It’s that time of year when thousands of writers around the world prepare to type faster than a speeding bullet, drink coffee more powerful than a locomotive, and leap tall deadlines in a single bound. Of course, we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo), and the challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to create a 50,000-word story from scratch in just 30 days, from November 1–30. How’s that for productivity?
We’ve met a lot of writers who use Evernote to plan, brainstorm, and sometimes even draft their novels. But as any fiction writer knows, the hardest part of any new work is figuring out what to write about in the first place: What happens next? What motivates these characters? What’s this story about, anyway?
Only you can answer those questions, but it helps to figure them out early. If you’re going to write a novel in November, the time to plan is now. With that in mind, we’ve created a dozen Evernote templates to help you collect and structure your thoughts. Many of them include questions or prompts to get you started, but you can feel free to replace those with inventions of your own. Start filling them out today; they’ll keep you anchored while writing your 30-day masterpiece.
Power tip: To use any of the note templates mentioned in this article, click the “Get it »” link and then click “Save to Evernote.” The template will be added to your Evernote account in the notebook of your choice (we recommend setting up a new notebook just for templates). You can then copy, move, rename, and edit the note to suit your needs.
Templates for plotting and outlining your novel
Are you the sort of writer who wants a solid plan in place before typing “Chapter 1”/ You’ll need a roadmap that begins with a premise and culminates in an outline. There are a lot of different ways to get there, so we’ve made templates for walking you through several of the most popular plotting methods. You can choose the one that fits your personal style.
Your premise is the foundation on which the entire novel is built. With this step-by-step guide, you’ll think about who your protagonist is, what they want, and the problems or conflicts they must overcome. The end product is a concise, two-sentence explanation of what your story is about.
Remember learning in school that all stories should have a beginning, middle, and end? This classic, logical method of storytelling takes you from your story’s initial setup and inciting incident through rising action, turning points, and resolution.
Adapted from the world of screenwriting, this popular method replaces the concept of acts with a set of milestones that commonly appear in many kinds of stories. Hitting these “beats” gives your story a rhythm while leaving the details open to your imagination.
Maybe you’d rather work from the top down than from the ground up. Inspired by fractal geometry (really!), Randy Ingermanson’s “snowflake method” grows an entire novel from a single sentence. Each step of the process methodically expands upon the one before, filling in details until you have a complete draft.
Regardless of your novel plotting method, keeping track of time in your novel is important. Did your hero get that threatening letter on Tuesday or Sunday? Does the next scene happen on a sunny morning or in the dead of night? This template will keep your novel’s clock ticking smoothly.
Once you’re in the writing groove, you may not want to wade through all your plotting notes to remember what comes next. This checklist gives you a scannable view of your plot, chapter by chapter and scene by scene, making it easy to see what you’ve completed and how much lies ahead.
Templates for Building Characters in Your Novel
Even if you aren’t the plotting and outlining type, the more you know about your characters and the world they inhabit, the better your writing will be. The following templates will help you brainstorm and remember the little details that make a story come to life.
Got a lot of characters? This “quick and dirty” list helps you remember who’s who at a glance. Add names, ages, and notes about your characters. And you can drop in a photo or drawing of each character to help you visualize your story.
If you want to go deeper with your characters, you’ll need a full dossier describing their physical appearance, manner of speaking, behavioral traits, and background. This questionnaire covers everything from their hair color to their biggest secret.
Now that you know who’s who, here’s a template for figuring out how they got to the situation in your novel. When it’s time to write a flashback or refer to a past event, you’ll breathe easier (and save yourself some edits) knowing you can look up the dates in this simple timeline.
So far, we’ve been talking about the what and who of your novel, but where and when are just as important. Whether you’re writing about a fantasy world or the town you grew up in, this questionnaire will get you thinking in depth about the setting. Then you can write richer, more realistic scenes that draw the reader into your world.
Pulling it all together: Project trackers
A novel has a lot of moving parts. When you factor in research, articles saved with Web Clipper, and random jottings about who did what to whom, you’ll probably find you have a lot of notes for your writing project. Consider adding a couple more to keep it all straight: a dashboard where you can manage the whole thing and a checklist for bringing your completed opus to the world.
For a quick overview of your project, use this “dashboard” to track its status. Add it to your shortcuts for easy access, and insert links to related notes to save time on searches. If you’re writing in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can paste the file or link into the body of this note and jump into your manuscript with a click.
Planning to publish that novel when it’s done? Here’s a checklist of all the important steps, from writing a blurb to editing, design, and proofing. TIP: If you copy this checklist into your dashboard note, you can easily track your novel from first brainstorm to final publication.
Ready, set, write!
If you’re up to the challenge, sign up for free at nanowrimo.org. Evernote will be posting more tips and strategies to our blog and social media throughout October and November. We invite you to follow along!
Originally published on October 2, 2017. Updated on October 12, 2022.