Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Preemptive Debriefing

Don't worry, I'm keeping my shorts on. This is about National Novel Writing Month.

I'm calling it, I don't expect to win this year. I'm planning to finish between 40 and 42 thousand words. So I'm not going to get a T shirt this year, but I am going to get about 40,000 words, so that's nice. This is my third year to do national novel writing month, and I do feel like every year I get a little better (though every year I also try to do something more ambitious than the past year, so I also feel like I fall slightly farther behind my goal each year. Live and learn).

This year one of the main problems was nailing down the tone. I was trying to write something that was both funny and horrific, and deciding on the measure of each was difficult. It took me a long time to get right and the sections where the tone felt off kept sapping the willingness to continue out of me, even though I knew it was something I could tweak in editing. Tone was an issue last year too, when I had more than one moment of paralyzation trying to figure out if I was writing a mystery or an adventure that happened to have a murder macguffin. I hereby resolve that in the future, I will deal with this before I start writing a book.

I also had a little trouble getting the characters down in the first chapters, and the result was me fumbling around in the narrative dark until I got my feet under me. Like the year before last, I had a good picture of the main character in my head, but it did not translate well to paper (by contrast, last year's two main characters were not terribly fleshed out and flowed out well). Both of the main characters I had done more advance work on in order to make them more complex ended up feeling, especially at the beginning, both terribly static and less complete than I would have liked- I was spending too much time trying to get them right according to how they were in my mental plan for the novel. I don't think this necessarily means I need to discovery-write characters, but I do think I need to approach them from a starting point of a more focussed characterization to get things started, then build outward from that through actual steps in the plot.

I could have outlined better, and I say that despite a pretty thorough plot outline. This time around I was trying to write a pretty complex story in terms of plot, with a lot of betrayals and reversals and the like. I did a lot of work on it before hand, but I still hit points while writing where I went "wait a sec, that doesn't actually work". This has happened in every book so far, and I'm not sure what to do about it, as I've already taken steps to correct for it. I guess just keep at it.

I have been reminded how much help it is to talk things out. For various reasons, most having to do with work scheduling, I didn't meet with my national novel writing month group for most of the month. I've also tried to avoid discussing specifics with people I intend to bother to beta read the manuscript. Those times I have sat down and talked out problems with the novel, it's not only usually solved them, it's reinvigorated me for the writing. Apparently, this is a necessity for me for longer works. I will keep this in mind next time.

I need to sit down further in advance next time and work out universal rules for magic and religion, as well as make maps so I'm confident of both distance and direction when my characters are running for their lives. Distance is an especially big one that's come up in every single novel I've written so far. I suspect this is one of those things where no matter how much you plan you're going to end up writing a spontaneous scenario that you hadn't done the calculations for, but I know I can do better than I am.

So that's it. While I don't expect to get my 50,000, I certainly don't consider it a waste. Every single one of these things has been a learning experience. And honestly, without them I don't think I'd have had the gumption to start a novel at all.

So how did y'all do, what did you learn, and what novel writing wisdom do you have to impart?

Happy National Novel Writing Month, internet.

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