Sunday, December 04, 2005

That's a wrap (NaNo Postscript)

In the first two passes at NaNoWriMo, I managed a combined total of 21,978 words. The first year I gave up towards the end for several reasons, mostly because I didn't have the time to devote to it. Last year, I did worse than the first year, but I liked my story anyways. So this year, I recycled it and took another stab at it.

This year, I managed an astounding 26,685 words, a full 4,707 more than my first two attempts combined. What, pray tell, did I do right this time?

Characters - I used the same characters from last time, so I didn't really need to change much about the individuals. I changed names and relationships (originally, two characters were brothers and two others were married; this time they were cousins and the other two were just friends), but besides that, I had the work done for me already.

Somewhere, out in the ether (oh, here it is), there's a character chart you can use to build your characters - give them habits, favourite things, virtues, vices, personality traits, etc. You may think you know your characters in your head, but this gives you some other things to think about which may affect how act/react to certain situations. I'm not saying you should use this, just that I found it really useful.

Plot - The first two attempts didn't have concrete plots. I had a good idea where I wanted to go, but nothing that laid out how I'd get my characters from point A to point B. Actually writing out the plot was helpful because it made me think about how each scene would play out, who would be there, how it would end, and how it would transition into the next scene. As well, I knew exactly where the major plot development was, and ended just before it.

It also gave me ideas for later developments, and gave me some flexibility - if I knew character A had to go to location B to meet character C, maybe they could bump into character D and set up a meeting at location E later on. But if didn't want to use character C or location E, I could just skip all that and have A meet D at E. The important thing was that they meet at a certain location - how and when could be negotiated.

Backstory - Some stories introduce elaborate histories to explain why a thing happened. Others start you off in the middle and expect you to keep up without explaining why. Still others start you in the middle, but explain why a thing is happening at a certain time (i.e. Character A hates enclosed spaces and can't complete the mission because ha/she can't slide down the narrow tube. In a flashback, we see it's because her mean older sister used to lock her in the laundry hamper and leave her there for hours.) The first year I did the first type, and got bogged down. The second year I tried to do the second, but still ended up wallowing around in the history. This year, I pretended there wasn't a history, and made it up as I went*.

* Which, in retrospect, would have worked better if I'd done a more detailed plot outline. At 7:30 on the 30th, I realized I had a major character inconsistency because I forgot what I'd said at the beginning and made up something new later on. At the time, I just went with the second history I'd created and kept going, but I will need to go back and fix that at some point.

Writing - I usually tried to write a little during breakfast, and later in the evening. These are the times I felt the most like writing - I wouldn't try and force myself to write if I didn't feel like. If I didn't feel like writing, I got up and did something else, and came back to it when I felt like it. There was no point in forcing myself to do something I didn't want to do.

So, in a nutshell, that's why I did better this year. I plan on jotting down a few of the other ideas I had so that next year, when I go to start writing again, I have somewhere to start.

Even though I didn't hit 50,000, which is the stated goal of the challenge, I'm very happy with how I did. Oh, we could sit down over a pot of tea and argue whether 'tis nobler to attempt and succeed, or to attempt and fail but to be pleased with the effort. But my personal challenge was to do better than I did on my last two attempts. If I got over 12,000, I would have been okay with it; if I made it past the combined total of the two, I'd be happy; and if I made it past the halfway mark, I'd be overjoyed.

There you have it.

(Pender asked in the comments the other day if I would be posting it. I don't think so - I posted what I thought was the best bit in my profile, and then completely neglected to link to my profile. There's another passage I'd like to post, which was fun to write, but not necessarily the best in the story. I can't bring myself to post the whole thing just yet - it needs some TLC and space just now. It's sort of like a bad tattoo in an embarrassing spot - I need to come to terms with it and accept it before I can start showing it off.)