TLDR: For NaNoWriMo, just write! But if you must have a plan, have characters embroiled in a situation that interests you.
#WritingCommunity is all a-twitter with questions and comments about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), so here are my thoughts on how to prepare for a new writing project.
1. Top priority is having a situation you’re interested in writing about. This can be as simple or as detailed as you like. A situation is a setting and a problem. Stephen King in his book, On Writing, says he likes to start with a situation.
When I was thinking about starting Silver Pod, I was thinking a lot about the Singularity and Post-Humans, and what issues might arise for such beings. Two situations I thought of were: What if a Post-Human abandons a “pet” human? and What if one Post-Human helped another commit suicide?
2. Your second priority is to imagine one or more characters who are embroiled in the situation. In many ways the situation itself and the embroiled characters are inseparable.
With Silver Pod I focused even more on characters than on situation. I had been watching a lot of Cracked After Hours at the time and I got interested in sets of four characters, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I based my four characters, Besh, Beryl, Ohnsy, and Fife on the four After Hours characters as described on TV Tropes.
I like to also give each of my characters a primary strength, flaw, and goal, but usually these arise from the character archetype’s interaction with the situation. It’s at least something worth thinking about.
My characters immediately evolved based on their strange situations, which leads me to the third priority:
3. Be willing to let any pre-established plan change as you write.
As I began Silver Pod I knew that I wanted each character to be immediately challenged, but in the midterm I also wanted the four characters brought into close proximity.
Besh’s problem was obvious. He needed to survive and his passivity made it important that someone else come to him.
Fife is this brash, possibly even naive, hero, so she was the obvious candidate to come rescue Besh. She drove a lot of the early plot.
Beryl had a great mysterious background but had a fairly weak drive, which is something I need to improve on upon revision. I knew before I started writing that Beryl was in exile from the Post-human world and was bitter because he didn’t believe he had committed any crime.
Ohnsy had a clear goal: to defend her ship, Silver Pod. She is initially a kind of antagonist, but her arc depends on changing her perspective.
Any systematic writing advice is a simplification of what’s happening in the author’s head. Ideas are bobbing and sinking and stirred up in the cauldron of soup that is the subconscious.
So when I give this advice, I’m tidying up what actually happened. If you’re like me, it’s important to remember to have flexibility and to remember that your true top priority is always to get in the weeds and start writing.
Good luck with NaNoWriMo!