Will you be a NaNoWriMo author next month?
Whether you’re accepting the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, or are pushing forward with writing fiction on your own, these tips will help.
NaNoWriMo author or not, a fiction pitfall to avoid
In their first novels, beginners stick to what they know — they tell their own story, or a version of it, and try to add drama and pizzazz with words.
Sadly, their stories quickly become boring; I’ve no idea why, it just happens.
Let’s look at the secrets.
Here’s the biggest secret: forget reality.
1. Reality doesn’t sell: complicate, and complicate some more
The easiest story-character creation method uses an adjective plus a noun; a “naive model,” for example, or a “cold-hearted academic”.
Basically, it’s “attribute + job”.
Daydream… Then write a few hundred words from the point of view of your new character. In the process, you’ll learn more about the character. Constantly look for ways to make things worse for him/ her.
Let’s see how this works.
We’ll stick with our “naive model.”
What if our naive model loses her job? She’s supporting her family; she needs money. Then she meets a man who offers her a job, but she doesn’t realize that he’s a people trafficker.
Good start, right? Now, complicate.
So you’ve got: a naive model, loses job, meets people trafficker.
What if a government agent finds drugs in her home? How could you complicate that even more? What if the agent uses our naive model to infiltrate the trafficking ring?
Keep complicating. Before you know it, you’ve made a start on plotting. You’ve got another two characters, a people trafficker and a government agent. Now write a short piece from the point of view of both those characters, complicating things even more.
You’ll discover that your plot will grow with each new character you define (remember, “attribute + job”.)
2. Add pizazz: ask yourself “how can I make it outrageous?”
You’ve made a good start on plotting your novel, or short story. Your next step is to make your plot outrageous.
Sticking with our naive model and her woes, how could you make her story outrageous? What if she’s taking part in a reality show? And what if…
Keep coming up with outrageous ideas.
Don’t worry that you’ll make it too outrageous — you’re only plotting. You’ll discover that you’ll tone it down in your writing anyway; it always happens.
Now let’s look at developing your novel’s characters.
3. Develop your characters: your story ending lies with each character’s problem
To grab readers, your story and its ending lies with your character’s problem.
If you’ve watched the movie Legally Blonde, Elle’s problem in getting what she wants is essentially who she is. She doesn’t fit in. However, as the movie progresses, Elle solves challenges because of who she is.
Her problem becomes the solution. That’s what editors mean when they ask you to “develop” your characters. Use who they are and build on it. Our naive model is naive, and she uses that, to solve her problems in the novel. She grows, but that growth doesn’t change who she fundamentally is.
Similarly with your novel; for a satisfying read, your story’s ending has to relate to your character’s biggest problem. In our naive model story, by the end of the novel the character won’t be as naive, and she’ll have used elements of her naivety to solve her problems.
Big tip: you don’t need to plot all this stuff before you start writing. I’m a a pantser by nature, rather than a plotter. If I spend too much time plotting, my subconscious mind dusts off its hands and says, OK, the story’s done… next?
So, especially if you’re a pantser, write and plot as you go along. Feel free to change your mind about your plot and characters. If you’re making changes, your novel is alive, because “plot” can be a verb.
NaNoWriMo or not, have fun with this simple plotting method
Try it. Have fun with NaNoWriMo (get outrageous) if you’re participating this year. 🙂
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.