If you’re like me, you are waiting until the very end of October to choose your story idea for your NaNoWriMo novel. That’s right, I’ve been doing NaNo for about five years now, and still, every time, I wait until the last minute to launch myself into a month of chaos, telling myself I’ll figure it out along the way. Somehow it’s always worked for me. I turned in my second novel to a local novel writing contest 6 minutes before the deadline (and I won). I’ve written a NaNo novel and worked up into the last hours to finish it.
I’m not encouraging procrastination. Just that for some people like me, it inevitably happens, and it still ends up okay. No matter how much I tell myself I will plot out my entire novel and write an outline so I know exactly where I’m heading, it just doesn’t happen. And I’ve accepted that.
If you can’t stand outlines or if the word “plot” is enough to get you scrambling under the covers, there is still something you can do to get ready for NaNo!
Figure out your character. If I do nothing else, I like to create a little character questionnaire. This is not intimidating because it is basically not much more than a list. Lists I can do! I write lists of things to do all the time—the actual doing is the hard part.
Anyway, because it’s just a list, the idea is that it is un-time-consuming and fun. To start your character questionnaire, write down how your character looks physically. You know you’re going to come up with that first anyway—and you might as well get it down now, because having an image of your character in your mind might help anyway. Then, think of a sensory detail about them other than how they look. Maybe they always smell like soap. Or maybe they stutter when they talk.
Next, think about how your character thinks—what goes on inside their head. Do they make sarcastic commentary about their surroundings that never leaves their lips? Do they think about their absent father every time they see a carnival corn dog wrapper? Maybe they calculate probability before making any kind of decision.
Finally, what is it that your character wants in your story? Maybe a teen wants to win a science fair because she thinks that will catch the attention of a boy she likes in class. Then, maybe something about the character’s personality stops this want from happening. So, perhaps the teen’s obsession with calculating probabilities of her science project working and of the boy noticing her is discouraging her from making any moves at all. That makes conflict.
Hey, conflict! That is basically right on the edge of plot. So stop there before your internal panic button alarm goes off. And you now have a character! When November comes around, you can look at what you now know about your character and ask why? Why do they always smell like soap? And this will push you straight into story.
Okay, yes, technically this character questionnaire is planning. But hey, it’s pretty painless, right? If you want to try a template for a questionnaire, try out one like this!