Even the quickest glance through the forums or across the faces of the meetup groups reveals that a significant number of NaNoWriMo participants are students either in college or grade school. This may be due in part to their successful Young Writers program. No matter the reason, it is great to see so many students willing to take on such a challenge in the midst of midterms, homework, and extracurriculars.
Briefly, NaNoWriMo participants are committing to write 50k words in the month of November for a piece of writing they have not yet begun. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, is just one of many published books that was written during this challenge.
Planning is crucial for writers who want to come out of the challenge with a story they can actually work around and September is the perfect time to start. It is difficult enough to come up with an idea for a book. Many writers find it useful to scour through lists of writing prompts until something strikes them as having potential. But how do they turn a brief writing prompt into a 50k word story, especially with the added stress of school? Whatever idea or prompt strikes them is then turned into a well-imagined thesis. I've touted the importance of creating an outline before, but even an outline needs a thesis, and so it's with this that our NaNoWriMo prep begins.
What separates a thesis from an idea? An idea is only that initial spark. Maybe you feel the urge to write about a certain character. Maybe you've always been interested in the history of Venice. These are just ideas. A thesis asks the who, what, when, and where questions that are intrinsic to any story. You will know you have a full-fledged thesis when you can answer:
- Who is telling your story,
- Who/what is important to your lead character/s,
- Who is in your story,
- Why they are each important,
- How characters are important to each other,
- What is important/What is at stake to your characters,
- Where/when you story is located
- What is the emotional atmosphere surrounding your story, and
- What sets your story apart from those that would be compared to it?
This is not a complete list, but it will get you started. As you answer these questions, the general thesis for your story will evolve into something substantial and should lead to more questions that need answered.
When you get these questions out of the way, ask more. What if my 19th century Venetian heroin was courtesan? Upon further research, you find out there were two different types of courtesans. What if she was a famous intellectual courtesan? Who sold her? Who bought her? How did her profession hold her back? How was she treated in general society? Research might lead you to Veronica Franco, who might be a decent candidate for her own historical fiction or as a template for a completely fictitious character.
The actual writing for NaNo may begin in November, but set some time aside this month, however little it may be, to ask questions. Browse the web for some writing prompts to get the initial ideas flowing. (Or, feel free to write about a Venetian courtesan.) Soon, you'll not only have a multifaceted thesis, but you'll also have significant points for your outline.