A Writer’s Notebook: NaNoWriMo outline

This is perhaps a bit early — National Novel Writing Month is still two weeks away — but I’ve had this project (and vampires in general) on the brain lately, so I figured I might as well get started. (SPOILER ALERT: If anyone feels like following along with my progress on this book during NaNoWriMo, skip this exercise. I’m not planning to stick rigidly to this outline, but I’m laying out what I know I want to write about, so if any of this winds up in the book, I’ll be ruining some surprises here.)

And now, my notes and outline; and later, the exercise.

Plotline: A living vampire runs from a blood-thirsty cult until the he’s forced to make a stand.


Julian discovers he’s a vampire. Lots of inner workings, the whole tortured soul thing, and make VERY CLEAR that he’s not dead or undead or superhuman or any of that nonsense. He’s a human being, just a fringe loner who craves blood.  Some (accidental) violence, especially in the climactic night club scene.  He begins to hear rumors of a Church. Dismisses idea that some sort of “Old Ones” (gods) are in New Orleans because it’s ridiculous and derivative. (Introduce some secondary character, a friend and helper that Julian generally ignores out of self-pity, or something. This will need some work. But this character, “Amy” [I hate this name] will be his main connection to the “ordinary” world.)

Then he meets Portia Lynn — mad infatuation.

When he learns she’s disappeared and can’t find her, he travels to New Orleans anyway, because he doesn’t know where else to go. Amy tries to stop him, but to no avail. (Or something less lame and cliche.)


Wanders lost. Meets other vagrant “vampires” under bridges and in night clubs. Finally tracks down the rumored “Church,” where he reunites with Portia Lynn. She’s a member of the Church, and she tries to “convert” him. Madness. Chaos. Julian resists, the Church retaliates, and Julian flees west.


(Re-read Ceremony?) Winds up in the desert, in pain and dying. He lives off wildlife, stays for a time in the Laguna Reservation, earns his way by framing houses. (Steal from my friend’s story about live on the res, but let Julian’s version go dark.) Bitten by a snake. Delirium. Leaves to wander desert again, winds up in cave. Portia Lynn tracks him down. He is weak; she feeds on him and feeds him in return, keeping him alive. Amy tracks them down (HOW??) and kills Portia Lynn. Rise of Julian. He heads east to confront the Church.


They clash in a small town in Texas, and with Amy’s help (why?, how?) they break up the Church, destroy some of the members, and make a new covenant. Somehow, end.

As I’ve said in other posts, I have mixed feelings about outlines. I don’t like doing them and I think they’re risky for a writer like me because I can too easily get trapped in them. But I also know from experience how important they can be for guiding and sometimes driving long-form fiction, and recently I’ve been using them a lot more than I’d ever have expected to organize and understand some of my longest short stories.

When working with a novel, I feel they’re important to start with. They’re still problematic, as I learned the hard way with my dissertation novel (I had to fight through a lot of that one because I did sometimes get trapped in the outline), but last year the very rough outline I wrote for my NaNoWriMo novel helped tremendously. For some reason, the speed of that writing experience helped me veer outside the lines easily and I never felt confined in the outline, but when I drifted too far and lost track of what I wanted to write, the outline brought me back to task without any real problems.

The novel I want to write this November is one I’ve long had ideas for, and wrapping my head around them all in a long-form project like this is going to be difficult without the guidance of a rough outline. I’ve also known for a while now that I’d like the story to travel, and the idea to take it to places with “New” in the title turned out to be a convenient (if perhaps too-clever) organizing device.  ‘m not entirely happy with where this story seems to be taking me, and I’ll almost certainly deviate frequently as the characters develop themselves, but at least now I have a rough plan for working.

Need help forming your own outline? You might try some of the ideas on The Wright Words.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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