Friday, November 20, 2009

NaNo Wrimo Advice: Look to the Scene Amigo

NaNo Wrimo has crossed the halfway point. Now the uphill battles begins. There are eleven more days to make the critical threshold. It might be a good idea to call in sick from work if you are overly stressed and want to hit your number. Maybe you write better under pressure.

I’ll tell you something that often works for me and I do this with all of my fiction. I go to dialogue when I need to spur fresh writing. I want to see my characters respond in different situations. I might even find something juicy about my character and when I learn it a spate of information rushes forth. And there is your writing blitz.

If it were another month I’d spend more time exploring the underlying reasons why my character did such and such. I might even question it and see if it jived with the stuff we knew about him previously. But, that’s not going to cut the mustard, not if you are only at 20,000 words and you need to bang out 30,000 more in eleven days.

The point is you need to do whatever it takes to open up your story so that it will move forward. Let me strike that previous comment. It’s okay to move backward too. Let’s say you feel you’ve hit an impasse because you think you ended your novel. That’s fine, but with the writing frenzy you’ve been partaking in there’s no way in the world you’ve scratched the surface of a fully-realized character let alone a full cast of them.

Go back and develop fresh scenes. Use dialogue to move it along. See how each character responds to plain comments, random comments, and bizarre requests. And especially pay attention to that last one. It might just carry the seed to another chapter or even a whole new novel.

Think of these encouraging words by Philip Roth. “It takes two-hundred or so pages just to get going.” Now this seems daunting, it makes writing a herculean task and frankly it is. But, if it takes a master that long to get going you can see how manipulating your characters will be for the their best interest as well as the success of your novel.

I am also a big believer in taking short pauses to gather yourself and figure out where you want to go next. There is plenty of free-writing. But, I don’t always see the merit in pure free-writing. For the most part, I see it as fruitless typing. I think your best off if you arm yourself with a few simple questions. Have them written down so you can return to them when you are in a writing session. Nobody says you have to answer the question in any particular way. But, by making the effort to answer the question you will have keyed in some words. That’s the point.

I had a great writing teacher by the name of Craig Lesley who was a student of Raymond Carver and Craig always said when you get into trouble always go back to the scene. We talked a lot about this very subject when I was working on some short stories and he asked me, quite slyly, “How many scenes do you have?” and I remember the first time he asked me this I hadn’t a clue. Well, a lot has changed since then. For one, I think in scenes even if I am spouting off in a stream of conscious narrative. Go back to “Portnoy’s Complaint” if you don’t believe me. Roth’s narrator starts off by telling his shrink everything in his head. It’s essentially and unfiltered monologue, but low and behold there are scenes in it and it’s not because after a while you realize he’s talking to his shrink, but because he directly addresses his mother, his father, and even his alter ego. He replays scenes from childhood.

Don’t rewrite “Portnoy’s Complaint,” but if you find yourself coming to a halt then go into interrogative mode. Pit different characters who haven’t met each other yet into scenes. Some really nifty things will happen. I promise you. And don’t worry whether or not you think this is going to make it into the final draft. NaNo Wrimo is about getting it onto the page. Give your inner editor the month off.


  1. Alright, here I am at 10:30 pm. I did call in sick today, not for nano but because I AM REALLY SICK! The whole household is sick! I did however get to the 25k mark just now, and decided to check your blog. Glad I did. What's crazy about my Romanian endeavor is that I'm 25k words in, and they have yet to leave Romania. In fact they are about to board the plane right now! I feel like a kindergartener trying to write War and Peace! It's turning epic on me...three subplots have emerged on their own, and my main character (Lucia) is fearless (unlike her author)! I was going to go to bed after visiting your blog, but no way...not after all this inspiration. Catch me if you can!

  2. It sounds like you are indeed going epic which is the perfect mode to be in at this point. You have a second wind and I have a feeling that Lucia is going to triumph. Kudos for her and for you giving her that Heroic life.

  3. Lucia's taking on a huge life of her own at this point, and I'm doing everything possible to keep up with her. She's a polar opposite of Gabi, which makes me feel psycho when I go back and forth between the two stories.

    I really need more info tho...especially on the Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro parts. I need to go there...roll around in the mud or whatever to get the true essence of those places. Romania has been feels like my new home away from home. I'm longing to go there too...bum-bye!