A Complete Guide for Planning and Drafting your Book: A NaNoWriMo Checklist

A short and to the point list of all the things every writer should think of and plan before starting to type their manuscript. This comprehensive list is perfect for obsessive planners, although pantsers should review and have a high level idea of these elements as well.

The goal is to have a blueprint of our story so that we can sit every day to type knowing well what we are supposed to write, and therefore avoid any writer’s block.

Here it is all you need to plan for your book before you start typing your manuscript. This plan is divided in three sections (plus one bonus):

  • Ideation: Covers all the loose bits and pieces that make up your story (theme, characters, world, etc)
  • Plotting Arcs: The character and story arcs as well as all subplots.
  • Scenes: An overview of all main scenes in the story
  • Draft Zero: A quick overview on writing a schematic pre-draft.

The Story Plotting Checklist

These notes have been extracted from some great books on plotting. Mostly this list follows most of the directions in The Novel-Writing Training Plan (a great straight and to the point book on plotting) and also on ideas from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Save The Cat!, and a few other books.

Part 1 – Ideation

✅ Idea

This is the premise of your book, the core nugget. What is that one thing that you came up with that made you want to write this story. Write it down so you never forget it. It will be your shining light. This is the one thing that you can always turn to when you are lost in your draft and you need to find your path again.

✅ Theme

This can be defined at the beginning of the planning phase, at the end, or even not at all. It is the conceptual theme of your story.

✅ Hero

Your hero should be a contrast to your main idea, his personality and goals should be closely related to the theme of your story. Describe his physical, mental and moral dimensions. Two core elements of the hero integral to his character arc are:

  • Hero’s Flaw: an internal flaw be it a character limitation or moral flaw that is holding the hero back
  • Hero’s Desire: an external goal that the hero aspires to but that is tied to his flaw and can’t be obtained witout overcoming his flaw

✅ World

Just like the hero, your world should be a thematic match to your idea best. Cover all aspects besides time and place, including the infrastructure, diversity and technology.

✅ Characters

All supporting characters to your hero, including but not limited to: antihero, mentor, ally, etc.

✅ Symbolism

What are the elements of your story that can be used best for echoing your main theme. What are the topics, visual references, locations, terms, names, etc, that best align with and evoque what your story is about.

✅ Blurb

This is the elevator pitch or Amazon summary of your book. If you want to read a great description of how to craft the perfect blurb check out the book Save The Cat!.

Part 2 – Plotting Arcs

✅ Story Arc

The narrative arc of your story. Describes how the core idea evolves through the following stages: setup, initial incident, rising action, climax, success or failure, following action, resolution. Also traditionally described as: stasis, trigger, quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal or change, and resolution.

✅ Character Arc

Has been described most famously through the Hero’s Journey, but also Growth Arc, or Fall or Tragedy story patterns. Steps can be synthesised as hero’s start point, end point and events driving change.

✅ Plot

The plot is the sum of the narrative actions that cause the reactions in the Story and Character Arcs. Should define hero’s goal, what’s at stake, what success looks like for the hero, what are the hurdles in the way of that success that cause the sacrifices or small wins for the hero.

✅ Subplots

All the story subplots should be a mirror to the main story, a contrast to it, or add complications to the plot.

Part 3 – Scenes

✅ Voice or Point of View

Decide what voice your story will be told in. Mainly first or third person. Also, define what vocabulary, inflexion, level of language, etc that the narrator will use.

✅ Opening Scene

One of the most important scenes in a story. It should start with a strong image that echoes the whole story and should set the tone and style of the book and introduce the hero as well as his flaw and desire.

✅ Core Scenes

Every scene should cover time and place, help develop the hero, touch on their goals, rise or fall the action and up the conflict.

✅ Conflict Scene

The conflict can be internal (hero vs self, hero vs. fate) or external (hero vs. villain, hero vs. society, hero vs. nature, hero vs. technology).

✅ Ending Scene

Your ending must be inititiated by the hero, and they must be transformed in result, it should be linked to the beginning and should tie up all loose ends.

Part 4 – Pre-drafting

✅ Draft Zero

This Draft is not so much writing as it is planning. Don’t use the voice that you plan on using, but rather a direct, instructional voice in present tense. Don’t use descriptions and be minimal with the language. Cover all the scenes you planned earlier but aim for just 200 to 500 words per scene.

You are ready ✔

You should be able to cover all the elements above in 3-4 weeks. With all those pieces out of the way, thought out and written down you are ready to start your first draft. Now you can sit with confidence every day knowing what you are supposed to write. And if you are planning for NaNoWriMo, you can review your scenes and draft Zero and type those 2,000 words a day furiously.

Good luck!

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