Are you ready? No? And furthermore, you’ve never even heard of Nano? Well, you’re in luck. Author Catherine Chant is here today to tell you all about it.
Thanks for stopping by, Catherine. The blog is yours.
by Catherine Chant
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a 30-day challenge to write 50,000 words. Participating can be a lot of fun, even if you don’t make the 50K word count. I haven’t “won” the challenge yet, but I’ve made progress on several projects over the years just by joining in the fun. Last year I managed about 25K in a new manuscript that I’d been dragging my feet on, so I considered that a great success!
They call NaNo a challenge for a reason. Keeping up the momentum to write over 1000 words every day for 30 days can be exhausting, but it’s not impossible to get 10,000 or 20,000 or even the whole 50,000 words on paper if you do a little planning or “pre-writing” in the days leading up to November 1.
Don’t worry, this isn’t cheating. 🙂 You aren’t writing your book. You’re making plans for what you want to write. Here’s a short list of what you want to have in mind when you set out to tell a story. I cover several more items in my workshop “Avoid the Rough: Turning Your Story Idea Into a Workable Plot,” (Nov 3-22, 2013 at OIRWA, http://www.oirwa.com/forum/campus/#NOV4), but this is a good starting point going into the NaNoWriMo challenge.
1.) You need a main character. Seems obvious, but it’s important to flesh out this character a little bit before you start writing. How else will you know what she’ll do in a particular situation? You don’t need to know her life’s story or what she likes for breakfast or even have a name yet, but you do need a sense of what makes her interesting and unique. Why? Because your main character is a major portal into the story. If you place an interesting character on page one, you’ll grab the reader.
So what makes a character interesting? Think about the people you find interesting. For starters, it’s usually not about the looks so forget hair color and eye color. That’s superficial, unless it’s crucial to the plot (ie: Legally Blonde wouldn’t have made sense with a brunette in the lead). Instead, it’s what’s inside you should focus on. Think about personality traits, quirks, unusual professions or interests your character is involved with. Try to play against stereotypes and gender roles. Try for something unexpected.
A girl in a futuristic world who hunts with a bow and arrow to keep her family alive, a teen who can shoot lasers from his hands but has trouble navigating his first crush, the daughter of a fake spiritualist who can talk to ghosts but wants no part in the family séance business. If you’ve read The Hunger Games, Gone or Haunting Violet, these main characters may sound familiar. What they don’t sound is ordinary. So try to find something exceptional about your main character that you can build on in the story.
2.) That character must want something. One of the ways you can help flesh out your main character and find those out-of-the-ordinary characteristics that help her stand out is to think about what your character wants over the course of the story. Maybe just start with asking what does she want out of life?
Katniss Everdeen wants to survive the Hunger Games and keep her family safe. Sam Temple wants to figure out why everyone over the age of 15 disappeared from his hometown. Violet wants out of the phony séance business and to live an honest life.
When you have a character’s goal in mind, it can help you brainstorm the type of person who will be most challenged in going after such a goal. Which leads to the third most important thing you need to start you story.
3.) Something stands in the way. Conflict. This is what will drive your story forward and keep the reader turning the pages. You don’t want your main character to get what she wants too easily or the story will be boring. Challenges, setbacks and obstacles make for tension-filled reading. Will she make it? Will she get the prize?
So as you’re thinking about your main character’s story goal, also think about who or what stands in the way. For Katniss it’s the games themselves, the other competitors, but also the Capitol who runs everything. For Sam it’s the evil force behind the FAYZ, as well as a group of violent kids who want to rule everyone else. For Violet it’s her mother, her situation in life/the time period/expectations of Victorian society, and confusion about her psychic gifts.
Once you have a character, a goal and conflict in mind, it will be much easier to brainstorm different scenes that make up your story. For example, when you think about the character, think about ways in which you can “show” who that character is to the reader through different situations. When you think about the character’s goal, think about the steps the character needs to take to reach the goal. What sort of actions might that character take? What sort of events will challenge the character and give you conflict?
And speaking of challenges, don’t look at NaNoWriMo as a 50,000-word insurmountable goal. Instead, take it scene by scene and day by day. Those small word counts add up. Even if you don’t make the 50,000, you’ll still make progress and will be moving forward on your project if you do a little bit at a time. Isn’t that what’s most important?
Thanks so much for the tips, Catherine. Doing as much planning for Nano as possible makes the challenge so much easier.
Catherine’s books are available here:
Wishing You Were Here: http://www.amazon.com/Wishing-Were-Here-Soul-Mates-ebook/dp/B00AG15MJC
Pursued by Evil: http://www.amazon.com/The-Vampire-Diaries-Pursued-Novella-ebook/dp/B00G7OVSZ4
Here’s a little about Catherine:
Catherine Chant is an RWA Golden Heart® finalist and the author of the young adult time travel romance WISHING YOU WERE HERE (Soul Mates #1) as well as the Kindle Worlds Vampire Diaries novella “Pursued by Evil,” available now at Amazon.com. She teaches multiple online writing classes each year for RWA chapters and other writing organizations. You can learn more about Catherine at her website or connect with her via Twitter or Facebook.
I’m off now to get my coffee and start plotting. Anyone want to join me?