As I said before, I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in case you’re not familiar). There are several reasons for this, mostly due to the fact that in addition to the novel, I have to wrap up editing on one series of short stories and start a second, so you can rest assured I’ll be writing at a frantic pace as well. Even though I’m not ‘officially’ tackling it, I do tend to work that way- I work well within deadlines and write at a fast pace. So over the next month or so, I’ll regularly post tips and suggestions (and maybe a few opinions) as to what helps me.
So let’s start at the beginning- how do you like to start your project? My first step is to
drink heavily identify the end. If you’re anything like me, you get about four million ideas for literally the best book ever OMG every single day. But how does it end? Where does it go? Jot the idea down, but sit down and revisit it- if you can’t put a bow on it, it will be hard to form a compelling story around it. The last thing you want is readers- or you- to get the end and think Well, what was the point of THAT?
After that comes the outlining process. A quick note about that: Everyone does their outlines differently. I will share my method with me, but it’s mine and while you’re welcome to it, find what works best for you. You want your outline to serve as a map, a guide to the novel you’re writing and if it doesn’t point you in the right direction, what good is it?
Pictured is my outline from ‘Worlds Away‘, a short story of around 2,000 words (my novel outline is much more detailed and much less legible, relatively speaking anyway). Since this is part of a serial, you can see in the lower left the next plot point I had to get Digger, the main character to- establishing his position as a professor. I didn’t have to do that in this story, but it had to work to that end.
So I started this story with two pieces of information: The character (Digger) and the plot point that I needed him to achieve. From there I used a decision tree based on how I wanted the character to develop. I wanted to portray the he was a mercenary and was hired to do a job, acts heroically, and (SPOILER ALERT) still remains detached in the final scene.
So why even bother to have an outline? Why not work from what’s in your head? It’s your story after all, right? While that may be true, it’s very easy to stray. You risk damaging your plot and characters when you do, or worse, bogging your readers down with all manner of unnecessary minutia. This story, Worlds Away, gave me characters that are favorites of my readers- the romance of Mondego and Magdalena, which lead to Badger and the Crucible story line. Without an outline, that guide, those characters would not have been defined. With Digger, to whom balance while teasing his past is needed, I risked giving away too much and ruining the reveal and thus making the rest of the collection boring and irrelevant. Conversely, I could give away too little and when the reveal comes, no one cares. An outline provides a gut check for all kinds of things- even more so when you’re on a tight schedule like NaNWriMo.
Hope this helps, and good luck!