Thrive during NaNoWriMo. Step 4: Story Soup

Lentil soup with a slice of hot dog that looks like a smiley face with a mustard smile and two lentil eyes.
You can turn your story soup into comfort food. © Laurel Decher, 2016

This is the fourth post in a short series on preparing for (and thriving during) National Novel Writing Month. You can find the first post about collecting ingredients here and the second post about finding the core of your story here and the third post about cutting the story up into manageable portion sizes here. Happy Writing!

It’s Day 7 of National Novel Writing Month and by now your story might be turning into a confusing soup.

No worries. Set aside today’s freshly whipped up words and let’s check the “recipe.”

The recipe a.k.a. “The Hollywood Formula.”

Writing Excuses comes to our rescue with “The Hollywood Formula.” Listen to the 20 minute episode here while you do lifesaving work like hanging up laundry or cooking something for dinner.

Then make up some answers to these questions* about your story:

  • Who’s the hero or heroine in your story?
  • What does s/he want?

If you need help with either of these questions, I recommend the Reverse Backstory Tool. It’s like an engine for your story. You can also try asking: Who’s the absolute worst person to handle this situation?

  • Who’s the antagonist?

The antagonist is defined as the person who STOPS the hero/heroine. This seems really obvious, but it’s very easy to pick the wrong person as the antagonist *cough* and then wonder why you’re story isn’t moving.

  • What’s the (simplest) theme? What’s your story about?

Love? Hope? Immigration? The challenges of everyday life? Whatever it is will help you brainstorm more scene ideas that actually have something to do with the rest of the story. If you get something you like, write it down and steer your story by it.

*You’ll notice these questions are awfully similar to “A Pinch of Story Structure.” When you write a novel, there’s no shame in asking the same questions over again. 🙂 As the story grows, the answers sort themselves out: Trust the draft.

Don’t fuss. It’s time for broad strokes. “Hit it and get out” is the order of the day. You’ve got more words to write.

You’re a writer.

Happy writing!


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Laurel Decher

LAUREL DECHER lives on the outskirts of a mid-sized city in Germany, between a medieval chapel on St. James' Way and a boundary marker tree complete with scary face. It's a little surprising, since she expected to live in Vermont for the rest of her life. You just never know when adventure will call! She writes stories about all things whimsical, vegetable, or musical. When she's not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post. TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS (Oct 2018) is her first book for young readers (ages 9-12) and the first Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale. Photo: © Jan Decher.

5 thoughts on “Thrive during NaNoWriMo. Step 4: Story Soup”

    1. Susan–glad you liked it. Sorry I made you hungry. It’s Anna Thomas’s Lentil-Tomato soup from The Vegetarian Epicure, (um, with hot dogs. What can I say? I live in the land of “Wurst.” I aim for moderation. Chocolate is a different subject.) The combination of thyme and tarragon is perfect. If you can get the dark green French lentils, they have the best flavor, but the regular brown ones work too.


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