Guest Post: Get a Headstart on NaNoWriMo with These 6 Tips on Structuring Your First Draft

By Mariah T.

All of us have a story inside of us. For many, that story begs to be told. That’s why so many people turn to novel writing. WIth National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) fast approaching, you may be inspired to finally start and finish your novel. To participate in NaNoWriMo, you have exactly one month (November 1-30) to write a 50,000-word novel.

You could just sit down on November 1, type out a story, and pray for the best. But that doesn’t always work out. In fact, many times people end up with a pile of words that are too confusing and complicated to be considered a cohesive story.

This is understandable, but there are steps you can take to prevent this! When undergoing a task as big as writing a novel, you’ll want to plan things ahead of time. Planning will help you keep organized, stay on track, and churn out the best work possible.  This will not only help you finish your novel faster, but it will also help you craft a story that is comprehensible, engaging, and exciting.

Here are six tips on how to structure your NaNoWriMo novel:

1. Create Your Outline

Did you suddenly have a great idea for a novel? The urge to write is probably strong, but before you do that, you need to plan. Grab a computer or a pencil and a pen. Sit down and create a rough draft of your outline. This is where you write the major plot points from beginning to end.

Write down any other scenes that you think would be a great fit for your book. If you don’t have it all figured out right now, that’s okay. Get down the bare bones, and you can always go back and add more content later. The important part is that you know how your novel begins and what ending you need to get to.

2. Plan Out Your Characters and Bring Them to Life

You may think that you’ll remember all your characters, but chances are you won’t (at least not as well as you should). Novels sometimes have close to a hundred characters in them (big fantasy series, usually). It’s hard to keep them all straight, and that’s why you need to write out their descriptions. Name them all, give them a physical description, say what their likes are, and what their job or schooling is.

One great way to get the creative juices flowing is to write down three things you want everyone to know about your characters. Pay special attention to your main characters. You want them to come to life on your pages. This also helps prevent any inconsistencies in names or descriptions.

3. Plan Your Beginning, Middle, and End

Every story needs a beginning, middle, and end. These different parts of a book need to flow into each other nicely. That’s why it’s important to plan all major scenes in each part. Keep scene outlines short and vague enough that when you do end up writing the scenes, they will be easier to write out without building frustration about the possibility of the scenes not turning out the exact way you imagined.

4. Create Chapter Summaries

After you’ve got your plot outline and character descriptions done, it’s time to focus on the chapters. Chapters are what makes up your book and is, therefore the most important part. If you have boring chapters or chapters that are too short or too wordy, your readers will get bored and put your book down.

Chapters should not be excessively long or exceptionally short. You can help yourself by putting your chapters through a word counter (such as, and aim to have it somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 words long.

5. Learn How You Write Scenes

Whether action or romantic scenes, your ability to write a convincing and engaging scene is what is going to keep your plot rolling. To begin writing a great scene, identify if it is a opening, middle, or climatic scene. Opening scenes and climatic scenes are critical in that one has to capture your reader (the opener), and one has to satisfy them (the climatic end).

Everything in the middle has to connect these two extremes together. After you identify what kind of scene you’re writing, identify the purpose of it, it’s high moments, and emphasize the character or plot change going on in it.    

6. Stay in Order

When you sit down and write the book, it’s typically helpful to stay in order. When you’re creating what happens to a person, it’s easier to get confused. If you go out of order, you might start writing things that you think happened to your character already but they haven’t. If you stay in order, you can experience events as your character does. It helps you get a feel for them.

What Comes After the First Draft?

Your first draft will in all likelihood be messy and at least a little chaotic, but that’s okay. You have several drafts ahead of you to get it right. All that matters is you have all the information at your fingertips ready to go whenever you get the urge to work on your book. As NaNoWriMo recognizes, sometimes your biggest hurdle is getting your first draft out there.

Remember that writing doesn’t have to be a lonely process, and that there are plenty of writing resources out there ready to access when you find yourself getting frustrated.


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