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Writing Tips to Survive NaNoWriMo
November is here, and that means NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with a first draft.
The New Orleans Public Library is hosting workshops throughout the month to connect you with other local writers to share thoughts, struggles, successes, and writing tips, like these.
Developing Strong Characters
For some writers, characters come first. Before Newbery Award Winner Kate DiCamillo wrote Louisiana’s Way Home, she had no intention of adding another book to the series. But as she explains in her author’s note, “Louisiana’s voice was so strong and insistent, and her need to tell her story was so profound, that I gave in.”
Not all of us are lucky enough to have protagonists spring into our heads fully formed, though. And even if we are, what about all the other characters in the book?
In The Anatomy of Story, screenwriting instructor John Truby suggests, “begin not by focusing on your main character but by looking at all your characters together as part of an interconnected web.”
While you’re coming up with your protagonist’s goal, ask yourself who might want to block your protagonist and achieve that goal for themselves. Now you have a second character—the opponent. Ask yourself whose help your protagonist might need in achieving that goal. Now your protagonist has a best friend, a mysterious ally, or a rag tag group of companions. Your character web is growing!
Plotting Your Novel
Are you a plotter or a pantser? It’s the classic question dividing writers into those who outline their stories ahead of time, and those who make it up as they go along. Even if you’re a dedicated pantser on your first draft, learning about plot structure can be helpful when you’re revising later on.
You might remember Freytag’s Pyramid from your high school English class. If not, author and editor Cheryl B. Klein sums it up in her book, The Magic Words.
First comes the inciting incident, “the moment your action plot and your protagonist meet for the first time.” Your inciting incident should introduce the story’s conflict and make it personal for your protagonist.
Next is the escalating or complicating action. This “consists of events within the book that raise the stakes, change the course of the story, or change the rules of engagement.” The escalating or complicating action should make up most of your novel—“roughly 75%”.
All this action leads up to your story’s climax, when “the major elements of the action are brought to a crisis and then resolved.”
Finally comes the resolution. This should be brief, just long enough to show how your protagonist now “acts differently and how her circumstances have changed as a result of everything she’s been through.” Klein recommends, “Once you’ve reached the climax […] the book should end within three chapters.”
Do you use a different plot structure? Maybe the Three-Act Structure or The Hero’s Journey? Tell us all about it at our second NaNoWriMo workshops of the month, at Keller Library on November 8, or Smith Library on November 9.
Managing Your Time
Writing 50,000 words in one month is. . . a lot. Plenty of published authors can’t keep up that pace. So, if you’re delayed by writer’s block or family time at Thanksgiving, be kind to yourself. You can still finish your novel in December, or January, or after Mardi Gras. The important thing is setting realistic goals that fit your schedule and writing process, then sticking to them until you’ve finished your draft.
Many writers set a word count or page count goal for themselves every day. Newbery Award Winner Linda Sue Park sits down at her keyboard every morning and doesn’t get up until she’s written at least two pages.
Other writers set aside certain hours of the day. Jackson Pearce, for example, writes daily from 9am to 1pm.
If you aren’t lucky enough to write full time, shorter writing sprints might work better for you. Bestseller Rachel Hawkins uses the Pomodoro Technique: write for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, then write for another 25 minutes. Gretchen McNeill commits to 12 minutes of writing at a time, then rewards herself with online procrastination.
Whether you use NaNoWriMo to draft a new novel, revise an old one, or ignore novels altogether to draw comics or write poems, the New Orleans Public Library hopes November is a time to let your creativity flourish. Head to our For Writers page to find books on craft, upcoming events, self-publishing resources, and more.