Say it out loud, it’s sorta fun – “na no wri mo re mo” – sounds like a cross between a playground jump rope rhyme and the latest from Jay Z.
Or your crazy uncle Buck after too many glasses of merlot.
A 9-Point Guide to Revising Your Novel
It’s over. You may have “won” NaNoWriMo, maybe you just finished and didn’t feel like you won anything. Maybe you didn’t finish at all. Hopefully, though, you do feel as if you’ve started something, and that it’s worth completing.
Whatever state your NaNoWriMo novel is in as of this morning (December 1), chances are you don’t really believe, in the quiet pit of your most ambitious talented self, that it’s quite ready to submit.
You know that work remains to be done, even if all that means is taking your story to an even higher level.
Here are a few thoughts to help you along that path.
Take a break from your story.
Set it aside. A few days might do, but I recommend a week. Or more.
Believe me, things will feel different when you return to the project. It’ll be as if you’ve been elevated, a vertical ascent in a literary helicopter that lifts you high above the forest in which you’ve been navigating, and perhaps have been lost within.
Oh, you’ll continue to think about it. Ghosts of mistakes and missed opportunities will whisper to you, sometimes in the dead of night. Thank them, jot down what they say (“Note to self…”), and then set that aside, too.
Then, when you can’t stand it anymore, come back to your novel ready to be more objective about it than is humanly possible while you’re writing it, or directly thereafter. This is especially true with a NaNoWriMo novel, which has held a ticking clock to your head for the last 30 days.
Understand what’s fixable, and what isn’t.
You can’t turn a Chevrolet into a ski lift.
Insanity is trying to fix what can’t be saved. This happens when you realize, at some point in the process, that the idea you started with isn’t the idea you thought it was.
Depending on the nature of the difference between your original idea and the one you finished with, you may or may not be able to salvage it.
You may or may not have already tried to morph one idea into something completely different during the draft itself, which usually results in something that ends up being filed in the basement of the science lab as a freak accident in a jar of embalming fluid.
Having a better idea is always a blessing. But it comes with a price… you usually have to start over with it.
If that’s the case, commit to one road, one novel. Either start a new one with the new and better idea, or try to fix the NaNoWriMo idea with better execution.
Just be clear on which is which. Don’t try to blend these. Believe me, it’s an exercise in insanity.
Acknowledge what you know now that you didn’t know about your story on November 1st.
It is inevitable, no matter what your story planning process, that you’ll end up with something richer, and different, than what you started with.
It’s a good thing. It’s the point of story planning.
It’s also the consequence of not doing any story planning whatsoever.
Either way, it’s a bet-your-life certainty that by going through your story with a keen understanding of your ending (which, on November 30th, let us hope you do), and of the road that got you there, that you’ll find ways to make it better.
You may find that you have more work to do than you thought was necessary. More than you bargained for. At that point you have a decision to make, and one of the answers defines you as a real writer.
Turn your character-driven narrative into a dramatic narrative.
Perhaps the most common dangling appendage of a NaNoWriMo novel is the realization that the manuscript explores a character – indeed, that it was the means by which the writer discovered the character – to the detriment of giving that character a logical, compelling journey. Of giving your hero something to do.
Jonathan Franzen might get away with this – stories that just sit there, like a painting to be explored down to the most delicate brush stroke – but you and me, we need dramatic tension and forward motion. We need a movie that plays in the reader’s head, all dressed up in your finest writing voice.
To make this happen, consider returning to the higher craft of storytelling, of which characterization is only one of six players on the field. (Keep reading, that’s coming up.)
Make it fit into a professional linear structure.
Novels at the professional publishing level expected to unfold in a certain order, to achieve specific experiences, questions and outcomes for the reader. Experimental, I-just-invented-a-new-genre novels are fine… unless you want to sell them.
It’s easy to get lost along this road, especially if, a) you don’t know it, b) reject it, or c) weren’t aware that you’ve departed from it as the dog days of November forged onward to the bleating tick of a clock.
The two steps to solving this problem involve a full grasp of basic story structure (four parts, residing between five specific milestones, all with different missions and contexts within the story)… and then determining how far off the mark you ended up.
What’s not flexible in this equation is, in fact, that specific linear, layered model. Like any game you play, any music you perform, you need to stay within the lines and do things in a certain order, in a certain way.
What is flexible is your story – you can pound on it until it fits within those lines, and with the assurance that when it does, it will be better.
To reject that particular truth is a limiting belief, one that will always block your path.
Add layers that aren’t there.
Does your novel have a sub-plot? Sub-text? Character arc? An opening hook? A viable first plot point? A context-shifting mid-point? A second plot point? A vicarious journey? A visceral empathy for the hero?
Or is it a one-note song, a one-trick pony?
Both can be saved. If you know your spine, you can now add what springs forth from it.
See how many of these questions you can answer. Satisfactorily.
Click HERE, read these questions (they appear after a few intro paragraphs). There’s no getting around an awareness of what’s missing when you do.
Do a post-mortem beat sheet.
Chart your novel, scene by scene, noting both what happens and the mission (contextual purpose) of what happens. You should be able to get this onto three pages, max. Speak in bullets. If you can’t later comprehend your own bullet, that’s a problem of a different kind.
This should tell you what within your story takes too long, what’s missing altogether, what’s over-killed or under-cooked, and when something is sitting on the wrong rock.
Return to the craft.
Each year every professional sports team on the planet has some sort of pre-season camp. Every professional musician rehearses, and warms up running scales that sound a lot like doe-ray-me (which, in turn, sounds a lot like na-no-wri-mo-re-mo).
Writers can benefit from the same annual return to the most fundamental of basics. Many of which, by the way, aren’t learned at all, if ever, until the second or third decade of dabbling with storytelling.
There’s no better time to go there than when you’ve got a manuscript on your screen that isn’t playing nice.
Think of it as spring training for novelists. Boot camp for storytellers. A couples retreat for lovers in need of a tune-up.
I offer you two quick-hit resources for this, in case you don’t want to wait for the next local workshop:
- my writing book, Story Engineering. This is where you and the Six Core Competencies of successful storytelling can get reacquainted.
- my NaNoWriMo planning book, “When Every Month is NaNoWriMo,” which is specific to the artificial time constraints that this exercise imposes.
The ticking may have stopped, but your story is still sitting there, waiting to see if you’ll bail or come back to finish the dance.
And of course, there are well over 400 posts here on Storyfix that drive toward the same thing: intimacy with the craft.
How to fall in love with it, and how to make it love you back.
What pits has your NaNoWriMo fallen into?
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