Writing the Ultimate Nano Novel

One Fat Cat

One Fat Cat

Every year, by the middle of November, you can almost hear the anguished cries of writers furiously at work on their NaNoWriMo novels. The middle of any novel draft is a risky place for even the most seasoned or plot-wise writer. If you’re speeding toward the November 30th deadline, the dreaded mid-novel sag can hit even more forcefully.

Writing Tip for Today: Whatever your motivation for finishing your novel, here are some ways you can better get that draft finished without losing your way (or your mind!):

Have You Scene It?

If your Nano effort seems to be going nowhere, remind yourself to write the story in scenes rather than too much narrative. Scenes act out the story for readers and allow them to draw their own conclusions based on the tension and the outcome. Writing that sums up, interprets or otherwise tells the reader about the story tends to frustrate. While you may start out by telling—you have to tell yourself the story too—readers crave the action and high tension that is far more likely to happen if two or more characters interact in a natural way. Although the 30 days of NaNo doesn’t leave much time for rewriting, resolve to finish out the rest of the story through scenes rather than telling. You can find basic scene writing tips here. Remember that scenes work best when the characters oppose one another or they both want something only one can have. Your main character (that is, the POV character) should lose more than win, and as you approach the middle of your draft, consider upping the stakes even more. An excellent reference is James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel from the Middle.

What’s the Worst?

Another way of getting past your novel’s midpoint is to consider those stakes by asking, “What’s the worst thing that will happen to my character if he doesn’t get what he’s after?” If the answer is that she’ll be unhappy, or he’ll be sad, rethink your character’s main goal. Fiction needs to be larger-than -life in a sense, so try to set the stakes of the goal as high as possible. One way to think of these stakes is to imagine all the levels at which not attaining the goal will affect the character and his world in a negative way. You might do this by drawing concentric circles and figuring out the effects on your character, the character’s relationships or family and all the way out to the world or even the universe. Stories that impact more individuals tend to be more compelling because readers tend to personalize characters with which they identify. A resource is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, where he guides writers in setting high stakes.

Who Do You Love?

Finally, you’ll be far more likely to type THE END by the close of November if you really truly love your character. Most writers incorporate at least some of themselves in their stories. The more you care not only about your character but her goal and what she’s striving for, the more likely you’ll be interested and invested enough to see the story to its conclusion. Spend time with your character, get to know him and why she does the things she does. Explore the character’s background so you’ll understand the person you’ve created. Give your hero qualities everyone admires: honesty, generosity, the ability to forgive, even if that character must grow into those traits. As you write (those scenes!) don’t be afraid to write emotion over the top. I’d much rather over-write and pull back during revisions than write a numb character and then try to animate her later on. And while you’re busy loving your character to the end, don’t forget to have fun! It’s only a draft you’re after, not a polished manuscript. There will be plenty of time for rewriting (and rewriting). For the month of November, just open the throttle and go for it in the best way you can. You might surprise yourself and produce a gem.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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