Updated: Oct 20, 2021
Landmark plot points you should hit on certain days.
NaNoWriMo tends to have its own pacing structure that many a-newbie unwittingly falls into. Here is an idea of what you will likely expect from your first Nano experience and how to handle it.
#NaNoDayOne-Four WC 1,666 - 6,666 : Beginning goes great. You’re full of ideas and your sure people are going to love your characters. You're on top of your word count and you can’t wait to get to the end, when that big twist comes into effect. I'll get you my pretties!!!
#NaNoDayFive WC 8,333: Around chapter five and you begin to think ‘why am I doing this? I have no idea where I’m going with it.’
This is where you need to focus on setting up your first turning point, which you should hit at around the quarter mark. I.E. #NanoDaySevenPointFive. Where or what will your character be thrust into that changes the story direction and launches the main story problem?
You might also need to restock on cakes and chocolate. This is where your Backup Buddy comes in. Text them for help. Or ask Alexa.
#NaNoDayEight-Ten WC 13,333 - 16,660: Pacing picks up while you deal with the new problem and you feel that maybe you can do this after all.
#NaNoDayElevenTwelve WC 19,999: GUDDOING!!! Oh humbug, now I really am in the poo. How am I going to get through the middle to the end? I hadn’t thought of that. Hang on, don’t panic. What would my character do? SHIT!!! I have no idea. I barely know them. How do I know what they will do?
This is the most likely place your word count will begin to lag behind. Of course, if you’ve been a savvy writer, you will have taken my advice from last week and planned out your cast, put some real thought into what makes them tick, what they fear, value and all the rest of it, so that you just instinctively know what they will do next. Because this area very much relies on the plot sprouting from within the characters and the decisions they make in kickback to their new circumstances. That relies on a reasonable amount of familiarity. The good thing about NaNoWriMo is that sometimes, no matter how familiar you are with your character prior to starting, the pressure to keep to target can force out some personality traits you might never have thought of.
#NaNoDayThirteenFourteen WC: 21,666 - 23,332 If… only… I… could…get…through… this… next… little… bit…
This is where many people turn around. They have no idea what to write in the middle of the story, or have been distracted with researching something they hadn't anticipated; their word count is behind by a day, maybe two, possibly even fallen in a deep, deep ditch; they're not even sure how they got this far, anyway, and the cold sweats have set in. They seek solace in box sets, begin to forget their own story, shrug like a French person and tell themselves it was a rubbish idea in the first place. They spend the next xxx months calling themselves a failure.
For those of you still dragging yourself across the baked desert of words, lips cracked and throat parched, hoping for any sign of life to rescue you from this hell (even a cliché would do!), try and think of your midpoint: an external event or action (i.e. not from your main/POV character) that happens and, just like the first turning point, will spin the story in a new direction. Decide on that and you have your next dune peak on the horizon to crawl towards. And who knows? Maybe there’s an oasis on the other side. On a scheduling basis, you should be writing your midpoint on #NaNoDayFifteen.
#NanoDayFifteen WC 25,000: You are officially halfway! Well done you! It feels like you've been pulling your own teeth with no anaesthetic for two weeks but you made it to the middle. Now what? Everything seems lacklustre. You feel down. Maybe you should never have started this. I mean, who are you to try your hand at a novel anyway? Your story is the drossiest of the dross and your characters are idiots who say cheesy and trite things. You might even have nicked some lines from The Godfather in your failure to think of any cool dialogue. Your plot logic has flown out the window and is full of contradictions. Who would want to read that? You need a lift. Get a change of scenery. No, you doofus -- not you, your characters. Your Midpoint should transport your protagonist into a new setting or situation.
You might also need to restock on cakes and chocolate. Backup Buddy to the rescue! Text them with your list (no, that does not contribute towards word count). Or ask Alexa.
#NaNoDaySeventeen WC 28,332: Just when you thought you had it sorted, you realise you still have no idea where you’re going with this. What nitwit talked you into this insanity, anyway (oh, yeah, sorry, that was me. Whoops)? Your word count is just about stumbling along, though not on schedule. It’s time to look for the thing that stops your MC dead in his or her tracks and set up that chain of events. Is this the time to share that big twist? You know, the one you’ve almost peed yourself with effort not to share with anyone else.
You might want to stop on the treats at this point. C’mon – think of your health! Take a nice refreshing walk instead. You look like a zombie.
NaNoDayTwenty WC 33,332: Refreshed and more perky, from this point onward, the end comes into sight and your writing will pick up. This is where everything starts to come together and YOU ARE WRITING TOWARDS YOUR CLIMAX!!! It's likely that you will now start to surpass your daily word count and catch up loss days. Go You!!
#NaNoDayTwentyFive WC 41,665: It’s all action and moving forward towards the character’s ultimate goal. If it hasn’t already happened, this might also be the time to bring in that big twist. What about your protag’s plan will go wrong? How will they overcome it? ONLY FIVE DAYS TO GO UNTIL THE END!! Your word count is now flashing by in a blur, smoke streaming from your keyboard.
#NaNoDayTwentySeven WC 44,998: you’re smokin’, you’re movin’, you’re dancin’ and you’re groovin’. Your climax is almost over, and your protag has either triumphed or died. Word count? Pah! You are putting the bubbly in the fridge, ready for…
#NaNoDayThirty!! WC 50,000 +: That’s it, the resolution is here. You are writing your last chapter and outcome of the story. Sit back, relax, light that cigar, get the bubbly. It’s all gravy. 50k? No sweat baby. Well, aside from that weird tick you've developed. Go cheer with your other Nano winner buddies. And…
If any of the above leaves you wondering, what the hell? I haven’t planned any of that stuff, then now is your chance to go do so and be prepared – don’t be the one who turns back to box sets when things get tough!
This is a basic outline of certain milestones your story should be passing on their respective days, but there is a lot more work to do after NaNo before you can produce a final, working draft. If you would like more in-depth knowledge on any of the aforementioned milestones, my Skillshare course on How to Plot Your Story Arcs is worth taking after you finish Nano and before you set to work on any revisions. There are currently five classes in the series, with the sixth and final class to be published soon. If you would like to work on a more one-to-one level, please contact me for editorial services and mentoring. I charge reasonable rates.
Next Sunday: Ways to boost your word count and plan mid-story. Tricks to keep those words flowing.