NaNo Need-to-Knows: Picking Your Story Idea

Hey everyone! Today’s my first vlog post for my NaNo Need-to-Knows series (click here for the list of posts as the series progresses). Right now, the vlog part is dealing more with survival strategies than technique (whereas my blog posts are more technical) so I thought I’d start at the very beginning.

The script I used for this vlog post is under the video.

October is here, and that means it’s time to start ramping up for NaNoWriMo. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month is a writing marathon where writers try to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November.

It’s something I believe writers should try at least once, but NaNo is hard. I’m not going to lie. This will be my eighth NaNo, and I still have days in November when I wonder why I do it to myself.

But I always end November with a sense of accomplishment because I always get more done than I do in other months, even if I don’t get to 50,000 words.

It can be a bit of an overwhelming experience, especially for newbies, so I decided to start a blog and vlog series about things you need to know about and for NaNo. Hopefully it will make the process just a bit easier for you. I will provide the links to my blogs below.

Right now, my blog posts are dealing more with some story tips, while the vlogs are dealing with survival tips. And since this is Week 1 of the series, I thought I’d start with advice on deciding what you want to work on.

So you’ve decided you’re going to do NaNo, but you don’t know what you want to work on. What do you do?

My first tip is: Write what you wish you could read more of.

If you have been waiting for a book to come out about a pirate mermaid in space and it’s just not coming out, that could be your sign to write it yourself.

Bonus points because of the fact that you’re already passionate about your idea.

Which brings me to my next tip:

Pick the story idea you’re most passionate about.

If you have more than one idea that you want to get to, make sure you pick the one that makes your heart beat faster when you think about.

Writing is already a challenge. Racing time to write about 1,700 words a day makes it even harder. Accomplishing this mammoth task with a story that feels like a punishment to work on because you’re just not that into it is going to make NaNo almost impossible.

So don’t do it to yourself. Pick the idea you love.

But what to do if you’re equally passionate about both?

Pick the most complete story idea.

Once NaNo starts, you don’t want to stop to rework a story idea because it turned out not to be strong enough to carry a 50,000-word story.

So pick the idea with the biggest goals, the strongest inherent conflicts and the highest stakes. If your ideas lack those, it’s a good idea to figure them out for all of your possible options, and then compare.

I’ll providing tips on my blogs to help you with this.

But then, what if both stories are strong?

What if you’re equally passionate about two stories, and both of them come with everything you’d need to ever make them both awesome?

Just Pick One.

Yep, you heard me. If you’re wavering between two ideas, you’re really wasting time you could be spending on preparation or worse, on NaNo itself.

So if you trust your ideas, pick which one you’re going to write and promise to get to the other once this one is done. Be decisive and commit to one of your awesome ideas.

Or Pick Both.

Now we’re venturing into Rebel territory, but if you feel like you can handle it and you don’t want to leave one of your stories by the wayside, write both concurrently. I have a whole new series worth of advice for people who want to do this, but there’s just no time right now.

It’s not for everyone, though, so tread lightly. But just keep it in mind as an option, because if you have your heart set on NaNo’ing and you just can’t decide, it’s better to add 50,000 words across two books than it is to not write because you’re still wavering.

Before you go, do let me know if you’re going to do NaNo and leave your NaNo name so we can buddy up. Is this your first time or are you a veteran? Do you have any questions? What’s your best advice for picking a story idea.

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NaNo Need-to-Knows: Your Characters

As part of my NaNo Need-to-Knows series, I’m sharing advice on the things you need in order to get through NaNoWriMo. (Click here for a list of links for the ongoing series.)

For the rest of October, the blog part of this series will deal with some writing technique things you need to know in order to create a strong NaNoWriMo Novel.

Since I’m more of a character-driven writer, I’m starting with characterization, but you can sort out the plot-related aspects first, if that’s what you want. (I’ll be starting with those on Monday.)

But what does one have to figure out with regards to characterization? And why is it important?

Who Is Your Main Character?

