Another day in the life of a NaNo-Nut: Plotting

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The creative perspective


As I embark on this fourth NaNo journey, I’ve found myself dwelling on how, as a writer, my craft and the experience of writing have changed since those early days.  I still find it fun, but over the years I’ve become more introspective about the way I work. You’ll find that too. 

That first journey saw me throw myself into a lifelong dream. The desire to simply write that novel motivating me to just write, and write, and write. Which is just what NaNo is about. But along the journey, I’ve realised that to complete my manuscripts, I need to have a direction. Some signposts along the way. Of course that won’t be the same for everybody.  

As a result, you find yourself considering what type of writer you are.

Plotter or pantser?

For anyone new to writing, you’ll find there appear to be three general kinds of writer. 

1) The Plotter – somebody who meticulously plans their entire project, so that when NaNo starts they have an outline, their structure, know their plot, their characters and what their end goal is.

2) The Pantser – somebody who quite literally writes by the seat of their pants. No real direction, just the ability to follow the plot and characters wherever they may lead. 

3) The Hybrid – somebody who combines both plotting and panting to their novel-writing journey. 

When embarking on  NaNo, it’s worth considering what kind of writer you are.

As I mentioned before, I’ve always been a pantser. Literally writing by the seat of my pants. Letting the characters develop the stories as I go. To the extent that I’d find my characters talking to me (I know, you think I’m mad). Driving in the car, carrying out my own interviews with them to learn who they were, how they’d react to things, who they’d vote for the next American president! All things that gave me an insight into the people I was creating, and the direction my story was taking.

However, this year, I’ve decided to embark on the NaNo journey with a plan. A result of which has seen me methodically planned my book from beginning to end. I’ve researched my backstory, and all of the key points throughout the novel and have reams of notes as a result. I’ve filled out character worksheets, setting worksheets, created picture boards, and even organised a road trip to Mackenzie which is the setting for the vast part of my story.

This is not because I’ve decided that pantsing is wrong, but because I’m open to new ways of doing this. 

What type are you? It’s well worth considering before you embark on your NaNo journey. If you’re new to NaNo. Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem is an awesome read, giving some insight into what the National Novel Writing Month is. As well as giving you some insights into how to go about it (from well-learned experience). 

If you’re not a NaNo, but want to look at ways of plotting and planning, then I thoroughly recommend the following books for helping with writing craft in so far as structuring and planning your novel: 

1) Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – a comprehensive, easy to read guide to structuring your story. 

2) Michael Hauge’s

Writing Screenplays That Sell, New Twentieth Anniversary Edition: The Complete Guide to Tur

ning Story Concepts into Movie and Television Deals 

3) Jack M Bickman’sScene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)


I’ve found these three books invaluable in helping me plan for NaNo, and perhaps because I want to take my writing to the next level, I’ve enjoyed investing in craft books that have opened my eyes to the whole concept of plotting and planning for my writing journey. 

Another aspect of the planning that I’ve come to think of as vital for writing development is surrounding yourself with likeminded people. 

Use the Writing Community

Writing is a solitary activity, and can be really lonely. Particularly when you hit the wall often called writers block, or self-doubt.  During NaNo, the goal is to hit that 50,000 word target. A goal that is completely achievable. However, it is inevitable that during NaNo, you’ll have peaks and troughs. Some days, you’ll fly. Others you’ll wonder just what on earth you are doing. By surrounding yourself with people with that same objective, you give yourself not only a sounding board, but also a support network. It can become competitive. I love a challenge, and going to our Tuesday ‘Night Owls’ write in, I find myself challenging myself to keep up with some of the more prolific writers (some of whom have achieved 160,000 words during NaNo in the past – yikes!). 

So here’s some suggestions. 

Visit the NaNoWriMo website: 

Find out who your Municipal Liaison is (

Find out where write-ins are planned with other writers in your local community – these can offer invaluable support, and potentially create lifelong friendships.

Join NaNo to make the most of the webinar’s and support it offers during November. 

Visit your Local Library:

Is there any information on local groups?

Do they have activities or workshops for writers?

