Ink-Stained Scribe

5 Tips for Your NaNoWriMo Outline

305/365 - NaNoWriMo! by haley-elise
Does your NaNoWriMo outline need a little spit shine? Like your basic story but don't know if it's any good?

Piggy-backing off last year's NaNoWriMo outlining workshop, I've got a few more techniques I've accumulated to help hammer your outline into shape and give it a bit of a spit-shine.

The following tips will help you identify your main conflict, work tension and conflict into each scene, make sure your scenes flow logically toward the ending, and move your story from hook to resolution.

If you haven't taken a look at my NaNoWriMo Outlining Workshop, it might be a useful reference for the application of these techniques.


The third, and Adryn's favorite (and by favorite, I mean she hates me for making her do this), is to boil the conflict down to 35 words. You might remember when I described how I wrote a 35-word pitch for The Mark of Flight, which has really helped me in my quest toward publication. (More on pitches)

A pitch this short will force you to think critically about the central conflict. You can use the pitch to keep your plot from sprawling in unnecessary directions (if you tend to sprawl, like I do) and to identify whether your story has core plot-issues. Can't pitch it? That's an indication that the story's basic framework might need more work.

If, like Adryn, you have no idea where to begin boiling down the conflict, start by summarizing who your protagonist is and what they want in 35 words. Then summarize who your antagonist is and what they want in 35 words (hint: it better be something that chucks a horny, sparkly vampire in the Bed, Bath & Beyond display room of your protagonist's goal.)

Now take your protagonist and describe what she wants and how the antagonist is preventing her achieving that (of course, in 35 words).

Yeah, this is time-consuming, but it will likely save you a ton of time in revisions and give you a great framework for your query pitches!

Yes? No! image by Laura Appleyard
2. YES, BUT... / NO, AND...

Conflict in your scene uninteresting? On a recent episode of the Writing Excuses Podcast, Mary Robinette Kowal described a technique for making sure your scenes are exciting. It was intended for pantsers rather than plotters, but I think the technique is a fantastic way to make sure you're giving your scene enough conflict and tension.

Simply, get your characters into a pickle. Then ask the question, do they succeed in getting out of the situation?

If you answer YES, you must then come up with a complication.
YES, Bilbo rescues the dwarves from the Mirkwood prisons, BUT they nearly drown in the barrels.

If you answer NO, you toss in a little extra complication to really put pressure on your characters.
NO, Katniss's friends and family are not spared at reaping day AND it's her little sister who's been chosen to fight (and probably die) in The Hunger Games.


You've note-carded and chased every plot-bunny down their respective rabbit holes, but do your scenes flow one-to-the-next in a logical, domino-effect that leads you from inciting action to inevitable conclusion?

Carrie Ryan, Magical Words blogger and author of the creeptastically beautiful Forest of Hands and Teeth, describes a technique she learned from an editor.

"If you line up every scene or plot beat in your book, and the only words that connect them are “and then,” you have a problem; instead, each scene needs to be connected with either ”therefore” or “but.”
 I'm doing this with my outline for Beggar's Twin, and it's really coming in handy. It's a bit complicated with multiple perspectives, but I'm literally setting up my notecards into the different perspectives and making sure they flow both along their individual storylines and toward the conclusion. I've found it super-helpful in identifying scenes that aren't working.


The fourth is the 7-Point Story Structure from Dan Wells--seven points that help you move your story from hook to resolution, which you can watch in five parts on YouTube:

According to the Writing Excuses show notes, the seven points are:

  • Hook
  • Plot Turn I
  • Pinch I
  • Midpoint
  • Plot Turn II
  • Pinch II
  • Resolution

If you don't want to take the time to watch the YouTube video, you can also hear the cast of Writing Excuses discuss these seven points HERE.

Similar to this: The Hollywood Formula; The Three-Act Structure; The Secrets of Story Structure


Put down the scalpel.

Once you're finished making sure your conflict is solid, your scenes have tension, your plot chugs nicely toward the resolution, and you're hitting all the points of basic story structure, it's time to type it all up and present the outline to a friend, preferably another artistic type.

Generally, I find other writers or artists understand how to look at an embryonic story idea and help it grow. You don't want someone to give you unnecessary criticism and kill the excitement.

