The jist of it is this. You have the month of November, or 30 days, to write a minimum 50,000 word novel. It means writing every day and has become a fairly widely known challenge that amateur writer and professional novelists alike step up to. I signed up last year, but was distracted by too many other things to really take part, so I'm giving it a go this year and through my blog here, I'm inviting you all to follow along. Hopefully this won't get too boring and will eventually go through the entire process of writing and publishing a novel, as I go through the writing, revising, editing, cover art, formatting, and finally, uploading and publishing to Kindle, Createspace, and/or Smashwords.
So, where else to start but the beginning?
When you sit down to start a book, it's a good idea to have a few things lined up already.
1. An idea. This seems obvious, but it is probably the most important thing. If you don't even have an idea, you probably don't have any business sitting down and starting a story. A basic idea doesn't really count either. You need something that will create conflict, and that will actually last and be entertaining for the length of story you want it to be. While it is possible to stretch a short story into a novel or compress a novel into a short story, the works will usually suffer for it, by focusing on things that don't matter, or by not giving people enough time to care about the characters, and thus, the story. Now, that doesn't mean your idea can't be simple. Lots of simple ideas have plenty of depth to them. For instance, the dead rising and attacking the living. It's a simple idea, but once you get into the real connotations of it, and what it means, you find there is so much more going on. The idea of the dead rising up and attacking the living is a simple idea, but in the writing of a story about that, you get into such themes as how people react to that in general, how they react to seeing dead family members, how they protect themselves and how they stop/survive/or die in the ensuing chaos.
2. Characters. Obviously, if you have an idea, you need people that that idea happens to. The more fleshed out those characters are, the better. Even in short stories, caring about the characters means caring about what happens to them, which equals caring about the story, and that is how a lot of the best stories are made. So whether you have one character throughout the entire piece, a family, or even the population of an entire town, you need to show that these are real people, worthy of compassion. They need to have strengths and weaknesses, flaws, pasts, and hopes for the future. One point I want to make, when you have multiple characters introduced, you need to make sure they are all included in the story. If you have a family that all lives together, you can't get away with focusing on one member of the family and have everyone else walking around like everything is normal. Even if they aren't affected directly by whatever is influencing the main character, they will react to the changes in the main character, despite the way the world is sometimes shown these days; most people will not just accept the statement that nothing is wrong from someone they care about when there is obviously a change in their behavior, demeanor, or look. So even when a story is focused around one character, keep in mind there are people around him, reacting to what he does and however he expresses what's happening to him.
The first chapter is one of the most important. First impressions matter, and in telling a story, it's no different. You need to establish the quality of your writing as something worthy of the readers time, in addition to introducing the major characters, what they look like, a sense of who they are and setting up the story to come. Then there is the Hook.
The Hook is what gets people to read past the first few pages or the first chapter. It is the very beginning of the story, told in a way that makes people want to read more. It is the hint that things are about to go very, very wrong for the people you've just introduced. (Or, at the very least, that things are about to change for them, if you're not writing horror or some kind of action/thriller story.) This is important, people are used to instant gratification these days and books which take more than 25% of their length to really get in gear are going to lose a lot of readers before anything good starts.
So, how is my progress coming along?
My idea is basically Cujo meets The Exorcist (Horror, surprising, I know). Before November 1st, I sat down and hashed out a general outline, with a dozen plot points to hit through the story, in addition to the order I wanted them in. My main characters have been named and described, as well as some of their good points and their flaws. My hook is in place, and while it hasn't been set, I am comfortable the bait on it so far will tempt more people to bite than to not. This is still only the 5th, though, so there is still a long way to go. Hopefully you'll all keep up with me.