Clue is wrapped up in a blanket because December is cold! But also because this is a wrap up and I like puns. Photo by Kate Ota 2021.
After hitting my 30k goal during November, I decided to reflect on how well my prep in October helped with my writing process.
My project was an idea I’d had percolating on a back burner of my brain for a while. I kept little notes about it in a Word doc so I could keep track of what I’d thought about already. At the beginning of October, that Word doc was a mere two pages. I knew I needed to expand my idea into an outline, but was dissatisfied with 2020’s NaNo outline, which I had made using Save the Cat. That one had left me floating in Fun and Games (the bulk of Act 2 prior to the midpoint) and Bad Guys Close In (the bulk of Act 2 after the midpoint) with barely any idea of what was supposed to happen. I didn’t have time for that chaos this year, seeing as I was trying to do over half of the word count in under half the time.
So, in 2021, I used another approach. I started with Save the Cat as a basic structure. Then I used The Story Equation to nail down character arcs because that tends to be my weak spot. That helped fill out the outline a little more. Then I used The Anatomy of Story to get into the rest of that outline’s details. This bulked up my plan significantly, especially in those pesky catch-all categories from Save the Cat (Fun and Games and Bad Guys Close In.) I ended October with thirty specific scenes in my outline. I knew this was not going to be the whole story, but it left enough wiggle room in between scenes that I could pants a little here and there. Gotta leave room for organic story growth and new ideas.
As predicted, I ended up adding scene ideas as I went. Moments of “oh, he needs to be somewhere else, so let’s do a scene of where he went” and “gosh, I can’t believe I almost forgot this fun thing” got to be included while I also didn’t feel pressure to come up with something new on the spot each day. By the time I hit 30k (and ran out of time for NaNo) I hadn’t even gotten to the midpoint scenes!
I think my outline hit just the right note between structure and freedom. A bit like a playground that has some abstract climbing equipment, allowing my imagination to frolic while giving it a jumping off point so it didn’t get exhausted. A more stringent outline might have forced me into doing one thing, and the slightest inspiration toward a new scene would have thrown off the whole plan, forcing me to choose the plan (and save myself a lot of trouble the rest of the month) or leap down the new rabbit hole of creativity (which could have led to a better story, or could have led nowhere.)
Here are my tips for making your next NaNo (or drafting in any other month) more successful:
How did NaNo go for you? Did your prep help or hinder your final results? Let's discuss in the comments!