Thursday, October 12, 2017

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Choosing Your Project

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. It's an entire month dedicated to writing, or, more specifically, to amassing fifty thousand words on an original novel. Last year, over 400,000 writers from around the world participated. The NaNo website helps you track your word count, provides regional support and chat boards, and allows you to "win" when you hit your 50,000-word goal. Every November, bookstores, coffee shops, and 24-hour diners fill up with writers - you can practically feel the creativity in the air! NaNo provides a great community, and it's a great motivation for starting or continuing a novel project. 2017 will be my seventh year tackling NaNo, and I can't wait to get started!

That said, there are a few ways to set yourself up in advance for NaNo success. We'll explore these each Thursday in October, so you'll be ready to hit the ground running on November 1st!

Today, let's talk about how to choose the novel project you'll be working on for NaNo. The NaNo rules specify that, to win, the 50,000 words must be on a brand-new novel. However, many people, self-described 'NaNo Rebels,' will do something different. They may write on a work-in-progress, or a non-fiction project, or revise 50,000 words on an existing draft. Assuming you choose the traditional route, and you don't have a story idea already in place, how do you decide on a concept that's going to hold your interest for an entire month and allow you to get 50,000 words written? Here's one idea:

1) Open a newspaper or click on an internet news site. Scroll past all the big news items, and look for the features, or local news, or interesting smaller stories. Let's say you find an article with a headline reading, "Local Woman Finds Alligator in Her Swimming Pool," and lets say you live in Wyoming. That raises a whole lot of interesting questions: How did the alligator get to Wyoming? What did the woman do when she discovered it? How did she remove it (or did she)? What did her neighbors do? What happened to the alligator afterwards? Write down as many questions you can think of that are raised by the article.

2) Next, ask yourself 'what if?' What if the woman just started living alone? What if her town's animal control didn't have a clue how to help her? What if the woman discovers she's one of five families who have discovered alligators in their swimming pools over the past year? What if the alligator starts talking to her? What if the alligator is pink? What if the town decides the alligator's arrival is a harbinger of the apocalypse? Ask yourself all the 'what if' questions you can think of - let your imagination go wild!

3) Write down the 'what if' questions that intrigue you the most. Maybe you decide on 'what if the alligator started talking?' Then, decide what kind of book this will be. A humorous, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi? A mystery? Fantasy? A children's book? A romance between the homeowner and the animal control officer?

4) Start brainstorming your protagonist, using a character questionnaire. Think about what other characters might fit into your story world. Flesh out your setting. Create an outline, or a list of ten scenes you know you want to see in your book.

5) Start writing on November 1st!

What techniques do you use for brainstorming story ideas?


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