Solving the biggest NaNoWriMo challenge

The biggest challenge in the 50,000 word/30 day NaNoWriMo challenge – or, indeed, for any writing defined by word count – isn’t actually meeting that target. Yes, you do need to meet it – but that isn’t the real issue.

Wright_Typewriter2The real challenge is making the structure of what you write work to the 50,000 words – meaning proper balance between beginning, middle and end. That’s harder than it sounds. Any writing must have proper structure and pace for it to carry the reader on the essential emotional journey that lies at the heart of the art.

The exact proportions will vary depending on the purpose and intent of the writing, however as a rule of thumb for a novel plot you might think about 20 percent introductory, 50-60 percent expository and 20-30 percent ending. There are a few principles:

  1. Don’t use the beginning as an information dump. That’s not what it’s for. Beginnings are there to unfold the characters to the reader – to reveal what the character needs (as opposed to what they want). Call it Act 1.
  2. Keep the expository tight. Does a scene advance the character’s journey down their character arc? No? Cut it. Think of the whole as Act 2.
  3. The pace has to rise and fall in a series of rising waves until…
  4. The ending – which is the final point where the events leading the main character down their arc come together in a final challenge. This is the third and final act in the story.

From the viewpoint of writing, the purpose of the “50,000 word” length – and of keeping tally of the words – isn’t to hit a daily target of 1667. It’s to allow you to put approximate scale to the three acts and their components. If you’re running outside that scale, there’s likely to be something structurally awry.

Why is this important? Because if you get the structure right, everything else follows. After NaNoWriMo, you’ll have a good basis to build your novel.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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11 thoughts on “Solving the biggest NaNoWriMo challenge

  1. I am so glad you are doing this series. This will be my first NaNoWriMo and my first novel, so planning and structure is something that I need help with. Thanks! Please keep it up!


  2. Hi Matthew. I’ve not participated chatted with you much – I was writing a first draft.

    I completely agree with you about proportions to a story. If we use First, Mid, and Second Plot Points as our markers, I think experts used to teach equal splits. But, now, in our ADHD age, I think I read a 20-30-30-20 mix.

    Not only that, what proportions we use in our first scene is also very important. We need to establish who and where our MC is, and get her moving. And, if we want to hold our readers, we just, absolutely, cannot do info dumps. I went after this by making a list of everything I wanted to tell readers. And then I figured out which scenes I would put these things in. As much as I could, I had other characters do it. And I only put something in when it seemed important to my story. I also made sure I had everything in before Part Four.

    Thank you,


    1. Thanks for your thoughts. Sounds sensible to me. The proportions of the structure will vary a bit. Capturing the reader in the first page is essential. Then holding them. Often quite tricky. Good luck with your writing!

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  3. Great advice. This is why I plot out my story fairly detailed. It gives me the road map to follow to make sure my manuscript is structured as a complete story.


  4. Simply spectacular, Matthew. This may be the most succinct discussion on what word count is really all about, just another way for the writer to evaluate writing progress, not a set-in-stone goal. Great post. Thanks, Matthew.


    1. Thank you! I often feel I am a lone voice over the meaning of word count. A world in which the apps that present it as a simple numeric target seem to prevail by default. As we know, it is so very different from that!

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