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NaNoWriMo Workshop – Find, and Flush Out, an Idea

October 18, 2008

Welcome to Write Anything’s NaNoWriMo workshops! We’re taking this opportunity to help you prepare for NaNoWriMo next month. Please keep in mind, we’re not experts, we are simply writers who are sharing ideas. What works for me, may not work for you. BUT, it might give you an idea of where to start with your own writing. If you have your own tips or ideas you would like to share with the “class” (the Internet is a BIG class!), then by all means, comment. We love comments. 🙂

First things first, in order to write a story, you need an idea.

Of course, finding this great idea is easier said than done.

In fact, let’s not even call it a GREAT idea at all. Let’s simply look for an idea – if you put too much pressure on yourself, to find that all-elusive idea that is going to catapult you into being the next great American novelist, then you’ll likely put too much pressure on yourself and not settle on any one idea at all.

The greatest source of ideas for fiction is experience. It doesn’t even have to be your experience, the experience can belong to someone else; you can observe someone else’s struggle and use it for a story.

Don’t have a story idea? Karen Wiesner, the author of First Draft in 30 Days suggests you try brainstorming.

Constant brainstorming, or brewing (think coffeepot), is the most important part of writing an outline or a book. No writing system, technique, or tool will work for you … if you’re not brainstorming constantly during a project. You must brainstorm from the beginning of a project – before you even write a word of it – through the outlining, the writing, and the final edit and polish.

I firmly believe that creative writing is 75 percent brewing, 25 percent actual writing. Some writers are mentally involved with their stories that brainstorming takes the form of “mini-movies” reeling through their heads.

Or in my case, my dreams.

Don’t try to rein in or discipline your brainstorming – no matter how inconvenient it is. Brainstorming is what turns an average story into an extraordinary one.

Okay, so we need to keep our brains in permanent percolate mode. Let’s explore some ways to generate ideas:

  • Combine two story concepts – like Adam and Eve and Star Wars, for example.
  • Read the newspaper – take the event and weave a story around it. In the mood for a challenge? Open your story with that event and then write a story backward, to the beginning (like in the movie “Memento“).
  • Watch movies. Take a character from one movie and force him/her to interact with another character from a different movie. What sort of situation might arise by placing these very different characters in the same setting?
  • Take a story you really like – now tell it differently.
  • Take a story you really like – and write an alternate ending.
  • Look for controversial topics. Controversy gets noticed, and then more people read your writing. Find a new angle on some hot topic.
  • Generate a book title and then write a story based around that title. (This sometimes works for me).
  • Browse the odd news stories on Yahoo. (I often use this as a source for short stories. Seriously, there is nothing stranger than truth, seriously).
  • Draw on your childhood.
  • Look into the lives of your ancestors and tell their stories. Use your imagination and fill in the gaps.
  • Take a secondary character from a favorite story and write his/her story.

Now, let’s assume you have come up with an idea for your story. How can you flush it out?

Write a synopsis. Now I know this sounds strange, considering we usually think of writing a synopsis after our story is finished, but writing a synopsis before we write our story can actually help us mold our idea into something workable.

From the start, it is a good idea to keep a notebook next to the computer or have notepad open on the computer for planning purposes. The synopsis is usually written from the omniscient point of view and in present tense, but I like to write the pre-planned version of the story from any one of the characters point of view. Later, when it comes to writing the real synopsis, this point of view can be changed very easily. Source.

One of my favorite writing blogs, Paperback Writer, had this to say about synopsis:

With all due respect to the organic writers out there, I advocate writing the synopsis before writing one word of the novel. For me, it organizes my thoughts and reassures me on a couple of levels. I know if I can write an effective synopsis, I know the story inside and out.

I also use synopses for nailing down annoying/lengthy story ideas that won’t get out of my head. It helps get the pesky stuff that I don’t have time to write out of my head, and I always feel good dropping a full synopsis into the idea file.

Here are some links to help you get started on a synopsis:

Five Steps to Writing a Synopsis

Writing a Novel Synopsis

Here are some great questions
that will help you flesh out your story idea and writing your synopsis.

Still drawing a blank? Here are some writing exercises that may help jump-start your creative idea juices.

  • Two or three pages. Write down your first three memories. Can you make a story out of any of them? Try.
  • Two to three pages. Write down the first dreams you remember. Don’t mention that they are dreams.
  • Recall a physical or verbal fight, and construct it as one scene.
  • Two to three pages. Think about an incident that you avoid remembering – or can’t clearly remember – and write about it.
  • Write about a moment of terror you experienced, or about a blow to your pride.
  • Two to three pages. Write “My mother never … ” at the of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going.
  • Read Bible stories. Can you make variations?
  • Do historical events intrigue you? Do you keep wondering how things really happened? Write one to two pages.
  • Two to three pages. Imagine some event that could have happened to you but did not – something that you wanted or feared.

Well, what are you waiting for? Brainstorm! 🙂

Did you write a blog entry about finding ideas or writing a synopsis? Leave us a link in the comment section!

Tomorrow: Setting

One Comment
  1. October 18, 2008 3:20 am

    Thanks for this – quite a comprehensive and elaborate posting, with one or two links I liked enough to put onto my blog.

    I do have a sort of idea for NaNoWriMo but have not gone so far as a synopsis. Nano allows for that and from this post I can see it should be the next step. But I remain unconvinced as to the viability or “worthiness” of my idea. The idea is to interleave a blog with a narrative, rather like some trendy modern novels have done with Emails and the like. Part of the inspiration comes from my own life, being new to blogging since mid-September. Part comes from a possibly lazy thinking that I can “harvest” words from my own blog where I can post the blog narrative part of the story.

    So it is still in the germinal phase and feedback is welcome (no doubt I SHOULD make a post, but for that I feel I Do need a synopsis). the title did suggest itself directly from the theme, as being “Fred Blogs” or maybe “Joe Blogs” (I’m not sure which name is more commonly used as an English equivalent to “John Doe”).

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