In the coming month I’ll go into pretty close detail on the most important ones — the ones I haven’t already covered, anyway. The ones I have covered, I’ll be sure to link you back to.
Return of the Marble Statue Metaphor
This whole curriculum is intended to help a serious writer create a useful NaNoWriMo novel. That doesn’t mean it will be elegant and beautiful. It’ll be a big ugly chunk of rock, no matter how you cut it. As I’ve said before, the fine art of making a good novel doesn’t start until the draft is done.
Writing your first draft with a plan, though — approaching it with an understanding of the craft of storytelling and some idea where and how the novel’s structure will develop — that significantly increases your chances of producing a usable chunk of rock. It will have the right color and size for the project you’re trying to make, and it’s less likely to hide the sort of gaping flaws that will reduce the whole thing to a pile of rubble once you start looking closely.
So what does it take to quarry a clean piece of stone like that? Here are my favorite tools:
Assignment #1 (Due October 9): Mock Table of Contents
Your mock Table of Contents is 1-2 pages, using the standard Table of Contents format. It should outline a rough draft of your story’s narrative (an overview of the plot) using only chapter titles.
Aim for 15 chapters, and limit yourself to no more than 20 words per chapter title. Complete this assignment by the end of the day on Saturday, October 9.
Assignment #2 (Due October 15): Five Character Descriptions
A strong cast of interesting characters can easily drive a plot forward, and the better you know the characters, the more interesting they can be. Once you have a rough overview of the plot, make some rich personalities to place in it.
This assignment requires you to write 900 words — about three pages — describing five characters from your story. Create 300 word descriptions for each of two main characters, and 100 words each for three supporting characters. Complete this assignment by October 15.
Assignment #3 (Due October 16): The Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet
The Conflict Resolution Cycle describes the process of building and resolving conflict in your story (using scenes), which creates the narrative tension that pulls a reader through from the start to the end. If you already know what all of that means, you could probably fill out your worksheet in your sleep.
If you don’t, you’ll really enjoy the blog series I’ll be running on the week of October 10th. Over the course of the week I’ll explain the Conflict Resolution Cycle and provide the Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet. You’ll have one day to complete this assignment by October 16.
Assignment #4 (Due October 20): Short Synopsis
In 300 words, describe the overall story you want to tell about your characters. You don’t get a blog series for this assignment, but if you crawl through the archives you can find something relevant.
The goal of this one isn’t to make something perfect, though. It’s just to help you find a way to verbalize (and contain) the story you actually want to tell. Complete this assignment by October 20.
Assignment #5 (Due October 24): Write a Scene
That week we’ll be talking about narrative scenes, and you’ll also be coming within striking range of NaNoWriMo itself, so we’ll finish out the week with an assignment making you practice both.
You’ll write 5-10 pages, in narrative format, showing a scene that is related to your story. That forces you to start thinking in terms of scene…and it also forces you to make yourself sit down and start writing story. Trust me, NaNoWriMo is a whole lot easier to handle if you’ve got some practice before the month begins.
Assignment #6 (Due October 31): Long Synopsis
We’ll finish the month out with one of the handiest assignments of them all — and also the most tedious. Following a blog series on the different types and purposes of story synopsis, you’ll write 5-10 pages in the scene list or “long synopsis” format.
This synopsis should describe the whole plot arc for your story, including all major plot events, and summarize the complete conflict resolution cycle. As November creeps into its second and third weeks, you’ll be awfully glad to have some of those things already nailed down. Complete this assignment by the end of the day on October 31, because come midnight you’ll have bigger fish to fry.