Have I convinced you to throw yourself into the fray? To sharpen the nib on your fountain pen, dip it into the purple ink, and write perspicacious prose in that delightfully madcap literary adventure known as NaNoWriMo? I hope so!
Now, if you’re already addicted to writing, you know the drill. But if you’re still riding the fence, still uncertain where to start, I have a few pointers for kick-starting your story. First, begin with a bunny.
Plot bunnies are those ideas that grab you in the middle of the night and refuse to let go. God bless them; most of mine are more like plot possums. Plot possums love to sleep, hot showers, and long, mindless commutes. They come in dreams, rattle around in your cranium while you suds up your hair in the shower, poke you in the arm while you’re trying to drive to work, and flee the moment you grab five minutes and a notebook. Plot bunnies, on the other hand, are persistent creatures that nibble the cabbage between your ears and practically write the story for you.
You can never have enough plot bunnies. Except maybe for the Two Things at Once Bunny. I have a whole bunny breeding farm full of those. You’re welcome to them.
Larry wondered what an earthquake felt like. He had endured a lengthy drought, scorching heat, and wildfires. He had survived six hurricanes and three tornadoes, including the one that flattened Maudeen City, Oklahoma in 2045. He had rescued six baby chicks from the great flood of 2029, and helped an old lady rebuild her home after rabid snakes ate the northern wing and had to be exterminated with cyanide bombs. He drifted off to sleep wondering if he would ever feel the earth move and roll beneath him.
OK, “rabid snakes” and “cyanide bombs” might technically be plot ninjas.
Plot ninjas, in contrast to plot bunnies, are more like grenades to be lobbed at your story when it begins to bog down in pointless, plodding exposition. When you begin to bore yourself with whatever the heck it is you think you’re writing, throw in a plot ninja or seventeen.
Larry awoke with a start as the lop-eared lagomorph leaped onto his face, breathing fetid orange carrot-breath fumes into his nostrils. It stared into his eyes, unblinking. He stared back. He wondered, teetering on the edge of hysteria, whether it was laughter or blinking that would lose him this game. Suddenly, the rabbit grinned. The room began to shudder and shake. Larry felt a sudden surge and collapse beneath him, and his bed began a long, slow-motion spiral downward.
Begin your story with a bang. It needn’t be an actual “bang!” of a gun, or a pot, or a car crash, but rather than lose your reader before you’ve baited the hook and given him time to bite down on it, start your story right in the middle of the action.
The house shook. With a loud “crack!” it began to tilt. I felt my bed sliding sideways, towards the stairs. I did what any sane woman would do: I grabbed hold of the chair and slid faster towards the abyss. The chair leg caught on the frayed carpet, and my legs dangled out over space. As I peered over the edge, I could see Larry. He was spinning round and round, out of control, further and further away from me. It looked as though he were having a stare-down with a dog-sized bunny.
Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make “false promises” by never coming into play.
So now what? I have a cataclysmic event – is it an earthquake? A sinkhole? A black hole? The yawning maw of Hell? I have no idea, but I’ve opened it and now must do something with it. My narrator is in bed, and her bed is sliding down towards the rift. She sees the first character spinning away from her, deeper into the hole. Will she fall in? Will she grab something and scramble to higher ground? Has she miscalculated by grabbing the chair, causing her to fall faster towards a gaping hole to – where? And where does an actual bunny come into all this?
Ahh, story prompts are easy. Take mine. You go figure it out. Write about it. Discuss.
Not so easy now, is it? The point isn’t to confuse and intimidate you – it’s to give you the freedom to write ridiculous things. To get it all wrong. To get it all right. Just write.
Here are a few little “cheats” to help you kick the creative parts of yourself into gear:
Write in the morning while having coffee or tea. Write during lunch. Write after the kids go to bed.
Get yourself a “plot bunny.” Or a plot bat. Plot llama? Maybe a plot dragon. It’s your totem. You choose. Keep it handy, both for company and to remind you that it’s okay to write nothing but silliness, sometimes.