If you’ve been following along this month with the weekly prep posts for NaNoWriMo, chances are you’ve got at least a few good pages of notes and plans for your upcoming novel. By now you should have a protagonist, an idea of what they want to achieve, something pretty major getting in their way, and some research under your belt for settings and other important aspects of your story, such as your protagonist’s career, useful tools of their trade, etc.
Today we’re going to look at the shape of your novel. You know any good novel has a steadily building action that leads to the climax and the resolution. You’ve probably seen the little graph that goes with that idea, the ever-growing mountain peaks followed, finally, but the sharp fall off at the end. Characters are meant to make progress, with some back sliding along the way to keep things exciting, until ultimately they reach the end of the book and their happy ending — or everyone dies. You know, whatever floats your boat.
Chances are you’ve already got some scene ideas kicking around in your head, the things that are going to happen to your character on their road to resolution. This week I want you to jot down just a sentence or two for each scene you’ve already thought of, and then dream up a few more. These don’t need to be anything fancy, and you certainly aren’t going to start any actual writing — that has to wait for November 1st. You just want something to help jog your memory when it’s time to write the scene in question. It can be as simple as “George argues with Mary about where to go on vacation,” or “Paul thinks about calling to ask Sue out.” Just try not to be too cryptic; you want to remember what you planned to write when you look at your notes in a couple of weeks.
There’s no set number of scenes you need to come up with before you start to write, but you should try to come up with at least a couple of dozen. That way, when you sit down to bang out your daily words, you will have at least some idea of where to go. You might not know how to write the scene, but you will at least have a scene that needs writing.
Nor is there any set way to keep track of your scenes. If you use Scrivener, you can use the notecard function. If not, you can put each scene onto a physical 3 x 5 notecard, list them in a notebook, or just keep track of them in a separate file on your computer. Depending on the subject matter, you might end up rearranging your scene order while you’re writing, so any means of shuffling your ideas or renumbering them can come in handy.
These scenes don’t need to be comprehensive. In other words, once you start writing, you will no doubt write many scenes that you haven’t jotted down in addition to those you have. The idea here isn’t to come up with a complete outline of your novel, though you certainly can do so if you wish. The idea is more to set up markers along the way, so you have places to aim for in your story once you start to write. Like running a long race and looking for the next mile marker, you want to have something to shoot for as you type along. Focusing too much on how many words you need each day can start to make you a little punchy, so it’s helpful to have places in your storyline that you can see coming up next on the horizon. It feels more specific and more helpful than telling yourself you need to hit 10,000 words by the end of the day. Ultimately, if you want a workable first draft of your novel, you need to focus on the words themselves and what you have to say.