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NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide

In preparation for NaNoWriMo,

I’ve created a comprehensive guide to novel plot development, character creation and writing preparation — and then I thought I’d share it with everyone else getting ready for NaNoWriMo. After reading Rachel Aaron’s posts on how she achieves 10,000 words per day when writing her novels as well as how she prepares to start a new novel writing project, I started collecting her recommendations and meshing them with other authors such as Holly Lisle, Bob Mayer, and Jim Butcher to create a new Novel Writing Plot Development and Project Worksheet below. I also have some recommended titles for those wanting even more.

Fast Writing Novel Plot Development, Character Creation, and Project Preparation

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The PDF version of the Novel Writing Project Worksheets and Guide is below. Check back for the epub and mobi formats coming soon.

You can download the more stylish version below, but here’s a quick summary of the process. I’ll be breaking it down in more detail with individual posts from time to time, but with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) coming up, I thought I’d better get the short version up for us all. I’ll keep revising and updating as I find more relevant techniques, tips and suggestions. Continue reading

Book cover for Crimson Son by Russ Linton

5 Things I Learned Self-Publishing

By Russ Linton

Last June I published my first book, Crimson Son. I’ve been living the harrowing life of a self-published author ever since. After banging on the gates for a while, I decided to wander off into the woods and build my own house. During my time in the hinterlands, I’ve managed to learn a few things which I’d like to share. It might save you some trouble if you decide to go this route. Then again, it might all be bullshit. The publishing world is in a massive state of flux and what works now might not work in the morning.

Get Over Yourself

This is the first stumbling block for any self-published author. You can’t be the judge of your prose. You can’t pretend to be the enraptured audience to your subtle plotting or intricate characterizations. You absolutely, positively, need input from outside your own head. (This also excludes your immediate circle of family and friends.)Too many self-publishers skip this step. They’re convinced they’ve got an amazing story nobody has ever heard and that their every last word is manna from the heavens. They don’t need an editor. They don’t need an audience. Their story, their prose, will create its own audience.

Let me enlighten you:

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4 Writing Tips to Boost Your NaNoWriMo and Other Writing Projects

Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants! You’re halfway to your deadline!

But what if you’re a little behind on your goals? What if it’s even worse — you’re a little behind and starting to dread writing? What if you feel — gasp! — blocked?

Most projects reach a point when the writing, or the writer, seems to  go a bit stale.

1. Party On, Dude!

Writing is essentially a solo art. Even if you are working with someone, at some point it comes down to a person composing the words. This can be especially difficult if you are under the pressure of a deadline and spending all of your spare time alone at your keyboard. Take yourself off to a NaNoWriMo Write-in or writer’s group where you can at least be tapping away in the company of others and at some point socialize when you all take a break.

Don’t have a Write-in scheduled in your area? Organize one! Post a notice on your NaNoWriMo Regional Board with a date, time, & location, or ask if anyone else would like to meet up and work out the details from there. If your not a NaNoWriMo Participant, post some notices at your local library, coffee shop, or other bulletin boards, or use social networking board like Meet-Up or Twitter to spread the word. It only takes one other person for a meet-up. I do recommend that you set up some ground rules starting with a requirement that there’s at least 1-hour of silent writing time before socializing. That way you get some real work done — and have something to talk about!

And don’t forget that there’s no reason you can’t keep meeting as a writing support group after NaNoWriMo ends. There’s always the excuse of a Holiday “Party.”

2. Run Away from Home

If it’s hard to arrange a social gathering, at least change your scenery. Go somewhere different to work — the library, a coffee house (remember J.K. Rowling and The Elephant House?), a cafe (Think of Paris in the 20’s) or even just moving from your office to the back porch.  A new perspective will give you a fresh perspective.

The first two years I did NaNoWriMo I’d make Sundays “Catch-Up Day” and hie myself off to a favorite coffeehouse for at least 3-4 hours of intense effort, trying to make up for lost word count from a hectic week. Sometimes, when I was really far behind, I spend the morning in one coffee house and then move to another and continue to work in the afternoon. Other times I bustle down to the library early to tuck myself into my favorite nook with a garden view. I once discovered that the three other people working there were also doing NaNoWriMo!

The point is to get a change in atmosphere and view. Research shows that a change in the environment often stimulates creative thought. It definitely stimulates new neuron pathways in the brain and often produces boosts in endorphins and dopamine. 

But remember your headphones or ear buds so you don’t get too distracted!

3. Give Yourself a Carrot — and a Stick

Behavioral research has shown that the carrot (a reward) works better for some while a stick (a punishment) works better for others, but the combination seems to work best. So think of a reasonable reward for getting a reasonable and doable writing goal done, like 15-minutes or 200 words, and then a reasonable punishment, such as no sweets for the day, for failing to meet the goal.

