NaNoWriMo 2016: Preparing for Hell on Earth. (Don’t worry. It’s just your novel bursting out of your chest.)

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just around the corner. In a little over a month, a bunch of stressed, psychopathic authors are going to band together and attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Every year, I give a lot of my blog space over to sharing my tips, tricks, and general advice to surviving the intense writing marathon that is NaNoWriMo.

For my opening post of NaNoWriMo 2016, I'm going to talk about what NaNoWriMo is all about, the things you may (or may not) need to participate, and what to expect. Old hands at this probably won't get a whole lot out of this post, so scroll down to the bottom. There will be writing challenges for you to think about including in your NaNo project!

How NaNoWriMo Works

Starting November 1, you will write 1,667 words a day for 30 days. The official rules are simple: You must begin the novel on November 1.

When I used to be an ML (Municipal Liaison) the golden rule was set in stone and I had to adhere to it, because I was an example to everyone else participating. Now that I am no longer an official ML, I have three words to say about that rule: fuck that shit.

NaNoWriMo serves one very specific purpose: to get you to write.

Some people take it seriously, viewing it as a competition. You know what? Do whatever you have to to write those words and finish your book. If you have to pick up a manuscript you have been crying over for ten years to get it finished, do that. Just… don't tell anyone. Our secret, kay?

Pantsers, read the message at the bottom of this page. Plotters, keep reading!

Plotters, you have a little over a month to get your book ready to go. I'll be talking more about everything in detail over the next few posts, but I wanted to give you a basic guideline on what you'll need to make your story come together. This won't work for everyone. This works for me, and these are things I think about.

I'm just sharing parts of my method so you can use it, too.

  1. Plot
  2. Characters
  3. Themes
  4. Conflicts
  5. Relationships

What's in a Plot

The plot is often considered the heart and soul of the story. A plot is the sequence of events from the beginning of the book to its end. You need one of these to have a story.

Creating Characters

Your story is about someone–or several someones. Your plot includes how your characters handle situations. You need characters to have a story, and in a really good story, the actions and decisions of your characters are what create the plot.

Understanding Themes

Themes re one of the hardest things to nail down in a novel. One story can have many themes. Themes are, in a nutshell, the metaphysical journey of a character. Redemption is a theme. Second chances is a theme. Lost love is a theme. Themes add color to a story, but can be very difficult to write.

Themes often appear, and are very difficult to artificially contrive. Your characters, just from living their lives, should create themes… themes are so often the consequences of someone's life, and are an integral part of who we are.

Sometimes, you may not know you're including a theme until you've written the book. Then, you realize it was there all along. Those themes are the ones that often have the most powerful message, as it is an instinctual and subconscious consequence of the book you have written.


Conflict is the opposition of two forces–or more than two forces. Here's a basic list of the three most common types of conflict someone might include in their novel:

  1. Man vs Man
  2. Man vs Self
  3. Man vs Environment


Readers love ‘character driven' stories. But, for a story to be character driven, they have to be fully present on the page, which means you need to have a basic understanding of the relationships between characters–and between real people.

I believe this is one of the hardest elements to grasp when first starting to write a novel.

What happens now?

Think about the type of story you want to tell. Pick a genre.

In the next few weeks, I will be continuing this series on how to prep a novel for NaNoWriMo–and share the sorts of things I'll be doing as I get ready to really hammer at the third novel of a series I'm working on, which I plan to write (and finish) in November.

Below, find a handy-dandy list of challenges to start getting your idea brain thinking about your fledgling book. Just ignore the face hugger. It'll detach once it has infected you with its offspring, your novel.

NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge

  • Plot Challenge: Create a conflict including a dead squirrel in a backpack. (Courtesy of a news report of a school who called a parent because her son had a dead squirrel in his backpack. Don't ask.)
  • Character Challenge: Include a character from an opposing group as yours. Write them in a positive light. (If you are a Republican, write a Democrat. If you're a Christian, write an atheist, etc.)
  • Theme Challenge: Second chances, but not at love. Write a pair of characters who were in love, went to have their second chance, and found something other than love as a result.
  • Fun & Crazy: A frozen turkey crashes through the windshield of a car.

Dear Pantsers…

I love you dearly, but if you're truly pantsing, you shouldn't even be reading this post. Because to pants, that means going in with no preparation. It's okay to be a hybrid writer. Smart pantsers do actually plot. They either do so in their head, or they limit their notes to appropriate world building before diving into the story.

Most pantsers, however, do know where they are going. The best ones understand how plotting works, but merely does the work in their head rather than committing it to paper. Now, if you're confident you're a pantser that is above prep work, see you in November! Otherwise, glad to have you along for the ride.

Why the tone and snark? Why, because I've been told by pantsers I don't provide appropriate prep work for them and their books. Here's my rebuke: You're pantsing your book. You're not supposed to do any prep work, so don't ruin the fun for the kids who want to plot.

You're the other side of the same coin.

On a slightly different subject, I'd like to ask for your help. Writing is my day job. I do these posts because I enjoy it, not because I get anything out of it. If you found this post useful, could you take a few moments of your time to hit kindle scout and nominate one of my books? Nominations are open until October 23, 2016. Thanks!

>> Next Post in Series: NaNoWriMo 2016: Did the Chicken Come Before the Egg?

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