novel outlining, following a 3 act 27 chapter structure which I have used in the past. It’s a great structure and can easily be varied for your own unique story.
Now, for the tips:
- Decide whether your novel is a standalone or part of a series beforehand.
This may influence your novel structure as the resolution at the end may resolve most issues but leave the reader with a plot twist reveal or a cliffhanger. You may also decide that your first installment is mostly expositional for the rest of the series, and while it should contain conflict and climaxes for the reader’s entertainment, the main purpose of the novel is to establish the world and the characters. Think about it and decide how you would like your novel or series to go. Remember, these typical structures may work for the most of us but you can dare to be different.
- Remember that your outline can change!
Writing the structure out, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, doesn’t set it in stone. Sometimes your story takes a different direction and that is okay! Go with it! I have experienced characters that haven’t behaved and rendered some chapters completely obsolete (see Saying Goodbye to Unnecessary Chapters). Sometimes following an outline can make the storyline seem forced and can ruin your experience in writing it. You can easily change up the outline at any time.
- Don’t put your characters through too much shit
Unless your novel is all about living hell, then cool it off a bit. It can be very frustrating for the reader when the characters are constantly put in bad situation after bad situation without any light relief. Also, it’s more powerful to give your character some happiness and then rip it from them. (Do I sound mean?) Consider placing a happy chapter before a difficult one, or a brief scene of relief before a devastating climax. To quote President Snow: “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” Give your characters a reason to fight, a reason to live, a reason to win back the heart of their ex-lover. Stuff the spark, give your character an inferno of hope and watch them walk through the fire.
- You don’t need to use an elaborate outlining method
You can just stick to the simple beginning, middle, and end. Outline as much or as little as you like. Some people like to write character profiles and how they develop and pinpoint different events for that character, and for others, just writing a synopsis could be the entire planning process. It’s all good, as long as it works for you.
- Use your outline to plan your month
Writing 50k words in one month is a lot. Use your outline to determine what you are going to write each day. You could divide your word count by the number of chapters and write a chapter a day. Or aim to reach Act II on day 10? Just don’t panic if it’s not working out the way you planned, as I said, some stories have a mind of their own.
I like to lightly outline my stories so that I know where the plot is going but I leave enough wiggle room to improvise. Below is a simple planner sheet I made. The columns for Act and Plot Point have dotted lines so you can adjust the boxes to include the necessary chapters. For example, my first act includes 9 chapters.
Terrified of the daily word count?
I tried the 8-minute habit and it really helped with fitting writing into everyday life. See Leonelle’s 8-Minute Writing Habit and the Pains of Procrastination Anxiety.
I wish you all the best of look with NaNo and your novels! Let the games begin!