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The 5 Things You Absoutely Must Know About Your NaNo Novel Before You Start Writing

by Jennifer on October 12, 2010

By Jennifer Blanchard

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. And creative writers everywhere are pulling their notes and ideas together in hopes of writing 50,000 words in 30 days (starting November 1).

I was always one to encourage every writer to get out there and write a novel during the month of November. NaNoWriMo is such great motivation, especially for procrastinators.

But the biggest problem with NaNoWriMo is that most writers who survive ’til the end and finish their novels don’t end up with a novel they can actually publish. And many of these same writers spend years rewriting the same novel over and over again, trying to make the story work.

There’s A Better Way
When you’re attempting to write an entire novel in a very short period of time (30 days) you need to have a plan. That’s the only way you’ll finish the month with a story that may actually be publishable.

There’s a lot of back-and-forth arguments between writers with regard to the story planning process. Some writers say planning everything out is the only way to go, while others say they can only write “organically” and allow the story to unfold as they write (these people are known as “pantsers”).

I still say you have to do what works for you. By “works” I mean do what actually gives you a story that’s worthwhile. And I’d say 99 percent of the time, pantsing it won’t cut it.

There’s too much involved in creating a story to fly by the seat of your pants. You need to have a plan, and that plan must tell you exactly what needs to happen in your story to make it work.

The 5 Most Important Things to Know About Your Story
Although there are many things a writer should know about her story before she starts penning it, there are 5 things that she absolutely must know. These include:

  • The Hook—How does your story open? What “hooks” the reader and keeps them wanting to read more?
  • The First Plot Point (FPP)—This is the most important milestone of your story. In fact, everything you write prior to the FPP is just set up. Your story doesn’t actually start until the FPP hits. The FPP is the introduction of the antagonist and the story’s main conflict (note: you may have already introduced your antagonist in the set up of your story, but it’s not until the FPP that you actually show them being blatantly antagonistic).
  • The Midpoint—This is the point in your story where the antagonist gives the reader (and usually the main character) a full-frontal. You now are clear who is pulling the dramatic strings in the story and why.
  • The Second Plot Point (SPP)—This is the final piece to the story puzzle. It’s the last bit of new information given to the main character so she has everything she needs to be the hero and resolve the story.
  • The Resolution—How does your story end? What happens? How does the main character win the title of hero?

If you know all of the things listed above before November 1, you’re in pretty good shape to write a story that will work.

But that’s not all you need to know.

Coming tomorrow: I’ll be sharing more in-depth information for planning your story before NaNoWriMo begins.

Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any of the pre-NaNoWriMo prep.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is founder of Procrastinating Writers. For more great writing tips, articles and information, follow her on Twitter.

**I’m part of a NaNoWriMo blog chain. Check it out for even more great tips and information.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura Lee Bloor October 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Excellent tips, Jennifer!

I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year because I realize (in hindsight, of course) that I lacked real passion for my concept. Was it a great idea? Yes. Was I excited about it? Yes. But the passion wasn’t there and I ultimately did not spend much time on it at all.

So my tip: Make sure you’ve really got the motivation before you dive into NaNoWriMo.

2 Claudie A. October 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I have to agree with this, although in the pantsers’ defense, it can work pretty well to get a good hold of your characters. I never got a solid novel out of it, however.

I do a lot of planning before I write, and I find that if I start long enough before my first draft, the story will evolve organically anyway. I prefer to plot. The end result, even when writing at NaNo-speed, is far better.

3 Heather Wright October 14, 2010 at 7:40 am

Great tips, Jennifer. I’m definitely not a pantser. I’m just on the outer fringes of my story plan right now and your outline came just at the right time. I’m posting some NaNo writing prompts for people needing ideas or inspiration at http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com/writing-starters/ I’ll be adding to them throughout October. Looking forward to a creative November!

4 Philip Evans October 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I think that starting any nanowrimo endeavor prior to November 1 is soft cheating. (Only an opinion, let’s not get all uppityangry.) Therefore I must be a pantser. The alternative would be to begin the planning process Nov.1 and write like hell when set-up is completed. Those who like the idea of the pantser approach should read some Richard Brautigan for inspiration. His style lends itself well to the pantser mindset. Today is Saturday, October 29, and not only do I have no novel idea, plan or outline, I have not decided whether to participate. (But I’m leaning to “yes”).
To me, the purpose of nanowrimo IS to produce a novel, period. It IS NOT to become a rich, famous and much-fawned-upon author.

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