Don't know any other writers IRL? A great resource for other writers is the NaNoWriMo forums! Find someone to swap outlines with. And hey, if you're noticing some familiar problems, point them in the direction of whichever resource was most helpful. I don't mean my blog, though that would be awesome; I mean the primary source. If you think they'd benefit from But / Therefore, send them to Carrie's post on Magical Words.

Happy writing, and remember to eat occasionally!

NaNoWriMo Outlining Workshop Part II - Plot, Subplots, & Scenes


Last post was focused on getting your characters, conflicts, and motivations solid. This post is all about the nitty-gritty plotty-wotty stuff. Before you start, you're going to need some supplies:

  • Note-cards (preferably the lined variety, in several colors)
  • Writing utensils
  • A notebook (if you like to keep brainstorming materials all together)
  • scratch paper (if you need to spread it out)
  • your character/motivation/conflict notes from the last workshop.


Using the information you’ve come up with, write a one-sentence description of your story’s main conflict that includes:

MC (Motivation) + conflict + Antagonist (Motivation) + Action + Consequences

Action in this case means the course of action your character must take in order to overcome the conflict. The consequences are, predictably, what will happen if they fail.

Don’t worry--this sentence will suck, and it’s not your back-cover summary; it’s a way to boil down the conflict between your most important characters. It will sound disgustingly vague until later in the process, when we will modify it a bit. You may find that you have to reach into a later part of the story, when your characters have a bit more information to form motivations that are more directly in opposition with the antagonists, to do this part. That's fine! Just make sure that their motivations from the beginning have a bearing on how the story plays out.

A headstrong princess who wants to be a great queen is kidnapped by a charismatic general who wants to use her against her kingdom, and she must find her way home in time to warn them of approaching war.

If you can actually boil down your character's course of action to a set of choices, the sentence will be a lot stronger. In my case, I'm certain this was the difference in my query letter between getting and not getting a request.

A headstrong princess who wants to be a great queen is kidnapped by a charismatic general who wants to use her against her kingdom, and she must make a choice: break her promise to her rescuer and rush home to prepare her kingdom for war, or risk her life to free the brave slave-boy who gave up everything to save her.

Both of those sentences sort of sound like crap, but you can see where I'm going with this--I know the major conflict between my protagonist, my antagonist, and the issues that she's going to have to resolve in order to get her happily-ever-after. I can keep this in mind as I work through the rest of the story.


Now that you have the sentence for your main conflict, go back through your characters’ motivations and try to spot desires that might produce conflict. You don’t have to know anything specific yet about how that will translate into scenes, but it’s good to have in mind where characters will have tension with each other.

Once you identify possible conflicts, write down each on its own sheet of paper and start brainstorming. This is a great time to employ mind-maps, spidergraphs, or stream-of-consciousness brainstorming methods. You may find yourself adding characters and desires to the conflict sheet as you brainstorm. I recommend starting with what the characters want, what is getting in their way, and what other characters have desires that conflict or hold them back.

All of these conflicts are potential subplots. Keep them in mind through the next step of the process, especially when you start to get stuck.


Note-carding is a method I learned from writer and writing teacher Holly Lisle. I've touted this method before, and I highly recommend you visit Lisle's post describing note-carding and learn the method from her, but I will give a brief overview here.

Figure out roughly how long you want your novel to be. This is a fantasy blog, and since most fantasy books are roughly 100,000 words long, we’ll go with that. The average scene is 1,750 words, so divide your projected word count by your scene-length, and you’ll get a rough estimate of the number of scenes you should have in your novel--in this case 57. This isn’t a perfect estimate--just something to get you thinking in the arena of what you’ll need.

Now divvy up your scenes between narrators and start writing down every scene idea that comes to you, and try to distill it into a single sentence.

This was my outline for last year's NaNoWriMo.
You can see my five character motivation cards,
my scene notecards, and the little post-its
with reminders of subplots and exposition info!
Now, I didn't know about the note-carding method when I wrote The Mark of Flight (and it shows), but I used it for HELLHOUND. At first, I decided I wanted to write between two narrators, so I gave 60% of the scenes to Helena (my MC) and 40% to her godfather, Eamon. Well, by about a third of the way through writing, I changed my mind and gave 100% of the scenes to Helena, which resulted in me chucking a bunch of my notecards. The beauty of it was, the notecarding method made it easy to toss those notecards, and fill them back in with the cool new stuff I'd come up with.

