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NaNoWriMo Prep: Brainstorming Your Way to Surprising Stories

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One of the dangers in writing a novel is that halfway through, you run out of steam. It happens a lot. Everybody is eager and can’t type fast enough as they begin their story. As the pages pile up, it’s easy to lose the plot’s thread. Enthusiasm wanes. We wonder, What did I think was so great about this idea? I can’t remember. You might not necessarily get writer’s block, though running out of ideas in the middle is common, especially if you’re discovery writer (meaning you find out what the story is going to be as you write it instead of outlining.)

If your middle is a muddle, there are a few common tricks. Knowing the final scene is helpful. Outlining helps. Writing out the major plot points. (And if you haven’t read No Plot? No Problem! yet, you should grab a copy before you begin your National Novel Writing Month adventure.)

I propose a fun exercise to get your mind going, and do this before you start outlining (or before you sketch out the major scenes and beats.) An outline is a map that will carry you through to the end, but I’m going to suggest an innovative strategy I use to open my mind up to possibilities I would not have ordinarily discovered. Try this:

1. Get out a legal pad.

2. Write the numbers 1 – 40.*

3. Get out a dictionary, hit random on Wikipedia, drag out your Goth Bible and any books on myths and legends. Use what resources you have. (I have The Book of Tells. That may prove very useful for the story I have in mind. I want the villains to be formidable, so they’ll be sensitive to body language that gives the hero away.) Atlases, trivia or histories can give you some clues, too.

4. On each of the lines, 1 – 40, write three words from your resources in #3. (Choose words with which you are unfamiliar. Don’t slow down to do research. That’s for later. Now is for writing 120 words or phrases as fast as you can. Anything that strikes you as interesting will do. Geographical names might end up as a character name, for instance. Don’t worry about that now. Write quickly.

5. When you’re done, look at your list. Your plot will develop in the next stage when you construct your actual outline. However, you’ll find those 40 trios may influence the development of your plot.

Here’s an example of a few trios:

A. peroxide, absinthe, firebomb

B. picayune, letters to the editor, Bond movie

C. Malta, the actress Pam Grier, ecstasy

D. Blue Mountains, security scan, divinity school

So, from Trio A, I see an interesting image. How about this?:  

The protester pushed past him, breaking through the line. Dressed in rags, her face was covered with a camouflage veil—a poor defense against tear gas. Her shock of peroxide blonde hair made her an easy target for police, but they shrank behind their riot shields as she menaced them with the molotov cocktail. Defiant, she stood her ground and held the green bottle high in one hand, its rag fuse alight. Green, he thought. The bottle’s contents were bright green! Who would use a $100 bottle of absinthe for a molotov cocktail?

Will I use this passage? I don’t know yet. I know I wouldn’t have come up with it had I not built my trio list, though. I’ll find out as I build my beats and scenes timeline. If I choose to deviate later, that’s okay. First drafts are supposed to be a journey of discovery, free and easy. Write the first draft for you.

You may choose to use each of your trios or you may opt out.  The point is to stir your imagination. If you find yourself stuck, going back to your trios. Find ways to incorporate them into your text (without trying too hard) to get you writing again. Try it and you may be surprised what new ideas occur to you and what spins and reels your story will take.

*Are you wondering why I chose 40 trios? Math is involved, but it’s easy. For my own fiction, I prefer short chapters that skip along. You’re going to need to write over 1,600 words per day to complete NaNoWriMo successfully. I shoot for 2,000 words a day so if I miss a day in the process, I’m still ahead of the game overall. Two-thousand words each day for 30 days over 40 chapters is 80,000 words.

You actually only have to get to 50,000 to get a pass from NaNoWriMo. Me? I want a book at the end that I can revise and 80,000 words is a good length for what I have in mind. I am not interested in participating as a writing exercise. I write plenty as it is, so I want the time spent to be productive. When I’m done the sprint, I want a first draft I can doctor. Construct as many trios as you like. Planning ahead will give you a proper blueprint for your story. You do not want to hit November 15, sit in front of your keyboard and ask that terrible question, “Now what?” Using this technique, I developed two trio sheets and two outlines for two different books yesterday. By November 1, I’ll have to choose down which rabbit hole I intend to throw myself.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , ,

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