Day-by-Day NaNoWriMo Outline: Characters & Themes Cheatsheet

Deconstructing Bestselling Novels, One Doodle at a Time.

10.16.2016 by

Day by Day #NaNoWriMo Outline: Characters & Themes CheatsheetLast November, I created a 30-Day NaNoWriMo outline by pulling out 30 key scenes from the master outline. (As usual, my research for those scenes is based on the common structural elements of Harry PotterTwilight, and The Hunger Games.)

That outline is totally scene-driven, and can be used from Day 1 to 30 of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for your own story.

This year, I thought it would be useful to add a supplemental 30-Day Cheatsheet with an emphasis on developing character archetypes, themes, and symbolism.

You can use this character and theme cheatsheet to flesh out last year’s NaNoWriMo outline or your own plot outline.

You could also refer to this outline when you haven’t hit the day’s 1,667 word count and need a prompt for some meaningful filler.

However you use it, if you write 1,667 words for each topic below, you will have 50,000 words by the end of NaNoWriMo!

Please pin this chart to refer to it later!

Day by Day #NaNoWriMo Outline: Characters & Themes Cheatsheet

Detailed Links from the NaNoWriMo Character & Theme Outline:

  1. World Building: Describe type of society for “good guys”: World Building: 5 Types of Societies for Your Novel.
    • Choose a type of “society” for a group of “good guy” characters in your story. Write up some backstory about the society and how it functions with some day-to-day details. For example, in Harry Potter, Hogwarts would likely be an Orange society, and some details would include who can attend, how students are accepted, how students are organized, required courses, OWLs, etc.
  2. World Building: Describe type of society for “bad guys”: World Building: 5 Types of Societies for Your Novel.
    • Choose a type of “society” for a group of “bad guy” characters in your story. Write up some backstory about the society and how it functions with some day-to-day details. For example, in Harry Potter, the Deatheaters would likely be an Red society, and some details would include what they believe, what motivates them, identifying symbols, related organizations (like Slytherin) etc.
  3. Describe chaos vs. order and good vs. evil character relationships (The Case For Blurring the Lines Between Good and Evil).
    • Set up a chart that show the hierarchy of good characters and the hierarchy of bad characters. Label the levels of hierarchy as main character, main character’s helpers, authority figures, enforcement, and members of society. It’s okay (and encouraged) for some characters in the “bad” column to be part of the “good” society. For example, in Harry Potter, Filch is in the authority figure in the “bad guy” column but a part of Hogwarts society.
    • Write up a paragraph describing an overview of potential conflicts you see between the characters. For example, you could do a paragraph showing that the hero conflicts with good members of society (like when Gryffindor gets angry with Harry Potter). You can come back to this chart and list of conflicts when you have a better idea of how it fits in to the plot.
  4.  Develop the hero’s backstory, family history, and motivations.
    • Backstory: The James Dean School of Hero-Writing
    • Family History: Hero’s family members mentioned in first chapter
    • Motivation: The 5 Elements of Conflict and Motivation a YA Hero Needs to Tick
  5. Develop the hero’s physical traits and general appearance.
    • 6 Simple Ways to Write a Physical Description
    • Include a special mark: How to Take Charge of Your Novel’s Symbolism
  6. Develop the hero’s natural talents, special skills, and flaws.
    • Natural talents: What the Miss America Pageant Can Teach Us about Protagonists
    • Special Skills: The “Chekhov’s Gun” Guide to Foreshadowing
    • Flaws: The 3 Worst Traits of the YA Heroine; Don’t Argue with the Anti-Hero
  7. Write the villain’s back story and describe physical appearance.
    • How to Create a Remarkable Villain (Beyond the Clichés!)
    • 8 Warning Signs That Your Villain Isn’t Believable
  8. Develop the Love Interest’s backstory, traits, appearance, & main scenes.
    • Peeta’s Top 10 Tips for YA Romance
    • Secrets of a YA Make-out Session
  9. Write the Sidekick’s backstory, traits, appearance, & introduction: Writing the Sidekick Archetype (Part I).
    • describe how she meets the hero, background on her family, family sends a gift.
    • show them sharing food, sitting quietly, having a platonic sleepover.
  10. Continue developing the Sidekick’s role in her main scenes: Let’s Kill Off the Sidekick (And Other Archetypical Moments).
    • describe how the sidekick serves as a magical guide, protects the hero, and is compared athletically.
  11. Write the Mentor’s backstory, traits, appearance, & introduction: Hagrid & Haymitch: 10 Traits of the Mentor Character Archetype.
    • describe how the Mentor was once in hero’s position and is a disheveled, unreliable, well-known misfit.
  12. Continue developing the Mentor’s role in her main scenes: 10 Scenes for the Mentor Character in your Novel.
    • show the Mentor challenging authority, taking the hero to the armory, sending gifts, and generally helping the hero.
  13. Develop the Wise One’s backstory, traits, appearance, & role: 7 Traits of The Wise One (And Why this Archetype is Essential).
