Maybe you’ve just heard about NaNoWriMo and you think it’s too late to join this year, since it starts in 12 hours. Or maybe you thought you had an idea and now you hate it and the thought of writing it makes you throw up just a little bit in your mouth.
Don’t let a little thing like not having a story idea prevent you from participating in NaNoWriMo. It’s just an excuse, not a real reason. So, just so that you can’t use it as an excuse, I’ve come up with a little guide to coming up with a story idea in the next 12 hours.
Side note: The first year I did NaNo, I didn’t start until November 3rd! And I still managed to get 90,000 words done during the month! So I don’t want to hear “it’s too late!”
1. Start With a Concept
This is kind of like a theme, but not quite. The concept for The Difference Between Flying and Falling was the idea that just because two people love each other with all their hearts doesn’t mean they won’t be shitty to each other and hurt each other. That gave me the basis for the rest of the story.
One way to come up with your concept is to start asking yourself “What if…?” questions. What if someone started leaving anonymous gifts on your front porch? What if dragons were real but only kids could see them? What if pigs could fly? What if someone hated ice cream?
2. Create a Mashup
This is kind of how I came up with the idea for my other NaNoWriMo project, Music for the End of the World. It’s a mashup of Firefly, Tank Girl, Mad Max, and The Road, with some steampunk elements thrown in for good measure. Think about some of your favorite stories, whether they’re books, TV shows, movies, or something else, and think of what might result if you combined them.
3. Retell an Old Story
Pick your favorite classic or fairy tale and retell it. Give it a modern twist, or set it in a different time period (Cinderella in the Great Depression, anyone?), change the gender of the main character, transform it into a different genre (sci-fi Pride & Prejudice, maybe?), or make any other changes you think could make it better/awesomer/wordier.
Related: Write fan fiction for a modern story. Just realize you won’t be able to publish it.
4. Visit the NaNoWriMo Adoption Society
The NaNoWriMo Adoption Society is the most wonderful part of the entire forums, as far as I’m concerned. There are adoption threads for everything you could possibly think of, including entire plots. This is where I got the titles for both of my projects this year.
5. Look at the News
This is particularly effective if you want to write a tragedy. Or something that’s completely unbelievable.
6. Give a Familiar Trope a New Spin
TV Tropes is a great place to get ideas. See what’s already been done and give it a new twist. Combine completely unrelated tropes and see what happens.
7. Check Out Your Friends’ Facebook Timelines for Juicy Ideas
Okay, this is potentially a great way to ruin some friendships if you don’t change a lot of details. But have you ever really looked at the drama that people broadcast on Facebook? From a writer’s perspective, it’s kinda awesome.
8. Brainstorm or Free Write for 15 Minutes
Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind, no matter how stupid or pointless it seems. See if any great ideas pop up.
Related: Go for a long walk or drive and let your mind wander. Go down roads you’ve never been on before.
9. Reverse an Expectation
Take a familiar character or situation, and look at it from the opposite perspective. Make an unlikely character your protagonist (or villain). Make something happen in an unlikely place. See where this takes you. Probably the most famous example of this kind of writing is Wicked (The Wizard of Oz told from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view).
Bonus: Create a Step Outline
Once you have your idea, you may want to create a very basic outline to help guide you throughout November. Here’s what to include:
Inciting Incident/Call to Action: This is what gets the story started.
End of Act I: A high-conflict story that falls about a quarter of the way through the story.
Midpoint: This should be another high-conflict scene.
End of Act II: A major, high-stakes test that propels the story toward the climax.
Climax: The last conflict scene, where the story’s outcome is decided.
This gives you points to aim for throughout the story. Just don’t be afraid to change it as you write, if you feel the need to.