NaNoWriMo starts in eight days. I started working on the background for this year’s NaNoWriMo project last January. I had an idea for a story and started developing it, finishing the work in September. Yes, it took me that long. Of course, I had other things to do in addition to my story development, so it took longer than it would have if I’d worked on it forty hours a week. Still, it took a fair amount of work.
First, I got to know my characters by writing up a Mini-bio taken from Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, (Writer’s Digest Books, c. 2005, p.16) on each of them. I don’t know about other writers/authors, but I need to know who my characters are before I can write about them. You do this by answering some questions about your character. There are several fine character charts available on the Internet. I found seven just searching the term “character chart” in yahoo search. Google, or Bing or any other search engine will bring the same if not more of them. Keep in mind that you don’t have to answer all the questions in a character chart to get to know your character. It just helps. At least, it helps me.
Then I mapped out the action, writing short scene descriptions. For each of the scenes, I wrote a short synopsis of the action. That took me until about the end of June. These synopses form the backbone of my story. They serve as my outline. Some people write by the seat of their pants, making decisions on where they are going with a story on the fly. I do that too sometimes, but I find having a general idea of where I am headed helps me. I do the scene descriptions to help me figure out how to pace the story. In writing for NaNoWriMo, it also helps me to determine how many words I should have by when if I can map the scenes to the writing time. It doesn’t always work, but I try it anyway. The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I did this and found that I’d only mapped out the first half of the story I wanted to tell. I wrote the last half on the fly. The second year, I found that I needed more scenes as I wrote the story to control the pacing better. For me the scene descriptions are guideposts, not a road map.
The final step was research. I know many people research first, but I need to know where my story was going so that I could determine what else I needed to know. In this case, I needed to research the Dark Ages, the period just before the medieval period. Specifically, I need to know how they laid out their villages and how the culture of Britain operated. I couldn’t do that until I had made certain decisions about the story action. Once I did that, I could adjust the action to suite the terrain better.
After that, I left it alone. In the next few days, I will begin reading the material over and immersing myself in the world I created for NaNoWriMo. On November 1, I will be ready to run with it. Wish me luck with it. If you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, I hope you win.