Preparing for NaNoWriMo – The Five-Line Outline by Julie Artz

Posted by October 21st, 2014

Preparing for NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMo doesn’t leave much room for preparation. Try the following five-line outline method to help you survive the insanity that is NaNoWriMo without completely flying by the seat of your pants. 


Step One: Create your logline

The first line of the outline is the logline. It covers the main character, what s/he wants (goal), what stands in his or her way (obstacles), and what will happen if s/he doesn’t reach her goal (stakes). Two great articles to guide you are Writing a Killer Logline and Writing Killer Loglines.

Here’s the logline from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project:

When lightning fries the village well pumps, Elías must redeem himself in the eyes of both Elders and family by journeying through the ruins of Andalucía to find help before their water supply runs out.

Writing this summary of your story before you begin will help focus your idea enough to get started. Don’t worry if you tweak it as you work—this logline has been through multiple revisions in the past year!

Step Two: Mind Games

Now comes the fun part, where you trick yourself into believing that you haven’t really committed to writing a whole 50k words in 30 days. Because that would be crazy. All you’re really doing is writing four short stories, only 12,500 words each, one for each week of the month of November, right? Right! Breaking the big task into smaller ones helps.

Step Three: Four Mini-Synopses

The OutlandsYour logline should be as specific as possible, but the four remaining sentences should be very broad and open-ended. Write one sentence for each of the four 12,500 word chunks. Of course each one-liner needs to tie back to the original logline.

Mine looked something like this:

  1. When Elías learns he has to apprentice with his Grandma as a healer, he does something big to try to change the Elders’ minds.
  2. When it goes wrong, he’s stuck with learning healing until lightning strikes the village’s wind turbines, creating a huge crisis in the village.
  3. Elías volunteers to go for help, traveling through southern Spain to find other survivors.
  4. He finds the survivors, and they help him fix the electricity.

Be vague enough here to allow yourself the freedom to change course or to follow ideas that surface during the frenzied writing that’s my favorite part of NaNo. But also include a central conflict and a resolution in each of the four sections, just like you would with any short story. This keeps the pace of your novel moving and gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of each week.

Step Four: Each Saturday in November – Write, Reflect, Repeat!

If you’re a true pantser, you may not do any of this until November 1 and that’s OK too. Either way, each Saturday of the month plan to spend some time thinking about the sentence for the week.

Then start writing. You have a main character who wants something, you know at least a few of the obstacles that stand in his/her way, and what’s at stake if s/he doesn’t succeed. Now write about it.

At the end of each week, spend a little time reflecting on what worked and what didn’t with your 12,500 chunk. If ideas occur as you’re writing, jot them down and hang on to them, even if they’re for future weeks—that just means you’ll start your new week with some ideas already in place.


About Julie Artz

Julie Artz spent her young life sneaking into wardrobes hoping to make it to Narnia. Now that she’s older, people think that’s sort of creepy, so she writes stories for her middle grade-aged children instead. Follow Julie’s adventures on her blog, Terminal Verbosity, follow her on Twitter or Facebook, or connect with her on Book Country.

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