Monthly Archives: February 2011

NaNoWriMo and Me

I’ve been trying to write a blog post about the pros and cons of a NaNo novel for ages but got blogged down in the mire of self-examination about other boring stuff. It’s a dire place to be.  Scrapped that.

So here we go, final attempt.

I’ve done NaNowrimo three times and I’ve ‘won’ twice. My first effort, after it was translated from gibberish (very little punctuation, chaotic spelling and barely English) was rewritten and rejigged a number of times before I thought I’d finished.

It was my first novel and how much I didn’t want to perform major surgery on the plot and how much it needed it. Culling characters in a cast of thousands was also out of the question. It would have been like casting them into the outer darkness.

Not any more. Three novels later, I have a safe haven for culled characters, I have learned that nothing is ever wasted and however much I love Chris Baty’s ‘No Plot, No Problem’ it is a problem for me.

So now, like all converts, I am overbearingly enthusiastic – about planning, plotting, outlining, treatmenting – all those things along with researching and thinking you can do to make a story before you start writing it.

Now I have boundaries – I keep the population down and I plan before I get carried away on the charging rhino of a great idea.

The first two novels were seat of the pants affairs, lurching from no plot to too much. I have some hope that the third novel, outlined, plotted, written and rewritten, has the right amount.

I don’t think I could have done the third without the first two. NaNo’s crazy just do it methodology helped me to get to know my characters more than interviewing them with one of those character building questionnaires you get all over the web. They are the dullest things and I suspect create the dullest characters. NaNo was fun and fabulous for generating ideas. I could probably build half a dozen novels of the new streamlined variety from the material I spun in the first two.

It was brilliant for making me write everyday. 1667 words a day is sustainable for a month but not for much longer, so 750, which gets the 50k in three months, is a cinch. It also taught me a crucial lesson: Get to the end of the story before you start faffing around. Getting to the end of the story gives me a feel for what the story’s really about, a sense of accomplishment that carries me through the editing and it’s easier to massage a whole thing, rather than a half built thing into shape.

Thank you NaNoWriMo, although I don’t know how far I’ve yet to go, I’m a lot closer than I would have been without you.

So this is what I do now:

  • Think, collect characters and decide who is going to be in the story.
  • Get to know them by writing short stories or indeed a NaNo novel or two about them.
  • Let the characters suggest plot ideas.
  • Write each idea on its own sticky.
  • When there’s a few each for a beginning, middle and end start sorting on a time line, a long strip of paper.
  • Add to the time line until there’s enough to lose (save for later) and still have enough for a story. (Takes a while for story to brew.)
  • Start creating a narrative
  • Manipulate: think, add, sort, experiment with re-ordering….
  • Ask myself:  Are there enough obstacles for hero to overcome? Is it his story? Does he change at the end? Is there enough resolution? Enough cliffhangers? Does it feel good at the end?   Is there enough left open for possible sequel?
  • Only start writing when there’s a solid worked out ending in place.
  • Make a lovely spreadsheet with daily targets that go from red to black when you reach them.
  • Start writing.
  • Ok, I’ll probably get more ideas once I start writing but I can use the framework to judge whether or not they’re keepers or saves for later.
  • Keep writing until the end, updating framework with any new idea that’s a keeper.
  • Celebrate by catching up on telly, reading and sewing. Think about getting a grip on house, fridge and washing.
  • Read, edit and rewrite.

I’ve got some very generous writerly friends who read and comment and even get their kids to read and comment. I listen to what they have to say, particularly to anything they didn’t ‘get’ and deal with it. This is the bit that seems to go on forever, when I try to start thinking about the next one…