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On Prewriting: Assignments

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shopYesterday I talked about the benefits of prewriting when it comes to your NaNoWriMo novel, and I listed some of the assignments I like to go through (and give out).

In the coming month I’ll go into pretty close detail on the most important ones — the ones I haven’t already covered, anyway. The ones I have covered, I’ll be sure to link you back to.

Return of the Marble Statue Metaphor

This whole curriculum is intended to help a serious writer create a useful NaNoWriMo novel. That doesn’t mean it will be elegant and beautiful. It’ll be a big ugly chunk of rock, no matter how you cut it. As I’ve said before, the fine art of making a good novel doesn’t start until the draft is done.

Writing your first draft with a plan, though — approaching it with an understanding of the craft of storytelling and some idea where and how the novel’s structure will develop — that significantly increases your chances of producing a usable chunk of rock. It will have the right color and size for the project you’re trying to make, and it’s less likely to hide the sort of gaping flaws that will reduce the whole thing to a pile of rubble once you start looking closely.

So what does it take to quarry a clean piece of stone like that? Here are my favorite tools:

Assignment #1 (Due October 9): Mock Table of Contents

Your mock Table of Contents is 1-2 pages, using the standard Table of Contents format. It should outline a rough draft of your story’s narrative (an overview of the plot) using only chapter titles.

Aim for 15 chapters, and limit yourself to no more than 20 words per chapter title. Complete this assignment by the end of the day on Saturday, October 9.

Assignment #2 (Due October 15): Five Character Descriptions

A strong cast of interesting characters can easily drive a plot forward, and the better you know the characters, the more interesting they can be. Once you have a rough overview of the plot, make some rich personalities to place in it.

This assignment requires you to write 900 words — about three pages — describing five characters from your story. Create 300 word descriptions for each of two main characters, and 100 words each for three supporting characters. Complete this assignment by October 15.

Assignment #3 (Due October 16): The Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet

The Conflict Resolution Cycle describes the process of building and resolving conflict in your story (using scenes), which creates the narrative tension that pulls a reader through from the start to the end. If you already know what all of that means, you could probably fill out your worksheet in your sleep.

If you don’t, you’ll really enjoy the blog series I’ll be running on the week of October 10th. Over the course of the week I’ll explain the Conflict Resolution Cycle and provide the Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet. You’ll have one day to complete this assignment by October 16.

Assignment #4 (Due October 20): Short Synopsis

In 300 words, describe the overall story you want to tell about your characters. You don’t get a blog series for this assignment, but if you crawl through the archives you can find something relevant.

The goal of this one isn’t to make something perfect, though. It’s just to help you find a way to verbalize (and contain) the story you actually want to tell. Complete this assignment by October 20.

Assignment #5 (Due October 24): Write a Scene

That week we’ll be talking about narrative scenes, and you’ll also be coming within striking range of NaNoWriMo itself, so we’ll finish out the week with an assignment making you practice both.

You’ll write 5-10 pages, in narrative format, showing a scene that is related to your story. That forces you to start thinking in terms of scene…and it also forces you to make yourself sit down and start writing story. Trust me, NaNoWriMo is a whole lot easier to handle if you’ve got some practice before the month begins.

Assignment #6 (Due October 31): Long Synopsis

We’ll finish the month out with one of the handiest assignments of them all — and also the most tedious. Following a blog series on the different types and purposes of story synopsis, you’ll write 5-10 pages in the scene list or “long synopsis” format.

This synopsis should describe the whole plot arc for your story, including all major plot events, and summarize the complete conflict resolution cycle. As November creeps into its second and third weeks, you’ll be awfully glad to have some of those things already nailed down. Complete this assignment by the end of the day on October 31, because come midnight you’ll have bigger fish to fry.

14 Responses to “On Prewriting: Assignments”

  1. Courtney Cantrell says:


  2. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Table of Contents = DONE. Sha-ZAM! ;o)

  3. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Character Descriptions = DONE. Boom!

  4. Courtney Cantrell says:

    CRC Worksheet = DONE. YATA!

  5. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Short synopsis = DONE. (Provided 438 words is as okay as 300. ;)) Huzzah!

  6. Aaron Pogue says:

    You’re a machine, Courtney! I’m so proud of you.

    As for me…I’m still trying to decide which of three novels to work on. Two of them have complete prewriting packets, and the third…well, it was inspired by a dream I just had this morning.

    That said, I worked on the prewriting over lunch, and I’ve got a ToC, character descriptions, and half of a scene list done already. (I’m working out of order. That’s the teacher’s prerogative.)

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Do the dream. Whatever it is, that’s what your subconscious has a hankerin’ for. Especially if it spurred you to start the prewriting so immediately. 😉

      • Aaron Pogue says:

        Well…I’m sort of toying with the possibility of doing a Triple NaNo. Technically, it’s possible I could write all three. That’s what I’m a-hankerin’ for.

        Don’t tell anyone, though. It’s a completely insane idea. I just can’t seem to shake it.

        • Courtney Cantrell says:

          Are you thinking 3-in-50k — or a 150k total?

          Either way, yes: It is an insane idea, and I promise not to divulge the enormity of it to anyone. That said, it’s not the first crazy plan you’ve ever come up with. There *is* that whole let’s-change-the-whole-Western-world thing… 😉

          • Aaron Pogue says:

            Well…it’d probably be closer to 180k-190k, but I wouldn’t feel too disappointed if I stopped in the 150k range.

            My first NaNoWriMo ever was 140k, though, so I know it’s doable….

            The new one is a YA/Tween novel, so it would be a straightforward 50k. Of the other two…one’s an already-started Ghost Targets book I’ve been stewing on for a year, and the other is a scene-for-scene adaptation of an existing work.

            So…that’s reasonable. Right?

  7. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Scene = DONE. Squeeeeeeeee!

  8. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Oh, and Aaron…considering everything you’ve accomplished in the last 7 months, I think your 180-190k is very reasonable. (For you. 😉 )

  9. Courtney Cantrell says:

    By the way, just for the record: Long synopsis = DONE. ;D