To win National Novel Writing Month, you have to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Sound impossible? Not if you break it down to a daily word count of 1,667 words. Heck, bump it up just a couple hundred words more and you can take Sundays off.
Is it easy? No, but then again, I usually write more than 50,000 words every month, so NaNo doesn’t seem like such a stretch for me. And if I can do it, so can you. If you want to win NaNoWriMo, you can, and these four easy writing tips can help you do it in style. Follow them and before long you’ll know how to write a novel like a professional. Does it get any better than that?
Step 1: Two Dogs, One Bone
Your main character (protagonist) wants something. What is it, exactly? Write it down. Now think about the one person who stands in the way, preventing your protagonist from getting what she wants. This enemy (also known as an antagonist) must want something that directly contradicts your main character’s desires. If one character wants to save the world, the other wants to destroy it. If one character wants to prove a suspect innocent, the other wants him hanged. If one wants to unearth a secret, the other wants to keep it hidden. You get the idea.
Picture it like two dogs fighting over the same bone. One one can have it. At the end of the fight, someone is going to be very unhappy.
Step 2: Collect ‘Em All To Win
Over the course of your novel, your main character will take a journey, either literally or metaphorically. There will be several distinct checkpoints on this journey, obstacles that must be overcome, places that must be visited, truths that must be found. At each one, your character gains something invaluable: a clue, an insight, a new direction, something. Each scene leads to the next in a sort of literary scavenger hunt, until your protagonist finally reaches her destination.
You can make the journey easier to write by mapping out the “tokens” your character must collect to “win” the story. If it’s a murder mystery, for example, she needs to find enough clues to identify the killer. If it’s a romance, she needs to overcome the issues that would otherwise doom the relationship. What does your character need to find?
Step 3: Captain and Crew
One character does not a novel make. For some reason, I see a lot of first novels focused on the loner, the outsider, the enigmatic stranger who holds allegiance to no one. I think that’s a mistake, because the relationships between characters form a big part of what keeps readers hooked on a story.
Think of your main character like a captain on an old sailing ship. To survive the lengthy voyage ahead, the captain needs a rock-solid understanding of his crew. He needs to know who’s got which skills, who’s loyal and who might mutiny, who can be trusted to stand watch and who spends their off hours drinking and dicing below decks. When the captain misjudges someone, things go terribly wrong. So who’s in your main character’s crew?
Step 4: Houston, We Are Go For Launch
Once you’ve nailed down what your character wants, what she must do to get it, who stands in the way and who’s along for the ride, the last step is deceptively simple: just write it. Sit down, turn off your internet and force yourself to start writing something. Anything. Don’t stop until you’ve hit your word count for the day.
If you’ve set up the first three steps properly, you’ll never be at a loss for what to write. You’ll laugh in the face of writer’s block. Because it all comes back to the same basic questions: What does my character want? Why? Who stands in the way? What does my character need to do next?
Then… just write it.
- Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
- Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
- Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
- Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
- Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
- Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.