Camp NaNoWriMo and Fixing My Losing Streak

Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has been around since 2011 and is the summertime version of November’s event (which has been around since 1999!). Instead of a hard 50,000 word goal, Camp lets you pick your own goal. Which means it should be easier… right?

Out of fourteen tries, I’ve only managed to hit my self-imposed goals twice.

To be fair my win-loss ratio for NaNo itself is only about 50%, but 14.3% is pretty darned sad. But past failures don’t guarantee future failures, as long as I learn from them, so it’s time to roll up my sleeves and take a proper shot at planning out April’s battle.

Learning from the Past (Attempt #18462546)

I’ve tried a lot of things to try and win Camp: proper novels, short story collections, MuseFic about trying to win Camp, revising novels, worldbook building…. it’s been pretty hit or miss.

  • [A Fine Romance] – Take 2 July 2017 Fantasy Novel
  • [A Fine Romance] April 2017 Fantasy Novel
  • Half Past Never (Tales of the Drunken Unicorn) July 2016 Fantasy Short Stories
  • The 30 Day Habit – Take 2! – 10,000+ words April 2016 Fantasy Short Stories
  • Worldbook for November’s NaNo July 2015 Fantasy Novel
  • Rough-Draft-a-Thon! April 2015 Fantasy Short Stories
  • The Book That Isn’t Rise and Walk July 2014 Fantasy Novel
  • Words Words Words April 2014 Fantasy Short Stories
  • Five Times July 2013 Fantasy
  • The 30 Day Habit April 2013 Satire, Humor & Parody
  • NaNo Deja Vu August 2012 Fantasy
  • Seven Seasons and a Movie, Err, Novel! June 2012 Fantasy
  • The Phoenix Colony August 2011 Science Fiction
  • That Don’t Impress Me Much – 50,000+ words July 2011 Fantasy

One thing I know I don’t want to do for Camp is try and edit any existing works. It leads to too much rereading and research and not enough words-on-paper (screen?). So it needs to be something new, or something in a universe where I don’t need to research before writing.

Camp NaNoWriMo Word Count Goal Setting
Wordcount Mathing

I also don’t want to a crazily high (or low) wordcount. I didn’t win when I chased 50k after the first time, but I also rarely win when I chase the lowest option of 10k. I need something where it’s a good amount of work, but not impossible. November is for the impossible! ๐Ÿ˜‰

500 words seems to be a reasonable goal. It should take me about an hour of focused writing (or 10 minutes of brain dumping word sprints) and missed days would be easy to make up on a weekend. Plus 500 words tends to be the length of a scene in most of my stories. Drabble writing habits die hard…

So 15,000 words it is!

But a wordcount goal isn’t a plan and I need a plan

What Other People Try

Google is no help How to Win Camp NaNoWriMo
Google Knows All, Sees… Not So Much

With all the writer-ly goodness of the NaNoWriMo events, you’d assume there would be a few hundred blog posts out there about Camp that would help me make it out the other side with a win (and a decent rough draft).

…not so much.

Everything I’ve been able to find is very generic: outline, play on the forums, don’t edit, first drafts are supposed to suck, etc.. Which is great if you haven’t done a NaNo event before, but it’s not that helpful when it comes to my own struggle.

So. Right. Time to start hashing out a real ‘how to win Camp with a decent rough draft’ post. *rolls up sleeves*

Step 1: I Need A Map

Using a spreadsheet to plan out story plot points and structure
Rough Spreadsheet Attempt #1!

I’m more of a pantser than a planner, but it would help to keep me on track if I knew roughly where I was in the story’s structure. I’m fine with going into Camp with a vague idea of how I want the end product to look, but I want something structurally sound on the other end.

So it’s time to break the three act structure into a word/page map.

Thankfully there are a lot of blog posts out there on three-act/four-act/story arc sort of maps. I’m basing the April attempt of this this wonderful article: How to master your craft and write-wonderful books

Step 2: I Need a Daily Battleplan

So I have a rough idea of what a story should look like broken out into word counts. I know how many words I want to write per day, so it’s time to make a monthly map of what checkpoints I should be hitting when. (Assuming I’m writing linearly, which I want to try to do.)

The spreadsheet that I built from Kris Bowes’ awesome article is really meant for novels, not novellas. So while I’m breaking it down into goal posts, I’m also going to oversimplify it a bit. Okay, a lot.

