Something you'll hear many experienced writers say is ideas are cheap. Once you know how to recognize ideas, they're everywhere, and some that seem brilliant at first turn out to be disasters. In my first few years of NaNoWriMo, I planned my stories poorly and watched several ideas fizzle halfway through the month.
Today I'll help you determine whether your sparkly idea is real gold or the literary equivalent of fool's gold. We'll take a look at what constitutes a worthwhile novel idea, then ask some questions to flesh your concept out a little and see where it stands. With any luck, this will help you avoid the pain of ditching a half-written novel and starting over (or giving up on NaNoWriMo altogether).
What makes a worthwhile novel idea?
To be a NaNoWriMo-worthy idea or a novel-worthy idea at all, your concept must meet certain criteria:
It must feature enough conflict to cover at least 50,000 words—this is just the NaNoWriMo requirement. In most genres, higher word counts are the norm and expected by traditional publishers.
It must be a story you're interested in spending several weeks, months, or possibly even years with.
It must have an identifiable appeal to other people. Small niches are fine, but if your goal is to publish—and we assume that's why you found Write Plan in the first place—you want to know you'll have at least a handful of readers.
This doesn't mean it has to be a grandiose, world-changing story. It can be a Harlequin-style romance or a story about the convoluted internal workings of a single noble household in a historical setting. What matters is how much you care about the story, because if you don't care, you'll never finish the book, or if you somehow manage to finish a draft, it won't be worth reading.
How to determine if your novel idea is worthwhile
To figure out whether your idea is something you'll be able to stick with for the long haul, ask yourself a few questions:
How long has this idea been in your head? Although there are exceptions, your emotional attachment to a story usually builds over time. Stories you won't complete, on the other hand, fade into the background of your mind.
What aspects of this idea appeal to you? You should be able to immediately list at least five things you like about the idea.
Is this the type of story you like/want to read? One of the best pieces of advice is to write stories you would actually read. For a novel, it's the only way to ensure you'll stick with a project through 50,000+ words.
How much/in what ways will this project challenge you? Sometimes new writers have the urge to prove themselves by writing the ultimate first novel. Or we imagine stories that are too big and too challenging for our limited skill set. If you want to spend several years writing your first book, that's fine. If you want to write a novel during NaNoWriMo, try starting out with a smaller, less ambitious idea.
There's no one-size-fits-all way to guarantee from the outset that you'll finish a project, but if you have compelling answers to all of these questions, your idea is probably strong enough to carry you through NaNoWriMo to 50,000 words.
Want to write an amazing NaNoWriMo novel? Don't know where to start? Download our Novel Planning Checklist today!
The Novel Planning Checklist is a resource designed to help new writers create the most important aspects of their characters, world-building, and plot before they dive into a first draft. It includes both mandatory tasks for basic novel-building and optional tasks for writers who want to dive even deeper into their stories. To download your checklist, subscribe to our mailing list below!
Dianna Gunn is the author of YA fantasy novella “Keeper of the Dawn” and the Write Plan content writer. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.
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