Thursday, November 5, 2015

NaNoWriMo: What it takes to write a novel

Happy November, everyone! For many people November equals NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. It's a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I want to take this opportunity to go through NaNo with you, and to look at the writing process in great detail.

To start, let's discuss what it takes to write a novel.

There are the obvious elements: characters, setting, plot. If you've got these, you're off to a good start.

Let's look at them closer, shall we?

Let's start with the characters.

First, look at each of them individually. Where are they from? What is their back story? What brought them to the point at which your story begins? How do they speak? Do they have a specific dialect or accent? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are their faults (they are human after all, so they can't be perfect)? What are their insecurities? Their demons? What old pains and resentments do they still carry with them? What events and people helped to shape them into the people they are today? Who are they? Not just their name, their hair color, their sexy lips. Seriously. Who are they. You want to have good, rounded, complete characters. Dig deeply to create full people on your pages.

It's easy to say that your setting is New York City in 1965. But where in NYC are you? What month is it? What day is it (day of the week and date)? What is the weather? What do your characters see, hear, and smell? Tell us everything your characters are experiencing. Use every sense. Don't just tell me they drove up to the dumpy no-tell motel. Say, "The lights from Donna’s Mustang shined brightly on the dilapidated motel. Dark brown paint peeled off the front of the building. The neon sign flickered sporadically. The patrol car pulled in right behind her, bringing even more light on the rundown property." Place your readers in exactly the same spot as your characters.

Next is plot.
It can be good versus evil. boy/girl meets boy/girl, etc. Don't keep it simple, though. Look at Harry Potter. Good versus evil plot, but there are so many twists and turns. Multiple goods versus multiple evils. Layers and layers. That's what you need. Not just a basic plot line, but a full story. Is anything in life ever fully easy? We all know how a day full of errands can easily become a day full of errors. Go with that. Shake things up. Change directions. Create a story with depth.

A novel is more than just Dick and Jane. A novel is a story. A full, complete story with full, complete characters, and a full and complete setting. By focusing on the details and layers of your characters, setting and story, everyone wins. You, as a writer, win because you get to experience the entire writing process. Your readers get to experience a great work by you. Don't chince your readers, and don't short change yourself.

Ok, we've gone through the basics. What else does it take to write a novel?

It takes courage.
Writing isn't easy. Seriously. It's hard work. It can be draining and trying, just as much as it can be exciting and satisfying. It takes a lot of courage to sit in front of that monitor every day and to hammer out a story from absolutely nothing. It requires bravery to see a novel from start to finish. It is a long process, and it isn't for the faint of heart.

It takes creativity.
You need to have a good imagination to write any kind of story. You need to be able to see things from a unique perspective. You need to have a way with words. It is imperative that you are slightly off center so that your writing can hit the bull's eye.

It takes determination.
Along with courage, you need to be able to persevere through the entire project. It's VERY easy to become complacent, and even quit. Things will get tough. There will be days where the writing will flow like Niagara Falls. There will be days that you try to make room in your head for creativity by pulling your hair out - and it still won't work! You have to stay focused, and you need to commit yourself 110% to your story.

It takes a sense of humor.
You need to be able to laugh - at your characters, your story, and yourself. Being stuck up, egotistical, and intense will make writing rather unpleasant. Go in with a positive attitude. Enjoy yourself!

It takes you.

You need to be there. Fully and completely focused. Be present. You need to give it your all, so make sure that you show up every day.

Writing a novel can be difficult, but it can also be a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding. NaNo gives everyone the chance to try their hand at writing. If you take on this challenge, make sure you give it all you've got. It'll be worth it in the end.

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