Notecarding is the most guilt-free, changeable form of outlining I've yet found. Don’t censor yourself, don’t worry about how a scene might or might not fit. You should end up with something like this:
“On a yacht off the Miami coast, Helena uses the distraction of the sorcerers battle with her master to break the spell holding her pack captive, and then she steals the book the sorcerers are after and escapes by swimming to shore”
It doesn't have to be that set-out. This is the first scene in the new version of the book, so I knew what needed to happen. You may end up with "set-up set-up set-up...and then something happens that I haven't figured out yet." That's fine. The process of note-carding alone might help you figure out what that "something" needs to be. If not, you'll probably come up with some ideas while writing. Make sure you’ve got about 30 notecards before you move on to the next section. If you start having trouble or getting stuck, go back to your characters' motivations and start trying to figure out how best you can get in their way. This part is FUN, but can be somewhat time-consuming, so give yourself the time you think you'll need.

If it helps, a good way to organize your scene-card is:

Setting + MC (Motivation) + Conflict + Course of Action + Cliffhanger or Resolution

You don't have to stick to that at all, but it's a short and sweet kind of way to set up what happens or needs to happen in your scene. I'll write a few more examples below from my NaNoWriMo project from last year, HELLHOUND.

"In the kitchen, Jaesung asks Helena about her fake military school and catches her in her lie, putting their trust in each other on thin ice. As he leaves, she spots the mark of the sorcerer's guild on their doorstep and realizes she's been found, and her roommates could be in danger."
"In Eamon's basement, Helena--enraged at Rodolfo's murder--fights for her right to join the hunt and take revenge, but then Morgan tells her (the enemy) found Rodolfo because of Helena's inability to lay low."
"In the blacked-out house, Helena fights the influence of the magic glyph as she sets wards, and then passes out just as the first spell pings off her protection." 

If you're having trouble at this point, try writing some stream-of-consciousness pages about what you're having trouble with. I've been known to start out entries like this with "I don't have a villain :(" or "What should the MC be doing between plot-points A and Q?"


What discoveries have you made while plotting your story? Have you ever done note-carding before? What are some of your preferred methods of creating the scenes for your story? ARE YOU HAVING FUN?

NaNoWriMo Outlining Workshop - Part I : The Groundwork

Character – Motivation- Conflict

This workshop is intended for those who already have a pretty good idea of their story, characters, and at least a vague notion of where they want their story to go. Feel free to be like "It's Magic, I ain't gotta explain shit!" at this point. That's stuff for later. If you've got a rough sketch of a scene here, a plot twist there, this is definitely going to help. Sit tight. But before you sit tight, make a pot of coffee and grab a notebook, a pack of notecards, and a pen. We're going to be doing this old-school.

This section focuses on the most important part of story: characters. It's aimed at organizing your characters on paper--their descriptions, desires, and disagreements--before you start writing your outline. You may find subplots, new twists, and new scenes springing to mind as you work through this section. Take note of them--you'll use that in part II of the workshop.

Note: Wow, y'all! I've had several thousand views on this post, so thank you! If you're enjoying this, or if it's not working for you, or if you have stuff to add, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. :)


Write your characters’ names on separate notecards, or spread out on notebook paper—you’ll be writing quite a bit under each character’s name.

1.      Write a description of each major character (including your antagonist[1] or antagonistic force) that includes:


Descriptor - an adjective or adjectival phrase such as magic-weilding, willful, out-of-work.
Noun that helps you define your character, such as mercenary, werewolf, teenager.

A. headstrong princess
B. stuttering slave
C. itinerant mage
D. charismatic general

*It is also acceptable to write NOUN who DESCRIPTIVE ACTION

Example: A girl who recently lost her job / a boy who survived the killing curse / a girl who hates her fairy-godmother.

2.      Once you have that list, try to add another descriptor you’d like the readers to discover about the character as they go through the book. You may not know this yet, and if not, you’ll probably figure it out while you’re writing. I call these “Shadow Descriptions”
A. compassionate
B. brave
C. lonely
D. manipulative

So, throughout the story the reader will learn that the “headstrong princess” is also compassionate, the “stuttering slave” is also brave, the “itinerant mage” is also lonely, and the “charismatic general is manipulative. These traits don’t have to be surprising, but are how you might describe your characters’ personalities. These are the things you want to show your reader through your characters’ actions.


