With under three weeks to go until National Novel Writing Month begins, the Sunday night
#storycrafter twitter thread got us all chatting about our outlining process.
This will be my eighth
#NaNo in nine years, and I’ve defintiely tried a few different ways of approaching it. Some years, I decided last minute on November 1st to take part, other years I took on the role of ‘rebel’ by finishing a story I’d already started.
This year, I’m exploring the act of storytelling in the first person. I’ll be working full time, seeing family, running my business and attending write-ins. All alongside writing 1,666 words a DAY. It’s going to be tough, but it will be my greatest achievement of the year if I can push myself to do it.
The Balance of Details
National Novel Writing Month is an odd beast. You aim to write 1,666 words of story, resulting in a ‘completed first draft.’ First drafts are not designed to be clean, and editing is discouraged during the month of NaNoWriMo. The aim is to churn out words, ignoring the doubts, critics and worries.
For me, it’s a chance to explore at the very edges of my capabilities, to see what my brain will come up with under pressure. Sometimes that answer is “useless drivel” but others have led to entirely new ideas with strange twists I may use in other stories. A couple of these novels I’ve even planned to one day edit into full fledged works-in-progress that I may try to publish.
The only rules for doing a standard run are to begin a new piece of fiction at 0 words on November 1st, and reach 50,000 words by November 30th.
Outlining and Preparations
Thus, preparation is a little limited compared with my usual approach. I don’t let myself write a scene, and I even use bullet points for quotations I might like to use. I craft a main character, fleshing out her looks and ‘power’, since I write fantasy stories with a large focus on magic.
I then also plan the fauna of my world. Again, something personal to me, but a big part of the process. For this year’s story, I have a lizard as my main character’s companion.
With three weeks left, I’m crafting ‘tent-poles’ out of my scene ideas: focusing on the conflicts, the setting and how I might be ale to put some twists in.
I’ve also collected a list of ‘annoying character traits’ for those blank phases when I can’t think of anything to write. this allows me to dip in and suddenly a character develops a trait that I can go back in December and add in to the earlier scenes.
Last year, I had a character who was determined to wear odd socks, and felt ‘off balance’ wearing a matching set, so would need to turn one inside out. It doesn’t have to be the biggest twist ever, but can add details to each chapter. A sentence about itchy socks and her picking a design may add a solid 100 words across a 50k novel.
Overall though, this outline or plan is just a guide. I’ma fan of word-sprints, and last year I attended write-ins which allowed new prompts to come up. Thus, it might not always work to try shoe-horning a fireworks prompt into my medieval fantasy story. But that map and compass are useful when you find yourself at a dead end.