It’s almost time for NaNoWriMo. This will be my fifth, the first four successful.
While not everyone plots, NaNo is a different beast. NaNo is sprint, and that’s assuming you can write everyday. If you’re in the US there’s Thanksgiving, which occupies people for at least one day. Having guests? It’ll be more. A vacation? Studying for tests?
Some are shaking their heads and thinking, of course those steal some of your time. Here’s the thing: Most people don’t finish (many are gone by day 10).
If you write fantasy (or sci-fi, for that matter), it’s smart to have as much world building as possible worked out—and that’s the focus of this post.
My first year I decided to participate thirty minutes before NaNo began. I did have a novel in my head, along with an opening, but almost nothing written down. I played catchup for three weeks, figuring locations, character names, POV, and more while I worked. Ten minutes lost during NaNo, depending on your schedule, is a big deal.
The twist, though, is that it wasn’t a fantasy novel, but a present day mystery.
All novels require some amount of world building. Fantasy—I’m going to restrict myself to what I know it best—requires at least a rudimentary magic system to start. Multiply that if there are various peoples, cultures, economies, etc.. On Ontyre there are the ora’ean, neanders, yettles, and hobs, just to start, though they weren’t all developed at once. That’s why you focus on what you need and work on the rest as needed.
Even the natural world requires some work, depending on how much you model it after Earth. For instance, every third month on Ontyre is Moon Season when werewolves are out.
Consider the following scenario. On Ontyre, a Healer can heal others, but not herself. It was crucial that I had that in mind as I went along drafting Bk1 over two years ago or I’d have written myself into corners.
It’s difficult enough trying to avoid issues like this in a first draft, but their compounded many times over if magical abilities and laws of magic are tossed about recklessly. I currently have 22 basic laws of magic, a list that’s grown over time.
More important, knowing the essentials ahead of time keeps you from having to stop and ponder what’s needed and all the possible implications, and this happens repeatedly over the course of the novel. Every decision you can avoid is invaluable.
So, work out the world magic and (at least) the major character basics early. Then, while writing, keep careful notes about additions and subtractions.
Feel free to ignore what I say or combine it with your own ideas, but ignore world building prep at your own risk. The unique thing, and best thing, about NaNo is that it forces you to be fast and efficient instead of driving around in first gear forever.
I’ll be back with more NaNo thoughts once per week through October.