Thursday, 25 October 2018

How to plan to write a novel in 30 days

Nanowrimo is great. It helped me go from an unmotivated, undisciplined, wannabe-writer to where I am today--about to publish my debut novel, Guns of Liberty! The unfortunate side effect is that I don't have the time to participate this November, but since I love Nano and its writing community, I've decided to give myself a different challenge: 30 blog posts in 30 days. Here, you'll find my various tricks and tips for hitting that sweet 50k finish line in 30 days, or less.

In the lead up to Nanowrimo I wanted to begin by sharing my prep process to kick off this series. November 1st approaching too soon and you're still not sure what you're going to do? I'm here for you. So, without further ado...

How to plan to write a novel in 30 days (or less)
Or, why you really should be using an outline.

Pantsers/discovery writers, don't tune out yet. Outlining is a bipartisan technique that we all can benefit from.

The outline is the backbone construction of your narrative flow. It is a tool that gives a glimpse of your project's underlying form before you start putting in the hard work, and it takes almost no effort at all!

The simplest issues issues can be solved with a small amount of construction.

artists can be pantsers too... with mixed results
Step One: establishing the flow

When constructing we begin with the broadest strokes in order to emphasize the important aspects of your story--starting with one of the two biggest story beats: the situation/inciting incident, or, the solution/confrontation.

Chances are you already have one of these in mind. What situation sets your protagonist on their journey? What solution will resolve the central conflict?

Whichever you're beginning with, mark it down on your outline. Then you'll need to answer the other; how does your protagonist aim to resolve their situation? Or, what incident drove them to seek that solution?

The trick here is that we don't need details. We're only asking the question of what happens, not why.

Once you've filled out both ends of your outline it should look a little something like this:
The adventures of Steve, the talking shovel (and also John).

Take note of how there are no absolutes in the solution. This is important for the next step of establishing your structure and narrative flow. The third aspect of a good outline is the breakdown, or, middle conflict. I will be going into greater depth on this subject later in November, but for now deciding on your middle conflict now will help prevent saggy-middle syndrome.

When placing your middle conflict, you can decide between two options. The most common is to set your middle conflict between the Situation and the Solution. I'm here to tell you there's a better way.

When the protagonists arrive at their goal and fail, what happens then?
This is why I don't establish victory or failure in the outline. I love reading and writing stories when protagonists arrive at their goal in the middle of the book, and then fail--not only do they fail, they make everything worse and the stakes are raised. Now the protagonist must face an even more difficult challenge ahead of them. I call this method shifting the goal posts.

Now we have the three most important beats of our story, and already we can see the basic flow. This is the first stop on the outlining train, you've already got enough to get an idea of the direction you're going. But for the more analytical outliners, now is the time to delve into the deeper aspects and start laying down the shapes of events within the book itself.

Step Two: establishing form and volume

This is the stage where we take our outline into the recognizable shape of a story. We have the essence, now we need to fill out the blanks.

At this stage, I start getting in depth and laying out my chapters. This is a little example from my book, Guns of Liberty:
Note: this outline is from an older draft and not representative of the final product!
I mark out each chapter, and jot down the three most important events that occur within it. Each one of these becomes a scene within the book.

Now, let's fill out some of the forms for our example:
Typically, I work front to back when writing or planning, but it's not necessary during this stage. What is important is that you're connecting the dots between the three major points and discovering the conflicts and events along the way.

Once you've filled out the entire plot line and connected the end with the beginning, you've already got all your chapters naturally laid out and have an idea of the overall form of the book! You can practically see it already.

This is the next jumping off point. I used to start writing here, but now I take it one step further.

Step Three: blocking out the details

In this stage, open a document and begin explaining what is accomplished in each scene, in chronological order. This is by far the most work-intensive phase, but by the end of it, I know exactly what's happening in every scene in the story. I work out settings, transitions, and even what conversations take place (and their outcomes). If inspiration strikes, I might write down specific dialogues to insert later.

During this process it's almost writing draft 0.5. For my 2017 Nanowrimo I experimented with just how far I could push it before it got rediculous, and wrote 26,000 words of planning. Turns out somewhere around 10k is my sweet-spot. This is what allows me to write those 50,000 words so quickly: I've already decided everything that's going to take place in the story, all that's left is to write it!

Here's a little excerpt from my 2015 Nano project: the satirical sci-fi, Vengeful Intentions.
Warning: first-draft eye-sore ahead

As you can see, the planning is devoid of all description and author voice. Its purpose is merely to lay out the events that take place, and what order they take place.

This is the final step for me before I begin writing, and this small(ish) amount of planning cuts my writing time from scraping out 50,000 in 30 days to 50,000 in 16.

Final Thoughts

Constructing and outlining is a crucial part of the writing process, whether you are a planner or a pantser. But the most important lesson I'd like to impart is that different writers require different planning methods, and just like no two writers write the same way, no two writers plan the same way. This is only my method, and it took many attempts and experiments to find what worked for me. I encourage you to not take my methods wholesale, but rather to experiment with the aspects that work for you and discard those that do not. Furthermore, if you find one method of planning doesn't work, it does not mean that no planning works at all, and there are many other techniques out there you can try!

But not Snowflake. Snowflake is misery incarnate.

If you would like to see more posts and silly doodles, then join me on November 1st as we delve into starting on the right foot; or, how to nail your premise with the first chapter.