Local writing organisations: 

In our case, we’re lucky to have a vibrant community of writers locally. The Christchurch Writers Guild ( ), New Zealand Society of Authors ( ), and the Romance Writers of New Zealand ( ). The latter of which have local chapters who organise workshops, monthly meetings, and local write ins. Investigate if there is anything like that near you.

This may all seem a little much for the writer who’s new to this, but these lessons have been learned over four years. And if I’m completely honest, I’ll undoubtedly learn more lessons this year. 

Furthermore, there are two more things to remember during NaNo:

The first: Switch off that inner-critic. That little niggle of self-doubt is the worst thing for creativity. He/ she will whisper in your ear as you write, telling you you’re taking the wrong direction, that your writing is crap, that this is a waste of time. He’s a pain in the ass, and needs to be told that. My first year I let him really get at me. Kept re-reading what I’d written, questioning whether I was made for the whole writing thing. So the second year, I made a poster. “Inner-critic you’re banned from my study for a month.”

Childish perhaps, but psychologically, I refused to listen to anything the rotten demon. He had no part in my NaNo journey, or any writing journey from that day on. 

The second: is to enjoy. Have fun. Creativity and writing are a truly exciting opportunity to explore something that few of us ever do. People will poo-poo you, “Gah, why would you write? There’s no money in it? Why waste the time?”

If it’s something you truly want to do – then do it. Enjoy it. Lose yourself in your own fantasy world. Whether it be crime, mystery, fantasy, a children’s story or a romance, NaNo is the one time of the year you can say “Okay, I’m gonna do this.”

Whether you have a PC, or a rudimentary paper and pen. Let your imagination run wild for the month. You never know where it might take you. 

I hope this helps, and that you enjoy your NaNo journey. 

Emma jottermonster

emlowe2Emma Lowe moved to North Canterbury from Dunedin three years ago. She promptly joined the CWG and was overwhelmed to discover not only a network of writers, but a group of people who have become close personal friends. She has been focusing on her writing ever since (at least when she’s not juggling kids and the family business). She predominantly writes romance, and is also a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand, amongst other writing organisations.

Another day in the life of a NaNo-Nut: Preparation

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nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200 As November looms, so thousands of writers worldwide start to prepare for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). A month when they will throw themselves into the annual challenge of writing a fifty-thousand-word novel. That may sound impossible, but for many, they’ll achieve it. For others, they’ll take that enviable step of actually realizing their literary dream.

This year will see me undertake my fourth NaNo journey. With each year my writing has grown, and with each year, I’ve realized there are things I need to do to improve the next years’ experience. And so, as I prepare this year, I’ve separated preparation and planning, both personally, and professionally where my writing is concerned.

Angela asked me to write about my NaNo experience, so here goes.

Preparation (a personal perspective)

1. Make sure you have a creative space to work in.
It’s not always easy. Whether you live alone, or with a family, there’s always distractions. Whether it be the urge to tidy up and vacuum, or having to listen to your teenage sons’ music. As a result, if you are going to write, you need a place you can feel comfortable in.

Do you need an uncluttered workspace? Do you work best with your family around you? Do you work with chaos around you? It’s all up to the individual. I know writers’ who work in the kitchen in the midst of their family. And writers who need to escape from the chaos that’s home. Everyone is different.

If not at home, then possibly a local coffee shop, the library. You need to feel comfortable where you write to avoid distractions, and the urge to procrastinate.

Preparing meals for NaNo.

2. Pre-prepare meals
As a mom of six, understandably meal-times can be a little like feeding time at the zoo. However, I’ve found that during NaNo, if I prepare meals and freeze them, it makes for a far more efficient dinner time. As a result, during October, every time I cook a meal, I make double the amount and freeze the extra for the following month (why I don’t do this all year round I don’t know!). I’ll make cauliflower cheese, lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese, shepherd’s pie, curries. I’ll prepare veg and then put it in freezer bags (I could probably buy frozen veg, but I’ve always preferred my own). I’ll have baking days, where I make muffins, potato wedges, anything that I know the family enjoy. So that when they’re hungry, they can merely take it out of the freezer and heat it up. Meaning they leave mom alone!

