Wednesday, October 06, 2010

NaNoWriMo Wednesday

Every Wednesday from now until November 1st I'll be posting some ideas, resources and other info that may be of help to those of you planning to join in NaNoWriMo 2010.

Last week I talked to my agent about an idea I had for a new trilogy of novels. Two phone calls later, she asked me to put together a proposal and send it to her. That meant choosing titles, character casts, themes, standalone plots and subplots, interconnecting threads and a concept that would tie three stories together -- and all I had to work with was an idea. Four days, twenty-one pages and 5,454 words later, I sent my agent the trilogy proposal, which is now in the hands of an interested editor.

Don't start calling me a novel ATM. The first reason this proposal came together as fast and well as it did was because the idea I started with was pure story fuel: potent, clear, and powerful enough to keep the engines of my imagination revved. The second reason is because I did the work required to develop it from an idea into stories for three books.

When you think about what you want to write for your November novel, you're likely sorting through a lot of ideas. Some seem good, others great, but the best ones will be like finding diamonds in a gravel pit; they can dazzle and even blind you to everything else in your head. You become so excited you can't wait to start up your writing engines and hit the story road.

This period of excitement is also as it should be. Who wants to write a book based on an idea that bores you to tears? Not me.

At some point you'll realize you have some decisions to make, because ideas are not novels (if they were, I'd surely be writing my millionth by now.) Your idea needs some things, say like a title to name it, and characters to explore it, and a setting to occupy it, and suddenly your idea may begin losing some its glitter as all these undecided things start piling up around it and smothering it. You may decide not to worry about this stuff until you start writing the book, because the story details are a lot of work, and this, this is supposed to be fun.

A few of you will sit down in November and write a novel based solely on your idea, simply making it up as you go along. It will also work out for you because you are organic writers and that's your natural storytelling process. On behalf of all non-organic writers, let me say: we really hate you.

Those of you who are not organic writers but still choose to run with just an idea may get lucky and end up with diamond-quality story. More than likely, though, you will find yourselves backtracking and rewriting a lot as you try to stretch out that idea. You may become frustrated with how long it takes to work out the things that your idea didn't cover. You may even give up when your idea sputters out and leaves you stranded in the middle of Chapter Three without a clue as how to continue on.

Bottom line for non-organic writers: no matter how dazzling or fun it is, don't rely on just an idea. Take the time now to think about it, make some decisions and develop it into what you need to write a novel.

Related links:

Ten Point Novel Concept Outline Template -- this is a very simple plotting template (followed by a filled-out example) to help you painlessly outline your idea.

Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes by Alicia Rasley

Outlining: Clarifying & Accelerating Understanding & Organization by Dr. Robert S. Houghton (link corrected)

PBW's Novel Outlining 101


  1. I'm a quasi-organic, but I've learned if I do my very rough draft in an outline I can ferret out problems and reorder to cut an edit or two out of the process. For me, I know an idea has become a story when I can write a basic synopsis of the idea. Once I start outlining, that synopsis may become nothing more than random characters (typed ones not people) on the page, but it's enough to tell me the idea has legs to stand on.

  2. Lynn wrote: "On behalf of all non-organic writers, let me say: we really hate you."

    A woman in my writer's group writes completely off the top of her head and yet all of her plot points are exactly where they need to be, and her revisions involve more fine-tuning than rearranging. How on earth does she DO that?

  3. As someone who has spent the last year learning about acts, plot points, outlining, structure, and conflict, I laughed SO HARD at your "we really hate you."

    I don't hate them. On some level, I'm incredibly jealous of them, but I enjoyed the learning and I hope that not relying on natural talent and magic may help me out of a hole or two that I might fall into if I were one of those organic writers.

    I'm looking forward to a NaNoWriMo that I enter with a clear, outlined story idea. (Especially after my first NaNoWriMo baaarely squeaked past the finish line when I pants'd it, and bore little resemblance to the story I'd started with)

  4. Anonymous2:42 PM

    The Dr Houghton link didn't work for me I had to use the wayback machine.

  5. I can't even find an idea for a book. Well, I have one that I have had brewing around for ages, but I think it will never get written - it revolves around 2012 and I think it's too late to get going with it.

    I'm not even sure what genre I want to attempt.

    For the last 3 years, I've been wanting to attempt NaNoWriMo, but again, novel ideas have not been forthcoming.

  6. Don't hate me because I'm organic... ;)

    I just can't do the whole outline/plot thing because then I feel like I've already written the story and I don't want to work on it anymore. I tried. I have four or five outlines for stories from start to finish and they no longer hold my imagination. So I'll keep winging it. The stories aren't always wonderful, but they get written that way.

    I have a couple ideas floating around now for November. I'm hoping I can actually finish this time though. The last two years, life really got in the way and sucked most of my time for November and a few months after.

    As for you being an ATM, I'd give my right arm to have half the ideas you do and half your ability to see them through. *jealous!*

    Alas, I have neither so I just keep plugging along and in the meantime, enjoy the fruits of your abilities.

  7. I find that too much planning kills the fire for me. As soon as I know how it ends, it is like pulling teeth for me to finish my novel. I'm ready to move on to the next project. Of course, this could be why I am STILL trying to finish my first NaNoWriMo novel from 2006. *blush* But one of the great things about writing is there is no magic formula. If there was, anyone could do it.

    I am actually doing a little something different for NaNoWriMo this year. Since my first love is short stories, I am planning to write a new short story every day. So I am not officially participating in NaNoWriMo since my focus will not be word count, but I thought November was the appropriate time to tackle this project. I am also looking for outside inspiration and hoping that friends, family, and total strangers will send me their photos, artwork, music, etc, to inspire me which I can then share on my website. I am very much looking forward to November and while not writing a novel, will be checking back here for a little moral support. :)


  8. This post came right in time for me. I woke up Wednesday with the most incredible dream. I've never had a great story pop out of my dreams before. Just dramatic and/or surreal rehashes of the previous days events. But anyways, I was just going to wing it for my first wrimo. But reading this, that dream popped into my head and now I've plotted it all out and thought of great subplots and best of all, I came up with the most awesome twist. So thanks a million. I think this will work out way better than winging it. And now I have all month to really fine tune those details. Thanks thanks and more thanks :)

  9. I'd be highly interested in hearing more about how to develop "an idea into stories for three books". I've concocted my own little schematic out of necessity but I'd like to see an example from someone who actually knows what they’re doing! :)

  10. So, I'm the only one who that ATM was "at the moment" then...


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