Past NaNoWriMo events have taught me several things:
- 2009: I can sit down and organically write 50,000 words of fiction if I want to. Before that I didn’t think I could. Unfortunately, writing this way results in a meandering, boring bit of prose.
- 2010: If I brainstorm in advance, and have a decent picture of where I want the story and characters to go, I can hit the 50,000 word goal more easily and produce something with a bit of a story to it.
- 2011: Brainstorming down to the individual scene level makes writing a breeze for me, but if I go into too much detail I risk feeling like I’ve already written the story before I start. That can be very de-motivating.
- 2009-2011: I have an extreme tendency to avoid putting my characters into conflict, which results in fiction that isn’t interesting. Even my characters tend to side-step conflict that I do include, because it’s out of character for them or they’re too smart to have gotten involved in the first place.
As the chart shows, I wrote nothing on days 1 and 2. I only had the vaguest notion of what I wanted the story to be. On the third, I still had no idea but pushed myself to write something, anything. This worked well enough until about the 13th, where at 24,000 words I felt out of ideas. For several days, I wrote absolutely nothing. After a chat with a co-worker and friend near the 18th, I gained a few ideas and got to around 38,000 words over the next few days. Finally, I hit what felt like the steel-reinforced brick-and-mortar lead-lined wall of writer’s block. I pushed myself to write one more scene, hoping it would trigger something. And it did, but not what I expected.
I’ve heard of writers having written dialogues with their characters during brainstorming sessions. At this point in my story, the characters broke down that imaginary “fourth wall” between us. They started complaining about the book they were in, about me, and cursing at me for writing them into it. One of them even shot himself. (This all happening in a trance-like writing state I experienced.) The remaining character in the scene turned to me and began interviewing ME. He asked questions like:
- “So, we’ve been in my office about a dozen times since this book started. What does it look like?”
- “How is the office decorated?”
- “Why don’t I have any family photos, or any photos, in my office?”
- “Why did I have this particular desk lamp?”
- “What does the artwork on the wall mean to me?”
- “You mentioned there’s a safe on the wall behind that painting. What do I keep in it, and why"?”
I learned from this experience that I do much better fleshing out a character by having one of these stream of consciousness interviews than I do from any other technique I’ve tried. I will definitely have to do this again for the next novel I write. I’ve also learned that conflict is my biggest problem. If I’m ever going to write a book anyone will enjoy reading, I’ve got to get that issue fixed. Fortunately, I have some good resources on the bookshelf that should help.
I’ve also learned that writing flows most easily for me when I get into a meditative trance-like state and let things flow organically. I can see and hear the characters speak, and need only transcribe what they’re saying and doing. But this trance-like state only works to a certain point. If I don’t know the characters well, and don’t know what kinds of challenges I’m planning to throw at them, writer’s block will quickly ensue.
Before I make my next attempt to write a novel, I’m going to try the following:
- Enter that trance-like state and interview my potential characters to learn more about them before I put them in any situations.
- Using good resources like Story Engineering and Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide, brainstorm at least the major events of the story, getting down to the scene level if I can.
- Take the time to examine those scenes to see where I can squeeze in additional, relevant conflict for the characters to deal with before they’re written.