Deciding what to write

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Yes, I’m still thinking about NaNoWriMo

As I start planning for NaNoWriMo, I face the crucial question of what to write.

This might sound like an easy decision – I should write what I’m interested in, right?

Well yes, except that loads of things interest me. Steampunk adventures, speculation about bleak or hopeful futures, fantasy worlds of wild magic and stranger creatures, history and alternate history…

When I was focused on short fiction that was fine. I could write a new story every week, pander to all those different interests. But while short fiction’s a great calling card it’s not a great way to make money off fiction, and it’s obviously no good for a 50,000+ word novel. So I need to pick something to focus on.

I have two options I’m seriously considering, and that I need to pick between so that I can start planning.

On the one hand I’m taken with the idea of writing a historical novel around the Battle of Agincourt. It’s a period I know well, so the research I don’t have completed already would be fairly straightforward. I’m really interested in the Middle Ages. I think it could make an interesting story on what it means to become an adult and on the darkness of war. And next year is the 600th anniversary of the battle, which should make such a novel quite marketable in about six months time.

On the other hand there’s a steampunk detective story I’ve been contemplating writing for about a year. I’ve got a notebook half filled with the background of the world. It explores ideas of class, religion and what it means to be human, all of which interest me just as much as strange machines, curious inventors and sprawling industrial cities. And as I have some other steampunk stuff at the editing stage for release early next year, this is more in keeping with the brand I’ve been building.

As you can see, there are both artistic and writing-as-business reasons to go each way. I can write both books eventually, unless something more exciting drags my attention away, but the question is what should I write now? And with so many factors to consider, and so much enthusiasm for both projects, I’m struggling to decide.

So as the core of my small current readership is centred around this blog I thought I’d ask – which do you think I should write? Which book would you be more excited to read?

And how do you decide what to write? Maybe that’ll help me too.

Oh, and for any of you doing NaNoWriMo, I’ve now signed up to their website as gibbondemon – come find me as a writing buddy!

17 thoughts on “Deciding what to write”

  1. Of the two, steampunk detective every time. I love detective stories in alternate worlds. (see for example 🙂 )

    But how about…. write down a short description of each thing you are interested in on a scrap of paper, stick them all in a hat and draw 6. Combine those into some sort of awesome story. Also then get people to describe those things without mentioning words on the paper etc.

  2. My advice[1] for NaNoWriMo is: don’t do anything that’ll make you stop, even for a moment.

    It’s why I keep writing fantasy novels. I’d like to do some scifi, or lablit, but I know that I’d be half way through a paragraph, and think … hang on, should that be a big laser, or a little one? Did they wear green heraldry, or red? How fast can an ion-drive spaceship reach the Jupiter moons? How long, exactly, is Oxford Street?

    At that point I reach for Wikipedia, and the whole month is scuttled. 🙂

    Another thing which bit me: don’t have an end in mind; or at least, not one you’re not prepared to change on a whim. Denouements are evil (for November at least), because it’ll come too early, or too late, no matter how well you plan.

    Thirdly, I always ensure I can throw in something if I’m in a bind. “Someone bursts through the door with a gun” is the cliche, and that’s much easier in some genres than others.

    In short, Steampunk Detective sounds more doable. 🙂

    (Also, the Agincourt one sounds like something worth spending time over. Perhaps it just boils down to why you’re doing it – for your own benefit, or for your readers’?)

    [1] – As a wise man once said, “All advice is autobiographical”.

    1. Interesting point about denouements, but tricky for me as always like to know where I’m going. What’ll probably make it work this time is that I’m planning to write 50k of a 100k novel plan, so I won’t be writing feverishly towards that end, but instead writing feverishly towards the midway point, meaning that if I reach it too soon I can just push on further.

      As for who I’m writing for, writing for my readers is to my advantage if I want people to buy books, but then writing for myself often leads to better writing, so… both, I guess?

    2. This is what I would suggest too. Basically anything that takes you out of the writing zone is bad news for NaNo.

      It may be a different experience for you as you are writing most of the day anyways, so something a little more planned/coherent may be feasible, fitting that many words around my working day was a big part of the challenge when I tried. I certainly found not having too much of a clear picture where I was going made it way easier to hit wordcount because I could ramble as much as I wanted, but then I did need to have some kind of next plot point or my brain would jam and I’d stop writing. You need just enough to keep it smooth.

