Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day Seven: Beginning...Muddle...Ending

Congratulations to all of my fellow NaNo writing companions, all 150,000+ of you! Today concludes the first week of National Novel Writing Month. If you began last Sunday, and faithfully treated your computer as another body appendage all week, you should have reached at least 11,669 words and have a pretty good start on your novel. Some have already far exceeded that, and at least one person has already passed the 50,000 word finish line! The rest of us can only stare in awe as we bravely jog along wiping their dust from our eyes. Others have had life intrude and are struggling to catch up, and more than a few have yet to begin. If you fall into this last category, Paige and I would like to encourage you to take heart, take a deep breath, renew your commitment, grab your pen and notebook or place your fingers firmly on the keyboard, and write. Get something, anything, on paper or on your word processor. You can't hope to finish, if you don't start. If you don't have any ideas, or have too many vying for your attention, try ten to twenty minutes of free writing where you write whatever comes to mind without judging it. This simple exercise may help move you from thinking to doing.

If you are in the group that has been writing all week, and everything is going great, and the words are flowing almost faster than you can write them down, fantastic! Run with it! But for some, the first flush of excitement may be waning as you suddenly hit a snag in the story line. You may have the beginning down, and know where you want to end up, but aren't quite sure how to get there. In other words, the middle is a muddle.

In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, the king tells the white rabbit, "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop." That sounds like very sensible advice. But when you're writing, the process isn't always orderly, especially when you're trying to meet a word count deadline in a short period of time and are feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. Ideas dart around your conscious mind like kids playing keep-away. They don't line up in an orderly queue like well-disciplined British school children. How do you push through? What if you're drawing a blank and don't know what should come next?

If you already know the ending of your story, go ahead and write it. When making a movie, scenes are rarely shot in the order in which they appear in the final cut. Sometimes, the last scene of the film is the first scene shot. There's no reason why you can't do this in your novel, too. Perhaps once the ending is written, it will be easier to work backward to the beginning. Another idea is to look at your outline. (If you haven't done one yet, and you're stuck, now's a good time to do it). Decide what needs to take place in each chapter to get your characters from point A to point B. Then decide what scenes within each chapter will tell that part of the story. Once you have these main ideas and supporting ideas down, you can begin to craft descriptions and dialog to flesh them out. It may also help to write each chapter's main idea on an index card. Then write each supporting idea on a separate index card, and lay them out under the chapter in which they will best fit to tell the story. Doing this will take a little time, but it's worth it if it gets things moving again.

If all else fails, and you're starting to panic, go to the NaNo Forums page, look under the section titled "NaNo Tips and Strategies" for a thread called "Plot Doctoring." People there may be able to help you with such things as character names, coming up with a conflict or obstacle, plot twists, setting, dialog, or whatever your specific needs are. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The reason that thread is there is because we've all been, at one time or another, where you are now. With some fresh ideas, you can take your great beginning and your fantastic finish and unite them with a middle that's not a muddle.

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