Preptober Week One: Concept and Outlining

Happy week 1 of Prep-tober! Throughout this month, I’ll have a theme for each week to help you prep for NaNoWrimo.

  • Week 1 – Concept and Outlining
  • Week 2 – Characters
  • Week 3 – World Building and Extras
  • Week 4 – Organization and Time Management

If you are reading this and wondering what the heck is Preptober? I suggest you start here.

Where to start?

Congratulations, you’ve decided to write a book. It is a daunting prospect, but usually it’s made more exciting by having a great concept that you cannot let go of. The concept is usually what bores into the writer’s head and gets them to decide to write the book. Meaning that very few decide to write a book, then sit down wondering what they should write about.

If you already have a base concept, great! You’re already one step closer to writing a book.

The concept will be the base that you will stack all of your novel on top of. Like a massive web or mind map, you’ll spawn characters, settings, plot points, actions, scenarios, etc. that interweave and connect back to the starting concept.

Growing your concept

Now that you have a concept, aka your story seed, it’s time to nurture and grow it.

Now’s a good time to utilize a mind map or a bunch of post its. Concept development is just a massive brainstorm session (or multiple session) where your goal is to capture all possible story ideas. These can be big things like character arcs or how the story begins and ends. It can also be smaller things, character concepts, a setting, a line of dialogue, a magical shampoo bottle that transports the main character to mystical realms. Use whatever idea collection method that works best for you and capture everything down.

It helps to turn off your inner critic at this stage/most of the planning stage. A lot of what you jot down might not be used, but ideas generate more ideas. It might be the fourth or fifth idea that really sticks.

Organizing your thoughts

After brainstorming, you probably have a huge steaming pile of stuff. Once you think you have collected a significant number of ideas, sort them. This will be the basis of your outline and your story bible.

An outline is a skeletal look at your novel, including the structure, plot, characters, and more. Often, outlines are organized in a sequence of scenes that will follow your intended beginning, middle, and end.

I recommend looking at different types of story structure, and deciding which plotting method works best for you.

Understanding story structure can help set you up for success. Narrative structure provides beats and guidelines that act as building blocks to every good story.

Recommendations for developing an outline

Think about what is the big question of the story, and then how will that question be answered. This is often the largest source of conflict or what is moving your protagonist along their character arc. This is often referred to as the central conflict: which is when a main character’s want is met with an obstacle.

What are the stakes, what is being risked, what actions or events raise the stakes?

What is the starting state? What stands in the character’s way of getting what they want? How does it end?

Outlines can be as long or as short as you need. They can be broken down by chapters and scenes, or it can be a continuous list of plot elements. Outlines can be written in a single document or on individual cards that can be rearranged. Outlines help keeps your narrative in one place, which is especially helpful if you intend to write time-jumps and multiple points of view.

Do I need an outline?

No. There are many “write by the seat of your pants” who don’t use outlines. For these Pantsers, prep-tober doesn’t require much effort. They will sit down on November 1st and dive in with a story idea and little direction.

Outlines work like a road map to writing your story. You might not have any surprises, or you might get lost and take an unexpected detour. Either way, an outline is a useful tool, but it can change and it doesn’t need to be followed to the letter.

What If I start with character, not plot?

If you get an idea about a character and start with developing your character’s starting point wants and needs, then get excited! Next week I’ll be focusing on character development during the novel prep stage.

Still unsure of which side you fall? Check out my article about plot versus character driven novels. It might help give you an idea of what might benefit you most to start with.

Helpful Resources

Need help coming up with an idea? See where inspiration usually strikes me, or head to Pinterest and start looking at images to make an aesthetic board.

Want help deciding how to structure your plot? Check out my two favorite options: Save the Cat! and the 7-point story structure.

If you’re writing a romance or have a romantic subplot, use the Romancing the Beat Sheet to structure your outline.

When pouring your ideas out onto paper (or a blank word doc) keep yourself organized by starting a book bible.

 Are you using NaNoWriMo to knock-out some editing goals? Check out my editing guides.

Thanks for reading! Reach out with any requests for future content or to share your Prep-tober/NaNoWriMo journey with me!

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