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Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaNo Prep!

As I've mentioned, I will be writing for NaNoWriMo again this year, my fourth year in a row. I'm very excited, but also a little terrified (I get this way every year, and try to keep telling myself how normal it is.) If you want to track me down on the NaNo site ( I'm on there under denisej

Tuesday I received a pretty cool email from a reporter at They wanted to interview me about NaNo and my successes and process. Well, I did the interview, and now I'm feeling extra-committed (which means...extra-terrified!)

I've been working on a loose outline for this book, and as I've been brainstorming, I've come up with a few preparation tips that have helped me and I hope they'll help you too. Feel free to take these and share them around if you like any of them. After all, we're in this together, right?

1. Brainstorm story ideas. You may have already done this. Or you may be thinking that a brilliant idea will just come to you on November first. I'm of the opinion that you should at least start with a seed of an idea. If you don't have any ideas yet, think of some of your favorite moments of conflict in some of your favorite movies or books. What did you love about that conflict? Was it romantic tension? A power struggle? A loud screaming match of a climax? Or a smart character that talks their way out of a situation with smart-talk? There are a zillion other things it could be too, but the plan is to think of what you like and why you like it. You don't want to be stuck writing fifty thousand words about something you don't even like!

When you read the paper or watch a movie, or even when you're just talking to a friend, allow your mind to ask "what if" questions. Start with what you hear or see or read, and let your mind go to..."what if it went this way..." Those can make great story ideas.

2. Brainstorm character names. This, for me, is the fun part. Pick up a baby name book from the library and look up the meanings of some names. That can help you if you just don't know where to start with characters.

3. Once you've settled on one or two characters, try journaling as them, just to get their voice. This will (probably) not be anything that will make it to the novel, but just fun stuff to get to know them.  Here's some thoughts to get you started:

As your character -

- Write five statements starting with, "I remember..."
- Write five statements that start with, "I want..."
- Write five statements that start with, "I cant wait until..."

Think you know your characters now? Great! Here's a little character interview I do with my characters when I'm so sure I know them (and I'm usually totally wrong!)

Character Interview:

The Basics

Full Name:
Male or Female:


Strong or weak:
Outgoing or shy:
Short or tall:
Detailed physical description:

Go a little deeper:

How does my character feel about him or herself? Will this be different at the beginning of my book than at the end?

How does my character feel about their father?
Their mother?

Does my character have any pets?
How do they feel about their pets?

What does my character want most in the world?

What do they hope to avoid, above all else?

What are five adjectives that would describe my character?

What does my character do with their spare time?
Do they have any hobbies?

Does my character have special talents?

Where does my character fall on the intelligence scale?
Where do they think they fall on the intelligence scale?

What was my character’s most embarrassing moment?
Most proud moment?
Most hurtful moment?

What is my character’s favorite movie?
What’s their favorite music?

Does my character have any bad habits?
Any habits that annoy others?

Who’s their best friend?
Their worst enemy?

What’s their dream job?
Their dream vacation?

Not so hard, right? Well, it is for me. Every time. But it's good to spend time thinking about our characters. I'm definitely more driven by my characters and knowledge of them (as you can probably tell) while I know others are driven more by plot. I'd be interested to see if anyone has more plot-based jump-starting tips for NaNo.

I'll leave you with one more character/voice exercise that I love to do:
Come up with a wise-ass/or smart/or unique reply in your character's voice to these statements:

Someone tells them, "You don't belong here."
Or someone tells them to, "Get a life."

And finally, figure out how your character would take a compliment. Say someone tells them, "Wow, you're gorgeous." or "Wow, you're so talented!" or "Wow, you're so smart." Don't just let them be shy - make them speak to these things!

I'd love to hear if any of these things work for you or don't, or if you have other favorite tips to get into your stories and characters' heads! 


  1. Thanks for the advice Denise! I'm thinking about doing NaNo - it would be my first time and my first time really writing something - and this advice will certainly help me.

    Good luck :D

  2. Very cool about the ABC interview! :)

    Thanks for sharing your tips. I love the voice-journal prompts, and the character interview is great, too.

    I'm happily working on my story summary, looking again at my character sketches, tweaking my log-line, etc., all in prep for getting this second draft done during NaNo! Very excited to push through and finish this one. :)

  3. Those are some great tips for finding the character voices. Excellent - thanks for sharing!

  4. Those are some great tips for preparing for NaMoWriMo. Also, stocking up on sour ju jubes is crucial!

  5. Thanks Denise!!! I am working on this, this weekend. This is my first time doing NANO I think it will be a great way to get out that story with a deadline.

    Thanks for the advice. Truly appreciate it. If you know any other tips or any books with awesome exercises please let me know :)

    truthbetold004 at gmail dot com

  6. Thanks for your tips. Every fresh idea helps! Since I'm working on a story that I started last year, I have the plot and characters fairly well established in my mind, but I've been thinking through scenes this week. I should be better organized, but I'm not really a detailed plotter. I'm more inclined to just *coast* into NaNo on Monday morning. It'll likely be a bit of a "wing and a prayer" thing. LOL.

    I hope your Tenners signing in Snohomish went well today.