Monday, October 14, 2013

# NaNoWriMo # On Writing

The NaNoWriMo Prep You Haven’t Done Yet

The first of three posts on prepping for NaNoWriMo.

Whether you’re staring at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with a blank, panicked expression or already have binders full of carefully detailed notes, there are some things you can do right now to give your about-to-be novel an extra kick start of awesomeness. 
In this post I’ll tell you three special tips I use and have previously shared while mentoring NaNoWriMo newbies. One deals with characters, another with setting, and a final for plot--and chances are, you haven't done them yet.

1. Do a birth natal chart for your main characters.

What’s a birth natal chart, you may ask? This is a personality profile based on the horoscope, more specifically, a profile based on the exact date, time, and place of birth. There are websites that offer this for free, like THIS ONE. Just decide when and where a character was born and presto! You’ll have a ton of information about a character’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential darkest secrets. Then it’s up to you to decide which traits to emphasize or omit and what factors made the character behave as such. Do one for your protagonist (or protagonists, if it’s a romance or other story with more than one MC) as well as for your villain.
I hit on this trick several years ago when I was flatlining and desperate for ideas pre-NaNo. The birth horoscopes provided me with such useful material for my character dossiers that I’ve used them many times since.

2. Select one weird location the character(s) will need to visit.

Maybe your book will take place primarily in an office, the character’s home, or deep in a mystical elven forest. Whatever the main setting, pick someplace that contrasts this and include it. Weird settings can practically become characters of their own, giving you fun idea to work off of and readers an interesting twist. Willy Wonka’s factor is a good example of this.
Now, a “weird” setting doesn’t have to mean a bizarre place like Wonderland or the Star Wars cantina. It just means a location that isn’t immediately obvious. In one of my books, the characters are stuck on a ranch most of the time, but end up taking a trip to Las Vegas. In another, when the heroine visits “his place” she discovers the hero has been hiding out in a cave behind a waterfall. Both are “real world” settings that aren’t expected.
One important rule here: don’t plop the setting into the story “just because”. Whether your weird location is an alternate reality or a seedy laundromat, there needs to be a valid reason why the character goes there (and not just to wash their unmentionables). Use the setting to further the plot or characterization. In my ranch/Vegas book, two things happen in Vegas that are crucial to the plot and its resolution. The waterfall cave location in the other shows the lengths the hero went to in order to hide, plus it places the heroine in a vulnerable, intimate situation that jump starts their relationship.
Some examples for “weird” settings:
An alternate reality
A creepy old house
An antique shop packed with curiosities
A shopping mall that’s been closed down for years
A carnival
A tree house
An old fire station converted into a house

3. Pick a random object that becomes vital to the plot

This is something I’ve done for several NaNoWriMo, and it’s always fun. Take an ordinary object and make it extraordinary. It can be an everyday object with magical properties or an item of great financial/sentimental value. The entire plot might revolve around this item, or maybe it seems unimportant at first but impacts events later. For instance, I gave a main character an earth-shaped pendant with mystical properties—the ability to keep his werewolf nature (somewhat) at bay. So naturally I had him lose the pendant while he’s on the job during a full moon.
Ideas for random objects:
A snow globe
A gift that arrives wrapped with no note
A clock that doesn’t work
An antique car
An heirloom ring
Keys that don’t open anything (or do they?)
A headstone in the garden

Pinterest is a fun place to find inspiration for locations and objects, but my favorite inspiration station is the NaNoWriMo forums. The Adoption Society section has threads for “adopting” settings, objects, characters, plot twists, even titles. It’s a great place for getting the NaNoWriMo juices flowing.

Do you have any special plotting tools you use for NaNoWriMo?


J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books and is a seven-time winner of NaNoWriMo. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night. Connect with her on Twitter or Facebook. She loves talking to people!


  1. Nice article.It is really useful for my general knowledge.

  2. Hi Rose, Congrats on your new series.This will be my fifth NaNo with one or two books published out of each one, even though I "won" only once. My two biggest hints are to have your book plotted and to have as much household stuff done as possible so you can concentrate on writing. Best wishes for success, Rita Bay

    1. Thank you Rita! And WOW, congrats to you on the published work you've produced during past NaNo's. That's really amazing. I'd say that makes you a four-time winner regardless of your Nov 30 word count!


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