Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo Ignition

Hey, everybody, I've got a new post over at The Vanishing Blog this evening. It's my review/impressions/explanation-of-why-it's-amazing for Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Yeah, yeah, I know. A bit overdue. Deal with it and go check it out!

Here we go. We're back for another full week of posts.

More importantly, we're back for NaNoWriMo - the National Novel Writing Month.

Hopefully it'll be another successful year so I can start a win-streak (or whatever).

Anyways, on to some content.

I am excited about this. For those of you who aren't sure what NaNo is, you can go to the official site for the full information. For those who just want a summary, it goes like this: NaNoWriMo is an international initiative to encourage all those of us who have said "I'd like to write a book" to actually get up and DO IT. The challenge is to write 50,000 words entirely within the month of November, and for those 50,000 words to comprise a complete book.

Now, of course, there's no way for them to measure this, but it's really in your best interests to be honest. You're only cheating yourself, after all, by pretending to write a book instead of actually writing a book.

For those who are curious: 50,000 words in November is 1,666 words per day if you write for all 30 days (7 days a week, and all). It's 1,923 words if you take one day off each week (which some writers recommend; for me, it'll be Fridays). And it's approximately 2,273 words per day if you only write 5 days a week; so let's go ahead and bump it up to 2,500 words per day after assuming that you'll take Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday off to spend time with the family.

Okay? Between sixteen hundred and twenty-five hundred words each day, depending on your writing style. For those of you who have done it, you know it's possible. For those of you who already write every day outside of NaNo, you know this is a piece of cake. For the rest of you, looking in from the outside: this is hard work.

So, let's share some helpful pointers.

First, from the pros:

You'll want to listen to Michael Stackpole's podcast about writing fast. It's listed under "The Secrets Special Edition 05." It's just under a half-hour long, but it's definitely worth it. He has an easy-going style that mixes practical advice with illustrative examples in a way that is distinctly different from Writing Excuses (not that that's what he's going for, I'm pretty sure he's been doing this longer than them, but they're the only thing I have to compare it to).

Also, check out Kristine Kathryn Rusch's post on priorities for some good techniques on balancing your life with work so that you have time and health to write. In addition, be sure to listen to this episode of Writing Excuses about writing part time as opposed to full time.

After that, you should check out some of the structural material I linked to last week. This doesn't mean that you should try to plan out your whole book before tomorrow. Instead, you should simply try to get an overall impression of what a story structure should look like, so that you can let it come out subconsciously as you write this month.

Actually, that's probably a good place for me to pick up and offer some advice.

So, second, a few pointers from my illustrious career of one successful NaNo. (I know, I know, I'm awesome. o_o Not.)

Seriously, though, I do have some advice. A few elements from my book last year that I think helped me to make it to the end, and that I think can be easily extrapolated into general principles for NaNo.

The first two things you want to do is consider your protagonist and your ending.

That's right, your ending. Let's start with that.

I almost always have an ending in mind for my books when I start them. Sometimes it's an entire climactic battle or setting, other times it's more of an emotional revelation or tone that I want to close with. Either way, I seldom go into a project without having some idea of where it ends up. That may not be where the story goes once I get into it or it may not be where the story stops, but the important thing is that I know it's there (for now).

This does two things for me. One, it gives me direction. I have a goal or destination to work toward throughout the month. If I ever hit a hangup or don't know what happens next, I can think about "Okay, so how am I going to get this guy closer to blowing up a star destroyer?" (Or whatever.)

The other thing it does for me is it helps me figure out where to begin. Michael Stackpole talked about this a bit in his podcast above, where I'm sure he does a better job of explaining it than I'm about to.

Basically, it breaks down like this. You have a goal in mind. Stories are made of conflict. Conflicts arise when challenges come between your character and their goals. order to create the greatest amount of conflict between your character and their goal, you look at the goal and then imagine the farthest point you can place the character from that goal while still making it possible for them to reach the goal within the scope of the novel (or series, if that's what you're working on.)

For an example of this, take a look at The Lord of the Rings. Better yet, just take a look at a map of Middle-earth. You know that Frodo has to take the ring from the Shire to Mount Doom. Looking at the map, we can see that the Shire is in the exact opposite corner of the world from Mount Doom. As far away as physically possible from our goal without making the goal impossible.

(And, granted, it takes them three full books to get there.)

So, getting back to this setup. Obviously, you're going to be better equipped to figure this out if you know who your protagonist is going to be. (NOTE: For the purposes of this discussion, "protagonist" is being defined as "the character who's supposed to achieve your stated goal by the end of the book." For a more thorough discussion of what a protagonist is, read this blog post from screenwriter John August.) You can look at this from two directions: On the one hand, you can decide what the farthest point from the goal is and design a character to be in that place. On the other hand, you can decide on a character and then figure out how far away you need to place him from the goal in order to challenge him appropriately. (NOTE: All instances of "him" should be followed by "or her.")

(N.B. When I talk about "placing your protagonist as far away from the goal as possible," I don't mean "at birth" or anything like that. You still want to start the story as close to the conflict as possible, but as far as the resolution. "In late, out early" as Writing Excuses has taught me [yes, it's also a screenwriting mantra; hush!])

Okay, sorry about all the clutter up there. Let's talk more about your main character.

Alongside your ending, your main character needs to be the most well-realized and loved part of your book as you embark upon NaNoWriMo. And I don't mean this in the sense of other people saying "Oh, wow, I love your character, they're so much fun," or any other fluffy tripe like that. What I'm saying is that you need to be incredibly fascinated with your character, or excited about their emotional arc, or otherwise engaging with them in such a way that you could talk about them or write about them for hours on end. Cause, you know, you're gonna have to.

Pick someone who's really different from you, or someone who does something that interests you, or someone who's exactly like you if you think you'll be interested in writing about yourself and living as yourself for an entire month. I know this is all kind of difficult to think of in a vacuum, but it's really important that you either know this character or are willing to continually ask questions about this character and find them interesting enough to pour an entire month of your life into their development.

Whew, okay. That's a lot. I think I'm going to leave you there, even though it is kind of in the middle of a thought. Don't worry though, I'll be sure to talk more tomorrow as I get started on my project.

Until then...
-josh k.

1 comment:

  1. All good stuff. I think most of the trouble I've had finishing novels in the past is not having enough interest in my protagonists. I think I have an interesting direction for mine in this instance.

    What I'm really going to have trouble with is making time for writing. Well, here we go again anyway.