Saturday, October 2, 2021

NaNoWriMo Prep for Beginners

... and anyone else who could use some ideas to on how to use October to get ready for National Novel Writing Month in November

by Jodie Renner, editor & author   

November is National Novel Writing Month. Many writers use this as an impetus to start a new novel or make significant headway on their writing, or even do a first draft of 50,000 words. If that seems daunting, you can make your goal for NaNoWriMo 30,000 words. That’s 1000 new words per day, rough draft. Or, if you have a busy slate, maybe you just plan to write a short story or two for NaNoWriMo.

October is a great time to do some essential planning for the story you’ll be writing in November, so you can take off from the starting gate with a lot of planning already done.

If you've never written a novel or maybe just a short story or two, here are some tips to plan out and create a compelling story readers will love. Experienced fiction writers may also find these checklists useful as reminders for your next WIP. 

As with most of my advice, these tips are for writing popular fiction, rather than literary fiction. 

First, the Essential Ingredients of a Captivating Story

To engage and captivate readers, you’ll need to:

~ Imagine a unique story world.

~ Choose or invent a believable, interesting setting.

~ Create a fascinating, complicated, vulnerable main character.

~ Give your protagonist a driving goal or desire.

~ Add an antagonist or hindrance of some sort.

~ Create an intriguing plot that revolves around the driving goal and a major dilemma, conflict, threat, or challenge the protagonist faces.

~ As the story goes along, add some more challenges and problems for your protagonist.

~ Try to add a surprise twist or two. Don't make it too predictable.

~ Create a riveting climax where your protagonist is challenged to the max (physically or emotionally or both).

~ Devise a satisfying ending with some resolution.

Planning Your Story:

First, you'll need to create an interesting main character that readers will care about and worry about, and a significant conflict, challenge, dilemma, or obstacle that character encounters. 

Every scene should have some kind of challenge or problem that the protagonist (or viewpoint character for that scene) must deal with.

In planning your story, whether it’s a short story or longer fiction, use this as a rough guide. Make some jot notes under each of these headings.

1. Who’s your target readership (audience)? (rough age group, gender, interests)

2. What kind of story (genre) would you like to write that would interest your target readers? (fantasy, action, chick lit, suspense, romance, mystery, etc.)

3. Who is your main character, and why will readers care about him or her? How is he or she vulnerable? What’s especially interesting about your protagonist?

4. Where and when does this story take place? What’s going on?

5. Who are your character’s sidekicks? (A few close friends or family members)

6. Who is your character’s worst enemy, and why? Invent a rival or antagonist of some kind.

7. What is your main character’s deepest secret, regret, fear, or phobia?

8. What is their biggest hope, their main wish or desire? Their driving goal? Or, as Alan Watt says in The 90 Day Novel, “What do they want? What do they need?”

9. Who or what thwarts that desire? Who or what causes them some major problems? Perhaps related to their secret, regret, or fear.

10. How does the protagonist confront the challenges? What do they do to try to resolve the issues and get (back) to how they want things to be? 

Then, if you have time, you can continue making rough notes on:

11. How do things get worse for them? What will happen if they don’t succeed?

12. What’s their lowest point, their bleakest moment, when all seems lost?

13. How do they finally manage to resolve (most of) the issue or defeat the enemy?

14. How is their life different now?

15. How have they changed by what they’ve been through? (Character arc)

If you answer all of the above questions, you’ll have a compelling story readers won’t want to put down.

Create a Potential Back-Cover Blurb:

Here’s a premise in a nutshell for a gripping, entertaining story your readers will love:

Use this as a general guideline for mapping out your story, novel, or novella:

(Hero or heroine’s name) wants ... (what will complete their life, make them happy, fulfill their main goal, satisfy their biggest hope or desire?). But he/she is hampered by ... (describe the misfortune, conflict, dilemma, problem, villain), and s/he has ... (time limit or other hindrance) to ... (describe the almost impossible task) or ... (describe a negative consequence that will happen). He/she has to choose between... and .... (Continue from there.)

Good luck with your October planning for November's NaNoWriMo!

For more fiction-writing tips, explore this blog and check out my award-winning, reader-friendly writing guides, which all have lots of bolded subheadings, bulleted points, and before-and-after examples. Click on the links below:

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction:
FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.