Tag Archives: nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up


Here we are, December 2nd. National Novel Writing Month ended two days ago.

I have participated in this for several years now. I’ve won (i.e. hit 50K words) three times now. Let me just say the learning curve is steep. My first year, I won, and I have never, ever looked back at that story. It was awful, self indulgent, and often times read like a list of stage directions – “Person 1 goes to the sink, while person 2 crosses to the left of her.” (My background is in theatre, I think in stage directions sometimes.) Then came a string of years where the story didn’t quite have enough gas to get to 50K, one of those being the Changing Leaves novella that I am now posting here.

Last year was the first year I got a story that spanned the full 50K, and was interesting. While I got the plot all in line, it was a pretty two dimensional story, and my characters were flat. I’ve spent the last few months on revising it. It has been a huge job, and I’m still going. It’s not even to a point where I want someone to read it yet.

In the last year I have taken a writing class, submitted a short story to several magazines (all of which declined it), and spent a sizable chunk of my very slim sliver of free time learning what I can about writing. I have struggled to get to write every day, often having weeks upon weeks where I didn’t even glance at my laptop, much less get into writing.

But, I have kept coming back.

Now, this year. Here on the far side of November I have 54,080 words of a novel. A novel that likely has another 25,000-30,000 words left before the story is finished. A story that, while it needs work, is (hopefully) leaps and bounds ahead of last year’s already.  I’m still writing, and I’m still enjoying the story. That alone makes it hugely different.

Someone asked me what I got out of doing NaNoWriMo – did I get a prize? What was winning? The first year I won, I was proud of myself, but it was in a “Yay!!! Now what?”  kind of way.  The second time I won, it was just a huge relief to get done. I put that manuscript away for a couple of months afterward. This year, I’m ready to keep going. I have more story there, and I have some ideas how to fix up last year’s. I have a couple of short stories wiggling around in my head, and quite a few more posts in Changing Leaves to share.

If I’m being realistic, there is a strong likelihood that, at the age of 41, nothing I am writing will ever see the inside of a bookstore. Unless I’m carrying it in my bag while I’m shopping. At times, that makes it feel like the most ridiculous thing I could possibly be spending my time on. Other times, it feels like it would save me a lot of energy to just give up now, after all, who is ever going to care about something I made up? Maybe if I had started in my 20s….maybe.

But you know what? I like writing. I like creating worlds and stories and people with big things to do. I like figuring it out, letting the characters talk to me and each other, painting pictures with words. Maybe all that happens is my kids see me writing, and decide to do some of their own. Maybe all that happens is there are a couple boxes worth of interesting things to sort through when I’m gone. Maybe it will all get lost and no one will ever see it. I don’t honestly know.

What I am learning is that just writing the stories is what’s important. Making the story that I can’t wait to find out the end to is the prize at the end of the month of writing. The story matters. Even if it is only to me.


Changing Characters

There’s been a lot of down time in the last week for me and the kids. One kid got sick, and then the other kid, and finally, me. In between sniffles and coughs and moans of discomfort I’ve been futzing about with the characters in my novel.

Last November, I set out to write a novel, and I did.  50,000 words down, in some semblance of order and with a plot. Since then, I have been rereading, rewriting, and removing bits.  I got the bare bones plot down pretty well in those thirty days of writing, but the characters are fairly flat, and there is little depth to the story.  Its a straight arc from point A to point B.  For me, the work of adding motivation to the characters, adding back story and subplots is both harder and more fun than the simple mad dash to get the plot down.

In doing this, I have realized several things. First, my novel does not currently pass the Bechdel Test. Whoops. We get through the first two requirements:  there are two women, and they do talk to each other. Unfortunately, they are only ever talking about a man. Since the Bechdel Test is a pretty low bar to pass, I need to fix that. To be fair, one of the themes of the book is what kind impact the things men do has on women’s lives, how it can last for decades, especially in families, but they should have conversations about other things as well.

Second, my villain was…kind of a cardboard cutout of a villain.  The evil dude behind the curtain twirling his mustache.  He is still a villain, but going back to families and such, he needed a bit more than his lone self running about and mucking things up. And given that he is in his 70s, he definitely needed help in the villainy department. Changing one of the background characters into his accomplice made for some interesting dynamics.

Last, my main character has two close friends who help out often. Both are male. This was fine in the beginning. One was a friend from college, and one is a lawyer. However, the lawyer friend often takes a tone with her that comes off as a bit patronizing. Changing this character to a close female friend gives me more latitude to have talks that are between friends, even when one friend is irritated and lecturing a bit. So, he has become a she.

It’s impressive the impact a few seemingly small changes can have on motivation and backstory. These changes give me some things to work with, and help make my protagonist a stronger character. I’m about 25% through my second draft, and I’m excited about the changes.

The other thing I’ve been doing while the three of us go through Kleenex at an alarming rate is to begin teaching myself how to use Scrivener.  I am impressed at the capability of the software, but am a little intimidated about using it.  I have used Story Mill for the last several years, and love it, and in the end, may stick with it. It is quite capable, and I’ve learned to use it. I do like a lot of the features Scrivener has available though, especially for moving things around.

November is fast approaching, however, and I need to sort out what I’m using for NaNoWriMo. I also need to decide if I’m plotting much out this year, or just winging (pantsing) it. I like letting myself figure out what is going to happen next as I am writing, but I need a bit more depth on my characters this year I think.  Getting the plot on paper and going back to add in character depth has worked well for last year’s novel, I’m not sure how it will work out for what I have in mind this year.

How do you write? Character or plot first?  And what do you use to write? Fancy software? Pen and Paper?