From a Spark to a Fire: A Look at My NaNoWriMo Preparations

8:16 AM

There are officially only ten days until November, which means there's only a little over a week until NaNoWriMo starts! Today, I started to plan out what I'll be writing for NaNoWriMo and feel in no way prepared.

For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month in which writers are challenged to write 50,000 words of a first draft of a novel by the end of November. I participated last year and managed to write 50,006 words of the first draft of my novel, but I think a large part of my success was due to the fact that I started plotting out that novel three months before NaNoWriMo began. Yep, that's right, I plotted the novel August-October and wrote the first 50,000 words of it last November. 

Even though it makes my November hectic and stressful, I've decided to participate in NaNoWriMo again with a new story this November because my eyes are always bigger than my stomach when it comes to both writing and desserts. I thought some of you might be interested in my writing process, so I've decided to share a bit of the planning I do before I sit down to write the first sentence of my novel on November 1st.

Step 1: The Spark

Ideas come to writers in different ways, but I usually get my writing ideas from the books I read and my life. Sometimes, it's an idea of a character or a small plot point that the sparks my imagination. Other times, it's a piece of a conversation I overheard. Below are two different examples of writing ideas that have sparked my imagination. They're both ideas I have for novels I might write for this year's NaNoWriMo, and I'm hoping writing this blog post will help me settle on which one to write this November.

Story Idea A: Some of my favorite books have been about characters who learn how to do magic. I thought it would be fun to write a story which takes place at a magic school, but I didn't want it to be the typical magic school story. I began to think about what I could do make my story different. I sorted through various "What if?" scenarios before landing on "What if the main character hides the fact that she doesn't have any magical powers in order to attend magic school?" This idea struck my fancy, so I decided to explore it a bit more.

Story Idea B: I love to bake and wanted to write about a character who wants to open up her own bakery. Because I love fantasy, I wanted to give the story some sort of supernatural twist. I began thinking, "What if the main character is a demon and has to juggle working at a bakery with her nightly duties of collecting souls for the Devil?" Or, "What if the main character made a deal with the Devil? What if it wasn't the Devil she made a deal with? What if she made a deal with The Prince of Darkness, one of many princes of Hell, because the Devil is too busy to make deals with every sad soul looking to make a deal?" 

I didn't get both of these ideas at the same time. I wrote the first two chapters of Story Idea B about two years ago but the story never got off the ground due to lack of planning before I started writing, and I came up with Story Idea A about a year ago but never went any further with it. In order to build both of these story sparks into a flame, they need to be fleshed out with each main character's external and internal goals and motivations.

Step 2: Adding Fuel for the Fire

A spark of fire will burn out quickly without fuel to sustain it, and the same is true of a story idea. In order for a spark to become a roaring fire, it needs wood (or something flammable) and oxygen. I'm going to continue with this fire metaphor so bear with me. Once you have the spark of an idea, you need to decide what the protagonist's goal is as well as what motivates him/her. In other words, you need to feed your idea with some wood (goal) and oxygen (motivation).

People in real life and characters in books have both external and internal goals and motivations (though people and characters usually don't think about or even know what their internal goals and motivations are unless they are incredibly reflective and self-aware).

Goal=What does the character want?

Motivation=What gets this character to act?

When I sat down today to try to figure out which story idea I should write for NaNoWriMo, I decided to develop the external and internal goals and motivations of the main characters of both stories.

Story Idea A:

External Goal: The main character (MC) wants to hide the fact that she doesn't have any magical powers so she can attend and graduate from magic school.

External Motivation: If people find out the MC doesn't have magic, she'll be expelled from magic school, shunned by her magical family, and barred from the magical community.

Internal Goal: The MC wants to be accepted and loved by her family for who she is.

Internal Motivation: The MC feels she doesn't fit in, and she doesn't like being different.

Story Idea B:

External Goal: The MC wants to open up her own bakery.

External Motivation: Owning her own bakery has been the MC's dream job since childhood.

Internal Goal: The MC wants to be happy (and have something of her own of she can be proud of).

Internal Motivation: The MC is not content and feels like she hasn't accomplished anything with her life.

Step 3: Do Your Best to Put Out the Fire aka Creating Conflict

Now that you've built up a nice fire, it's time to pour some water on that fire because life isn't fair. No matter how much you try to plan for and avoid problems in life, they still come up and get in the way of you attaining your goals. In books, as in life, triumphs and victories are made all the sweeter if they are not easy to obtain. Stories need conflict. Something or someone needs to stand in the way between the protagonist and his/her goal. Good stories often have more than one conflict, but at this planning stage it's important to think of the big external and internal conflicts the protagonist faces. Below are the conflicts I came up with for my two story ideas.

Story Idea A:

External Conflict: In order to graduate from magic school, the MC must demonstrate magical powers she doesn't have during her final examination.

Internal Conflict The MC sees herself as too ordinary and thinks her magical family and friends wouldn't stick by her if they found out she has no magical powers.

Story Idea B:

External Conflict: The MC doesn't have enough money to open up her own bakery and unknowingly signs a deal with with a prince of Hell. If her bakery isn't a success by the end of the year, he'll own her soul for all eternity.

Internal Conflict: The MC doesn't know if she can be happy with all of the morally gray decisions she's made in pursuit of her dream job.

Step 4: Let the Story Simmer

The last step in this stage of my planning process is to let my story idea simmer. I focus on other things going on in my life, but the story idea is still floating around in my head. It's percolating. How long I let a story idea simmer varies; however, since November is right around the corner, I'm going to let my two story ideas simmer for one day before I choose which story I'm going to write and then start planning out the plot. 

That, in a nutshell, is how I take an idea for a story and build it up into something a bit more. Next week, I'll share a bit more of my plotting process with you (I'll briefly touch on character development, setting, and plot).

Let's connect! Which of my story ideas sounds more intriguing to you? Story Idea A or Story Idea B? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How do you prepare? Comment below!

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  1. BOTH OF THEM OMG. 😍😍 No, honestly, I would go pick these two books off the shelf IMMEDIATELY with no hesitation because a demon bakery is 100% my thing and also a magician who isn't a magician would be flawlessly wonderful. :') I think you have epic story spark skills there. :D
    I love seeing other writers' processes too, so this is really cool. :D My process generally is me gathering together a bunch of things I like and then stitching them until they're a semi-acceptable story. Sometimes it comes really fast, sometimes it's like pulling teeth. 😂 But such is the writers life, right?!

    1. Thanks for reading, Cait! I am so torn between the two different story ideas, though I think I might be leaning more toward the MC who hides the fact that she has no magical powers in order to attend magic school. I'll sleep on it before I make my decision though:)


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