Do they have a name? What do they do? What do they want? What are their hopes, dreams and aspirations? What are they willing to do in order to achieve those? What are their worst fears? What are they willing to do to avoid those?

Yes, the way a character looks can be important for description purposes, but when it comes to creating a strong story, you need to go deeper than the superficial.

Why?

Because knowing your character means you know what your character will do in a given situation, which in turn can help you drive the plot forward as you write.

Is your character prone to keeping grudges? Then having something happen to make them want to avenge themselves will be a great way to set a strong story goal. AND your character will want to go after that goal.

Want means there are now personal stakes to achieving the goal, which is one of the best ways to maintain tension in a story.

So make sure you get to know your character before you start, or that you create enough opportunities in your writing during NaNoWriMo to explore your characterization.

Some ways to do this exploration before NaNoWriMo:

  • Spend time to create detailed notes as you build your character. I’ve heard the snowflake method is particularly good for this. (As with most plotting-related activities.)
  • Or you can take my approach of assuming a character to be a real person that you need to get to know. This approach might be out there, but I find that, if I treat characters like real people, they tend to feel more real in my writing too. Often, I simply do this by letting them live and make their own decisions in a story as I write, but if I want to prepare ahead, I do interviews with my characters. Yes, I literally act like I’m drinking coffee with a character. I’ll ask them all kinds of stuff, having some real, deep conversations with them, and then I’ll note down their answers. Not only does doing this help you understand a character, but it also helps you nail down the rhythms and cadences of their voice. (Which does come in handy later.)

What Motivates Your Characters?

In simple terms, character motivation is the reason behind the reason behind the reason behind the reason why a character does something. Think of it like peeling an onion. There’s the skin at the surface, but under that is another layer, and another, and another. The deeper you go, the closer to the heart you get.

And if you can get to the heart of any situation with a character, you can use that to strengthen the impact of what’s going on. You’ll also instantly know when a scene doesn’t make sense, if it goes against the character’s motivation.

For example. You have a character (let’s call her Sally), who gives a bitchy response to a snarky comment from another character (Dan).

Sally could theoretically have hundreds of choices about how she’s going to respond to Dan’s sass, and she goes for being nasty. Why? Why didn’t she walk away instead? Or play sweet?

Because she sees every sassy comment as an attack on her person and feels the need to retaliate. Why?

Because she feels like the whole world is out to get her and she needs to fight to survive. Why?

Because she’s seen the hard side of the world and has been in survival mode her entire life.

Why?
….

And this can go on forever, really. The deeper you go, the more information you have to mine. Just three why’s in and we have a very tantalizing clue about Sally’s backstory that can help fill her out as a character. And the deeper you go, the more info you’ll have. So keep asking why.

Another benefit to knowing your characters’ motivations is that you can create some incredibly compelling conflict just by having two characters’ motivations and the resulting desires they have oppose each other.

Characters wanting things are nice. But I frequently want to eat a chocolate. What do they need? What is the thing they would do anything to get because that need comes from the depths of their souls? Those are the truly important things, and if Sally needs something to happen, and Dan equally needs that same thing not to occur, you have instant fireworks. So take the time to learn your characters’ motivations, and then figure out if you can put them in opposition to each other.

It just livens up every scene containing those characters, because now every moment between them matters.

Thanks for reading! How do you approach characterization? Any further characterization advice? 

Next week, I’ll be talking about story goals and inciting incidents, and why they’re important. And on my vlog on Friday, I’ll be sharing tips on how to choose between story ideas for NaNo. If you’re a Patreon patron for as little as $1 a month, you’ll be able to watch my vlog post on Thursday instead. 

NaNo Need-to-Knows: An Introduction

It was a bit of a shock a few days ago when I received a reminder from NaNoWriMo to announce my NaNo novel for this year. Silly, I know. You’d think I have a firmer hold on the progress of time, but there you go.

If you’re new to writing and stumbled onto my blog, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write a “novel” or part of a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November.

