Do you pre-write when you NaNo? The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I didn't do any pre-writing at all. It was strictly a stream of consciousness. What came out was somewhat, well, rambling, as streams of consciousness tend to be.
For a first draft, rambling isn't such a terrible thing. It only means that revision will be extremely important, and most likely time-consuming. Sure enough, it was. In fact, at the end of revision, I wasn't sure the story actually worked.
The next time I did NaNoWriMo, I came across a blog post about pre-writing, and was intrigued. The writer suggested I plot it all out in my head before writing, hitting all the major checkpoints of story architecture.
While there are many methods you can use to plot, my favorite is from Save the Cat. It's actually a book about screenwriting. You may be into screenwriting or you may not, but the structure of writing for film is extremely helpful to any fiction writer. It cuts all the darlings away to reveal the bones of the story, and the reason it does this is simply that the format of film is performing to the shortest attention spans in the world. Master this art of storytelling for film, and you'll be a master of the novel, as well.
Save the Cat has a chapter listing 15 'beats,' on The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. A simple way to pre-write for NaNo would be to list these beats out on a piece of paper or a Word doc, and fill them in with your basic premise.
1. Opening Image
2. Theme Stated
6. Break into Two
7. B Story
8. Fun and Games (I like to call this one The Musical Montage)
10. Bad Guys Close In
11. All Is Lost
12. Dark Night of the Soul
13. Break into Three
15. Final Image
For more incredibly helpful detail on these beats, buy Blake Snyder's book.
My NaNo project this year is a spiritual time travel story. What's yours?