Outlining for NaNoWriMo
Two Types of Writers
Every year, NaNoWriMo brings up the question of whether to outline your novel or not. Writers are of two kinds – pantsers and plotters. Plotters are writers who have a clear outline of their story before they start writing even a word of it. However, pantsers are those who do not have a clear idea of their story. They may either know the beginning of the story or the end of the story but they do not have a clear outline. These are writers who discover their story as they write it.
Some NaNoWriMo Statistics
Every year, some two hundred to three hundred thousand people appear for NaNoWriMo. All of them take up the challenge to write fifty thousand words in thirty days, but only ten to fifteen percent of them are successful in doing it. The main reason why the others are unable to succeed in NaNoWriMo is because they do not have a clear idea of their story and they do not allow their story to flow organically. Either they overthink their story and kill it or they are victims of perfectionism and keep tinkering with the words they have already written. Thereby, they are unable to move on to the next part of their writing. Be clear on what NaNoWriMo is: NaNoWriMo is only putting the words on paper. Perfecting the words and making it into a novel happens after NaNoWriMo.
My NaNoWriMo Experience
My debut novel ‘Birds of Prey’ was written during NaNoWriMo but that was only a first draft which helped me understand that I had a good story at hand. After that, the entire story had to be written and rewritten multiple times before it could become the book that you held in your hand. Since I am a pantser, I don’t have a very clear idea of my story and after writing my debut novel and working on it for two years, I realized that having some amount of idea about your story before attempting NaNoWriMo would be a good thing. This is why I have developed a new method—by ‘new’ I don’t mean it’s unique and created by me—I just mean that this is something new to me and I have started using this method to outline my novels.
Outlining your Novel
Let me show you how it works:
Step 1 Identify the Story Arc
Every story has a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning is known as the Act I. The middle is the Act II and the end is the Act III. Act I is approximately 25% of the book. Act II is 50% of the book and Act III is 25% of the book. So if your novel is a thriller of around sixty thousand words, Act I would be about fifteen thousand words, Act II would be about thirty thousand words and Act III would be about fifteen thousand words. Now these numbers are just representative and they are not the exact rule or prescription that you need to follow. For outlining purposes and for the ease of succeeding in NaNoWriMo, the first thing that you must do is to write a sentence or a few sentences describing what happens in each of these Acts.
A few of my favourite books that teach you about plotting and outlining are:
Step 2 The Headlights Method
After identifying the story arc, I follow one of these methods (that I am going to be describing) to flesh out a little more outline for my story. The Headlights method means exactly that. Imagine that you are travelling in the night, in the dark, in your car. All that you can see in front of you are those parts of the road that are illuminated by your headlights. Everything else is dark and unknown to you. Still, just using those parts of the path that you can see, you can travel the entire distance. So is the case when you work with the Headlights method for outlining your story. This is the method I usually prefer to work with.
After I have basic idea of what is going to be in Act I, Act II and Act III, I write down the first few scenes which are going to happen in Act I. Probably, this might be a list of five scenes. I just write a sentence for each of those scenes. Once I start writing out these few scenes, organically, I know what’s going to happen in the next few scenes.
Immediately, I come back and I write down the next few scenes. And this process goes on and on till the entire book gets written. So this is the Headlights method where you just see a little bit of your story at a time. Keep writing it before you see the next little bit and this process can keep going on. Now, apart from the Headlights method, there are many writers who use and prefer another method.
Step 2 The Snowflake Method
So, I would like to speak to you about the Snowflakes method. A snowflake is this icy substance with a feathery kind of a structure. So it has a middle part and then it branches out into feathery branches all around it. So the Snowflake method is the same thing.
After step 1, we have a sentence or two written about each of those acts. That is our center part. From there, we need to develop it and bring out the story to see how we can build upon it. The Snowflake method is you branch out and draw out your story from a single point.
For a detailed explanation of the Snowflake Method, read this article: https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/
or check out this book: How to Create a Novel Using the Snowflake Method
So these are the two methods to create an outline for NaNoWriMo. The first step is identifying your story arc and the second step is either follow the Headlights method or the Snowflake method to create a broad outline for your story.
If you want to watch a video of how I outline my novel, check out the video before.