It’s almost that time of the year again. Cool weather, hot coffee, chill music. And lots and lots of writing.
It’s already October so anyone who has heard of NaNoWriMo knows that Preptober is all about planning. For some like me, this means planning the plot, working on character’s backstories, thinking of names, places, family trees, plot twists and etc. For others, this may mean mentally preparing for 30 days of word sprints and staring at the blank page with a steaming cup of coffee next to you.
I’m having my work cut out for me this year since I just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in August and now he is just old enough to demand attention and not old enough to entertain himself. So I spend plenty of time making incomprehensive noises and singing songs instead of, you know, planning. But that’s okay, I’m a terrific multitasker.
Anyway, I’ll talk a bit more about the general preparation and what I was doing last year – hopefully, it will help some of you.
My outlining strategy is simple.
I take a notebook and a pen, turn off social media, and sit down with a cup of coffee. I used to do it in a coffee shop since the chances of getting distracted there are slimmer but now I have to do it at home – or maybe at the park, if the baby decides that sleeping in an unmoving stroller is a sacrifice he is willing to make.
My mind works in a linear direction so I start from Chapter 1. I write down a brief summary of what happens then I start asking questions like ‘Why that happens? Why is it important? What can go wrong? What is the most unexpected thing that can happen?” I let the story go wherever. It usually works miracles for me although I must admit I do get a few plotholes this way. But it’s okay, we are going to edit after that so…
Another way to do it is by writing on separate pieces of paper a summary of the scenes you must have + some cool ones that can either develop the plot or a character relationship or, of course, one of the characters. Then when you have enough to start you put the papers in the correct order – or you can do that even after you’ve written the scenes themselves.
Character backstories and names
I rarely use ready character sheets since they have too many fields, most of which I don’t need and I am just wasting time filling all of them. Depending on the genre of the story I make my own character sheet.
For example, for a fantasy story with different races or languages I’ll have the following fields:
And so on, and so on. Anything that is important is added as a field. Sometimes, when I am writing a series and I am on the second/third/etc book I like to do character interviews. It really gets me into the head of the character and I start to actually understand their motivation and way of thinking so then their actions and reactions appear more natural when I write them.
As for names… long live the name generators online. I’ll list my favorite ones below – I have ones for male/female names, places, random fantasy words, and whatnot.
Next level plotting
What I call ‘next level plotting’ is basically procrastinating for when you’re stuck on something. This includes family tree development, maps, legends, and lore. The legends and lore obviously you write in Word or whatever processor you’re using. Some of my lore for the Forbidden Blood series is probably never going to see the light of day, it’s more for my enjoyment and for understanding the beliefs and prejudices of my fictional nations.
For the family trees, I use this online tool called Family Echo. It helps me keep track of my characters, even the ones that are dead. Here is an example of one of the family trees I created for the House of Niabard again in my Forbidden Blood series: Niabard Family Tree
Some time ago I had a program on my computer that allowed me to create maps like this one but I changed computers and forgot its name. In any case, after a quick Google search I now realize that there are even more new, free options that can give you a much better result.
There are also programs that allow you to draw your characters – I have not tried those, I am terrible at drawing to begin with 😀
I know that a lot of writers do NaNoWriMo prompts every day of the month but for the life of me, prompts get me stuck rather than inspired.
I do hope you found some of my tips helpful and you have armed yourself properly because November is coming.