With Nanowrimo on the horizon and my fear of it growing with every passing moment, I have spent the past days devouring every prep and plan guide that I can get my hands on. With the help of some incredible resources from brilliant people, I’ve got a five-step plan for how I’m going to make it from here to the 1st of November – and today, I’m going to share it with you.
This isn’t the sort of plan you might have read before. It’s not detail, but broad strokes – an outline, not a to-do list. Use it as a supplement to the detailed ways in which you want to go about preparing, an umbrella to place them within. And, as always, tweak it so that it suits you!
1: Motive and Stakes
I already know the general concept for my Nanowrimo novel for this year – because I’ve already written a first draft. But I’m not using that draft save as a resource to pull some ideas from; much of the novel is radically changing from what it was then. And that means I need to go right back to the start. To work out what it is my characters want and need.
If you haven’t already checked out Rachael Stephen’s brilliant How to Build a Novel, stop reading this and head over there. I’ll be here when you get back.
The first part of Rachael’s guide is to work out the motive for your characters – what they want – and the stakes – what’s at risk. This isn’t a new idea, and you have almost certainly heard some variation on it before. But Rachael puts it in such a clear and often funny way that I’ve found myself much more able to take it in.
So the first thing I have done is work out what my characters want to achieve, and what might happen along the way. Even just doing that – which didn’t take long at all – has given me a foundation upon which I can start my next point.
2: Build a Plot Outline
This is the next step I’ll be moving onto, and with my motives already worked out, a lot of this is writing itself – all the more reason to follow step 1!
At this point I’m not looking to break the plot down in the nitty-gritty. I want to get, effectively, a bullet point list of the major things that happen. To give you an example – spoilers if you are the one person in the world who hasn’t read Harry Potter – I want a list that looks something like this:
- Harry lives at Privet Drive
- Harry’s Hogwarts letter arrives, Vernon burns it
- Hagrid comes to get him
- Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley
And so on – you get the idea. I just want to know the major plot points that happen. I will then come back to this and build on it later – but I’ll need these general points in order to move to my next two steps.
3: Fill out Bibisco
This year will be the first year I’ve written exclusively in a ‘novel writing program’. The most popular on the market is Scrivener, but it comes with a hefty (though apparently justified) price tag. That said, there is a 30-day free trial of it – which works in a really nice way where it’s counted based on days you actually open it, rather than simply being 30 calendar days from your first opening. Pretty useful if you’re competing in a month-long writing program!
I have never really liked the look of Scrivener, and found it a bit clunky to use – plus the price point. So this year I’ll be using Bibisco, which thus far I’ve found looks a lot nicer. It’s not perfect by any means, but it should hopefully cause me to be a lot more organised than with my previous tactic – one Google Document for the novel, another for the plan.
The great thing about Bibisco, Scrivner and the many alternatives out there is that they are designed to help you plan and outline. You can spend hours upon hours putting all of your information into them, filling out the many questions for characters, settings, plot.
Initially that might seem like making more work for yourself – but there are two major reasons I’m planning to do it. Firstly, the act of writing these things out makes them go into my head and can be a focused kind of brainstorming for whatever it is I’m writing about. Even just filling out the names of characters I have already had ideas for how I want things to play out.
Secondly, when writing a world and plot that are both complex, it’s so easy to make mistakes. When writing Mundane Magic, I changed one character’s accent three times in the space of a single draft. I kept changing the hair colour of another. These sorts of continuity errors are much easier to avoid if you keep clear records.
And to keep clear records, you need to know what you’re talking about.
4: Research, Research, Research
Protos is partially a historical novel – albeit one that takes history and shakes it up and down until half of it has fallen out – and that means I need to do a lot of research. I’ve already spent a lot of months on and off reading about things, from the Order of the Garter to Livery Companies to the East India Company (and let me tell you, that’s a barrel of laughs). But I can’t really ever do enough research.
Putting it this late in my plan, however, means that I’ll (hopefully) be researching with a particular goal in mind. I won’t just be reading mindlessly about the Kingdom of Mysore, but actively looking for the figures and concepts that I need to understand in order to tackle my plot points and character motives.
In this time I’m going to build all of this research up and add it as needed to Bibisco to ensure that everything is kept recorded where I can easily find it. This is also something I will come back to over and over again as I continue planning and as I’m actually writing.
5: Breakdown by Scene
With all of that done, my last step is to move onto what you probably think of when you think of novel planning: a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire novel. This will allow me to then sort it into chapters, and I will have a much clearer picture of what the story will be like.
Will I deviate from this? Almost certainly! In the last draft of Mundane Magic I fully rewrote the ending, and I’m sure I will end up doing something similar with this novel. The great thing about plans is that they’re flexible. But they’re also invaluable – because even if you want to radically change things in the future, looking at your plan can tell you how to change things without making them worse.
So there you are – my five-step road to Nanowrimo. Here’s hoping I make it there before the 1st!
If you want to compete in Nanowrimo, it’s not too late to sign up! Head over to the website and see whether you can manage 50,000 words in 30 days.