Writing blog series #3 The outlining and writing – NaNoWriMo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo

Been here before? Skip the intro and head straight for the main piece of work then 😁

1.1 Intro

I’ve been asked about this before and had someone asking for a post about how I did NaNoWriMo. 

Firstly, I’m a newbie when it comes to writing. My 2017 NaNoWriMo project was my first one and I had no plan and no clue what I was doing or should be doing. Since then I have done plenty of research, attended classes, practised, read my work out loud, workshops, and more research. 

This blog series will be about my journey to creating a story from idea to the first draft via NaNoWriMo and beyond. Hopefully, you will get some ideas too on how to do your project. The series will go every Monday from the 16th September all the way up to the start of NaNo with the last post on the 28th October just in time for the start of NaNoWriMo. 

I plan to go through all the major aspects of storytelling: the idea, the world-building and plotting, outlining and writing. In all these, I will share how I did it and all my resources. I will move on to how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, how to complete NaNoWriMo and how to get un-stuck. The series will end with me sharing the first 800 words of my NaNoWriMo 2018 projects, slightly edited and spellchecked. 

Other posts:

  1. The Idea – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo – 16th September 2019
  2. The world and character – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo – 23rd September 2019
  3. The outlining and writing – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo – 30th September 2019
  4. NaNoWriMo prep – How I prep for NaNoWriMo 30 days of writing 50k words – 7th October 2019
  5. Strategy for completing the 50k words for NaNoWriMo 2019 – 14th October 2019
  6. How to get unstuck when writing – 21st October 2019
  7. First 1200 words of my 2018 NaNoWriMo project – 28th October 2019

Disclaimer; I have no background in writing and I do not know what I’m doing, but I’m enjoying it and that’s what’s matters. I’m also getting positive feedback on my writing which should indicate that I’m doing something right. 

3 Outlining and writing

3.1 initial outline:

Over the course of the last year, learning how to outline has become the trickiest thing about story writing. All I focus on for my first draft and all I did last year was dividing the story into parts and then further into scenes. 

During my question time (post #1 and #2 links above) I discovered stuff like why they were on the boat, and what their journey was all about. From there I found the main plot of the story and a very faint outline. I knew where the story started and where it ended, and it was up to me to fill in the blanks. I also spent some time on outlining techniques. I saw someone’s post on the Snowflake method so I researched that. 

I have later figured out that the Snowflake method is a great method for my second drafts and re-establish the important parts of the story.

I researched the Hero’s Journey method which fits perfectly with The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

I ended up scrapping all of that together and just write in my own way with some elements of the three acts method. Considering NaNo is all about the word count and not about finesse, I decided I can figure out the outline and structure properly later, right now I just need to get the story out. 

The three acts method is basically what I did at school for writing essays and articles and is what was stuck in my head when I did this research. At school, I learned that all articles needed a beginning, a main part and a conclusion. We were to refer to our text as a mouse; the head of the mouse was the beginning; the main part was the body and the conclusion was the tail. Without one of these, there was no complete mouse and therefore no complete text. Easy. She said.

I looked over my own idea and vaguely divided them into three. It ended up being this; an explosive beginning that sets the scene and introduces the main character and her two main companions, then a journey which slowly increases in tension and actions, ups and downs rewarding actions and losses, before the ending hits and everything blows up in your face. It’s like one of these graphs:

Basically, I left my story on a cliff hanger… 

I didn’t worry about getting the structure right the first time either. I didn’t want to worry, I just wanted to write. 

The structure could always come later on.

3.2 writing

For the professional writing part, I learned a lot from watching Brandon Sanderson’s teaching lectures from 2016 in SFF writing. I prefer to write fantasy so having a teaching course free online with the tactics specific for fantasy and sci-fi was amazing. You can find the lectures here. There are 12 in total and are 1 hour each. He had lectures on outlining, characters, magic/technology, and the writing business. There is a lot of good information in those lectures and I got several tips on outlining and character development form these lectures.

Something that often gets overlooked in terms of learning to write, is to read. When you read you will subconsciously pick up words, wordings, sentence structure, etc. It’s not magic, it’s memory. But also if you want to write YA fantasy don’t just read adult true crime. There has to be a crossover from what you want to write to what you are reading. Also, read in the language you want to write.

I also read a few books on the subject. One of those was On Writing by Stephen King. I learned a lot from that but the main point I took away was that the 1st draft is written for me by me and only for my eyes. Therefore, there is no point trying to worry about what others will think or if the writing good enough. You just write it. The second draft is for conforming the first draft into text for an audience. Also there is no such thing as a finished piece of writing. You can edit forever. But you might end up publishing draft no 42 or no 5.

NaNoWriMo is, for me, all about the first draft. For me, the second draft is for laying it out properly. I have yet to complete a second draft… So we’ll see if I still believe this after all that. 

3.2.1 Telling vs Showing

If you are after detailed language and grammar advice, I have none. When it comes to NaNo I don’t focus on grammar that much, but I try to do as little “telling” as possible in my text.

What I mean by “telling” is when the author writes something like “She was afraid”. The author tells the reader what the main character is feeling. I don’t like reading this and therefore try not to write it myself. Instead you could write by “showing” the reader. Instead of writing “she was afraid” you could write about what she is feeling, she might by shivering, heart raising, sweating, frozen in place, fighting her instinct to run, eye darting around, the whites of her eyes were showing, etc. This way you let the reader make up their mind that yes she was afraid, without you having told them directly. This is the difference between “telling” and “showing”. “showing is always better but it’s more difficult as well.

As with everything, in moderation. Constantly showing can make tge text heavy and exhausting to read. Telling can be used to speed up uneventful moments and skipping time, while showing drags the reader into the story emotionally. A balanced text contains both at the right places. Tricky but not impossible.

NaNo is an event you don’t need to focus too much on this, but keeping it in mind will make your text better in ever way.

3.3 resources

I highly recommend the Stephen King book mention above if you are interested.

NaNoWriMo webpage and a blog contain a lot of information about different things related to writing, plotting, characters and world-building. NaNo has also published their NaNo 2019 Prep Workshop which included a worksheets and a handbook.

Since last years NaNo, I have signed up for a creative writing course and it’s been very useful but scary. It’s a two hours course on a weekly basis where the first hour is spent on a subject related to writing and the other hour is spend on members reading up their writing and us giving feedback but positive and negative. I read up my work on the day and had very slipt opinions, but I got some really useful feedback and was elated by the end of the session (I will share this with you at the end of this blog series).

For more tips and skills surrounding outlining, story building, endings and opening lines you can do a google (or any other search engine) search, look at the worksheet I linked previously from E. A. Deverall’s webpage

There is also tons of information on NaNoWriMo’s webpage for resources. The real info in on the bottom of the page. It’s easy to miss so keep your eyes open.

There is also some sessions on outlining, plotting and building the story in Brandon Sanderson’s Web lectures.

Until next time, keep writing 😁

4 thoughts on “Writing blog series #3 The outlining and writing – NaNoWriMo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo

  1. I think the snowflake method is interesting. I definitely couldn’t do that for my first draft, so I liked how you said it worked well for the second draft. I’m going to try using it to revise my stories. Usually I find the most helpful way for me to outline the story is just key scenes that have to happen. Then I write things by scene, versus in a linear pattern (because I often get stuck that way) then piece things together afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you find the snowflake method as useful for second drafts as me 🙂 Yeah, but also having the scenes lined up and ready to go, you can skip the stuff you are stuck on and move to the next one. It makes thing so much easier. Are you participating in NaNo this year?

      Liked by 1 person

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