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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What You Need Before You Begin Your Novel: The Bare Minimum

There are as many novel-planning styles as there are novel-writing styles.  And there are as many writing styles as there are writers.  No two are alike.

Therefore, the number of different novel-planning styles is infinite. 

How cool is that?  Everyone has their own way of preparing.  At one end of the spectrum, there's the people who fill out extensive outlines and chapter summaries and use the snowflake method.  At the other end, we have writers who dive right in without hardly any planning. 

Some of you probably know exactly what your style is.  You know your methods, and what works for you.  But some of you might not know.  The best way to figure out is to try different things, and see what you like best. 

Who is doing National Novel Writing Month this year (where writers write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November)?  Anyone?  I'm not, but some of you are.  And if you haven't started planning your novel yet, you probably want to get on that about two weeks ago.  Or right now. 

What is the minimum amount of preparation I need for my novel?

There are two answers to this, according to my novel-writing philosophy.  Answer one is that you don't need any planning at all.  That is, if you want to spend loads of time editing.  Okay, you'll spend loads of time editing no matter what you do, but this will take you loads more time.  Unless you're a magical being that spits out perfect novels in one draft.  (If that's you, then can we trade lives?  Please?)

Otherwise, you're going to need two things, at minimum, before you begin writing.  The first thing is a main character who wants something.  (You might also have heard this as conflict.)  You don't have to know anything about your main character, necessarily, except what they want.  This is the core of your story.  This is your plot.  Your  character wants something, whether it's a physical object, a person, a mental state, escape from something, etc. 

The second thing is an ending.  You don't have to know much in the way of specifics, but you should have a fairly clear idea of where your novel is headed.  If you don't know your ending, you probably don't know the steps you need to take to get to that ending.  Your run a good chance of rambling on and on and having a story with a confused direction.  And you don't want to have to edit that out, believe me. 

Now, I would never start only knowing these two things.  I'm a planner, both in life and in writing.  I don't plan much more than the skeleton of my novel, but I still have a bit of an outline to work with.  Not having a plan tends to freak me out a little (what can I say?  I'm INTJ.  We like to plot stuff.  We are the 'masterminds'.  Gracias to whoever decided to call us that). 

But you're not me.  Thank goodness, because my brain wouldn't really like to have two bodies.  And because you're not me, you might be someone who doesn't like to plan their novel.  In that case, you can start your novel knowing the two bare minimums.  Beware, might be overly difficult for you.  Or it might be your cup of tea.  Who knows?

What's your planning style?  Are you doing NaNoWriMo?  (Also, anyone know their Meyers-Briggs code?  I enjoy discussing them.  And while I'm at it, what are your thoughts on two bodies with the same brain?  I'm almost kind of tossing around the idea for a novel possibly maybe someday.)

Before you begin your novel, you might also need a computer with a keyboard.  Or a pencil and paper, or writing utensils of some sort, calligraphy brush, quill and ink, stone tablet, whatever magicalness Tom Riddle spelled his name with on the Chamber of Secrets, or whatever you write with.  Just so you know. :)

For more NaNoWriMo prep, check out my complete list of writing articles.  If you have any writing questions, comment on this post (or any old post), or send me a note at theanniemarie(at)gmail(dot)com.

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  1. I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this month (I have exams :( ) But a lot of my friends are :)
    I always plan. I learned my lesson from the hundred of stories started but never finished because I didn't know how it ended. Now, I plot out every chapter - otherwise I end up wasting my actual writing time by trying to decide what to do next.
    Incidentally, my Meyer-Briggs code is also INTJ *high fives* :D


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