Yesterday I posted the 9-block pacing/plotting device I’m using to write my novel, Idle Hands, in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month between November 1 – November 30. Here it is again as a reminder:
Today I’m going to discuss the notes on the outside of the box, and in many of the corners of the boxes. For instances, you will notice above the top-left box it says 3.5 Days, 7000 words, 10 pages (if you can read my handwriting). I wrote that same thing over all three top boxes. And then in the remaining boxes I wrote simply 7,000 words.
My goal is for each “block” to have approximately 7,000 words. By writing this word-goal on each block of my visual outline, I am constantly reminded of (and motivated by) this word count goal. For me, writing 7,000 words seems much more achievable than writing 50,000, so by dividing my novel into 9 “bite-size” chunks, the task of writing an entire book in 30 days doesn’t seem so astronomical. It will also help keep me focused, and on pace, to complete all 9 blocks in 30 days.
That is why I also wrote “3.5 Days” in every box (where I had room). This tells me that I should spend no more than 4 days on the characters and plot within each block. I am well aware that writing a novel in 30 days will (if I’m lucky) only present me with a first draft, and one which will require a fair amount of revision and editing. But, why not make that first draft as complete, compelling, and well-paced as possible? If I’m 4-5 days in and still on Block #1, this “calendar” will remind me to skip to Block #2. Sure, I may have to go back and fill in some blanks (so to speak) during my 2nd draft, but that’s okay. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get 50,000 words of a book down on paper, so you have a huge first step toward a complete 1st draft of a book. Sounds easy, right?
So all I have to do is write 10 pages (at 8.5 x 11) every 3.5 days, which is approximately 7000 words. And if I do that consistently, in 31.5 days I’ll have a 90 page book of about 60,000-65,000 words.
That’s good news! That’s 10,000-15,000 MORE words than I need to write to “win” NaNoWriMo. It’s especially good news since November only has 30 days, not 31.5. I’ll need to be sure I’m a little ahead of the average.
The “STATS” screen on the NaNoWriMo site suggests a daily goal of 1,667 words (more on that tomorrow). I’m shooting for a daily goal of 2,000 words. I’m doing this for two reasons. 1) 50,000 words is short for an adult novel so I want my first draft to be longer, and 2) If I start with a higher word count average at the beginning, I’ll have a little more latitude toward the end of the month when I might be burned out (and when Thanksgiving happens; I doubt I’ll want to write when I’m full of tryptophan).
So if I have to write 2,000 words a day, how much time do I need to devote to this adventure? Well, I have a job and a family, and I will need to eat and sleep, so let’s begin by removing time from each of those requirements in a day to find out how much time I have left. For most of us, we work 8-10 hours a day. If there are 24 hours to begin with, removing 8 leaves us with 16 hours. Let’s say during the course of November we’re going to sleep only 6 hours a day (might be less than the national average, but those average people aren’t writing a book in a month, now, are they?).
So that leaves us with 10 hours in a day. Does 5 hours sound fair for rush hour, eating, family, exercise, and all the daily minutiae we all take part in? For November, it’ll have to be. And that leaves 5 hours to write. Each day.
Composing 2000 words in 5 hours equates to an average words/per hour typing rate of 400. That equates to a words/minute average typing rate of 6.6, rounded to 7.
ANYBODY can type 7 words a minute, even if you’re a glutton for punishment and planning on texting your novel into a mobile phone or using one of those virtual keyboards on your iPad.
By determining your words-per-minute typing speed, you can see how close you are to this 7 words-per-minute requirement to spend 5 hours a day typing your book. This link takes you to a words-per-minute typing test: http://www.typeonline.co.uk/typingspeed.php
I just found that link on the internet, and I just took the test myself:
So by determining your typing speed, and the amount of time it will take you to write your daily goal of 1667-2000 (or more if you’re inclined), that tells you how many hours each day on average you need to commit to working on your book during NaNoWriMo in order to complete 50,000 words in 30 days.
And that’s what those “November 1, November 2, November 3….” words are all about in each box of my 9-block outline. That gives me something to check-off, or scratch out… It gives me a daily exercise to complete so I can feel as if I have accomplished a milestone for that day. Once I reach my word count milestone on November 1, you can bet I will be scratching that “Nov 1″ line from my outline… Call it catharsis. Call it motivational. Call it what you will. Find what works for you, and incorporate it into your daily routine during November…
Start your engines… it’s about to begin…
In 2007 I attended the annual Florida Writer’s Association conference to accept the “Book of the Year” award from the Royal Palms Literary Awards for my book, Sell Your Book on Amazon.
