Sunday, 21 November 2010

What have you learned from NaNoWriMo?

I have entered the National Novel Writing Month for the first time this year. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

Frankly, I was intimidated by the whole prospect. I had not heard of NaNoWriMo until about a week before November 1st and I decided to enter for it a couple of days later. That left me with only a few days to plan, so I used them well.

I figured that I'd need some idea of what to write, so I arbitrarily divided the story into 20 chapters of 2500 words each. I used a story idea I had been nurturing for a while and I wrote a one or two paragraph chapter synopsis for each of the 20 chapters.

Then on 1st November the madness started. I had no idea whether I could reasonably expect to finish on time, so I piled into it with gusto, making as quick progress as I could. This is where I found rule 1. Don't edit as you go. If I had allowed myself to pour over what I had writen I would still be struggling at about 2000 words. I had to allow myself to say "Not now. I'll come back and edit that later..." That was the hardest part.

The next thing I found was that my chapter synopses varied from woefully inadequate to barely adequate. I had chosen two POV characters and each chapter synopsis stated whose POV I should use, and contained some statement about the chapter content.

In some cases the synopsis didn't really have any actual action, so it was rather hard to eke 2500 words out, and others had about enough action content that I could do so without too much hardship.

The next thing I learned is that a 50,000 word novel is really short. When a chapter has 'padding' that fills out the character of the story rather than moving the action from point A to point B, it's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it seems to have some considerable scope for enhancing the work.

So... Boff is okay? No, or at least, not necessarily. What seems to work is boff that fills out the story and gives a more three dimensional portrayal of the characters. What doesn't seem to work is boff that just fills space. Not too surprising really.

I found myself learning about character development. Each of the main characters in the story had their own particular quirks and peculiarities, and I had to be consistent about those. That's not as easy as it sounds. Also, some of the characters are noticeably changed by the events of the story. That needs to come out in the action and dialogue, not by just telling the reader they have changed. An interesting challenge, but one that is easier in practise than might seem when just contemplating the prospect.

These are just some of the things I have learned from my NaNoWriMo experience. As it happened I finished my book at just under 53,000 words after 15 days. I was over the moon at achieving this, and it is the first time in my life that I have completed a first draft of a book length work of fiction - albeit a short 50,000 word book.

So, what has your experience been so far?

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