31 Posts in 31 Days to Help you Kick NaNoWriMo’s Ass
All this talk about your idea… let’s expand on that.
The overwhelming odds are that your original “idea” — the very first glimmer of a spark for a story, originated as something less than a story element, or it if was a legit story element, it already resides in one of three categories.
If it wasn’t a story element — your idea was “to write a mystery” or another genre… to write a “love story gone wrong”… to write “something like my favorite author writes” — then your idea is more food group than entre. In other words, you still don’t have a starting point for a story. Even though that idea may already be pointing you in a given direction.
A legitmate story spark, one that has moved forward from intention to nature, usually comes from one of these three places: it’s a concept… it’s a character… or it’s a theme.
Occasionally the “story” might be your intention to write about something that happened to you or someone you know, or would like to happen… but that’s rarer than those first three.
Here’s today’s tip, and it’s twofold.
First, seek to understand where you are on this continuum. Is your spark an intention, or is it closer to a concept, a character, a theme, or maybe a sequence of happenings.
If it’s just an intention, then play ‘what if? with it until it cleanly falls into one of those three categories: concept, character, or theme.
At the point at which you’re sure you know which of those three things it is, then proceed with this absolute necessary at the front and center of your mind: you need to add the others to your original story spark. To fan that spark into a flame, which will in turn build into the raging inferno of your story.
If you begin with a concept, then you need to develop (add) a character (hero), and then a theme (meaning).
If you begin with a character in mind, then you need to add a concept and then a theme.
What do I mean by “add” in this context?
A story is always a combination of concept, character, theme… and then structure. No exceptions.
So, if you only have one of those elements framed solidly in your mind, without the others having taken form, you don’t yet have a ‘story.” Which means, if you start writing without that in place, your story will be broken, rendering the draft itself a step in the search for story process.
So, leveraging the creative energy and potential of the one element you do have, begin to focus on the others.
For example, if you have a solid concept — like, “what if a newly divorced man seeks revenge on his ex by marrying her daughter?” — you now need to leap naturally into character, which is a development of your story’s hero. Which in this case could be either the man, the ex or the daughter. You need to decide, because each story is different, and only now can you make a choice that “optimizes” the inherent potential of your idea. You can’t really begin writing until you make that choice.
And yet, so many writers do begin writing at this point… and they don’t get there. At least not without another major drafting process. Which, with NaNoWriMo, you don’t have time for.
And then you need to be clear on what it all means, what you’re saying about this situation. That’s your theme.
At some point you’ll realize that you’re bouncing among all three of these elements, using a step forward from each to help move the remaining elements forward. After a while the three will be marching in lock-step toward a story sequence… and then you’re in business.
Story sequencing — which is structure — is always most effective when done with a solid vision for each of the other (concept, character and theme) clear in your mind.
For a while it will feel very non-linear, perhaps uncomfortably so. But not nearly as uncomfortable as reaching page 170 in your manuscript and then realizing it isn’t working, which will happen unless you approach it this way.
This non-linear chaos during the planning phase is normal, this is good. The more you immerse yourself in it, the sooner you’ll begin to see how it all should be organized.
And that’s when things get really fun, really efficient.
And it’s also when — to dispell the mistaken myth clung to by many pantsers — a new creative layer of sizzle comes to the story, because the basics are already there, freeing you to tweak and add-depth and tension and empathy, all with your genius literary voice. It’s hard to sing when you’re still trying to figure out the tune… story planning is like an ear-bud playing the bass track in your head while you get to ad-lib and riff around the melody line.
Biggest mistake you can make, especially for NaNoWriMo, is to start writing before these elements are solid in your mind. Don’t rely on your draft to make them work, you won’t have enough time. But if they’re solid at the blueprint stage, odds are they’ll come alive and play nice together in your draft — your first draft, your NaNoWriMo draft — in a way that just might exceed your wildest hopes.
It won’t be an accident when it happens. It”ll be the natural, ordained outcome of a proactive, informed story development process.