NaNoWriMo: Day 18

I am a couple of chapters beyond the excerpt that I posted yesterday, trucking along, as it were. I also have a small glass of port next to me, and I typically don’t drink anything alcoholic while I’m writing—not that I have anything against it per se. My relaxed attitude comes to me courtesy of my story’s momentum.

We are most definitely building toward the big show down, and this is a good thing.

I’ve been taking notes about scenes I need to insert once I start the second draft on this WIP. It’s a growing list, and that’s okay, because these scenes are all about making the character work stronger and doing some back fill on a few plot points. For now it’s all forward progress to the finish line. I’m a hair past 30,000 words now. So here is my advice for myself and my effort today, and if it helps others, then great.

Get your head out of your story.

My point is that from here on out, the exposition is over, the characters defined, the structure of the plot set, the conflict and antagonist introduced, and all that needs to happen is for the novel to find its way out of the maze that’s been created for it. It’s not a good time to second guess, switch characters, come up with anyone new, invent new twists (I have one exception to that which I’ll explain later), or deviate wildly in any way from what has already been laid out. One risks believability, readability, and worse, one flirts with taking the entire project off of the rails because we just had to have the “real” killer show up on page 180. If we push these stories past their breaking points, we wind up walking away from all of the work we’ve done. No book should be relegated to a dusty desk drawer, even if by Day 18 we have grave concerns about its worthiness. We should keep writing. Something good can come out of even the ugliest cesspools of fiction.

This is a great time to stick to the plan. Don’t be 1986’s Madonna, chucking all the bangles and going for platinum blonde locks. This is no time for reinvention. It’s also a terrible moment to second guess the whole story, or the progress up to this point. Of course we want to go there—if we weren’t considering that this is potentially the worst manuscript ever we would probably be overconfident. And who do agents and readers say they despise? Cocky writers. Those thoughts of hesitation are good, they’re part of the process of writing something, because they keep us careful.

Go back to the plot diagram created before any words were imprinted onto your hard drive. If you insert two new destinations and change the antagonist’s ally, how does the diagram look? Probably too messy. Put those ideas into the notebook and keep them for posterity. We can always come back to our ideas as long as we haven’t queried any publishing professionals about our project. No worries. But chances are that mucking with the careful chemistry of your original work is likely to sound forced or askew when read by someone, anyone who is not you.

One note about twists: veteran readers can spot quick plot changes or climax scenes well in advance, because they know how to read between the lines of the “show, don’t tell” concept to make pretty accurate predictions about who the real murderer is, if someone’s mentor is really their mother, or who will die in the penultimate scene. If you come up with a twist now or a little past today, you probably haven’t written in too many clues about that twist into the story at this point. So maybe it’s possible that the late-day decision to tweak the storyline can work. Just make sure it doesn’t cause the story to collapse on itself or cause a consistency issue, and listen to your beta readers when you’re at that stage. I wouldn’t rule out a twist late in the first draft game.

Congratulate yourself again this evening, because the majority of folks who started out doing their own project for NaNoWriMo have dropped out now. Even if you’re behind and only have 15,000 words—or fewer—just keep typing away. These are all words you wouldn’t have had to work with otherwise. Sometimes that’s what writing is all about.

Photo credit: Ben Beard on Flickr
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Categories: ponderings, Uncategorized

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