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I’m back with my second NaNoWriMo-relevant book review, this time Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. If the thought of 'pantsing' it gives you night terrors and you’re looking for something that can help you write a book with structure, direction, and developed characters all in a month, this may be the book for you. If you like order, exercises and worksheets, this book is definitely for you!
Book in a Month has a clear structure designed to guide you part by part, and even day-by-day, through the construction of your novel. There are two main parts to the book; the first section is designed to help you break through mental barriers you might have, such as problems with resistance and time management. It’s broken down like this:
The five secrets of BiaM
Setting and keeping goals
The Book in a Month system (an overview of the rest of the book)
I personally have watched lots of very well-intentioned writers set out to write their book (both inside and outside of NaNo), only to be side-lined by fears they aren’t even aware they have, and time-management issues that can easily be overcome (that are probably also related to those fears!). In psychological circles, we call these issues self-sabotage and self-fulfilling prophecy, and they’re deadly. This section talks you through common pitfalls and gives you strategies & worksheets to help you deal with those pitfalls. For example, many people allow their fears to manifest in a need for perfection—they’ll go back and rewrite or rework a section over and over trying to make it perfect, and never make any actual progress on the novel. BiaM provides you with a worksheet that allows you to write down everything you need to go back and fix/research/build on later, so you don’t have to obsess about it now. This is a strategy that the successful writers I know use in one form or another to help keep their minds clear and their work moving forward.
The second part of the book tackles the structure and content of the novel itself, in four sections:
Week 1: The outline and Act I
Week 2: Act II, part 1
Week 3: Act II, part 2
Week 4: Act III
In each of these sections, Schmidt guides you through structuring your book with daily exercises and worksheets. You start small and build to big during week one; on day one you write a one-sentence summary, and put your raw story ideas into a ‘story idea map’ worksheet that helps you figure out the stakes, how your character and setting fit in, and what your inciting incidents and turning points are. As you progress, you will develop scenes for your ideas, and finally, an outline. You’ll then turn your attention to your characters development and backstory. By the end of week one, you’ll have fleshed-out characters and a basic outline to put them into. And yes, during this time, you write, so you aren’t falling behind on your daily word-count for NaNo.
During weeks 2-4, you will continued to write as you buttress your story. You’ll fill out that outline with exercises that help you hone your theme, craft excellent cliffhangers and reversals, spice up your story, continue to improve your characters’ motivations and arcs, and identify plot holes.
I love the questions and worksheets in this book; the worksheets aren’t crazy complicated or overwhelming, yet they have power. In fact, I have a manuscript I’ve put on the back burner to so I can get some distance on it; when I’m finished with my current projects, I’m going to pull it out and use all the steps in this book on it. Yes, it’s already written and it doesn’t map on to the typical three-act structure, but I believe the questions this book asks will help me get to the heart of what isn’t quite working right with it.
So if you’re looking for guidance, especially if plotting is a must for you, check this book out and let me know what you think! I’ll be back next time with another option to help with NaNoWriMo that’s a little more free-flowing.