The moment you’ve all been waiting for: the dreaded NaNoWriMo Outline!
If you haven’t already, check out my previous NaNoWriMo posts.
For everyone else grab your ideas, your characters, and your world because it’s time to tell your story.
Your novel should be at least 50,000 words, so you can expect to write around 1,700 words a day to stay on track. This will give you a bare minimum to shoot for, but it’ll also give you a little room to write longer scenes, add more details where you need them, and chop those that you don’t.
So, how many scenes should you be writing?
Well, scene length can be tricky. There’s no magic scene number you’ll need to plan for. It really depends on how you write. How many words does it take you to introduce a problem, incite an action, and “resolve” it in a way that proceed to the next scene? Generally, a scene can be anywhere from 500-1,000 words. So, you should expect to write one to two scene a day, depending on what's happening in any given scene.
Instead of focusing on the number of scenes we think we’ll need, we’re going to break the story into four major parts with four minor components each.
The Call to Action
Using this NaNoWriMo Outlining method, you can focus on what each part of the story needs not only to move the story forward, but what you’ll need to add depth and dimension to your world and characters.
Remember, this outline is just a guiding tool. Some parts of your story will naturally have more scenes than others. Some scenes will have a clear beginning and end while other will transition one into the next. Write in a way that flows for you.
And finally, I’ve written this outline with the feel of a quest, but the components apply to all types of stories. Romances and mysteries might not have fast cars and explosions, but there will still be some kind of conflict. And that conflict is what creates suspense and excitement.
Let’s take a look at our outline.
The Call to Action
These first few scenes should be your hook: the thing that draws your readers in. Once you have them on the line, you need to introduce your protagonist, the setting, and the problem. You don’t have to go into great detail here, less is more. Drop hints. Let the reader see the world through your protagonist’s eyes and actions. You want your reader to be intrigued so try not to give away too much just yet. Introduce questions rather than exposition.
Here is the call to action. This is when something changes and your protagonist is posed with a new opportunity, a chance to take a different path in life. This is the opportunity to solve the problem or achieve the goal. This scene should mark the start of your character’s journey or arc.
The point of no return. This is where your protagonist accepts the call to action. Here, they take the first steps on their journey. This should be an active move. They are trying something new and it’s okay if they don’t succeed. In fact, they shouldn’t. If you must, give them a very small victory here. This is where you set up their weaknesses, you show them at their start. The character you present here is the one you’ll be growing as the story progresses.
Which brings me to: introducing the mentor. This doesn’t have to be an actual character, but this is where your protagonist should get a helping hand. Maybe it’s presented as intel about the problem or learning a new set of skills. But, don’t give them too much help. The intel should have holes, the skills should be rough and needing practice. These things will improve as the story progresses, and so will your character.
It’s time for something to go wrong. Things have been too easy before now. This is when your protagonist gets their first glimpse of what the antagonist is truly capable of. And they should be shook. In this scene, let your readers feel your protagonist’s reaction, their fear, their anger, their resolve. This should up the suspense, the character’s drive, and the readers need to know what happens next.
The small victory. This is an action scene, even in a romance. Your protagonist should make a choice based on the last scene and then follow through. Let them act on emotion. Let there be real consequences, but don’t let your character back down, pout, or wait things out. They should get a taste of victory here. They should achieve something and feel like there’s no way they can lose.
Driven by success, they take a bigger leap. They do something a little crazier. And it looks like they might actually win. Now here’s the important part. The absolute worst thing that could ever happen needs to happen now. Their fears creep up, their flaws weighs them down. They need to fall hard. This scene is gonna hurt. If it doesn’t hurt to write it, then it won’t hurt your readers to read it. This is where character change starts. This is the wall. They have to overcome themselves before they can overcome the “big bad”.
*Tip: this is a great place for a plot twist.
The protagonist wants to quit. They might even try. The run away or they tell someone else to take over. They scrap everything. Rip up the plans. Break their only weapon. You can see their resolve crumbling. This is good. This is the armor we want to strip away before they come back stronger.
This is a good place for backstory. Explain the fear or the drive, just make sure it doesn’t feel too much like exposition.
This is also a great place for the protagonist to open up to their partner or love interest. This part of your story is going to consist of a few scenes anyways. Consider a meltdown, doing something reckless/self-destructive, needing to be “saved”, and the reconciliation as great intimacy building scene options.