3. Make sure your family and friends are aware of what NaNo means to you, and them.

I’ve traditionally used a personal contract to reinforce my commitment to NaNo. I commit to my fifty-thousand-word goal, and have in the past reached as many as 125,000 words. This has only been possible by communicating with my family. They know what writing means to me. But during November, they’re aware that they don’t come into my study. They leave me to write. My husband bought me a hat, which he jokingly referred to as my writing hat. It’s become symbolic, in that if I’m wearing it, the family leave me alone to write.

Talk to your family and friends. Explain to them what NaNo is. What you intend to do. Why it means so much to you. Help them to understand why the month is important. If you’re going to commit, then you need the support of those around you. To be honest, my family become my own personal cheerleading squad. Watching as my daily tally grows. Urging me on all the way. That kind of support is invaluable to any writer.

4. Know what you want to achieve from NaNoWriMo

It’s all well and good committing to NaNoWriMo, but what do you want to achieve? Is it a novel you’ve always known you wanted to write, but never had the time? Is it your memoirs? Perhaps it’s a thesis? A collection of short stories? As you prepare for NaNo, set your goals. Know what it is you want before the month begins.

5. Buy yourself stationery.

stationeryMost people these days’ use computers, but one of the things I’ve found vital are notebooks and pens. I have small notebooks that fit in my handbag – each one labelled differently. Character notes, ideas, quotes, sources. I also have a large notebook that I use as journals and plotting diaries. I keep record of my progress, documenting how ideas evolve. How a character has changed; why I decided it needed to happen; if I decided to change a setting. All things that contribute to the evolution of my story. Not to mention picking up interesting snippets when I’m out and about.

6. Create a schedule

Identify what time of day is most effective for your writing. Are you a day writer? An early morning writer? Or do you like writing late into the night? In identifying it, you’ll be able to create a schedule for NaNo that most effectively uses your time for creativity. Do you want to just write for a couple of hours each day? Just an hour? Do you want to join a local write-in with the your local NaNo group. Research what’s available early, so that you’re not distracted during NaNo.

7. Set your goals.

Set yourself SMART goals (small, achievable, realistic targets). It might be a word count goal. I generally aim for 2,000 words a day. But I’m lucky enough to have the time to commit to having my bum in the seat far longer than many others may be able to commit.

To achieve 50,000 words in a month, then the average would be around 1650 words a day. You’ll find some days that is easy. Others will be a struggle. But they will generally average out if you’re on course for the fifty-thousand-word goal.

If you have a goal, you have something to reach for. A direction. So commit to that goal.

That’s pretty much everything as far as the preparation is concerned. I hope this helps with others planning their NaNo journey. It’s an exciting time of year, and with only a little over two weeks to go, preparation is well and truly underway for 2016’s NaNoWriMo.

Part 2: Planning to come!

emlowe2Emma Lowe moved to North Canterbury from Dunedin three years ago. She promptly joined the CWG and was overwhelmed to discover not only a network of writers, but a group of people who have become close personal friends. She has been focusing on her writing ever since (at least when she’s not juggling kids and the family business). She predominantly writes romance, and is also a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand, amongst other writing organisations.

Scrivener Workshop: October 23rd

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Scrivener is the only word-processing programme designed solely for writers. NaNoWriMo and CampNaNo participants are offered discounts for the programme. If you are struggling to get your head around this powerful program, the next workshop in the 2016 series of Christchurch Writers’ Guild workshops is just what you need.


Sunday October 23, 2016, 2pm – 3:30pm
South Library, 66 Colombo St, Cashmere
(The Learning Centre)
(Parking is across street by river outlet)

Free (Sufficient numbers have preregistered, but spaces are still available. You can preregister here.)

This practical session will get you off the ground on how to use Scrivener, with some of the basics and more advanced features explored. All participants are expected to have their own laptops with Scrivener installed (trial version is okay). It is also recommended to have the Kindle Mobi extension also installed, but not necessary.

