I am quite sure (like 120% sure) that you know November is all about NaNoWriMo. Since I’ll be participating again, I have decided to put Monday Book Recommendations on the shelf (ha see what I did there). Mondays will now be dedicated to insights, reflections, analysis and maybe an excerpt from my working novel.
Last Minute Prep
A day away from the month long event, I’ve spent much of my time reading. Unlike the usual reading for fun that I do, I have also been looking at how authors construct their characters, worlds, arcs, and storytelling. I wouldn’t recommend reading multiple books at once, but it is useful to see how different authors approach their novels. These are all old/rehashed insights but they are important to look over one last time.
They are the driving force behind your novel. Bilbo Baggins, Celia and Marco, Jake Epping, Twoflower, Katniss and the slew of characters we’ve met during our reading adventures defined the books we read. They are the reason we loved the journey through Middle Earth, fell in love with the mysterious Revellers, experienced the arduous 60s trying to prevent an assassination, and so on. The story is told by your characters in their words and actions. So spend a lot of time getting to know your characters, inside out.
Example: 11/22/63 by Stephen King features a number of characters while Jake Epping traipses through the past. Each of them are unique. Each have a certain look, tone and personality. Minor characters but their realness gives more depth to the story, and greater emphasis on the main character.
Great characters need a reason to be. Why do they exist? What are they trying to achieve? Why are they trying to achieve that goal? Consider this for all your characters, even minor characters who do nothing more than greet your main character in the street. A backstory gives them a role and a personality.
The story must also make sense. Beginning half the book as the memoir of a pony loving little girl, and ending with a male focused sci-fi horror space opera with nothing connecting the two might do more than just confuse your reader.
The story must also progress in some way, correlate with your characters, and come to some sort of conclusion – hopefully one that makes sense and wraps up all loose ends. Even if you’re a Pantser, set objectives in the story for your characters. Trust me, it helps.
Example: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the story of Jacob, an average 16 year old who hears fantastical tales from his grandfather about Peculiars. He soon discovers that they are real, and embarks on a life changing journey, three books long, that links right back to his grandfather.
Lastly, your characters need a home. Your story needs a setting. Nothing happens in the obscure blankness of space. Take time defining the world and submerge readers in your creations. Also, don’t assume your readers will have the same picture in your mind if you generalise descriptions. For peripherals you can get away with it, but if your character is about to jump into a vehicle, you’ll have to be more descriptive so readers aren’t chugging down the fairway in a Prius while you meant cruising the autobahn in a Porsche.
Engage the senses as you build your world. Let readers feel the baking heat against their skin, hear the rushing waters pelting the rocky surface, smell the cloying stench of decayed bodies, taste the rich sweetness of strawberry jam, and see the jagged mountain silhouettes rising in the distance. Let them experience the world as your character does.
Example: J.R.R Tolkien’s works. Nuff said.
Lastly, enjoy the writing. If all these guidelines make you want to throw your laptop(please don’t!)/notebook across the room in frustration, then you’ve missed the point. Don’t bind yourself unnecessarily to outlines and guides to the point where you lose interest in your story.
Writing 50 000 words is difficult enough, limiting it to a month is strenuous – but not impossible. Enjoy the challenge for what it is, a challenge to sit down and write. We know it is not easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done and be enjoyable at the same time. Give it your all and most importantly, remember: