How To Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Tips to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

nanoFirst, you need an idea.

And not just a fleeting one, it has to be something you’re willing to spend a good long year or two (possibly more) in bed with after NaNoWriMo. Also, ask yourself if your story idea is something readers will want to read. Will they click the BUY button on Amazon?

Take your laptop or writer’s idea journal to your favorite barista and jot down your thoughts. If you haven’t decided to give up your life next month but want to write a book someday what’s it going to hurt to make a list?  Go on; you know you want to.

Second, you need a premise. Huh?  What’s that?

Let’s role play.

I ask, “What’s your book going to be about?”

You, aspiring NaNo-ite, answers, “I can’t really describe it in a few sentences. It’s meaty, and there is a lot going on.”

Hmm, wrong answer. Let me help you with your first step onto that yellow brick road.

Answer all these questions with a single sentence.

  1. What is the story about?
  2. What’s the setting?
  3. Who’s the protagonist?
  4. Who’s the antagonist?
  5. What’s the conflict?
  6. What are the stakes?
  7. Clues to genre – not a question but you need to know.

Now write one sentence encompassing the essence of your answers to questions one through six. I know it’s tough and painful, but once you complete this exercise, you’ve nailed the first draft of your logline. Phew!

Still with me?  Good. Let’s move on.

Third, what KIND of a story is it?

Not sure?  Here are some examples to get your creative juices bubbling.

  • Caper
  • Mythic Journey
  • Mentor story
  • Mystery (the list here is endless)
  • Cinderella story
  • Mistaken Identity
  • The Wrong Woman or Man
  • Forbidden Love
  • Time travel
  • Mysterious Stranger
  • Wartime Romance
  • Trapped
  • High School Sleuth
  • Fairy Tale
  • Monster in the House
  • Lovers Handcuffed Together (Leap Year, the Proposal)

And on the list goes.

Now that you have identified your story it’s time for some serious sofa time.

The fourth step, make a list of movies and books in the genre of your new project, and similar, let me be clear, that are the same KIND or type of story you plan to write next month. Pick three or four and watch them, and then, break them down.

How you approach the breakdown is as personal as how you will write the first draft of your novel. If you’re a plotter, you’ll have a detailed outline and/or several dozen index cards with your scenes mapped out. If you’re a panster, you’ll have an ethereal idea what the story was about and how the story was told. Or maybe you’re like me, a combo of the two.

Story Breakdown Structure. As far as I’ve ascertained, all stories follow a similar structure either on purpose or accidently. A story typically consists of the Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure.



I didn’t believe this at first—once a diehard panster—until I watched several of my favorite movies and broke them down using the Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure as my guide (loosely used). I can’t say every story every written since the beginning of time and/or produced by Hollywood since, follows this guide exactly but I’d be willing to bet there are structural similarities.

Fifth step. Now that you’ve figured out your story, watched similar movies and read some books whose stories are the KIND of story you plan to draft during NaNoWriMo, you’re ready to breakdown (outline) your story before November 1.

The Outline – that scary thing called structure, involves preplanning, and head banging. There are as many examples on how to outline a story out there as there are books on how to write a novel. You only have to open a browser and enter the words. I’ve spent a long while trying to master the perfect template for my projects but suspect I will continue to tweak before starting a new story. I thought of ringing Ms. Nora Roberts to ask her for hers, but figured she’d let my call got to voice mail.

I start with Ms. Sokoloff’s structure for fiction writers, but I use Scrivener (I prefer the virtual index card to the physical kind) and then move to Word. Every author has his or her way that works best for them.  Good luck.

Here are some links to help you figure out your:

Screenwriting Techniques for Fiction Writers

Writer’s Digest Templates

Do you have a tried and true template for story writing you’d swear by or a published template?  Want to share or swap with others?  Feel free to share or email me and I will update my post. 



I’m a writer and hoarder of one-size-fits-all panty hose. Until the hose fits over my bum, I write to provide an alternative view on writing and perfection.

13 thoughts on “How To Prepare for NaNoWriMo

  1. Argh! I have no idea what I’m writing this year.

    I’m a reformed pantser. A planner with most everything else in life, I don’t know why I resisted plotting for so long.

    You hit the exact points I looks for. I need to have a destination in mind (premise). The kind of vehicle I’m driving (genre) dictates who the passengers are, and where we stop along the way (what kind of story/characters, and obligatory scenes and conventions).

    When I finally read STORY by Robert McKee it helped me solidify what information I needed to plot.

    • I only hopped on the plotting wagon when I edited my last project. The bones of the story were there but it took a heck of a long rewrite to fix it.

    • It’s a useful guide, Astra, and marshalls the writer’s thoughts, but it’s not a magical. It took me two more books before I figured out how to get a story on the page.

  2. Great tips. I’ve heard it definitely helps to have all of the planning done so you can concentrate on writing as soon as the calendar turns to November. Good luck to everyone participating!

  3. Pingback: Ready, Set, NaNoWriMo, & Tips for Survival

Comments are closed.