While I was there, I gave a seminar titled “How to Plot a Novel” and it proved to be so popular that I’ve since given that same presentation many times to writing groups and conferences around the country. And I am using the basis of that presentation to plot the novel I will be writing in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month.
So, for those of you that I am mentoring from NaNoWriMo, or those of you in general who are writing a novel (that means you’re writing a fiction book since non-fiction books are not called novels, although, confusingly enough, you ARE allowed to write non-fiction even during National Novel Writing Month), I’ve condensed the content of that hour-long presentation into one easily digestible blog posting.
I will use my novel, Idle Hands, as the example for this posting and you will get an inside, behind-the-scenes glimpse of how I’m preparing my book. Sorry for the horrible penmanship. Then, tomorrow we will discuss the mathematical logistics required to actually, physically WRITE 50,000 words within 30 days. Don’t worry, it’s not as boring (or as scary) as it sounds. But first, the plot!
The basic concept of my How To Plot a Novel presentation is creating a visual outline comprised of 9 “blocks” which is my own personal continuation of a standard “three-act structure.” So if you wish to play along, get an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper and fill it with a Tic-Tac-Toe grid (or pound sign symbol, if you prefer). Then enclose the lines with an outside box and you are left with 9 blank squares (see below if you want to see the boxes, although in my example, there’s lots of notes).
For the purposes of sharing this information in an orderly fashion, number the boxes from 1 – to 9 starting at the top left corner and going from left-to-right on each row.
Here’s mine, along with copious (barely legible) notes, some of which have been obscured and all of which are difficult to read, since I don’t want to reveal too much of the twists and turns of my plot. But for the purposes of this blog/presentation, I’ve left in the important elements to discuss below:
The easiest box to read is right smack in the middle in box #5: Fen kills Jacob on the cruise ship
Novels are about characters and relationships, but plots are about something that happens. When using my 9-block visual plotting device, you put the single major incident that happens in the center square, box number 5. And since everything that occurs in a novel should somehow be connected to that one major event, this blocking scheme will help you place (and pace) appropriate characters, events, and twists in the appropriate parts of the story. Boxes 1 -4 (the beginning portions of the novel) all must lead up to that major event. Boxes 6-9 (the ending portions of the novel) involve the fall-0ut, climax, and resolution from that event.
Box #1 in the upper left hand corner is titled “Brad & Grace” for my book, Idle Hands. This is where the protagonist (Brad) is introduced, along with auxiliary characters. Each box doesn’t necessarily HAVE to involve a separate chapter, but it could. Above Box #1 I have written “3 Days, 7000 words, 10 pages” and in the bottom of box #1 I have written “November 1, November 2, November 3.” Those involve my personal milestone goals for WRITING the story in 30 days, and I will discuss those logistic notes in tomorrow’s blog posting, so ignore them for the time being.
Box #2 in the middle of the top row is titled “Brad & Fen”. This is were the antagonist (Fenderson, aka Fender or Fen) is introduced, along with other auxiliary characters. You will also notice that since Block #2 is directly touching Block #5 directly below it (in the center, where the major plot event takes place), that Fenderson takes a lead role in both Blocks 2 and Blocks 5. In fact, he also takes a lead role in Block 8, directly below 5, although I neglected to title that block and should have. It would have also been titled “Brad & Fen”.
Box # 3 in the upper right is titled “Brad & Melody”. This is where the third major character and major love interest in this love triangle is introduced. And speaking of plot connections, you will notice that Melody is also a key character in Blocks #6 and 9 directly below Block 3 in a column.
In fact, let’s discuss the columns and rows as a whole for a moment before moving on to the second row.
Idle Hands is a character study disguised as a dark comedy/thriller within the conventions of a love triangle. The three major characters are Brad, Fenderson, and Melody, and you will notice, not coincidentally, that each major character “owns” their own column. Brad owns the left-most column (Blocks 1, 4, and 7) with squares titled “Brad & Grace”, “Brad & Fen”, and “Brad & Melody & Grace”, respectively. Fenderson “owns” the middle column (Blocks 2, 5, and 8) with squares titled “Brad & Fen”, “Fen kills Jacob” (the major event), and “Brad & Fen”, respectively. And finally, Melody “owns” the right-most column (Blocks 3, 6, and 9) with squares titled “Brad & Melody”, “Fen & Melody”, and “Brad & Melody” respectively. Block 3 is also where the first major turning point of a novel should take place. For Idle Hands, this is where Brad meets Melody.
