You Can Do This – Even if You’ve Stopped Writing

How’s everyone doing?

Is your stuff going in directions you didn’t expect? Or is sailing along?

Did your project change or hit a dead end? Did you lose the muse or decide to just stop?

If the latter, how would you feel about about picking back up on your love of writing, just for this last week – or any days in this week- to do what you LOVE. To fulfill your dream of writing, just for these last few days.

Forget word count. Forget that your story didn’t grab you. If you’ re stuck on a piece, why not journal through it?

Or just write your thoughts about the project, or food and the holidays coming up, what’s worrying you, or what you’re distracted by or happy about. That is a tool of the writers life to get them past it.\

Or, take the luxury of writing some stuff for yourself. What’s going on in you with Covid, family, how cold it is, or bucket list things you’d like to vision in detail, the best concert you went to, or the antics of your dog/cat/horse/bunny/snake.

How about reacquainting yourself with what made you start NANO to begin with, finding that spark that may have gotten buried under an inner critic, the holidays, getting the flu, or feeling it’s not ok if you don’t hit your numbers?

Did you go for it to try to make time for writing in your life? Was it the dream of seeing your book published? Was it that you needed to try your hand at writing so you know you gave that secret hope a go once in your life?

Whatever it is, we’re all still here to cheer you on!

This no judgement group wants you to not judge yourself either!


1. If you’re stuck, put up a post about it and see what amazing comments come in. One might be just the thing, or spark a new path.

2. There’s a write in from 10am-2pm today, and all day Saturday and Sunday from 10-4. There has to be a little time over the weekend for yourself right? In addition, you have 3 days next week before Nano is over to treat yourself: 7am-9am Monday, Tuesday night from 7pm-10pm and a last day blast on Wednesday 11/30.

All the info is on the North Shore MA Region Community Events on the site, or on the WriNoShores Facebook page.

If you haven’t tried, them, it’s mystically motivating, just to see your compatriots, who totally understand, accept and support you, sitting there writing with you.

However you do it, I encourage you to not think fo this as a contest, but of making a little room for YOURSELF to do what you do want to do: write!

This wicked sincere encouragement written by Rochelle Joseph

How To Make Room for NaNo

While “Preptober” invites planning your NaNo project, it’s as important to also prep your life to get the best out of this month.


The biggest stumbling block can be finding time. But you can do it, even if you think you’re swamped. A lot of it is in your power to make choices. How? Take 5+ minutes right now to write down the major events, and tasks that will vie for your attention in November. Family, Doctors, Holidays and prep), sports, etc.. and your writing goals.

Excellent! Now look at the list and designate the top priorities, down to the low, with a simple star or number system.  Once done, focus on the top priorities.


One clean month – ahhh. Now fill in ONLY the top 5 things to see where they land and how much time is devoted to them. If your writing is in the top 5, great. If not, this will show you the free spaces to write – or the space you must clear TO do so.


First, determine when you have the best energy. If you are able to arrange to write in those times, even if only a time or two a week, that would help you feel extra good about your words.

Visit to our regional calendar to see when our live write ins, kick off, all night write, and wrap up events are scheduled – all of which will again be held virtually this year… which was really successful last year.  Pencil in the ones you are interested in.

Now you have a complete calendar to assess.


Too much to do? Look at the calendar and ask: What can I cancel just for this month – or miss just once to make time for writing? What can I reschedule?  You will be amazed of what alternatives you think of. I’ve even rescheduled non-essential docs visits. It’s easy to just call to check if you can reschedule without waiting long. There are cancellations all the time.  If you’re in book clubs, you COULD just skip one month to write, right? Can a haircut in a good writing slot be booked on a different day?


For the rest, like laundry or dishes, you could ask aloud, “Is there anyone who could do this (once or one day each week in Nov)? If alone, can someone come in to clean, can you switch to paper plates (recyclable natch), or have groceries delivered?  Or this month, shop for shelf stable items and make things like lasagna or soup that you can freeze in portions to free up time you’d spend in prep and cooking time. With things a friend can do, like walking the dog or picking up dry cleaning, you never know till you ask! And you can do a favor back… after November. Get creative! You can to do this!


You can handle this two ways: If people are on your priority list, then schedule time with them at intervals, do get your writing time in-between. Then you can use the upcoming visits as motivation to jam on your word counts so that social time can be spent free from feeling being torn (a.k.a mental anguish).

