It’s almost that time of year again: National Novel Writing Month! Last year I ran a series of posts in October to help NaNo writers prepare, and I thought I’d revisit that series again this year. Here is the first of these posts, from October 2015:
It’s already October, which means that NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. If you’re not familiar with National Novel Writing Month, it’s an annual event where writers attempt to write 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November. NaNoWriMo can be a great way for many writers to make progress on their novels and participate in the writing community, but it is also a difficult endeavor, especially if you haven’t planned your novel in advance. So, I thought I would spend some time this month talking about ways you can prepare for NaNoWriMo—and, of course, these tips apply to writers starting any novel, even outside of NaNo.
First, let’s talk about how to come up with story ideas. Brainstorming the idea or premise is the first step for starting a new novel, and it can be a different process for every writer and every story. So, how do you come up with an idea? Here are my tips:
- Find inspiration
The best way to generate new ideas is to surround yourself with things that inspire you. Consider where and when you often find inspiration for creative ideas. I’m always most inspired when I surround myself with art, in any medium. I’m most inspired by music, films, television, and of course, books. Just today, I jotted down three snippets of ideas I had. One came from another book I was reading, which made me wonder “What if this happened instead…?” The other two came from television; one was a bit of dialogue I loved, and the other was a historical figure I wanted to learn more about. Ideas are absolutely everywhere, and surrounding yourself with things that inspire you will help you find them.
- Free writing
One of the most valuable skills I picked up from my creative writing courses in college is free writing. Just grab a blank sheet of paper and write whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry too much about what you’re writing or whether it’s good or whether you like it. Just write. Sometimes these sessions won’t result in anything, but you’d be surprised by how much comes out once the words start to flow. I still flip through my old notebooks from that class and find inspiration in some of those free writing ideas.
- Write it down
Ideas are everywhere, but it’s easy to forget to write down all those tiny snippets of inspiration. All great stories start with small ideas, and you never know what will turn into a novel. Even little things, like song lyrics or a name that you like or an interesting setting, could spark something more. Jot everything down in a notebook or computer file, so that you can refer back to it when you’re looking for inspiration.
- Consider tropes and common plots
Think about the common tropes that you like in books. Think about the tropes that you don’t like. What it is that you do or don’t like about them? What could you do differently? What plot twists could you add? How can you combine tropes to make something new? If you aren’t sure what tropes or plots to think about, check out Ronald B. Tobias’s 20 Master Plots or TV Tropes.
- Let it sit
It’s always beneficial to leave potential ideas sitting for awhile. Let them percolate in the back of your mind and let your subconscious do the work. Or you may forget about them entirely and rediscover them later, when you suddenly realize how that idea could come together. Some of my ideas have been brewing in the back of my mind for years, and I constantly think of new ways to make them work. I jot them down, forget about them for a few months, and then return to the idea when inspiration strikes. By the time I’m ready to write something new, I have several pages of notes to work with.
So, now that you have your ideas, what do you do with them? Next week I’ll take a look at outlining methods and ways to flesh out your ideas into a plot that can carry you through NaNoWriMo. For now, I hope these tips have helped you get inspired.
Where do you find inspiration? How do you keep track of your ideas? Have any tips for brainstorming? Let me know in the comments!
Interested in professional editorial services for your manuscript? Check out my Services page for more information about what I offer. I have an annual discount for NaNo participants!