It’s November again and we all know what that means National Novel Writing Month is upon us. You can follow my progress and friend me on the site here.
What I really hope though is that some of you are going to try their hand this month. I’m a big fan of taking part in the act of creation and it’s my wish that more people at least give it a try. And that’s why this week, I’m going to offer up some ideas on how to get yourself going and reach that word count even if you start late.
Ready? Because here we go!
Tip 1: Don’t Discount Your First Idea
If you follow this blog or have done much digging into it, you might have read my previous article, the originality trap. In it, I described a tendency for writers to go nuts in their attempts to be seen as original, often resulting in incomprehensible or just plain stupid concepts and plots.
What I only touched on there was a greater tragedy: the fact that every week hundreds of potential stories that would have been really good are discarded because they aren’t ‘original’ enough.
The sad fact is that these writers don’t understand what true creativity means. Originality isn’t creativity; creativity is creativity. And creativity has more to do with the whole of the tale rather than its core concept. Disney’s The Lion King is not diminished by the fact that it’s essentially Hamlet. West Side Story isn’t a lesser story on its own merits just because it’s Romeo and Juliet.
When I talk about good or bad, I’m not talking about what’s the so-called ‘artistic’ or ‘technically correct’ choice, I’m talking about what works and the bulk of what works isn’t the tropes used or the concepts, it’s the harmony of the whole.
What does this have to with your work? Well I see it all the time where a writer is suffering from writer’s block, it’s not because they don’t know what to write, it’s because they’ve already rejected several perfectly serviceable stories because they thought it wasn’t original enough or because they got started then thought of some obscure movie or book that had a recognizably similar plot or initial set-up.
Do not let this stop you from writing a story. No matter how derivative the outline sounds in your head, the addition of characters, setting, twists (that make sense, not idiotic ones like a certain director is known for) and the dynamics between all of them can very easily make yours a wildly different story, possibly a better story.
Remember, Nanowrimo is about getting your ideas out of your head and onto the page; it’s not about fretting that you’re creating the next Newbery Award winner. Polishing and honing your craft can come later.
Tip 2: Dialog and Business Are Your Friends
Putting down 50,000 words in a month is pretty daunting even for someone who has put down over 5 million like yours truly (The first Rune Breaker series was a quarter million alone). To be honest, with my already packed schedule, I’ve only won Nanowrimo twice in the seven years I’ve done it.
However, I’ve learned some things from both my wins and losses that have helped me make that word count and in the process I believe made my writing better.
It’s a two step approach. First, whenever possible, I try not to have blocks and blocks of pure narrative I’ve found that when I’m writing out pure prose, just describing what’s happening in sequence, I tend to get hung up on transitions; getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in the sequence, not to mention, long strings of description, no matter how fun the narrative voice is, gets tedious to write and is often boring to read.
So, when I have the characters there to provide it, I make ample use of dialog to break up those chunks of narrative.
The problem with that, however, is in what the Turkey City Lexicon (which I highly recommend you check out if you’re interested in writing and stories) calls the White Room Problem. You see, often times, when people write dialog, it falls into the pattern of:
“Blah blah,” said Dave.
“Blah,” agreed Stan
“Blah blah blah?”
Notice the lack of action or description between those. It’s as if it’s all taking place in a stark, white room. Hence the name.
Some writers break up the white room simply by breaking it up with the narrative they were using the dialog to break up in the first place. Personally, I don’t see that as much of a solution because the effect remains the same. The characters are no longer floating in a white void, they’re floating within a backdrop that moves around but doesn’t touch them.
That’s where business comes in.
I’ve talked about business before: it’s a film term for the extraneous actions an actor takes that are unrelated to the plot but show the character interacting with their environment. This can mean picking up and manipulating objects in a room, looking at or dodging obstacles while walking or driving, or even just emoting with their hands or expressions.
This not only fleshes out the characters and environment and makes the narrative flow better, but in terms of your nano, it’s an easy way to pad word count. And if you’re worried about padding…
Tip 3: Write Now Edit Later
I have a bad habit that probably slows me down way more than I’d like to admit. When I do see I’ve types a mistake, very rarely do I just move the mouse to the error and fix that. Nope, I backspace all the way to the error, then rewrite the whole damn thing. Blame the shitty way typing was taught to me in middle school at the dawn of the age of computers in the classroom: we weren’t allowed to use the mouse while typing. Ever. So you had to either arrow over or backspace. I backspaced.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is 1) yes, I do do some editing before I post stuff, really I do, and 2) Some writers are slow because they edit while they write instead of after they’re done when it’s traditionally performed.
Editing, by the way, isn’t merely about correcting spelling and grammar mistakes and finding missing words. It includes things like moving sections around so they read better, re-writing unclear or just bad sentences, checking for continuity errors, and rechecking facts.
And a lot of writers, even yours truly, do a lot of this as they work and that means they aren’t finishing the damn book. To be brutally honest, having 20,000 perfect words don’t mean a damn if you haven’t finished the story. That goes double for NaNoWriMo because not only is it a timed trial, but it’s not a professional work. It’s an exercise in what I’m sure wise writing guru Chuck Wendig would call ‘just shut up and write already’. Your mistakes are not any more important than your originality is at this point: just get your story out in November. National Novel Editing Month is January.
And because editing comes later, not now…
Tip 4: Feel Free To Ramble
I’m the first guy to complain about overly-long, ‘I’m being paid by the word’ Dickens-inspired descriptions that are as boring as they are pointless. I rail against pointless product placement where the author isn’t being paid by Nissan and yet have to mention that their character’s car is a Nissan Versa every three pages. I rage like Bruce Banner at literally any location and situation when writers wax on and on about eyes or vomit forth either purple prose about emotions or bile-brown prose about how inexplicably shitty and disgusting every inch of their setting is (fun fact, fantasy writers: they had clean water and soap in the middle ages and they rarely took giant dumps on the sides of their interior walls).
But when you’re doing a Nano… it’s open season.
The point is being wordy and getting to 50,000 words. It’s about doing whatever you can to finish your story in time. It is not the time where you worry about the economy of words.
And besides, writing utter shite is how we learn. It’s also how Stephanie Meyer, Makr Millar (excepting Superman: Red Son) and George RR Martin (go ahead and yell at me in the comments, but I have no idea why people like Game of Thrones. [[Edit: since the writing of this article, Martin wrote a short, utterly perfect response to the shitlords using the attacks in Paris as an excuse to reject Syrian refugees from coming to the US. While I still don’t like his writing, between this and his response to the Sad Puppies attempt to sabotage the Hugo Awards, I respect him as a man.) got filthy, stinking rich, so maybe you don’t even need to realize that part of the editing process is cutting the extraneous crap out.
This is an exercise in very rough creation. It’s about forcing you to sit down and do what millions of people claim they’re going to do someday and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. If you weren’t part of a group challenge, if there wasn’t a time crunch or a bragging rights reward, if it was about producing perfectly polished and being expected to come up with something peer-reviewable, most people would be scared off from doing it, and frankly, it wouldn’t be fun.
Play. Ramble. Dare to be Stupid. Whatever, just write!
And speaking of, I’m cutting this short so I can do just that. What’s this year’s project for me?
Three short stories set in Ere that will be part of a published collection: Issacor’s Tale: Live by the Sword, Griffinseye: Sorcery and Subterfuge, and Wintercoming: A Rune Breaker Holiday Tale.
Next week, I’ll be premiering a new regular feature on the blog: Behind the Screen, a series or articles about Dungeon Mastering for D&D and beyond.