Friday, October 1

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

There is only a month until NaNoWriMo (international novel writing month) begins. For those of you who know what it is and have participated in it before, you know what a crazy ride it can be.

For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, here's a short explanation:

People from all over the world set out to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.

Crazy, huh? Crazy fun!

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and I loved it! Did I reach my goal? Yes, I did. Twice! I managed to finish 50k drafts of two novels.

Preparing for NaNoWriMo can be a bit of a task. I had four ideas for novels last year but mostly I was just winging it. Lack of preparation can bite you in the butt.

Surely if I was so eager for NaNoWriMo, I had a whole year to prepare!

Not really. You see, I write full time...minus procrastination. I don't have the patience to wait to write a novel. When an idea strikes, I try to tackle it.

Also, I've had the experience of over-planning a novel, where it really killed my enthusiasm to write it, and stunted any spur of the moment inspiration.

There must be a middle ground!

Have I got all my NaNoWriMo preparations done? Nope. Have you?

I'm setting out to do them now and you can join me.


First, I got myself a workbook specifically for the job at hand. On the cover it says...

NAME Keri Payton
CLASS Writing
SUBJECT NaNoWriMo 2010
SCHOOL of Awesome

You can purchase a small exercise book, or maybe you already have one lying around.

Premise Ideas

Bullet point a few ideas. If you can, include primary characters and setting.
  • A mash-up of Peter Pan and The Godfather, set in a futuristic Australia.
  • A poor girl disguises herself as a boy to attend an elite academy for princes.
  • The owner of a struggling orphanage agrees to marry a manipulative fairy godmother.
I just came up with all three of these ideas on the spot. Just play around with ideas for a while. Think about some of your favourite places and the type of characters you might want to write about. You can list three like me or keep going until you get to ten or more. They won't all be amazing and you only need pick one, so just keep trying until you get one you like.

Character Names

Names are a wonderful thing for writers. Often names that would cause someone to exclaim, "Who would name their child that?" might be perfect for a fictional character. In fact, we have the right to be as cruel in naming - and other things - as we wish when it comes to our fictional creations.

Of course, that doesn't mean you have to name your characters horrid or nonsensical things. They need a name that feels right and that you want to work with. Also, preferably a name that suits the setting and time period of your story. Play around with lots of names and see what suits. Gather together a lot of given names and surnames that you like and try pairing them up.

My favourite website for looking through given names and learning their meanings (which can also be very significant to some writers) is Baby Names World.

Given Names: Alex, Duncan, Amelia, Betty, Gina, Frank, Chester.

Surnames: Jones, Gray, Harper, Sand, Banker, Ford, Jameson.

Prtoagonist: Alex Banker.

Secondary Protagonist: Gina Sand.

Keep pairing up names and see what might work. This may not be the name you choose to stick with, but it could be a good way to find the perfect name for a character, which you mightn't otherwise consider.

Stakes + Intrigue

It's time to take your NaNoWriMo idea (or more than one if you are still deciding) and develop it a little further. Two important things that will keep your reader engaged (and will similarly keep you engaged while writing) are high stakes and plenty of intrigue.

Stakes: What does your character have to lose? What are the obstacles standing in their way?

Intrigue: What does your character need to discover or learn? What questions keep them motivated to continue on their journey?

Time to bullet point once more!
  • Pan/Godfather: Stakes = The embarrassment and downfall of a private society. Intrigue = Who is leaking information to the enemy?
  • Prince Academy: Stakes = She must graduate and gain a royal seal (and thus a royal pardon) or her family will be executed. Intrigue = Which prince will steal her heart and which will have her head?
  • Orphanage: Stakes = Will the orphanage be shut down? Intrigue = Who is sending the protagonist cryptic letters?


This is one of my favourite things to do when coming up with ideas for a novel. It can help me think of a title (have you thought of one yet? I haven't!) or a story premise, or just things I want to include in the plot.

The key is to make a list of some of your favourite things, elements you can picture appearing in your story or that you can see yourself wanting to write about.
  • Horse and carriage
  • Hooded figure
  • Sitar player
  • Baseball
  • Love triangle
  • Mask
  • Pie shop
  • Secret club house
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Thieves
Just make a list of any and all things you can think of that you could write about. Even something that doesn't seem to fit into your story might be able to make an appearance in a clever way. It's a good way to get fresh and interesting ideas for your novel and keep you on your toes.

Character Roles

Time to take each of your characters - no matter how many you have so far - and describe their roles in your story.