Or you can tell friends/family in advance that for 4 weeks you’ll be devoting any free time to your writing. Thank them for supporting you by putting invites on hold for drinks, outings, hikes, whatever…  See them in October or book them in December! There should be mad respect for you.

Tell anyone living with you – whether a partner, roommate, children or whatever – the same.

Not everyone gets it, and most people react to change, even if they support you. Help them (and yourself) by dealing with this early and working out any compromises needed. After all, you’re not just changing your schedule, it changes theirs with you. Remind them that it’s only for a few weeks, but weeks that will make all the difference to you. You may even want to make a November calendar showing your NaNo time highlighted to put on the fridge or the door to where you’re writing, so there is zero confusion.

If you have a writing space with a door that will close, a sign on the door helps too. Or, sit with your back to the room and face a wall or corner to be your own “door.” If you must write where others are, putting headphones on – big, visible ones if you have them – will clue them in, even if you don’t play music through them. Better yet, join the live write ins, where people DO get down to work. Seeing that you’re engaged with others in a “meeting” on Zoom may be the ticket to less interruptions from others.


If you have an unsupportive family, co workers or friends, then you should guard your dreams. Just say no, you’re booked if pushed to do something in your sacred writing slot. Stay committed to yourself. You can also get out somewhere to write. During Covid, when going to libraries or coffee shop was not available, I know folks who drove somewhere safe to park (the outskirts of their local shopping center), and wrote in their car! That can be nice with a thermos of tea and a lap board in the back seat or passenger side. Or find a park with a picnic table or a secluded spot in the sun with your own folding chair and warm clothes (even a blanket across your lap). You can do it!


Now that you’ve created precious time for your dreams, vow to guard it with yourself! Social media, Google and your phone are the biggest threats.  Turn off the internet while you write.  This is not a time for Facebook, IG or a research rabbit hole. Silence the phone and turn it face down. If it vibrates and you’re still tempted… hide it under a pillow or leave it in another room. Then, if you need a break or a moment’s distraction, do what every writer in time before the last 20 years has done: get up and stretch. Look outside. Open a window. Put on a song, take a sip of something, pace and talk through your project out loud..  No matter what you do, return to the page.  All of them are far more productive FOR your muse.

Get the best of November by planning now. You have something special that only you can get on the page, no matter how many words it is. It’s the best gift you can give to yourself… and others!

If you’re struggling or succeeding with any aspect of this, we’re always here! Let us know in the comments.

By Rochelle Joseph

NaNoWriMo 2020

The geese are noisily making their way south, which means 2020 thankfully is nearing its end (whew!). But hold on to your hats my fine feathered friends, we have one more flight of fancy left in us! Raise your pens for another madcap month of words, wisdom and camaraderie…it’s NaNoWriMo time!

Okay, I know what you’re all thinking. This sucks. We look forward to November not only for the exciting challenge of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days, but the pleasure of seeing see each other, and sharing this experience with like minded souls. Now we can’t even do that.

It’s true. There will be no in person write-ins this year, but we are still gathering, writing together through the magic of ZOOM, Google Meet, Discord, Facebook, Twitter, and any other online medium you care to introduce us to.

Julia our intrepid ML, (Municipal Liaison) has already got the ball rolling on the official NaNoWriMo regional page. The events listing is filling up with online parties and write-ins. Go check it out, introduce yourself, and let’s keep this wonderful thing going as only WriNoes can – with leftover Halloween candy, a cocktail, and lots of laughter.


WriNoes Carve Out Another NaNoWriMo!

Congratulations to one and all for another gem of a year! It was terrific to see our old friends, meet new ones, and welcome our newest little WriNoe, Anya, into the world (Happy BabyDay Darlene!!!). Stay tuned, this year may have a few more future scribes joining our ranks.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the Kick-Off Party, the All-Night, All-Write, and the TGIO and Reading. It’s lovely to spend time reconnecting with everyone before the crazy days begin, and to end with listening to some of what you have been toiling away at all month. It is a true privilege that you share your work with us.

Big respect to those of you who persevered through life’s challenges, even if it didn’t get you to your goal. It doesn’t matter if you got ten words, or ten thousand, even one is more than you had yesterday.

As most of you know, we started this group because we didn’t want to stop writing together. We have focused on being a support group for protecting that time to write and we will continue that mission in 2020.

Tuesday night’s Write-In at Lynne’s House, and Sunday afternoon’s Write-in with Julia, will beginning again in January 2020. Look for those schedule to be posted by the end of December.

