You’ve signed up on the NaNoWriMo site. You’ve introduced yourself in your regional forum. You’ve donated and acquired a shiny new halo around your picture.
And now it’s time to fill out the information about your novel and…crap.
Finding something to actually write about is sometimes the most panic-inducing part of NaNoWriMo—or at least, of October.
Maybe you’ve had an idea knocking around in your head for a while , in which case, good for you! Or maybe you’ve got an idea, but you just aren’t sure how to make it go for 50,000 words. Or maybe you’re more like me and just know that you want to write, even if you aren’t exactly sure what.
Every year I’ve done NaNo, I’ve found myself stumbling across the idea for my novel in vastly different ways, sometimes with just a couple of days to spare before I have to start writing.
So if you’re in that moment of “I don’t know what to write!” panic, stop, take a deep breath, and take a look at some of the different ways you can scrounge up something worth spending an entire month writing.
Look at the genres you like to read/watch.
At least twice, I’ve come across an idea for a story just because I really, really wanted to tell a story in a certain genre. In 2009, I was getting into Star Trek for the first time, and as a long-time fan of space opera like Star Wars and Firefly, I wanted to tell a story in that genre.
In 2011, I fell in love with steampunk and gaslamp fantasy (thanks to Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series and the a-freaking-mazing webcomic Girl Genius), and I had a pre-existing soft spot for historical romance. Throw all that in the cooker, and I ended up with the idea for my 2011 NaNo novel.
So here are some questions to ask:
What excites you about your favorite genre?
What inspires you with your favorite shows? Is it the setting? The characters?
What kind of a twist would you want to put on it?
Are there any aspects of the world that aren’t explored as much as you’d like? What would you do with them?
What would happen if you combined your two favorite genres?
Check out the Adoption Society forum.
The NaNoWriMo site is a hotbed of awesome ideas, and in the Adoption Society forum, they’re all up for grabs! I spent two hours scouring the Adopt a Plot thread in 2010, and came out of it with a couple of new plot bunnies, one of which turned into my novel for that year.
Find a plot. Find a character. Find a title. Find a setting, an heirloom, a plot twist, a theme, or even the opening line for your novel.
As of this writing, there are nearly 100 threads in the Adoption Society and more than 3,000 posts, so go on and take a peek! You’d be surprised at what might spark an idea for you.
Take a dare.
The NaNo dares are infamous at this point. Yes, the thread says it’s a word count trick, but two of my favorite characters in my 2010 novel were built off dares. And trying to work a dare into your story? Can take you to some pretty awesome places.
Go for the double and triple bonus points and see where you end up.
Scour your own “backlist.”
I feel like I’ve told this story a million times, but I figured out my first NaNo novel in approximately 10 minutes with the following line of thought: “Crap. I have to start something new. I don’t have any ideas. Wait. I have a short story from high school I always wanted to turn into a novel. I’ll do that!”
Do you have short stories you want to expand? Characters who’ve been discarded and left unexplored? Ideas collecting dust in your file? Bring them out and take a look at them and see what you come up with. Maybe try combining a couple of the ideas, or a new genre and one of your characters, and see what happens.
Take the jokes you make with your friends a little more seriously.
Have you ever said to your friends “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny to write a story about…” and then finished it off with something completely ridiculous? Because of course, you wouldn’t actually write a story about that; you’re just being funny.
Well, why not? My 2012 NaNo novel started out as a joke between some of my Twitter friends, each of us riffing on what we would include in a mash-up of Star Wars, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey. And then when I started trying to actually plot it, I realized I’d found an idea for NaNo.
Not every plot idea has to be the next Great American Novel. Maybe you just want to write something funny and ridiculous. (Believe me, NaNo is a prime time to write funny and ridiculous.)
Ideas can come from anywhere. So if you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. Just collect a bunch on scraps of paper or on your computer and then see where the wind takes you on November 1.
So how do YOU idea?