Now if you really want to boost the impact, go public! Tell a reliable friend (the one who will remind you of your pledges if you start to cheat), family, or even post it on your social media. By going public with our goals, and the consequences for success or failure, we greatly increase our commitment to them. It’s one of the reasons why Write-ins work — public peer pressure.

Keep the goals, as well as the rewards and punishments, reasonable and attainable. The purpose is to get those fingers on the keyboard, not negative reinforcement for persistent failure to reach outlandish goals. I once promised to watch a certain truly reprehensible “reality” show with a friend if I missed my personal Write-in time. (I loathe “reality” shows!) After one episode I never missed my Write-ins again!

4. Write Whatever the Heck You Want

Sometimes the problem is that we don’t want to write what we’re supposed to be writing. Possibly the scene isn’t working for us or the dialog sounds flat. Forget about it! Write whatever you want — in or about the project, no wasting the writing time tweeting about Benedict Cumberbatch or Jennifer Lawrence, no messaging or checking Facebook.

But if you want to write a dirty limerick about your protagonist instead of that fight scene, go for it! If you really want to write the backstory about the uncle but feel you shouldn’t because someone told you backstory slows down the narrative action, go ahead and write the backstory. It won’t be wasted time. You’ll have a better understanding of the character and who knows, you may be able to work it all in to the novel in revision. Maybe you want to write a series of texts or tweets between two of your characters about a third character? That is perfectly fine!

Take off whatever invisible handcuffs you’ve put on yourself about your project and forget about what you believe you should be writing and write whatever you want in any style or manner you want for at least 15-minutes.

Bonus Tip: Exercise!

Well yes, some physical exercise is good for stimulating the brain, boosting the spirits, and pumping up our confidence, so if you’ve been sitting too long in the same place, I do recommend getting up and doing something physical —  not throwing your laptop in frustration or anything, but positively physical like stretching, walking, cycling, dancing. Dancing freely and with abandon is one of the fastest ways to light up all the joy buttons in the brain, by the way, so don’t hesitate to crank up the volume and tempo and let loose.

But the other thing to try is a quick writing exercise. 

A quick writing exercise, especially when you can’t think what to write, can prime the mental pump. I’ve posted a few quick ones from previous Hugo House Write-o-Ramas here and here and here. Another one I haven’t posted yet based on the Donald Bathelme ‘s story “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning.”

Spend 15-30 minutes writing brief in which other people tell something they remember or think about your character, or the character tells us something he, she or it thinks. For example, if the subject is the character Sherlock Holmes, you might write:

Mrs. Hudson: “You never know what you might find in his rooms. I once swept a hand — a severed hand! — out from under a chair.  Scared me half out of my wits, I don’t mind saying. Of course, it was scientific research but still, it ain’t easy. It did keep Mrs. O’Reilly’s second oldest boy from being hanged in the end. The research, not the sweeping. So I guess its all right, really. Still.”

John Wright, navvy: He’s the toff who bested Jim Sykes inna fight. Ain’t no one ever done that before. Beat Syke’s hand to a bloody pulp with ‘is own stick until it cracked. Funny bloke. He carried off the stick and the dog what Syke’s ‘ad beaten near death just before the fight. Smart though. Wrapped in both in Syke’s coat so’s not to get any blood on ‘is own. Don’t know why he wanted the stick and the dog, though. They’d both be useless after that.

Some Recommended Books for Writing Exercises:

Confusing sidewalk traffic sign

Fast Writing Tip for NaNoWriMo and Other Deadlines

If you’re doing a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), congratulations — you are a third of the way through your novel! I hope. Maybe.

If you’ve hit a wall or are bogged down in your plot — the protagonist is stuck in the world’s longest traffic jam, the heroine is trapped in the most boring meeting ever, the detective can’t seem to buy a clue — don’t despair. Try this simple writing technique to move past the writer’s block: skip to a scene that you know has to be in the book. It other words, skip the ahead and take the novel, and the characters, to where you want to be.

Notice I said where you want to be? Sometimes we feel like we must do things that are expected of us (and yes, sometimes there are things we must do because they are expected of us, like purchase our brother-in-law’s self-published steampunk-scifi-horror-fantasy-erotica at his “autograph party”), but there’s nothing we absolutely must do in own novel but finish it. James Joyce made up his own language in Finnigan’s Wake for crying out loud! So even if your protagonist is stuck searching the torn up flat in Budapest and you feel like you need to explain how she gets to London where you know exactly what you want — and need — to have happen to propel you to the climactic scene, just jump ahead to London and start writing that scene that’s in your head where she finds the lynchpin that fastens everything together.

There’s a very good chance you will discover that the scene you are struggling over isn’t necessary. And if you still feel you are missing something, you can work your way backwards, figuring out what is absolutely necessary (a clue, a connection at  bar, meeting of another character on a flight, an overheard conversation, a phone call to the flat?) to get your protagonist from Budapest to London. Or you may discover what is needed later in the novel and can go back an fill in the missing scene, but this time much more quickly since you know what you want to convey.