    • describe the Wise One’s perceptive ability, and show her being protective of the hero and offering advice.
  14. Describe the Herald’s backstory, traits, appearance, & role: How to Turn Backstory into Action (Even If You’re Not Finished Writing It).
    • show the Herald bringing the hero an invitation for adventure; describe how the Herald got into that role.
  15. Write the Healer’s backstory, traits, appearance, & role: The 7 Roles of the Healer Character Archetype.
    • consider combining the Healer with another minor character (like a parent) to add depth.
  16. Write the Bully’s backstory, traits, appearance, & role: The Top 8 Traits of the YA Bully.
    • place special emphasis on describing the Bully’s voice and consider giving the Bully a posse.
  17. Describe the Shapeshifter’s backstory, traits, appearance, & role: 3 Roles of the Shapeshifter Character Archetype.
    • use the shapeshifter to bring up issues of trust/mistrust and the idea of punishment.
  18. Write the Gatekeeper’s backstory, traits, appearance, & role: How to Transition to Your Story’s Climax with a Gatekeeper.
    • describe how intimidating and powerful the Gatekeeper is to the hero, as well as the Gatekeeper’s legend of success.
  19. Develop the Authority Figures’ traits, backstories, appearances, & roles.
    • Appear in first chapter: 9 Surprising Reasons You Need 20 Characters to Start a Book.
    • The Case For Blurring the Lines Between Good and Evil: For example, you could do a paragraph showing that the main character doesn’t know who to trust, that the main character conflicts with good authority figures (like Harry Potter conflicts with Prof. McGonagall), that the main character conflicts with bad authority figures (like Harry Potter conflicting with Snape), that good authority figures conflict with good enforcement (Dumbledore and Hagrid’s relationship), or that bad authority figures conflict with bad enforcement (Snape conflicting with Draco).
  20. Explore theme of socioeconomic tension: Take Charge of Your Novel’s Theme With Socioeconomic Tension.
    • show that the hero is poor, is mocked for being poor, and lashes out at other characters.
  21. Work on theme of racial/ethnic tension: The Dr. Seuss Guide to Writing About Race.
    • create a backstory for why there has been tension between the groups for so long.
  22. Explore theme of death: 5 Ways to Write a Death Theme Without Being a Downer Theme.
    • tease out the ideas of sacrifice, immortality, accepting fate.
  23. Continue developing nuances of Good vs. Evil theme: Lessons for Writers from The Dark Knight.
    • write backstory that would allow some “good characters” to do bad things and some “bad characters” to do good things.
  24. Add a symbolic use of food to a scene: The 9 Secret Roles of Food in Fiction.
    • details on food preparation and meal sharing can show maturity, friendship, desperation, abundance, and more.
  25. Explore significance of hero’s symbolic mark: How to Take Charge of Your Novel’s Symbolism.
    • use a mark to show the hero is the chosen one, and use the mark to represent survival as an act of rebellion.
  26. Describe in detail several symbolic changes of clothing: The Clark Kent Guide to Writing about Clothing.
    • changing clothes can usher in the middle and end of your story, and sharing a jacket can show friendship.
  27. Use a symbolic dream/nightmare as a foreshadowing tool: The 3 Laws for Writing Altered States of Consciousness.
    • deny your hero sleep just when she needs it most.
  28. Add symbolic details to a cafeteria setting to signal time changes: 6 Surprising Ways the Cafeteria Setting Paces Your Novel.
    • small details surrounding dialogue can give the reader a more complete image.
  29. Weave in symbolic details from ancient mythology: Keeping it Real with Ancient Mythology.
    • show the hero meeting, discussing, or taking inspiration from mythology.
  30. Write a description of symbolic music to accompany significant scenes: The Top 10 Ways to Write about Music.
    • play fanfare to show authority, a concert for a celebration, or use a refrain to trigger a memory.

Remember that this outline focuses on exploring characters and theme, not scenes.  To put all the elements to work in your novel, you may want to consider creating a series grid or writing a question arc.

For more story elements and scenes, check out the NaNoWriMo 30-Day Story Structure Cheatsheet* or the complete Better Novel Project master outline.

Day-by-Day Structure Outline for #NaNoWriMo

Day-by-Day Character & Theme Outline for #NaNoWriMo

I created these outlines from my research on the common elements of Harry PotterTwilight, and The Hunger Games. You don’t have to follow anything as a “rule” — stay true to your story. 🙂

Good luck with NaNoWriMo! You got this!

Please pin this post to reference it during NaNoWriMo.

More novels on Betternovelptoject


Collins, Suzanne (2009-09-01). The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc. Kindle Edition. (“HG”).

Meyer, Stephenie (2007-07-18). Twilight (The Twilight Saga). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition. (“TW”).

Rowling, J.K. (2012-03-27). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1). Pottermore Limited. Kindle Edition. (“HP”).


About Christine Frazier

I help people write better stories using research instead of luck. I’m a writer, joyous outliner, and compulsive doodler. Learn more.


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