Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Growing Plot and National Novel Writing Month

The plot for "Scurvy Dogs!" just keeps growing, getting more fun, more complex, more interesting, and the inspiration is coming from all directions, which is the exciting part. A couple of days ago I was playing a Wii game, "Sid Meier's Pirates," when an image from the game stuck in my head. Thought about it for a while and finally it was there, full grown, how to make it work in the story, and make the story I was envisioning much better. It requires two new characters, both of whom I'm delighted with. And it seems to work even better than what I'd thought of before.

Of course, now that I'm ready to write, you can never be sure what the characters will take it into their heads to do. That's really true. If you write the characters as honestly as you can, make them as real as possible and not victims of your plot – you know what I mean, characters whose actions are motivated only by the exigencies of the plot and the needs of the author – you will find them doing things that you hadn't planned, but you have to admit are right.

That's when writing gets really fun.


Next month is National Novel Writing Month. For 30 days, participants will work their little fingers off writing the great American short novel. To meet the goal you have to write 50,000 words, which works out to 1,666 a day every day (except for one day when you have to write 1,667) including Saturdays, Sundays, and Thanksgiving.

You can learn all about it on their website. I won't be taking part for the very simple reason that I've already started my novel (the rules say every word must be written between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30.) I don't want to start over, nor do I want to be confined by an arbitrary time or length limit. But I know a couple of people who are, and I encourage them – and you, if you want to try it.

I'm of two minds about it. Anything that prompts interest in the novel and in writing, or that inspires people to try their hand at being creative, is a good thing. So mostly I'm a fan. It's probably fun.

On the other hand, it sets up some unreal expectations. 50,000 words does not a novel make, even a YA novel. And there's a sort of attitude on their website, a "Ha ha, see, this isn't so hard. What are those whiny authors complaining about" feeling, that's a little hard to stomach.

But the biggest problem I have is that the website suggests that Nov. 30 is the finish. Look at you! You wrote a novel! All done! Well, yeah, you finished a first draft, and a short one at that. The reality is the first draft isn't the end of the process, it's the beginning. Now comes the rewriting, the editing, the brutally honest reappraisal. Somebody (wish I remembered who) said, "Novels are never finished. They're eventually sent off to publishers." Because no matter how hard you've worked it, there's always something more you think you could do.

But decide for yourself. It might be just the thing you've been looking for to get started, and there's one of those online communities of other participants to cheer you on, plus listings of writing groups all over the country where you can find fellow pensters to work with.

If you want to knock out a novel next month, by all means do. Start your planning now (no rule against that) so you when you roll out of bed Nov. 1 you have some idea what you're up to. And get to it.

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