There may only be a few days left in October, but there’s still time to get your head in the game to hit the ground running by November 1st.
You’ve visited the NaNoWriMo website. Made your profile. Connected to a regional team online. Tweeted that you are participating.
Except for that one section you left blank. The section where you create your novel.
Because for all of your enthusiasm to be a part of this writer’s rite of passage, you don’t really know where to start.
I’ve known some people that just sit down with a blank page and start writing on November 1st. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that and if that’s how you can write a story, I applaud you!
But what if you’re a bit more (or a lot more) of a planner than that?
I’ve been in your shoes. It can be scary and overwhelming.
I’ve participated (and finished all but once) in NaNoWriMo for the last few years and some years I’ve already had a story going that I would use NaNoWriMo to finish.
But my first time? All I had was a loose plot I dreamed up driving to the beach earlier in the summer.
So with nothing more than my vague plot bunny, I started with three basic questions for my story. These are questions that everyone, pantser or plotter, can use.
Don’t worry if you don’t know everything about the story just yet, how well you know your characters, or even if you know their names. This is discovery phase.
So, relax. Take a deep breath, and ask yourself:
1 – What is the genre of my story? What type of story will give me energy and why?
Many times when I start a brand new story, it comes from what I call a “plot bunny”. It’s a kernel of an idea I get from someone I meet, a song lyric, just about anything that jogs an idea from your brain. Regardless of where the plot comes from, once the idea begins to percolate, you’re going to need to know the genre the story is going to fall into.
The reason this is important to figure out is because genres have different conventions, different rules they play by. For example, in the romance genre, it is expected to have a “happily ever after” (HEA) or at the very least a “happy for now” (HFN) ending. Other genres, it isn’t uncommon for the ending to end tragically. If you don’t understand the type of story you’re writing, you’ll fail to deliver reader expectations. And that’s a hard thing to come back from once it’s happened.
The last thing is making sure the story you aim to write will give you creative energy. If it is a drudgery every day to write the story or your excitement fizzles quickly, it may not be the story for Nanowrimo. Nano is a marathon, not a sprint. So you’re going to need to keep that creative well properly primed for thirty days. And this is great practice for writing novels for the future.
Knowing what kind of story you’re going to write allows it to feed your creativity daily.
2 – What point of view (POV) do I plan to write this in? Whose story is this?
I think innately as writers when we create a story, we know whose story it’s going to be. That may change over time, but we’re just starting out here, so let’s go with what our instincts are telling us. Unfortunately, while we may know whose story it is, our gut doesn’t always let us know who is going to actually tell the story.
First, it helps to know what the POV’s are:
1st person: The entire story is told from the narrator’s point of view only. “I” is the big giveaway here. You see first person a lot used in young adult and new adult fiction.
2nd person: The story is told as though the audience is a character. “You” is used instead of “I” in this case. I don’t recommend 2nd person in fiction. It’s rarely seen in books and there’s a reason for it. It’s difficulty to develop adequate characters and maintain the style for a long format piece in the second person POV. So make it easy on yourself and just don’t do it.
3rd person: The story is told using the pronouns he, she, it, and they. There are two ways to write in third person: limited and omniscient. Limited is where only one narrator’s feelings and thoughts are shared. Omniscient is where the thoughts and emotions of all characters are told by the narrator. A vast majority of novels are written in third person.
As the writer, it is up to you as to which point of view you want to use. However, just be sure that you keep consistent. There are some authors who have switched POV’s throughout their novels, using things such as chapter breaks to show the difference of POV’s. However, this is an advanced move and not done lightly.
3 – When and where?
You’ve answered who, what, and the why. Now we can think on the when and where.
To flesh out that plot bunny and those characters, you’re going to need to think on the world building. The words “world building” can sound daunting, I know. But start with something easy, such as a time period.
Do you see your story in the current time period? Or are you writing a historical where electricity doesn’t exist? Or is this a sci-fi with space stations? Even if you don’t know every aspect of your story just yet, you have an idea of your time period. You hone the details of it later as you write or in revisions. Just have a framework of the time period to work in.
Which leads to the “where” or setting of your story. The beautiful thing about fiction is that you can build that world in your mind and make it all your own. You can create an entire alternate universe, a new solar system, or you can use your hometown.
One thing to keep in mind though when world building: even in a made up place from your mind, things have to make sense. The reader will suspend disbelief for you, but only for so long. In other words, you’re only going to get away with complete disbelief for so long. Here’s an example:
You are writing a story set in northern Canada near the Arctic Circle. It’s January, the middle of a snowy winter. Your characters should be wearing heavy coats, gloves, hats. If you have them walking around without any winter gear, in light jackets, or no jackets at all, your reader won’t buy that for long, if at all.
It doesn’t make sense. Even with climate change. It still gets cold!
But what about something like Harry Potter and all that magic, you ask? The difference there is that JK Rowling built her world to include magic. It makes sense to have a magic wand and for people to fly. Be authentic to the world you built. World building isn’t easy. Do it justice and give it the respect it deserves.
Look through some of your favorite stories and see what they do for setting, how they build their universe inside those pages. Perusing the pages of stories that prompted you to write can be helpful in giving examples of how to create images for your own story. Images you can translate to paper.
Chances are once you start asking yourself these three questions, more questions will arise, and you will soon be sucked into your story.
Which is exactly where you need to get used to living for the next month.
Look for me as elizapeake15 at nanowrimo.org
Check back for my next post on tips to getting the words down and things you’ll need to get through NaNoWriMo!