To sum up what I’ve been doing on my blog for the last two weeks: NaNoWriMo is coming, and I tend to get a little over-excited about it. In the past, I’ve talked to people who were interested in participating, but didn’t think they’d know what to write (amongst other problems, like lack of time). Since I’ve struggled with the worry of writing without an idea that came to me well in advance, I thought I might be able to help others with that issue.
To me, the best way to start is by generating various ideas using prompts of various fashions. I shared some of my own, but there are so many out there to be found online. Here are mine: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4
Now it’s time to begin to develop the plot. I will be up front with you right now and tell you that this is the area of story planning that I am weakest with. Most of my plots have developed slowly over time. I do not normally compress it this much, so this will be as new for me as it may be for some of you.
If you already have an plot in mind, great. You’re well ahead of me! If not, here are some ideas for how to proceed:
First, lay out before you any and every story idea you have. By “idea,” I don’t necessarily mean every bit of writing practice you’ve done, but anything that struck you from that. For example, if I had written a scene in which a guy got stuck on the road during a blizzard and walked to a nearby house, where he was invited inside during a family game night, and ended up having feelings for the oldest sister, I may not care for much of what I wrote, but maybe I like the idea of a guy and girl meeting when one of them was stuck on the road and sought refuge in the other’s home. These ideas can also include a character that has started to form in your mind, or a setting you’d like to include somewhere.
Whether you have ideas you’ve been mulling over for a while, ideas you’ve generated recently with prompts, or anything in between, take the time to jot down a note for any idea you have. For this, I would suggest using pencil and paper, because it’s easier to see and manipulate when it’s all laid out in front of you; however, this can be done on the computer too.
Now spend some time musing over these notes. Think of which ones you like most and which you may set aside for now. Figure out if any of them could work together. Remember: stories don’t have to have one single plot from beginning to end. Sub-plots are often at work too, so ideas don’t have to directly relate to be able to go into the same story.
My suggestion for the next step would be to come up with a short synopsis for a plot that you would like to write. One or two sentences if possible. Keep it broad, yet descriptive. A good format is, “A certain type of main character has to accomplish a certain goal, so that something important will happen.” Or for example, “A group of teenagers find a lockbox buried in the desert and try to access the secrets within.” You can then go on to include the main conflict, like, “But when they find that several different groups of people want the box, how will they decide which group they should give it to–or if they should keep the box themselves?”
Okay, so that synopsis I completely just made up, so it may seem ridiculous. But hopefully you get the idea. For now, you can start with literally a skeleton. You don’t have to know your characters (well, at least a few general points about a main character or two is rather necessary for even the previous example sentences), your setting, what the climax will be, or much more. If you do know those things, or start to figure them out along the way, be sure to take notes.
So to boil it down: the core of any story includes at least one main character, a starting goal, and a conflict. If you are starting from scratch in planning a story, that’s where you need to begin.
Over the next week, if you are starting to prepare for November, set aside writing time every day possible, and work toward your story. Start with the one or two sentence skeleton. Then go on to write a longer synopsis that includes more info on who, where, why, or how. Don’t stress about details yet–fleshing out characters and outlining a plot is still down the road. First you need to have a good handle on that core.
Along with working on the beginnings of your plot, continue doing free writing exercises. Or if you’re not sold on even a skeleton plot yet, and still need ideas, keep doing writing exercises. Do the ones I linked to above, or go in search of more. There are tons of them out there; all you really have to do is Google “story prompts,” “story seeds,” or other key words along those lines.
One final note: if you find yourself often passing on prompts you find because they’re not your style, they’re boring, or you don’t think you could think of anything for them, you may need to force yourself to stop doing that. Just remember that not everything you write has to be brilliant, compelling, or the inspiration for a novel. This is good practice for the overall art of writing fiction, and it’s good to push the limits or write something that feels unnatural now and then. You may discover something completely new about yourself or writing in general, but you’d never know it until you tried it.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on my ramblings, your own tips, or any questions you may have along the way.