Professional book editor in the UK advises aspiring authors on how to create a simple writing plan for NaNoWriMo!
For many budding authors, writing a book can be a daunting task. Thankfully, NaNoWriMo can really help a person get into action to craft a story and get the bragging rights that come with it. But what is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an event where you attempt to write at least 50,000 words during the month of November. The whole thing was started as a part of a non-profit in 1999, so it’s fair to say that it has been going on for a while, and according to their website, there have been over 360,000 novels completed in this period.
However, writing 50,000 words in one month is no easy feat, and if you want to "win” you should probably get yourself a plan. Read on as we go through how to create a simple plan for your NaNoWriMo attempt so you can reach December 1st with a smile on your face over this huge achievement.
Get an Idea for the Plot
The first thing that you need to do when you start your planning is to think about what your story is going to be about. This doesn't have to be super detailed as it is just to help you get an idea of what you want your story to be.
If you have multiple ideas floating around inside your head, it can be a good idea to write each one down on a piece of paper, about a paragraph each, and pick the one you could write 50,000 words about.
If you don't know what to write or only have an idea for the genre you want to write in, check out some writing prompts online. Just search for the “genre+writing prompt” to get some inspiration. Another great place to get inspiration is r/writingpromts on Reddit, where you can find numerous prompts people have posted across a multitude of genres.
Overall, at this stage, you don’t need to go into too much detail as that will come later. The most important thing is to get a little inspiration to help with what comes next.
Create Some Characters
Once you have the bones of where you want your story to go, it’s a good idea to start working on some characters. The big ones are your protagonist, supporting, and if your story calls for it, the antagonist.
This is your main character and the driving force of the story, so you'll want to work out their wants, needs and who they are.
It's a good idea at this stage to have an idea of their appearance, habits, ideals, personality, and where you want them to end up. You could think of it like you are interviewing your character, and there are some helpful sheets that can be found online to help you really hammer out the details.
If you have multiple protagonists, then be sure to do this for each one. However, if this is your first-time writing, it can be a little tricky to write more than one main character, so if you are unsure, it's better to stick to one or two.
These are the other people in the story with direct connections to your protagonist. They can be the sassy best friend, the strict mentor, or the brooding love interest, but whichever category they fall into, it's important that you spend as much time developing them as the protagonist, otherwise, they will fall flat.
Be careful not to have them there to blatantly serve the protagonist's needs (even though this is totally why they are there). Even the bartender needs a little depth, so try and think about them as individuals.
The antagonist can be a little tricky to nail down, as not every story has a moustache-twirling dictator that the hero needs to topple. Your villain might be something abstract, like an illness or a disaster.
For a physical antagonist, you want to know what makes them tick and why they are doing what they are doing. For example, in Batman, Doctor Freeze turned to crime in order to cure his dying wife, or in Nine to Five, the boss was greedy and wanted to take his employees' hard work for his own.
With an abstract villain, you want to know what the problem is, how it's impacting your protagonist, and what other obstacles it might cause for your characters.
For example, the antagonist could be an earthquake that's trapped your characters inside a building, and they need to get to the roof for an escape, but one of them is also pregnant and about to go into labour, increasing the stakes.
Choosing A Plotting Structure
With your favourite story idea in hand, it's time to create a plot for it.
For your first 50,000 words, it can be a good idea to try one of the multitudes of plotting structures available to help you get a good idea of how your story should be laid out.
Some of the most popular are Save The Cat, The Snowflake Method, Hero's Journey, and the classic Three Act Structure.
Save The Cat
One of the most talked about structures, Save the Cat was originally created by Blake Synder for writing screenplays. It uses 15 story beats to make the plot flow.
1. Opening Image: Your introduction to the story and what gets your readers to carry on.
2. Theme Stated: Give the main themes of the story.
3. Set Up: This is the introduction to your main characters and the world in which they live.
4. Catalyst: The event that starts the story (other structures call this the inciting incident).
5. Debate: Your protagonist is deciding if they should take action.
6. Break into Two: They decide to go forth.
7. B Story: A subplot that helps the protagonist grow while keeping the main story interesting.
8. Fun and Games: Everything is going well, and the protagonist is accepting the challenge of it.
9. Midpoint: The stakes are getting higher.
10. Bad Guys Close In: It starts to go a little downhill.
11. All is Lost: The protagonist hits the bottom (in a romance, this could be a break-up, or in an adventure, a betrayal).