If you have any questions or requests, ask here or on the Facebook page. If you have any suggestions or feedback on your experience during the month of NaNoWriMo, feel free to contact me or Julia. We know the NaNoWriMo relaunch was a bit of an albatross around the neck this year, but they are working on the issues and by next November should have matters well in hand.

Special thanks to Paul for his design and print expertise. He plans and works on this project all year. He even had the concept for 2020 decided on about an hour after the 2019 Kick-off Party.

Lastly, since the snow and Thanksgiving kept so many of you away from our season ending shindig, please know we have your Winner and Perseverance certificates available. You can get one at any of the four monthly write-ins, or give me call/PM to make arrangements to meet up. You really want one, they are particularly lovely this year.

We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

Lynne and Julia







Theme: What Are You Trying To Say?

We’re closing in on day one of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve finally come up with an idea. Now what?

I had a very interesting discussion with a coffeeshop mate which led Satin and I into a deeper conversation about love, redemption, and whether someone can comeback from making a purposefully hurtful mistake.

To me, story is all about character, who they start out as, how they transform–or not, who they are at the end, that is the meat and potatoes of storytelling. Over the weekend I spent a few hours sketching out a family tree full of complications, the backstory for my main character inspired by our discussion. I threw in alcoholism, mental illness, liars, cheaters, it’s no wonder my guy is a mess.

This spark of an idea has a lot of potential, and I have several challenges for him and me to navigate. While those are good places to start, I need to think about what I’m trying to say. What message I want my reader to come away with at the end of the story. I need to suss out the theme. But, first let’s see what I have so far.

Looking at genre, I have four possibilities: Morality, Society, Status, or Worldview. To learn more about genre read here at Story Grid. I’ll look at the obligatory scenes and conventions of each genre to see which fits my story best and or vice versa. The genre may change as I write the story and that’s okay. You are using these choices as guidelines, not rules.

In general, my story is about redemption. Imagine a man who has lived a life of self-delusion. One who has deep seated fears, mental anguish from his childhood, whose grown up to be a bit of follower, too afraid to make his own decisions.

He’s easily led down the wrong paths, making excuses for his behavior, never taking responsibility for his mistakes, or his own agency. He ends up in jail, morose, unrepentant, until he’s given something so valuable that it shakes him to his core, forgiveness.

Can a man who spent his whole life avoiding blame, resisting being worthy of love, and respect, find redemption after prison?

I’m relying heavily on Story Grid to help me refine the theme/controlling idea to guide me through this story. I also recommend C.S. Lakin’s Just What is a Theme in a Novel, Anyway?

I’ve never been much of a planner/plotter other than writing short stories as back story to my characters. This time I’m seriously looking at outlining a bit more since this story is something completely new to me. In previous years, all except Avalanche, were based on characters or ideas that had been rattling around my brain for years. They had considerable mental development before I sat down to write them.

This story is completely new and a bit more serious in tone than anything I’ve tackled before. A little plotting seems prudent.

Another guide I was playing around with is this interesting plot cheat sheet on Eva Deverell’s website.

Dig deep, people. Let’s do this thing!

NaNoWriMo: How and Where to Begin

Whether you are new to writing, new to participating in NaNoWriMo, or new to novel writing in particular, there are several ways you can approach this project.

On the NaNoWriMo site you’ll see writers referred to as either a pantser or a plotter. One means you like to write by-the-seat-of-your-pants without any sort of plotting or predevelopment. The other is when you have any degree of a formed plot, character list, scenes, settings, and research all ready to hit the ground running on day one.

Many writers have written about how to begin NaNoWriMo, including me…here’s the first of last year’s posts. I’ve been looking around for other writer’s perspectives on the subject and like these…

Savannah Gilbo’s Ultimate Guide to Planning for NaNoWriMo.

Jericho Writer’s How to Plot a Novel.

Eva Deverell has fun and helpful templates and worksheets to go with her advise.

…and I’m stopping here because I’ve already spent two hours just perusing Eva’s site.

Have fun. Ask me anything.



It’s Time for NaNoWriMo 2019!

Greetings WriNoes!

I’m excited to be back writing about our favorite literary event NaNoWriMo.

Are you are new to this fabulous event, and wondering what this NaNoWriMo thing is all about?

During the month of November we gather to dash off fifty-thousand words in thirty days. We do it with each other, but sometimes alone, in coffeeshops, and libraries, and sometimes in the privacy of our own homes.

