31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 2 – But What Story Should I Tell?

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep!” Yesterday we talked about what NaNoWriMo is, and why you should participate. If you missed it, you can read the blog post here or watch the corresponding YouTube video here. You can also check out the corresponding YouTube video to this post here. So, now that you know what NaNoWriMo is, and you’re (hopefully) all signed up, it’s time to decide what story you’re going to be writing in the month of November. And yes, you should be deciding this right now, because how are you going to prepare this month if you don’t even know what you’re preparing for???

So, let’s hop right into it. I know, from personal experience, that deciding what story to tackle in a month can be a daunting task. Usually, it goes one of two ways: 1) You have no ideas and feel like you’re getting in way over your head, or 2) You have a million ideas and it feels like there’s no way you can pick just one to write. Luckily for you (and me), these obstacles really aren’t as insurmountable as they may seem.

If you feel like you don’t have any ideas, that’s okay. NaNoWriMo isn’t just for the seasoned author who’s been accumulating idea after idea for their whole life. I mean, everybody’s gotta start somewhere, right? Every writer has their very first novel idea, and now’s the perfect time for you to have yours. And here’s the real kicker: It doesn’t even have to be a great idea. It doesn’t have to be fleshed out the second you come up with it. It can just be a spark. An inkling of an idea. What matters is that it’s a seed that you can then nurture and grow into a full novel. “But Leighton, where can I get a novel idea on such short notice?” you whimper, curling into the fetal position in the corner of the room, ready to give up already. Again, luckily for you (and me), ideas aren’t actually that few and far between, when you’re really looking for them. Sure, you’ll probably have to get out of the house–which, yes, I know, is a writer’s worst nightmare (we’re an introverted bunch)–but those ideas are out there, just waiting to be plucked out of thin air.

All you’ve got to do is look. Be observant. The world is full of “what if”s that could turn into great story ideas. What if that woman sitting next to you on the train was a ninja? What if you suddenly obtained the ability to do crazy parkour? Again, this original idea doesn’t have to be life-changing. It just has to be something that you feel confident you can build upon for at least 50,000 words. And while that might seem intimidating, trust me, it’s doable.

Now, if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, with a million and one ideas, your job is even easier. Okay, are you ready? You sure? Brace yourself. You just have to… pick one. “But Leighton,” you whine, joining that other person in the corner, also curling into the fetal position, “I can’t just pick one. They’re all amazing and bound to win me a million writing prizes and a billion-dollar movie deal.” Okay, well, I have news for you. You’re never going to win a prize or a movie deal if you don’t ever write one of the stories. Eventually, you’ve just gotta pick one and run with it. And you can’t stop until you’re finished. I don’t just mean finished with the first draft, either. I mean you can’t stop until it’s published. You can’t stop until it’s out there in the world for people to read. Otherwise, what’s the point?

So which one of these millions of ideas should you pick? Well, there’s a few things you can look for.

First, which one is more fleshed out? I mean, you might as well pick a story that you’ve already done a lot of leg work on, right? So if you have a story where you’ve already done substantial world building, and you’ve got some characters fleshed out already, and you know the general direction of the plot, then that’s probably the story you should work on.

Second, which idea is the most enticing to you? After all, having a story that’s already fleshed out is nice and all, but if you aren’t actually interested in writing it, then what’s the point? You’re not only going to be writing this story for a month. You’re going to be writing it for as long as it takes to get it published. And if you don’t choose a story that you’re going to enjoy the fifth, eighth, and twentieth times you read through it, then you’re in for one hell of a time.

Third, which one could you write 50,000 words for? That is the point of NaNoWriMo, you know. So if you think a story would work better as a short story or novella, then you probably shouldn’t pick it. After all, this is National Novel Writing Month. Then again, rules are for chumps, am I right? So who am I to say that you can’t write two novellas, or ten short stories? At the end of the day, all that matters is that you can get to 50,000 words by the end of November.

And if you’re like every other writer, then I’m willing to bet there’s one more thing standing in the way of you choosing your story, whether you have one idea or a million. It’s a question I’m positive every author has worried about in their lifetime: “Is my story original enough?”

I made a whole video about this topic, which I encourage you to check out here. But the tl;dr version is this: Every story has already been told. What makes a story original is the plot. The unique way you, as the author, take the story that’s been told before–the story of a love triangle, or a vampire falling in love with a human, or a kid with magic who finds out he’s a ‘chosen one’–and make it yours by creating new characters and new worlds and new plots. So go out there and write the story you want to read. The one that hasn’t been told yet, because you haven’t told it.

As for me, this NaNoWriMo I’ll be working on the sequel to my (not yet published) debut novel The Caspian Chronicles: The Forbidden Prophecy. I’ll be using elements from books one and two as examples in future NaNoWriMo Prep blogs, so stay tuned for that!

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for you for today. Check back in tomorrow for Day 3, where I’ll be kicking off a two parter on target audience by covering the distinction between Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction.

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