NaNoWriMo Day 4: Special Guest David Farland

It was a beautiful day off of work and so I had a lot of time to write. It feels good to get ahead!

I’ve got a special guest on my blog today: David Wolverton, also known by the pen name David Farland. He is a bestselling author of mostly Fantasy, Science Fiction and Historical Fiction, and is on the cutting edge of enhanced book technology.

His new enhanced ebook “Nightengale” is now out, and he’ll be speaking about it and about a topic dear to any NaNoWriMo participant’s heart: outlining.  I’ll post all of the rest of the usual NaNoWriMo stuff at the bottom. Thanks for being on my blog David!


A lot of people are afraid to outline.  It sounds “complex.”  But really it’s just a tool, a way to let youthink about your story before you begin composing it. 
If you look at stories that fail, the most common problem byfar is what we call “failure of imagination.” The author fails to create a fascinating, well-rounded protagonist.  Or maybe the inciting incident, the scenethat gets the story rolling, is blasé. Or maybe the climax for the action is great, but the climax for theromantic angle feels dead.  Or maybe theworld that you’ve created for your story feels “just like all of the otherworlds.”

The problem of course is that the author probably used ahaphazard method for generating a story. He or she might have thought about it from time to time over years, butnever really sat down and tried to consider it deeply in an organized way.

Well, there’s a way to avoid wasting time.  You can keep from writing a novel that feels“dead on arrival.”  The way to do it isto simply outline your story.  An outlineis really just a blue-print, a way of thinking about the story.  It lets me fill in the blanks before Ibegin.  What are my major conflicts?  I have to think about that.  How does my character try to resolvethem?  Do I have a villain?  Who is my protagonist’s best friend?  What inner demons does he or she have?  What happens in my climax?  Is there a big turning point at the end?  How does the story resolve? 

There are literally hundreds of questions that you might askyourself about your characters—including antagonists, protagonists, romanticinterests, the protagonists friends and teachers, the antagonist’s henchmen,and so on. 

There are basic questions about your settings that you’llcreate, and the conflicts that you’ll develop, and the themes of the story.

Here are the steps that I go through.
1)     First, I consider the question, “Who is myaudience?”  In Hollywood, working as agreen-lighter for films, I was taught to look at target audiences by age andsex.  If my audience is sixteen-year-oldgirls, then guess what, I now know something about my protagonist.  She’s a sixteen-year-old girl.
But I know even more than that.  I also know what my audience likes.  She’s going to be interested in wonder,romance, humor, mystery, horror and adventure. Those are the main draws for that audience.  So now I know a little about what thestoryline needs to do.
2)     I then have to consider, “Who is my cast?”  I want to think a bit about eachcharacter—their personal history and background, their interrelationships.
3)     All of the best-selling movies and books of alltime have one thing in common—they’re all set in another time and anotherplace, not in the here and now. Audiences like to be transported in a story.  So the question become, where is my storyset?  An alternate world?  A sexy location that the reader would like tovisit?  Or do I have to take a place thatthe reader has never even  imagined?

I look at how my protagonist might try to resolve the biggest problems that hefaces.  For example, he might have tosave the world from an alien invasion, rescue his girlfriend from the alien’sclutches, and at the same time, finally join the human race—all in the space ofthree hundred pages. 

