A few people have been asking me about NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and they want to know how it works, and how they can get involved even though they might not have a specific story to write about. We put together everything you need to know to participate in NaNoWriMo in “It’s NaNoWriMo Time: How To, Tips, Techniques, and Survival Advice,” and you will find other NaNoWriMo topics we’ve covered scattered throughout the site.
To address the question of how to participate in NaNoWriMo when you don’t have a specific story to write is a different and more complex question. Ask yourself:
- Is there a story idea that haunts you, nags you, disturbs your sleep?
- Is there something you’ve always thought or said, “That would make an interesting book.”
- Is there a person or place that fascinates you?
- Is there a hobby or special interest that you return to over and over again through your life?
- Is there a skill, talent, ability, or knowledge you have that not many others do?
- Is there a question that you wish someone would answer?
Here are some things you need to know about NaNoWriMo as you answer those questions:
- You do not have to write a book.
- You do not have to write fiction.
The reality is that you just have to write. There are prompts to stir the imagination and inspire you to write on that subject or something else in our Prompt-a-Day starting November 1.
To help some of our writers, I’d like to take a different approach to storytelling and novel writing, and that is to have you answer a question a day about a character that may be tickling your imagination.
Answer a Question a Day in Words
A writer of many novels told me years ago that sometimes her novels write themselves and sometimes she writes them, but always, her characters tell her where to take the story.
I’ve thought about that often, writing with such commitment that you, the author, steps out of the way and you let the characters tell the story.
If that sounds like fun, we’ve put together a series of questions to help you answer a question once a day with words, letting your character or characters take you on a journey.
In the wise words of our Writers in the Grove leader, M.J. Nordgren, always look for conflict – in every sentence, every paragraph, and every page. That is what makes for an exciting read – and write. These prompts are designed to help you explore the conflicts within the character, between the character and other players in the story, conflicts between the character and their environment and situation, and conflicts between the character you started with and who the character becomes as they are tested throughout your story.
There doesn’t have to be any chronology to these. That’s what editing is for. But exploring these concepts, answering these questions, may just inspire a bestseller.
As with all such prompts, let them take you where they take you. There are no rules, except those set by NaNoWriMo to write every day a minimum of 1,677 words.
- Where is your character right now? Why are they there?
- If your character were afraid of anything, what would it be and look like?
- What are your characters habits? What body language, behaviors, tasks do they repeat regularly? Which are annoying to others? Which are annoying to self? Which are beneficial? How do they help the character?
- When your character’s routine is disrupted, what happens?
- What wounds does your character carry forth into their adulthood? Why?
- What does your character hope for in life? Do they have goals, dreams, aspirations? What is stopping them?
- What would be the worse thing that could happen to your character? How would it happen, when, and why?
- Where does your character spend the most of their time daily? Describe and define it.
- If your character could go anywhere in the world, money no options, where would they go and why?
- Describe your character’s family. Be specific in describing the family members as well as your character’s thoughts about them.
- Describe your character’s friends. Who are they, what do they look like, how did they meet, and how do they support or not support your character with their relationship?
- What are your character’s expectations, the things they expect from the world, their family, and friends? How do these expectations differ from reality?
- How is your character treated by other people? Is the treatment appropriate?
- When put in an emergency situation, how would your character respond?
- If your character was to go on a journey, how would they travel? Foot, air, wagon, car, train…? Why would they choose this method?
- Describe someone your character would hate. Why?
- Has your character ever been in love? What was it like? Describe the person. What happened?
- Your character has a secret. What is it and why it is a secret? Who would be hurt if the knowledge was revealed?
- If your character had a dinner party, who would they invite and why? What would the dinner conversation? Describe it.
- Describe your character’s heroes.
- Your character won the lottery or a grand prize. What would it be and how would your character handle the winnings?
- Open the door to the home of your character and walk us through it. Pay attention to what is in the closets and behind closed doors.
- Does your character eat when they get up in the morning or wait? When and what do they eat through a typical day, and what do they do when eating? Do they eat in, out, or in a special place? What are they eating? Why?
- In your imagination, you are standing and overlooking a place in which your character lives. Describe it for every season.
- Where was your character born and how does that birthplace impact the personality, history, and relationships of the character?
- What makes your character laugh out loud? Why?
- Describe a moment when your character’s heart was broken, never to be fully mended.
- Look at your character’s hands and feet. Describe them. What are on them? Shoes, gloves? Jewelry? Tattoos?
- Does your character have a job or hobby or both? Describe it in detail, and how they got into that job or hobby. What is good or bad about it?
- A disaster has befallen your character and their place of residence is destroyed. What items do they mourn the loss of most?
Print this out and assign a question a day and see where your writing takes you.
For examples of more character questions to ask your character and see where they take you, see the following.
Where will your character take you?