How to Use Story Like a Journalist for NaNoWriMo #PREPTOBER

Whether it is your first time trying to write a novel in November, or if you’re a veteran looking for ways to make the process go smoother, don’t overlook the benefits of planning in advance.  If you come into NaNo with a reasonable idea of who your characters are, where they live, and where your plot is headed, you will be ahead of the game, and ready for success.

The idea of using October as NaNo #PREPTOBER , taking time each day to plan, makes sense.  Some of y’all have been telling me that you’re using Story Like a Journalist to do your prep work.  I am so excited!  I know it is a hefty workbook, and that 100 worksheets may be unrealistic to get through in a month.  (I’ve always been of the idea that series and complex novels may need all of the worksheets, but sometimes it is better to have all the worksheets at hand so you can find the ones you need to do to uncover the information you need to get past stuck points and to deepen your understanding of specific elements of your book.)

So if you’re working with limited time, and you are trying to prepare as efficiently as possible, here’s how you can use Story Like a Journalist to make the most of your October:

October 1:  Think about why you’re doing this whole NaNoWriMo thing anyway.  If it’s your first project – WHY are you writing a novel?  If it’s not your first – WHY are you writing this novel?  Consider this in depth by filling out the Who am I as a Writer? Worksheet (C1).

October 2: Time to brainstorm.  Fill in the Idea Generation Worksheet (A13).  There’s a list of story tropes/basic ideas to get you started, and then space to record the ideas you come up with sparked by those basic prompts.  Update this list throughout the month, with ideas for this project – and for future ones.

October 3: Create more complex ideas.  Take what you came up with using yesterday’s worksheet and look at ways to combine some of those ideas to make a more interesting story.  Fill in the Idea Mashups Worksheet (A16).

October 4:  Take a first look at your characters.  Now that you have a basic idea to work with, use the Open Casting Call Worksheet (B1) to generate several possible characters to fill each of the key roles in your story.

October 5:  Pick the most suitable character for your story’s protagonist and antagonist, and then make sure they are going to work opposite each other using the Protagonist and Antagonist Pairing Worksheet (B2).

October 6:   Now that you have a basic story idea, and some possible characters, think about where you imagine your story taking place.  Sometimes there’s one place that jumps out.  But sometimes there are multiple possibilities that could take the project in intriguing directions.  Brainstorm using the Auditioning Settings Worksheet (D1).

October 7:  Take a moment to make sure all the elements you’ve been throwing together are going to make a coherent whole.  Testing that you have a workable story premise tells you if you have the correct protagonist for the story, and that there is something at stake.  Use the Writing Out Your Premise Worksheet (C29) to take an initial shot at this.  Tweak your premise as needed as you continue developing the story.

October 8: Use the Catch those Plot Bunnies Worksheet (C21) to deepen your story idea, by adding in different elements to round out your plot.  (These elements are great to have on hand when you face the dreaded “sagging middle” so try to fill in the whole worksheet, even if it feels like more elements than you will actually need.)

October 9:  Nail down some of the basics about your characters.  Work on their names using the Character Names Worksheet (B17) and then give them physical characteristics, possessions and preferences with the Character Stats Chart (B16).

October 10: Develop some backstory for your protagonist and antagonist by keying in on some of their most foundational memories.  Use the Protagonist Involuntary Memory Worksheet (B14) and Antagonist Involuntary Memory Worksheet (B15) to uncover moments, memories and sensory triggers that resonate.

October 11:  Get to know how your protagonist deals with unexpected situations using the Character Dilemma Worksheet 1: Reactions (B11).

October 12:  Deepen your understanding of your protagonist thinks using the Character Dilemma Worksheet 2: Conflicts (B12).

October 13: And learn how your protagonist fits into the world with Character Dilemma Worksheet 3: Connections (B13).

October 14:  Try building a plot with the premise you have created, using everything you’ve just learned about your characters and how they react in different situations, alongside the Plot Circle Worksheet (E2).

October 15:  Examine the setting you have chosen, either through research (if it is a real time and place) or through inventive worldbuilding.  Either way, you can use the Build a Society Worksheet (D-6) to examine different aspects of the world your story inhabits.  This is an extensive exercise, so allow two days.

October 16:  Continue exploring the Build a Society Worksheet (D6).

October 17:  Create some basic maps of the world you just created, so you can keep things clear when you start drafting.  If you are working from the real world, overlay your fictional places onto real maps.  Use the Map Creation Worksheet (D4).

October 18:  Figure out ahead of time how to properly portray background elements as you draft, using the Weather and Climate Worksheet (D5).

October 19:  Take your setting down to a smaller scale, by detailing what you envision will be the primary interior space using the Primary Setting Worksheet – Interior (D13).  Once you know what is on hand in the space, this may give you more ideas for plot.  Review your premise and plot circle.

October 20:  Repeat yesterday’s exercise using the Primary Setting Worksheet – Exterior (D14).

October 21:  Examine what your protagonist needs to learn from the story, using the The Wound and the Lie Worksheet (E18).  These wounds should be visceral, something everyone can understand.

October 22:  Use what you learned yesterday to tweak your plot circle, so that the complications poke at the character’s visceral wound.  Use that information to lay out the basics of your plot using the 8 Point Beat Sheet Worksheet (E5).  Make sure that all of your points relate to the same plot question.

October 23:  Try and figure out what all of these plot events are going to add up to using the Theme Through Conflict Worksheet (E17).

October 24:  Figure out what research you need to do now, to avoid having to spend too much time looking things up during NaNo, when you should be drafting.  Use the Research Questions Worksheet (A10) to figure out what you need to know.  Use the next few days to actually do the research.

October 25:  Research the main topics, technology, occupations, etc. your novel covers.  Keep track using the Bibliography Worksheet (A11).

October 26:  Continue your research.

October 27:  Continue your research.

October 28:  Decide how you intend to handle Point of View in your manuscript.  This may change as you draft, but having a plan will help you start drafting quickly.  Use the POV Worksheet (A5).

October 29:  Make certain that each of your characters will stand out, and that you can keep them distinct ad you draft by filling in the Character Differentiation Chart (B5).

October 30:  Determine what promises your story is making to the reader, using the aptly named Promises to the Reader Worksheet (A8).  Keep this worksheet in a handy place, when you are drafting in a hurry and need to decide whether a particular idea/scene fits the story you are trying to tell.

October 31:  Review all of your notes, and write down any additional ideas you have.  Stay up late and start writing at midnight!

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