Halloween? Thanksgiving? The dreaded C word (I’m talking Christmas, folks…)?
Nope. None of the above. I mean, yes those things are soon upon us, but they’re not what I’m referring to. “That time of year” starts November 1st and ends November 30th. That’s right, it’s almost NaNoWriMo time!
For those not in the know (are there really people who don’t know by now??), NaNoWriMo is Nation Novel Writing Month and authors (both aspiring and published) race to write 50,000 words within the month. It can be stressful but it can be a whole lot of fun. There’s a great deal of support and camaraderie from the community and people often surprise themselves with their sudden drive and regular writing regiment.
I bring it up now, at the beginning of October, because I think it’s worth a bit of your sanity to start thinking about it early if you plan on participating. Even if you’re not a plotter, you should start thinking of your ideas, jotting notes and snippets of dialog if they come to mind, etc.
It can be very overwhelming to sit down on Nov. 1st and think “OMG what the hell am I going to write about?” and I know there are people who do that. They often end up struggling and then giving up before the end of the month. Get some ideas together. Make storyboards or an outline or just put some notes down on paper. You’ll thank yourself when the month starts.
I’m debating on whether or not I want to work on my new story Driven or if I want to write the next (two!) installment of Errand Girl of the Undead. Errand Girl stories end up being just around 20k words so I could pad them a bit and still be a winner. That might be the way to go! I’ll have to see what ideas pop in my head.
Are you planning on NaNo-ing this year? Do you have ideas ready to go? What is your prep like?
You may remember, from years ago, your English teachers teaching you how to brainstorm before writing a story or even a research paper. They had helpful little diagrams where you could write in your main idea and supporting details or you could just go all willy nilly and free form, jotting ideas on the paper. Have you ever tried it since leaving a school setting?
Brainstorming is something both plotters and pantsers can take advantage of. The ideas come and, in my opinion, it’s rare that you’ll know the whole outcome of the story before you sit down to write it. Brainstorming can help the plotter figure out the direction they want their novel to take. For the pantser, it can be good to go in with ideas you may want to hit, but I also think it’s a good way to move forward on a story if you’re stuck. Stop down and take a few minutes to jot down ideas about your plot line or your characters or the relationships they have. It could spark a new idea or direction for you to take.
Just be sure to remember that just because an idea comes out during brainstorming, that doesn’t mean you have to use it. Think of them as suggestions from your subconscious.
Do you brainstorm before or during your writing? Have you found it helps your process?
If you’re not into free form, here are some brainstorming diagrams that could help you:
Many of the writers I know and regularly talk to are pantsers, refusing to plot or outline their stories, opting to let it come as they go. It’s typically my go-to plan as well, although I admit to doing some very basic outline plotting lately, more to get down ideas that come to me while I’m working on other projects.
Regardless, I think both pantsers and plotters need to take the time to plot out your basic story arc. It could be as simple as: This is my character in the beginning. This is what’s going to happen to them. This is how it’s resolved. This is how it all ends.
Obviously you’d be better off making it a bit more detailed, but even basic will be helpful so you know what you’re working towards. It could help keep the dreaded writer’s block at bay if you at least know the direction the story is headed.
There are a lot of diagrams out there that can help you to plot things as well. If you Google you can find them for specific kinds of stories as well, but I did some for you to save time.
Do you use a diagram to plot? Do you have one you’d recommend to others?
This is the typical Disney story arc.
Basic romance story arc
Typical Hero Arc
Basic story arc
I’ve always said I’m a pantser, one who doesn’t outline or write a synopsis before writing. I get an idea, maybe jot a few notes, typically having an ending in mind, but then I’m writing the rest by the seat of my pants. Outlines and the such seemed constricting to me, as if someone would be holding a gun to my head saying “HEY! You outlined it this way. No deviating or making changes!”
Obviously that’s not going to happen (at least I hope not!), but I guess it’s how I’ve felt.
This morning I awoke with an idea for a story. Something prompted me to get up and write a synopsis for it. The story, from start to finish, down on paper or, well ya know, computer screen. I was shocked at myself. I do not work like that! Maybe it’s because I just wrote the synopsis for Heavyweight (although that story is already done) or maybe it’s just because all the parts of the story came to me for a change. I’m not really sure what happened but I’m kind of glad it did.
I won’t know until I sit down to work on the actually story itself (tentatively dubbed Driven) if the plotting was a good or a bad idea. I won’t know if I’ll feel stifled creatively or not, but I think I can make it work. I’ll have to be able to forgive myself if it goes off on a different course (we know characters can often act out in ways we don’t expect) but I feel like having the synopsis will give me a place to go to if I get stuck. We shall see.
I think the lesson here is to be open to doing things in different ways. If the mood strikes you to do something unusual to your style, give it a try anyway. You could find out that it works better for you. You could find out that it makes your story flow better and has you staring blankly at your screen less. You won’t know if you never try.
Have you made major changes in your process? How has it helped or hurt in the long run?