November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It is, obviously, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words* of a new story. If you’ve chosen to participate or want to but have no idea how to tackle the challenge, then stick around, because I’ve got some help for you!
What are you going to write?
If you go into a bookshop or a library, novels are divided into sections called genre: romance, mystery, action, historical, science fiction, fantasy, and so on. Your first decision is which genre you’re going to write. I’d recommend writing one you know well, either through reading or watching, as you’ll have absorbed how that particular genre works.
- if you’re going to write a mystery, you’ll need a murder, a killer, and someone who’s going to put all the pieces together to catch who did it
- if you’re going to write a romance, you need a heroine, a hero, odds to overcome, and a happy ending
Also, if it’s something you read/watch often, then assumably you love that genre and its themes. It’s something that speaks to you. That passion is important, as it’s going to carry you through writing.
Within each genre are several sub-genres that widen your scope for writing. So if you love the Wild West but also the Victorian period, there’s Steampunk or Weird Western. Love space battles and love stories? Sci-fi romance. Or vampires and Regency? Historical fantasy.
You name it, there’s a sub-genre for it. If not? Well, go ahead and invent it!
Conventions, and why they’re important
Every genre has its conventions. Some authors think they’re above convention and write a “new, edgy” take. Those authors are usually lambasted by readers and other authors alike.
So why are conventions important? In short, because they’re what the reader expects when they pick up a novel. No one wants to read a mystery novel where the killer isn’t caught, a fantasy where the bad guys prevail over the good, or a romance where the couple doesn’t live happily ever after. When you chose a genre, you’re effectively making a promise, and you must deliver on it.
Tropes and themes
These are the things literary critics moan about but are absolutely vital to writing a good story (just ignore the snobs whingeing!)
Themes include good against evil (fantasy, sci-fi), coming of age (literally anything, but a massive staple of YA), love conquers all (romance) and so on. A theme gives your story structure and substance, but is not something you necessarily have to pin down before you start writing. Or it could change as you write, which is also fine.
Tropes are plot devices found in a genre. They are cliques that form the backbone of your story, be they are the Anti-Hero, the Knight in Shining Armour, the Big Damn Heroes, or whatever fits your narrative. Not sure what tropes to include? Pop over to TV Tropes and look up a show based in your genre.
That’s genre pretty much covered. Next time I’ll be talking about world building, and why it’s important no matter what kind of story you’re writing.
* 50,000 words isn’t actually a novel in most cases. I’ll cover this in ore detail in a later post.