Are you a complete beginner when it comes to planning novels? Perhaps you’re doing what I did in my first year of National Novel Writing Month: frantically reading blog posts, hoping someone will have the secret to succeeding this month. While I did write a guide on how I wrote 50,000 words in less than a month, I’m nowhere near an expert. National Novel Writing Month is hard.
This year will be my third year taking part in NaNoWriMo, and I feel like I’ve finally created a writing notebook I’m proud of. For those who don’t know, writing notebooks are basically somewhere you can gather all of your novel information in one place. Personally, this allows my writing to be far more organised than it would be otherwise.
With that said, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of the things I include in my writing notebook. In addition to that, I also hope to offer a little insight into my planning methods before the month begins.
I’ve created title pages for my novels since I started NaNoWriMo, so it seemed only fitting to print them out and include them in my writing notebook. While it’s obvious that my editing skills are nothing special, it’s nice to have something that a published book would have to motivate me. I ended up entering one Camp NaNo (events that occur in April and July) without a book cover, so this is definitely a contributor to my success!
Plot and Chapter Outline
This next section is where I do the majority of my planning, so it makes sense that it takes the longest amount of time to explain. I like to have this as my first section as it means my novel planning is as accessible as it can be.
The first thing I include in this section is an overall summary of the novel I’m writing. This tends to be one or two a4 pages explaining the general plot of the story. I find this is helpful when it comes to breaking the novel down further, into chapters, and also helps me realise where I’m going when I get stuck halfway through a novel.
The second part in this section, a new addition to my notebook this year, is the 5-point-method. You’ll probably know what I’m talking about if I mention the mountain method: beginning, build-up, climax, resolution and ending. I’d dismissed this method until this year as it’s something I learned in primary school, but it’s been crucial in creating a strong ending this year. They’ve always been my weakest point, so knowing I have an ending I’m happy with before I’ve started writing is a great confidence booster.
The final part of this section is my chapter outline, where I break the overall summary into chapter guidelines. I don’t make the notes for each chapter more than a few sentences, but it’s great guidance when I’m struggling with good old writer’s block and need to know where I’m going. I think this is where my roots in winging it show, though, as I’m constantly noting changes on the pages throughout the month!
I think researching is such an overlooked part of novel writing. In order to portray things accurately, especially if you’re writing a contemporary novel, research is crucial. Obviously, it depends on the topic you’re writing about and your knowledge beforehand, but I couldn’t be without a section dedicated to researching.
I like to use this section to jot down information I think I’ll need when writing my novel, but it also comes in handy during the month. If I’m writing a scene while I’m really in the flow of writing, for example, I’ll write down my question to research later and carry on with what I’m doing. That way I can edit it later that evening if I’m inaccurate in my knowledge, or during a second draft, without disrupting my productivity.
The next section, my main character section, includes everything I need to know about the faces that pop up most regularly in my novel. This year, that includes five characters: my protagonist, antagonist, my protagonist’s brother, and the brother’s children. I’ll use this section to write down the crucial information about these characters, like their names, motives, and character flaws.
I think my novels are very character driven instead of plot driven, if that makes sense, so having my characters available at a glance is so handy! It also gives me somewhere to brainstorm the ways the characters change and/or grow throughout my novel.
Every writer has those annoying characters who’ll pop up in the first chapter and won’t be seen again until the last few, right? After losing track of multiple characters like this last year, I decided to give a section like this a go-and it’s really helped! If the character is semi-regular, or appears a few times in the plot, I might write a mini biography, but at other times it’s simply the name, and perhaps age, of the character.
Bullet Journal & Word Count Tracker
The final section of my writing notebook is a word count tracker. I called it a bullet journal because I treated it like one last year, but I don’t think I’m continuing that this year. It was really time consuming, and when you’re trying to write 50,000 words in a month, time is something you don’t have much of. Especially when you’re a college student with assignments galore throughout November. However, the writing tracker part is very effective.
In this section, I’ll write down how many words I wrote in a day, my daily total, and how I achieved those words. I often join in word crawls or ‘write this money words when…’ threads over on the NaNo forums. Sometimes, I’ll hop on over to the Twitter page and join in with a Sprint. It helps me feel accountable and work out the most effective methods for writing as much as possible as the month goes on.
In addition to my writing notebook, I also brainstorm my novel on a dedicated Pinterest board. This was actually how I planned the business my main character’s brother owned, which has turned into a major setting in this novel. You can follow my board for this year’s NaNo by clicking here.
Do you have a writing notebook, or some other way of planning your novels for NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading, and until next time,
P.S: Why not as me as a buddy on the NaNo website? My link is here.