This month is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. This is the month where writers of all types try their hand at writing a novel in 30 days. A lot of preparation and hard work goes into any novel, and I feel like that gets multiplied by 10,000 with the time crunch of NaNo. I’ve been writing on and off for more than 10 years but this is the hardest challenge I’ve ever taken on. I already have a rough draft novel, but that took me years to complete, so this will still be hard.

To keep motivated and help other first timers out, every Sunday for the entire month of November I will be posting a writing worksheet. These worksheets will help you get started on your project, and support you along the way.

Some of you may have done some brainstorming as part of your NaNoWriMo pre-planning. This worksheet is for those of you who haven’t done any pre-planning yet, or those wanting to explore some other ideas before getting started. Or even just people curious about this worksheet thing I got going on from all my hinting on Thursday.

Step 1 – List your ideas:

All us writers have ideas knocking up in our heads. Do you have a dream you can’t get out of your head? Or is there something you saw on your commute that you keep thinking about? Get these ideas out now! Write down 10 ideas for a novel. Yes, 10. This may seem like a little, or it may seem like a lot. The point of brainstorming is to get out more than you need and slowly whittle it down without overwhelming yourself with too much write away (totally not a typo, just some terrible humour for you).

Step 1 - Brainstorming Ideas for Writing

Step 2 – Prune, Prune, Prune:

Look at the list of ideas you have, and now think about them all. You’ll be writing about this for 30 days, for long periods of time. Don’t pick the 5 ideas you like the least, instead, delete the 5 ideas you think you would get bored of writing about.

Take idea #1 in my worksheet: to flesh out a train hijacker story you would need to focus on the man and woman’s character, slowly reveal their past, and then have enough conflict to keep the story going. For idea #2, the people living underground story, you would need to create an exciting and believable world. Are the citizens mole people? Or are they regular people but they’re afraid of mole people? Idea #3, the child stolen by political extremists also has potential. You can explore different political situations in the world, or you can stay from the point of view of an ignorant child.

Except that writing about political unrest would bore me half to death. The only news report I can pay attention to is Weekend Update on SNL. I’m forever asking people to explain current events to me. You know yourself, if you think you’ll get bored, then don’t bother with it. Writing should be challenging AND fun—I sound like a teacher right now, sorry guys. But it’s true, if you get bored it’ll become a chore and you won’t be as motivated.

Step 3 – Establishing conflict

You can’t have plot without conflict. Take your list of 5 ideas and from there write down the main conflict for each idea. Accompany each conflict idea with a brief blurb.

Step 3 - Brainstorming Ideas for Writing

Conflict is what motivates the protagonist to take action. It changes the course of the story, shakes up the characters, and diverts them from their typical activities.

Let’s look at our examples again (number 3 was eliminated for being boring – sorrynotsorry). For the 1st idea the main conflict is obvious, it’s the train hijacking, easy peasy. For the people living underground story, it’s not so simple. Remember, conflict is something that shakes things up. This can go a few ways for the underground people, I’ll show 2 options:

Conflict Option 1 – the atmosphere starts to burn up, forcing people underground

Jimmy and his family are living La Di Do Da Day in a farm near Nashville when they see the atmosphere burning up, they decide to go underground to escape the heat of the sun

Conflict Option 2 – mole people come out from the shadows and start eating people at night.

Jimmy and his family are living their everyday life underground. Jimmy was a baby when they came down so he doesn’t remember anything from the surface world. Internet is just a twinkle in his Pa’s eye. Then his best friend Tiny Tim gets eaten by a mole person, which is just the worst.

In both of these options there is a clear conflict which disrupts the everyday life of the protagonist. It pushes him to break his routine and take action.

Step 4 – And then?

Most novels don’t have only one main conflict. There’s the “and then” factor. “And then”, is adding another, smaller conflict that prevents the protagonist from solving the larger conflict, or otherwise distracting the protagonist from it. The protagonist is then forced to solve all these other little problems first. So while they’re solving all the smaller problems they can get strong/develop/become more interesting in general. 

For example:

Step 4 - Brainstorming Ideas for Writing

Make sure your “and then”s are conflicts and not just stuff happening that’s happening. For example: Pa starts to eat his own leg is a conflict because how the heck are they supposed to get to where they’re going if he’s eating his own leg?

If Pa and the dad in the new family realize they’re old college buddies this is NOT a conflict. It doesn’t create any problems. If Pa and the dad in the new family are old college rivals then that’s a conflict because they need the new family’s car to get to safety, and if the new dad and Pa have beef, that ain’t gonna go over well.

For all 5 (yes, all 5) of your ideas write AT LEAST 4 “and then” conflicts.

Step 5 – Prune Again

So I’m sure when you were deciding on your conflicts you realized that some of these were weak or shoddy. Or maybe you couldn’t even think of 4 “and then” conflicts. Get rid of the 2 weakest ideas and copy over the 3 you’re keeping.

Step 5 - Brainstorming Ideas for Writing

Step 6 – Summaries!

Now take all the information you created from your top 3 picks and write down a back-flap summary for each.

Step 6 - Brainstorming Ideas for Writing

In this summary we’ve let the reader know who the main character is, who a couple of the supporting characters are, the main conflict, and a couple minor conflicts. It’s just that simple! Like the title suggests, you’re essentially summarizing everything we’ve done so far.

Step 7 – Share and sleep on it.

Now you have 3 solid choices for what to write about. For those of you who feel comfortable sharing your work, share your summaries with family and/or friends. Hell, share you summaries with me! I would love to help you pick. But in the end, the decision is all yours. So sleep on it. Actually, this is NaNoWriMo we’re talking about, you don’t have time for that. Take a 5 minute nap on it.

Step 8 – DECIDE

THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE. Choose the idea/summary you like the best and go with it. Ta Da! ,Now you know what you want to write about, you have your main character, a couple supporting characters, a main conflict and sub-conflicts. That is more than enough to get started writing.

AND you have a summary for your NaNo Page. I love the NaNo website because you can put all your novel info and progress on one website for the world to see! Okay, maybe that sounds terrifying, but it’s a great motivator. You can connect with other NaNo users by becoming writing buddies or interacting on the forums. It’s a great supportive community. You can sign up for an account here.

Who’s got a summary they want to share? I know you want to…

Join me next week for a new NaNoWriMo worksheet!