National novel writing month: brainstorming

Writing a novel: how daunting does that sound?

It’s November–National Novel Writing Month, and you have probably heard of the 30-day novel writing challenge. If you are brave and determined enough to participate, we want to give you some tips as you begin the brainstorming process.

How do you come up with an idea for a novel? Do you take long walks while brooding about what your characters may look like, what they may say or do in the first scene, how they may react to the obstacles that may prevent them from reaching their objectives? Or do you sing in the shower, thinking about what to have for dinner, until you are light-struck by the best idea in the world?

Every writer has their own style, method, and strategy. Some just need a dark, quiet room to concentrate; others can brainstorm in the middle of a crowded pub, while sipping a beer and people-watching. If you haven’t found your style yet and want to gather some ideas before the National Novel Writing Month starts, here are some tips.

1. If you feel like you need some inspiration, you may want to hang out in the places where you want to set your story.

People-watching is a pretty good way to gather ideas–this does not mean you should stare at people or listen to their conversation! Just try to be a good observer and listener. Know the world you are writing about. Sit in the corner of your favorite pub, take a long trip on a bus, have a walk on campus, spend a couple of hours at the grocery store. Humanity is fascinating.

2. The details tell your story.

In a scene from ‘Reservoir Dogs,' written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Tim Roth’s character is training to be an undercover cop. His trainer instructs him on how to act well and tell a good story:

“The things you gotta remember are the details. You gotta know every detail there is to know about this commode. What you gotta do is take all them details and make 'em your own. While you're doing that, remember that this story is about you ... and how you perceived the events that went down. The only way to do that ... is keep sayin' it ... and sayin' it and sayin' it.”

A good writer is a good observer, but also a good memorizer. When you visit the places you want to talk about, or when you imagine them, try to come up with as many details as possible. Take notes. Draw some sketches. Then, when you are at home and ready to write the scene, you'll have an accurate, detailed picture of the setting which will help the writing flow better.

3. Be curious and let art inspire you.

Some writers, for example, just can’t brainstorm without listening to some good music. If you like to write while imagining your scenes as if they were from a movie, listening to some music may be a good idea. Or, if you feel like you need some ideas for the characterization and plot, you may watch a whole new TV series or some movies or read a short story. Try exploring a writer you have never read before. The guy with the interesting face that you saw at the grocery store may share some personality traits with the main character from that show on Netflix that you love. Combine those traits with some characteristics of a dude you dated a couple of years ago. Take other people’s art and some small things from your life, and make brand new, amazing things.

4. Plan carefully.

Writing a novel is difficult because it requires a lot of planning, constancy, and perseverance. Having a good character and a good conflict is not enough. Write bullet-point lists of the main events, add complications and obstacles, try to make the ends fit. You may have to fill many notebooks of charts, sketches, and questions. What if the plot went this way? What if he/she did that? What about doing this? You may want to consider every possible direction your novel may take. It is difficult and it requires a lot of work, and this is why the 30-day novel writing is a challenge. But you can do this. You got this. Good luck!