So I, a fool, have decided as of today to start a new story from scratch for NaNo. I've got vague conceptions of my main characters and what they're after, along with group dynamics and a vague sense of the world (i.e. MAGIC!), but that's about it. I'm usually a planner, but I usually start much sooner than now. Any advice for how to scrape up several fairly fleshed-out characters, a passable world, and a plot outline in three weeks?? (My planner brain may have to try a bit of pantsing.)
I just sent a message about developing Very Fast for NaNo and I ran into the character limit in that ask, but thank you for the help and this very nice blog you’ve got going!!
I, also a fool, share your bench on the boat, my friend. We share a lot of things in common: I’ll also be starting a new story for which I only have vague conceptions, a world with magic, and am usually a planner. And I usually start way before now. If it makes you feel any better about it, you’re not alone in your self-built boat. We both started building that boat without realizing the other was there and wound up building our halves right into each other. Hi. Let’s sail.
Luckily for both of us, we have 3 weeks to really sit down and figure this stuff out. I’ll be mildly chronicling my adventure in some upcoming posts, but the big thing for you and I will be staying dedicated to planning on a consistent basis. The time for sleeping and procrastinating our way forward is over. We both need to put all our best tactics for focusing to work. Set aside a specific time period and/or amount of time to plan each day. Maybe it’s just a half hour every day or maybe it’s every day at 7 PM. Whatever works best for your schedule, make sure that spending time with this idea is a dedicated part of your day.
Parcel out those planning weeks on specific topics. Start with characters, move to plot, move to world. Spend a portion of time specifically dreaming about those particular aspects and start to parcel out the necessary information:
Know your character’s goals, weaknesses, and tactics: These three aspects of your character will be crucial to understanding them enough to write them. Things like where they work and how many siblings they have and whether they had a pet when they were growing up are icing on the cake in these kinds of hasty planning times. What you need to know is what they’re after, what they’ll make bad decisions because of, and how they’ll first try to solve problems in their life. If you can’t figure those three things out, you’re going to have a tough time really knowing how they’ll react to things and what their direction is.
Figure out what your conflict is: I’m not talking about the climax, here, I’m talking plot. What’s wrong in the world? This comes out of the general concept. You need to know how the concept interacts with the world and the characters living in that world, AND what kinds of problems that concept would create for those living day-to-day with it. Concept is great and can start the building blocks of a really inventive new world, but concept is not plot. You have got to know what that central conflict is in order to write this story. What goes wrong? What’s causing difficulties? What is this story really about?
Whose story is it and why: Alright, so you’ve got characters and you’ve got conflict, but who’s the main character and why? This ties in with the inciting incident of your plot. Why is the main character the main character? What happens that makes them so integrally involved with the conflict that this story belongs to them? What happens to make them decide that they have to go out and take part in what’s going on?
Decide what kind of story you’re trying to tell: What’s your end-goal? Where are you headed and what’s that ending scene before the credits look like? Are there certain themes you want to play with, or a certain arc of a character’s growth you really want to showcase? Is there a feeling you want to leave the audience with at the end? Knowing that will help you mold the plot points and shape the arcs of your characters as you’re thinking long and hard about what the plot ought to be.
All the rest is icing: How many religions are there in the world? Do they drive cars everywhere or fly? Are nuclear families important? Who knows. All of that can be details that you make up on the fly if you have to. It won’t be comfortable, especially if you’re a big planner like I am, but it is entirely possible to build a world that feels real to the reader even as you’re making it up. Twelve siblings? Iguanas on their tennis shoes? Prefer lemons to oranges? Way to build up that texture building, friend!
The freedom here is that you don’t have to know every detail about everything to write an effective story. You need to know a couple of key details (character, plot, a world concept), and the rest can be made up on the fly. Feel free to mention things without actually knowing for sure the extensive world history of it. Let your characters reference their favorite foods without knowing what all it’s made from. Mention movie titles without actually knowing what the movie is. Let your characters make jokes you don’t always understand. It’s okay. This will build a depth to your world that you can work on enhancing later if you want to. Right now, your world is malleable at this point and there’s no one to tell you you can’t, yet. Don’t stall yourself. Embrace that you will have ample time to course correct later.
Nothing is set in stone: Don’t let it stymie you if the month starts and you don’t have every detail you normally do when you start a story. It’s okay. Write with abandon for now. Explore every avenue. I do advise that you write with a highlighter in hand, or a second document open. Whenever you mention a tidbit of worldbuilding, highlight it or copy-and-paste it into another document. This will let you do quick references back to it when you think you want to try to expand on it later in the month, or even afterward as you’re going back to do the deep building dive. I don’t do this all the time and I kick myself when I don’t.
I hope that’s helped a bit. Like I said at the beginning, I’ll be opening up a bit more about what I’m doing to grow my problem-child this month before November, soon, so maybe keep an eye out for that for some more ideas. Good luck, friend. Now row! -Pear