In my long ago academic life, I was a civil engineer. We were taught the importance of constraining problems to make them (computationally) easier to solve. You have to reduce the degrees of freedom so that a structural analysis problem becomes determinate.
I think the same is true of stories. For writers, stories are born into a marvelously blank page--there are almost too many degrees of freedom. We then shape the stories into novels, constrained by the structures we impose upon them, frameworks that take advantage of reader or genre conventions.
So here I am, just a few days before the start of NaNo, still not quite prepared. Oh, sure, I have 1872 words of character definition and high level plot and worldbuilding so far..., but it's not yet down to a firm scene structure.
I was chatting with Sam (samcadams) yesterday; he was in a similar state--not quite prepared. We talked about constraints and I decided to brainstorm some to help provide focus. Here they are, in case they are helpful. I would appreciate hearing your additions to this list. Thanks!
Constraints and focus questions
what key side characters are you developing?
voice - What voice are you using?
third person limited
third person omniscient
POV - How many POV characters? Patterns in chapters?
What is the tone you are using?
If it is dark, how dark are you willing to go?
moods - what moods are you cultivating?
is there any romance?
humor - what kind of humor are you using?
interactions between opposites (think The Odd Couple)
set up the situation then take it to the unexpected extreme (think How I Met Your Mother)
Nothing to add to the list at the moment, but this is very helpful! I often focus too much on simply finding out what event comes next, and what comes after that, or on just finding a way for my beginning and ending to meet in the middle. It's a good reminder that I also need to be cultivating a specific mood and watching my pacing, as well as being deliberate about sharing knowledge with the reader. My story takes place in three distinct time periods, has two narrators, and is all about discovering the truth of an event that happened 60 years ago, so it's going to be tricky for me to make sure my reader only knows what I want them to know at any given point in the story.
I find it helpful to think about laws of physics in the story. Sure, gravity makes things go down and the planet spins on an axis, but what about everything else? Can really big monsters move on their own, or do they need magic properties to keep them from being crushed by their own weight like beached whales and downed horses? Do fireballs actually have the power to set things on fire, or is it more of a visual effect? Is space travel possible because of faster-than-light engines or wormholes? Setting boundaries on the rules of your universe helps keep you from making contradictions, which helps keep the reader interested. They can even lead you to reveal more about your world if you need to explain why something does or doesn't work.