Nanowrimo is almost here. It’s one of several excuses to sit down and plow through a manuscript. Many go in completely blind and many others spend time before preparing as much as they can. I’ve tried both routes over the years and I’ve found pros and cons of each. There are things you can do to mitigate the cons of each: planning for discovery writers and discovery writing for planners. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to commit fully to one style or the other. Mix and match what works best for you.
Planning for Discovery Writers
Discovery writers prefer to let the characters and story guide them. That’s fine. But what if you could prepare for discovery writing?
Create a list of names ahead of time.
Prepare a “name dump” list for people, places, and other such proper nouns ahead of time. Come November, all you need to do is pull the name off the list and keep going. I normally have 30 to 40 names going in to my projects. As a bonus, any unused names can be recycled for another project.
Discovery Writing for Planners
One of the qualities of a good story is strong characters, but writers who plan a lot in advance tend to run into the issue where strong characters tend not to follow predetermined outlines perfectly. To some degree, an outline with enough flexibility to be “discovered” during the drafting process is okay, but let’s be real. If you’re a planner then you’ve experienced characters going awry.
Learn your characters with discovery writing
For each character, write a monologue. About what? How long? It’s up to your character. Let them pour their minds out to you. What is their motivation?
Why is that motivating them? What is their favorite dish? What are their hobbies? What grinds their gears? Anything at all, even minor or mundane details, should go on the page. Turn them from an artifact of story into a real person.
Then, go over your plans and see if their every choice in the plans matches who made the monologue. If not, you know now, before the event starts, that your plans are going to need a closer look.
There’s a lot of potential from mixing and matching different processes. Instead of gauging whether someone else’s process is right for you, find out the advantages and disadvantages of those processes and pick out the parts most helpful to you. Don’t get held down by imaginary boundaries. There’s only one rule: if the system isn’t working, change it.