Wednesday, December 2

You've Finished NaNoWriMo: Now What?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A big congratulations to all the NaNo'ers out there who made it through the month. No matter how many words you wrote, rejoice that you dedicated time to writing.

At this point, you might be staring at that NaNo novel and wondering what to do next.

My suggestions:

1. Set it aside for at least two weeks. Maybe even a month.

A little distance will give your perspective and allow you to approach revisions with fresh eyes. You'll see what's on the page, not what you intended to write. This is especially true for a fast-drafted novel, since everything is probably still fresh in your mind. (Or a complete blur since you wrote it so quickly)

(Here's more on first looks at a first draft)

2. Plan your revisions.

One thing that helps me when I start a revision, is to create an outline/summary of what happens in the novel. Call it a scene synopsis or an edit or book map. I go scene by scene and summarize what happens from a plot standpoint. This helps me remember what I wrote, and see where the weak areas are. I can quickly pinpoint where a scene is lacking a goal or stakes, or scenes that aren't serving the story very well. It's also a useful reference guide for later.

For every scene, ask:
  • What is the point of view character trying to do? (the scene goal)
  • What goes wrong? (the scene conflict)
  • What does the POV character do about it? (the scene drive)
  • Why does this matter? (the scene stakes)
These questions capture the basic goal-journey-disaster structure of a scene. If you're missing these pieces, there's a good chance the scene isn't helping to move the story forward. If you find yourself summarizing everything but these pieces, that's a red flag that the scene doesn't have a goal, conflict, or stakes.

(Here's more on creating an editorial map)

3. Flesh out to novel length.

Since NaNo is geared toward 50K words, odds are you don't yet have a full novel (unless you're writing for middle grade or young adult audiences, or you did really well and blew past 50K words) With your handy new editorial map, you can see where you might need to flesh out the story.
  • Are there subplots you can add to the mix?
  • Are there any character arcs that can be woven through to add to the theme?
  • Are there places where you can deepen the theme or characters?
  • Can you develop your world building more?
Overlaying your editorial map to your favorite story structure template can also help spot areas where you could flesh out the story. For example, if your Act Two isn't half the novel, then you know you can add more there without hurting the overall pacing of the novel. If Act One is taking over half the novel, that's a likely place to cut back (or a good indication the rest needs to be longer).

(Here's more on fleshing out a too-short novel)

4. Check for emotional clarity.

In the rush to get those 50K words down, there's a decent chance some things got simplified. If you were focused on the plot, then the emotional layers might be lacking and vice versa. It might not be a bad idea to look through your editorial map and add in what the emotional arcs are.
  • How does each character feel at the start of every scene?
  • What emotions change in the scene?
  • What do you want the reader to feel in every scene?
In the text itself, if you find a lot of pronoun-verb statements (like he frowned, or she smiled) those are great placeholder phrases that could indicated where you can develop the emotions more. And show more.

(Here's more on creating emotional clarity)

5. Check for plot clarity.

On the flip side, if you were focused on the characters and their emotional journey, you might be light on plot. Things are happening, but there's no sense of story drive or stakes, it's just a string of scenes that's aren't moving the story along. Take some time to make sure every scene in your synopsis is pulling its weight.
  • Is each scene ending with a decision that leads to the next scene?
  • Is there enough conflict in every scene?
  • Are there goals and choices in every scene?
If each scene isn't creating a reason for the next scene to happen, you probably want to take another look at your goals, conflicts, and stakes.

(Here's more on plotting)

6. Take a quick look at the entire story.

Once you've identified where the weak areas are and created a plan to fix them, take a step or two back and re-look at the entire novel. A quick scan through the pages works well here, as you can see where there are dark, heavy text areas vs. light, dialogue heavy areas. Big boxes of text can indicate there's not enough dialogue or you're telling too much. White, open pages can indicate there's too much dialogue and not enough narrative. A neat trick for this is to zoom out on your pages so all you see are the lines, not the actual text.
  • Are all the pieces working together to tell the best tale?
  • Is there a good mix of description and dialogue? Exposition and internalization?
  • Do you have all the right pieces in the right places?

