NaNo Prep: Planning My Novel

If you saw my first NaNo Prep post, you’ll know that I’m picking up my book where I left it last summer. Hell Hath No Fury was pretty much entirely planned by the time I started Camp NaNo last summer. So what went wrong?

Layers of Plans

When I plan a story – a short story, a comic, a novel – I plan in layers. It starts with something simple to say. For this book, that’s ‘Kurt has to open an old case, while battling a strange new curse.’ That’s a spoiler-free version, and it’s based on the fact that I know who Kurt is already. That one-liner was then expanded into a page.

That page deals with everything in the story in minimal detail. Kurt will visit the MagicianKurt will be attacked. Kurt will do X, Y and Z. Those aren’t necessarily all in the right order as I write this post, but that’s how the page gets filled. Basic things that happen.

The story is filled in between all of these. The details, the plot, the theme. This is a revenge story for one character, and one of the consequences of one’s actions for another. It’s an impossible love story, a search for meaning, and a struggle in dealing with the cards that fate deals. But the second layer of the plan doesn’t deal with any of that.

Three Layers and Three Books

As I expand on the plan for layer three, I insert important details. The Magician gets a name. Certain sections of the plan were colour-coded. I wrote down everything that had to happen, and why, and I built in chapter breaks. Relative to A Death in the Family, this book is complicated, and I needed to be able to follow it properly.

Part of that was positioning the story at a particular time. A Death in the Family starts at the very end of 2016. Literally the last few seconds. We’re introduced to Ben on New Year’s Day, 2017. Kurt’s story takes place before any of that.

By the time I reached the end of the second layer, I knew there were two more books to write with Kurt following the events of Hell Hath No Fury, but before A Death in the Family. So, I needed time. The novel takes place during the summer of 2016. Kurt’s prior experiences point towards the proverbial shit hitting the literal fan in sudden bursts, so I knew the next two books could take place between the summer – July-ish – and the end of the year, with enough time for Kurt’s story to then crash violently into Ben’s. (Readers of A Death in the Family might take a guess as to why that’s significant.)

Weak Points

One thing I learned about my own writing is that sometimes I can get caught up in what is happening that I forget to really explain where something is happening. When I was planning A Death in the Family, I compensated for this with extra notes in the fourth and final step of planning. I told myself what I needed to describe in some scenes, specifics that couldn’t be ignored in the heat of the moment. I think I wrote a better book because of that.

To be clear, the descriptive passages are only about those details that are relevant, like the piles of magazines in an old woman’s house that would find themselves on fire, or the smell of a hospital. They inform the story as much as they paint a picture of where Ben happened to be.

This is where things went wrong with Hell Hath No Fury. I didn’t finish writing the layer four plan. It’s the typed, final plan, and it stopped after a few chapters. That was my biggest mistake going into NaNo last summer. I’m a planner, through and through, and I didn’t have my finished plan. I was faced with a decision: put myself under pressure to write the plan and the book simultaneously while preparing for Dublin Comic Con in August, or quit.

Spoiler Alert: I Quit

I’m not proud of it, but I quit my NaNo novel. I was ill-prepared, a bit depressed, a lot stressed, and incredibly busy. July had Small Press Day, the potential collapse of the Geek Mart, and my last chance to prepare for my first ever Dublin Comic Con behind a table. A book I literally wasn’t ready to write was the last thing I needed on my plate.

Thankfully, everything else worked out for me at the time. Small Press Day was a rousing success. The Geek Mart didn’t crumple into non-existence. (In fact, we’re having another one this weekend!) And I survived Dublin Comic Con, an anxious mess who got some new readers. (One of them is especially lovely and likes Frankie – the killer cat I write about – a lot.) Two weeks later, I got a job.

And I didn’t go back to the book.

To be fair to myself, I went backwards instead. I wrote a book set before Hell Hath No Fury. So my trilogy because a four-book series, and even that’s open to discussion. They’re a four-story arc in a much larger series.

So, my prep for April: finish layer four, and re-read what I’ve already written. (No editing. Editing is not allowed.) While putting on a Geek Mart. And preparing for conventions. And writing a completely separate book. And, of course, blogging about it all.


About Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a writer, born, raised and still living in Dublin. By day he's a student and bookseller, by night he writes fiction and uses social media.
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4 Responses to NaNo Prep: Planning My Novel

  1. fmrichter says:

    I’ve quit every nano I’ve started. Glad I’m not the only one, at least

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