Okay, okay, Brad plays major roles in the majority of all these blocks, but that stands to reason since he is the protagonist.
It could be argued that the center column (Fen’s column) is actually the most important, because that is the column where the major event takes place in Block #5. Part of the point of this 9-block device is to ensure a book is properly paced, with sufficient build-up (ie, motivation), and sufficient fall-out, and all the emotional highs and lows that result. But it would be a mistake to assume that just because the major event is in Block 5 that nothing happens until half way through the book. The opposite is true. Something notable must happen in EVERY single square (otherwise, why write about it?). I’ve happened to title my squares around characters, but you could just as easily title your squares around events that occur, all of them connected to their adjacent squares, and all leading toward (or coming from) the Major Event in Block 5. In fact, more traditional, plot-oriented novels would probably do exactly that.
Now let’s discuss the rows. The top row involves the beginning of the novel, and if you’re a 3-act structure traditionalist, you would say Row 1 is Act 1 (and Row 2 is Act 2 and Row 3 is Act 3). In row 1 you introduce your characters (Brad, Fen, and Melody, in my case), and lay the ground work and emotional motivations for everything that takes place in Row 2. The plot-outline-blocks of this 9-Block device can help you determine where in the story each character should be introduced based upon that specific character’s involvement with the plot. The middle row is arguably the most important (for the same reason column 2 is the most important) because it involves the major event of the story. This is different from a turning point or “twist” (which I will discuss below). Block 5 is really the answer to the question, “What happens in your book?” You wouldn’t reveal the plot twists or turns when answering that question would you? And finally, the bottom row (Act 3) involves the character’s lowest point, the turning point, and the dénouement (the final resolution), respectively.
Now back to the individual blocks…
Block #4 in the middle-left square is titled “Brad & Fen on the cruise ship”. Since Block #5 tells us that “Fen kills Jacob on the cruise ship”, we can see that Block 4 involves specific build-up and motivations to that Major plot event.
Block #5 is the centerpiece of your plot. For Idle Hands, that is when the antagonist, Fenderson Quinn kills Jacob Hardy. Block 5 is also the one square among all of them that is connected to the most adjacent squares, so important characters or events leading up to this plot must be present in Block #2 and Block #4, while important consequences must be present in Blocks #6 and #8.
Block #6 in the middle-right is titled “Fen & Melody”. This is where another major turning point of your novel should take place, which is further complicated (and motivated/caused) by the major event that just took place in Block 5. In the case of Idle Hands, this major turning point is when Brad discovers that Melody and Fen are actually husband & wife.
That turning point in Block 6 should lead to the “emotional low” of your novel, when everything is at their darkest in Block #7, which I have titled “Brad & Melody & Grace” for Idle Hands. A character driven to his (or her) lowest point is sometimes driven to drastic measures and this is where events and characters introduced in Blocks 1 and Blocks 4 make another appearance, thus fulfilling requirements of foreshadowing, and demonstrating you are well in control of your craft as a novelist.
Typically a major twist leads to an epiphany and is what motivates the final climax (often some sort of emotional or physical confrontation), and this all occurs in Block 8. Given its direct proximity below Block 5, it’s probably no surprise that the epiphany or twist, as well as the climax, are all directly related to the event that takes place in Block 5.
The final block #9 in the lower right hand corner is where the dénouement begins and all the plot points are resolved, not out of the blue, but by connecting dots left in adjoining Blocks 6 (the second major turning point) and 8 (the results of the climax). Characters and/or events introduced in Block 3 must also play a major role in this resolution as well. Resolutions cannot occur without the proper foundation.
Now that we’ve discussed pacing and plotting a novel, tomorrow we will discuss the pacing of writing a novel… in 30 days.
The last and final Participation Badge for 2014 NaNoWriMo is the “Donation Badge” and in order to earn it you need to make a charitable donation to NaNoWriMo, which is a worthwhile cause. According to the NaNoWriMo website…
…when you donate to National Novel Writing Month, you help bring free creative writing programs to nearly 500,000 kids and adults in approximately 200 countries, 2,000 classrooms, 650 libraries, and 600 NaNoWriMo regions every year.
You not only support people’s novel writing dreams, you help transform people into creators who see new possibilities in the world—and act on them. You spark a creative revolution.
