It’s tempting to write before NaNoWriMo, especially if you’re really excited about your next novel. However, writing your novel before November is against the rules—that is, if you want to win the National Novel Writing Month challenge.
Luckily, there’s plenty that you can write before NaNoWriMo begins. You can’t write your novel just yet, but you can write about your novel. Focus on finessing the plot, characters and setting of your story now so that you write with confidence during National Novel Writing Month.
In case you’re not familiar, a logline summarizes your book in one sentence, two tops. A successful logline usually identifies the main character, the main conflict and what’s at stake.
Essentially, it’s the who, what, where and why of your story without the how—that comes later when you write your novel during National Novel Writing Month and for your reader to uncover by reading your story.
If you can create a logline, you have the confidence and vision to take your story where it needs to go when you write during NaNoWriMo.
Need help getting on track? Check out movies and TV shows in your streaming service queues or listings on IMDb to see how they tackled writing a logline.
Think of this as your elevator pitch for your novel. A story pitch is a summary of your story that’s longer than a logline, but still concise. In ~250 words or less, your story pitch answers the following questions:
- Who is your protagonist?
- What does your protagonist want?
- Who/what is standing your protagonist’s way?
- What is the conflict?
- Where/when does the story happen?
- What’s at stake?
- What happens if the protagonist fails?
It’s not cheating to write before NaNoWriMo about all your characters, as long as you’re not writing the pages of your novel. In fact, you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to discover the players in your story before November 1.
- What is this character’s personality like?
- What does this character look like?
- How does this character speak?
- What makes this character unique?
- What does this character hide from others?
Next, shape the story arc each of your characters experiences during the story, even if they are not the main character. I previously wrote about how to plot out character development that can help shape your upcoming novel project.
Your setting is as much of a character in your story as everyone else. So, take the time to write before NaNoWriMo how the world of your characters should be conveyed throughout the novel.
This isn’t limited to sci-fi or fantasy. Define where and when your story takes place so that you understand this world that you want your readers to enter, whether that be in modern times on Earth or thousands of years ago on another planet.
Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself when world building. Keep in mind that this is merely a starting place:
- What’s the landscape like? How does the geography impact your characters/society?
- What’s the history of this place? How did it come to be?
- What is technology is available? How does this impact society and your characters?
- What main emotions does society feel? Are people content and happy or traumatized and rebellious?
- What forms of transportation are available?
- What does society eat? How is the food produced and distributed?
- What is the monetary exchange system in your world? How is it earned and spent?
- What role does religion play?
- What is the government structure? Who holds power or rules society and why?
- How does society communicate? Are there multiple languages or a dominant language?
- How do people earn a living?
- How do people receive education?
- What forms of entertainment exist?
- Does society value the arts? Sports? Celebrity culture?
Ready to create one more summary? You can write before NaNoWriMo a synopsis that expands on the work you completed by creating a logline and story pitch.
Summarize your story even deeper by spending one to three pages (~500–1000 words) that covers the following:
- Describe the story of your main characters – The main characters are the focus here. Include what each of your main characters want, what motivates each main character, and what’s at stake.
- Explain the protagonist’s core conflict – Spend the most time writing this section of your synopsis. Who or what challenges your protagonist? Who or what gets in his/her way? Does your protagonist succeed or fail?
- Resolve the central conflict – How has your protagonist changed since the story’s start? How has society or the setting changed externally?
Keep in mind this is still a summary. Not all characters or events get mentioned here. And not every chapter makes a cameo appearance. Shape the beginning, middle and end of your novel by focusing on the main plot and let the outline capture all the rest.
For most, this is the most intimidating step of the planning process. I’ll admit that this is something that I don’t want to write before NaNoWriMo starts but am relieved by November 30 that I did.
Fortunately, this step doesn’t have to be as painful as we imagine for it to be.
Grab your post-it notes and index cards. The easiest way to outline is to make each card or note represent one scene. Since the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel that’s 50,000 words in a thirty-day period, we can break down your story into three sections:
- Act 1 (the beginning) – 25% of your story, ~10 scenes, ~12,500 words
- Hook – Scene 1
- Inciting Incident – Scenes 2–5
- First Plot Point – Scenes 6–10
- Act 2 (the middle) – 50% of your story, ~20 scenes, ~25,000 words
- First Pinch Point – Scenes 11–15
- Midpoint – Scenes 16–20
- Second Pinch Point – Scenes 21–25
- Second Plot Point – Scenes 26–30
- Act 3 (the ending) – 25% of your story, ~10 scenes, ~12,500 words
- Crisis – Scenes 31–35
- Climax – Scenes 36–37
- Resolution – Scenes 38–40
A mantra is a positive, repeatable phrase that keeps you inspired to keep going and to create. And these are the easiest things to write before NaNoWriMo because you’re still fresh and eager to get started!
Imagine how badly you’ll want to regain such confidence and creativity by the middle of National Novel Writing Month. Capture your positive mindset now in a set of motivational phrases you know will carry you through to THE END of your novel’s November draft.
Make sure your mantra is easy to recite, actionable and encouraging. Remember, these phrases are designed to help you out! Display these mantras wherever you write, be it at your writing workspace or the backdrop on your laptop.