Over the past twenty years, November has become the unofficial National Writing Month thanks entirely to the event called NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. For those unfamiliar with this, it is not how to write a novel in thirty days, but it is a great way to challenge one's self to write regularly, consistently, and toward a goal. A number of NaNoWriMo manuscripts have become books, but many more have not. However, all of them have taught the writer something about their own process and just what they need to work on.
To offer a little more detail, the NaNoWriMo competition is a challenge to write a story of at least 50,000 words over the course of November - the length required to qualify as a novel. The rules and regulations for this event are on the NaNoWriMo website, but it is just as easy to start writing and hold yourself accountable for all those words over the course of November. Working through the website offers encouragement, tips and tricks for self-motivation, and a community of people going through similar trials. However, any writer's workshop or like-minded group of future authors will do in a fix. The important part during the event is to always be writing, and the key beforehand is to prepare yourself for what you are getting into.
As far as preparations go, this part of October is the ideal time to get ready to write the big story, and it doesn't take a lot to do this. Official NaNoWriMo rules say no writing any part of the narrative before November 1, but the writer can take notes, map plot arcs, and sketch character profiles beforehand. This is the important part, because we can use the tools discussed in different posts on this blog to set the stage for our story. Once those are defined, the writing part becomes that much easier.
Let's ask ourselves a few simple questions about our story before we decide to write it. Here's a simple one: What is the story about? This can be one sentence, broadly drawn and open to interpretation. A boy growing up in rural Kansas and learning the hard truths of life. Boom! Step completed. That's all we need to do - set the stage. This tells us our main character, our setting, and the challenges that lie ahead.
Now we drill a little deeper and ask for more details. What is the conflict facing the character? What event sets them on the hero's journey? Is their journey forced upon them or do they choose to go on? Let's look at our boy in Kansas. If he is challenged by the threat that his parents have come upon hard times and might have to pack up and move to Topeka, that's an external challenge. However, if his friends are starting to move to other towns and our hero decides to expand his horizons and see more of the world to keep them close, that's an internal decision. In either case, we see how this creates conflict - change in the boy's life forces him to make a choice, and deal with the repercussions of that choice.
As these ideas come together in your head, the big step is to consider what obstacles might be in the way for our hero. With our boy from Kansas, does he have controlling parents who would prefer he never left their side, or perhaps they rely on him for emotional support? Is he scared of the world outside his hometown, perhaps due to bad experiences that left scars on him that he needs to overcome? Depending on his age, a simple obstacle to leaving town might be his need to get a car (or a bike), which can be an adventure in itself. Real heroes have to overcome things, so think of some things that would hinder our hero.
I'll offer one last hint, and that is regarding the ending. It is best to have one in mind, but give yourself the latitude to change it as the end of the story approaches. As we write our hero's journey, we will also discover things we may not have felt or noticed in the beginning, and it could change how the story should wrap up. Don't hold yourself to one ending if it starts to feel like the wrong ending. Sometimes we realize the main character does have to die in the end, or they do not get the girl and live happily ever after. This is okay, especially for a first draft. Allow it to happen - you can rewrite it after the story is finished.
Now get ready to do some writing!