So you want to do NaNoWriMo, but you’re not really good at this plot thing. Maybe you’ve written short stories but not a novel, maybe you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but you don’t have any idea of how to make a plot. Maybe you’ve written or are writing your Good Novel Idea, and want to do NaNoWriMo but can’t think of anything.
Maybe your mind is just blank and you are panicking because NaNoWriMo starts in 2 days, and you find yourself googling things like “What should I write for NaNoWriMo” and “I don’t know what to write for NaNoWriMo” (yeah, we’ve all done it).
First, take a deep breath – your brain isn’t that bad at coming up with ideas. Plus, your chance of writing something you’ll turn around and let anyone actually read (shudder) in November is slim to none, not without a ton of editing, anyway. So relax.
Second, I’m here to help. I’ve created a formula for a quick plot generator.
In case you missed it, I wrote a novel a month for a year, plus two in November. I know all about needing to come up with a plot and fast. In fact, some of my favorite novels started with this formula. Don’t worry about originality – it’ll be original because you are writing it.
Step 1: Choose your fable.
We all have hundreds of ready-made stories at our fingertips in the form of fairy tales, bible stories, greek myths, comic book plots, shakespeare plays, and classic literature. Choose your destiny.
That’s right – you’re going to re-tell a story. There are so many to choose from, and any adaptation can be completely brilliant. This works over and over again: the movie Clueless is a retelling of Jane Austin’s Emma, and 10 Things I Hate About You is a retelling of Taming of the Shrew. The Matrix trilogy is basically a science fiction Jesus story. The list goes on.
Just comb through your favorite old stories (that secret Disney collection is finally paying off) and choose one.* Write a brief synopsis so you have an idea of what story you’re getting into.
*Except Romeo and Juliet. Please, please, stop let the star-crossed lovers crap rest in peace. Please, I’m begging you.
Step 2: Choose your setting
All an old story needs is a new coat of paint. Put The Little Mermaid in the arctic, tell Les Miserables as a zombie apocalypse, re-tell the Prometheus myth as an Edward Snowden allegory. Whatever. People will think you’re a genius.
(And feel free to use these examples.)
Step 3: Choose your cast
Again, we’re not going to go outside the box too much. Think of all the stereotypes and tropes you’ve been avoiding all this time: The Jock, The Emo, The Manic-Mixie Dream Girl, etc. Don’t overthink it, just choose who is going to play what part in your myth. Have fun with it – make Hamlet the kid of two dads, cast Sleeping Beauty as the Town Drunk, whatever.
Step 4: Give your cast quirks
Just like we reinvigorated our chosen story with a new setting, we can make a stereotype a person with just a little chink in their armor.
No matter how you cast your novel, give each character at least one quirk. Quirks are the hallmark of character (how boring would Indiana Jones be without his fear of snakes?). This is fun: give The Jock a secret collection of romance novels, The Emo’s headphones are actually playing Abba instead of Black Sabbath, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl has an advanced degree in Mathematics and a tendency to quote the bible.
Now, instead of tropes, you have a cast of interesting characters – just like that. They’ll grow into people as you write.
Bonus: Give all of them multiple-word names to up your word count.
Now, just write.
Probably start with a sketch of the plot, what characters are what tropes, their quirks, and names.
Then, just let it go. Write it and don’t hold on too tightly – let your characters take over, run about, and make a mess. When you get lost, return to the original idea and go from there. You’ll have a novel before you know it.