And what do we get beside a manuscript heavily in need of editing? If you finish before midnight of the last night, we verify our word count,  then are showered with accolades and the virtual confetti of those crazy staff members at NaNoWriMo. Totally worth all the sweat and tears it takes to get there.

If you are new to this fabulous event, National Novel Writing Month it is run by a nonprofit entity that supports literacy through their creative writing programs. They run a world-wide literacy event every November, the afore mentioned, NaNoWriMo. They also have a similar event in July, Camp NaNoWriMo, and a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program.

As for us, we are the WriNoShores (Writers of the North Shore) a group brought together originally for NaNoWriMo who stuck around to write all year since 2011 (okay, the first year it was just Sara and I).

We, my husband Paul, and I started providing official Wrino-swag in 2012, then had a contest to name our mascot in 2013, that’s George, and his gull pal Pete.  We redesign our swag every year based on whatever, or whoever George feels like being that year.

If you haven’t already, sign up on the NaNoWriMo site and join our region, Massachusetts: North Shore. Our wonderful ML (Municipal Liaison) Julia, will be posting the schedule of Write-Ins, the Kick-Off Party, All-Night, All-Write, and the TGIO and Reading Party as they are confirmed.

We also post to our Facebook site, just click and ask to be invited. We also have a twitter handle that you’ll find more active the closer it gets to the November 1st launch date.

All information about our local Write-Ins is always on the NaNoWriMo regional page. You won’t miss anything pertinent on FB. It typically is where we hold impromptu write-ins when we can’t attend one in person. You’ll also find information in our forum about the parties, a welcome thread for newbies, an introduction thread, and one for those looking to hold a write-ins not already on the schedule.

If anyone has questions feel free to ask me here, on the FB site, or through the official NaNoWriMo nano mail. I’m always me…Lynne Favreau/lfavreau. You can also reach out to our ML, Julia, through the NaNos site, in the forums or through nano mail.

Well, that just the warm up. In my next post I will address how and where to begin. If you can’t wait, try looking up posts from last year’s NaNoWriMo 2018.




2019 Schedule of Write-Ins at Lynne’s House and Sundays at Atomic Cafe with Julia

Here are Lynne’s and Julia’s write-in dates for 2019!

Write-Ins at Lynne’s House: In general, held the 2nd and 4th Tuesday night of the month.

January: 8, 22

February: 12, 26

March: 12, 26

April: 9, 23

May: 14, 28

June: 11, 25

July: 9, 23

August:  13, 27

September: 10, 24

October: 8, 22

Atomic Cafe with Julia: In general, held the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month.

January: 6, 20


Character Development

At a recent event I was asked about developing characters beyond the typical Q&A worksheet. If any of you have a book recommendation or website that does an especially good job of developing character, post in the comments.

I touched on the basics of character in the post So You Think You Want To Write a Novel.1 where there are links to character development sheets. Also, I noted my way of getting to know my characters: I write short stories as backstory to pinpoint how my character has evolved as a person. This helps me discover their flaws, and how and why they act and react.

Is your storytelling driven by the kind of plot you want to tell, or the character you have in mind? The difference is, are you an external storyteller coming at it from how outside influences act upon the characters, ie, what if an earthquake strikes at the crucial moment of a brain surgery? Or, are you inclined to relate the internal aspects of stories ie, what if a mother suffers brain damage during brain surgery and does not recognize her children? See, NY Book Editors on plot versus character driven.

Either way, your story will have both internal and external aspects, but how you approach the telling of it gives you a point of reference for the genre you are writing in.

I tend to tell stories with an internal approach, character driven stories. If you’ve read my previous posts you might recognize this as being one of the three internal genres: Worldview, Status, or Morality. Whereas, an external storyteller falls more in the external genres, such as Western, Love, Thriller, Horror, Action.

Storygrid address the issue of “plot driven” versus “character driven”

“The truth though is that it just doesn’t matter what kind of “What if?” you dream of exploring. The best “plot driven” Stories have compelling protagonists who chase subconscious internal objects of desire while they are also trying to get the President of the United States out of the U.N. before the tidal wave hits. And “character driven” Stories also require compelling quests for conscious external objects of desire, remission from cancer for example, while the lead character struggles with deep subconscious internal objects of desire like the need to attain some kind of meaningfulness before death.”