1.      Primary Desires
Write down what each character wants at the start of the story. Pick the most important motivation—the one thing they’re most concerned about. Try to make this more specific than “to be happy” or “to survive”. If you find yourself being too general, ask yourself questions. What would make them happy? What are they trying to survive, or is there something they are trying to survive for?

A. To be a great queen.
B. To be in control of his own life.
C. To find the master that left him behind
D. To run a combined (and therefore peaceful) Rizellen and Centoren—his way.
Remember to note what their desires are at the BEGINNING of the story. These are usually the motivations we see right out in the open, the very first time we meet that character. You may find that your feelings about these goals change as you write, or even throughout the workshop. That’s fine!

2.      Secondary Desires
No one wants just one thing. In fact, people often want two different things that don’t go together, or that create some kind of internal conflict. Below your characters’ primary desires, write at least one more thing that character wants. I recommend you have two or three secondary desires for each character.

A. To be seen and loved for who she is / to get home / to stop the war
B. To remain under the radar (and therefore safe) / to protect the people he cares about
C. To learn and teach magic by writing his book / to prevent war / NOT to be the only one trying to fix Rizellen’s problems
D. To be respected and revered for ending the war (by either conquering or combining) / to use the kidnapped princess as a means to get (primary desire) / to destabilize Rizellen

If your characters’ own desires conflict with one another, that’s a great source of tension, which gives you plenty of internal conflict.

            Stuttering (but brave) slave boy wants to stay safely under the radar, but can’t because he also wants to protect those he cares about.


Write down next to each primary desire at least two things preventing the character from getting what he wants in the beginning chapters of your story. At least one of these should be related to your antagonist’s goals. If it’s not, you probably need to do some thinking on what makes those characters your protagonists and antagonists, and see if you can nudge them into more direct opposition.

The headstrong and compassionate princess wants to be a great queen. The things getting in her way are:

1. The council wants her cousin to be queen
2. She’s been kidnapped and can’t get home
3. She has no confidence in herself
4. She doesn’t know what her people need

The antagonist’s primary goal is to rule both of their countries, which conflicts with her goal of someday being a great queen. Further, the antagonist plans to use her against her kingdom, which also conflicts with her desire to be a great queen, as does his desire to destabilize her kingdom.

Often, the protagonist and antagonist will have something in common. In this cast, both characters want peace, but not only do they have different visions of a peaceful future, they have different ideas about the methods. These similarities and differences between your pro-and-antagonists will help you.
The main plot of your story should be rooted in this conflict of desires.

Of course, there will be much more to the story than just your main character and antagonist’s conflict, but that conflict should always have a bearing on the story—like Voldemort and Harry Potter’s conflicting desires shaped the overall narrative arc of the series (and each book) without being the most important part of every scene.


Was this helpful? Did you make any discoveries? Having trouble? Let me know in the comments!

[1] If you don’t have an antagonist, go listen to Adryn’s villain workshop and come back when you’ve got a little more idea of your bad guy or antagonistic force. Check it out on Pendragon Variety Podcast. This is VERY IMPORTANT.

NaNo Possibility 2: The Beggar's Twin

When Procne was 15, her twin brother was burned for the crime of climbing into Altaevia—the society built into the second and third stories of the city-state, where nobles live with their artisan-class servants, above the furor of the streets. Since that day, Procne has broken as many rules as she can: she steals, she ignores the curfew, and she uses magic, which is forbidden to women, to keep the sick and dying alive...for a price. But the two commands she is too afraid to break are the ones that got her brother killed: never climb into Altaevia; never touch a Noble.

But when a Lady mistakenly drops her baby from a second-story scaffold, Procne can’t simply watch him die. She catches the injured child and uses magic in front of an entire parade to save his life. But rather than thanking her for rescuing the child, the Jade Guard—Altaevia’s masked, magic-shielded police officers—throw her in jail. But Procne is sentenced to slavery at the Magic University rather than death, and when a Master Magicsinger named Bayek forces her to dress as a boy and then begins to teach her magic, she knows there's something he desperately wants.

Procne soon learns that Bayek is one of two living people with Negravia—the branch of magic allowing a person to manipulate the relationship between spirit, body, and soul—and the other is Procne. Even more disturbing, however, is the fact that Procne has two souls: her own, and the soul of her twin brother, which she unknowingly bound to herself in a desperate attempt to save him. Now he is a hodios, a soul trapped between the realms of the living and dead, and before she can truly learn to control her magic, she must let go of the last connection to her brother.

