I love starting new projects. I love the anticipation as you start writing, wondering what your finished product will look like. I love the promise of the blank page, where anything could happen.
It could all be a dream. It could be set in an alternate dimension. You could kill all your characters off in the third chapter and tell the rest of the story from the point of view of their pets. Anything can happen!
(runs away cackling, “Anything! ANYthing! Bwahahaha!“)
And if you’re like me, the endless possibilities open doors to your crazypants imagination. Doors that should never be opened.
Ideas flood in. Common sense leaves. And suddenly you’re buried under a mountain of plot bunnies with no way out. It’s both awesome and horrifying. Awesome because, yay! So many ideas! Good for you! Terrifying because you have no idea how to sort the good from the bad, which ones will work for the story you want to tell, and which are too bananas to exist right now.
Imaging this: you’re hiking in the snowy Swiss Alps. You’re rocking your hiking lederhosen and carrying your thermos of Swiss Miss cocoa. You stop to rest a little of the way up the mountain. You glance up at the peak, so far above you. And, in your excitement for your climb, you yell out, “Ricooolaaaa!”
Or, in this case, “What do I wriiiiiteeeee?”
And that one little yell starts a rumbling at the peak, and some snow knocks loose. It starts to roll downhill, growing larger and larger, until suddenly it’s a roaring avalanche that buries your poor, unsuspecting hiker self.
So how do you avoid an avalanche of ideas, when it comes for you? You can’t. Not really.
But you can wade yourself out. It’s like with any pile of work, you start with what’s closest to you/most prevalent and work your way outwards.
Start by deciding what you want your next project to be about, the very bare idea. Coming up with a pitch works, to keep you focused.
Then decide how you want to write it: who’s your main character? 1st person or 3rd person storytelling (or, if you really want to go for it, write in 2nd person)? What do they want/what drives them? Secondary characters: allies or enemies? World building?
Keep working outward: Three act structure? Major plot points? Character sketches: hopes, dreams, and fears?
Finally, sort through the ideas that are left: Do you need a hostage situation to amp up tension? Does this character need to know parkour? Will you piss people off by killing a lovable character? Do you want to piss them off?
These are the questions that you can play with, and figure out as you go through your writing process. Maybe you find a scene is working out really nicely and decide not to add that dream sequence and ruin it. Maybe you find your characters are slow and complacent, so you take a sharp right turn into crazyville to spice things up. It’s good to keep that beginning feeling, that anything can happen new car smell. That’s what fuels you forward.
Granted, this is just what works for me and my type-A, neurotic outlining habits. It’s not for everyone. If you’re a pantser and want to figure out all the plot and character bunnies as you write, go for it! You are much braver than I. Do what makes you the most comfortable and gives you the story you want.
And good luck hiking that story mountain this NaNoWriMo! Whether or not you’re doing any planning in advance, November is shaping up to be an exciting month, so hold on to your lederhosen!