November is famous among writers as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the month in which writers attempt to write a novel, from beginning to end, in 30 days. Technically, the official rules state 50,000 words counts as finishing, but the concept is more important behind NaNoWriMo than the precise word count, at least in my opinion. But October is also important for writers, especially those participating in NaNoWriMo.
Because October is the month to make sure enough preparation and prewriting is finished so tackling that full novel is less daunting. But when you’re not allowed to begin that first draft until the clock hits midnight on November 1st, what can you get away with preparing for NaNoWriMo?
Here are a few ideas:
Go ahead and figure out who your protagonist and antagonist are. Decide their names, backstories, motivations, goals, and quirks. Do the same for supporting characters. When you get into your first draft, you can fine tune these characters, but you’ll save yourself loads of time if you don’t have to figure out the perfect name in November when you should be pounding away at the keyboard and scratching nonstop on paper.
Create the Setting:
Settings are crucial to fiction. They can be as dynamic as a character in the story or simply add texture and nuance for the plot and character growth. When it comes to prewriting the setting, let loose with your creativity and enjoy it. Make maps. Surround yourself with pictures from the real world locale or, if creating your own setting, find a similar real world locale. (I did this when writing a story set on the Rhine River, which is gorgeous.) Write descriptions. Jot notes about history, culture, food, mindsets, whatever you can think up. Read books on the locale or write your own if it’s entirely fictional. But above all else, make sure to figure out how your setting and characters impact each other, for that dynamic will add depth to your story come November.
Yes, among everything else I’m mentioning here, I know this one can be a challenge for pantsers (a writer who figures out the story by the seat of their pants) like me. At the very least, I recommend deciding your story’s inciting incident (the event that starts the tale on its irreversible journey), the midpoint (the place, approximately 50% of the way through the story where things take a sharp turn), and the climax (how the story is resolved). I also encourage you to figure out major turning points between these three main points. Have some idea of the direction your story will, or at least might, go will save you time and frustration in November.
However, if you’re a plotter (a writer who enjoys planning out a story before composing it), this step should be no problem. The main thing to remember is that you are allowed to outline and plot before November 1st. Take advantage of the time.
Decide on Conflict:
Conflict is the glue that holds a story together. It’s what makes fiction engaging. While a lot of conflict will arise as you write that first draft, you can and should begin determining what the story’s primary conflicts will be now. What is the conflict that pits the protagonist and antagonist against each other? Why is that conflict important to each of them? How does the conflict impact the setting and other characters? What can make that conflict matter more and become more personal to hero and villain? Just answering these questions can take you most of the way to forming a good, basic outline.
Knock Non-Writing Responsibilities Out Now:
While none of us can avoid the need to prepare and eat food, take care of our families, go to work, go grocery shopping, or handle other daily tasks and responsibilities, there are ways to give ourselves more writing time. Knock off as many things on your To-Do list as possible. For the things you’ve been procrastinating on, get them out of the way now. If you have to figure out who’s bringing what to Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead and iron it out. Your relatives may think you’re a tad crazy, but that’s just part of the writing lifestyle. If you need to get the car’s tires rotated or pick up snow tires, do it in October. If you have a blog, write up all of November’s posts now. Don’t have that stuff hanging over your head in November, all ready to make you feel guilty for writing or to give you excuses to procrastinate on your novel. With as few non-writing to-dos on your mind, you’ll be able to focus much better and be far more productive.
These are just a few ideas to help you prepare for NaNoWriMo. If you have others, please share them in the comments section.