After a lot of research (I read a lot of blogs, like this one) and a lot of discussion about National Novel Writing Month, yesterday (November 1) kicked off the #NaNoWriMo season. And this year, now that I know what I’m getting into, I feel even more prepared than ever. Not that I did poorly last year. In 2013 I was motivated, but I didn’t really understand the community or the purpose of the event. In fact, it almost seemed ridiculous. Write 50,000 words in a month? A novel? What’s the point?
Well, the point is actually far greater than I ever imagined.
The point is that NaNo is about building a purpose for your writing, establishing writing habits and more than anything building relationships. Writing is a solitary activity most of the time. As such it can get pretty lonely, but this initiative taught me that there are many people out there just as crazy for writing as I am and that awesomeness is pretty contagious.
So, I read some blogs, I thought about my own process and I came up for some advice for myself and anyone else who is participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Especially if you are getting stuck and running out of words, these things can help put you back on track to write.
- Identify your protagonist and your antagonist: Every great story has CONFLICT. What is yours going to be?
When in doubt, put your character in an uncomfortable situation and see where it goes. Conflict builds suspense and interest. It’s why we gossip—it’s part of the human condition. Drama sells. Create drama and your story will flourish and you might just be surprised where your characters take you. Remember your antagonist doesn’t have to be a person either. Antagonists can be the self, nature, technology, society—there are many antagonists in life and literature.
- Identify your protagonist’s journey and goal: Every great story has to have an objective.
If there is no goal, there is no point. In our English department this year we’ve been debating whether or not any piece of literature deviates from the journey structure. In fact, one of my colleagues has this posted on his door to generate discussion: “In all great literature the protagonist either goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town…” (This is a really great website http://www.skotos.net/articles/PlotStrategies.html). The point is, if you are going to write story, identifying the ultimate goal can help you along your own journey of getting your characters to that end.
- Identify your protagonist’s motivation: why does he/she/it want to reach that goal?
Knowing your characters is about as easy as knowing yourself. They are going to evolve and change as you write, but knowing why they want what they want can help tremendously. My NaNo novel last year, Valerie’s Vow (which you can purchase at www.secondwindpublishing.com or here at Amazon) my character was motivated by her grief—that’s actually where I started my process given that I was processing my own grief at the time. Sometimes motivation is your key. Don’t underestimate it.
- Identify your protagonist’s friends and/or love interest(s). This helps in developing subplots.
Our friends make us who we are. My best friends are my very heartbeat, especially on the days that I can barely function. If you want your characters to be believable, they need that kind of connection (or lack of) as well. Even if you are not writing a romance, every great story has some kind of love interest. Let’s face it—we crave finding and maintaining love. It’s part of what makes us human, so if your story is going to appeal to a wider audience, you’ll want to have some kind of electric connection between characters.
- Consider writing bios before November 1 for each of your main characters. This gives you insight into their characters and how you think they will react to your conflicts and situations.
I know it is after November 1 now, so this might be moot. I don’t do character bios, personally but I know a lot of people who do and who swear by them. If you get stuck, start thinking about your character on a more personal level. Sometimes I think about what music they listen to—if she’s listening to Stevie Nicks then that is going to give me another direction to take the plot just like it would if she’s listening to Taylor Swift.
- Most stories follow a similar pattern
- exposition (setting up the characters and situation)
- narrative hook (introducing the main conflict)
- rising action (any events or action—key word! That leads to the climax)
- climax (point of highest emotional involvement)
- denoument (ah-ha moment—indicates how conflict will be resolved)
- falling action (any events or action—key word! That follows the climax)
- Resolution (resolving the conflict or…you know…not…)
Consider using this to help guide you in outlining your story; breaking it down into scenes can be helpful. If you are a pantser then this may not be helpful, take it for what it is: a suggestion.
Pantsers are those who “fly by the seat of their pants”. I tried being a pantser because I thought it would make my story more “real”. I am not a pantser. I am an organized person by nature. And I need that kind of structure in my stories and in my life. For me having the structure helps ensure success. I don’t do 40-50 page outlines, though I know a lot of people who do that too. I do, however, write out at least 15-20 scenes in an outline format.
Do these scenes change? You better believe they do. BUT, I have something to start with and, of course, something to come back to if the story gets away from me, which during NaNo is really easy to have happen.
- Make a writing calendar. List goals for yourself each day, and even schedule write-ins
Winston Salem Writers is scheduling write ins for our region. We post and keep things updated on our Facebook page. The triad also has a very active region and their Facebook page is also very active.
- Tell everyone on social media that you are participating; motivation is key. Keep them updated. You’d be surprised how many people want to see you succeed.
I would never have published my NaNo novel if I hadn’t been doing this. Make sure you let your friends know what you are doing.
- On November 1, write like you’ve never written before. It is, after all, about finding and doing more of “you” and what you love.
And keep writing! I want to know if you read this and are writing! I made 1,905 words on November 1. The goal is 1,667 per day. What did you do?