12. Dark Night: The protagonist has to reflect.
13. Break into Three: The protagonist pulls themselves up by their bootstraps.
14. Finale: They defeat the antagonist.
15. Final Image: Ending page to show how far the protagonist has come.
This is the official website for the structure, and they have some good examples of how these beats have been applied to different stories, both novels and movies, which might help to put each of the beats into perspective. They also have a handy beat mapper where you can see how many pages you should dedicate to each of these beats (50,000 words is around 100 pages).
The Snowflake Method
The Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson, is simple in its execution compared to Save the Cat. Its main idea is that you start small and build up in complexity, like going from a drawing of a triangle to a snowflake.
1. To start, all you do is write one sentence of your story's plot. This can be as simple as: a hobbit needs to destroy a magic ring.
2. Then you build this up to be a paragraph summary, kind of like an elevator pitch, with a beginning, middle, and end.
3. Next, you take your characters and hammer out their motivations, goals, conflicts, and outcomes. There only needs to be a sentence for each point for each character.
4. With the characters done, you can add to your original paragraph to a page, with more detail given to various plot points.
5. This stage is where more detail will be given to your characters (which you might have already done if you're following this), and outline each of their full journeys throughout the story
6. Finally, you will turn each of your plot points into an expanded synopsis and finish with a scene list that you can easily follow when writing.
Overall, you could just follow this structure from the beginning for your NaNoWriMo plan, and it's a good structure if you're having trouble growing your plot.
The hero's journey is another common choice for plot structure. There are several variations on this structure, but they mostly have the same core. It focuses, as the name implies, on the journey of your hero as they leave their normal lives to go on an adventure which will end up changing them in some way.
To use it, you need to plot your story into three acts, and within these acts, there will be several significant markers the hero will need to hit to press on.
Dan Harmon’s story circle explanation of these markers in the hero's journey is easiest to follow:
a. Character in comfort zone
b. But they want more
a. They enter the unfamiliar
b. They adapt
c. They get what they want
d. They pay a price for it
a. They return to the familiar
b. But they have changed for better or worse.
Overall, this is an easy structure to incorporate into most stories, but it works best for character-driven pieces.
Here are some examples of how some movies can be broken into this structure.
Three Act Structure
A classic three-act structure consists of the set-up, the confrontation, and the resolution.
How it works is that your beginning act is where your story starts. You'll have the inciting incident here and have your protagonist decide what they are going to do about it. It will end with the protagonist wanting to progress into the action.
The second act is where the protagonist will come across obstacles, twists, and disasters, which will all ramp up the action to the climax of the act, so once act three starts, you will be able to ramp it down to resolve the conflict and wrap up the story.
Many authors like to use this structure to separate their stories into separate parts, which you will often see in fantasy novels, as it is a good way to keep track of what is happening in your story.
This is a tried and tested method that holds up well if you know what you want to happen. Otherwise, I would advise using this with one of the other structures on this list. It works especially well with the "Save the Cat" method.
Write Out Your Plot in Bullet Points
Regardless of the structure you choose, you should have your plot written down in at least basic bullet points by this point. You can put in as much or as little detail as you want at this stage. Just write it down, either on a note on your phone, on a pad of paper, or in a word document. This can really come in handy when you feel like you are starting to flag during November, as it will let you keep on track.
If you are more app-based, there are some great programmes you can use for this. Scrivener is a popular one which comes with a month's free trial, and if you reach the 50,000-word goal, it's usually heavily discounted as a prize.
Choose Your Point of View
Hopefully, by now, you will have your plot, characters, and structure planned out, so now it’s time for you to decide which perspective to write from. The most common for a novel are 1st and 3rd person.
In the first-person perspective, you're writing the story from the point of view of the character. You will be inside their head, privy to their thoughts and feelings. This is most common in young-adult and romance fiction as it really lets you get to know and connect with the protagonist.
The second-person perspective is where the reader is looking at the scene from the outside. It can either be limited, close to the protagonist, or omniscient, where the narrator knows everything. The most popular is the limited POV, as it is close to the protagonist but will allow you to hide more from the reader, which is handy if they are unreliable.
If you have multiple characters, this is also where you should decide what will be told from each perspective.
Plan Your Schedule
With everything else done, the last thing you will need to do, other than write your novel, is plan when you are going to write during November. This can be difficult if you're working a typical 9-5, so it's worth thinking about in advance.
Overall, NaNoWriMo recommends writing around 1666 words a day to reach the goal by the end of the month, which might not seem like much now, but when you are tired after work, it can be a lot, so try to think about how you can hit your word count each day without falling behind and struggling towards the end.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t need to be hard, and if you manage to do just one of the things above, it can help you hit that 50,000-word count.
Don’t worry if your plan isn’t 20 pages with charts and tables; just make the plan that works for you, even if it's stickmen doodles of a scene. It will all help once you start in November.
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!