The big month is days away, or maybe it’s already started and you trashed your previous story idea.
Let’s remember one very important thing about writing:
NaNoWriMo is about forming a habit. You’ll probably want to be invested in the story you’re explore, but don’t worry if the idea itself isn’t turning into the greatest story this side of the Mississippi.
Look for Action
Action doesn’t have to mean car chases, explosions, or squirt gun fights.
Action could be almost anything, framed in the right way. Some examples:
- excitement (fantastical places, anticipation)
- hard work (I have to get this done before Z comes home!)
- making plans
Action can be centered on a person, a place, or simply an idea.
Combine the unexpected
Take a really good adjective like controversial, and apply it something that isn’t normally described that way. What on earth would make a mountain deserve that description? What does that even mean? You tell me.
If you’re looking for a magical angle on your story, connect the magic to something in the world, not just the characters’ mystical inner strength.
Do any of the following spark some interesting what-if scenarios?
- Magic that only nature can use, like animals or plant life
- A skill or magic that fades with age (a mid-life crisis could have a whole different meaning if your only redeeming magical talent fades beyond your ability to use it)
- Food that grows naturally to the size of a house (your main character is probably mighty tired of eating the same thing every day, but there’s just so darn much of it)
- Miniature planets
- A castle under the ocean
- A pet made of enchanted sand
- 200 people living in the same house
- Space orphans (??)
Don’t worry if you’ve seen your idea somewhere before. You’re allowed to tell the story that’s in your head. NaNo is for forming the writing habit.
Where to start
Your first scene should show us a character that we need to meet, and do it in a place that suggests the kind of tone for the story you want to tell. If you know your story is going to be about a band of friends, you probably shouldn’t be giving us a James Bond-style opening scene.
Ideally you’re going to write your opening scene in a way that gives us a sense of character, of place, and of conflict. Conflict is a vague term here—see the Action section above.
You’re looking for a way to tell us the one thing about a character that I need to know, as the reader. The same goes for setting and conflict. Don’t kill us with all the nitty-gritty details just yet, but focus on a few really potent characteristics of the people or plot so that we can settle into the story you’re about to tell us.
What do the following scenes suggest to you in terms of the style of story they’re going to tell you?
- A heist
- A star blowing up
- Rationing supplies on a damaged ship
- Looking wildly around at all of the new sights
- A streetside violinist
- Exploring abandoned wreckage
Who knows? Maybe you’ll finish your story and realize you’ve got the wrong beginning for the ending your made. That’s fine!
How to start
It was a dark and stormy night…
Don’t worry about a zinger of a first line. The first line in your story doesn’t have to be the first line you write. I can only write a great first line once I’ve written all the way to the end.
Avoid descriptions that don’t touch relevant story points. This isn’t to say that you should ignore the big bright world around the characters, but you don’t want to kick this story off with a pretty mundane description of the sort of mountains we’ve all seen before.
On the other hand, if this character has never seen mountains before, well now it’s important! Describe those mountains in the way your character would react to them, not how you as the author see them.
If this story is about a starship battle, I definitely don’t need to be reading about what color hair this man has.
On the other hand…
If the setting for your story is a starship battle, but the main character is an entertainment companion to keep stress down on the battlefront, maybe this man or woman cares a lot about the texture of their hair before going out into the wartime banquet dinner. Maybe it really does merit a description.
Just be sure to get to character action ASAP. You can’t string me along for 1000 words without giving me something engaging to think about.
Don’t give up
If your story really loses its momentum after a little while, it’s not a statement about your ability to tell a story. It’s very likely that the story just isn’t interesting enough to merit being told.
Even if might mess up some earlier part of your story, adding twists in the name of keeping the story going is always worth it. When you read back over this bad boy, maybe you’ll notice that the twist wasn’t all that great, but if it kept you going, then it worked.
Here are a few bandaids for your story if you sense it losing the momentum it once had:
- What if that guy last chapter was lying?
- Is she agreeing to go along with this plan, but privately disagrees? What does that lead her to do when she exits the stage and goes about her day?
- Horrific weather stops your characters from moving ahead as planned. How do they cope with the frustration? Maybe one of the group is relieved. What does spending a night together in a stressed atmosphere do to your characters?
- She just really really needs to bring the instrument with her, okay? Maybe she’ll tell you why if she trusts you a little more.
- Someone dies, but not at the hand of anyone the characters expected.
Good luck and write every day!