So you’ve decided to go ahead and take the NaNoWriMo plunge, congrats! If you haven’t done so already, I suggest checking out my previous post about participating in NaNoWriMo and what it is.
Just one problem— you have no idea what to write. You have too many ideas, or maybe none at all and you’re starting to wonder if this whole writing a novel in a month was a great idea after all. Don’t worry, just keep reading and you’ll be writing in no time.
Too Many Plots
As writing problems go, this is one that’s not always a bad thing. Having a bunch of stories floating around in your head all demanding to be written can certainly be troublesome, but I do prefer it to the alternative.
If this is you, the first thing you should do is write every single one of them down. Be it in a notebook, a Word document, an e-mail— write all of your ideas, every plot element, all the characters, whatever details you can think of down, and store it in a safe place. You never know when you might hit a dry spell and need some inspiration or ideas or finally have time to tackle all of your writing ideas.
Next, take a look at your lists and ask yourself a few questions. What idea is most developed? What one are you the most passionate about? What one is screaming louder than all others in your head, demanding to be written? If those answers seem to all point to one idea, then go with that one.
If yours answers are a mixture of different story ideas, or you still can’t decide, you have a few options. The first is to ask for somebody else’s opinion. This could be a family or friend, posting a question on Facebook or Twitter, or taking advantage of the polling forum on NaNo’s website. Sometimes the easiest way to make a hard choice is to have somebody else make it for you.
There is one other option you have if asking for other’s opinions isn’t your thing, there’s still a tie, or you’re not fond of the winner: write all of them. To win NaNo all you have to do is write 50,000 words in the month of November for a novel— it doesn’t have to be a single novel, you can write as many stories as you like. There is no rule saying you have to stick with the same idea. If you get stuck on one idea, you can always switch back to the other. Or you might hit a writing streak with one story and spend the entire month writing it, who knows.
You Have No Ideas
Instead of having too many ideas, you have absolutely zero. Zilch. None. Nada.
That’s okay. I don’t suppose you have that handy notebook, Word document, or e-mail filled with story ideas when you had too many ideas? You know, the place you wrote them all down to avoid a situation like this. What’s that? You never did that or don’t like any of them? That’s okay too, you still have a few options.
The first is browsing the plot adoption thread on NaNo where NaNo participants can leave plot suggestions. There’s also the character adoption thread, along with a few others that might be useful in getting your writing juices flowing.
If you’re not overly fond of any of those, try googling for writing prompts. Sometimes they might not be anything more than a short writing exercise, but they could turn into something more.
Also, pull from your own life experiences. Did you go through some hardship that might make for a good story? Or maybe your life has always been rather dull, but you’ve always imagined an adventure waiting just around the corner. Or maybe there’s that one fun summer or wacky time from high school that could serve as inspiration. If you’re life isn’t inspirational you could turn to real-life history either important events, people, or just weird little stories that nobody else knows about like the green children of Woolpit.
You could also try the What If game. This game is something I’ve done since I was a kid, and is something I’ll still do sometimes when I’m bored. What if somebody burst through the door right now? Who would it be? How would I react? Or, what if instead of making choice X, I made choice Y. How would that have affected my life? Better? Worse? What if instead of event A in history, event B happened instead? How would it change things? Would life as we know it still be the same?
You might not have a good story idea, but you might have a good idea for a title. A word or phrase that you can start with and then work backwards from. For example, take the phrase, ‘Curiosity Killed’. Most people would associate it with the rest of the saying, ‘The Cat’, so your novel could involve a cat. Your novel could take a darker edge, like a murder mystery or even horror. Or your novel could be sarcastic or humorous, full of misunderstandings between the characters all because they got curious of something.
One of my other favorite things to do, is take a familiar and overused story trope, and figure out a fresh take on it. How about, human teenage girl falls for mystery boy, who can’t be wither because he’s an immortal creature and is afraid of hurting her? Except instead, it turns out she may be human but just wants the boy to make her immortal for her own sinister reasons, and now he’s torn between stopping her evil plan, and hurting her by being the monster he always swore not to be. Or, you go for the classic chosen one trope, except the so-called chosen one dies not very far into your story, and your other characters are wondering what to do next. Twisting tropes, especially ones you’re sick of seeing used the same way over and over again, is always a fun experiment (at least for me, your results may vary).
Well, hopefully some of those got your creative juices flowing, and your fingers itching to type. Stick around for my final NaNo post: Tips and Tricks to Reach 50,000 Words (And Beyond!).
— Kay S. Beckett