Heart Breathings

Planning my New Novel for NaNoWriMo

October 8, 2020 by Sarra Cannon

Planning And Organization | Writing Tips

I’m so excited to continue our Preptober videos with a discussion of how I plan my novel for NaNo WriMo. As I talked about last week, planning your novel is one of the most important parts of getting ready to write 50,000 words in just 30 days.

Today, I’m going to share with you 7 steps I use to get ready to write any new novel, whether it’s November or not. I hope that by sharing my process, you’ll get some ideas to help you explore your own process.

Watch the video of How I Plan my Novel

Remember, though, that there isn’t any one path that will be right for every writer. Maybe planning things out as much as I do makes you feel restricted, or maybe you want to create a more detailed synopsis.

As my good friend Virginia Kantra always says, “There are no rules. There’s only works or doesn’t work.” One of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer is figure out what works for you, and sometimes watching someone else’s process is the best way to start exploring your own.

Step 1: I gather my tools

Index cards, pens, markers, and my plotting notebooks are my main must-haves to start plotting. To set up my plotting notebook, I will usually print out my “Plot your Novel” workbook (one for each POV character).

    Step 2: Brainstorm

    I write a synopsis or free write what I think this book will be about. I get everything down that it’s my head as something that might happen in this story. If it’s a sequel or series book, I also make notes on any story threads being carried over from a previous book.

    Step 3: Start with characters

    I figure out how many POV’s, who these characters are, and what tense I’m writing. I decide names and appearance and basically fill out all of the information on my character sheets from the plotting notebook.

    Step 4: I Brainstorm the Major Plot Points

    The main plot points I like to figure out are the Hook or opening scene, the First Doorway of No Return, the Act II Midpoint, The Second Doorway (and/or Black Moment) , and the Climax of the story.

    These are the main tent poles or actions that your entire story hangs on, and I like to take this time to figure them out in as much detail as possible.

    I will often take a large index card and write them out, and then I will fill out the details in my plotting notebook.

    Step 5: Figure out my Word Count Targets

    This might seem a bit ‘extra’ for many of you, but I love to have word count targets. It makes things more motivational for me and helps me to maintain proper pacing in my novel.

    To figure out my word count map, I like to first estimate the total word count of the novel. For my NaNoWriMo novel this year, I anticipate it will be about 70,000 words. I only plan to write 50,000 in the month, but knowing the overall total word count is important to my word count map.

    Then, I divide the total word count by 8. (see video for explanation)

    Step 6: Create Scene Cards

    The sixth and most detailed part of my setup process is to create scene cards for my novel.

    I usually will start with an estimate of at least 8 scenes per Act of the book, and my first step here is to go ahead and add in any scenes I already know, including the hook, first doorway, midpoint, and other plot points I figured out earlier in the process.

    Then I will spread out and set these cards out individually, kind of like a plot roadmap.

    Step 7: Assign scene cards to a writing day.

    This is an advanced technique that might not work for you, but when it comes to NaNoWriMo, I like to estimate which part of the story I’ll be writing each day of the month in November. For example, if I follow the target 1667 words per day to hit the 50,000 in 30 days, I should hit 17,500 words somewhere on Day 11. That means, according to my word count targets, that I should be through the end of the first Act by the end of Day 11.

    Having those set targets helps to keep me motivated and on track with my overall pacing in the book.

    I hope that showing you how I map out my novels will help you create your own process in organizing you novel for NaNoWriMo. Join me next week for more Preptober tips and don’t forget to download the Preptober workbook.

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      Sarra Cannon


      1. Heather says:

        This is great, Sarra! Thanks, so much, for all the motivation coupled with excellent tips for staying on track and getting things done. Love your work!

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      Sarra Cannon

      Hi, I'm Sarra!

      I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.


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