I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve got 4 separate projects I could conceivably work on during this period. None of them are just blank screens. I feel like this is a pretty good situation to be in. What if I were in the situation of not having a project at the ready? What would I do? Honestly, I don’t know. Usually, I start a project with a single concept, maybe a sentence or a few words. Deep Space Help Desk was a concept that I’d been kicking around for a while without much luck. Then an overheard conversation at work, jostled my mind into the right place for it, and things started coming together. For Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I had a single phrase that I built a story around. The other two WIPs, one I’m calling The Dark Queen of Darkness, and the other Thittlebod or Penelope H. Adventure (That one doesn’t have much of a name yet), these both came from something much less tangible.
In the latter two cases described above, I started with characters. I love it when a viable story starts out this way. Immediately compelling characters offer that illusive hook that writers so often talk about. Not only that, it gives me a non-flat character right away, as my wife will tell you, I struggle with character. When a character jumps off the page with what, as a writer, feels like a bit too much force, that’s the sweet spot. The only thing to be done is to observe the world through their eyes. I particularly enjoy characters who are either completely hopeless at what they do and really don’t belong wherever it is they happen to be, or they’re full experts, but in either case are inexplicably surrounded by nonsense. I love walking the character through the nonsense because it makes the dialogue much more interesting and gives me a lot of freedom with respect to what other characters say and do. Not to mention, as a writer, I can add twists that make little sense, because the main character will be quite as confused as the reader. This is excellent. If the main character is saying “Wait. What the hell just happened?” At the same moment this occurs to the reader, the reader is on the side of the protagonist and much more likely to follow along with whatever is going on.
I think if I were starting fresh, with no real sense of where I was heading with NaNo, I think I’d start with a character and a vague sense of setting. I’d let the character’s motivations determine the plot. After all, the plot is just a series of events that prevent the MC from getting what they want and the process by which that MC overcomes the obstacles and changes as a result. Anyhow, now I’m off to pound away on my non-NaNo project before I have to switch gears. Good luck to all the NaNo participants out there!