Our Guest Speaker is Judy L Mohr: writer and freelance editor with Black Wolf Editorial Services. Judy has always hated using MSWord, so when she started writing her high fantasy novel, there was no way she was going to use MSWord. She first started writing in Latex, but quickly discovered the limitation in output formats. When she discovered Scrivener in 2014, she quickly made the switch and never looked back. Now all of her fictional writing is in Scrivener, along with the writing she does for the various blogs she contributes to. In this session, Judy will share with us some of the tricks that she’s learnt over the years on using the software programme specifically designed for writers. You can learn more about Judy and her personal writing endeavours at

Pre-registered members will receive additional cool stuff (ie: resources) in their email prior to the event, so don’t delay, pre-register today!

Not a member of the Christchurch Writer’s Guild? Not a problem. There’s no time like the present. Join here.

This workshop is proudly sponsored by:

Black Wolf Editorial Services

Writing Non-human Characters

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Back in July, I did a presentation on “How to Write Non-human Characters” as part of our Character Building Workshop, and I thought it time I shared a little of it here for those of you unable to attend. I have written several novels, and numerous short stories (including fanfiction), about birds, lemurs, animal-people (“furries”) and fantastical creatures such as goblins and Pokemon. Whilst I do, on occasion, have human characters in my story, they are generally not the main protagonist.

Pierre, Ophelia and Aurelia, characters from my novel-in-progress “Tail of Two Scions”

So, why do I favour non-human characters?

First and foremost, I love animals, plus I have a zoology degree and I’m not afraid to use it, to educate while I entertain.

Other reasons you might choose to write non-human protagonists:

  • Challenge, to explore the world from a different perspective.
  • Adds an extra quirk to a fairly mundane or traditional plot idea.
  • Allegory or parable.
  • FUN.

Non-human characters can range from realistic style animals (Incredible Journey, Watership Down), through to the aforementioned furries. Generally speaking, I prefer to read animal-protagonist novels in which the animals behave much like their wild counterparts, but with increased insight and complex communication, or truly anthropomorphic ones, where the characters still show some of their natural animal traits. The movie, Zootopia, is an excellent example of this. However, shows like Arthur, where the characters are basically just children that happen to look like animals, don’t interest me.

Of course, “non-human” can also refer to werewolves, elves and many other near-human species.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to deal predominantly with mostly-realistic animal characters.

The first thing to do when writing an animal character is RESEARCH. I watch documentaries, read books, look up information on the internet. Remember, if you get one facet wrong there is someone out there who will notice and most zoologists aren’t shy about correcting errors! Of course, the more popular your animal is, the more is known about them, so not only will you have a plethora of information at your hands, there will also be more folks out there looking to correct any errors you might make. If you are making up the species, as I did with my goblins, then you can create as crazy an ecology as you like, but remember to keep it consistent!

Next you need a plot, and with that, CONFLICT. Is your character wild or domestic? If domestic, you could write a family drama from the animal’s perspective – The Last Family in England (aka The Labrador Pact) by Matt Haig is an excellent example of this. Murder mysteries seem popular too: why have several cats in the neighbourhood been found dead? Sit down and brainstorm a list of possible adventures that your domestic cat or dog could get up to. For both domestic and wild animals, there is the classic theme: trying to get home/find a new home, in which either the original habitat is destroyed (Animals of Farthing Wood) or the animal is taken from his/her home and must find her way back (Far From Home Cats). Survival in general is also a popular theme, (ie: Black Beauty and Bambi), but you will still need the plot to build to something – whether it be the battle for dominance to claim his position as head of the herd, or that final hurdle before being reunited with her owner or finding his forever home.

Even animal characters need PERSONALITY. They should always be a character first, animal second. They should have needs and wants, hopes and dreams – and forces (be it another character, or nature) acting against their achievement of these. Cliches are fairly common in animal-driven narratives: cats are sly and manipulative, dogs dependable and loyal, but it is fun to twist the stereotypes. After all, hyenas are generally portrayed as scheming and malicious thieves and rogues, but did you know that they do regularly hunt their own food (not just steal it), have a matriarchal society and form strong clan bonds, not entirely dissimilar to the oft-romantisied wolf?

