Hey y'all. How's it going?
Okay, it's about time we kick this into high gear. I've been telling everyone to think of a story they want to write, and now I've really got to encourage them to think of a distinct idea they think they can generate story for. So how do you write a novel when you've got only the most sparing inspiration? You start with the three basics of plot.
So the three basics of writing are plot, world, and characters. All of these should be fairly obvious. Note that I say world instead of setting. A setting is just a place where an action happens. "World" implies not only the place, but the cultures, how advanced science is, and how much magic or laws of physics can adjust reality. It's the entirety of the place where your story is set.
Most people might start with plot. However, unless you've already been inspired for your plot, it's extremely difficult to build your story off of plot, even if it's plot driven. For example, a disaster story based on what disaster happens next could end up really shallow. You have to either decide who your characters are and let them determine the plot, or invent in your mind a reason for your disaster that can be explained by your world. So unless you're already inspired, don't start with plot. If you are inspired for plot, then by all means, but you'll have to get to world and characters, or else your story will end up as cheap as the movie 2012.
The key is to get the writers in the group to use these to inspire themselves to write a specific story. For this, we will remind each other of the ideals we wanted to write, like love, wonder, encouragement, loneliness, and that sort of stuff. Whatever ideal we want to write should come out in our work. We must all have an idea of what we want to show to the readers.
Every writer has something in their soul that they want to communicate. Something they want to tell those outside. Perhaps it's something meaningful like "life is worthwhile" or important like "Communism will destroy you". Or maybe it's just something simple, like "read this and be entertained". Every writer has something to say. What's inside of you?
Next is genre. Usually it's pretty obvious to a writer what genre they like. Some people like to bend rules and express weird ideas, and these people should use sci fi or fantasy. People who want to explain the complexities of life should probably stick to regular fiction with no magic or space gadgets. People who want men to be men should write westerns, war novels, or even samurai stories, if they know enough about Japan. One member of our group mentioned that she wanted to write to her peers, and so she's writing teen fiction. So consider who you want to tell your ideal when you pick your genre.
Now that you have your genre, you can start working on your world. If you've picked a less realistic genre, like sci fi, you have to get even nitpickier with it. Do you want a sci fi world with magic, or no magic? Do you want it to be based on real science or just have whatever it wants and let the science behind the technology be filled in by someone's imagination? Or if you chose a realistic world, how realistic is it? Are you okay with fudging the laws of physics a little, like an action story? Or would you prefer to keep the story strictly within the realms of physical possibility.
You have to also decide the place. Is it real, fake, or a fake city in a real state or country? Does it have deserts, forests, or plains? What time of year is it? What do its natives do? Who are the natives? Do they have a religion or a government? What do they do for fun?
Notedly, you can go with either world or characters at this point. Whichever inspires you to write and to bring more plot. Make sure you're not writing too much world at once, or else you'll find yourself writing a history of your world instead of a story. So switch over to characters for a while.
So for your characters. Chances are, when inspiration hits, you'll already have a character, characters, or a culture in mind. Take a few minutes to develop this person or people and give them names. However, unless it's really important, don't give them a history quite yet. Give them a list of characteristics. What is their favorite color? Do they play video games or Chinese checkers? Believers, athiests, witches, Buddists, druids or Mormons? Do they like cats or dogs better? Favorite foods? Are they crafty or lazy? Just pick several things you think it's important to develop your character with.
I have a little notebook called "Coke or Pepsi?" where you choose characteristics and answer questions for people. I am going to have the members of my group answer sheets of these such questions not for themselves, but for their characters. For the purpose of the group we'll be doing world for characters, because sometimes it's just easier to go that way for people who may not be as inspired as they like.
Now, you can go into lots of detail for one or two specific characters, and then go into the general culture of your background natives. Your natives are the general inhabitants of your world. Come up with a few details about your natives, and if you're doing a realistic place, make sure your natives are just like the real natives of that place. Los Angeles people don't exactly have Southern charm, y'know?
