10 Characters in Search of a NaNo Plot

Hurray! I’m all set for National Novel Writing Month in November. My goal for this weekend was to complete the synopsis, outline and character backgrounds for my novel….

And I didn’t.

I swear to you, I tried. I started Friday night, I continued through most of Saturday, but every time I tried to plot the scenes I came up blank. For my non-writing friends, much like planning a wedding, having a child, or making a budget, even the best-laid novel plans are bound to go haywire due to unexpected circumstances.

I discovered that my characters (and my story) rebelled at the thought of me planning out every last detail of their adventures ahead of time. I learned my lesson.

Characters really don't like being told what to do.

If you don’t know, every year in November, thousands of writers around the world take part in National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org), a.k.a  NaNoWriMo or just NaNo. The goal is to write a complete 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It doesn’t have to be good, mind you, just be 50,000 words in length with a start, middle and ending, and the number one rule is that you only write between November 1 and November 30. You would think that there would be a lot of cheaters, but the writers who take part enjoy the challenge and thrive on the pressure, so I think almost all of us really do wait until 12:01 a.m. on the 1st to start.

You can, however, plan your novel, do research, write outlines, and develop plot points in advance. Every writer has their own way of doing this. Last year, I did absolutely no prep work because I only decided to try my hand at writing a novel on October 31, so I really did fly by the seat of my pants. This year, I armed myself with my novel-writing guide as well as some book development software and planned to be so prepared for November that I could write the book on auto-pilot; my notes and research would carry me through my 50,000 words in no time.

The first thing that happened was after three hours of research on the story I thought I was going to write, while taking a snack break, I had an out-of-the-blue inspiration for another novel, and decided to go in a totally new direction. (Some novels just can’t be planned in a weekend and written in 30 days!)

I’ve been working on that new idea for the last week, but in truth, all I had was the basic hook and concept and a few characters. I had no idea how to structure the story, how to juggle at least 10 characters or what action was going to happen between the start and the ending. That’s what this weekend was for.

And then yesterday, I choked. I had no idea what I wanted the characters to do, how I was going to open the book or what the climactic scene would entail. Had I chosen a novel idea that was completely plotless? True, other books have been published without a discernible plot, but at least their authors managed to write tens of thousands of pointless words to fill the pages.

So I did what I did last year when I got stuck. I Googled words that were related to my story and very quickly brainstormed one idea to another that resulted in a framework for my story. A little more random research and I came up with ideas for character motivations and situations. Pretty soon I had figured out how it was all going to hang together.

And then I stopped.

I don’t want to do anymore. I don’t want to decide every last detail about what will happen to my characters and how they will react. I think I owe them the courtesy of letting them tell me their stories and letting the threads weave themselves together to the ultimate conclusion.  

I did come up with a great first line for my novel, though, and my writing buddy told me I was cheating for starting ahead of time. No, it’s not cheating—it just came to me, like an immaculate conception; I wasn’t even trying.

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10 Responses to 10 Characters in Search of a NaNo Plot

  1. amanda says:

    I’m getting all geared up for NaNoWriMo myself, but as I’m not normally one to outline, I’m also finding it difficult to get prepared. I’m hoping I can kind of wing it with my skeleton of ideas, and a lot of caffeine. Good luck to you!

    • Good luck to you. Last time I found that the need to write 1000+ words a day kept pushing the ideas forward. :0) My one piece of advice is just keep writing and don’t read it over, edit it or change it. December is for editing!

  2. Tommy says:

    I came up with a potential first line and the probable last line.

    Now to just fill in the 49,980 in the middle.

  3. Steph says:

    I’ve got my character interviews and a few hazy scenes, but that’s it. I’m a pantster and like to let the characters take me wherever they want to go. The only stipulation I give them is that they have to have a HEA (Happily Ever After)
    Ohhh and the more conflict, the better! 🙂

    I also allow myself to write silly things that I know are going to be edited out later. For instance, my second NaNo, all four characters decided they were going to have a Slinkey Race. And so I wrote it. It showed me what they were like when life wasn’t do or die.

    Anyway. Best of luck to you, and see you at the 50k finish line! 🙂

    • Yes, but you are a machine! LOL Are you planning on writing two novels again this year for NaNo???

      • Steph says:

        Yep! Though instead of two completely different stories, these two are going to be connected.
        The strange thing is that writing two stories helps because when you’re stuck on the first one, you switch to the second and keep going.

        🙂

  4. KristyLee says:

    Great post! I just finished interviewing two of my characters – the youngest one ended up only telling me bits and pieces, and left me to go play with his blocks – and the mother, well she is just a mess, but she told me a lot about her childhood, that I guess she had to get out.

    This is my first official Nano, but I am so excited. I had originally thought I would write about three characters that were floating around in my head, but turns out, they aren’t ready for it.. they are living their life without conflict, and I just couldn’t find an opening to insert one. So instead of telling them what to do, I will leave them to their lives, and check back in with them another time.

    I will continue with character interviews right up until the 31st to see if they want to reveal anything else to me, but then it just begins. I have a general idea of the direction, but no idea about the outcome. I’ll let them tell me!

    • I love the idea of “interviewing” the characters. I think I might try that! What a great way to develop them without assigning traits that might not be true to them! Good luck with NaNo.

  5. I’ve got my basic plot outline so far (working on how to explain it in three sentences or fewer, without losing my audience!) but my characters are all in hiding so far, and I have very few of the more specific plot details happening. Your Google idea is fantastic!

    • It really works–I just put in the words, see what comes up, and then read whatever looks interesting. Inevitably it will strike a chord and get me thinking and send me off in all kinds of directions. Last year it really helped me learn little-known facts about the area my book was set in, and I was able to incorporate them into the plot for major turning points.

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