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Prep Your NaNoWriMo Crime Novel in One Hour or Less

Didn’t plan your crime story for NaNoWriMo? I got you.

I get it. Everyone was hashtagging PlanTober, PrepTober, Get-your-act-together-tober (I made that one up), and this year was going to be your year. And then stuff happens, like it does, and you want to participate in NaNoWriMo but you haven’t planned your story. I have good news for you: you can still get in on NaNoWriMo even if you don’t have an outline to work from. Take an hour, or 30 minutes, or 10 if you’re really pressed for time, and use these three things to help you pants your way through the first draft of your crime novel.

Important caveat: remember this is your first draft! Don’t expect to write this draft and be done, which means you can take the pressure off of it. You’re telling yourself the story, getting the raw clay on the table so that at the end of this, you have something to work with. In your second draft you can address plot holes, make characters consistent, and make sure the plot is cohesive.

1. Protagonist + Occupation.

Identify your protagonist and what they do for a living. Are they a detective? A journalist? A baker acting as an amateur sleuth?

Lock in an answer for this question, and then, for every scene you write you can ask: how does my protagonist’s job create obstacles and opportunities for solving the case? This will help you get the investigation on the page scene after scene.

2. Location.

Where does your crime story take place? Is it in a small town or a big city? You may already have an idea, you may need to just pick a place to start with. But placing your story in a vacuum is liable to slow you down. If you have extra time, check out this post for some ways you can think about deciding on a location for your story.

Optional: You can use the setting you’ve decided on to brainstorm some locations your protagonist might visit. Again, this is about helping you write scene after scene, so having a bank of places that your protagonist will go in search of the truth can help you move the story forward one scene at a time.

3. Who did it?

You may already have an idea of what you want the crime to be for your story. If so, write down everything you already know, and lock in who committed the crime. Even if this changes by the end of the story, you can address that in your second draft. But not knowing who the killer is might send you writing in circles. If you know who did it, you know the direction your protagonist needs to go to find the truth, and that’s going to get you words on the page that move the story forward.

If you don’t know the details of the crime but you already came up with a protagonist, think about the kind of crime this particular protagonist might run into. Pick it out of a hat if you have to. Again, the goal is to lock in the essentials so you can generate a first draft. You’ll discover a lot while writing this draft, so expect that things will change and just give yourself a place to start.

Each of these three things will help you create scene after scene. Once you know what your protagonist does for a living, you know what information they’ll have access to. When you know where it’s set, you know the kinds of places they can go. And when you know who committed the crime, you know what kinds of clues there are for your protagonist to find. Use these three things and take it one scene at a time, and you can have a first draft of your crime story ready on November 30th. For bonus scene writing tips, check out this post!

Good luck and happy writing!

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