Let me take the Pan/Godfather/Australia premise and my two characters Alex Banker and Gina Sand.

Alex Banker

The son of a recently-deceased (murdered) servant for the government. Alex runs from his set-up life as a servant and joins a group of rouges, set on opposing the government (the result of a coup d'état) and seeking revenge on the one who killed his father, who he believes was killed under order of the Emperor of Australia.

Gina Sand

She has lived her life among the rogues. All her blood relatives are dead. She was raised by the rogues and has grown to be an excellent fighter and thief. She takes it upon herself to help Alex train and find his father's killer. She is his love interest.

Just jot down simple things. A little about your characters and their purpose in the plot. I could go on to write about one of the rogues or the Emperor of Australia or Alex's deceased father. Just keep jotting down the characters who appear in your story and what their roles are.

Notice how my plot idea for futuristic Australia has already veered off in a different direction? This is good. I can always go back to my original idea and incorporate these new ideas into another plot layer.

NaNoWriMo Forums

Now, time to take a break from planning your Nanerovel to watch a film, spoon with a cat, or check out the NaNoWriMo forums!

The forums on the NaNoWriMo website are a brilliant way to pass the time until November and a great place to get ideas, and answers to questions you might have. In October, people from all over the globe flock to the forums.

There are all different types of forums for different genres and age groups and everything. Go check out the forums now!

Word Goal

Before you begin on the first of November, you might want to figure out your word goal. Sure, the ultimate goal is 50,000 words unless you're uber-crazy (why is everyone staring at me?) but everyone has different strategies as to how they are going to reach that word goal. If you've participated in previous years, you might have some ideas but here are a few tips:

1. Begin with a Bang!

This strategy is not literal...unless someone is shot on the first page of your novel...or fireworks go off. What it means is, on November 1st, write as much as you can. To get to 50k in 30 days, you should average at 1667 words a day. Everyone has different schedules and life priorities. You can't be sure that you will always be able to make that goal each and every day, so start with a bigger number and give yourself some padding. If you can write 5000 words on day one (think of all the adrenaline you'll have on that first day!) that's fantastic. Otherwise, just try for what you can manage.

2. B.I.C. (also known as A.I.C.) stands for "Butt In Chair."

That's right. The best way to keep your word count up is to keep your butt in that chair and not let yourself up until a certain period of time is up. That might be half an hour. That might be until you finish a particular amount of words or a chapter is done. Keep this in mind and maybe test your stamina before November. Of course, not with excerpts from your novel. No starting your Nanerovel until November! Maybe try writing a short story to tide you over...or even just gibberish about Herbert the Pooper Scooper, who becomes sick of his job and decides to wage war with...okay, maybe not. You decide!

3. Rewards

Dangle something tantalising in front of yourself and it might propel you to do even better. Think of some of your favourite things. It might be watching a movie or eating a slice of cake or going for a walk or reading a book. Whatever it is, organise what rewards you might set up for yourself and what you will have to do to obtain them, so that they are all ready for the month of November.

4. Writing Buddies

On the NaNoWriMo website, you can go to someone's user page and choose to "add as buddy." This will allow you to see their word count process during the month in relation to yours. Seeing another person's word count is all very well but a real NaNo Buddy will be there to help you through the month. You might be able to find one at your regional meet-ups (check your regional forum on the site) or you can check out the forums for people looking for buddies. You can send each other NaNoMail and encourage and support each other ton the journey to reaching 50k.

5. Word Wars

During the month of November, word wars are a beautiful thing. Word wars are when two or more writers compete to write as many words as they can within a set period of time. Once that time is up, they post their word count to see who has the most words. The idea of word wars is to give you some form of motivation to set the words down. There are often word wars going on in the forums. The ultimate tool for word wars (and for Naners) is Write or DIE.

Visual Stimuli

Your next step is to go through magazines or surf the internet, to find images that remind you of your story. This doesn't mean you go looking for the perfect actor you would cast to play your protagonist (although by all means do if it helps you visualise your character) but you should allow yourself to seek out things that inspire you to write. Think about the elements you listed above and look for those things. Then cut out/print out these pictures and keep them together for November. Then you can decorate them around your writing area to keep yourself immersed in the world of your novel.

Character Biographies

Characters are the centerpiece for your story. They are what needs to interest you and your reader the most, because even with a fantastic plot and setting, if the character is irritable or flat, then no one is going to feel compelled to read on.

A great thing about characters is that you can do a lot of work on them before you start writing. Character biographies are a brilliant way to settle your twitching fingers and keep your from starting your novel before the first of November.

