Hey there, beautiful people! I hope your weekend is going well!
Today, 1 October 2017, is the start of NaNoWriMo Prep Month (PlaNoWriMo). This will be the first NaNo in which I participate, so I plan on coming with my very best! As I begin work on a solid outline, I figured I would share the process with all of you! There’s a serious lack of authors sharing their early outlining work. I think a lot of that has to do with the fear of being judged, or not wanting to publicly release a project before it’s ready.
Those fears are legitimate. But, I’m squashing them for myself so that…
- I can grow as a person and an author, and
- So the mystique surrounding a novel’s initial stages can be shattered for the aspiring authors out there.
Writing a novel is hard work. There’s no way around that. But, hey, things can be difficult and fun.
I hope that this series is helpful to any aspiring writers out there, and I hope it inspires. I hope you all take a shot on NaNoWriMo and, just for a moment, dispel all that fear and anxiety you may have that’s holding you back from starting your own projects. If you’ve always wanted to write a book, this series is here to show you exactly how to get started! (After all, starting is hardest part.)
Please remember that this is only my personal technique. It works for me because I’ve gone through the pains of trying other people’s suggested methods. Everyone is different, and this method probably won’t work for you 100%. But, it is a good jumping-off point, and I think giving it a try will at least help you identify your own process.
Without further ado…
PART 1: WHAT DO I WRITE!?
You’ve probably heard me talk before about purpose. (If you haven’t, you should totally check out the Writer Wednesday post I made on that!) For me, it’s so important to nail down the purpose of a piece prior to writing anything. I’m totally capable of just writing random stuff, but I’ll inevitably falter and ultimately quit when the piece gets bloated with changes of mind and direction.
Now, let me be specific here. I’m not talking about a premise (the “Big Question” of the story, or the overarching problem/conflict the main character has to grapple with). I’m talking about purpose. Why do you want to write a story right now?
Obviously, this is personal, and there are so many reasons that I don’t even know where to start listing them. Everyone is different. In this very particular situation: I wanted to write a novel for NaNoWriMo, and I wanted to finish it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Once I wrote down why I wanted to write this story, I automatically motivated myself. (Don’t wait for the muse, y’all! It might never show up again!)
So, with that purpose in mind, I set to task. I had to think about what kind of story would best help me accomplish my purpose. If I wanted to successfully complete NaNo with the writing skills I currently possess, I’d need a pretty straightforward novel without many twists and turns. The story would have to be standalone (meaning, not the first in a series). The goal is 50,000 words (at least), which means not very many POV characters. (I settled on just one.)
I wrote all that down.
These first few decisions informed the basic skeleton of my story. I had a general idea of what I was looking for.
Short and sweet, centered around one character, told in 50,000 words. Now, to expand!
For “short and sweet”–essentially, the structure of my story–I decided on a simple Three Act structure. No extraneous subplots or confusing structure. This allowed for a basic narrative shape that would be fairly easy to plan and easier to write than a more complicated story structure.
The 50,000 word limit helped me further shape that Three Act structure. Traditionally, the First Act is about 25% of a story, the Second Act is about 50%, and the Third Act is about 25%. That meant the following for my story:
Act One – 12,500 words
Act Two – 25,000 words
Act Three – 12,500 words
Remember, I don’t even know what the story is at this point. But, I have made decisions on its shape, and that takes care of a ton of guesswork and struggling later. I won’t have to worry about whether or not my beginning is droning on when I write, because I know exactly how long it needs to be. This doesn’t mean I MUST stick to those stringent wordcounts. In fact, there’s a really good chance the whole piece will be a little shorter/longer than 50,000 words. But having a goal line to start with is immensely helpful.
Metaphor: Imagine you’re standing on an American football field. Someone hands you the ball and says “run a touchdown”. If there’s a clearly-painted endzone, you know exactly how far you need to run to accomplish your goal. Now, imagine there’s no clear endzone, and it seems like the field just goes on forever. In which situation are you more likely to accomplish your goal?
Okay! So, we’ve got the bones! A 50,000 word story centered on one character and split into three acts with a predetermined wordcount. Now, we start constructing the narrative!
