Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NaNoWriMo Starts in FIVE days! Are You Ready?

I admit, I am no where near ready for NaNoWriMo this year. I've got a great setting, a few strong characters, and a story that I love. Plus, I've been doing tons of research. In the past, this would have been enough for me. I'd take these elements and see where they'd lead. I'd always end up with a sort-of story. It'd have a great beginning, a muddy middle, and an ending that didn't quite add up. Though I never regretted it because I learned a lot about my characters and what their story was... and wasn't.
Plus, by the end, I had a draft of a novel! Which is super exciting. It's even more exciting at the end of November because I'm finishing my draft around the same time as many of my friends are finishing theirs. It's the best part of NaNoWriMo!

But this time around, I want more. I want to come to the end of November with a coherent story. It's okay if the writing is horrible. In fact, writing at the NaNo pace, it's unavoidable. But that doesn't bother me because bad writing is also one hundred percent fixable. What I don't want, is another meandering text - chapters, scenes that were born just because I needed the word count. To avoid this common pitfall, I'm spending a serious amount of time thinking about my plot and learning  my characters' flaws and motivations.

So what's my game plan? This year, I'm outlining my novel using the plotting concepts in the SAVE THE CAT series by Blake Snyder. While I have not read SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES, I did find the last book, SAVE THE CAT STRIKES BACK to be even better than the first.

These books are intended for screenwriters, but the elements of a novel are not all the different. No matter what your medium, Snyder's advice is invaluable. He has mind-blowing tips on character development and story tricks that will strengthen any manuscript. But the true gem of his work is his ideas on structure. Snyder beautifully explains what needs to be present in each of the three acts and how to map them out on his famous Beat Sheet. He further teaches you how to use index cards to make sure that your storyboard not only makes sense, but that the pacing is solid. Doing all this work before you start drafting gives you an edge because by the time you are done writing, you don't have a typical first draft. Your writing may be messy, but the storyline makes sense because all the important plot points are in the right places. How cool is that? Writing 50,000 pre-planned words in a month doesn't seem quite so daunting.

The scary part, of course, is getting all those plot points lined up before November 1st. It's difficult and frustrating work. But what I like about it, is that if something isn't working, I've figured that out on a notecard, not after writing an entire scene or chapter. But what if, you ask, a character does something unexpected? What if your characters get into an unplanned fight and now they won't talk to each other?

It does stink when half of your storyboard is wrecked. Unfortunately, unforeseen events do happen. But then you can scribble out a few scene cards to see if you like this new direction. Maybe it's better. Maybe it's not. You no longer have to keep writing in that vein just to find out. Snyder's method helps you develop a map of your novel, but you are still free to take take detours.

NaNoWriMo starts in five days, but my Beat Sheet still has holes. My bulletin board is bare and my notecards are in a neat stack on my desk. I'd hoped to be finished with this by now and to be preparing my home for a month of near-neglect. Instead, I'm brainstorming and planning out my plot points. Because this year, I know what I want out of NaNoWriMo. And I'm going after it.