Write whatever you can about your characters, from their physical description to where they grew up, to their date of birth, and even their star sign.

Alex Banker:

Age: Seventeen
Height: 6'0"
Hair Colour: Chestnut
Eye Colour: Hazel
Place of Birth: Perth, Australia
Parents: Steve and Emma Banker
Star Sign: Scorpio
Date of Birth: 13 November 2091

If you like drawing, why not try sketching a picture of your character to help you visualise what they look like and what clothes they wear? Don't forget to use the visual stimuli you gathered above to help you write their biographies.


This one's a toughy. At least for me it is. Some people find it a cinch. It's been said that there are two types of people when it comes to NaNoWriMo: Pantsers and Plotters. Pantsers write on a whim. They start the month with nothing to go on but their adrenaline, their enthusiasm and their wits...or lack thereof (I jest!) and a Plotter is someone who outlines everything meticulously before the month begins.

Whichever direction you are leaning towards, it's always good to have some idea of what you are going to write. So a little outlining can never hurt, even if it's not your strong point.

1. Bullet Points

You didn't think I was going to skip past this one when I'm obviously so eager for them, did you? In truth, this is the way I usually plan out my novels and I've heard a lot of people say the same. I try and summarise what is going to happen in each chapter - I'm always one for doing things in order - but all you need do is start listing plot points that might occur in your story.
  • Alex discovers his father's murdered body.
  • Alex flees from the Emperor's grounds.
  • Someone puts a knife to Alex's throat, but is isn't a's Gina.
Bullet as many plot points as you can.

2. Post-It Notes/Flash Cards

This is a great idea for organising your plot points. You can write each one down on a separate card - or a post-it note - and then rearrange them in whatever order you see fit. This means that you can continue to switch them around, instead of having to rewrite lists. The advantage of using cards is that you might be able to keep them in a pile on your desk. The advantage to using post-it notes is that you can arrange them around the wall of your working space in a time-line.

3. Diagrams

Diagrams are a great way to figure out how your story will progress. You may not be able to write anything until the first of November but there's no rule saying you can't draw anything. Diagrams do not mean that you have to do a storyboard for your novel, but if it helps and it's your kind of thing, go for it! You can also do something akin to a family tree, with plot points stemming from one another. If you have a white board or a chalk board, that's great, but you can also do it on paper, or even on the computer if you have the appropriate software.

So there you have a few things to keep you preoccupied until November and help you plan.

What do you do to get ready for NaNoWriMo? Please share!

If you'd like to add me as a writing buddy or contact me via NaNoMail before or during the month of November, my username there is cinnamon.quill

Good luck and may the plot bunnies be with you!


Sas said...

Wow, that was really interesting! I won't be competing this year because I have too much on my plate as is, but I can't wait to try it out next year!

I hope all goes well for you. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey there! I actually found this entry to be rather helpful. I absolutely *love* thinking about preparing, although I don't always follow up on it, and this has satisfactorily fed my appetite on how to prepare.

I particularly wanted to mention something about your section on elements. I see it's basically a list of anything that you can fit inside your novel, and is quite like that section on NanoWrimo's forums where people suggest random things for you to shove into your story when things get slow (like ninjas, ninja's eating cookies, ninja's eating cookies with no one noticing, and so on.) Well, I've found that particularly good elements are those that mirror ones found in successful works. For example, for my current novel, I was thinking of having an ensemble "cast" of characters, similar to Amy Tan's novel "The Joy Luck Club". I found the idea that these women managed to take the time to play a game as a tradition to be a very touching thing, and it served as an element to bring them all together. Now, if I recall correctly, the stories were true ( I may be wrong on this ) but I somehow feel as if Tan's first thoughts were quite like yours, thinking that a game of Mahjong could unite a group of friends. I think that the listing of elements can be the most exciting part, because it gives you opportunity to add points of interests.
I will be friending you on NanoWrimo, mainly because I know you already ^^ This comment is anonymous because I don't have a blogspot account. :X

Anonymous said...

Hey, you...! It's the first time that I do NaNoWriMo, I'm determined to get to those 50k words. I'll take the challenge of finishing it in December.

I have to say that you made my preparing for it much easier, just in case you wanted to know. I'll just add one or two exercises for my weaknesses and that's it!

PS. The comment will probably be anonymous because I don't have an account...

SpecialDarah said...

Wow. You're way more organized than me! Lol. I'll be participating this year AND going to the NOWD. So excited!