Here is where your protagonist starts asking for help. Don’t be afraid to include deeper symbolism here. In their frenzy and anger let them destroy the thing that represents their weaker past self, the thing they’ll have to overcome in the next few scenes.
The regroup and renewed resolve. Here we have the pep talk. Whether it be from the mentor, the sidekick, loved one, or the people who need saving, this is the point your protagonist chooses to fight for something greater. This is when their want transitions to their need. It’s the time to start acknowledging their flaws and fears, accepting help, and expanding their views. This scene is important because your protagonist needs to choose change, but they haven’t succeeded yet. Things are going to get hard and your readers should sense that. You can represent this choice by rejoining the team after running away, cleaning up the mess they made of their room, or apologizing to someone. It should be clear they have made a choice and they intend to follow through.
This should be another cautious action and small victory. They gather new intel, make new plans, practice those skills with more intent. Now is a good time to address conflicts with other characters, try to understand each other, and make compromises. Whatever happens in this scene should represent your protagonist’s determination to change. They should be small accomplishable goals to encourage them to keep going and not give up. Because believe me when I say “things are gonna get hard.”
The antagonist reveals a new weapon or plan. Something that ups the ante and suspense. We’re talking serious consequences if your protagonist fails. This scene should spit in the face of the newly devised plan, but your protagonist is getting stronger so they’re not going to buckle just yet. Instead, they do something a little daring and reckless knowing they don’t have room to fail or be scared. Give them a small taste of their fear and let them come out of it with a small lose and a small victory. This is only the beginning.
The final challenge. The holy shit, edge of your seat, things are about to get crazy moment. This is the final battle and it’s gonna be drawn out. This is where you leave your readers in suspense. This is the part of the final battle when your protagonist steps forward to face the antagonist. This acts kind of like a second point of no return. There’s no backing out or quitting once your protagonist makes this move, so make it count.
On the brink. The battle is raging, there are casualties. (Remember this all still applies to romance as well. Casualties could be the kids caught in the middle of a nasty divorce or sacrificing a crappy job for love.) This scene should be all gunfire and charging protagonist. Untouchable.
And then they hit a wall. But not just any wall. The wall. The fear. The past self. Will they prevail? This scene should be both physical and internal struggle.
The final victory, overcoming the wall. This is the physical act of facing the fear and the symbolic act of change. This is the thing they need to finally defeat the antagonist and make things right. This is when the goal set from the very beginning is finally achieved.
Or not. They can overcome the wall and still lose if you’re into those bittersweet endings. The point is that it wasn’t all for not, and they still achieved something. Even if it was just overcoming a personal barrier.
Celebrate! (Or carry out the wounded and bury the dead.) We’ve reached the end. The journey is over. The outcome is set. The goal achieved if you’re writing a story arc. Or your protagonist changed if you’re writing a character arc. All the loose ends should be wrapped up here. Any questions you’ve posed should be answered. Any problems you’ve created should be resolved.
If this is a series, a new problem should have been hinted at throughout the story (the plot twist is a good place to do this) and directly posed in the final scenes. The new problem should be addressed in this scene with a goal set or plans made. This is your cliff hanger.
Lastly, leave the reader with something to think about. Go back to the overall theme or lesson of the story. Leave them with a lesson, a question, or a call to action. When they close the book, they should still be thinking about the story a week later.
The actual difficult task of laying out your scenes into some kind of coherent order.
My Suggestion? Index Cards.
Grab a pack. Label each one with a short scene description, the characters involved, and the purpose of the scene. Once you have them all filled out, lay them out on your table or, better yet, the floor.
Play around with the order. Go over the story in your head and see what feels right. Keep a few spare cards in case you need to add transition scenes. Toss or combine scenes that don’t fit.
This is actually my favorite part, because I can actually see the story coming together.
That's all I have for you today. Sorry, this NaNoWriMo Outline was such a long post, but I felt like it was necessary.
What are your tips for outlining a novel? Let me know what I missed in the comments below!
If you haven’t already, subscribe for more great writing tips as we head into October.
Also, if you’re new to my blog, I post my personal writings every Monday. And next Monday, I’m planning on talking a little about what I’ll be writing for NaNoWriMo! If you’re interested, I always love feedback.
Until next time, much love and happy writing,