Whether your animal character is predator or prey, pet or stray, it can be fun to delve into the world, look at it from a different perspective (don’t forget the senses!) and challenge yourself to write something different!

avatar-angAngela Oliver is a writer and illustrator, a reader and a dreamer. She has independently published two novels via Amazon’s CreateSpace, Aroha’s Grand Adventure, about a weka (a flightless NZ bird) and her adventures as she makes her way home across the island, and Fellowship of the Ringtails, which she describes as “epic fantasy with lemurs”.

Upcoming Workshop: The Writer’s Toolbox

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Writer's ToolboxThere are many different tools that a writer uses within their trade. Now would be the perfect time to brush up on those skills.

Then the next workshop in the 2016 series of Christchurch Writers’ Guild workshops is just what you need.

The Writer’s Toolbox

Sunday September 25, 2016, 10:30am – 12:30pm
South Library, 66 Colombo St, Cashmere
(The Boardroom)
(Parking is across street by river outlet)

$10 (CWG members), $15 (non-members)
Places limited to 25 people.


  • Nuts and Bolts
    Brush up on your basic punctuation and grammar. Get a refresher on colons and semi-colons. Learn the differences between the dashes. Remember the differences between different sentence structures.
    Presented by Joan Gladwyn (Editor with Proper Words)
  • Work Gloves a Must: Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get Active
    Remind yourself about the differences between active and passive voice. Get it straight in your head the differences between show and tell, and when it would appropriate to use each.
    Presented by Shelley Chappell (Author of BEYOND THE BRIAR)

Whether you are a new writer, just starting out, or an established author, it can always help to have a reminder of those common tools of our trade.

Preregistration is now open. Please note that preregistration does not guarantee a place within workshop. The places will be strictly limited to 25 people. Door sales only.

Members must have membership code with them to receive discount.

Not a member of the Christchurch Writer’s Guild? Not a problem. There’s no time like the present. Join here.

This workshop is proudly sponsored by:


Book Review: Stuck in the Game

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stuckinthegameStuck in the Game by Christopher Keene
Reviewed by Angela Oliver

“Stuck in the Game” is an entertaining computer-game adventure, well suited to young teens. It tells the story of Noah who, after a tragic accident that leaves him in a coma, is hooked into the virtual world of the Dream Game. This plunges him into a fantastical world that may feel artificial, but is his only means of communication with the outside world. Learning that his girlfriend, Sue, also suffered serious injuries, and may indeed have also been sent into the game, Noah resolves to find her.

However, Noah’s link to the game is his only link to the world — should he die in game, or logout, the consequences for his mortal body could be fatal. To protect him, his parents have employed a high level player as his bodyguard, and he has other allies amongst the players. But will they be enough when Noah earns a bounty on his head?

For those readers not well-versed in the ways of MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), never fear, for the tactics and background is described in enough detail for the non-gamer to understand, whilst also not becoming overly bogged down in jargon. And whilst the story starts relatively slow, it does build to a dramatic conclusion.

“Stuck in the Game” is published by Future House Publishing. It is available in ebook and  paperback via Amazon and other online retailers.

Finding value in a critique…

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As a writer, if you ever want to publish – be it indie or traditional – you are going to need feedback on whether your novel works or doesn’t work. Critiques can be hard to take, and here’s some tips from our President, Judy Mohr, on how to find the value in even the harshest analysis.

Black Wolf Editorial Services

Every writer who puts their work out there will have to face critiques of all flavors: the good, the bad, and the outright mean. For the new writer, one just starting down the journey, sending that baby out for review can actually be a terrifying experience. “What if they don’t like it? What if I’m doing it all wrong? What if they tell me my writing is shit?”

Well… Not everyone is going to like what you write. Writing is like art — filled with subjective opinions. If you’re determined to have everyone in the world like your writing, then you might as well give up now. It’s never going to happen. The best you can ever hope for is that the fans of books you like to read, the stories that influenced your writing, also like your book.

In terms of doing it wrong… I’m sorry, but this is your…

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