      1. I’m much more of a planner. I find that if I’ve get things well plotted out beforehand then I can stay in the writing zone for longer, as I don’t have to break out to work out what’s coming next. I don’t know if this is an outliner/pantser difference in writing approaches, or just from spending a lot of time writing, but it was the same when I did NaNo three years ago – having chapters planned out and an ending in mind helped me.

  3. I also have two options I’m considering. For one, I have the world already built, the characters mapped out and the shape of the story planned. It continues the story that I’ve been building in my previous books but adds a few more twists and POVs to those events.

    For the other, I have the idea. I can see individual scenes like film shots. I can hear the characters talking, although I don’t know their histories properly yet. I don’t know the title but I can sense the look of the cover.

    The research will still be there when I come back to it. Ideas fade. I’m going to write the second one.

    1. Basically, I think you should write the steampunk one because you sound more excited by that.

      Also, have you read By Light Alone by Adam Roberts? I think it would appeal to your thoughts on class distinction, technological development and what it means to be human.

      1. By Light Alone is now on my to-read list – sounds like just my sort of thing.

        And your approach to this decision is clearly different from mine – I’d have gone for the more planned option! And it looks like I am, as well – lots of votes for the steampunk, going with my gut feeling.

  4. There are many people who advise sticking to one genre only, which you don’t, so I wouldn’t be too worried about your brand if I were you. The question I would have is how prepared you are for each story. It appears your steampunk planning is well advanced, what about your story set in the middle ages? Historical fiction lovers are well renowned for picking up any historical inaccuracies.
    Personally, I’d read either. I too have thought about writing a novel from the perspective of the little person caught up in war (rather than from the perspective of kings, queens and generals) so this one sparked my interest the most but if both are this close to your heart, toss a coin and move on. You don’t know what the future holds but you not making a decision is the worst of all options.

    1. ‘not making a decision is the worst of all options’ – spot on, and the bane of my last job! I think I know the period well enough that I could be well prepared for the Agincourt story by November, but right now I’m better prepared for the steampunk one. I suspect that’s why my instincts are leading me towards it. Think I know what I’ll be writing!

  5. While I can see the preparedness favour the Steampunk, I would say that it’s only going to be the 600th anniversary of Agincourt once and that woulc be a realy boost if you want to sell the novel to a publisher rather than self-publishing (or even if you self-publish and hock it round museums/sites related to HV.

    1. Oh, it’s way too late to be selling something like that to a publisher. They need at least a year’s run-up to publish a book, even after going through the long process of deciding to publish it. It’s one of the reasons I decided to try self-publishing – such inefficient systems drive me mad.

  6. Hmmm… My answer is based on time – since NaNo is only two weeks again. It sounds like you’re more prepared for the historical fiction one, whereas the steam punk one needs more research. If you get started on that one too fast, you may find yourself a bit lost halfway through November. So my money would be on the historical fiction one. I’m not very educated in the steampunk genre, but is there any way an element of it (or some kind of alternate history angle, I guess) could be worked into it? That way you can stick to your brand …

    1. Actually I’m probably better prepared for the steampunk one. While I might have more research done for the historical one, it would also need the research more. Whereas for a steampunk story I can make stuff up when I get stuck. And having been reminded this weekend of just what sticklers some historical fiction readers are for accuracy, that might be a factor.

  7. Andrew, both of those books appeal to me, so I think you need to go with your gut. Re: your point on the battle anniversary, I’m not sure whether this would be significant enough for more readers to notice it. I think people who like reading about these events (like me) would pick it up no matter what year it is. 🙂 Best of luck with the story planning. (And sorry I haven’t been keeping up with my comments – my course is taking up a lot of my time! Looking forward to catching up soon.)

    1. One problem in deciding was that I have no idea how much impact that anniversary would have. Then I went to a reenactment fair this weekend and someone reminded me that Agincourt isn’t even the biggest anniversary for British military history fans next year – it’s also the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, which is a proper biggy. So yes, not being guided by that was probably a good idea.

      And no worries about the comments – hope the course is going well!

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