After weeks of sporadic reading, I finally finished reading through my NANOWRIMO 2011 novel on Sunday. This first draft was just over 50,000 words and all written during November 2011. NANOWRIMO has always been a form of practice for me. It helps me put in the hours so that eventually my writing won’t suck. That’s why I was surprised to actually like my story when I was done with NANOWRIMO 2011. I decided to leave it alone for a while and give myself space that way I could go back and figure out if it was good or not. I did just this over the last month and here are the 5 things I learned during this first read-through.
1. It’s Hard to Write Honestly
Anyone can sit down and create something like Twilight where the characters are stereotypes and the plot line has been done to death. But not everyone can create something original that’s true to life. I mean, really think about Twilight.
Bella is an awkward teenage girl who just moved to a new city. Despite her awkward, anti-social behavior, within the first couple of days she’s managed to attract a few friends and one of the hottest guys in the school has fallen in love with her.
Think back to high school. In real life, someone like Bella would have faded into the background by choice. Maybe one day she’d open up and mingle with her classmates, but most likely she’d spend a lot of time alone and maybe find a good friend or two. The hottest guys in school most likely wouldn’t notice her, let alone fall in love with her. She’d be more like Allison in Breakfast Club.
Writing honestly takes observation and reflection. It’s easy to want to make everything peachy for your characters, and believe me, at times I fell into this trap. It’s much harder to put your characters into real-life situations and let society determine their outcome.
2. Knowing Your Characters Is 80% of the Work
I’ll admit, I start my novels without background research and character sketches. There were times when I was writing and had to stop to think about what my characters would do in the situation. If I did my homework before, I would know exactly what my characters would do and would be able to write the scene effortlessly.
This is what writers talk about when they talk about their characters taking over. I’ve had a few amazing moments writing in the past where this happened. In one story, I was writing a scene where my character was supposed to kill the man who killed her husband. When I started writing the scene the character took over and killed not only the man, but herself as well. When I was writing my brain said, “She wouldn’t just kill him. This is what she would do.” I knew the character so well that my brain went on autopilot. If you know your characters, they’ll get into your head and do the writing for you.
3. 50,000 Words Isn’t A Lot
When you’re writing 50,00 words in a month, it seems like a lot.
It’s really not.
One of the biggest critiques I had of my novel was that I didn’t delve deeper. I flitted from scene to scene without stopping and giving backstories, the character’s thoughts, or any explanations for the character’s behavior. The result was that I basically wrote an outline for a novel.
If you have a simple story with few plot twists, 50,000 words may be enough. If you’re writing a complicated story with lots of plot twists and trying to make a statement about the current state of the world you’ll need a bigger boat.
4. Setting Is Another Character In Your Story
I’ve heard people say this before but I never really got it until I was reading my novel. I had set it in a made up place somewhere in Ohio and didn’t really go into location much. The story is about a college graduate having a hard time finding a job after graduation and resorting to seedy ways to get money. The more I read, the more I realized that it needed to take place in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Detroit has been hit pretty hard by the recession. It’s the perfect backdrop for a story about the economy.
I realized that I could use descriptions of run down areas in Detroit to convey my character’s sense of hopelessness.
Don’t get me wrong, Detroit also has it’s revolutionaries and entrepreneurs helping the city out. It’s just more well known for being bleak.
5. Multiple Revisions Are Necessary
Any novel written in 30 days is going to need a lot of work. This may seem like Dr. Phil wisdom, aka common sense, but it’s something that should be pointed out.
I know there may be some people out there who may disagree, but I believe that when you’re a new novelist, you’re not going to produce the next Fight Club in 30 days. When you’re new, your first draft just begins to touch on what you’re really trying to say and it may take multiple drafts to find your voice.
So, as you can see, I have some work ahead of me and I’ll be sure to keep you updated.