October 31, 2022

Getting Scary Real

It's the scariest day of the year: The last day to get my novel plans settled before I have to start writing on November 1! (Doesn't that imply tomorrow is scarier than today? Whatever, I have more urgent details to focus on.) Yes, as I teased a month ago, I'm going to use National Novel Writing Month as a reason to stop planning and start drafting this novel (again).

I'll be working on the same project from NaNoWriMo 2021, but my goals are different this time. Last year, most of my ideas about the characters and story were nebulous, and in my pursuit of 50,000 words, I churned out a whole slew of scenes, experimental character sketches, and authorial musings about possible plot directions. It was a fantastically creative month that gave me a solid foundation for working out what I actually want this novel to be. None of that NaNo material (except maybe snippets here and there) is directly usable for the next draft, but it was all useful.

This November, I'll be starting the novel fresh, with the goal of writing the beginning of a decent, coherent first draft. I don't expect to write 50,000 words, because that pace might result in generating too many words I have to throw out later. But I do want to use the collective word count challenge to keep me motivated and keep me writing. I'm tentatively aiming for 25k story words. I won't be counting all the notes I'm also sure to write, because tracking those would be more of a bookkeeping hassle at this point.

I've spent most of this year reimagining the novel, figuring out the world and characters, and outlining a plot. In truth, nearly all the plot work happened in the last two weeks, because of the power of a deadline. Faced with a pressing need to make progress, I turned to trusty index cards for the first time in many years. Once I began scribbling (almost illegibly) the ideas in my head onto little rectangles and moving them around my rug (obviously designed for this purpose), it was amazing how quickly the basic shape of the story emerged.

Index cards full of handwriting on a rug with a design of multicolored squares. The index cards, arranged in columns of pink, yellow, and blue cards, are each positioned over one of the rug's squares.

The rug really tied the story together.

Much of what's written on the cards is quite vague, and I still have a million specifics to figure out. But this gives me a structure to work within, and it ensures I have a beginning, middle, and end, with pieces that fit together. And the process finally got me unstuck on a major part of the story: A few days ago, there were very few cards in the blue section because all year I've been unable to decide how to make that piece work. (Fun fact: That section involves a character I only came up with in the final few days of NaNo last year, who is clearly my procrastination mascot.)

Now I need to get these index cards off the floor and into Scrivener for more granular outlining. But some of that will be happening in parallel with other work, because tomorrow is the big, scary day I start writing!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At The Millions, Leanne Ogasawara reassesses the workshop and compares story structures in different cultures: "In Japanese it is called kishōtenketsu (ki: introduction; sho: development; ten: twist; ketsu: reconciliation).” The kishōtenketsu structure informs fiction, nonfiction, theater, and even the movements of the tea ceremony. It is a profoundly different aesthetic system from the Western model, with its primary focus on conflict. Perhaps the most common critique I hear from Western readers about Japanese fiction is that nothing ever seems to happen."

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