The key is to keep the momentum and — stop me if you’ve heard this before — write what you know. Only in this case, it’s write what you know you need.

You may be surprised by what you don’t need. Kafka never does explain how Gregor turned into a giant insect in his sleep.



Little girl writing

6 NaNoWriMo and Novel Project Development Techniques & Tools

Whether you are preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or simply working on your novel, here are 6 techniques — plus resources and tools — to help you reach your goal.

1.  Recommended Books

Since you are working on a book, I figure you also like to read them, so here are some titles I’ve found useful.

2.  My Guide to “Fast Writing”

Elsewhere I’ve created a compilation of the tips and techniques by other successful writers on novel writing preparation based largely on Rachel Aaron’s techniques for achieving 10,000 words per DAY(!). There’s also a handy PDF download to take with you.

3.  Plot Development Worksheets

Novel Storyboard Worksheet : A PDF storyboard for noting events and characters by chapter. 

Traditional Plot Development Storyboard : A PDF  storyboard that breaks down traditional fiction arc into the standard 20-chapters used by mass market paperbacks for decades.

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Fiction Writing Plot Development Storyboards

While taking a workshop with author Janice MacDonald on developing a traditional fiction story plot (the kind with a beginning, middle and end), I decided to modify one of the templates that came with my Pages program into a set of worksheets. These worksheets can help you outline your fiction plot and determine the story structure.

Check out More Tips & Tools from Creative Writing classes!

Check out More Tips & Tools from Creative Writing classes!

The first two are blank worksheets. You can copy them, fill them in, cut them up, move things around. Use them as you wish. There’s a place at the top for the name of novel or chapter and for defining the genre and the characters involve or whatever works for you.

You may want to read some of the other posts on various ways to approach plot and motivation. You can then work with the blank storyboards in developing the internal and external events.

DOWNLOAD the Novel Storyboard Worksheet PDF

DOWNLOAD the Chapter Storyboard Worksheet PDF

The third worksheet is my own creation from the various things I’ve learned about the traditional story structure. I want to give a big thanks to Janice MacDonald who clarified a great deal of the standard novel structure with her own plot grid. It’s the basis for my small variations.

DOWNLOAD the Traditional Fiction Writing Plot Development Storyboard PDF

While the storyboard is designed for the typical 20-chapter genre novel, simply expand the number of chapters between the Plot Points and the Crisis to meet your needs. The last page of the storyboard contains with a basic summary of a traditional novel plot structure as well as 10 Question For Developing Your Plot which help you determine the internal motivation and well as the strongest conflicts confronting your primary character or protagonists. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo: Theme, Character and Plot Development Preparation

I’m about to confess to a horrible crime (at least in some people’s minds), but first let me say I’m doing a bit of a Dance of Joy because while driving to pick up bird and wildlife food, the theme of my NaNoWriMo project finally came to me today .

Asian Woman Head TiltedFor me, theme is like my destination in a cross-country trip. If I don’t know my theme, I don’t know where I’m going. Now I know some of you are saying, “Carolyn, you ignorant slug! (to paraphrase SNL) You’re climax is where you’re going.”

Sure, my climax is my ultimate destination, but if I don’t know my theme, I don’t know my route. I don’t know How I’m going to get to my climax because I don’t know Why I’m taking this trip. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Prep: Novel Writing Plot Development and Project Worksheet

Howdy! We’ve Updated this Page Recently.

All of this information and worksheets were updated in 2013 and can now be found here and herePlease head to the latest posts for the New and Improved Novel Writing Plot Development Guide and Worksheets. Thank you!


NaNoWriMo Prep: Plot Development and Profile Worksheets, Visualizing Collage, and More

guy-w-black-glasses-960While everyone else is carving pumpkins and hunting for a black turtle neck and New Balance sneakers, in between desperately trying to finish my house repairs before freezing temperatures arrive, I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).In the Seattle area, the NaNoWriMo fans filled not one, but two plot development workshops in a few short hours of registration. So I thought I’d put up some NaNoWriMo Preparation Tips and ideas for those of us who didn’t get to attend.

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Type, Text, Fonts, iPhones, Irony and RIP Steve Jobs

As a writer I consider words and reading important. But I was also trained in the visual and graphic arts and have longed been attuned to the type and fonts that create the words and make them legible — or not, that can enhance the meaning of the text — or undermine it, that can influence whether we even read a single word — or all of them. I’ve also been keenly aware for some time that we are moving from text to verbal and visual communication. Oral traditions and pictographs gave way to literacy which will eventually give way to voices (mostly computer generated) and images.

So what does this all have to do with Steve Jobs and the iPhone?

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