NaNoWriMo Prep: The Anatomy Of A Novel Part I

After my last post, I received a question asking: how much prep can you really do for NaNoWriMo? And that’s a really good question.  I’m aware that there’s different types of writers out there, some people just write and go, letting the flow take them where it needs to. This really isn’t for a writer more in that camp.

I, like most people, have limited time. So I have to plan my writing. I may get 30 minutes here, an hour there, and I need to make sure that is maximized if I’m going to hit goals. NaNoWriMo isn’t the hardest goal to hit, as it breaks down to about 1,667 words per day, which I do pretty regularly, but if you miss a few days or get stuck, it can be overwhelming to catch up.

I plan a bit ahead of time so I don’t have to worry about what I’m writing, I just have to execute what I already intended on doing.

Which brings me to part one of my Anatomy Of A Novel series: Where Do Ideas Come From?

About the most embarrassing moment in interacting with professional writers came to me at San Diego Comic-Con 2008. Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel Comics’s most famous writers from notable work such as The Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man, among many others, was giving a nice speech on writing. I, as a young’n was rather impressed that he had more than 4 monthly comic books going at the time, and with events we’d sometimes see 6-8 on the shelves. So I got up to the microphone and asked him, “How do you find yourself so productive to be able to do this month after month?” hoping I’d find a secret to planning to be able to be that productive myself.

“Dude,” Brian Bendis said, looking me in the eyes, “You just asked me where ideas come from.”

I was rightly reprimanded and embarrassed. He did talk to me, and was super nice after that, which I appreciate to this day.

For those of us who have interacted with writers before, there’s a cliché that they are asked that very question more than anything else. And there’s no good answer. It’s not as if they can give you ideas.

I can’t give you that answer either, but, you do need to generate an idea that’s going to hold your interest through an entire novel writing process. I personally come up with story ideas all day long. I’m lost in my head, daydreaming about far away space battles or a Wild West gunfight outside a saloon.  For this stage of preparation, we just need a solid plan for where we’re starting.  I start by asking myself a first question:

What Genre am I interested in writing?

Picking a category isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re the type that has an idea that is artistically unique, but if you’re there, you already have an idea and don’t need this exercise. For the rest of us, it helps to narrow down what we want to say. For me, I’m coming out with a Space Opera novel in about a month’s time, so I figure the best plan is to write another Space Opera.

At that point, I think, “well, what do I want to say in the space opera genre?”  What am I interested in that could be different in a Science Fiction setting, or tell me something about my own thoughts?  So I start brainstorming things that appeal to me:

  • Christianity in Space, that’s an interesting topic and not explored much outside of Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. I’ve got an outline for a story of that, but I’m not ready to write it right now.
  • Baseball in Space. I do love baseball. I just wrote a novella of that though J
  • Politics in space. Politics are on everyone’s mind right now, as this is a particularly dirty season. That lends itself to some conflict and I like that… let’s think about that one more. So what about politics?

And I break down my thoughts from there to generate my idea. Usually I start with a few ideas, and either merge them together or take the ones that feel most interesting to me. It’s not a science, but the narrowing down process does help me focus.

What I came up with is this:

An honest politician is rare, so what if we had one who controlled a large portion of human space. Those even higher than him are rushing humanity into war with an alien race, and he doesn’t like it. In protest, he publically steps down, taking a route that most don’t in abdicating power. An interesting place to start, and definitely an idea.  You can see how the media would frenzy if that happened in real life, and how it would create conflict in the world around as a power vacuum is created.  So where do we go from there?

We have to get to know our characters first to figure out what they’d do. And that’ll be a blog for next time!

Jon

Hey, if you like my ideas, you may like my forthcoming book. It’s Space Opera too, as I mentioned. So look for an announcement in a few days!

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