Tag Archives: planning your novel

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?

I have developed mad skills at carving out time for writing because I participate in NaNoWriMo every November. As a municipal liaison for the Olympia area, I must get a minimum of 1,667 new words written each day. I  suggest to my fellow writers that they shoot for 1,670 to allow a little cushion in case the validator counts differently than their word processor.

I usually average 3,000 to 5,000 words per day, but writing is my job. When I was working in Corporate America, I managed 2,000 words per day.

nano-computer-word-countI do this by having my daily prompts all set out in advance in the outline. Then I set myself in front of my computer and wing it for at least two hours.

Some passages that emerge are good, and others, not so much. But it is an exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing at its most extreme. Some of my best literary work has been produced in its raw form during NaNoWriMo.

Preparation is the key for me. I apply project management skills developed during my years working in Corporate America.

The first step of project management is to Identify your Project Goals. Your story is your invention. You want to be able to sell that invention.

Some inventions take years. Others are complete and ready to market in a relatively short time. Regardless of your timeline, this is where project management skills come into play.

I use a phased (or staged) approach. This method breaks down and manages the work through a series of distinct steps to be completed.

  1. The Brilliant Idea. Make a note of that idea, so you don’t forget it.
  2. The Planning Phase, creating the storyboard. Some people don’t need this step, but you will see why this step is so crucial to ending with a novel that will be acceptable to an agent or can easily be Indie published.
  3. The Construction Phase begins on November 1st—connecting the dots and writing the first draft from beginning to the end in 30 days.

After this, we have several more steps to go through to end with a publishable book, but we won’t be concerned with them until January.

First, what are you going to write?

Identify your proposed book as either fiction or nonfiction.

  • If it’s fiction, what’s the genre and subgenre?
  • If nonfiction, what kind? Is it a memoir, a history, or a technical book?

2020_nano_Project_coverLee French, my co-municipal liaison, has given us great advice over the years. One thing she starts us with is something writers usually don’t think of until they have to: genre and keywords.

If we wanted to search for your book on Amazon, what would we look for, and how would we find it? What genre are you writing? What keywords would we use to be directed to it?

But what are keywords, and why should you care? This question is important to consider at the outset because you need to know what market you are writing for, no matter if you are going with an agent or intend to go Indie.

Search engines use keywords to recognize what a website or web page features, their products, (or in the case of authors) the kind of book they have written. Amazon and all other book retailers are simply large search engines that want to sell your book.

It helps me direct my creative energy at the outset if I know what I will eventually want to sell. Thanks to Lee French, I know the genre of my next novel is epic fantasy. I also know a few keywords would be male protagonist, LGBTQ, magic, mysticism.

WritingCraftSeries_narrative modeOther things to consider are point of view and narrative tense. Who can tell the story most effectively, a protagonist, a sidekick, or an unseen witness? And will it be written in the 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person limited, or 3rd person omniscient? What narrative time will the story be set in, the present or past tense?

Will you switch between multiple characters?

Sometimes, it takes more than one point of view character to tell the story. I have three strong characters, one of which is the antagonist. I always feel one should have a little sympathy for the devil, so seeing things from his point of view is valuable when trying to show the struggle.

Therefore, my project is in the 3rd-person limited, involves three POV characters, and has hard chapter breaks between each switch.

What is your story? Example: I’ll be writing a novel detailing a shaman’s struggle to keep his people safe from a rogue mage and his raiders.

To succeed in completing a project with such an ambitious goal, I storyboard all my ideas, making this effort when the idea first enters my head. If I become lost or find myself floundering in the writing process, I can come back to my original files and remind myself of the original concept of the story.

The storyboard for my ideas works this way:

First, I open a word document or an Excel workbook. You can use a program like Scrivener, or use a paper notebook and pencil, whatever makes you most comfortable.

My current novel is in an existing world that has an Excel workbook devoted to it.

This workbook has ten active spreadsheets. All my information is right there, from magic systems to the spelling of made-up words and what they mean.

Neveyah_storyboard_printscreenLIRF08312021I always give the proto novel a working title that becomes the storyboard’s label. The book I am writing is set in the world of Neveyah, and so it belongs with the rest of the books set in that world. The workbook is labeled Neveyah.xls, and the spreadsheet that I will be working on will be labeled “Ivan’s Story II,” as I currently don’t have a title.

Over the next few weeks, we will identify and answer as many questions about our November novel as we can.

And some of what we think now will grow and change once we begin the actual writing because stories always do.

ProjectManagementLIRF05232021Preplanning takes advantage of all the pertinent ideas I have at the outset and offers me a jumping-off point. Like a connect the dots game, I know how to write the story that happens between and because of each event. Having this knowledge helps me take the story to its conclusion, allowing me to have the full story arc written in thirty days.

That doesn’t mean the book is finished, not by any means. We have only completed the first draft and gotten the basic structure finished.

But as I said, we’ll deal with all that in January.

Next up, we will talk about setting, and get to know the place where your novel takes place.


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