Planning my NaNo Novel

Window Bird oo2.

I literally went from slightly worried about whether I should participate in NaNoWriMo this year because I didn’t have an idea to wildly excited about my idea in the space of time it took me to write my last blog post.

I really love participating in NaNoWriMo because the sense of camaraderie I feel as I am tackling the same sort of project, which is usually, admittedly, quite a solitary experience, that so many others are currently tackling, which gives me a sort of encouragement that writing on my own doesn’t. My husband says he’s going to participate this year, which is exciting.

I have spent most of today and yesterday creating character and scene notes in Scrivener. If you’re not familiar with the software and you are thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year, you should check it out. In case you are interested enough to buy, be aware that Scrivener does a NaNoWriMo deal. You can download an extended trial version of the software, and if you “win” NaNoWriMo (write 50,000 words), you will receive a coupon for 50% off the software. I unfortunately won’t be able to take advantage of this deal because I downloaded the trial too early. On November 1, however, I can buy the software for a 20% discount. I like it enough that I think I will, especially because I do a lot of serious writing, and Scrivener is great for planning writing. I did not have this software last year, and it would have been helpful.

What I like about the character and setting notes templates is the ability to organize my characters on a corkboard and use images. I hesitated over whether to share a screencap of my work in progress because I use the images of some fairly famous folks as inspiration, and I do not necessarily want readers to figure out who, so I have doctored the photo a bit, but this is what my character notes corkboard looks like (click to see a larger version):

Writer's Block Characters

When you click on one of the character cards, you see my notes about each character. I’ll pick Shakespeare so I don’t have to blur the images (click to enlarge):

Writer's Block Character Sheet

The character templates have premade sections to create notes on the character’s role in the story, occupation, physical description, personality, habits/mannerisms, background, internal conflicts, external conflicts, and general notes.

In addition, it has a name generator that I found very handy for coming up with character names, though I didn’t use it for all the characters I created.

I’m taking the dictum “write what you know” to heart and setting my NaNo novel in my own neighborhood. I can tell you’ve I’ve already gone on research treks twice, and it’s been beneficial to live in the midst of the places I’m using as settings. Here is a glance at my setting corkboard (click to enlarge):

Settings Corkboard

I have really enjoyed the planning part of this novel (perfectly permitted before November 1), and I feel already as though I know the characters. The templates are useful guides for creating characters, even if I do not use the material I write later in the novel. Hemingway once compared writing to an iceberg, and he said that the part we see above the water is just the smallest part of what the writer actually knows.

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. (Death in the Afternoon)

Here’s an image that demonstrates the Iceberg Principle:

Iceberg Principle
Image via Pinoy·Comics·TV·Movies

I do not claim to be mapping out my characters’ entire lives, but I am including details in my notes that I doubt will make it into my story. I also figured out, for whatever it’s worth, each of my characters’ Myers-Briggs types. That actually turned out to be a good exercise in getting to know the characters because making them adhere to a type formed a great deal of their personality and made them more real to me.

Some of the most fun I’ve had has been creating my dream home as a setting and giving it to my protagonist. I must admit I’ve absolutely fallen in love with her house, and I hope I can recreate it on paper.

I also began making an outline for events, but I didn’t do too much with the outline yet.

I very rarely gush about software, and I promise they aren’t paying me, but I am in love with Scrivener. I know that technically speaking I could plan the same way, but Scrivener pulls my plan together with my actual manuscript in a way that makes it easy for me to keep track of everything because it’s all in one place, and has a beautiful, intuitive interface.

photo credit: Nicole April

Writing Updates


I have several writing updates to share. First, you can buy my novel A Question of Honor in the iBookstore, now. This is great news. I had hesitated trying to submit it because I had heard, apparently erroneously, that you had to have an ISBN in order to submit your book to the iBookstore. I don’t have an ISBN because you have to buy them in blocks of 10, and a block of 10 costs over $200, which I just couldn’t afford when I threw the book together (and still can’t, really).

Second, I have downloaded a trial of Scrivener, and I have absolutely fallen in love with the software. It was created with writers in mind. It’s not really a program for producing quick documents, like MS Word. I wouldn’t use it to make flyers or handouts or to write letters. But I won’t ever use another program to write novels ever again. It’s very easy to use, for one thing. And for another, it makes the arduous job of creating a final publishable document, whether it’s a paper book or e-book, extremely easy. It also creates both ePub and Kindle Mobi documents. The e-books have a working HTML table of contents and chapter markers, which I love. If you write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you are thinking of doing NaNoWriMo or writing a book, do yourself a favor and at least try this program first.

Scrivener enabled me to figure out how to format A Question of Honor properly for the Kindle. Amazon says that PDF files are OK for creating Kindle books, but it didn’t work as well for me. The formatting was haywire. I feel really bad if you bought my book on Kindle and got that crazy layout, which I just learned how to fix and can only now correct. Does anyone know if Amazon lets you download books you’ve already purchased again for no additional fee? Once Amazon finishes processing the new file, I’ll update here and on Twitter. Don’t buy it right now, or you’ll be getting the old PDF file (I think—if you can even buy it at all).

Finally, I have been editing a second novel, Quicksand. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo in 2009. I have put aside a third project (currently untitled) based on the Irish legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows. I will be sharing an excerpt of Quicksand tomorrow. It takes place in the Kentucky coal fields of Breathitt County, where my ancestors lived, during the 1930’s. It’s heroine, Imogen, is the daughter of an alcoholic coal miner with a penchant for Shakespeare (hence her name) and a the shrewish woman who is the descendant of one of the worst feuders in Breathitt County history. Imogen discovers the body of her stepfather Frank, and she sets out to discover what happened. It’s a little bit of a retelling of Hamlet. Anyway, look for an excerpt tomorrow.

photo credit: Markus Rödder