I wrote the other day about how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, but today has been declared “NaNo Prep Day” – so I figured, it can’t hurt to revisit this a little bit. Even discovery writers (aka “pantsers”, which sounds a little degrading) can stand to gain with a little bit of preparation. Sure, you don’t have to know your whole plot on Day 1, but the more you know, the more you can hit the ground running.
So what can you figure out before you start down the road of fiction? Here are four things you can look into before setting off on your novel journey.
1) Know your Characters
Seriously, this is probably the biggest thing. Characters, characters, characters. The best plot idea in the world will fall flat without memorable characters driving it. They don’t have to be ‘morally’ good, but they do have to be ‘quality’ good. Well-thought-out. If you put ten times as much preparation into characters as you do into your plot, you’ll get a return on the investment. After all, plot is characters who face setbacks / don’t get what they want, working toward their goals. (Even if that goal is to run away from their problems, which is sort of a reversal on the idea.)
Furthermore, you can’t have dialogue without characters; dialogue is often a great way to set up or resolve conflict. The more you know about your characters, the better dialogue you can write involving them. You’ll be able to write from a place of personal perspective instead of cardboard-cutout, and that’s a win.
Either way, it starts with characters.
2) Know your Setting
My preferred style of preparation is a hybrid of discovery + outlining, so I’ve done my share of jumping in and getting my feet dirty on a new story right away on November 1. But whether I’ve prepared a 15-point outline or a two-paragraph summary or nothing at all plot-wise, I know where my story takes place. It’s hard to start writing without a setting, so decide the where and when, and then figure out what makes your ‘world’ vibrant.
Even if that world is a suburban household or a vibrant metropolis: consider the tone of your story. Hopeful? Gritty? Full of wonder or full of despair? That should be reflected in your setting. Or perhaps you want your setting to contrast the tone of the novel. That’s cool too! Make it work for you. The more work you put into your setting before November, the easier it will be to stage your story and add in the wonderful milieu details beyond the action and dialogue.
3) Know your Comfort Zone
NaNoWriMo is about experimentation. It’s about challenging yourself. Examine the work you’ve already done and be willing to try something new. Don’t be afraid to fail! NaNoWriMo is perfect opportunity to pursue the pure, unfiltered act of creation, and we should feel encouraged to move past our current boundaries into uncharted territory.
Keep on stretching, and you can only get better.
4) Know your Community
Hit up the NaNoWriMo forums to find out who else in your area (or your demographic) is working on a novel in November. As I’ve said before, one of the greatest boons of taking this project on at all is the sense of togetherness that NaNoWriMo brings to what is already a solitary career path / hobby / pastime. Don’t be afraid to drop in to the forums, or Twitter, or a local write-in. Participate in a word-war or two. You never know what kind of encouragement, feedback, and even friendship you might find.