National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow and for some reason I have a burning desire to do it again—a desire that took shape today. I had a lot of fun last year, so it’s not like it’s a bad thing. But it is a big commitment and I don’t want to approach it half-heartedly.
My big problem is what to write about. Last year I didn’t know the plot, but I did know the characters, the setting, the time period and a vague sense of where the plot might go. Basically I had enough pieces to get started, but enough left unresolved that the story could unfold on its own.
So far this year I’ve got nothing. Part of me wants to just pick some interesting characters and a pseudo-plot and go with it. The result would be some sort of character-driven drama type piece like I wrote last year. That’s what I enjoy reading, and I think that’s what would be fairly do-able to write. I’m sure each story would have its own challenges, but I’ve done that before and I know I can do it.
But another part of me thinks that’s the easy way, and if I’m going to do something as stretching as NaNoWriMo, I should pick something different and stretch myself. I love epic stories, and I love sci-fi, and I love grand what-if aftermath stories (what if a nuclear war obliterated half the world’s population?). I also love the ironic and funny and slightly bizarre, in the right doses. This summer while hanging out with the youth group we all thought it would be cool to write a Choose Your Own Adventure.
But which one of those to pick. Epic stories usually need some planning. I don’t need to overplan, but it seems like I should start with something. And I’m afraid I’d be rehashing every epic I love, from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The what-if aftermath story always seems like a fun speculative project, but I’m not sure there’s ever any plot there. It usually just turns into a retelling of the Lord of the Flies.
And Choose Your Own Adventure? Well, I can think of more than a few reasons not to do that. I think it would only work as a humorous, ironic, oddball story, and even then I’m not sure it would work. I’d love to do a serious character-driven story that way, but I think it would quickly become fake and cardboard-like. Part of being a writer is making choices your characters have to live with, and Choose Your Own Adventure seems like a good way to wuss out and not make those choices. Plus most Choose Your Own Adventures use a second-person narrator, and that’s beyond annoying. I’d have to pick a different point of view.
Part of my fear comes from rehashing a story that’s already been told, though in reality that’s all any stories are. There are only so many stories to tell, and they’ve all been told a thousand times. It’s just a matter of what interesting twist or neat spin can you put on it that makes it worth telling again.
So is it better to stretch myself with some bizarre story that might not work and risk crashing and burning? 50,000 words is a lot to commit to something and have it not work out. Is it worth it to learn that I can’t write an epic?
Or is it better to stick to something I know and try it out a little more, stretch my wings with it and see how much more I can do?
The truth is I’ve got no idea what to do. The NaNoWriMo experts tell you to write something you care about, but not something you care so much about that it hinders your ability to write quickly and potentially bad prose.
It’s a dilemma. One that has me wondering if I should really be trying it again.