“Storytelling is a powerful act. Stories have the mysterious power to widen hearts and change minds. The psyche is never quite the same after receiving a story,” says author Mitali Perkins in NaNo’s 2013 Annual Report.
Your donation spawns NaNoWriMo’s unique brand of transformative magic.
NaNoWriMo relies on individual donations to pay for things such as web hosting costs, pep talks, Come Write In resources, and classroom kits to help turn people into writing wizards.
Nearly half of our income comes from individual donations. We need to raise approximately $1.3 million in 2014 to put on NaNoWriMo and our other programs. Please donate and help us today.
On October 20th, NaNoWriMo had secured $581,736 in donations. A week later they had $615, 215. So leading into November 1, they earned $33,479 in one week. I wonder if their donations speed up or slow down after November 1… I guess we’ll find out. Yesterday I donated to the cause, and here’s a list of all the “stuff” I get as a result:
- The 2013 NaNoWriMo Webinar Double Pack including both donor-only webinars from earlier this year, the Book Doctors’ “Make Editing Fun: How to Enjoy Revision” and Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art of Artisanal Publishing”
- A coupon good for pie with NaNoWriMo Director of Programs Chris Angotti and Executive Director Grant Faulkner. You have to come to Berkeley to redeem it, but come on—this is good pie. Also, the coupon is fully transferable!
- An option to have your novel featured online in NaNoWriMo’s Mighty Catalyst Bookstore.
- A year-long print and digital subscription to The Sun, a unique monthly magazine of essays, interviews, short stories, poems, and photographs. Writing from The Sun has won the Pushcart Prize, been featured on National Public Radio, and appeared in Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories!
- The 2014 “Boundless Novel” poster designed by Elizabeth Doyle
- A starry “Halo for Your Wrist”!
- A “Novelist’s Little Helpers” sticker set, which includes three (3) 3” by 3” round stickers each instilled with a bit of writer-ly magic to help you reach 50K.
- Your very own magical NaNo Wizard bookmark signed with thanks by our Director of Programs Chris Angotti and Executive Director Grant Faulkner
- A donor halo on your NaNoWriMo author profile
- A listing on the NaNoWriMo Brought To You By page
- A coupon code for 30% off plus free shipping from our friends at Chronicle Books
- A coupon for a free Structure class from StoryWonk ($10 retail value)
So now that I’ve collected all the Participation Badges, it’s on to the Writing Badges, which I can start to earn starting on November 1…
As a NaNoWriMo mentor, I recommend to all participants of NaNoWriMo that you spend the days leading up to November 1 earning all YOUR Participation Badges, one right after the other, as I did. You’ll feel more committed to the cause, and that can only help as you begin taxing your mind and your fingers to churn out 50,000 words in 30 days.
As of today I’ve earned all-but-one of the “Participation Badges” at NaNoWriMo. Over the weekend I earned the “Buddy Badge” by inviting two of the local moderators to be my buddy. I’m still waiting for our EVP at Outskirts Press to join me on NaNoWriMo as well and then I’ll have one more buddy.
In fact, I will hopefully have lots of buddies in the coming days because I also posted on one of the forums, which was a requirement to earn the second to last Participation Badge. There is a forum channel called “Mentors Looking for Newbies” where “experienced” WriMo’s offer to help neophytes. It’s probably a little presumptious to offer to be a mentor since I’m new to NaNoWriMo this year, too (as a writer, at least), but, what the heck! So I posted an invitation to other WriMos for me to be a “virtual mentor” through this blog. In the days leading up to November 1 I will start to thoroughly detail the planning and plotting I’ve conducted for my comedy/thriller “Idle Hands” and perhaps other WriMos can glean some suggestions or tips from those postings. Then throughout November I will post about my progress, and pass along some suggestions and tips and inspiration along the way.
So, in essence, in addition to committing to write 50,000 words in 30 days for my novel, I guess I’ve just committed to writing a whole bunch more than that just for my blog. Hmm… who knows? Maybe I’ll turn THIS content into a book, too… Writing TWO different books during NaNoWriMo? Now, that’s insane!
T-Minus 5 days!
Even though NaNoWriMo said they were full this year in terms of sponsors, that doesn’t mean Outskirts Press can’t offer a great promotion to WriMo’s (and everyone else, too). In fact, as discussed yesterday, this month we’re offering a FREE CUSTOM COVER for anybody who publishes their NaNoWriMo book with us, provided they begin their publishing process before Halloween and enter the promotion code when they start. In fact, you don’t even need to participate in NaNoWriMo to take advantage of this great deal, which offers a savings of $299 (and better yet, ensures your book DOESN’T look like you cranked it out in a month!).
