I survived another NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, November every year). I managed to write 52,055 words this year. I had originally planned to write a collection of short stories. I ended up writing one long, wandering story about a science fiction writer and his loyal and utterly cool agent and their adventures on a book tour punctuated by lots of fantastic happenings, for instance, genies, dragons, magic coins that make the holder invisible, etc. The problem was, as is often the case when one tries to write a story by the seat of one’s pants, neither I, nor the story, knew where it was going or why. I did get a glimmer of an idea toward the end of the death march toward fifty thousand words. It is going to take another fifty thousand words or so to get to the actual end of the story. By the time I edit all the extraneous crap out of the story, it might be a novella. But I did technically win NaNoWriMo and the T-shirt is in the mail.
I learned a lot from participating in NaNo this year. I realized that pretty much all science fiction, if not all fiction, is based on unintended consequences. Someone invents a marvelous device that is going to make the world a better place. That is until people get a hold of it and think of all sorts of perverse ways to abuse it and use it to commit horrible crimes against humanity. Our current world situation seems to be a case study in that principle.
Another thing I started to get the hang of was how to abuse my characters. No one wants to read about a typical day in the life of a likable guy. They want to read about how some poor guy gets up and before he can even get out of bed his world starts falling apart. And when things look like they can’t get any worse, they do. That’s the kind of story that keeps readers turning pages. Of course, the writer has to figure out ways for the characters to overcome the challenges they are faced with and obtain whatever it is that they desire so greatly as to set out on the impossible quest in the first place.
And that’s where the last thing I’m going to talk about in this post comes in. It is one thing to sit down and write a chapter off the top of your head. I like the spontaneity of that style of writing. It is another to think that you are going to be able to sustain a story over an entire novel without some idea of where it is going. The experiment that I tried this year was one inspired by experiences that I had in film school years ago. It was a well known fact that given enough raw footage, one could cobble together a half way decent movie in the editing room. The key was to shoot enough raw footage.
I decided to see if I could write enough scenes revolving around a few characters that I could later edit them into a novel. While I still believe it is possible, I have come to the conclusion that a small amount of planning, outlining, synopsis writing, whatever you want to call it, is far easier than writing a novel by starting cold at the beginning and writing until you reach the end.
Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.