Planning for NaNoWriMo: Sketch out your novel’s setting
NaNoWriMo is two days away and counting down. If you’re going to use the month of November to write a draft of a novel, now is a good time to sketch out ideas so you’ll be prepared to dive in when the clock strikes midnight.
In the past, I’ve been tripped up when I started to write because I wasn’t grounded in the key elements of my story. A basic framework will propel you towards your NaNoWriMo goal.
In my last post, I wrote about choosing your novel’s story question. Today, consider how you can sketch out the setting of your story — the environment where your story takes place.
Besides geographic location, setting details include information about the time period your story occurs. What time frame does your story take place in — the present? Future? Past? Some novels take place over years and some the space of several weeks.
In your notes about setting, consider the time of year and the weather. Sometimes these details can drive your story in new directions and create complications that add conflict. The weather can also contribute to the mood and tone of a story. Your setting can even become another character in a story and create momentum that drives the action.
I found that having a good sense of my story’s setting is an antidote to a blank page. A sense of place and time helps me push ahead and gives me ideas for scenes. In my first NaNoWriMo attempt, my story took place in the 1950s and I realized as I began to write that I felt stuck. It hit me that I needed to ground myself in details of the time to inspire scenes and get a sense of how the mood and culture of the 1950s would drive my characters’ actions. I did some quick research, including looking at magazine cover headlines of the 1950s, historical events, styles of dress, and pop culture details.
Maybe your story is an outdoor adventure that is informed by the terrain of its setting. Or it could be a gritty crime noir set in Los Angeles, or a European thriller that takes place in Paris. Immersing yourself in the details of your setting is a powerful grounding tool as you begin to write.
Exercise: If a little pre-NaNo planning is your style, create a page in your NaNoWriMo notebook with quick bullet points and then see how far you want to build them out. Use this list as a starting point:
Step 1: Setting Details
Place. This is the geographic location with a description of the terrain and the specific locations where scenes will take place.
Time period. What year is it? Is it in the past, present, or future?
Weather. What season is it and how does that impact your characters?
Social conditions of the time. Is it a time of peace or war? What is the economy like? What is the news you’d expect to see in the pages of the newspaper?
Step 2: Sensory Details
Now that you have started outlining your setting. Close your ideas and take this exercise another step. Imagine a scene and think of the sensory details. Respond to these prompts:
What does it smell like? Do you smell food cooking, a campfire burning, someone’s perfume?
How does it feel to be in that place? Describe the mood. Is it warm and friendly or dark and foreboding?
What colors do you see? Is the landscape dry and monochrome or is it lush and green? Is the room sparely decorated or plush and colorful?
What do you hear? Do you hear the sounds of children shrieking and laughing as they play outside, birds chirping, or the sound of a car honking? Is there elevator music or the sound of a grandfather clock chiming the hour? Do you hear the drip of a faucet or fingers tapping on a keyboard?