It’s a huge amount of fun, if you can handle the pressure, and the nice thing about it is that you’re part of a larger NaNo community during this time. In fact, I met one of my best friends because of a NaNo event in my area. So yeah, it’s a great way to get involved. Just click on the link up top for more information.

Anyway, since NaNoWriMo can be a bit overwhelming, especially for first-timers, I thought I’d spend the rest of October and November to give a bit of advice from my eight years of NaNo experience.

On Mondays, I’ll do a series of blog posts (although the first post in this series will be on Wednesday to fit everything in, and I might use more Wednesdays if I need to). On Fridays, I’ll be updating on my YouTube Channel. But don’t worry, I’ll be posting the video and my script on my blogs as well.

If you are joining and you want to buddy up with me, click here.

Okay, so before I start, I just want to clarify something about my approach. I’m a full-blown character-driven pantser, so I don’t do much in the way of planning before I start a rough draft. That said, these posts will be useful to plot-driven plotters (which would be my polar opposites) as well. All you have to do is take my plot-related posts as reminders to include later if you’re a pantser, and as some things to keep in mind if you plan if you’re a plotter. And depending on whether you’re a plot-driven or character-driven writer, you can scramble the order of my suggestions to fit you. All writing methods are valid, as long as your method helps you create a strong foundation to your story.

And the first few posts I’ll be writing will be about the things you need to build that foundation. Then as we go into NaNo itself, I’ll be changing to focus more on NaNo survival. (Because hey, no one said NaNo is easy.)

For ease of use, I’ll be using this post as a table of contents for you to refer to.

Table of Contents:

  1. Your Characters
  2. Picking Your Story Idea
  3. Your Story’s Goal
  4. The Inciting Incident
  5. How to Maximize Your Chances of Winning NaNoWriMo
  6. Conflict and Stakes
  7. How to Avoid Writer’s Block If You’re a Pantser
  8. Tips for Week 1
Who’s going to join NaNoWriMo? What are you doing to prepare?

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Dun dun DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNN!

Hey everyone. On the first Wednesday of the month, it’s time to post updates to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The point of this bloghop is to share your writing insecurities, but also to encourage others. There’s also a monthly question you can answer if you’re not feeling all that insecure. For more information, just click the link.

So right in time for Halloween, I think my current WiP is cursed.

Why? Well. It was the first concept I ever started writing when I first decided to be serious about writing books. In other words, I’ve been working on it for sixteen years.

The first time I started it I saved it to a floppy disk that malfunctioned. (Yes, it’s that old.)

The second time, I saved it to my computer. And then one day, my grandmother (the writer) had a computer malfunction and needed another computer to save her work. So while I was at school (yes, it’s that old), my mom ripped the insides out of my computer and installed my grandmother’s. And also, because she thought I was only playing minesweeper (that. old.) on my computer, she just trashed the insides.

The third time I tried this book, I finished the rough draft. This time, because I made the point of saving it to Dropbox. It had been written on Ywriter (which is relevant, bear with me.) and I got into the rewrites. I wrote all of the rewrites. And when I finished it and did my final backup, something went wrong, and the entirety of my rewrite disappeared as if I had never written it.

Fourth time I wrote it on Scrivener and finished the rewrite. Yay! Then I discovered I had to rewrite it again. Awe.

And now, on the fifth try, after sixteen years, Scrivener lost me everything I had written on the weekend. Which doesn’t sound that bad, but oooooooohhhhh is it bad. Because I had shifted the focus this time, and this chapter had been the moment where the momentum picked up. And Scrivener has successfully gutted it.

And yes, it’s them. I save the file to my computer, and then save a copy to my dropbox. So the original file on my hard drive should be stable. And if you’re wondering why I don’t just get the back-up file Scrivener backed up for me… Did you know that Scrivener’s default is to back up only five versions? And did you know that back-up happens every time it autosaves? Yuuuuuuup. In the time it took me to figure out that no, it didn’t back up to my dropbox either, Scrivener had overwritten the back-ups from the day.

So yeah.

Cursed.

Have you ever worked on a cursed project? Did you ever manage to finish it?