…in an Unspecified Number of Steps of Varying Difficulty
It’s coming! IT’S COMING! Brace yourself!
After my previous article on Why Everyone Should Be Doing NaNoWriMo, I’m hoping that a tonne of people rushed to sign up to participate, or at least forwarded the article to that friend they’re always saying should write a book. (Everyone has one. You know it. Do them a favour and push them.) As Beyonce says, if you like it then you shoulda put a link on it.
So anyway. As promised, here are a few ideas on how to slay this thing. I hesitate to call them advice because 1) all too frequently people on the internet who dispense advice are condescending underachievers and 2) I don’t like to get advice, so why would I give it? Look at these as my ideas that you’re free to disagree with or put into practice with as much modification as you please.
There will not be a test.
1) Have a PLAN, have a STRUCTURE This article by Ali Hale on the 8-point story arc is basically what saved my butt last year (if the link ever breaks, please Google it!). I’d really, really recommend you read it. I’m an avid reader and consider myself well-versed on what creates narrative tension, how a story should be paced and what shape it should take, but I’m definitely not above using these to help organize my thoughts.
Here’s a very practical guide to what I did. First I wrote down all the points. Then I wrote down what all the points meant – i.e. this is what happens in the trigger, this is what happens in the climax. Next, I made a list of the chapters (I chose to have 10 chapters of 5,000 words each.) Then I decided which point(s) would occur in each chapter. THEN I went through and outlined the details of each point – what would happen in the story. I wasn’t too detailed – maybe 200 words per chapter. Remember that you’re not going to devote equal space to each plot point and DOUBLE remember that even if you’re devoting a chapter to a plot point you need to have other stuff happening that leads up to it. Unless you want your story to be eight sentences long, of course.
2) SHOW and TELL Actually, just show. We all know the tired old gag about describing how
Billy walked into the room and wiped the rain off his $400 coat before realizing that not one, but two of his ex-wives were watching him with faces like tigresses startled in the act of love
…is a lot better than writing about how Billy was a rich man who had blown through a number of marriages that had ended badly.
But really, take this into account. Unless your narrator is a character, they shouldn’t even have a voice. They shouldn’t even exist. Never make observations about your characters – let them do it. Let the other characters do it, and even then be circumspect about it. People who are always both absolutely truthful and absolutely honestly do not exist, and if they do, they shouldn’t do it in books.
3) Write the way you speak! No, really! I hesitate to make stylistic recommendations because that’s what the post-writing editing process is for. But if you’re writing in a voice you’re not fully comfortable with, you’re going to come off as pretentious. Worse, at some point you’re going to realise that it all feels foreign and awkward and alienating.
Be sparing with your adjectives, especially if you’re writing fantasy fiction. Seriously. You do not need to follow every character introduction with a description of how her shining, pale platinum blonde tresses fall in delicate, silky waves to her tiny waist – unless you’re writing a parody. That’s old and a cliche. You’re better than that.
4) Sharpen your Google Fu! (Or do your research beforehand!) There’s still a lot of time before NaNoWriMo, which means you have a lot of time to read up on those factoids that are necessary for your salient plot points. Last year I spent a lot of time researching weather, Scottish property prices, the interior layout of cottages, driving distances, and other trivia of that nature. I’m not saying it’s absolutely necessary for everyone to do that, but I felt a lot safer knowing that my entire plot wasn’t going to unravel because of some tiny detail. I didn’t spend hours every day looking stuff up, but I did know where to go for it.
5) Meal-Planning I am not even kidding about this one. NaNoWriMo is a bit of a time-consuming endeavour, but it’s also a great chance to inject a lot of structure and planning into your life. I reckon it’s best to set aside time every day to do the stuff you need to do, do it quickly and efficiently and spend the rest of the day writing. I managed to get my 50,000 words written by day 26. Funny thing is, I did the bulk in the first two weeks, and then really struggled with the last bit, probably because I was running out of clean clothing and needed to scramble to take care of the backlog of chores. This year I’m planning a massive spring clean (or late autumn clean, anyway!) at the end of October, which will be followed by four weeks of one-pot meals (to minimize on the dishes), carefully planned in advance.
That’s me. If this sounds like rubbish to you, it might be useful to identify the areas of your own life that could be reorganized to fit in MOAR WRITING.
6) Rewards Whether it’s an episode of a TV series you like, a block of chocolate, a cookie, a piece of vintage Irish cheddar – have some kind of carrot to dangle in front of yourself so that you can give yourself a reward when you hit your daily word count. (And remember to buy it beforehand so you don’t have to waste time leaving the house when you could be writing.) This is the time for counting words, not calories!
That being said, get comfortable when you’re writing. Having a warming mug of the beverage of your choice on hand (or a refreshing cooler if you’re in the southern hemisphere) can help you get in the mood. Last year my poison of choice was cocoa with a wee dram of whisky – to get in the mood, y’know. (Also, it was incredibly freaking cold. I bought fingerless gloves and wrote most of my novel huddled under a duvet.)
7) Stop reading (It’s just one month.) I put my reading on hold for a month. This is a personal choice because one of my biggest fears is that my work will resemble an author I admire. So I keep other fiction out of my head. It also helps free up time and headspace.
So anyway. This is just an offhand outline of how I like to organize my life before and during NaNoWriMo. If you have any advice/ ideas, feel free to share!