That made me wonder how our “unofficial” sponsorship deal at Outskirts Press compared with the “official” sponsorship deals on the NaNoWriMo page. So, let’s have a look at the top 5 (us plus the first four listed on the NaNoWriMo sponsorship page).
|Outskirts Press||Free Custom Cover||$299|
|Competitor C||Two free paperback copies of your book||$20|
|Competitor B||One free paperback copy of your book||$10|
|Competitor S||50% Discount on software license||$20|
|Competitor F||40% Discount on distribution package||$120|
As I continue this 2-month series about my participation in this year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where you are tasked with writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November), I’m detailing both my online efforts on the NaNoWriMo site and (will soon) be detailing the planning steps I’m taking with the details of my book so I can hit the ground running on November 1. There are already several “Write-Ins” announced for November 1 in areas throughout the country (and I’m sure, world), including several in the Denver, Colorado area. I’ll discuss those in the coming days.
But today I will discuss the NaNoWriMo offer for a free custom cover for your book. When you complete their online form (which is an easy proposition that requires submitting a 750 word synopsis of your book, your title, your author name, and your email address), you enter into a drawing to receive a free custom-designed cover by a cover designer for the book you are writing in NaNoWriMo. Hundreds of thousands of writers participate in NaNoWriMo every year and they are giving away 30 covers, so your odds aren’t great — but there’s no reason not to apply. I did — I took my synopsis that I posted a few days ago and shortened it even further to arrive upon 750 words, and then submitted it. I even chose the “be surprised” option by declining to submit my email address to be notified. If you haven’t yet entered this drawing, you may do so from the Forums of the NaNoWriMo site.
Somehow, I have a feeling I’m not going to be one of the chosen few, and not just because the odds are approximately 10,000 to 1.
THE GOOD NEWS
Forget those odds! The good news is that if you choose to publish your NaNoWriMo book with Outskirts Press, you are GUARANTEED to get a free custom cover for your book. Just enter the promotion code COVEROCT14 with your Diamond book package before the end of October, and we’ll hold that promotion for you until your book is finished at the end of November and ready to publish in December. You can see samples of custom covers all along the right hand side of this blog, or if you prefer to see the 100 most recent ones, simply scroll through our online bookstore.
All the details of the FREE CUSTOM COVER promotion are available by clicking here.
The next “Badge” I received on NaNoWriMo was a Writing Badge, rewarded for announcing my novel on the site. I chose the Event date, which is November 2014. I provided the novel title: Idle Hands
Next it asked for the Novel Genre and provided 18 choices ranging from Adventure to Young Adult. Idle Hands is a dark comedy-thriller, but that wasn’t a category, so I simply chose “thriller/suspense.”
It asked for a short synopsis next. I have a short three-page “treatment” that delves into the relationship between the three main characters, the two turning points, the two twists, and the climax, but that sounds too long to be defined as a “short synopsis” so I cut excerpts from it and arrived at this as a synopsis for Idle Hands:
“Brad is a Jewish entrepreneur who is approaching 40, unmarried, and lacking confidence in spite of his success with an internet matchmaking service he founded and programmed (initially to simply help with his own dating woes). And before he knew it, it became successful and he became a millionaire. But it wasn’t enough. And on the cusp of a full-blown mid-life crisis, Brad meets Fenderson Quinn, a charismatic and unpredictable 27 year-old millionaire who sold his own company for $750 million dollars when he was 25. Neither Brad nor Fender have to work, and with too much money and too much time on their hands, their devil-may-care attitude leads to a fast friendship punctuated by an ever-increasing sense of danger that culminates in murder, mayhem, and malevolence.”
Next it asked for a novel excerpt, which seemed odd since I haven’t written it yet (aren’t we supposed to wait until November 1, NaNoWriMo?). So I left that blank and will fill it in later, after I’ve written my first word count (no reason to start early when it doesn’t officially count, right)?
Then I clicked “Save” and BOOM, collected my first Writing Badge: You’ve Got a Novel.
The next badges are Adding a Writing Buddy and Updating Your Word Count, and since it looks like that second one needs to wait until November also, I’ll be looking for a buddy.
Our Executive VP at Outskirts Press is participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo, too, so I’ll be adding Kelly to get my next badge.