Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thoughts After NaNoWriMo

Credit: Melissa McPhail
This graphic just about sums up the kinds of feelings I have after having jumped into November's National Novel Writing Month. I didn't make the 50,000 word goal, so I didn't finish this marathon, but I did learn about writing and storytelling.

One of the important lessons I've come away from is the need for having a plot that can serve as a map, providing guidance and direction for the narrative. I began with a basic outline for a story, without much understanding of the characters, or what the plot was driving towards. So just like in this graphic I find myself thinking "Maybe this isn't as good as I thought."

Best Practice for Getting to Plot
In found myself writing a bunch of scenes. I big question that loomed over me was, Where is this all going? I felt like I lost my roadmap, and was getting caught up in adding characters and situations, drifting further and further away from the story. I needed to get a hold on Plot.

Melissa McPhail outlines some basic guidelines for staying true to the plot, in her article How to Avoid Cliches (or The 4 Things You MUST Know Before Starting A Novel)
  1. You need to establish your essential conflict.
  2. You need to have a clear enough concept about who your protagonist
  3. You need a clear concept of the overarching purpose or theme which grounds the story and drives your passion to write it. 
 In a follow-up essay, Pantser or Plotter: 4 Steps to Writing Organically (and the Science Behind Why You Should) – Part 1, Melissa was spurred by readers asking, should nothing be planned? She insists on addressing the above essential qualities of the story, but, as she points out, it still leaves the question  "How do you just wander off into the great unknown without any sort of map?"

Well first of all she warns not to get caught in the mechanics, saying "What mechanics of writing am I talking about then? Drawing up comprehensive lists of character descriptions or detailed charts illustrating the rise and fall of your plot; spending hours determining what kind of character arc fits your protagonist, or classifying characters into primary, secondary, tertiary…"

She outlined the following steps to use as basic guidance for handling the narrative, further explaining in the essay 4 Steps to Writing Organically, Part II – Viewpoints, Mimicry and Imagination:
  1. Use milestones.
  2. Capture scenes for any point in the story, but write them in linear sequence.
  3. Assume viewpoints.
  4. Observe and mimic.
Getting Past a Series of Scenes
Linda Cowgill in her essay The Sequence of Story, highlights a pitfall of storytelling that I felt all to familiar with. She said, "Why these scenes didn't resonate and leave the effect she wanted on the reader was because they weren't dramatically connected in terms of specific cause and effect actions. She didn't dramatize the particular characteristics in terms of actions and responses. We were thrown into events that ended and new events took their place. We couldn't understand the character's motivations, or track the important clues of the story. The scenes didn't build in a chain of events to make the important points. She had conceived a story in her mind but hadn't found a way to illustrate it in terms of cause and effect actions for the character."

Although Linda was writing about film and applied her essay to screenwriting, I felt that some of the essential points could also be applied to novel writing. She said, that for the character "there is still a problem that must be faced. The scenes are structured in cause and effect relationships that show the protagonist of the sequence trying to accomplish something. Scenes are structured around the meeting of an obstacle, complication or problem that the character has to deal with in the course of the plot, and then show how he deals with it."

Sticking to Plot Basics
The ScriptLab in Plot: Five Key Moments lays down some of the essentials of screenwriting, which can also figure as plot milestones:
  2. LOCK IN 
So I'm finding as I push forward with this novel project, even as  NaNoWriMo draws to a close that I don't have to abandon the effort and that this isn't necessarily the worst thing ever written, but to keep going and get to the end.

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