(Here's more on plotting with layers)

Finishing a NaNo novel is something to be proud of, but don't rush to get that novel sent out to agents editors, or publishers. Treat it just like any other novel and put in the work to polish it and make it something worthy of all that effort.

Did you do NaNo? How did it go?

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. Hi, a very good post, a very good agenda to work with. I can't say I had all of that written down, but certainly I had a few notes in Scrivener along those lines. I wrote 52262 words in the month.
    To your list I guess I have added giving a copy to my mother to read, and one for my wife. They spot different typos that I can't see. Of course it depends on whether you have a suitable wife and mother available, and whether you dare show it to them.
    I have also read a few selected passages at the two writers groups that I go to.
    I started with a basic idea that I thought might go all the way but it wasn't until a fair way into it that I really understood who the main characters were, so one thing on the fleshing out agenda is going back and adding here and there a bit more back story about them and a few scenes to reveal more of their character.
    Then there is the matter of a cover, and really deciding the title...

  2. I didn't do NaNo, but these are great suggestions, anyway. I especially like #2...creating a scene synopsis. I'll definitely try that with my middle grade that's just about finished. Thanks!

  3. I got 37K, which is awesome. This is the first time I've made it past the first week. The synopsis sheet kind of reminds me a beat sheet I did in playwriting, where you kind of reverse engineer your story by writing it out first, then rearranging scenes.

  4. I didn't do NaNo but these are great tips for finishing any first draft.

  5. I did NaNo and for the first time ever managed to finish early. Ended up with 53909. Still got a bit to finish off the story which I'm working on, but will definitely be using some of these tips when it comes to revising it. :D

  6. I agree with writing a plot synopsis after finishing a manuscript draft. I developed instructions for writing a plot outline and a list of questions for evaluating it, which anyone can download for free from my romantic suspense blog: (at the top of the left-hand column).

  7. Pronoun verb combos are placeholders...THANK YOU.

  8. Great post-NaNo advice, Janice! Those four questions to ask at each scene seem so obvious and yet they're so easy to forget! Thank you for the reminder.

    I didn't undertake the NaNo challenge per se, but I completed my own 10% Project by writing 5,121 words. The idea was to escape my self-editing rut and enter new territory (the 20k zone). My novel has improved in leaps and bounds after 30 days of diligence. It sounds like a cakewalk compared to the real thing, but I'm sure a lot of writers (read: young dads and mums) out there with family and work commitments can understand the impracticality of writing 1,670+ words every day. By aiming for a tenth of that it is possible to complete a first draft in a year.

    In celebration of my tiny achievement I am giving away a copy of Anthony Quinn's recently published historical fiction novel, The Streets. Drop by my blog if you're interested!

  9. Rodgriff, grats on hitting the 50K! That's great that you have so many resources available for feedback. Ack, titles! LOL. Those things can make a writer crazy.

    Heather, I love the scene synopsis. I've done it on the last few books and it makes things so much easier. Hope it works just as well for you. :)

    Najela, fantastic! Note cards also work well for rearranging scenes. I've become a big fan of screenwriting beat sheets (like Save the Cat). There's a lot of crossover value between fiction and screenplays.

    Natalie, thanks! No NaNo for me either. One day -sigh- Though I say that every year.

    Barmybex, grats! I'm always in awe of you folks who can write that fast. I have my fast days, but I don't think I've done 50K in 30 days. Spill your secrets!

    Chris, nifty! Thanks for the link :) I didn't know you had a romantic suspense blog. Have to go check that out :)

    Rachel, most welcome! Adverbs are good placeholders, too. Really handy for first drafts.

    Virtuefiction, grats! I liked your 5K mini-NaNo idea. Thanks for the head's up on the contest. I'll make sure to tweet that.

  10. Hi Janice, I finished the NaNo14 with 97K words, and a finished novel of 300 pages. Now, I have nightmares about editing and revising. I am even thinking of rewriting it using what I already have.

  11. Hi Janice, I finished the NaNo14 with 97K words, and a finished novel of 300 pages. Now, I have nightmares about editing and revising. I am even thinking of rewriting it using what I already have.

    1. Wow, that's awesome, grats! Don't stress over the revision, just make a plan and take it a step at a time :)