NaNoWriMo #28: Don’t Allow the Parts or the Process to Smother the Whole

This is complex, sticky stuff.  We’ve covered an entire year of grad school creative writing… nobody expects you to absorb it all.

All of us find our path, are preferred process.  And it’s all over the map.  You now have some new tools and options to find yours.

If only a percentage of this sticks, it’ll be worth both our efforts. 

Even a small percentage.  If you do only one thing better, you’ve moved toward your goal.  There’s more, but take what’s clear to you and keep wrestling with what isn’t.  It’ll come.

If you are suddenly more aware, even if not totally confident with these principles — aware of what’s necessary, what’s possible and what’s missing in your story or what’s may be compromising your process — that, too, is a win for both of us.

You started with an intention: write a NaNoWriMo novel. 

I’ve suggested you jack up that intention by moving toward a process that will result in a novel that is actually structurally and dramatically viable, rather than a rock pile of 50,000 words that are grouped, perhaps, into coherent sentences, but took a left turn somewhere around page 40 and ended up being… a bit of a mess.

That’s a better goal.  A higher goal.  Do that, and you’ll really have won NaNoWriMo.

Will you publish it?  Who knows.  You can do all this perfectly right and the story may not resonate with agents, editors or readers.  The magic ingredient is a mash-up of compelling ideas and fluid voice, timing, and a lot of luck. 

If it works… celebrate.   If it doesn’t, I’ll wager you’ll now know why. 

Either way, then go on to the next, applying what you’ve learned.  That’s the long view for all of us who do this.

A few things I won’t back off of:

You need a vision for the story. Starting with a mind that is as blank as the first page is… not good.  Not doable.  Not smart.  Even as you fill in those blank pages from your still-blank but hopeful, experimenting mind, you’ll eventually have to end up working from a vision for a story, and the overwhelming odds are you’ll need to start over when you get there, if you expect a readership.

You’ll need a conceptual stage for a dramatic confrontation between something the hero wants or needs and something that stands in the hero’s way… and you need an ending to shoot for. 

A viable story is much too complex to kludgy together (Google it).  It demands more, and it deserves better.

If I could wish one thing for you in November, it’s that start your manuscript with these things (what we examined in this series) solidly in mind as you write your story.

Even just that will allow you to harness your instinct — as well as whatever stuck to the wall here — toward the writing of a real story, with a real future.

Less than that… it’s gonna be a long month. 

So please don’t over-think this. 

If what you’ve encountered here makes sense, then by all means bolt it to your end-game and adapt your process accordingly.  If you’re struggling — and it’s reasonable that you may be — just know that merely having encountered these principles will have a subtle effect on your storytelling sensibilities. 

It’s like riding your first bicycle… you’ve watched the other kids do it… but did Dad’s verbal instruction really make it happen?  Or was it some combination of the principles and your learning curve, resulting in a new instinct and sensibility?

That’s all it ever is… storytelling sensibility.  And we should use all the paradigms and principles and processes (three key Ps) we can get to ratchet them up.

We’re not done.  I’m still going to offer up some final beat sheet tips and talk about how to turn the corner from planning to actual drafting.  These things, too, are complex and challenging, and often defy instinct.

Until then… let it all swim in your head. 

If it wakes you up at night… welcome to writing novels.  It should.  This is hard. 

And, this is worth it.  Especially if you go about it in an enlightened way.  If you’ve read this far, I’m betting that you will.

12 Comments

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12 Responses to NaNoWriMo #28: Don’t Allow the Parts or the Process to Smother the Whole

  1. Nick

    Do I need to add your name to the “Acknowledgements” page once I get published? Seriously, this blog has helped me immensely.

  2. Debbie Burke

    Thanks for a month’s worth of 14K tips and for introducing us to a new vocabulary word. “Kludgy” sounds onomatopoetic.

  3. Larry, you are the only reason I even have a completed beat sheet ready to be turned into a novel. I can’t even begin to thank you for your website and the help you’ve given me.

  4. These posts are not only awesome for the planning before the NaNoWriMo frenzy but they will be great tools when the month is done and rewrites are ready to begin!

  5. @Teri – my hope is that, come month end, you’ll find that the consequence of all this planning is a story that is much tighter and closer to done than you expected, and that the rewrite isn’t remotely as daunting as, perhaps, it has been, or as you expected. It’s not impossible to nail a first draft that is a polish away from submittable. Planning isn’t the only way to write a novel, but it’s only way to make THAT happen (IMO). Wishing you a great November, thanks for your contributions to the series. L.

