With apologies to Bon Jovi: NaNoWriMo Week 2

by Tom Ingram

We’re halfway there!

Ahem.

Sorry about that. It had to be done. Anyway, week two is officially over now. You should have around 25 thousand words by now. I just hit that point tonight. I was a little behind on the word count all weekend, but today I pulled up my socks and wrote all afternoon.

I read a few topics on the NaNoWriMo forums. One was about the use of filler, and whether or not it counts as cheating. In general the topic leaned toward yes. I tend to agree with that, but there are some important caveats. First of all, not everything you would call filler is pointless cheating. If you have your character read a page of the phonebook out loud just to beef up your word count, obviously that’s not a terribly productive use of your time. However, if you spend more words than you need to describing a scene or a character, I think that’s valid.

The all-important thing isn’t necessarily the word count. You want to have a viable manuscript at the end of the month. The word count is important to that, but equally important is making sure what you’re writing is usable. It doesn’t have to be original, good, or well thought out, but if it’s something you can’t imagine ever being used in the final draft, like reading the phonebook, what’s the point in writing it? You’re not actually doing any real writing there, just pointlessly tapping your fingers on a keyboard.

In my week 1 retrospective, I mentioned that I wrote the same scene three times. I want to clarify that I rewrote the scene from scratch each time, and each attempt affects the plot in a subtly different way. I know for a fact that only one will make it into the final draft, but it will probably combine elements from all three attempts. There was still a creative process going on behind these scenes, so it’s not something I would consider cheating. However, if I had copied and pasted the scene and changed a couple lines, obviously that isn’t cricket.

Something that’s happened to me, and maybe to other people too, is the plot of the novel expanding well beyond what you had originally planned. My novel was supposed to be centred on one location, all in one day, sort of like Die Hard in a high school. The climax would be the confrontation with the villain in the school. Then it came time to write that scene, and I realized it’s still the first week, and I’m only about ten thousand words in. So I had to stay on my toes–the villain escaped, the main character was knocked unconscious, there was a little break from the action, and then the plot began again. I decided the real climax of the novel would be when the villain attempts his shenanigans again in a more ambitious setting: a shopping mall. That would be near the end for sure, no question about it. Unfortunately it’s only the fifteenth and I’m already nearly there. No doubt by the thirtieth I will have a much longer sequence of events than I had originally planned. This is probably for the best, because while having all the action distilled into one place and time can work, I find it more interesting when there’s a lot of subplots. When fires start popping up faster than the main character can put them out, and they gradually weave together until the climax, when the main character figures everything out, kicks everybody’s ass, and rides off into the sunset. The best example of this I’ve read recently is Jim Butcher’s Death Masks.

This month is working out very well for me so far. I can’t wait until December, because then I can start on the real work: revision. Having a novel written is great, but having a good (or at least passable) novel written is infinitely better.

PS: Not that anyone’s counting, but at twenty-five thousand words, this is the longest thing I have ever written. I made an attempt this summer that lasted around fifteen thousand before fizzling out, and everything I’ve written other than that has been pretty short. You probably don’t care, but I’m very happy.

PPS: On a related note, Bon Jovi recently released a new album. I heard the big single, “We Weren’t Born To Follow”, on the radio at the CD store the other day, and it’s pretty good.

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