So for each conflict, I consider ways thatwill be interesting, and surprising.  Imight ask myself, how will Chaz reveal to Karissa that he loves her?  Then I look at things that might be blockingthe progression of their relationship, and let the obstacles get in theway.  Or maybe Chaz  has to defeat the aliens, but the aliensfight back.  I might spend a good deal oftime thinking about how the alien hive leader is going to deal with Chaz,planning to crush him like a bug!
4)     I now look at the philosophical underpinnings ofmy story.  What great things is Chazgoing to have to learn in the process of this story?  Let’s say that Chaz is an outsider.  He looks at the bug-eyed monster aliens, andis shocked at how their hive-mind so efficiently handles a task.  Maybe he realizes for the first time how humans,with their conflicting goals and desires, seem to stagnate, incapable ofaccomplishing anything.  He realizes thathe needs to join the human race.  So Imight plot down how his thoughts and feelings on this issues evolve and changeduring the course of the story.
5)     I now take my characters, settings, conflicts,and insights and I begin plotting the novel. Quite simply, I look out how to develop the following phases: a) Howwill I introduce my character, setting and conflicts?  b) What happens during the inciting incidentsfor each major conflict?  c) How does mycharacter try to resolve the conflicts on the first try, the second?  d) How does my character finally resolve theconflicts?  Are there any big twists inthat process?  What does he have to learnbefore resolving the process? e) How do I bring the story back to rest?
For me, I often like to plot on a huge sheet of paper—twofeet by three feet.  But I also have usedthe “scene card” method, and I’ve even tried plotting software.  Once I have the basic plot, I then write alonger outline, filling the story out even more—to say twenty or thirty pages.
The goal at each step is to create a cohesive whole, toconsider all of the elements of the story in an organized fashion.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot to considerhere.
I do teach workshops onoutlining, called Million DollarOutlines. The goal of the course is to teach you how to outline a novel insuch a way that you know that thebook is worth a fortune, instead of writing your first novel to a small audience.  I’ll be setting up a new one this comingFebruary, so watch for it at
David Farland is a New York Times bestselling author who hastrained dozens of others, including such #1 bestsellers as Brandon Mull,Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer. Dave has just released the first book in a new series, Nightingale. 
Nightingale tells the story of a young man, Bron Jones,who is abandoned at birth.  Raised in fostercare, he’s shuffled from home to home. At age 16, he’s kind of the ultimate loner, until he’s sent to a newfoster home and meets Olivia, a marvelous teacher, who recognizes that Bron issomething special, something that her people call a “Nightingale,” a creaturethat is not quite human. 
Suddenly epic forces combine to claimBron, and he must fight to keep from getting ripped away from the only home,family, and girlfriend that he has ever known. He must risk his life to learn the answers to the mysteries of hisbirth: “What am I?  Where did I comefrom?  Who am I?”
Interestingly, Dave is releasing thebook in several formats—as an enhanced novel with beautiful illustrations,animations, and a soundtrack; as an e-book, an audiobook, and as a hardcover. 
Check it out at, and while you’re there, find out how you canwin $1000 in his short story contest.

Leaderboard:  (You can also update your word count on my Facebook author page)

1. Robin 7,225 (as of November 3rd)
2. Writermike: 6476 (as of November 3rd)
3. Misha 3389 (as of November 2nd)

Word Count: 

6476 / 50000

Writing tip of the Day: Keep a “Next Draft To-Do List”. When you are blazing through a novel, especially during NaNoWriMo, you often have a great moment of inspiriation of something to include in your book beyond the original outline. First, when you get these moments, savor them and let it put a smile on your face. Second, you need to consider how the rest of your story might need to be changed if you include this new idea in your book.

For example, you may realize halfway through that you need to include another character who is close to your protagonist for him to bounce his thoughts and idea off of. However, it would be strange to have the character appear mid-book without introduction.  At this point, instead of going back right away, you can make the change and add introducing the character’s backstory to your “Next Draft To-Do List”.  If you don’t keep such a list, you may forget to plug holes in your story which can leave your readers confused, which is the ultimate in what an author wants to avoid.

Saturday November 4th: Mark this date on your calendar. I’ll be announcing the winner of the Spooktacular Blog Hop and I’ll be participating in a NaNoWriMo 4-hour writing contest, with a $50 Amazon gift card on the line, as well as other great prizes. You can participate too.  Details are here:

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2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Day 4: Special Guest David Farland

  1. What a timely article! I've been looking at articles about outlining, trying to figure out a way that works for me, and I found this very helpful. Thanks, David and Michael!I, too, keep a "To-Do List," but under the important-sounding name of "Revision Log," which makes it look like I know what I'm doing. Ha! Along with major ideas I need to add, I also make a note of names, events, et cetera that I need to come up with. I don't like to stop in the middle of a creative spurt to look something up, so I tag them as "NameThisCity" and give a quick description in my revision log to remind myself what I was thinking.Michael, I was also just checking out the 4-hour writing contest over on "Writing on the Wall," and it is *today* (Friday, November 4th, rather than Saturday!).Good luck with your writing, and I'll be back later with my word count!

  2. Thanks for your comments Robin. I realized about the writing contest and then went on to win it. Good thing I realized my mistake. Good luck with your writing!

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