And finally, plot. The essence of plot is conflict. Now that you have a main character and a world, you can choose yourself a conflict. A conflict is anything that gets in your protagonist's way. It can be a world based conflict, like an earthquake, asteroid, or fire; or it can be a personal conflict, losing a job, trying to travel to a certain place, or some sort of illness. Your conflict may even come from a specific person, like a criminal, the dude who stole your protagonist's girlfriend, or a nasty boss. A lot of stories will have a combination of the three, so choose what works best for you: environmental, personal, or interpersonal.
Also, note that there are two and three divisions of plot. No, not five, two and three. Two and three might equal five, but they are not the same as five. The two are dwelling plot and driving plot. Now, in any given story, both these forms of plot will be used.
Dwelling plot is the part of the plot that goes slowly. It's used to explain details about your world or character. It's the kind of writing that makes the reader feel more connected to the story. To use Lord of the Rings as an example, the part of the plot where Tolkien is describing Bilbo's birthday party is dwelling plot. This connects the reader to the story by showing what happens at a Hobbit party, what Bilbo specifically wants in his party, and how a Hobbit might act if you invited him to your house for a party.
Driving plot is plot that forces the plot to go on ahead. It forces the characters into taking action, because if they stay where they are, either something terrible will happen or your plot will be boring. In LOTR, Bilbo's sudden disappearance is driving plot. It forces the partygoers to react in some way, it forces young Frodo to deal with the Hobbits' reactions, and it forces Bilbo to move on with his trip to Rivendell.
It is very important that the balance of these two is met in a story, but we will speak more of that later. In the planning stage of your writing, you will notice that one of the two will be more important. If your story is action based, you will have little time for dwelling plot. Stuff has got to happen, and happen fast. However, if you're doing a fantasy, you have to do more dwelling plot so that the readers understand the strangeness of the new world you've created. Likewise, coming-of-age stories also need more dwelling plot, because they deal with emotions of the heart, and have to take the proper time to explain how their protagonist feels about his surroundings. Mystery depends on driving plot, because you need to keep the suspense up. Some genres, like Westerns, can actually go either way, depending on your plans and how well your readers are aware of old west customs.
Basically, the short of it is, stories based primarily on emotion or discovering new worlds need more dwelling plot, and stories that depend on excitement and problem solving need more driving plot. However, all stories need both.
There are also three divisions of plot. Plot driven stories, character driven stories, and world driven stories. Two of these correspond quite closely to the two forms of plot. Plot driven stories, or stories that hinge on their action, need a lot more driving plot. Character driven stories need a lot more dwelling plot because you need to know the character well to sympathize with them in their plight.
You probably have heard of the first two before, but not the third. That's because world-driven stories, that is, stories that are written to explain an environment or world, are usually nonfiction. Like say, a cultural study of Spain would be world-driven because you're learning about a location and its culture. The only fiction story I can think of off the top of my head that's world driven is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, because it's written to explain how life was in the Soviet gulags, and is thus very close to nonfiction anyway. Oh, and the Silmarillion. Yeah.
I mention this to tell you one important thing: unless you're trying to explain to the world something painful or horrible in an interesting way, don't write world-driven fiction. It's not exciting, not popular, and won't get you a crap ton of sales. Explaining your world too much rather than letting readers fill in the blanks with their imagination is always a bad thing. Have you ever tried to read the Silmarillion? It explains the history of the Lord of the Rings world, and quite frankly, there's a reason why it was never published in Tolkien's lifetime. It's world-driven and reads like one of the most dry and flat history books you've ever read in your life. I'm saying this, and I love nonfiction. Seriously, the best part of the Silmarillion is all the elvish words in the back. And don't for the life of you read The Children of Hurin. I promise you'll regret it.
In any case, think of these things. The bases of writing will help you produce both inspiration and story, so that you can plan ahead for NaNoWriMo. And every time you get stuck, think about these things. Add something to your world. Add a quirky side character. Throw in a weird plotline that takes everything a new direction and see if you like it. Coming back to the basics will always help you.