To save a dying magic, Bayek is willing to face excommunication for teaching a girl. Procne is willing to risk death, but not because she cares about Negravia. For the first time, a commoner is being given a chance at power, and Procne is determined to use that power to bring down the system that killed her brother and made her an outcast.


I honestly don't know how long this project will be. I had original concepts for this story back in middle school, but they were really vague and got totally swept out of the way when I went to high school and started creating characters like mad. Then in University, I wrote a version of this story for a class, and fleshed out quite a bit about the two characters Bayek and Procne, and some about Procne's twin Philius, and the basic structure of the world.

It was received in a very ho-hum fashion (unsurprising, considering the largely literary crowd, but that's a university advanced writing class for you), so I set it aside and went back to work on the Mark of Flight. Well, right after Raven finished telling me "you could do better" on "The Mark of Flight" (which prompted me to rewrite the whole damn book), she read my original 30-40 pages of Beggar's Twin, and slammed it down on the floor at my feet.

"WHY DIDN'T YOU WRITE THIS?" she said. "The world hooked me right away!"

And a fan was born. I started working on the magic system and developing more about the structure of the society and its conventions. When I got back to the US (and right as I was in the thick of writing HELLHOUND), Raven helped me develop some of the world, and let me know when something wasn't working (IE, the main romance, and why). In case you couldn't tell, she, Adryn, and Skrybbi are my springboards for almost everything.

So this past March, when Japan exploded and Adryn briefly came home, the three of us played around with some character concepts, and they helped me work on some of the different (literal) tiers of society. I'm especially excited about the revolutionary aspect of this book, and the emotional turmoil that results when the shit hits the fan (oh, you know it will).

INTERACT: Do you prefer single books, duologies, trilogies, or series?


Act of Mirrors

*Art: Devil's Eye, by Yang Qi

NaNo Possibility 1: ROOST


It's the first day of August and I am so close to finishing the final (hah) revision of "The Mark of Flight". The query has been marinating a while and it's about time now to chuck it in the skillet and see if it comes out looking palatable to the agents. HELLHOUND revisions have been postponed until I can get MoF off the table (I'm hungry, can you tell?), but I'm still planning to finish the overhaul before NaNoWriMo...


I get to decide what book to work on next! *fireworks*

There's something about facing that blank Word document and typing the first words, making that first mark to delineate world, character, or story , that is both terrifying and immeasurably exciting. The idea of digging into this rich compost of research and imagination to make something new out of it is probably one of my biggest joys as a writer, second only to typing that last punctuation.

I haven't been published yet, so we'll see if those get knocked down a notch--not sure if they ever will, though.

SO ANYWAY. I have three projects I'm considering for NaNo this year, and they're all very, very different.

2. Beggar's Twin
3. An Act of Mirrors

Because this would be a SUPER-LONG post if I tried to tell you about all three (and it would take me forever, besides), I'll start by describing ROOST.

Who's excited for the Hobbit? I'm excited for Smaug,
(Read: Benedict Cumberbatch)
Alden Finch Craft is the most promising Shanlori trainee in Roost, but he’s never been paired with a Ketchra—the dragon-bonded pilot-half of the Battle Rider pairs. First, he came from Prestia, the city that used to rule Roost and now fights them for access to the wild dragon nests they protect. Second, he’s the son of Argo Craft, Admiral of the vicious Prestian Drakonauts. It doesn’t matter that Alden fled Prestia as a child; blood is blood, and no Ketchra wants an armed Shanlori warrior behind them when they’re not sure which side he’ll shoot.

Alden loses hope of becoming a Rider until a cruel prank on the training platform reveals his potential as a Sling. Roost has never successfully trained one of the deadly wire-diving Shanlori, and if they can find Alden a Ketchra he just might be the edge they need to defeat Prestia…but can they trust him if the battle comes to fighting his own father?

Wing Captain Ruri Kishorn lost both his dragon and his Shanlori sister in battle five months ago, so when his former-instructor suggests he become Ketchra to a teenager with a Prestian accent, he vehemently refuses. What good is a Shanlori—even a Sling—when his partner is shell-shocked, suicidal, and dragonless? But after a brutal attack by the Drakonauts leaves Roost’s lower town a smoking ruin, Ruri can no longer ignore his duty, even if it means opening up to another person.

