Thursday, October 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: Choosing Your Story

Preparing for National Novel Writing Month begins with a decision on what sort of story you'd like to write in November. Many of you have already made this decision, but for those of you who are still mulling it over, it's better to pick now than panic on November 1st.

You can go with the first idea you think up that captures your imagination, or select something you've been saving for just such an opportunity.  Neither way is wrong; go with what speaks to you as a writer.  But if you have a lot of ideas and no clear choice, you need to sort them out in a logical fashion until you figure out which one makes the best choice for your November novel.

 One way of choosing what you're going to write is like I did on Monday -- make a list of ideas that appeal to you the most. You can note them by genre, character, premise, time period or even a working title; use the words that best define the idea in your mind. If you keep a story idea file, raid it for the best of what you've collected to make up your list. You can use as many or as few ideas as you want, but I'd give yourself at least five options so you have a group to work with for comparison purposes.

Once your list is complete, take a day or two to think about all the ideas you've noted. This gives you a chance to obsess about them -- something most writers love to do -- and also allows the ideas to percolate a bit. During this time you may discover your thoughts will keep returning to one or two of the ideas on your list; these are probably the most attractive to you. They not necessarily the best choice for NaNoWriMo, however, so don't make a decision yet. You may also want to run your ideas past a writer friend or critique partner to get some feedback on which seems most viable.

Once you've thought through your ideas, take your list and read it again. Compare the ideas to each other and focus on the ones that don't especially stand out or seem a little lackluster. Start the process of elimination by crossing off the idea with the least amount of appeal to you (this does not mean it's a bad idea or that you should trash it.  It's a story that for whatever reason you're not ready to tell.)

Repeat this process a couple more times.  For NaNoWriMo you want to write a story that is exciting to you, that (obviously) does not require months of research in advance, and that you can easily envision from start to finish (if you're a pantser, you're looking for an idea that has enough appeal to keep you working at it for thirty days. Since I don't know how you do that, you'll have to be the judge.) As you think about these things, cross off the ideas that don't fit the bill as well as the others. Keep at it, comparing what remains to each other until you whittle the list down to the final two best possibilities.

At this point I usually invite the universe to collaborate with me and flip a coin to make the final choice between the two.  You can try this, or you can run the ideas by that writer friend or critique partner and ask their opinion on which is the best, or you can simply choose the one you find most attractive.  Before you leap into fleshing out the story you've selected, take the others you've eliminated and put them in your story idea file (and if you don't have that, start one.) These other ideas might work better for you sometime in the future, and they're excellent backup in the event the choice you've made doesn't work out from the start.

You can make this story decision at any point before November 1st, but my advice is to nail it down by October 15th. That will give you couple of weeks to obsess a little more, let it percolate again and begin whatever preparations you like to do before starting to write.

Do you have a tried-and-true method of sorting through your story ideas to select the one you want to write? Let us know in comments.


  1. Ren Benton10:18 AM

    If an idea doesn't have enough shape in my head to readily suggest at least 30 scenes, I know pursuing it would lead me straight to the Great Wall of So... What Happens Now?, which is a monument I have no desire to revisit (SO boring and SO crowded, and everybody there is SO grumpy).

    On the rare occasions more than one of the contenders meets that degree of readiness, I elope with the better seducer, knowing full well I'll spend half the time we're together cursing it for being a deceitful, ornery whoreson but also knowing I'll never be bored as long as we're together.

    I don't have the stomach to do NaNo, but I'll be stealing some of everybody else's energy to slingshot me toward my March deadline.

  2. Anonymous11:31 AM

    I struggle with finding ideas but then go on to further struggle with fleshing them out.

    Picking one idea out is probably more to do with what idea will keep me going for 30 days of fun, i.e. not bore me too much.

    I've learnt a lot on your site though so thanks much.


  3. I tend to go with the idea that I can't get out of my head--the one that I'm thinking about when I should be thinking about something else.

  4. I managed last year but this year so far, nothing has really perked with me. I come up with an idea, write it down and then forget it and move on. This does not bode well for keeping my interest for 10 days let alone 30. So, I'll have to see if something hits my in the next week. If not, no NaNo...


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