Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Preparing for National Novel Writing Month

Last year, I hit 40k. Not in income, alas, but in the November novel writing event, known as NaNoWriMo. Produced by NaNo bugs, of course (for those of you with elementary school children obsessed with the newest gadget...) The goal was 50k, which means filling about four 8.5x11 sheets of paper per day. That's a lot.

I wasn't too disappointed not to have hit the limit, however, because I did something that I find pretty challenging. Namely, I resolved the story.

After rewriting the story, and adding another 6k, I asked my friend Sarah to beta read the short novel. She confirmed my fear, that I never let anything really bad happen to my characters. No suspense. No pain. Only resolution. I'm now in a second rewrite.

So this year I am trying to allow bad things to happen. This is counterintuitive. I spend my whole life trying to make sure bad things don't happen. Why would I intentionally make bad things happen to people I like? I guess because I want to prove that they can handle it. Or, more honestly, because I want to write a good story, and I read over and over that there is no story in happiness.

Is that true? I think that, in my unhappy times as a little girl, I wanted to read happy. And I still dislike the parts of stories where bad things happen to characters I love. So I think I don't believe in the mantra of happy is boring. Or maybe I simply don't mind being bored in that way.

Still, this year I will stick to the script, just to see if I can do it. If I can create true drama. I have been looking at the more interesting of formulaic approaches, on, yes, "How to Write a Book Now dot Com." It's detailed. The author suggests addressing requirements, costs, dividends, requirements, forewarnings, etc. "Forewarnings make the reader anxious that the consequence will occur before the protagonist can succeed."

It isn't that I am not aware of these elements when I am reading or thinking about stories, but I think I get lazy about them while I'm writing. I want to write the honey, and skip the comb.

About one more week to settle on a plot. I've got most of the other elements down, including goal, inciting incident, characters, setting... I think I will do what I did last year, and write brief chapter summaries. Which, it almost goes without saying, will be ignored. But at least they will be there, defining my work by their opposition.

Here are the posts I wrote about the 2011 NaNoWriMo: The End of NaNoWriMoSoutherners must be laughing..., and NoMo what?


  1. Thank you for addressing this issue, and explaining it so well. I also hate being mean to my characters, and it's really helpful to see how you are dealing with that.

    I am in the middle of a major re-write, with added character suffering. It's HARD!

  2. I think it's true that you have to have things happen that your characters didn't want to happen (bad things!). I have trouble with this, too. There's a conflict of interest when you're trying to both get into the heads of the characters and write the story around them. Good for you for getting to the resolution last year! I always have trouble with that.

  3. I'm still having unresolved feelings about this. I'm 2 weeks into NaNoWriMo, and feel my feet dragging about bad things happening. Honestly, I don't think it necessarily needs to be a devastating setback. Patricia McKillip's The Cangeling Sea is a very fairytale like story, but, although the main character starts out with heartbreak, and carries it nearly to the end, the central conflict does not seem like it would have hurt the author to write (unrequited love, essentially). This is one of my favorite stories ever, and there is not that much direct conflict. Just difficult family situations. We all know about that.