As the attacks rise in both violence and frequency, Ruri begins to suspect that Prestia is planning to destroy Roost once and for all—but why now? As the hatching draws near and suspicions arise around his new Shanlori, Ruri must push past the guilt of surviving and stand behind the young man who could save Roost from certain destruction.

I'm estimating about 100-110k on this one--comparable to HELLHOUND in length, with a lot of interesting action and emotional turmoil. It will be told from three (MAYBE four) points of view: obviously Alden and Ruri's but also from the POV of Talis, Argo Craft's Shanlori. I'm playing with the idea of a fourth POV--a girl who is a prisoner in Prestia, and part of the reason they're so desperate to destroy Roost. I haven't decided if she's a more powerful character seen from outside, or if we need to get in her head.

Anyway, that's the first possibility! Let me know what you think - I'll be posting a poll with the third story.

Beating the Loss of NaNoWriMomentum

Cross-posted from Double Shot of Lauren

We writers seem to be forever forcing ourselves to the page. Actually, I think it's more a matter of forcing the page to bend to our will and coming up bruised, bloodied, and over-caffinated. Not to mention, having only an unsatisfying draft full of stubborn sentences, dripping with adverbs, to show for it. Last week, I posted about how pressure and accountability help me write. What I failed to mention in is that the output of forcing myself to write is not always my best work. It's often horrible.

But that's okay.

The beauty of writing is that we always have the power to erase and pretend like that awful scene where the two MCs end up in a cave, soaking wet, and have to dry their clothes by the fire never happened. Our inner perfectionists may cringe, our inner hipster may scream that the method is inauthentic. You know what? They can get a room. They can have lots of OCD, skinny-jeans-wearing babies who complain about authenticity (or lack thereof) and never get as far as submitting. Like sketches and mock-ups, a first draft is a place to make mistakes. Stories don't spill from our pens in well-edited prose, pre-sifted for all those little golden nuggets of perfect, poignant detail.

And if yours does, get the hell out of my webspace.

The point is, I need to write those bad scenes, because I need something to get me to the good ones. You know how NBC used to air "Friends" and then some other show, and then "Seinfeld"? Those awful scenes are my "some other show" between the good ones--the scenes that are going to need a lot more attention and work before they're able to stand on their own. The scenes that might just never work at all.

But it's hard to get through something when you know it sucks more than Mega Maid.


You might notice another post I linked in a later entry, where an author on the Writer on Fire blog discussed writing without inspiration. His post was a well-written and succinct explanation of the practices necessary to keep ourselves going during inspiration's bleak winter season. There was a point, however, where I thought a little expansion would have been helpful, and that was where he spoke about "Momentum".

"While inspiration is strong, the experienced writer gets to work creating outline or summary. Once you have all of the main points down on 'paper' you can complete the work whether you're inspired or not."

As any first-year physics student knows, momentum is mass*velocity. In writing terms, that roughly equates to idea*wordcount. Basically, it's our ability to get words on the page at a certain rate. Sometimes, we've got to push to get a scene started, but that push gives us the start we need to carry on until the scene catches, and we're golden. Sometimes that's because it's a day of inspiration and creative clarity. Other days, it's sheer momentum. Those days when creative clarity and writing momentum work in tandem are the double-rainbow of writing, as glorious as they are rare. Those are the 7,000-word days, the days when writing makes me forget to eat or sleep.

But building momentum is something that I think must be learned for someone to be successful as a writer. It's why a lot of authors have daily word-count goals. Sometimes, it's the starting that's hard. It's slogging through a desert, heading for that next little oasis of a plot-point shimmering in the distance. I tend to hit my stride somewhere between 300 and 500 words, before the scene takes hold.


NaNoWriMo offers the pressure necessary to get to the 50,000 word goal. One thing I've noticed, however, is that a lot of people get to the 50,000 word goal and lose momentum almost immediately after that goal is reached. The pressure, competition, and companionship of NaNoWriMo are invigorating, because you can see the thousands of people racing through the sands along with you, and they make it fun. They make it fierce. They egg you on.

Then, on December 1st, they all disappear.

Some of them have accomplished what they set out to do--finished their own personal races. If you, however, are one of those people who is 50,000ish words through a more-than-likely-130,000-word manuscript, that desert can get to looking pretty lonely and intimidating. Fast.

Especially when the 50,000 word-point tends to be where plotting gets tricky, where you have to start juggling geese and playing with fire while singing the alphabet backwards to get everything to that shining ending (which you may not even have planned yet).