Let’s assume you have a story premise and that you’ve done a basic profile of your main characters. Knowing your genre gives you the conventions and obligatory scenes that accompany it. Using that criteria, you can delve into how your character needs to meet them, and what potential flaws or nuances in character can be used to drive the story.

Every story evolves around the change a character goes through from beginning to end, even if it is a plot driven story.  It is a character’s flaws that readers connect to, and why they become invested in reading your story. That human connection draws them in.

Your character must have something to over come personally, an internal need to satisfy, in striving to be whole and happy. Whether they succeed or not, they have to struggled along the way in an attempt to get there. The obstacles and conflicts they encounter along the way are what they act against, it is how they handle them that shows us who they are.

If you are beginning a new story, look closely at your character’s beginning mindset, and where you would like them to end up, that difference is their arc. What flaws can you give them that will create the biggest, most interesting transformation in keeping with your genre’s expectations?

I believe that is how you develop characters that your readers will respond to, be invested in, and want to share with others. And ultimately, that is what makes a good a story. No character sheet or standardized questionnaire will flesh out a character for you.

For more on Character Development…

Reedsy Character Profiles

Neiman Storyboard Tips for Character Building

On Reddit there’s an interesting post, Books With The Best Character Development

Additional Resources

Character Flaws

Emotion Infographic







NaNoWriMo 2018: So You Think You Want To Write A Novel.2

This is the second post covering our five partners in prewriting for NaNoWriMo. In the first I wrote about Character, and Premise and here are GENRE, STORY, and SETTING.


Typically, the first question people pose when they find out you’re a writer is “What genre do you write?” They mean the categories publishers use to market your book like, romance, sci-fi, mystery, women’s lit, horror. The labels you’ll find on the shelves of your local bookstore.

Since you haven’t started writing your book yet you needn’t worry about how Barnes and Noble is going to be shelving your epic five-part series on the life and times of your eccentric neighbor Jebediah: the Gerbil Herder.

You have to delve deeper.

What I know about genre, and the need to fulfill its convention, and obligatory scenes comes from Shawn Coyne. If I could only pick one book to recommend to you, it would be his. Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

Barring you reading that in the next few weeks, here’s an overview and links to the specific articles on StoryGrid that are relative to this post. Better yet, skip everything I’ve written and listen to Shawn’s podcast The Story Grid for NaNoWriMo.

Still here? I shall soldier on, though you may regret this. There are five distinct categories  that together explain the type of writing you are undertaking that collectively add up to genre. Determining these will guide your decisions as you write. If you are a confirmed pantser and find this story structure too fiddly – feel free skip all this.

The categories of genre are, Time, Reality, Style, Structure, and Content. A detailed explanation can be found here, Genre’s Five Leaf Clover. Shawn’s work applies to other creative writing like film and plays but I’m not going to reference them since our focus is on novels.

Time: This is the length of your work, ie, Short (short stories), Medium (novellas), Long (novels).

Reality: Factualism (refers to facts of history or biography, implying “This Story Did Happen”), Realism (stories that could happen but are imagined), Absurdism (stories that are not remotely real, satire, or dark-humor…see this list), Fantasy (stories of wonder and imagination that require a suspension of disbelief, the type of which is delineated by three subgenres: human, magical, sci-fi).

Style: the ways we experience a story. Drama, Comedy, Documentary, Musical, Dance, Literary (under which you’ll find poetry, Minimilism, Meta, and Post-Modern), Theatrical, Cinematic, Epistolary (qualities of letters…see this list).Cartoons (anthropomorphized silliness).

Structure: Archplot (classic story structure we all recognize, a hero’s journey, action movies,), Miniplot (often multiple protagonist, stories concern the inner lives, rather than the external of Archplots, most literary works), Antiplot (breaks all the rules).

Content: This is what you think of as genre in general, but deeper and more specific. Content Genre is broken into two categories, internal and external.

Bear with me. I know this is getting long.

External: These stories are driven by a global external value and its positive and negative charge. 

  • Action—Life/Death,
  • Horror—Life/Fate Worse than Death (Damnation),
  • Crime—Justice/Injustice,
  • Western—Individual/Society, Freedom/Civilization,
  • War—Righteous/Corrupt,
  • Thriller—Life/Death…possibility of Damnation with a combination of Justice/Injustice (a merging of Action, Horror and Crime),
  • Society—the value at stake determines the subgenre, for example the Domestic story is about the Individual/Family dynamic,
  • Love—Love/Hate/Self-Hate/Hate masquerading as Love,
  • Performance—Respect/Shame 

Internal: These are stories driven by the nature of the protagonist/s inner conflict.

