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.

Plot Development Worksheets

First, let me provide some novel plot and chapter development storyboard worksheets. Click on the title below to download:

Novel Storyboard Worksheet : An open storyboard for making notes about events and characters by chapter

Traditional Plot Development Storyboard : The traditional fiction arc broken down into the standard 20-chapters used by mass market paperbacks for decades.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! Storyboard Worksheet : Screenwriter and teacher Blake Snyder’s technique condensed into a storyboard format for plotting today’s high-concept fiction.

Chapter Storyboard Worksheet : Good for breaking a chapter down by scene; especially useful if you use multiple locations and character point of views to keep events in a clear sequence

Character Development and Profiling

Heroes and heroines, even just protagonists and antagonists, can often get fuzzy in the heat of trying to write a novel in a month. So I started using the Target Audience Profile worksheet that I give my marketing students to help them keep their potential customer or client in focus. Try completing the Target Audience Profile Worksheet and writing a profile of your main characters to keep on hand. It helps when trying to answer that magical, musical question “What would this character do now?”

Target Audience Profile Worksheet

Once I have a basic demographic profile of a character, I add things like family background, any key incidence in the characters life like bullying at school or winning a competition that had an impact. I find a lot of times if I’m stuck or blocked in a project, it’s because I haven’t really defined a character (or any of them) well enough to clearly know how he or she would react or respond to the situation.

Visual Techniques for Developing Plot and Characters

A number of writers I’ve met use collage to prepare for their writing projects. Bestselling romantic comedy author Jennifer Crusie has a collection of them now and here (Wild Ride Collage)  and here (this one is more about the process).Basically it’s similar to doing a visualization collage.

Begin by focusing on the title or theme of your story. Next collect images and words from magazines or other media while focusing on your theme or title. You can even collect found objects that seem to fit (I met one author who actually creates sculptures for his writing projects). Once you feel you’ve collected enough stuff to start, grab a large sheet of paper — or a box if you want to go 3-D — and start assembling your images, words, objects as it moves you. Jennifer Crusie and others talk about leaving placeholders for characters or story elements when they feel something is missing and tracking it down later. has a video by author Tera Lynn Childs demonstrating how she makes a character collage here.

I’ve also met authors who draw or paint a scene from their story. I met several who actually create the book covers to inspire them throughout the whole process and keep the mood and another (a screenwriter) who created the movie poster.

My absolute favorite was a writing friend who persuaded a B. Dalton’s employee to give her one of their old bestseller list cards; carefully replaced the number position with her book title and name; and then hung it up in front of her workspace to keep her writing daily. She also created book covers to place in front of her workspace and individual character collages. She didn’t reach #1 before she died, but she did make it on the list.

There’s no right or wrong way to do any of this. There’s just your way. These are all simply a way for authors to use a different part of their brain in solving plot and character development. Give it a try. If nothing else, you’ll have a conversation piece.

The goal is to get to know our characters, get a feel for their story arcs, and inspire us to keep our backsides in our chairs and our fingers on our keyboards until we have our book (or at least 50,000 words and the basic spine of our book).

So NaNoWriMoers, let’s start our engines!

And feel free to share this post with your NaNoWriMo community!

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