Organizing a NaNoWriMo Novel The Jim Butcher Way


Okay, first of all, do you know who Jim Butcher is? He writes this fantastic series of urban fantasy books based around a wizard named Harry Blackstone Dresden in modern day Chicago. If it sounds interesting, there’s already something like 12 books in the series. Check him out at your local library or on Amazon. Here’s Jim Butcher’s Amazon page.  

Okay, he also writes another series called Codex Alera and I’m sure the writing is just as fine but I haven’t read it so I can’t say I love it, like I can the Harry Dresden series. They are fun, fast-paced action but also really good writing and he always hits me with something deep somewhere along the way. Love it!

Anyway, he also wrote a a LiveJournal where he shared information on writing. I’ve been looking at distilling it down to steps I can use to plan my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.)

Here’s what I came up with. If it looks interesting, check out Butcher’s LiveJournal for more in-depth and better explanation. Be warned, it goes backward. You have to scroll to the bottom to the see the first entry then work up. 

Some of these were good reminders for me but some were new ideas that make good sense, like the Stimulus-Response Transactions.

  •  Conflict should exist in one form or another in every single scene. 
  • All of your characters need to have a goal
  • Use “Stimulus-Response Transactions.” Something happens to your character and he/she reacts. If you reverse that, it can confuse the reader so don’t do it unless you are very confident.
  • Write in either first or third person, especially if you’re just starting out. It keeps things much simpler.
  • Choose your point of view character based on who has the most to lose.

Write a Story Skeleton description of the main plot of your book in two sentences.



What is (or what makes) an interesting character?

  • Exaggerate a feature – physical, mental or emotional.
  • Give them an interesting position, whether it is a social, geographic, intellectual or moral.
  • Introduce your character with a solid Characteristic Entry Action that is typical of who and what he is.
  • Make sure they act believably.
  • Make your character a whole, full person by showing his or her emotions, reactions and decisions.

I love the idea of Tags and Traits. It can help make your character unique if you pick the right combination and it helps solidify the character in the reader’s mind.

  • Tags are a few specific words you use to describe your character, and as much as possible, only your character.
  • Traits are unique items like a prop.

The Big Middle seems to be Butcher’s way of thinking of the climax. If it’s different, I’m not sure how. Maybe it just arrives earlier. (If somebody has a different understanding of this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.) Basically, Butcher recommends creating a great big dramatic event for the end of the middle of the book which will lead directly to the homestretch.

The organization of scenes the way he explained it makes a lot of sense to me and really helps in plotting and organizing a story. They have to include –


  • Point of View Character
  • Goal
  • Conflict (scene question)
  • Setback (scene answer)
  • Possible scene answers include
  • Yes! (but that gets you no where so) –
  • Yes, but..
  • No, and furthermore!


Sequels are what happens after a scene. A character reacts emotionally, then thinks about it logically, considers possible outcomes to actions he could take and makes a decision. It’s simple and this is how people react to events so it keeps the reader moving forward quickly.

A Story Climax is the answer to the story question. It should include –

  • Isolation – friends can’t help him now.
  • Confrontation – obviously, with the antagonist.
  • Dark Moment – Confrontation did not go well.
  • Choice – between something good and something really bad.
  • Dramatic Reversal – poetic justice.
  • Resolution – keep it short.

Organization – The Basics

  • Write down your protagonist, his tags and traits, and how you intend to introduce him.
  • Ditto, but for the main opposition.
  • Create a story arc on paper or somewhere and fill in the opening scene, the big middle at the top and the climax on the right.
  • Fill in any scenes that you have in mind.
  • Add in phrases describing scenes that lead your character from one to the next.
  • Do Story Arches for all of your subplots.
  • Profile every significant character on his own sheet,
  • Outline scenes and sequels.
  • Repeat until climax.

As I said, this is the basics, Butcher’s (very entertaining) LiveJournal is something like 47 pages long and remember, this is one way to do it. Maybe it looks good to you, or maybe parts of it do. Take what works and leave the rest.

Happy Novel Planning!


  1. lisenminetti said,

    October 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Oh I loved that post – great way to think about writing. For the most part planning and I don’t work well together, so i really like the guideline ideas.

    • melorajohnson said,

      October 4, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      Hey, thanks! So glad to know somebody found it interesting. His blog is really great with much more in depth explanation.

      • lisenminetti said,

        October 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm

        Not only did I find it interesting, but I tweeted it and it got re-tweeted within minutes! I’ll check his blog out too.

      • melorajohnson said,

        October 4, 2013 at 12:54 pm


  2. neenslewy said,

    October 5, 2013 at 6:46 am

    A great post – I will have to check out the links too. Reblogging. I take it you have signed up for NaNoWriMo? The boards are open apparently now to go and introduce yourself. I completed both the Spring and Summer Camps in preparation and now I feel a bit nervous about the real deal…. for some reason?!
    Look forward to the Nano posts if you are indeed camping out!

    • melorajohnson said,

      October 5, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      I am signed up from previous years but not signed in for this November yet. I will go check it out now and fill out info for my novel, didn’t know they were open. I will be under MeloraJohnson. Can’t wait! Got lots of plans for prepping this month. Hopefully life will cooperate. And thanks for the reblog!

  3. neenslewy said,

    October 5, 2013 at 6:47 am

    Reblogged this on awritersfountain and commented:
    A great article with lots of links for everyone who is considering camping out for NaNoWriMo, a must read piece. Enjoy!

  4. jrfrontera said,

    October 5, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    You would probably be very interested in James Scott Bell’s craft books as well, such as “Plot and Structure”… it outlines very well and very concisely many of these same principles you’ve summarized here. Butcher’s “Big Middle” is called “The Second Doorway” by James Scott Bell. It’s a very important part of a novel, really. Good thing to have! Thanks so much for this lovely summary, I’m keeping it handy for the upcoming NaNo! And I’ll definitely have to check out this Butcher guy!

    • melorajohnson said,

      October 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Hi! Thanks for the tip! I’ll be sure to look Bell up sometime. Hopefully we have him in the library here, and if we don’t we’ll order him.

      • jrfrontera said,

        October 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

        Yes, definitely do! 🙂 I have found his books EXTREMELY helpful! He has a way of explaining structure that just really makes it all make sense, ha. I also highly recommend his “The Art of War for Writers” … it’s a very handy and quick go-to guide for all the essentials of a successful career author! Well… good luck on this year’s NaNo, hopefully I’ll see you around the forums! 🙂

  5. October 12, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    […] 4. The Jim Butcher Way […]

  6. October 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    […] Organizing a NaNoWriMo Novel The Jim Butcher Way ( […]

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