I’ve written three NaNoWriMo novels in the past three years.
My first attempt was a dive into the unknown, and what a rewarding whirlwind it was! Soon my characters started guiding me through the story, not the other way around. Plot twists I never saw coming sprung into existence like spring leaves. It was wonderful.
My second two novels were flops.
What went wrong? The first time was such a lovely experience, and I wanted to repeat it. But alas, plot and character have eluded me for two years in a row. Much too long.
I’ve recently run a few diagnostics on this pair of 50,000+ word “failures.” The first is a prequel to my original novel, and I’ve now come to realize that every story needs an undeveloped backstory. If you try to fill in all the details—in my case, write a prequel to a novel without giving the prequel itself any solid backstory—you’ll get unmotivated characters and a pronounced lack of plot.
Everyone needs a history. My first novel had backstory—I knew what had happened in the past and why, and how these past events drove the plot forward. It provided inherent clash, and problems for my characters to solve. Next November, I’ll know that backstory is a must!