I break story construction into nine parts, and I need to know each of these parts before I can begin a story. These nine parts are:
- Purpose – Why do I want to write a story right now?
- Structure – What is the physical structure of the story?
- Premise – What is the driving question of the story that I want to explore?
- Character – Who are/is the main character(s)?
- Desire – What do the main characters want and why?
- Conflict – What is stopping the main character(s) from obtaining what they want?
- Risk – What do/does the main character(s) risk by trying to get what they want? What happens if they don’t get what they want?
- Setting – Where does the story take place?
- Resolution – Do/does the main character(s) get what they want? What’s the end?
Each piece should grow out of the ones that come before it.
I put Purpose first on this list because, for me, it helps contain the other pieces and stops them from going all over the place. Structure does this, too, and that’s why it comes in at a close second.
I know the purpose, I know the structure. But… how do I pick a premise if I don’t already have one floating around in my head?
I visit my “Random Notes” file, full of random ideas I’ve jotted down that could be cool to use in stories some day. In this case, I didn’t find anything useful. Nothing struck me as particularly exciting.
So, I had to sit and think. What recent issues have I ranted about lately? Have I seen anything in the news or in the world that made me especially interested or angry?
Yes, in fact! As of right now, natural disasters are taking a serious toll on my country and my people. These disasters are even having an effect on my family and their safety. Personally, I believe that listening to Nature is very important, and I think learning to live in harmony with Nature is super necessary to the survival of our planet. After all, humans are a part of Nature. I believe we need to remember and respect that.
What if I wrote a story that extrapolated on those ideas? The premise could be buried in there somewhere.
I thought for hours about it and jotted down a bunch of ideas, like so:
Living in harmony with nature is important.
Nature will always win.
We are a part of nature and we need to accept that.
Nature will always seek to find a balance.
Nature will always reclaim what humanity takes from it.
I really liked the idea of Nature reclaiming what humanity takes from it. After all, hurricanes were taking back whole cities. It was a topic that got me excited, something I was emotionally rooted in, and something I could find plenty of examples for in life. Research would be easy, and emotional tone would be pretty obvious as I wrote.
I combined that idea with the idea of a cult. I’d been watching The Path, and I absolutely loved the show. I wanted to tackle cults in my own work, but put my own personal spin on it.
So, I came up with: a cult that believes Nature will always reclaim what humanity takes from it.
I extrapolated some more! “Not just any cult,” I thought, “but a dangerous one. What’s the most dangerous kind of cult? One in which every single follower is an unquestioning believer. How does that happen? The cult leader makes everyone drink a serum that makes them highly suggestible? No… Maybe the cult is a hivemind? A HIVEMIND! Yes!”
The premise starts to take its own shape.
A dangerous hivemind cult believes that Nature will always reclaim what humanity takes from it.
It sounded like a pretty solid idea to me. Now, to ensure that I was pushing myself in the most creative path, I had to challenge myself. I always want to be unique, fresh, and original. So, I like to twist around a good premise until it surprises, shocks, or inspires me. Sometimes, if you twist around a good premise, it naturally turns itself into a great one.
I went through a bunch of iterations. I ended up with: A dangerous hivemind cult reclaims humanity for Nature.
Much like the way a hurricane swallows a city and returns Nature’s balance, so would this cult devour cities and return them to natural order. I threw in a dash of recycling responsibility metaphors and started imagining gigantic machines that LITERALLY ate and recycled cities.
Sweet! So, let’s recap what I came up with during my initial brainstorm!
Purpose – Successfully complete NaNoWriMo.
Structure – 50,000 words; one main character; three acts.
Premise – A dangerous hivemind cult uses giant machines to eat and recycle cities for Nature.
The next step is Character, and I already know I only want to do one main, so it was time to brainstorm! What kind of person would be most affected by this horrible dilemma? Out of all the people I could imagine, who had the greatest potential for transformation? Who could carry a 50,000 word piece for three consecutive acts and still be interesting?
Things to consider.
This is where I’ll leave the series for now! Next week, we’ll be covering Character, Desire, and Conflict!
I hope that this post has been helpful to you! Feel free to comment here or message me with any questions you might have! I’m going through the process right here with you!
Love you all! Good luck during PlaNoWriMo!