It was like that for me. I'd spent November in a topsy-turvy writing state, and as soon as December 1st hit, I closed my laptop and gave myself a well-deserved break. I watched Korean Dramas all week and didn't even open the word document. Which is fine. Everyone needs a break once in a while, to give their brains time to cool off. But then there were the holidays; time spent with family; then all the shopping, cleaning, and loosing all that weight after the holidays. Then a wedding...

It's was so easy to get distracted by the mirage of busyness, to knowingly let it trick me away from the page, once that NaNoWriMomentum was gone.

It's February 9th, and I'm one of the lucky ones. I didn't stop writing entirely. I'm at 80,000 words (I was at 60,000 by the end of NaNoWriMo). My speed has diminished to a sixth of what it was when I had that NaNoWriMomentum, but maybe that's okay too. I know the point of NaNoWriMo is to get as many words on the page as possible, even if they're not amazing. Even if they're tangential. Even if they suck.

So how do you get that momentum back?

I'm still coming to the page almost every day and getting words down. Not every day, and I don't always write a lot of words. Since the end of January, I've been doing it a lot better. I wrote over 55,000 words last week, and I hope to write at least 50,000 more this week.

How? I don't pretend to have the definitive answer to that, but I can at least tell you what I've done.

I've made sure that other people know what my goals are. If you don't keep your goals private, I believe the likelihood that you will reach them increases. Speaking your desires out loud brings results, whether it's because it helps you visualize them clearly, because it helps your inner competitor to know that people are watching (or at least aware of) your goals, or because you believe that if you ask, you shall receive.

Another good way to bring freshness to a work you're probably convinced is falling apart is to revise your outline. This is why I love the notecarding method Holly Lisle teaches on her blog, because it allows my outline flexibility. By the time I get to 70,000 words, I've usually figure out what the hell I'm writing about. I've usually planned some revisions for earlier parts of the story. I usually stare at my outline, thinking--this isn't going to work how I thought it would. With notecards, revising is easy. I needed to take out a perspective and make what I had a lot shorter. (The pace of the story doesn't lend itself to 120,000 words) So I took out a perspective and ended up combining most of the scenes with other ones to give me a tighter story focusing on my heroine. I also, suddenly, got some insight on the main character's love interest. He finally opened up to me, reticent as he is, and spilled his guts and rather sad--though isn't everybody's, from some angle--backstory.

The next important step for me was not to go back and revise yet. I know all the new info on Lover Boy is going to change the depth of his character, the meaning behind some of his actions, and how he feels about them. I need to go back and change the perspective of all the scenes that aren't from my heroine's POV. But I need to wait until the draft is finished. If I start going back now, I could get caught in the quicksand of the endless revise.

So there you have it. Advice, from someone who knows only what works for me.

1. Tell other people your goals, so they can hold you accountable.

2. Revise your outline to incorporate all the things you know, now that you know what you're writing about.

3. DO NOT start revising the beginning. Keep going forward. You can revise later, when you will probably have thought of several more things you'll need to change anyway.



Shapeshifting "Hellhound" Helena Martin isn't sure who she hates more, the sorcerers who fired the magic-laced bullet, or the cruel master who used her mother as a shield. She always figured they would finish each other off without her help, and if she just kept her head down she might survive them both. But when a battle with the Sorcerer's Guild destroys the spell binding the Hellhounds to their demon-summoning master, Helena risks using her secret aptitude for magic to aid her pack's escape. Finally free of the insidious spell, Helena believes she might actually have a chance to live without the violence and heartbreak she grew up with. But her pack has different ideas.

Not only do they ditch Miami for the winter wasteland of Minnesota, enroll her in University, and saddle her with a stolen book of spells, they also expect her somehow to cut off the source of Gwydhain’s power by closing the gate to the demon realm. It’s hard enough to act normal around her geeky-hot new housemate Jaesung without sprinkling salt around doors, blowing up her window, and getting arrested for streaking. With her stumbling, self-taught Magic drawing the attention of the local Sorcerer's Guild, keeping her Magic-wielding canine status on the down-low might just be impossible.

But as Helena refuses demands to hand over her book of spells, the Guild's methods of coercion become increasingly violent and she realizes the humans that were supposed to be her cover have slowly become a liability, for they give her the one thing she misses most of all--a home. Then her master's agents catch up with them and Helena--untrained, isolated, and with more to lose than ever--has only one chance to keep her pack and her human friends safe: make peace with the sorcerers who killed her mother.

