Saturday, August 05, 2006

Getting off the starting line

olympic-starting-line.jpgThis was posted by Arathe on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) forums. I haven't planned out either of the stories I used for NaNoWriMo. The time pressure seems to force the ideas to come out. But without that time pressure, when you're staring at a blank screen, planning can be very helpful! -- Joyce



Getting off the starting line by Arathe

Well, I just sat down today to start working on my plot for this year's NaNo. I attribute my lack of success in earlier years to my lack of planning. Trying to throw something together two weeks before go-time just doesn't cut it for me. ;)

So, I plan on giving myself a lot of time to plan and tweak this year. Unfortunately, I have no ideas, no plot, no characters, nothing! All is not lost, however! I have a little trick for finding a good jumping-off point that I'd share with everyone else out there who are having a hard time finding that elusive plot this year.

1. Pick your genre.

A bit obvious, perhaps, but deciding on a genre will give you a bit of direction. I'll pick Fantasy.

If you can't pick a single genre, at least try to narrow the list down as much as possible and move on to step 2.

2. Make a list of concepts that you like.

- This should naturally try to stay within the bounds of the genre(s) you chose. Spaceships, for example, might not be a good choice when you've decided on Fantasy. Likewise, Evil Magician might not be the ideal choice for your contemporary murder mystery.

- The list can be as long as you like. The longer, the better. You'll find that the longer the list gets, the more unique and interesting your ideas become. Someone who's name I can't recall at the moment said once that the first five or ten ideas on a list are throwaways. It is in those that you'll find your most common ideas, your cliches. The farther down the list you go, the more you have to stretch your imagination, and the more original and interesting those ideas will be.

Which isn't to say you shouldn't use the ideas on the top of your list. The point of this exercise is to find something you're excited about, something you WANT to slave away at for a month. The important part is getting it done. Being innovative or original comes second to that.

Some examples for my Fantasy genre:

- Gods in mortal form.
- Corrupt religion
- Shapeshifters
- Demons
- Taboo magic
- Magic as science

This is only a sample of course, my list will be much longer when I finish it, as yours should be. I'd suggest a list of at least twenty concepts that appeal to you.

3. Circle the concepts that appeal to you most.

- Choose anywhere from 2-10 concepts on your list that jump out at you. The exact number can vary, depending on how many you really like and how long your list is.

4. Write a one sentence plot summary based around each of the circled concepts.

- I want to stress that a single-sentence summary should take you no more than five minutes each. You're brainstorming here. If you find yourself unable to come up with something within five minutes, move on to the next concept on your list and come back to it later.

- Feel free to merge two or more concepts into a single plot summary if it strikes your fancy. If you can't fit it all into one sentence, don't worry; you'll get the chance to expand on it in the next step.

- If you have more than one idea for a sentence summary for a single concept, go for it! Write as many as you feel like. This part of the process isn't limited to once concept, one sentence. Keep going for as long as you can. The more you have when you're finished, the more you'll have to choose from.

Example summary from my list above:

"A God, imprisoned in mortal form by his sister, seeks a way to free himself and exact his revenge."

Okay, I know that isn't going to win any awards, but it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about. Don't worry about quality here; you're simply trying to churn out as many of these as you can. You can always tweak later.

Another example using the same concept merged with another:

"In a world where science and magic are one, where mystery, mysticism and religion are disdained and ignored lives a boy, the living incarnation of a god old and forgotten, whose emergence into the world once again will send the lives of all who encounter him spinning out of control in ways no one could imagine."

Much better than the first one, even if I cheated a bit and made an awfully long sentence there. It's okay if you fudge the rules a bit, the important thing is the end result. See how I took two concepts, "Gods in mortal form" and "Magic as science" and slapped them together into one idea?

5. Pick any of your single-sentence summaries and turn it into a single-paragraph summary.

- Try to incorporate your sentence into the paragraph.

- This should read a bit like the blurb on the back of a novel might.

- You can do this with as many of your sentences as you like. I can almost guarantee there will be a few that won't work for you, so don't feel bad about scrapping them and focusing on the ones you DO like.

- But what if I don't like any of them? Tough cookies. I expect you to pick at least one and make it into a paragraph. You might surprise yourself. Or it might just suck, but honestly, I dare you to do this and come out without a plot bunny that's at least passable. It's amazing what we can dredge out of our own heads when we put our minds to it.

Example paragraph:

"In a world where magic and science are one, where mystery, mysticism and religion are disdained and ignored, lives a boy. He is the living incarnation of a god old and forgotten, though he has no knowledge of the powerful creature residing within him. As he ages, the god begins to emerge, taking him away from home and family, tearing him from everything he knows and loves. He struggles constantly with Other in his mind, as the god himself puts into the works a holy revolution the likes of which the world has never known, changing the lives of countless people, and possibly the world, forever. Caught in the tide of change being wrought by the creature with which he shares his mind and body, the boy fights to hold on to his mind, his sense of self, in a struggle that becomes increasingly difficult and the Other grows stronger.

Will he survive? Or will he find himself crushed beneath the weight of a will so much stronger than his own?"

I cheated again, since it is technically two paragraphs, but since the last bit was really for dramatic emphasis, its okay. Try to keep it to a single paragraph if you can, though.

Once you're finished, take a look through what you've done. I can almost guarantee you'll have at least one workable idea that you want to use. I actually like the idea in the above paragraph. I think I might even use it, hehe. Least if this doesn't help anyone, I may have gotten something from it. ^^

And you're done! Like I said, you should have at least one plot bunny that begs to be expanded upon. From here, you're on your own. Get started on worldbuilding, flesh out characters, at a few more bones to the plot skeleton, whatever you want! You have your starting point. ;)

If this helps anyone, please post here, I'd like to hear about it. ^^
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