Writing: The NaNo Exercises

Welcome to November, when would-be novelists everywhere begin a race to 50,000 words. But before you write, consider the shape of your story.

Writing Tip for Today: For NaNoWriMo participants (and other novelists), here are a few tips for making the most of your race to 50k words:

The Who

Most novelists create a character before the story takes shape. This individual must engage readers and convince them to follow the journey from beginning to end. Ask yourself some detailed questions before you dive into the novel.

Even if you’re a strict “pantster,” you’ll have a more fluid writing experience if you know what makes your character tick. Think about the qualities you’ll give that character: Is this person loyal, honest, sincere? Some experts claim that generosity and forgiveness are two of the qualities readers most engage with in stories.

Make a quick list of the qualities your character possesses and then go one step farther: Draw a line with beginning at one end and resolution (the end) at the other. What sorts of MOODS will the character transition through? Many stories feature a character who wants something passionately but who at the start is discouraged, hurt or who says they no longer care about it. By the end, the character’s mood should be happy they achieved or lost that goal, or unhappy they got or lost it. Ambivalence at the end of a novel is usually unacceptable to readers.

The What

Before you go at the NaNo challenge, it’s not cheating to think about what your character wants in the story. Does Character want love, belonging, acceptance? Is the goal to vanquish some kind of evil and save humanity? Readers will need to know why they’re following your story.

Without a goal for your character to pursue, it will be much more difficult to pass the So What? Test. If you make things too easy for your character or there isn’t a clear goal, readers may not stick with the story. Ask, “If my character doesn’t achieve X goal, so what? What are the consequences?

The character’s goal is important but so are worthy obstacles. Who’s the bad guy? What forces are trying to thwart our character? What will they do to stop the character from reaching the main goal? These questions can help you steer your story in a direction that readers can follow.

Can your character’s story pass the So What? test?

Story Stakes and the So What Factor

The Why

Don’t forget about the character’s motivation. Why this goal? Why this moment? If your character just saunters around half-heartedly, not caring much what happens, readers can’t buy into the emotion.

Emotion in stories is mostly derived from reader identification. If readers can relate to what the character thinks or does, they can root for that character to succeed. When you give your character a goal, be sure that it matters both to your character and to readers.

One way to gauge this emotional level is by writing out a sketch of your character’s back story. The info isn’t necessarily for the manuscript, but if you know why the character is on this quest, you’ll be able to write that into the actions, thoughts and dialogue. Do these little shaping exercises and then dive into NaNo. Good luck and keep writing!

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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