In November, nearly half a million people around the world will embark on a remarkable quest. National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) challenges established authors and aspiring writers alike to create a 50,000-word story in just 30 days. Sound crazy? Perhaps. But thousands of people complete the task each year, and a few of those books go on to be published. But whether you come out of November with a masterpiece or a rambling mess, the journey is a creative jolt like no other: exhilarating, maddening, and almost always fun.
If you’re thinking of joining the party, or you just have dreams of someday writing a novel, there’s no better time to start planning and plotting than right now. But confronting the blank page can be a scary prospect. Where do you begin?
Many writers use Evernote as a key part of their creative process (like Amy Stewart, or this guy). Take a look at some simple guidelines and note templates you can use to tame your wild ideas, and give them the structure you need to move forward.
To use any of the six note templates mentioned in this article, click the “Preview” link and then click “Save to Evernote” to add the template to your Evernote account. You can copy, rename, and edit the note in your account.
From concept to premise
The seed of a story can be anything: a situation, a character, even a title. Some people like to take one of those fragmentary ideas and just start writing, but for the rest of us, turning that notion into a real story with a beginning, middle, and end means figuring out a plot. And the first step to doing that is creating a premise.
A good story premise has several components:
- A main character: A character can exist without a plot, but a plot can’t exist without a character. So this is the first, most important thing you need. And your character needs a goal, whether that’s saving the world or a peaceful night’s sleep.
- A setting: Because every story has to happen somewhere, and the time and place determine what’s possible.
- An antagonist: This is the person (or impersonal force) that puts an obstacle in the main character’s way. It could be a moustache-twirling villain, a snowstorm, or the main character’s own fears and doubts.
- A situation and inciting event: The situation describes the state of things at the start of your story. The inciting event upsets that situation and gets the plot moving.
- A conflict: The obstacle (or series of obstacles) your antagonist puts in your character’s way, started by the inciting event and sustained until the resolution, when your main character either succeeds or fails in reaching her goal.
The Story Premise template will help you think through the elements of your story:
Methods of plotting
Now that you have a good idea what your story is about, you can start to figure out what happens when. There are many ways to determine the plot of the story, and every writer has their favorite. Here are three favorite approaches:
Three-Act Structure: This classic model of storytelling breaks a novel into three “acts”—the beginning, middle, and end. The first act contains the setup for your story, the longer second act contains rising action and conflict, and the third act resolves the situation.
Story Beats: This concept is borrowed from the world of movie screenwriting. Beats are a simple list of milestones that provide a structure and rhythm for your story, while leaving the path completely open to your creativity.
The “Snowflake” Method: Created by Randy Ingermanson, this popular method starts with a single sentence describing the story and builds up in iterations, each elaborating on the last: first the sentence becomes a paragraph, then each sentence of the paragraph is expanded into a new paragraph. When followed diligently, the process leads to a completed first draft.
Your characters are the most important part of making a story come alive. The more you know about each character, the better you can describe them. Understanding their backgrounds, motivations, and how they think will also help you write more realistic scenes.
The Character Profile template covers all the basics, from a character’s physical appearance to favorite figures of speech. You’ll probably think of more characteristics as you fill it out, so feel free to add or delete sections.
Setting the scene
Sometimes, the setting for a story can be almost as important as the characters within it. Think of how different Romeo and Juliet is when the setting moves from 16th century Verona to 20th century New York (West Side Story). A fantasy world might set your characters free to do things nobody can do in real life. On the other hand, writing to a historical setting might determine how characters interact or affect their points of view.
Whether you’re writing about a faraway planet or your own home town, the questions in the Worldbuilding Basics template will help you think about setting and how it influences your characters.
Countdown to your novel
There are a lot of steps to planning a novel. Even if you’re the sort of writer who prefers to dive in and start writing from scratch, at some point you’ll need to keep track of your characters, setting, and plot so you don’t get lost. These note templates will help you throughout your creative adventure, from your first idea to finally typing:
Evernote is proud to be a sponsor of National Novel Writing Month this November. If you’re up to the challenge, sign up for free at nanowrimo.org, then come visit Evernote on the NaNoWriMo forum and let us know how your novel is coming along! We’ll post more tips and strategies to our blog throughout October and November.