A post for anyone who might want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but doesn’t know what to write.
I think one of the main obstacles that prevents people from even trying to attempt NaNoWriMo is that they don’t know what they want to write. Some people have loads of works-in-progress, so choosing between them might be the most of their worries. And of course, there are those pantsers who are perfectly content to just write by the seat of their pants with no plans in sight, following every scent they come across as they go.
But for others like me, there might a desire to write but a hesitance, maybe related to confidence, to choose something and just go for it.
I have struggled with plot a lot in the past. I used to be a pantser, and was successful at completing NaNoWriMo. But once I realized that the drafts I wrote were not anything I wanted to continue working on past NaNoWriMo and that one of the major determinants of what books become my favorites is a strong plot I decided I wanted to become a writer with a plan. Of course, it’s been easier said than done.
I do not have all the answers and am still figuring out how to plot in a way that works for me. But I have come across a bunch of tips and resources that might help others, which is why I wanted to compile them here in a post for anyone who might benefit.
Bare in mind, this is not a comprehensive list, only stuff that I’ve personally come across and think have best influenced me.
- NaNoWriMo Adopt A Plot Forum. The official NaNoWriMo has an entire forum listed to adoptables each year. Here’s a link specifically to the Adopt a Plot forum, where people list anything from plot synopses to questions that might spark ideas. So it’s not exactly full-length prompts, but this might be a good starting point for you if you’re not even sure what kind of story you want to write yet.
- Three Act Structure. One of my favorite YouTubers is Katytastic who got her start making writing videos. Her explanation of the Three Act Structure is really easy to follow and something that might help you develop an effective plot that takes place over 27 chapters. It might make your story feel formulaic at first, but I think it’s a good starting place for a first draft and it may be smoothed out after the core of the story is written.
- Marissa Meyer’s 9 Steps from Idea to Finished. On her blog, the author of the Lunar Chronicles shows how she brainstorms/ researches and outlines in a few posts that I have found really helpful. I’ve not quite reached the point where her last few steps come in handy (e.g. revision), but I will definitely return to this series once I’ve got a first draft I’m ready to polish.
One Option (For if you’re really stuck)
Do a retelling of a well-known or beloved story with a different cast and setting. Some really successful fantasy novels that have done this are the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy and the Lunar Chronicles series. For instance, you might select a favorite Grim’s fairytale, Shakespeare play, Jane Austen novel, Biblical story, or tale from any other world mythology that speaks to you. Classics are wonderful sources to pull from because they’ve stood the test of time and are still around because there’s something universal about their stories that continues to resonate with modern day readers.
One last thing I want to leave you with before I go is about how prepared you need to be. Hank Green on the YouTube channel he shares with his brother John recently did a video called “The Secret to My Productivity” in which he describes that he doesn’t shoot to be 100% ready before he starts anything; he gets to 80% and then gets going. It might be hard to wrap your head around it, especially if you grasp at any excuse to hold off the future (like me). But I do believe he might be onto something.
I’ve come to realize over the last year that one thing that has really held me back in life is waiting until I’m 100% ready to do anything, which means I’ve gotten very little done. So what I’m getting at is that you should not not participate in NaNoWriMo if you don’t feel like you’ve figure out every last detail about your story. There’s point were you need to just start if you feel like you have enough to go on to figure out the rest along the way.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. I wish I had more to share, but I think these tidbits are a good starting point for anyone who’s not got much planned at all. On Halloween I plan to finally tell you all about the story I’m writing for NaNoWriMo and how I think I’m going to be successful.