A Strategy for Finishing Strong
You’re a quarter of the way there. Calendar-wise. If that’s all NaNoWriMo means to you, stop reading here. I wish you well on this project.
And by the way, you’re missing the point.
If you are using NaNoWriMo to jump start your novel, get off the procrastination dime or otherwise put to work what you’ve learned about story structure and the other five core competencies of storytelling, then you already know this:
Where you are on word-count is less important than where you are story-wise.
Either way, you’re probably somewhere near a quarter of the way into it. You may be happy with where you are – especially if you’re on top of the four-part storytelling paradigm, which means you’re somewhere near your First Plot Point – or you may already feel a bit lost, stuck in a dead end or a corner (different things) or simply not liking what you’ve done.
That’s natural. Especially if you started writing without a story plan beyond a vague idea of where to go.
There’s a way out of this jam. One that you can use to still reach your NaNoWriMo goal and have something promising to show for it (also different things).
It’s like recovery: to heal, you have to acknowledge where you are.
Don’t kid yourself into believing that, even if you are at 12,500 words, you are a quarter of the way through your story. At least a publishable story. That particular NaNoWriMo goal is dangerously vague. Because, unless you are in the YA genre, 50K words is too short to publish. You need to be up over 70K to be competitive in virtually every other genre of the novel.
If publishing this story is your ultimate goal – and it should be, otherwise, to resort to an analogy, you’re killing yourself and going broke in the process as you court a mate you have no intention of marrying – then you have two choices before you:
Reach 50K without finishing (not sure if that counts as a “win” or not in NaNoWriMo-speak), or “finish” a story of 50K words that is, that has to be, somewhat bare bones.
In other words, you get to write “The End” on the last page. The story points and milestones are all there, but deep in your NaNoWriMo soul you know that you need to add some meat to this somewhat anemic skeleton in a subsequent draft.
That can work, by the way.
It’s actually a great story development strategy: use the first draft as a search for your story, even if it takes 50,000 words to find it. But it only works if you understand story structure to an extent you are making those bare bones choices consciously.
Or, in other words, that you understand that once your search for the story has been successful, only now can you actually write it well enough to sell it.
This is, in my view, the best NaNoWriMo outcome.
They should call it NaNoSer4StoryMo. My opinion.
You can reach 50K words, you can print out your certificate, you can feel good about reaching that sketchy quantitative goal. And, even though your novel isn’t remotely done, it’s a first draft – one you can expand into something more professional – it’s in the bank.
(Author note: no, I’m not bashing NaNoWriMo again. I’m pointing it in the right direction. If all you care about is that 50K mark, please return to the first two paragraphs of this post.)
Here’s a strategy to make sure that happens.
Again, the idea isn’t to write 50K words and then realize you’re only 70 percent through the story you set out to write. That’s not really finished at all, even in NaNoWriMo land. The higher goal is to actually reach the conclusion of your story, and then understand that you aren’t quite done with a publishable draft, just a NaNoWriMo-generated first draft.
Is it a novel? Yes. Is it a completed draft? Sure is. Is it 50,000 words or more? Of course, the computer don’t lie. Go ahead, print out your certificate and celebrate.
Then it’s time to get back to work on this thing. You need to add another 2oK words or so to bring your 60-ish scenes (not chapters… you can put as many scenes into a chapter that you want, as long as they are separated by white space; then again, you can do it James Patterson style and make every scene a chapter… your call) up to publishable snuff.
If you have the time and energy to actually write 70K or more words by November 30, good for you… this strategy is your ticket to getting there in one, soon-to-be-publishable piece.
By the way, I’ve heard from many Storyfix-reading NaNoWriMo writers who are already well in excess of a quarter of the way to the goal, and every one of them credits the principles and their story plan for getting there.
The first step in this rescue strategy is to stop writing narrative.
Right now. Then, instead of banging out another 2000 words tomorrow, set out to plan the rest of your story instead.
Do that planning in one or two days. Or more if you can crank out, say, 4K to 6K per day thereafter, in context to that bulleted story plan. Trust me on this one: it will be the most important aspect of your NaNoWriMo experience.
But how, you ask? Is such a thing even possible?
It could be. You actually have a head start in comparison to other writers, you’ve already written the bulk of Part 1. You already have some vision for what you’d like to do with your story. Build on that – or revise that – within the context of accepted story structure and what you are about to read (technique-wise), and watch your tower of creativity rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of your sudden confusion.
Again, don’t write another word of actual narrative. Instead, begin writing story-exposition bullets. Like this:
– Hero flees the scene (first plot point)
– Hero calls for help.
– Hero is betrayed.
– Hero must hide.
– Everyone doubts her innocence.
– She tries to contact the press.
– Finds a writer who says he believes her.
– Cops show up at her house.
– The writer, the one who believed her, is murdered.
– She has to contact her father, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
– Father is a senator, moved to tears at his daughter’s sudden appearance.
– They meet, she asks for his help. Which he can’t give her until he has her forgiveness. (He molested her as a child, and thus became his dirty little political liability.)
– Someone tries to kill her. They know where she is (second plot point).
And so forth. Play with it. Plug in new ideas, alternative twists. See what happens, what feels right.
Add bullets until you’ve reached the next story milestone… and then the next… until you’ve built momentum and tension… until it all works… until you have a tingling sensation in your gut that comes from realizing that, even though this may not be the story you set out to tell, this is a better story, one far beyond your hopes for it… a story that promises to take you somewhere.
Now you have a manuscript you can write with confidence.
And, with the blinding speed required to reach whatever word goal – the 50K, or a fully-fleshed-out ending – you set for yourself.
Each bullet defines what happens in a scene.
Do this – it’s called beat sheeting; each bullet is a story beat, rendered as a single scene – with story structure in mind. You are writing four distinct phases of story, each separated by major milestone scenes, called plot points, pinch point, the mid-point and the ending.
If you don’t know what those parts and milestones are, what the mission of each is (and thus, the scenes that comprise them), here’s what you do: they’re all addressed in the archives of this site. Get busy digging and get enlightened. Before you write another word.
And then, when you actually write the scene, it’ll be in context to something. Something that you already know works. Knowing each scene’s mission, you can set it up right, get to the point quickly, without padding, and with optimal drama and mystique. And, you can execute a nifty cut-and-thrust into the next scene, because you know the context for that one, too.
Click HERE for more about the beat sheet. It’s the most efficient and powerful tool there is to actually create a story that works, albeit in skeletal form.
Whether it’s for your NaNoWriMo project or not. It’ll work either way.
As for NaNoWriMo, your new list of bullets will give you a completed story to shoot for by November 30th. Remember, if your goal is to publish it, that completed skeleton is precisely what you’ll need come December.
And that’s a successful November by any standard.
Bear with me here, I’m a little pissed.
First, thanks to all who have purchased my ebook, “Story Structure – Demystified.” Especially the dozens of you who have done so in the past week – it really is the essential knowledge you need to get your NaNoWriMo project done properly, and with the future in mind. Many hundreds of you have told me precisely that.
Also, I’d like to remind everyone that this is copyrighted material. It’s not okay to reprint the ebook – which is well in excess of 100 pages — on your site, or on anybody else’s site, without my permission. Which I didn’t grant. If it isn’t pulled off the site within a day, legal consequences will ensue.
Ignorance or ignore-ance… violation of copyright is stealing, either way.