Reviews and Essays, Stories and Poems

Nanowrimo Prep: 1 Month, 1 Novella

As Halloween season comes to an end (tear!), the silver lining is that write-a-novel month comes to a start.

Last November was my first experience with Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month. It was tough, but so fun! I did not complete a novella (the goal is 50,000 words in 30 days). I made it to about 30,000 and then hit a wall that I never found my way through. I thought it was over.

But then, 10 months later, I returned to that story. I grabbed the first few thousand words and I built off of them, taking it in a new direction. The result was my short story, Rebecca Kills the Beast, which I’m pleased to say has been selected for publication in an upcoming fairytale anthology (date TBD)! So, it turns out my 2017 Nanowrimo attempt was not at all a failure. I’m really excited to see what will come of 2018’s.

Prepping for 2018

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a behemoth of a goal. Getting into something like this can be a little overwhelming, but I’m elbow-deep in prep, and feeling good.

Choose a Story

There’s a story that has wriggled its way into my brain like an earworm. For the last couple weeks, it’s been all I think about. Naturally, I wanted to take it on for November, but then I realized that was a bad idea. Here’s why.

That book that I desperately want to write is very close to my heart, for a lot of reasons. I’m going to overthink it, I’m going to be highly critical of it, and I’m going to ask myself A LOT of difficult questions while writing it. This is not a Nanowrimo book. Every writer is different, but for me, November is about throwing caution to the wind and having fun. I want my Nanowrimo story to reflect that – something fast-paced, a little formulaic and full of exciting twists. I want it to be something I can get lost in and go with the flow for.

So, I’m going with a YA ghost story that I had played around with a couple years back. It just feels right.

Plan the Story

To lessen the pressure when that clock starts ticking on November 1st, I’ve decided to create a story roadmap ahead of time.

I put together a handy planning doc for the following information:

  1. Story concept, genre and style
  2. Story themes – what do I intend to say?
  3. Protagonist goal – what drives the plot?
  4. Protagonist motivation – why does this goal matter? What are the stakes?
  5. The 7 Anchor Scenes
  6. The 3 Act Fairytale Structure

The 7 Anchor Scenes

I first heard about this story-planning approach on the podcast How Story Works. I use this self explanatory table as a template.

Anchor Scenes

I’ll be the first to admit that this is very formulaic and that’s not aways the best approach to writing. However, in a Nanowrimo scenario, I think it’s just what I need. It’s nice to at least have this foundation, and I’m in no way against switching things up as I go.

The 3 Act Fairytale Structure

Another roadmap format is to use a 3 act fairytale structure. Again, I just find this to be a nice basis / something to think about when planning – it isn’t carved in stone.

3 Act Fairytale

Discovery Writing

Lastly, I need to find my story’s voice and all of my character voices. To do that, I’m in full-on discovery mode.

I’m consuming media of similar themes or genres. I’m making notes about character traits and worldviews. And I’m binging podcasts about writing – particularly, Writing Excuses. Each episode is a short exploration of one aspect of writing, and includes a small writing challenge at the end. A lot of these challenges can inspire exercises for discovery writing. Here are a couple on my to-do list:

  • Write a scene in which my protagonist completes a simple task. Now, write each of my characters completing the same task. Consider the differences that make them distinct from one another.
  • Write a scene in multiple first-person voices to make sure I choose the right one:
    • Epistolary (letters)
    • Reflective (past tense)
    • Present (as it happens)


After all this prep, my hope is that when I sit down on November 1st, I’ll know my story, I’ll know my characters, and I’ll know my voice. Then, all I have to do is free-write, going from one act or anchor scene to the next, and see what happens in between.

Wish me luck!

And, good luck to anyone else taking on the challenge! Feel free to add me as a writing buddy.

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