NaNoWriMo Prep Time: Story Idea

It’s that time of year again! Time to get ready for the biggest and best writing month of the year — November!!! It’s countdown to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), friends!

If you have never heard of NaNoWriMo, it’s a one month writing challenge that surrounds you with a community of others who all want to write a novel. All you have to do is commit to (at least trying to) write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s the length of a very short novel (ex: The Great Gatsby).

I’m not going to spend any time talking about why you should or shouldn’t participate. There are plenty of other blogs and articles for you to read if you’re curious about that. I’ll just say that I love NaNoWriMo.

What I like most about NaNoWriMo is the built-in community aspect of it. Writing a novel is a lonely slog, no matter if you’ve never written one or if you’ve written hundreds. You have to get those words on the page in order to turn your brilliant idea into a book, and even experienced authors struggle with that. At least in November, I know there are millions of others who are writing alongside me. We’re all in it together and cheering each other on.

This post (and the others that I’ll post in the coming weeks) are focused on the prep work that goes into writing a novel. Since it’s officially NaNoWriMo prep time, and I am currently in the process of solidifying my own idea and getting it ready to write in November, I thought it would be fun to share a little about my process here on my blog.

Note: I’m not going to talk about what I’m actually writing in November. (I don’t usually talk about what I’m writing until after the first draft is done, except with my newsletter subscribers.) But, I will tell you about my process, with the obligatory caveat that process is personal and sometimes one person’s process changes from story to story. Basically, don’t listen to anyone who says you must do it a certain way or you are not a “real writer.” There is no “right way” to write. You do you.

Also, if you are not a writer and/or you’re not curious about writing process, then just skip these posts. My reading wrap-up and reading journal posts aren’t going anywhere. This is just a little additional content for folks who are interested.

Now that all that’s out of the way, let’s get started. The schedule for NaNoWriMo prep is as follows:

  1. Develop a Story Idea (September 12-18)
  2. Create Complex Characters (September 19-25)
  3. Construct a Detailed Plot or Outline (September 26 – October 2)
  4. Build a Strong World (October 3-7)
  5. Organize Your Life for Writing! (October 10-16)
  6. Find and Manage Your Time (October 18-24)

As you can see, this week’s prep task is to develop your story idea. If you’re anything like me, you have a million story ideas floating around in your head at any given time, and you’re probably thinking, “but which one do I choose?”

The answer for me is that I try to pick several that might fit together and then mash them all into one novel. I know that sounds messy and like it would never work, but here’s the thing: novels are long. (Shocking observation. I know.) They’re also complicated. They really need more than one idea to sustain them.

You need multiple characters, and they all have to feel like they could be the main character of their own story. You need a main plot and sub plots and character arcs and interesting world-building. You need stuff to keep you going when you get stuck. So, I say, the more the merrier when it comes to ideas.

But even if I’m planning on using more than one idea in my novel, how do I pick which ones to use?

One thing I like to think about is what sort of stories I’m really drawn to at the moment. Making lists really helps here. I make lists of my favorite “comfort food” movies. I write down everything I’ve watched or read lately that I just can’t stop thinking about. I think about the settings and tropes that appeal to me.

Then, once I’ve done that, I step back and have a look at all of it. I try to identify any commonalities or trends. I consider which, if any, of those things would work as a plot or a setting or a trope for the main character(s) that are bouncing around in my brain.

Or, sometimes (most of the time), I have a plot and/or setting idea already, but I don’t have my cast of characters figured out. In those cases, I brainstorm lists of my favorite heroes and/or heroines. I think about why I like them. Am I drawn to stories about outcasts and underdogs (ex: Katniss Everdeen)? Or do you I competence (ex: James Bond)? (Answers: yes and yes). I list my favorite ensembles and try to identify what they have in common (ex: are they mostly small groups of close friends, or found family, or actual families, or sports teams, etc.)?

Finally, I make sure to spend some time thinking about the elements of a story that make me auto-click or auto-buy. This could be genre, at a high level, but it is also more specific elements found within and across genres. As an example, one of the things I talk about in my reading recaps is that, while I love sci-fi and fantasy in general, I’m a sucker for an academy story. I also love training montages. (I actually love both of those things regardless of genre, but hopefully you get my point.)

A few months ago, when I realized that I was going to be wrapping up my Modern Fae series (at least as far as the current series arc goes), I dedicated one of my many blank notebooks to being the place where I keep lists like this.

This works for me because I love writing things in notebooks (and also I’m spending most of my time at home). You may prefer to keep lists like these on your phone or on your computer. It doesn’t matter where you put them, so long as they are easy to find when you need to add to them and you have a place to put new ones that you create. For example, we haven’t even talked about listing favorite magical creatures, or types of magic, or romantic pairings, or…. you get the idea. You never know what’s going to be helpful when it comes time to work on your novel.

This week I’m working on my lists in my spare time, and seeing what fits with the core ideas I have for the story I want to write in November. I’m trying not to get too bogged down thinking about specifics, but I did go on a bit of a tangent earlier in the week, trying to come up with names for my characters. At some point, all of these elements of prep start blending together and building on each other. But, for now I’m trying to stay at a high level and pin down the vibes I want for my story. Next week, we’ll talk more about characters.

Let me know in the comments if you’re planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year and if this is your first time or how many years you’ve participated. If you want to be buddies on the official website, here’s a link to my profile: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/emenozzi.