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Use 10 Key Scenes to Win NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is November, a time when hundreds of thousands of authors make a public promise to write 50,000 words during 30 days. The contest amounts to writing just about anything in a file that grows to that size and sending it off to the NaNo website for your “certificate.” There are quotes there because nothing is mailed. Your smile and bragging rights are delivered, though.

The month isn’t about the word count for the dedicated author. It’s a rededication to your work in a public way. Most of all NaNo is about 30 days of work. If you’re aiming at 50,000 then writing every day puts the word count at about 1,700 each and every day. Every day is what NaNo is about, getting you into a flow for creating your book.

Writers dry up and falter in their every-day quest all the time. One great process to keep words flowing into the big file is to have an outline at hand. It’s like your writing to-do list. Saying the word outline makes some writers roll their eyes and sigh. Creating by the seat of your pants is one way to put 50,000 words into a file. Making it into a story keeps you coming back to the month-long task.

Dreaming up 10 Key Scenes gives the pantsers and the plotters a middle ground to make that to-do list. You imagine the 10 turning points for your novel, each represented as a scene. Write the scene and all of the juicy narrative you want to lead in and fall away from it. Space them out so you’re getting one key scene written in rough draft every 3 days. Start with any scene you want, but get them all mapped out before hand with dead-simple summary. Something like “Anna gets arrested at the march.”

The Ten-Scene method is from the great guidebook The Writer’s Little Helper. The swell graphic shows off how to set up the sequence. Five of the ten are essentials and you can do those first. James V. Smith says “every novel I’ve ever written, ever read, or ever heard about can be deconstructed into ten scenes. Plan the central story line of your novel to go ten scenes or fewer.”

NaNo was started by Chris Baty, who wrote a guidebook for the process called No Plot, No Problem. He’s not completely incorrect with his advice for these 30 days, because characters are the soul of plot. You can fill up that big file with a lot of character writing. Putting those heroes and villains of your story into action in scenes shapes them and makes them real. We all start with gusto in NaNo, but about Day Six we wonder if our story is worth all the time at the keyboard or the pages of our notebooks. The Ten Scenes are lighthouses to steer the boat of your story toward. Make yours and then get to work on sailing the course to a rough draft.

Find some support for your month, too. All over the country, there are Write-Ins where authors gather to tap away in the company of other artists. We’re having one on Saturday, November 3 at the Milwood branch of the library in Austin, starting at 1 PM. Bring your list of scenes and see where they can lead your writing.