NanoWriMo Tips by the Numbers

Only 25,000 to go!

Only 25,000 to go!

A little more than halfway through November, enthusiasm for Nanowrimo starts to fade. If you’re still writing that 50,000 word novel,congratulate yourself.  Your first draft must be complete by December first. What are some benchmarks for the Nanowrimo process?

Writing Tip for Today: Let’s take a look at where your novel, begun November first, should be by mid-month. While not every writer works this evenly, the following benchmarks should help you figure out where you are in the process–and where you need to be.

The 20-60-20 Novel Formula

Some writers hate the idea of any sort of formula connected to a novel, but the fact is, most novels fall roughly into the same pattern.For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume you write roughly the same amount of words each day in November during Nanowrimo. Writer Anne Lamott has said that a scene is like a joke: a setup, a buildup and a payoff/punch line. A novel is a macro version of that same shape: Setup, Build up, Pay off. In most stories, the structure is usually thought of in three acts, and we can apply that formula. But these acts don’t all get the same amount of space in the novel. ACT I or the Setup: introduction of setting, time period, POV character or main character,a goal or problem and what incites that problem must all be present in order to hook readers. This portion of a novel generally takes 20% of the entire word count. ACT II or the Build Up: Complications and obstacles arise, subplots appear, Main Character appears to lose more than win. All these forces combine for rising action, increasing tension, all the way up to the Do or Die scene, also known as the climax. All is lost and the character feels hopeless. The Build Up eats another 60% of the story. ACT III The Pay Off includes this Climax scene and the resolution or outcome of the story, for the final 20%.

Halfway Through? Speed Up or Slow Down

With the above formula of 20-60-20 in mind, by November 15 you should be approximately halfway through your first draft. Your Set Up of 20% should be done. And if you’re about 30% into ACT II, your Nanowrimo novel draft should be around 50% total done–or about 25,000 words. Of course these numbers are only estimates, but if you’ve already written 25K words and are still introducing your ACT I Set Up elements, you may want to speed things up a bit. If you have written the same 25,000 words and are writing the ACT III Climax, you’ll want to slow things down.

A Number for Every Nano Writer

Even if you write your novel out of order (that is, not chronologically) you can still apply these percentages to help gauge the pace. You have about 10,000 words to get your ACT I Set Up complete, around 30,000 words to bring the story to the ACT II climax, all is lost place and 10,000 more words to show the ACT III Big Climax and outcome of the story. Most novelists advise getting out of the story as quickly as is reasonable once the climax is decided–a long, drawn-out resolution can kill readers’ satisfaction. And remember, there are only about five outcomes possible: Character 1) gets what she wants and is happy 2) doesn’t get what she wants and is unhappy 3) gets what he wants and is unhappy 4) doesn’t get what he wants and is happy (or changes the goal) and 5) doesn’t care (not recommended). Where are you in the Nanowrimo Formula?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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