When I did NaNoWriMo in the past, I usually gave myself enough time to plan and research. Chris Baty, in No Plot? No Problem!, recommends no more than a month of planning. Because of my late decision, I only had 3 days to prepare. Thankfully, the idea I’m going to be working with this year is something I noodled around with many, many years ago, so I had a fair idea of where I wanted the story to go.
Before I go any further, this is where I say SPOILERS AHEAD. I am going to be showing every step I take in writing this project. I will be sharing outlines and plot points throughout. This will be a record of how the book is being formed, and thus won’t necessarily be reader-friendly. If you are interested solely in reading the book as I churn out the words, then you can follow my NaNo profile. Fair warning on that as well. I expect it will be terrible. But it’s supposed to be terrible. It’s a first draft, and I’ve given myself permission to write garbage.
With that out of the way, time to start talking about what I’ve managed so far. First, research. There were two things I mentioned I wished to research. First, Atlantis. I did a quick surface search on the most plausible explanations for Atlantis, and quickly decided the eruption of Santorini in 1600 B.C. would work best for my story. Second, Jack the Ripper. What I was looking for in this bit of research were other serial murders with similar M.O.s throughout history that I could use. My head spun at the seemingly endless string of unsolved serial murders throughout history, but I managed to grab a few of the most similar for added background to my story. All in all, I spent possibly an hour on the research. I’m sure I will have to do plenty more as I write the story, but I felt that was enough to get me started.
I want to digress a moment and talk about the three usual types of NaNoWriMo participants Planners, Pantsers, and Plantsers. Planners like to figure out every step of the way long before the first word is written. Pantsers, called that because they write “by the seat of their pants”, usually start writing and see where the words take them. Plantsers are those who fall somewhere in between. This year, thanks to Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody, I’m a lot closer to planner on the spectrum than I have been in past years.
Brody suggests first figuring out three things about the hero: his/her problem, want, and need.
Problem: frustrated with the world. Nothing changes. People are always hurting each other. Doesn’t trust anyone.
Want: to be left alone, to not feel a sense of responsibility to the world
Need: to open up and reach out to people, even knowing they will die before him.
She then offers ingredients for each of the ten Save The Cat (STC) genres. I decided to go with superhero. The three ingredients for this genre are a special power, a nemesis, and a curse the hero suffers.
Power: Immortal, rich, always trying to do the right thing and save the day (strong sense of justice)
Nemesis: Jack, also immortal, rising up the ranks of politics. Responsible for many murders throughout history
Curse: always alone, watching loved ones die. Failed mission to capture Jack and bring him to justice.
I then filled in a STC Beat Sheet for the story:
- OPENING IMAGE (1%)
Leon sitting alone on a bus
- SETUP (1-10%)
Leon has been alone for a long, long time, except for his cat. He has had no romance, and he’s given up his life-long mission
- THEME STATED (5%)
What good is money and time if you have no one to share it with?
- CATALYST (10%)
Leon sees Jack in the paper. He’s running for office.
- DEBATE (10-20%)
Will Leon pursue Jack again or will he settle for living his pointless life?
- BREAK INTO 2 (20%)
Leon asks to be put on the protective duty for Jack – working alone
- B STORY (22%)
Jessica, a third Atlantis survivor, is also drawn to Jack’s article and meets Leon when he arrests her as a “prostitute”
- FUN & GAMES (20-50%)
This is where we learn of Atlantis, Jack the Ripper, etc. Upward path.
- MIDPOINT (50%)
Leon accuses Jack of being a killer. False victory.
- BAD GUYS CLOSE IN (50-75%)
Jack turns the entire police force against Leon. Leon is on the run
- ALL IS LOST (75%)
Leon is set up as a killer of a prostitute (whiff of death) and is arrested
- DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (75-80%)
Leon wallows in jail, waiting for the inevitable. Made things hard for other Atlanteans as Jack is now on alert. Leon is ready to hide again (return to familiar)
- BREAK INTO 3 (80%)
Leon finds Jessica, ready to accept help
- FINALE (80-100%)
Leon discovers others have survived Atlantis and were drawn to the city because of Jack’s campaign. They band together to take him down.
- FINAL IMAGE (100%)
Leon riding with his fellow immortals to “HOME”
Finally, the last thing I worked on was the tagline, the bit that’s supposed to make people want to read the book:
On the verge of deciding to disappear from the world, Leon, an immortal from the lost city of Atlantis, discovers that Jack, a fellow Atlantean, one he failed to bring to justice, is running for governor; but when Leon is framed for his nemesis’ crimes, he must learn to trust others in time to stop Jack from being elected.
All in all, not bad for the first day of research, and I imagine the final book may look completely different from that outline. And that’s where the fun is. Letting the writing surprise you and seeing where it takes you.