3-Day Novella Survival Guide
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and write your novella in 3 days. Now what? Well, when I first started, I had the benefit of a few decent survival tips from the site while it was run by Geist Magazine. Sadly, the site isn’t there anymore. But I’m here, and I’ve got some tips of my own. So that’s something. Here’s a FAQ. I’ll add more as needs be.
Q: I’ve never done this before, and I’d like to have an outline. How big a story should I be planning?
A: The average writer clocks in at around 100-120 pages, which by some coincidence, is about the length of a Hollywood movie. So when outlining your story, think of the way a Hollywood movie typically plays out. Without bogging you down with too much scriptwriting theory, your story will be comprised of a beginning, middle, and end, in roughly 8 15-paged sequences. The first 25-30 pages (or first two sequences) would be your first act, the next 50-60 pages would be your middle 4 sequences, and your final 25-30 pages would be your 2 final sequences. For the sake of outlining, I’d devote a paragraph to each of these 8 sequences at the most. Just to give you the gist of your story. You don’t want to burn yourself out before you start, after all!
Q: It’s the morning of the first day. I still don’t even have a premise yet. WTF do I do? Right now I’m just staring at a blank page.
A: Definitely do not just stare at a blank page. Do one of these 3 things instead:
- Pick up a newspaper. Any newspaper. Find a shocking story. Imagine that happened to you. Go!
- Think of your favourite book. The protagonist likely had to make a very difficult choice early on, and there would have been consequences. Now change the setting and genre, and have the main character act more like you. Go!
- Go to http://canlitgenerator.com/. This will give you something completely random, and not all of the premises will even make sense. But you can keep refreshing until you get one that you like. Like this one? Good. Go!
Q: How much of my 3 days should be devoted to editing?
A: This depends somewhat on how much of a perfectionist you are. I personally find that if I write half the story on the first day, and then half the story on the second day, there is just enough time to edit it all properly on the third day. In short:
Day 1: Write sequences 1-4 (ideally at least 50 pages)
Day 2: Write sequences 5-8 (ideally another 50 pages)
Day 3: Edit!
Q: How much time should I devote to food and sleep?
A: Definitely get as much sleep as you would normally get. Pulling an all-nighter will likely not up your productivity. And your writing will probably also suffer. So get enough sleep. Your brain needs the rest. Also, take regular breaks to stretch, feed yourself, and your family/dog/cat. Just don’t procrastinate preparing a three-hour, three-course meal, and you should be fine.
Q: I’m stuck on this one chapter where I’m not really sure how proceed.
A: Skip it. Skip to the next part. You don’t have time to spin your wheels trying to write a scene you’d likely later delete anyway. Any scene you aren’t sure how to write, just summarize the essential thing that happened in a single sentence, and swiftly move to the next part of the story that interests you.
Q: I’m hours away from the end of the 3rd and final day, and I’m still not even done the rough draft. Am I totally borked?
A: No. But it’s time to wrap the story up. Even if you had a lot more planned, you’re better off finishing it at this point.
Q: I’m mere minutes away from midnight. I’m still not done. WTF do I do?
A: Repeat after me. “They never saw the [insert disaster here: comet, giant meatball, Howard Stern’s butt, etc.] coming. Then they all died. If only they’d completed [whatever subplot] faster…” Or something to that effect. It won’t be the most masterful ending ever, but at least you’ll have one.