This is NaNoWriMo month and we’ve reached the half-way point of our attempt to write 50,000 words in one month. This is the time when many start worrying about whether they will “succeed” in that process. NaNo forums buzz with “How can I increase my word counts? questions and “I’m way behind and I need help” calls. I thought some might benefit from a technique I (and others) use to maintain the momentum when I’m drafting any document.
Those who get it
But first, I want to save some of you the trouble of reading this. NaNoWriMo participants fall into two groups – those who get it and those who do not. Those who get it understand that NaNoWriMo provides motivation to keep your butt in the chair long enough every day to write a complete novel. They understand that while there is a 50k word goal, it’s about writing a story, not simply writing 50,000 words.
You can write 50,000 words by typing the dictionary into a document file. It’s not about the words, it’s about the story. You can tell the difference between those who get it and the rest by the fact that those who get it are talking about how their story is/isn’t flowing. They talk about scenes and about what their characters are doing. The rest discuss how to increase their word count by having characters sing songs, recite poetry, or how much it helps to give each character three names. What follows will only be useful to those who get it. Those who do not shouldn’t waste any more time here. Move on…nothing to see.
Maintaining the Momentum
When drafting a novel we all bump into the need for descriptions of this or that. We need character and place names, maybe a snappy quote, or possibly the name of a famous clothing designer. The list here is endless adn it can stop us in our tracks as we draft our novels. These things form the color of our stories. They are important, very important to whether the story will be enjoyable to readers.
BUT, most of them fall into two categories from the author’s perspective:
- Necessary and author knows details
- Necessary but author doesn’t know details
- Unnecessary but adds color and authors wants them in story
What you do when these needs arise affect how well you will achieve the goal of having a complete story draft sitting on your desk. If you head off to the Internet or walk away “to think”, it’s possible that you will derail the process completely, or at the very least you will disrupt the ‘butt in the chair’ ideal.
Combating Momentum Stoppers
I want to write drafts quickly. If feel the immediacy of moving from scene to scene without interruption is important to my story-telling. Further, once I have a completed draft I feel I’m on firm footing to turn that story into a complete, full-fledged novel without having to second guess the beginning, middle or end. To facilitate this approach, I simply to leave stuff out of my draft, knowing that I will added it during revisions. By doing so, writing 50k words in a month becomes easy. Here’s how I make my decisions:
1) Necessary for story but the author knows the details
Generally, if you know all the details, you might was well write them. But suppose your protagonist is rushing to meet someone and you’re really on a roll with the plot. He/she gets to the location and you need to write a description of the location. Doing so will slow your momentum as you can’t just jump into the meeting which is the point of the scene. Instead, just add “[description of XYZ Pub here]” and move on. You know the necessary details (eg – bar down the left side, protag sits with back to the wall, etc.) and so those details can be used even though they will be described later when you write the description.
More often than not, descriptions cause a loss of momentum because the author knows most of the details except for some aspect they want to include, but a name or some other detail is lacking. For instance, “The bad guy slid the AR-15 from its case and brought it to his shoulder. He put the protag in the crosshairs of its [type of scope] scope and pulled the trigger.” In spite of this horrific prose, you can see how stopping to look up the brand name for the scope would slow you down and disrupt your train of thought.
2) Necessary but author doesn’t know details
Maybe you’re writing a Steampunk novel and your protagonist is in downtown London in the 1890s. The protagonist is looking for a landmark that is well-known to all and you want to accurately depict its location to ground the scene. But, you don’t know the names of the streets or you don’t know what they called those carriages that Brits used as taxis. You could stop, fire up Google Earth, find a map of 19th Century London, or any number of things. You’ll have to do that eventually. but right now you’re drafting a novel. And so you write “Madam Protagonist motioned to a [name of taxi carriages] and headed towards [street in front of the Savoy].” Nothing is lost in this substitution and much is gained.
3) Unnecessary but adds color to the story
Here is where most of the momentum stoppers lie and if you’re goal is to complete a story, this is the stuff you can easily leave out without denting the plot or characters even a little bit. Snappy quotes, names of books, references to art, famous people, places, or even food add a lot to stories. They ground character and place like nothing else. But often they do not affect plot. Consider the sleuth quoting something when confronting the bad guy, or the lover quoting a line of poetry. Maybe you have the engineer of a space ship talking about wormhole generation and you want him to quote Steven Hawking. It doesn’t matter. These things make or break many novels, but they are often not necessary to move the plot forward. “Captain, our [wormhole generation device] must recharge. As Hawking used to say, [Hawking quote]. We can’t jump until we hit 72% or more.”
By avoiding the stoppages caused by searches for this information you gain considerably in my opinion. First, you retain the momentum of your story. Your characters are moving through scenes more quickly, in a more realistic fashion. As an author this impacts how you view those characters and scenes and, in my opinion, they become more real because of it. Also, it keeps you writing and, by leaving these words out of your draft, you actually increase the number of words you write. Most important of all is that leaving these things out, rather than spending time searching the Internet, you’ll end up with a complete story that you can then revise into the great novel you want it to be. Notice that I use brackets and red font to make these omissions easy to find. They are the first things I tackle when I start doing revisions. Good luck in the NaNo challenge. See you at the finish line.
Cheers — Larry