(*Note: This is not the original summary for this post, but the one based on revisions.)

(Cleolinda) Time for a trip to the department of backstory. (/Cleolinda)

So, a couple days before NaNoWriMo started, I was going through Holly Lisle's "How To Write Page-Turning Scenes" book, and I did an exercise scene on interpersonal conflict, which produced a very intriguing scene. I didn't think much of it at the time besides, "Huh. It's not complete, but I wonder if I could use it on Pendragon Variety." Then I got to thinking. What is this character exactly, since she isn't entirely human? Why is this book so important? Why is her Godfather handing the book over to someone who wants to kill her? Who is this RA that has screwed everything up, and why does she like him?

Before I knew it, I had decided she was a Hellhound (which really meant nothing to me at the time) and I had a couple scene ideas in my head. I was willing to ignore it for a while, since I've never really been a huge fan of supernatural fantasy. I played VtM and WtA in High School, but it wasn't nearly as engaging as D&D for me - while it's intriguing to contemplate the definition of humanity and the struggle not to nom the face off someone you love, I'm not generally a huge fan of vampires or werewolves or shape-shifters, at least not as they've become in modern fiction. I heard horror stories of a once-respectable and interesting supernatural fantasy series turning into novel-length sex-scenes interrupted by the occasional criminal investigation. My feelings are best summed up by the following (un)smiley: (. _ . );;
Celtic Warriors becoming Demon-Fighting Hounds? HELL yes.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a fangirl about plenty of things. I cosplay; I surf the internet for macros of my favorite bands; I have been known to read (and write) fanfiction. But when my beloved fantasy section suddenly became saturated with a genre I wasn't into, leaving little room for anything else, my desire to wade through the wave of silvered jackets for something a little closer to "human girl accidentally bonds with a draconian enemy on the brink of inter-species war" collapsed.

Because of my relative distance from supernatural (romance) fantasy, I shuffled the idea aside, because I didn't really want to write just one more book in that wave.

I was planning to use NaNoWriMo to finish the second half of Book II in the Markmasters Trilogy, but as I continued with "How to Write Page-Turning Scenes" I ran across a reference to Holly Lisle's notecarding method. I gave it a shot using what little of the scenes I had come up with. Lo and behold, by the end of the day (Halloween, 2010, to be exact), I had an entire plot for a new novel. I was going to do NaNoWriMo.

No Vampires. No Werewolves. No Fallen Angels, and no Zombies. I am a bit guilty of having shapeshifters, but don't worry--there is no furry porn in my book. There is magic, though. And Celtic warriors. And spirals. And Starcraft. (Hey, the love interest is Korean. And a geek. You know he plays Starcraft.) There *might* be a girl in hound form shamelessly taking advantage of her crush's soft spot for dogs. Hey, if I could become a hound at will, I might shove my nose in a couple crotches too. Just for fun.


WE DID IT! Adryn and I both managed to hit 50,000 words this year on NaNoWriMo, which is approaching the halfway point on both of our novels! At 57,600 words myself, I'm proud to say I'm exactly at the middle, and word-count wise, I'm almost exactly where I wanted to be.
Seriously, the notecarding system really helped me work things out. No more waking up, brushing teeth, having coffee, getting dressed, walking to work, OMGMAGICBATTLE scenes because I don't know where I'm going. I can just start at walking to wOMGMAGICBATTLE.

As for RAVEN (Weiward), she has really utilized the spirit of NaNoWriMo to thoroughly plot and
develop her book. She's disciplined herself to set aside an hour or two a couple times a week to devote to her story, and she's managed to notecard the entirety of the EPIC fantasy that's been in her brain for three years.

Discipline, I think, is the major thing that we've all taken away from NaNoWriMo. For me, it's the discipline to make a mutable outline and stick to it, to force myself not to care so much about editing my first draft as I go. For Adryn, it's the butt-in-chair-fingers-on-keys discipline, which
she has struggled with for years. For Raven, it's the discipline to let go of perfectionism and make the nebulous, awesome idea into something that can actually be translated onto the page. And we did it, thanks to the competitive, productive spirit of NaNoWriMo.

I'm proud of us all.

Thank you, National Novel Writing Month. We'll see you again next year.