  1. Minding my own business
  2. Something strange happens
  3. Is this totally a quest?
  5. This is the worst idea ever, so no.
  6. But yes!
  7. Alright fine, off we go!
  9. Wow, so that didn’t go well
  10. And it’s getting worse
  11. Why did I think this was a good idea again?
  13. Nah we got this
  14. Sort of
  15. Hah! I win! …Only no?
  16. That was a terrible idea
  18. Bad guy is getting stronger
  20. Okay, maybe not, but seriously things are really bad right now
  21. Maybe we should give up?
  22. No we totally got this
  23. Onwards, only better!
  24. Prepping for the next attempt
  25. Starting the next attempt
  27. So that totally didn’t work, Take 2
  29. FTW!
  30. Wrap-up and Happily Ever After

Step 3: I Need a Safety Net

As is often the case, I will get off-track and have no idea where the story is actually going or how the characters fit into it. So I need a backup prompt for those 500 words (if I’m stuck on the daily goalpost above).

  1. What is their family like? (Immediate, Extended, honorary, etc.) What is their homelife like?
  2. What are their immediate surroundings like? Village/city/suburbs/space station/etc. How has it affected them as they’ve lived there?
  3. If the story’s inciting event hadn’t happened, what would their day have been like?
  4. What is everyone wearing and why? (Costume and clothing design can mean a lot, even if mentioned only vaguely in the story)
  5. If there is a villian, what are they like? Why are they not just a ‘Bad Guy’? If there’s no Bad Guy then talk about the antagonistic force and why it exists.
  6. They had to agree to go on the quest, so what were they thinking? What made them change their mind and do something out of the ordinary and possibly dangerous?
  7. If they had a friend who was going on a quest, would they go to? What would their reaction have been if they were a supporting character or a background character in this same story?
  8. Does the protagonist normally fail at things? What was their worst failure prior to this? What is the failure they are most afraid of?
  9. Did they fail because they were actively thwarted or was it an accidental sort of win for the Bad Guy? Did the villain even notice this attempt until after it was over? If it was expected, was there any failure on the part of the Bad Guy that made the repercussions less severe than anticipated?
  10. What are all the possible outcomes of the failure? What is the worst outcome that could be used that wouldn’t make the protagonist give up and go home immediately?
  11. The protagonist is thinking really hard about giving up, why? Are the reasons that they started out on this quest still valid? What is making them keep going?
  12. The first Really Bad Thing has happened… why? Is it meant to discourage them or destroy them? Is it something out of control of either side? Is it something the protagonist did to themselves? (A results of the mistake in 8?)
  13. So the Really Bad Thing isn’t as bad as they thought, somehow. Now it’s time to regroup… but what do the other folks on Team Good think about this?
  14. Sanity check time– is the new plan solid? Are there things that you had to work around in order to make it work? Are the workarounds really unlikely?
  15. In order for the idea to fail there has to be some bad assumption that the protagonist made. What was it and what caused them to make that assumption? What in their history made the assumption valid and logical to them?
  16. Do they notice that the plan is going wrong? Why wouldn’t they catch on and change their strategy to prevent the oncoming fail?
  17. This is the point where the Bad Guy starts to win and they will only get stronger until the final battle. Why are they winning? What does the story look like from their POV? Are things going as planned or is it chaos on that end as well?
  18. What is happening outside the main storyline right now? What are the people not on-screen doing? How are they reacting to the Bad Guy starting to have a visible advantage over the protagonist?
  19. REALLY REALLY BAD THING has happened… Why is this event worse than the one on day 12? Is this more of an emotional or physical setback?
  20. Retreat and survival mode are kicking in, so what sort of skills do they have in those areas? Do they know anyone who could help them? Based on the background from 18, is there even anyone who is willing to help them at this point?
  21. Compare and contrast what the current situation is to the situation they started the story in. What’s better? What’s worse? What sort of things about the daily grind was the protagonist not expected? Can they go back to ‘normal life’ after this is over?
  22. Time for a really good Rally the Troops moment… but what inspires these guys and why? What could they say that would reignite that enthusiasm that they started the quest with? Things have only gone wrong since they started, why think that will change now?
  23. Time for plan Z! How is the Bad Guy preparing for this last attempt? What have both sides learned from the previous attempts?
  24. What are they gathering that will help them this time that they didn’t have last time? People? Materials? MacGuffins?
  25. They are off! Time to lookout beyond the story again… Do the folks outside the main storyline know about the plan? What is happening in the world beyond the story?
  26. What is the worst possible thing that could happen to the protagonist? Can you use it here? Why not? What is the worst possible thing that could happen to someone else on the protagonist’s team?
  27. Why isn’t the protagonist giving up at this point? This is the worst possible moment for them, so why are they still trying to win? What makes losing even worse than what could happen?
  28. Why is the villain scary? What makes them a real threat to the protagonist? What is their ultimate attack? Why keeps them from going all out and trying to win?
  29. Winning normally requires losing somehow– what does the protagonist have to give up in order to win?
  30. What would the protagonist have considered a Happily Ever After before the story started? What sort of future did they dream of having?

After Steps : Now I Just Need an Idea…

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

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