Notes on NaNoWriMo

Notes on NaNoWriMo

by Margaret Fieland




Although I am a huge science fiction fan, as of late September of 2010 I’d never tried my hand at writing a science fiction story. In fact, I’d written only two novels: a children’s chapter book, which had been accepted by a small print house, and a middle grade novel that I’d put aside as needing major revision. The latter, at 15,000 words, was the longest thing I’d ever written.

In late September 2010 I decided I’d write a science fiction novel for NaNoWriMo and used the next weeks planning it. The advice I got from most of my NaNoWriMo-veteran writer friends was to lay out the plot scene by scene in as much detail as possible. Good advice, except I had only a sketchy notion of my story. I quickly decided on a fourteen-year-old boy as my main character, who would be plopped down on an alien planet.

I had signed up for an online class on writing sci-fi novels that started a few weeks before NaNoWriMo, and I used the very helpful homework to lay out a few things: bright moment, dark moment, character change, conflict resolution, obstacle, problem, et cetera.

What did I keep and what did I toss? The basic problem (terrorists) remained the same, but a number of details changed as I wrote. I had initially figured my main character’s father and another character for the antagonists. This didn’t work, and I created a new, unplanned antagonist. The need my main character faced, to weigh the values he’s been brought up with against the values of the alien society, did remain central to the novel.

I worked out, in my head if not always on paper, quite a lot about my alien society, my alien planet, and my aliens’ values, as well as a lot of backstory and history that never made it into the book. This was, after all, my first science fiction novel, and the world-building was the part I was most nervous about.

I had less than half a page of plot notes, not nearly enough to generate a whole novel in a month’s time. I needed to write an average of 1,667 words per day, so I found myself laying out the next scene or two in my head on the drive home from work. I would picture my characters moving and talking, kind of like a movie. When I arrived home, I’d write the scene or scenes. Then I’d make notes for the next few scenes, keeping in mind the next major plot point and how I could get there.

I also wrote a second, related document, thirty poems of a poet in the universe of the novel. Eight of the poems appear in the final version of the book. I also wrote a story, which is told by one of the characters, and a glossary for the alien language in the book.

I wrote more than 50,000 words during November of 2010, then spent the next six or seven months editing. That novel, Relocated, was published in July 2012.

What did I learn about my writing style as a result of this? I learned what I need to plan and what I can work out as I go. I need to understand the setting, my characters and their motivations, the main plot arc in terms of where they start and where I want them to end up, and at least the major plot points in between. I’m not capable of laying out the whole plot scene by scene before I start to write. And I need to be prepared to revise what I write. ■


Born and raised in New York City, Margaret Fieland lives in the suburbs west of Boston, Massachusetts, with her partner and seven dogs. Her poems, articles and stories have appeared in Main Channel Voices, Front Range Review and All Rights Reserved, among others. She is one of The Poetic Muselings, whose poetry anthology, Lifelines, was published in 2011. She is author of two science fiction novels and Sand in the Desert, a book of science fiction persona poems. Visit her website:


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