  6. The great thing about this series is it will work in all 12 months of the year.

  7. Steph

    Good Morning Larry,
    Thank you so much for every word that you’ve taken to help us all but especially me! I have been so lost and can see myself in just about every “avoid this writing pitfall” warning you’ve listed. What a great feeling to finally gain some understanding of how to approach my dream, my goal of completing my first novel.

    Reading the end of today’s blog where you said, “We’re not done. I’m still going to offer up some final beat sheet tips and talk about how to turn the corner from planning to actual drafting. These things, too, are complex and challenging, and often defy instinct.” made me so happy because that is the exact area I’d like to have more instruction on (beat sheet).

    I read where people give you accolades all of the time for sharing your skills, and I totally understand why. You are the best.

    Thank you again.

    Steph

  8. Larry, you’re a born teacher. I read and attend a lot of writing classes, seminars and events. I ‘ve read The Power of Myth, Aristotle’s Poetics, STORY and sooooo many more. I even teach some classes myself, but you my dear are spot on. You make everything clear and comprehensible – it’s the hardest thing for teacher to do, but you do it with skill and ease. I know some master writers and I even write with two of them. They’re amazing. But there are times when their attempt at my enlightenment leaves me in the dark, confused, and I just don’t get their lofty, intellectual explanations. You teach in clear and concise manner. Thank you for clarifying some of the foundational principles of storytelling that we seekers need. Keep using your vast powers for good. Mindy

  9. Yes! Thanks for all your tips! Definitely agree that they will come in handy for all future story writing. Especially love the Big Five. They transformed my novel.

  10. Larry,

    “So please don’t over-think this.

    If what you’ve encountered here makes sense, then by all means bolt it to your end-game and adapt your process accordingly. If you’re struggling — and it’s reasonable that you may be — just know that merely having encountered these principles will have a subtle effect on your storytelling sensibilities.”

    Thanks for that.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  11. Your posts have articulated things I do by reflex because I’ve done them so many times before. Shown me ways to avoid mistakes that resulted in multiple drafts before I got a book I was happy with – one fantasy novel went through four iterations before I got a version I liked.

    You’ve also entertained me and kept me from overworking my premise.

    Right now I’ve got two novels circulating in my mind. Both are of equal worth. Either will come out as a good book.

    One of them is an urban fantasy novel exploring belief, skepticism and fear of the unknown. It’s a sequel to a novel I’m currently rewriting that has a potential army of fans drooling for it – lots of cat people enjoy fantasy literature and I’ve got a reader base on Facebook that will be snatching it as soon as I make it available. It’s a good candidate for my Indie Money-Making Venture, the one to start putting cash in my pocket for all those trunk novels as I clean them up.

    The other one is heavy. I faced myself and my past in ways I haven’t for years. I moved to San Francisco into an environment where I can be open about things like my religion and my world view with plenty of support. This one would possibly gain some attention from a certain pro publisher I’ve been following for ages.

    It’s more radical. It’s more edgy. It’s less traditional and while it’s urban fantasy, I’m going to be both bleeding on the page to write it and targeting some controversial topics even if they’re historical.

    The question is – go for the one I know will have a lot of fans across a very broad base by subject, or go for the one that’s going to explode convention but possibly hit the heights in terms of pro publication? Which would take longer before it paid off.

    I know the final answer is going to be – do them both. But which one to write for my personal Nanowrimo challenge this year is up in the air.

    One of them is going to get written in November and then I’m not putting it down. I’ll start in on cleaning it up and stay immersed in it until I have a draft good enough either for a publisher or for my good dollar a page independent editor, a very experienced former English teacher who did a wonderful job on another indie novel.

    The quality of that indie novel was better than a lot of what I’ve seen in mass market paperbacks. If I go indie, I need that quality. I don’t want it to sink in the morass of unedited novels with good ideas and patchy quality, the 99 cent specials or free books that wind up with your for your and hair for hare because the only editing was applied with a spell checker.

    So, any thoughts or advice on that final choice? Which one do I start in a couple of days? Seize the nettle or tear off on the happy cats romp? I’m actually excited about both, just in different ways.

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