NaNoWriMo Prep – Brainstorming

October already. The nights are starting earlier, the shops are filled with Hallowe’en things and, somewhere in a dark room, Mariah Carey is being defrosted, ready to deafen us all with all she wants for Christmas. It also means we’re fast approaching that time of the year – the annual sprint to write as many words as we can that is the National Novel Writing Month.

I haven’t started writing yet. That starts on November 1st – I will not cheat in that regard. However, now IS a good time to start planning what you’re going to write.

I’m glad I started this early.

The First Idea – “Implanted”

I thought I was already ahead of the game this year. In my notes, I had a plot already laid out. Perfect! It just needs looking over, planning out a little more closely, names invented for characters. The hard work is already done!

But the more I looked at it, the more the story changed. It was supposed to be a contemporary sci-fi thriller. Then my main character shifted from being an IT technician to a police officer. Then the whole thing began shifting into something more like Line of Duty. In the end I realised that the story simply didn’t work with the sci-fi conceit I had – tiny explosives implanted into people’s brains to kill them remotely at a moment’s notice.

Any criminal gang looking to extort or threaten my main character would do so far more simply and easily through violence and blackmail. The brain bombs just weren’t realistic. Take those away, and the whole thing becomes a police procedural instead of sci-fi – I think there’s still a good story in there somewhere, but it’s not the story I wanted to write and it certainly wouldn’t work for NaNoWriMo – I’d need to do a LOT of research and background prep for it, which doesn’t go well with trying to churn out enough words every day.

The Second Idea – “Now You See Me”

So I went back to the drawing board. This idea is completely new, though I’m reusing a character from a previous novel (a nice way to link them together). The plot is considerably lighter – a magician pulling off very public crimes and then disappearing before anyone can catch him – and it barely counts as sci-fi, but it’s a lot more my style than the grittiness of my first idea.

I planned out the overall plot and I’ve named my main characters. In the process, I spotted a major problem – the idea didn’t work. There was no conflict, no drama, nothing for the characters to gain or lose from their actions. The concept was good (and no, I’m not going to give anything away here) but there was no story for it.

The Second (and a Half) Idea

The same idea, but upgraded. I had a hero (or rather, a heroine). I had a villain of sorts. But they weren’t in conflict – indeed, the plot hinges on the two of them meeting! I realised that I had the wrong character as a villain. And so I created a third character – someone opposed to both the other two, in different ways.

I’m getting excited about this already. I have more planning to do before November but I’m already itching to start writing.

Why I Plan

Imagine if I’d just jumped straight in on November 1st with my first idea. I have no idea what the story would have turned into, but it would have been a mess to sort out later – a mess that I might not want to revisit. I’d have been writing a story with a fundamental flaw, in a style I didn’t enjoy.

I might have ploughed on to the end of the month, but I’d be left feeling as though I’d wasted it.

By planning ahead, by working out the shape of the novel before I start, I can often spot those flaws coming. I figured out my first idea was wrong in a few days instead of twenty thousand words in. I figured out my second idea was flawed in a few more days, and found a solution that I can implement from the start instead of trying to insert it into the first draft later on.

Some people prefer to just dive right in and work it out as they go along. I’ve done that myself in the past. But planning ahead, even a little, can save you a lot of headaches in the rewrites.


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