NaNoWriMo – Writing on a Deadline and The Snowflake Method

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) occurs every November, for the entire month. I’ve signed up for it, which doesn’t mean much really. No one is watching how much I produce, but the idea is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

It’s all about quantity not quality. Mostly, experts agree that it is good to first get the story down on paper without paying attention to editing or making sure it’s “pretty”. That comes later.

50,000 words is a novella length, most books are over 100,000 words in length. My two books were upwards of that, 138,000 for Whatever Happened To Lily? and 150,000 for Second Stories. These books would both be considered too long by industry standards. An agent wouldn’t even look at a manuscript over 110,000 words. That would be for a non-classic: a romance novel, a cozy mystery, chick lit, contemporary fiction. But, of course, if you’re Jonathan Franzen, or some other extremely successful author, there is no limitation on the number of words you are allowed.

My next book will be more than 110,000 words so I’m hoping to write even more than the 50,000 words recommended by NaNoWriMo. To help me do that, I’ve been using the Snowflake Method, and if I can get all my outlining done, and notes written by the end of October, I’m going to try to write 2,000 words (average) per day.

Taking out one day when I have to babysit for my six-year-old grandson, and Thanksgiving, when I will be cooking and/or eating, it leaves 28 days of writing. That’s 60,000 words in 28 days, or over 2,100 words per writing day. I’ve had days when I’ve written over 4,000 words, so I think it is doable.

The Snowflake method has worked out well. I haven’t blogged about it as I said I would, each step at a time, but thought I’d talk a bit about it and how it works. Randy Ingermanson, who developed the system is both a java programmer and an author so that works for me. It’s a thirteen tab application, Welcome, General Info, Author Info, Steps 1 through 9 and Proposal.

The first three tabs are general information about the book and the author, there are nine steps for creation of the outline of the novel, going from general to most detailed, and then a book proposal is generated based on the information entered.

Step 1 is the short summary or the “elevator pitch”. The premise is, if you were in an elevator with an agent or publisher and were asked, so, what’s your book about? You should be able to give him/her the spiel, before s/he (or you) reach the desired floor, such that the whole novel is summed up in one sentence. It should be less than 25 words, so you can memorize it.

Step 2 is the long summary which expands on the short summary, and is one paragraph in length, five sentences. This would be good for the description on Amazon, or for including in a website.

  • What the book is about
  • The first act, up to the first disaster
  • The first half of the second act, up to the second disaster
  • The second half of the second act, up to the third disaster
  • The third act, the resolution, and perhaps The Happy Ending

The word “disaster” can mean a lot of things depending on the genre of the book. In the case of women’s or contemporary fiction, it will be the major events, the crises, the realizations, the epiphanies. I constructed my novel in this fashion.

The third step is creating a list of characters and specifying how they interact, how they are related, why they are in the novel, and what their personal goals might be. Some are there to be a supporting character, some are the main characters, and some are there merely for comic effect. I identified thirteen characters, family and friends.

The fourth step goes back to story development, and the long description is written here. For each of the five sentences of the long summary, a paragraph is written. I found Steps 1, 2 and 4 to be very thought-provoking. Once these steps are completed, an author has a pretty good idea of how the story will be structured. This was all done in my head for my previous two novels, and I’m sure some good thoughts got lost in the brain chaos.

Back to characters, Step 5 is a synopsis of each of the characters defined in Step 3. What makes these characters act the way they do? What has happened to them, in their early lives, and later on? It’s a way of getting to know each of them. This is very important because each character needs to be consistent and well thought out, and not do or say anything that seems contradictory. This step is for the author, it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s an exercise to get you thinking about each person and what role he or she will play.

Step 6 is the long synopsis of the story, expanded from the long description. We started at one sentence, then to one paragraph, to one page, to now several pages of story description. Four steps in ever increasing detail. There are more specifics in the long synopsis, we can now see where the chapters, and then scenes might evolve from this.

Step 7 goes back to characters, and this is also for the author’s benefit, to more fully understand each one. There is a set of pre-defined questions to answer: physical descriptions, character descriptions, favorite things (color, music, books, etc.), and how each character will change, what are his or her epiphanies, values, goals. More “getting to know you”.

Step 8 takes the long synopsis and formats each sentence into a scene. These can be added to or deleted as necessary. A one-line description of every single scene in the novel. Great!

The final Step 9, expands on Step 8, and creates an empty space to fill in notes about each scene. These notes can then be used as the starting point for the actual writing, which will happen next. I’m in Step 9 now, and that’s what I want to finish up in the month of October. I’m always about goals, small and large, what I will accomplish by noon, what I will accomplish by 5:00, what I will accomplish by October 31. It doesn’t always work out but it helps to have them.

Here’s to NaNoWriMo and the Snowflake Method!

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