It’s shocking to believe, but 2023 marks the 12th time I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month for anyone unfamiliar. You’ve got 30 days to write 50,000 words of a novel, and it can get pretty wild. Over the years, I’ve written a few different genres, including literary fiction, mystery and lots of fantasy. One year, I tried historical fiction, and that was a disaster, because if you’re going to get to 50,000 words written, there’s no time for historical research. But hey, I know folks who have pulled off historical fiction during NaNoWriMo, and my hat is off to them.
The point is: People have written in every genre and for every audience you can think of during NaNoWriMo, which means you can, too. And if you need a little help figuring out how to write for the genre of your choice, there’s a good chance someone has published a writing book to help. Don’t believe me? Below are 5 novels written during NaNoWriMo that went on to be published, paired with a manual on how to write for that genre. I can’t say for certain whether the authors of the novels consulted any of the writing manuals, but one of them just might be the book for you.
Find your inspiration, or just enjoy one of these novels written during NaNoWriMo on the Libby app.
The Davenports by Krystal Marquis
I know I said my attempt at historical fiction during the month of November was a disaster, but Krystal Marquis pulls it off brilliantly in her YA debut. The Davenport family is one of the few Black families of extreme wealth in American in 1910, thanks to their wildly successful carriage business. The book follows the fates of the family’s two daughters, one of their maids and one of the girl’s best friends as these young ladies fall in love and try to start businesses of their own. If that hasn’t sold you, it’s based on a real family and received stellar reviews. Also, how gorgeous is that yellow cover?
If you want to take a stab at writing your own bestselling YA novel (or even just a YA novel), you might want to check out Save the Cat! Writes a Young Adult Novel. The original Save the Cat! is a famous screenwriting book (which I also recommend to novelists), but here it’s been adapted specifically to YA novels, and it walks you through each step of a successfully structured YA novel. And since the author, Jessicia Brody, is also a successful YA author, you can trust that you’re in good hands.
Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird
I’ve had better luck writing mysteries during NaNoWriMo, and Bonnie MacBird did as well, with her first Sherlock Holmes novel. Her book has Holmes and Watson traveling from London to Paris, connecting three different crimes that somehow tie together, all while worrying about threats to Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft. Whew! That’s a lot of story!
But mysteries by their nature have a lot of moving parts, and learning how to structure one is a real challenge. Luckily, Frey is here to help. Using his own knowledge as an Edgar Award-nominated author, he urges writers to set their sights high and focus on writing a dramatic story more so than a mystery. Then he reveals the mystery and shows writers how to do just that.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
A romcom set in the world of soap operas, telenovelas and streaming movies, You Had Me at Hola launched Alexis Daria’s literary career and a series that’s still going. Two down-on-their-luck stars need their next gig, a new bilingual romcom, to payoff, except they can’t stand each other. To improve their performances, they begin rehearsing extra in private, but then the heat between their characters starts to spill over into real life. This one is definitely spicy.
Although I’ve never written a typical romance for NaNoWriMo, I do enjoy throwing love stories in my fantasy novels, so knowing how to structure a romance is important to me. A surprising amount goes into how an author builds tension between romantic leads and creates two characters who are absolutely destined for each other. But never fear, budding romance novelist! Gwen Hayes walks you through how to get two folks just going about their own business into the perfect happily ever after together.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
One of the first fairytale retellings to really take off, Marissa Meyer’s version of Cinderella as a cyborg is legend in the NaNoWriMo world. And Meyer didn’t stop with Cinder—during subsequent Novembers, she wrote Scarlet (a Little Red Riding Hood story) and Cress (a Rapunzel retelling). If fairytales in a sci-fi future sound good to you, this is definitely the series for you.
Sci-fi can be an incredibly fun genre to read, but it might seem a bit intimidating to write if you aren’t a STEM wiz. But never fear! Dan Koboldt has some great advice for how to get science in your sci-fi novel. So take a deep breath and don’t scrap that really cool space opera you want to write, even though you’re not really sure how a rocket engine works.
The Unbroken by C. L. Clark
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer
Treason, court intrigue, assassins. It’s not Game of Thrones, it’s The Unbroken, a debut fantasy inspired by North African culture. Clark has set up an absorbing world where Touraine, a young woman who was kidnapped as a child, has returned to her homeland of Qazāl as a rebel. But Luca is a Qazāli princess and ready to fight rebels and her uncle to gain her rightful throne. See why this book was a critical darling on its release two years ago and has already produced a sequel.
Now, fantasy is the genre I’ve written most often for NaNoWriMo, so I can tell you as an author, I love Wonderbook. It’s full of worldbuilding advice, beautiful maps of fantastical worlds and everything a budding fantasy novelist needs for inspiration. Truly, it’s a joy to either read straight through, or just dip into at spots that particularly interest you.
Ready for NaNoWriMo? Remember to just write and love doing so. There’s plenty of time for editing in December.