  • Status—Success/Failure moving from one ladder of society to another.
  • Worldview—a change in life experience from one value charge to its opposite,
  • Morality—a change/revolution of the protagonist’s inner moral compass

When I first read StoryGrid this is where I got terrified and my brain stopped working. It has taken me well over a year to fully grasp all this and I’m still a bit fuzzy on some details, especially the internal stuff.  No worries if this seems overwhelming. There is no test. You only need some of this to get going, not all of it. And there is a hell of lot more info on the website than I could possibly cover. If this interests you, have fun going down that rabbit hole.

The Saga Begins

That’s a Weird Al Yankovic remake of American Pie about Star Wars.

Grab a whiskey or rye, we’re going to pick something from every category.

As an example, my novel The Illusion of Marriage, it is Long-Form (novel), Realism (it’s a family drama about marriage), Literary (character driven), Miniplot (I have multiple protagonist and plot lines), Content is External:Love, Internal:Worldview/Disillusionment…I think.

I’m still fiddling around with internal content genre. It could be Worldview or Morality, I haven’t narrowed it down (I haven’t decided!). I still have more listening to do of the Editor’s Roundtable discussions and rereading these articles, part 1 and part 2 and part 3.

And that’s okay. We start off in one direction and end somewhere else, where it evolves into a completely different story. Point being it wasn’t until I had the whole story down that I could revise it into a better told story following these guidelines. For now, you are just trying to give yourself some parameters, not hold your story telling hostage to conform.

However, I believe if you are blindingly writing without knowing your story’s genre and its obligatory scenes and conventions then ultimately your story will be incongruent with the expectation your reader has for it. Not to mention wasting precious time and energy producing writing that will need to be edited out. What you can aim for is knowing enough about what you’re going to write to avoid that happening.

Let’s say you are a blank slate. Look at the Genre’s Five Leaf Clover, choose the easy things first.

TIME: Long (we know we’re writing novels).

Reality: Reality? What to you read the most of? Science fiction? How about a Fantasy.

Style: Perhaps you have a funny bone? Comedy it is.

Structure: You’ll have a single protagonist, the hero of the story, that’s Archplot.

Content: Pull up that link to the Genre’s Five Leaf Clover.

Try this exercise: Read through the genres and decide what kind of story would you like to tell. We’ve chosen a comedic sci-fi already, where can you go from there? Pick a category from the yellow section (external) of the content leaf.

  • Horror: Supernatural – a poltergeist slapstick?
  • Love: Testing – an amnesiac time lord keeps forgetting where he leaves his wife?
  • Thriller: Political – Wrong species of president is elected, a farce for sure (I know where you can get some material for that one).
  • Crime: Courtroom – Earth is issued an interplanetary injunction for crime abasing nature?
  • Crime: Murder Mystery – Alien rewritten as a cozy mystery? There’s already a cat.
  • Performance: Sports – a human competes for the first time in the Multi-Universe Olympics? I could play this game all day. Try it, see what you come up with.

Once you decide on genre, you can figure out what the conventions and obligatory scenes are for that genre. Unfortunately, it is way too broad a topic to delve into here, but if you have specific questions, ask in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer. Or you can search Shawn’s site Genres have Conventions and Obligatory Scenes.

P.S. Something else I want to mention, but doesn’t require much thought from you at this point – if you endeavoring to pitch your novel to a traditional publishing house –  read this article, The AutoDidact’s Dilemma.


If you are intimidated by all that genre stuff, start here. Where do ideas come from? Everywhere, and anywhere. They appear while you are reading other things, writing a grocery list, driving to the dentist. While you were doing the exercise above?

Get in to the habit of jotting down the things you observe everyday. The way someone walks, the color of a flower, a scene taking place before you. The people in line at the grocery store. Extrapolate information from the little quirks, mannerism, word choices, that you see and hear. Turn them into character sketches. I insist…you must have the means of capturing your thoughts at all times.

Record a message on your phone, or have a small notebook in your purse or pocket. I have them everywhere.  I’m serious about this being a must. You will forget that crucial and inspiring plot point the second it leaves your consciousness…except for knowing that you had it. That will drive you crazy. Write it down.

There are different elements of story you can start with.

