NaNoWriMo 2011: Day 1

Speaking for myself, I am not a fan of the overenthusiastic pep talker. I’d prefer folks put down the pompoms and leave the marching bands alone, choosing instead for some quiet words of encouragement that sounds reasonable to my ear. So in that vein let me whisper in the first anti-rousing sentiment for NaNoWriMo 2011:

You can do this. People finish these 50,000-word projects all the time, and they’re not better than you. Get cracking.

Now then, I usually start a manuscript with a scene that’s been burning itself into my retinas. I know where everything is in the room: the coffee cups, piled askew, thin metal shelves that could use a good dusting, chipped black and white tiles running the length of the floor and the tired smell of old vinyl from the booths interfering with the wafts of strong black coffee that are all the protagonist would like to smell at any given moment.

Here’s the thing: when I wrote that scene I didn’t include any of that. It was in my mind’s eye, but unless I felt I needed those details for the reader, I wasn’t going to put them in. Readers don’t want every stomach gurgle and neuron star in the universe described to them, they want the story. So the focus for right now, on the glorious Day 1 when all of that marvelous empty screen and blank paper is staring back at us, is just to lay down the first few scenes. Establish the following:

  • Premise
  • Protagonist
  • Voice
  • Hook
  • Conflict
  • Mood

That’s it. Don’t worry about the rest for now. A first draft, after all, is just a skeleton, so we’ll come back to add the muscles, sinew, tissues, and outer layers later.

As for that crusty diner in my mind, the one that sits in the middle of my fictitious Washington, DC, I opened the book SuperQueers with this:

Tad sat in the cramped diner, mindlessly stirring the dregs of coffee in the chipped cup, which had been maimed sometime around the end of the Johnson administration. Not that Tad knew this, of course, having himself been born in the late 1970s, but the coffee cup knew it, and it resented its situation greatly. Unfortunately for the cup it had no means of expressing this, but more than anything, it just longed for a decent washing, missing portions of itself be damned. It was a rough existence, this being a coffee cup, and it was somewhat astonished that it still existed. None of this, of course, mattered to the man who pinched it too hard and never made a good seal with his lips for the purpose of taking in whatever liquid it held.

Tad was a coffee addict, a coffee slurper, and a coffee spiller. He frequented this particular diner because it was one of a shrinking number that would serve endless refills, and because it was only three-quarters of a block from his house. And although he had a sneaky suspicion that they hated and detested him for the mess he’d make every day—like a little blitzkrieg on the worn tabletop—he came in anyway, defiant and needing his fix.

The waitress grumbled to herself as he walked in, and she glanced at the dirty clock on the wall over the booths. It was 9:17 a.m., later than usual. She’d been hoping he was sick at home, or, because she didn’t have a proscription against wishing for other people’s deaths, hoping he’d been hit by a bus. Anything. Her heart had sunk as she’d heard the tin bell over the front door tinkling and saw him shuffle in, turning his hips so he could get through the door. All that coffee and he was still the slowest moving creature she had ever encountered. She couldn’t help but frown at him almost constantly, and after all these years, the frown marks were burrowed into her face permanently. She blamed him. Neither were the wrinkles especially happy to occupy her face, having held their hopes up for being the fat folds on a baby’s arms.

“We’re out of sugar,” she told him.

That was from NaNoWriMo 2004. I’ve done it before. I finished last year, even. I can do this. And so can you.

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Categories: ev's writing, nanowrimo, Writing

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