How To Map Out a Novel

I am but one of millions of writers throughout the world. Just because I work a particular way does imply that you will or should work that same way. Everyone has a different creative process, but not everyone has figured out what theirs is. I've spent a huge chunk of my life writing, and it's taken me a very long time to figure out mine. You have nothing but my sympathies on your creative journey.


4:33 p.m.
On A Sunday
Langdon, ND

The clock is ticking away, and in just 6 days, I will sit down to write a 50,000-word (minimum) novel in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month. Well, not just me—300,000+ other people will be writing novels, too. For some of them, it will be their first year. For me, it will be my 9th.

Up until yesterday, I wasn't certain what I was going to write. I had one idea (mentioned in a previous blog post), and it could have worked, but it just didn't feel right. Feel is important for me—much like when I meet someone for the first time. I read people very well, and I can usually tell right away if I'm compatible having a friendship with someone. That's how I approach subject matter. Am I comfortable with it? Is it something that excites me? Is it going to hold my interest? Remember, even if you write a novel in 30 days, that's still 30 days that you're spending in another world. It should be one you like.

Yesterday, this scene popped into my head—this scene that will be a huge turning point in my novel. That's often how a book starts for me, usually in a game-changing scene that happens somewhere in the middle of the story. Then I'm begged to ask: 1.) How do I get there? And 2.) What happens next? A midway goal both builds tension for that particular resolution, and creates repercussions to propel your plot. Every big scene in your book should have some positive or negative effect in what happens next.

So now that I've got this vague scene, maybe only a couple of pages, what next? Well, next comes the fun part—I daydream. I can't expect to just sit down and write 1,667 words a day without considering what I'm going to write next. The plus of my extreme introversion is that I spend a lot of time in my head. I'm comfortable daydreaming, giving myself the freedom to live out another life in my imagination. Don't be afraid to let yourself daydream. And don't be afraid to create characters that aren't like you. Maybe they don't have the same moral standards as you. Maybe they frankly creep you out. Not every character you write should be the same, so don't be afraid to explore what makes someone different.

It's easy to get hung up on names. You want it to mean something, to shape the character. When actually, the character you create shapes the name. For those of you who've read my books, Carly Morneau isn't just a name—she's someone you know very well. And even though some of you may know someone in real life named Carly, she's certainly not the girl from my book. Carly Morneau is her own individual person regardless of her fictiousness. Your characters should be, too. Figure out names ahead of time, or just use the first thing that pops in your head. You can change it later if you decide you hate it so much.

A good way to shape your story is to have multiple conflicts going on at the same time. In Bloodline, Carly is not only dealing with her legacy as a full-blood shapeshifter, she's also trying not to fall in love with her best friend. If you've got two major things going on at once, there's always something to overwhelm your character—and there's always something to cheer her up, too. Find a balance between contentment and chaos, but don't let things be too good for too long. Life isn't always easy, and it shouldn't be for your characters either.

The most important thing to remember during NaNoWriMo is that writing a novel in 30 days is very possible—if you make time for it. You can't expect to throw 15 minutes a day at it and have a 50,000-word manuscript at the end of the month. My significant body of work is nothing more than a testament to the amount of time I've spent writing. It's typical for me to write 10-12 hours a day on the weekends, and 4-5 hours on days when I work. The story is merciless in my mind, but it's still up to me to write it down.


You can follow my NaNoWriMo progress here.

Best of luck.