I’m logging my progress as I gear up for my first NaNoWriMo. Don’t expect these entries to be coherent or interesting if you’re not me! Sorry.
Every year I have been tempted to sign up, just to find out if I really could write a novel after all. Egged on by writer-friends on Twitter, I’ve decided to take the plunge. (If not now, when?)
NaNoWriMo’s founder, Chris Baty, wrote in his book No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days that he suspects the reason most wannabe novelists fail is: lack of a deadline. So he made one up.
I started noodling with the idea of starting a novel for NaNoWriMo, by thinking about a main character and a style of writing. Who could I write a whole book about and sustain my interest in? And what style did I most love?
Once my main character had some, well, character, it was pretty easy to think of a setting that would present her with obstacles and tension. I even came up with a secondary character who, of course, would be different from her in almost every way, but quite similar in some important ways. I plan to keep them apart for as long as possible, but they will eventually have to meet, which could kick off the climax.
Mostly I’m good at short stories, though. That’s because I start writing, then figure out what’s going to happen, and I can hold all that in my head and figure out the pace of it as I go along. I know how to pace a short story so that the climax comes right before I get tired, and I can wrap it up before I get sick of the whole thing.
But how to do that for a novel?
One of the things that put me off was the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing, and how could I possibly know how to sustain an idea through a whole book. I know lots of people outline their books and it makes sense, but I could never think about it without rebelling. Those who know me will know that, while I AM a list-maker, I tend to consider my work done once the list is pinned to the wall. I didn’t see how that could work for me, writing a novel.
Then I read this article about outlining. It was one of those ‘scales falling from the eyes’ moments for me. I grabbed some index cards, unearthed my corkboard from behind a bookshelf, and started scribbling.
I watched a first-season Star Trek (Dagger of the Mind, in case you’re interested) and once I had got over my giggles, caused by a long-ago ‘homage’ by South Park, I started tracking the peaks and valleys of tension in the episode.
With that in hand, I started putting my ideas onto index cards and pinning them to the corkboard. It is still pitifully naked at the moment, but at least now I have a kind of a map — even if I still have to go out and discover most of the lay of the land as I get closer to it.
Sketching Things Out
You’re not allowed to start writing on the novel before Nov 1, so I have sat down over the past couple of days and written a short story about my main character set several years before the story really begins. It helped me tremendously, to find out things about her, hear her voice and see how she fitted (or didn’t) into her world. It helped me establish things about her culture that will come in handy, and prototypes for other characters she will know later in life.
I’m going to spend the rest of this month doing similar things for other main characters and cultures, and setting up the language and feel of the world. I’m also goign to be working on my tone, and on my ability to churn out a lot of words in a sitting. In the past two days I have written a lot more than I have for months, but I’m still under the official word count I’ll need to do each day if I hope to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo.
So here I go.
I have index cards, I have my corkboard. I have four-ish hours every day in the house alone. I have cheerleaders. I have a 23 days to prepare.
What could possibly go wrong?