If you, like me, are currently working with only the most basic novel concept, there are some important things to consider as you flesh out your story. These are important things to consider before diving into your novel, whether it’s for Nanowrimo or not.
Asking yourself these questions can really save you a world of pain during November and beyond it.
1. How exciting is this story? You need to be excited about your story. A novel is a commitment. You’re going to devote at least a significant chunk of next month to writing this thing, and if you plan to someday publish you’re going to have to spend months, possibly years editing it.
Frankly, you won’t get all the way through November with a story that doesn’t excite you, and even if you do, will it really excite readers? You need to be able to sustain your excitement for at least 50, 000 words and so do any potential readers.
If you’re in the lucky position of having several ideas to choose from, go with the one that excites you most. You want to have fun this November, and you don’t want to get halfway through the month and hate your novel. I’ve been there, it sucks. Choose the idea that you’ll enjoy writing the most.
2. How hard is writing this story going to be? Some stories are harder to write than others. If you’re writing in a historical setting and you’re not a history buff, you’ll need to do a lot of research to accurately portray the era you’re writing in. Of course you can supplement details after Nanowrimo, but either way you’ll have to do the work.
Other stories are hard to write because of subject matter or genre, and if you’re trying Nanowrimo for the first time, working on a difficult story can be a way to set yourself up for failure. Remember that while you want to challenge yourself, you don’t want to be tearing your hair out halfway through.
Of course, some people use Nanowrimo as a chance for catharsis and have an easier time writing about the heavy stuff, and if that’s your preference, all the power to you. The kind of story I write changes every year, and I’m sure in the years to come that will change even more drastically.
3. Will this story actually fill 50, 000 words? Grab a pen and piece of paper right now and write down all the scenes you’ve envisioned for your novel so far. How long do you think it will take to get through these scenes? My stories have occasionally fallen far short of their goal and I’ve had to add incredible amounts of padding, but if you already know your word count goal when you start planning, you can aim to fill the space.
Now is a good time to think about subplots, both because they can add thousands upon thousands of words, and because it’s always good to have several layers in your novel. Subplots also make great distractions when your main plot is frustrating to write, so you’ll want a couple to get you through the rough times.
Ideally subplots connect and in some way shape the main plot, while containing their own little story. You don’t want to artificially insert subplots to make them longer, so take the time to think about what might naturally emerge in your setting with the characters you have.
4. Who has the most interesting story? Even if all you have is a basic story concept, who has the most interesting point of view on that story? If it’s a political story set in a historical era, who’s point of view is more interesting to you, the servants or the politicians? If all you’ve decided is that you want to involve dragons, do you actually want to tell a story from the dragon’s mind, or will your narrator be human observing the dragon?
With a semi-solid story idea, you can create characters based on need. You can figure out professions based on the time period your novel’s set in. Most stories set in historical periods will require servants, nobles, blacksmiths and guards, whether they be knights or not.
If all you have is characters, then you need to figure out which one has the most interesting story and start digging into that. A strong character who’s planted themselves in your mind is there for a reason, and you’ll always find a story worth telling if you explore that character’s mind enough.
5. What do I want people to feel when they walk away? This is the tone of your book, and knowing that can help you in several ways. Once you know the tone you can read similar books to inspire you and create plot points to help emphasize the mood of your story. It can be a guiding force that helps you through the times when writing is hard and your story doesn’t make sense.
I believe that a good story conveys one emotion properly, but a great story conveys every emotion at different times. If you can accomplish the latter, that’s amazing, but if you had to pick just one thing for your reader to feel, what would it be?
Consider what makes you feel that way, and research what evokes that emotion in other people. Huge plots can emerge from just one scene if you follow them to their conclusion.
When you make a point of answering these questions early on during your planning process, you can then decide how your planning time is best used. These answers are really instructions for your planning process: beef your story up—or possibly pare it down—and make sure it’s going to give everyone, including you, the message you intend.