Yes, friends, NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. It is just a bit over a month away as of today.
People ask, “can I work on my current novel for NaNoWriMo?” Of course the answer is nobody looks over your shoulder while you do this 30-day challenge. That said, starting with new, clean prose does several things for you, among them, it reinvigorates you, it pushes you into a new project, and it just plain gets you moving.
But, you ask, can’t I do anything before November 1st?
Yes you can. And I recommend it.
You can outline. OK, fine. I heard those groans out there. I get it. Some of you don’t believe in outlines for one reason or another. What was it? Did a teacher make you outline something boring in school? Have you never learned the trick? What makes you hesitate to outline a story?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I used to hate it too. And I had a good reason. When I was starting up with writing, I’d get these flashes of ideas, and the chemical changes in brain and body told me that these ideas were top-notch, sure-fire sellers. (That chemistry will be grist for a different post, by the way.)
Back in those days for me I had a problem with stories. I would get so excited about them that I would tell anyone who listened not what I was writing, but what I was ‘gonna’ write. And, once the story was told, I would lose interest. Writing, after all, was harder work than just brainstorming, than just wool-gathering. So, I made up a superstition that if I told someone what I was working on, the story would be “told”, and no longer needed. For me, outlining was the same thing as telling someone my story. Clever, eh? Clever but not useful.
Then, as I prepared for my second attempt at NaNoWriMo (I failed the first time, but have made the goal every time since—this year will be my ninth NaNo), I realized one of the reasons I failed to make the 50k words that first time was that I really had no idea where I was going. What was the solution?
For me it was a brief outline. Oh, that brief outline process has gotten a little less brief over the years, but it is still small and easy. Here is how I do it.
First, I get a title. Not everyone does that, but for me, a good title drives the creation of the book
Next. I write in a single paragraph, what the novel will be about. (The ending is not included in detail)
Then I write paragraphs about the main protagonist and the main antagonist. These paragraphs include a sentence each on what they want. If these two characters don’t want something, the story is weak from the start.
Those paragraphs typically generate ideas of who the main secondary characters will be, and I write a paragraph on each of them… including what it is that they want. Hopefully you’re getting this. Every character in your story needs to want something. There has to be a bigger reason for them to be there than to just fill pages. Trust me on this.
Now that I have characters “skeleton’d out” (the fleshing comes later), I think about locations.
Where will this story take place? If it will be a journey story (a favorite of mine) which PLACES will heroes and villains pass through? If the places they will be visiting are on this planet, I use Google Earth to take a look, to get an idea of what they will be facing.
Next I consider any twists and turns I may want to include, and how I might foreshadow them as the story progresses.
Finally, I do one short paragraph to introduce each chapter. These are very short, designed only as a jumping off place (and an ending place for the previous chapter)
And, that’s it, really.
Sure, you can put a lot more into this plan… and you probably will. I typically do. But this… this minimum amount will get the mental muscles moving.
I know that you may only have a title, or a basic theme, and there is nothing wrong with that. Still, taking it further, actually drawing out the roadmap for your story, even if you do so in whispers and suggestions only, will make the writing process come alive for you.
Oh. One more thing. Your outline isn’t written in concrete. At least it shouldn’t be.
There will come times when your characters actually refuse to go where you said, back in the beginning, where they should. Why? Because it doesn’t make sense. Yeah, sounds silly, but really. Characters who are designed to be like real people will balk at being told to step out into space, or to drive wearing a blindfold or some such silliness. Respect that, and change your outline as you go along. You’ll find it easier to change an existing outline during the writing than to have to stop cold and work up totally new ideas.
NaNoWriMo is worth your time, and this process will help you be ready to start writing on day one.
Oh, and by the way, you can use this process for any fiction novel you may have up your sleeve.