BOOKS: It’s time to dive into a new novel — your novel

This is your mission, if you choose to accept it: Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Yes, it is just as scary as you think it is. But you won’t be alone. You’ll have a teeming online community backing you with tips, encouragement and even dares on what you should include in your magnum opus.

November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as nanowrimo. You can learn everything you could possibly want to know about the “thirty days and nights of literary abandon” over at

Excited yet? Just wait until you’re staring at a blank computer screen trying to think of what your main character’s last name should be. You can’t write a single word of your novel before Nov. 1, but you can plan every miniscule step of your book before the clock ticks into the next month.

Here are a few pointers to get you going. Believe me, planning your novel out before hand is much better than reaching 20,000 words and running out of things for Joe Protagonist to do.

Ÿ Write some character sketches. Having a few paragraphs about each of your main characters will help you map their actions because you’ll have the motivations there to back them up. Just a few short sentences about their childhoods, pet peeves and quirks will go a long way in helping shape your novel.

Ÿ Plan your chapters. You may intend on introducing Joe Protagonist to the reader in Chapter 1, and you know that he will meet Jane Foil in Chapter 3. But what happens in Chapter 2? Thinking you’ll just push out a few hundred words once you get to that point is a lot more difficult than you think. That’s why you should have a broad sketch about what happens at every step along the way.

Ÿ Get specific. Once you’ve got a broad chapter outline, start focusing on some details within each chapter. For example, in Chapter 5, plan to send Joe Protagonist to a friend’s house but on the way have him bump into an old acquaintance he’s trying to avoid. A little setup like that can lead you into hundreds of words worth of story.

All of these techniques work toward getting those 50,000 words onto your computer screen. Picture the broad strokes of chapter outlines and specific scene details as points: A to B to C, beginning to end. When you actually sit down to type, all you’re doing is drawing a line from one point to another.

Remember: This isn’t a task to dread, it’s a hobby to enjoy. Have fun with it and keep writing.

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