NaNoWriMo is in the air! The crisp bite of the breeze, the
vibrations of leaves in trees, the upward tick in sales of books about how to write a novel in a month—can the sound of keyboards clacking like Flamenco dancers on Red Bull be far behind?
Yes, it’s time once again for National Novel Writing Month. Each November, writers around the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in one month (an average of 1,666.6667 words a day). It’s a blast, a communal expression of the love of writing fiction. And a kick in the pants to produce the words and not sit around Starbucks all day talking about writing a novel someday.
I’ve written before on how to get ready for NaNoWriMo. Today, I want to offer a simple exercise that will keep you from merely producing scenes without any coherence, which is the big challenge in this hard-charging contest. (I also commend to you an excellent post by Lisa Cron over at Writer Unboxed).
I call this exercise “Because…”
It has two parts. First, you hone your basic plot into a single sentence. Then, you add a “because” clause which explains what’s at stake.
Your plot sentence consists of an adjective, a noun and a verb clause (the action). Thus:
Gone With the Wind is about a Southern belle who has to fight to save her home during the Civil War.
Die Hardis about a New York cop who has to save a building full of people from a gang of ruthless terrorists.
Casablancais about an American cafe owner in French occupied territory during WWII, who has to battle Nazis and lost love and a corrupt police captain.
Every plot can be rendered in this fashion, and it’s important that you know this much about yours.
Now, once you have that, add a “because” sentence that explains what the stakes are. Don’t worry about the form of the sentence, just pack into it the reasons the Lead character in your novel has to succeed. Turn it into a paragraph if you want to. It’s all for you.
Gone With the Wind is about a southern belle who has to fight to save her home during the Civil War….because if she loses it, she’ll be dependent on others for her existence and will never be a woman of strength or substance.
Die Hard is about a New York cop who has to save a building full of people from a gang of ruthless terrorists….because if he loses, his ex-wife will die along with the other hostages, and he will have failed in his most essential cop duty, saving people from bad guys.
Casablancais about an American cafe owner in French occupied territory during WWII, who has to battle Nazis and lost love and a corrupt police captain….because if he loses, the war effort will be harmed (the Nazis will win) and he’ll have destroyed the lives of several people around him. And also if he loses, he’ll have become a wretched individual with no concern about others, sadly drinking himself to death, having lost whatever ideals he once held.
Believe me, this little exercise is going to pay big dividends for you. During NaNo, if you start to feel lost, simply go back to this controlling premise and think up fresh scenes for the Lead character, which scenes involve him taking steps to solve the main problem.
Let’s say we’ve started writing Casablanca and we come to the point where Rick sees Ilsa in his cafe for the first time. What a great scene we’ve written! They look at each other, and Rick’s heart pounds with a mix of love and hate, desire and the pain of betrayal. Now what?
We brainstorm some scenes. What could happen next?
– Rick punches Ilsa’s husband, Victor Laszlo, in the face, and a big fight ensues
– Rick throws a drink in Ilsa’s face, and Laszlo socks Rick
– Ilsa runs out into the night and Rick chases after her
– Rick gets drunk and waits for her to show up
After some reflection, we decide on the last one. Gives us an opportunity for Rick to remember what happened in Paris. Then Ilsa comes in. We envision Ilsa falling into Rick’s arms….no, not enough conflict….how about she tries to explain what happened in Paris and Rick basically calls her a whore….ooh, that sounds right, because our premise tells us the novel is partly about whether Rick will end up as a wretched human being….
And so on throughout the month of November.
So who’s up for NaNoWriMo 2013?
In honor of NaNoWriMo, my Knockout Novel program is being offered at a special price ($10 off). I highly recommend Knockout for both planning and editing, so it’s perfect pre- and post-NaNo…and on any project at any stage. I use it in tandem with Scrivener for my own books.