NaNoWriMo Prep – Know your Story or the Importance of Outlines.


With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I wanted to share some of the advice I took out of my own experience with NaNoWriMo 2013. I learned a lot about writing in general and my own writing process last year, so hopefully this will also be useful to somebody else.

Last week I had talked about why I think everyone should do NaNo at least once. This week, I want to talk about outlines.

I know  people who approach who don’t plan or outline their stories; they just start writing on November 1st and see where the story will take them. They enjoy the process of discovering the story, of being surprised by the unexpected plot twists. In writer-speak, they are called pantsers, because they write “from the seat of their pants”. I know a lot of wrimos for whom this approach works wonders, and who can’t imaging writing their first draft any other way. I learned the hard way that I’m not part of that club.


I am a plotter. I need to be familiar with my story and my characters before I start writing my first draft or I will crash and burn somewhere around the 1/3 mark. So for all of the first time wrimos who had tried to pants it before and didn’t quite succeed, my answer would be – start outlining.

It doesn’t have to be an extensive outline. I know some writers who are happy with just knowing the ending and the general direction in which their story is going before starting to write the first draft.  Others don’t outline the plot, but do extensive profiles on all their characters, then let those character’s reactions decide which way the story is going.

My experience with outlining:

I have learned that if I want to win NaNo (and finish my first draft), I absolutely need to spend some time exploring my story beforehand.

I need detailed background stories and profiles on my main characters, including the so important antagonist. I tell you, in order to get this sucker right, you have to know his / her life story better than your own.

I also need to know the ending. I might only have a vague idea of how my story will progress and which road it will take to reach that ending, but if I don’t know how my story ends, I cannot write. Tried, failed, learned from the experience.

Wriring Of Broken Things for NaNo 2013 had been my first try at outlining beforehand. I had character bios and a brief outline of what I wanted to happen each of the three parts of the book. Oh, and the last scene of course. It worked like a charm – I wrote like my fingers were on fire, and there hadn’t been a single day where I felt stuck. Of course, a lot of the scenes changed and the story evolved in the process, and I took a few detours and alternative routes, but I never felt utterly lost, because I knew my final destination.

This year, I am picking it up a notch. I am applying the process I developed for writing my short stories to my NaNo preparation. When I brainstorm a short story, I write a detailed scene by scene outline. They I start writing the story, trying to follow that outline. Most of the time, it changes drastically during the first draft, but that process allows me to immerse myself in the story and explore several possible courses of action.

I took this process and adapted it to this year’s NaNo novel, but instead of doing a scene by scene outline, I did a chapter by chapter one. So now I have detailed character bios, a general outline of the entire plot, and a detailed outline of what will happen in each chapter. Now I am ready to finally start writing! Is it November 1st yet?


I want to finish this post with a word of caution though. Don’t consider your outline as something set in stone. It’s more of a roadmap with one route that would take you from point A (the beginning) to point B (the end), but there are a lot of roads and alternative routes. Feel free to take a different turn, stop in a small town, or to take the scenic route instead of the highway. Just keep your destination in mind and make sure you are progressing towards it no matter what road you take.

So how are you guys preparing for NaNo? Plotters or pantsers? How detailed are your outlines? I want to hear from you!

5 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Prep – Know your Story or the Importance of Outlines.”

  1. My current preparation is creating the secondary characters for the story and getting an idea of what are where they will be in each scenario. Just because they aren’t the main focus or drive of the story, doesn’t mean they don’t have lives of their own. Besides, their plots might crossover and either help or hinder the MC are her plot.

    Good article!!

  2. I always thought I was a pantser, until I actually wrote a novel and got 1/2 way through and was like…. ‘soooo….I have no idea where to go next’. I have to plot. But I am yet to find a system that I like or that works for me.

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