Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo Take 3: The Path Not Chosen

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am participating in the event known as National Novel Writing Month or, more simply, NaNoWriMo, in which one attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. I must say that it has been a challenge for me. For much of the month I have been behind on my word count. For a time, early this week, I was actually ahead on my word count. Now I am behind again! Fortunately, I am now at a bit over 30,000 words. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I know I can complete my novel in time.

At any rate, National Novel Writing Month has gotten me to thinking about the writing process. Those who have never written anything other than a letter or a grocery list may not realise this, but not all writers go about writing in the same way. The writing process varies for each of us. And in some cases it may vary according to what they are writing. My process for writing nonfiction is different from my process for writing fiction (more on that later).

As to writing fiction, I have always preferred to start with at least a rough outline of my plot. I am not alone in this, as such authors as Philip K. Dick and Russell Banks worked from outlines. Of course, even writers who work from outlines might not approach writing in quite the same way. Some might write their novel in chronological order. This is the way I approached my first novel and the short stories I have written. Others might write their novels out of chronological order. I may be mistaken (and she can feel free to correct me), but I believe this is how A Cat of Impossible Colour (who is a published novel writer, unlike myself) approaches her writing. Yet others actually write the ending first and then work backwards. Even when working from an outline, there are no hard and fast rules in writing a novel.

Of course, with my NaNoWriMo novel, I have had to take a different approach. I did not even come up with an idea for my novel until nearly Halloween. This gave me no time to create even a rough plot outline. As a result I am more or less making things up as I go along. This might sound like a rather haphazard approach, but some fairly successful authors do simply start writing and continue until their story ends where it ends. Indeed, this was the process James Clavell used and Stephen King still uses. And I have to admit I have found this approach exciting. After all, I am discovering new characters and new plot twists as I write, almost as if I was reading a book. That having been said, this process has been a bit nerve racking. I have never been quite satisfied with the McGuffin of my novel and this week thought of a better one. Typically, I would simply go back and revise what I have written to incorporate the new McGuffin. With the deadline of November 30 looming over my head, however, I really cannot afford to do this. Any rewriting will have to wait, so that for now incorporating the new McGuffin will remain a path not chosen. Of course, if I had developed a plot outline beforehand, I would have come up with a better McGuffin before the writing even began....

Ironically, one would think I would be accustomed to working without an outline, as this is precisely the way I approach my non-fiction. Even in longer works, I have never used an outline in writing non-fiction--despite whatever I was taught in Composition class. I do not wholly understand why I am this way, unless it is that I find miscellaneous facts and theories easier to keep track of than characters and plot points! If I ever meet Stephen King I'll have to ask him if he approaches writing non-fiction differently from fiction, if he actually uses an outline in his non-fiction! I think it would be funny if he did.

Regardless of how I am writing my NaNoWriMo novel, I must say I have mixed feelings about its current state. As I said before, I am not happy with the plot's McGuffin. And I do worry about some of the plot holes and the rough state of the dialogue. But then, I have to confess, there are things I like a lot about it. Although my  NaNoWriMo novel is ostensibly a horror/fantasy novel set in a historical period (Cromwellian England), I realised its plot is that of an archetypal Western (think cattlemen trying to drive farmers off their land, but replace "cattlemen" with "witches' coven..."). I also like the fact that I have created some fairly cool sequences in the novel, involving such things as flying demons and a succubus (no, this is not a "bodice ripper"--it's 17th Century England, so things don't get that steamy). And it does have the sort of swashbuckling I always loved in those old Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power movies!

 Anyhow, I don't know if this novel will ever be published, and I suppose it does not matter. To simply be able to state I wrote a whole novel in one month, even a bad novel, is quite an accomplishment. I mean, exactly how many people can say that they have done that?


a cat of impossible colour said...

That is how I work, generally - I call it a 'jigsaw' method, as that seemed to sum up the feeling of filling in bits and pieces here and there and watching the whole picture take shape. :) With my current book (the one I'm revising ready to send to my agent in December, not the Nano one), I actually wrote the ending before anything else. And then when I had written the rest of the book, the ending changed! It's such an organic, unpredictable thing, writing a novel.

And congratulations on your word count - I think that's pretty amazing.

Andrea xx

Mercurie said...

Thanks, Andrea! I do hope you've made progress on your Nano one. I am looking forward to The Cry of the Go-Away Bird when it gets released here in the States (at least I hope it gets released here)!