bookmark_borderPrepping NaNo 2012: How traits present, and Listing moments

As I write, the date is September 24, 2012, and I have just spent the last hour burning with material for NaNoWriMo 2012. Ideas are just popping out and I’m throwing them down in a private blog post for future reference.

This will be NaNoWriMo V for me. I’m planning a sequel to my 2011 3DayNovel story that has grown from 23,500 words into what is now a 60,000 word novel, with further revisions, additions and deletions still to come. A few months ago (while lying in a bath; a great place for ideas!) I got the central plot for the sequel. I’ve played with the ideas off and on by creating a few different pages on ListThings, but now I’ve accumulated those pages into a single blog post, and in the last hour I’ve added about 100% more.

In keeping with the NaNoWriMo rules all these prep materials are only thoughts, ideas, descriptions, characters, plots, and questions because I’m not allowed to do any actual writing until November 1. What I’m finding useful are two things that I learned in the 2012 3DayNovel process:

  1. Look at how characteristics and personality traits could possibly present themselves. These I indicate with “AS: “, meaning that the trait presents itself by the character doing these possible things, or as, and,
  2. List moments or events, rather than thinking in terms of chapters or scenes,

and then I throw down anything that comes to mind, even if they are contradictory or out of sequence. Contradictory reactions could be the same trait presenting in a different situation, or I could build a new contrasting character from it or add the trait to an existing character for tension. And sequence doesn’t matter in the notes because I can rearrange at any time.

And I wasn’t aware how constricting the search for scenes (chapters) is for my thinking process. I wasn’t even aware that I was thinking in terms of chapters until I stopped and forced myself to look smaller, to just imagine moments. “Trips and drops books” is a moment, and later I can add the kind of day the MC was having and/or where they going and/or what distracted them, and then who saw this and what happened as a result of this moment later on in the plotting or in the writing process. If I focus on trying to generate a multitude of moments to write that relate to

  1. the plot, and/or to
  2. the exposition of a character’s personality traits, or
  3. conflicts between characters, or
  4. important characteristics of the setting, or
  5. basically any element of the story,

I can find ways to join them together later, or throw them out, or replace them with something else.

And the nice thing is that NaNoWriMo doesn’t require me to subtract the trashed writing from my total word count.


The other nice thing will be, if I collect enough moments, that I will rarely get stuck in the writing process. Because the moments do not always have a predetermined sequence or connections to other moments I can jump around anywhere and write anything. Now, sequentially some things must likely come before others because some moments will depend on some previous events having previously occurred (can’t throw out the baby with the bath water unless the bath has been drawn, the house has been built, the baby has been born, ect), but I don’t have to join or transition them as I write. And without written transitions I may feel freer to reorder as needed. I can save the transitioning to lulls in the writing process, or whenever I feel the need to glue some parts together to get a better sense of the whole so far.

But, I suspect that one of the keys to working this way is to generate a massive quantity of moments and possibilities, including lots and lots of small daily occurrence types of events. That may be part of the reason that my 3DayNovel ended up being a short story.



bookmark_borderJust writing moments; Doing the 3 Day Novel

Over the September long weekend I did the 3 Day Novel. I don’t want to write about that experience so much (though if you write fiction and have never tried it, give it a go!) but I went through a new, for me, writing experience in the process.

I was uncertain about participating in the competition because 1) I had been struggling to write lately, and 2) I had no plan; no plot, no characters, just a vague idea that I wanted to try my hand at some YA simply because I like to try my hand at different genres.

In the last couple of days prior I researched some typical adolescent worries. Then I took those and thought about how they might present themselves as characteristics or actions. For some I had more than one since any one could present themselves in a number of ways.  For example, take school grades and homework. One person might study and worry, another person might procrastinate and panic, but that same person may in another situation actually study hard. Adolescents are human too, and their choice of action or reaction can vary.

Having a list of possible ways in which these concerns might present (I’ve been watching a lot of old episodes of “House”, btw) I started attaching some of them to three different characters. But as of midnight on Friday, start time for the 3 Day Novel, that’s all I had.

For the novel competition you can prepare as much as you like but you cannot do any writing. I spent the first hour or so of my time not writing but creating “moments”; story elements that are, for the most part, shorter than chapters or scenes. For example, one “moment” was “girl 1 tells the others that she heard that someone at another school committed suicide”. That’s too short for a chapter, but I decided on a number of moments that would present the characteristics of my characters to the reader.

When I started writing, all I did was to pick and choose moments to write, moments to flesh out and bring to life. I didn’t necessarily do them in order of occurrence and I didn’t worry about how long or how these moments would work together. I just made these moments into fiction.

Toward the end I started thinking in terms of balance and time lines and rearranged some of the planned order of these moments. I also started to add to some of them and fill them out into chapters, and in a couple instances joined two moments into one chapter. Eventually I realized that I was pretty much done; all the moments were down on paper. Then it was time to finalize the order and to write the ending and the opening.

As it turned out, this last stage happened during the evening of the second day, meaning that I was way ahead of schedule. It also cut my novel short resulting in a 10,000 short story rather than a novel. But forcing more material into the story would only decrease the quality as the word count increased. That’s not to say that a year from now and after multiple reviews that this won’t be a 25,000 word story, but within the single remaining day I wasn’t going to improve the story and add substantial length at the same time, so I edited it and sent it off for the competition entry as it was.

I think the result is not a bad short story, but more important to me is the approach to writing that I learned; defining characters with characteristics, figuring out how those characteristics might present (or in reverse order; characteristics then characters), designing moments to represent the characters to the reader, then putting those moments down on paper without thinking about chapters or flow or sequence.