1. Primary Event

2. Story Arc, Beginning, Middle and End,

3. Intriguing Situation that Immediately Suggests Cast of Characters in Conflict.

4. Character

5. Genre: Type of Story You Want to Write (Yay…WE COVERED THIS ONE!)

It doesn’t matter what comes first, so long as it inspires you to ask, “And then what happens?”

The Illusion of Marriage first played out like a movie, just the last scene, for years before I wrote the whole story. I had a backstory for the male main character, and partially plotted out a another novel about his mother before I ever wrote the central story.

I’ve written fully fleshed out characters inspired by photographs of homeless people, from random observations (a woman running with her dog that was carrying a dirt old shoe prompted a profile of a killer who happens to see them and knows the shoe is a clue to where he buried the body. What is he going to do about that?) Ideas are everywhere. You just have to keep asking the question, AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?

Did you do the genre exercise? Try one of those ideas and apply it to one of the other five elements of story above. I’ll do Crime: Murder Mystery – Alien rewritten as a cozy mystery, and Primary Event. First, I look up cozy mystery and I make a list of the obligatory scenes and convention of the genre.

A reader would expect these things: it takes place in a small town/community/village where everyone has know each other for generations, at least socially. The sleuth is always an amateur, typically a woman who works a job that brings her in contact with many people and places. She’ll have a friend/relative who is a police officer. She’ll be intuitive, nosy, and smart. Those around her will be eccentric, quirky, comical, and clueless.

The antagonist will be a community member, hidden in plain sight. There is little violence, the murder happens off the page to another community member. The murderer will have a rational, long-term reasons for the act. There is little sex, or profanity.  It will be part of a series which will have a theme, ie, hobbies, cats, dogs, food, games, etc.

Then I’d refresh my memory by looking up the plot of Alien. And I’d watch the movie again.

After I read Alien’s plot I started thinking about the movie Hot Fuzz. Hot Fuzz is basically a cozy mystery but with violence and hilarity (just found Storygrid editor’s Roundtable Podcast about Hot Fuzz. It’s actually a thriller…learn why here). The primary event for Alien is when they land on the moon and find the eggs. In my cozy mystery, their ship is much like the town in Hot Fuzz which is heralded as “The safest ship in the Universe.” It’s very clean and bright. The crew is sunny, mild, and inane, save the one intellectual crew member, Ripley. They respond to the distress signal on the deserted moon and find…?

It’s thread you just keep pulling and reknit back together to make something else. Rather than remake the that whole movie, maybe I pull Ripley out and put her in Hot Fuzz. Or I put PC Nicholas Angel in Alien see what he makes of those shenanigans.


Last one, we’re almost done!

Sometimes, it is a time or place that captures our heart and inspires us. Do you love history and think you should have been born in another era? Use that. Wish you were a fly on the wall during a seminal music session of your favorite band? Start with that witness character. Have a passion for Japan in the 1920’s? Do you imagine being present at The First Women’s Rights Convention? The beginnings of the sexual revolution? These are all types of setting you can place you story and characters.

Shawn describes setting as four dimensions.

  • Period: where the story’s place is in time (present, future, historical past). The details of ones dress, the manner in which they speak, these are all determined by the period of time the characters inhabit.
  • Duration: the story’s length and time. How long is this character undergoing these changes? Does it take place in a week, months, years, decades? You don’t have to put in dates, but clues to what is happening in the world will frame it for your reader.
  • Location: Where is the story taking place? What space does it take up, the geography, the town, the street, the building, the room? Adding in geographical elements places the reader exactly where on earth this story takes place.
  • Levels of Conflict: “The reason why this is part of the setting is because it gives us a sense of what environment, the social environment the character is under — is being influenced by.”

The three levels of conflict can be utilized in any combination, one, two or all three. I think all three are in Hunger Games

Internal: It’s what is going on inside your characters. Their struggle to achieve their desire is the state they are in (Peeta’s desire for Katniss is what drives him and all his decisions).

Personal: Level of conflict is negotiating one-on-one relationships (Katniss and Peeta, Katniss and the other team members).

Extrapersonal: The struggle against institutions or environments (Katniss against the Capitol).


Last Dance

Time to buy me a drink!

I hope you found something to write for NaNoWriMo 2018. If not, and you need further inspiration or guidance try one of these links.

Storyist, Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo.

Now Novel, Writing a Novel in a Month

NaNoWriMo, NaNo Prep

Shoot me question in the comment or our FB page if you need more help.