Or, how I found my killer in the middle of a sentence in chaper five. (Or was it six?)
There are achievement badges at the NaNo website which get awarded to you when you reach a certain milestone—I’m particularly fond of the 10k one, because that’s historically been one of the hardest thresholds for me to cross—but there are those which you, as a writer, get to award yourself. (I imagine it’s similar to sticking flower notes all over your shirt or something.)
And those are where the fun’s really at—and the first pair (or, rather, triad) of those have nothing to do with wordcount stats, or how many days in a row you’ve been updating your count, but how much, and do you even, plan your novel.
I started out as a serious outliner. Since I come from a background of short stories writing, the whole full novel thing seemed to me as daunting as boarding a zeppelin—most of the times, you’re fairly sure you’ll come out the other way alive, but there’s no way of knowing you’ve boarded a Heidelberg equivalent unless you, well, die.
With such expectations, I thought there was nothing more important in a novel’s early life other than The Outline. Even though a variation of The Outline got me through several novels in a row, there were too many disadvantages to mention, at least for my writing style. I might blame The Outline even for the disastruous scene which killed my first NaNo novel (well, with a little help by some other scenes), the, uh, soulsucking doughnuts.
Yeah, there’s a reason people say that every time you write a novel, you learn something new. For me, it took several novels in a neat little row of Novembers to realize that I cannot work off an outline if I want to keep my novel’s pacing at a publishable (i. e., readable) level. Each and every time I tried, I either ended up with unpublishable copy, or I gave up the outline halfway and tried to do the rest of the novel as I went. No matter what, there was no way for me to cram in the new ideas popping up throughout the story—some of them scary with how edgy they were—and still keep to the outline. A lot of the time, the ending should have been changed, too. If I’d only listen to the one thing I know how to do—write. Write sentences. Write paragraphs. Because, even though writing novels cannot, to me, be compared with writing short stories, writing—the exact act of commiting fiction—is exactly the same.
You just get to spend a little more time in any given setting, in the characters’ heads, and in your own deepest, darkest pit of misery called plotting.*
Now, let me tell you a little tale of the novel currently (still) known as Johnny’s Girls, a novel now 23,185 words in and still going strong. Nine days ago, the novel was as far away from my thoughts as it could be. I was supposed to write (wait a second… can’t even recall anymore, probably brainfried from typing… probably—Ah!) the Werewolf Tie-Ins, short(ish) stories set in between the Werewolf Novels, stories about characters who have been urging me on to get their own, albeit short standalones ever since I’ve first included them in the main arc. (I was supposed to have fun writing them, too, but they were still not… novels.)
Eight and a half days ago, though, I remembered the shitty, good for nothing idea I’ve wanted to do for several years now—something that would be a first full novel of a brand new setting—and suddenly realized that that was the thing I wanted to hurt my eyes through, kill my hands over, and damage my spine with in November 2019.
The only things I had to go with were the urge to start with the thing asap (a bit more on that here), several big, thick chunks of worldbuilding (but for the whole setting, not this novel in particular) and a general idea where the novel should end for my main couple, and ideas for endings for two sequels, if I manage to get to them, which I think would be the most fun conclusions.
Oh, and I knew I hoped it would be a murder mystery.
Guess what? (Spoilers!) It turned out to be enough.
There are two things I’d like to end this with before I go prepping posts for the weekend (beacuse, where I’m going, there probably won’t be good enough reception)—practice and gut.
The first is the notion that not only do you need practice in order to keep up writing day after day after day after day, but you need it to develop the second notion, a sort of gut feeling where your story’s headed, what would be fun to do next, and how much you can stretch what you’ve already written to include your thrilling new ideas.
Regarding the gut feeling—it’s something I’ve had no experience with before, while writing novels, which possibly had something to do with using The Outline, and probably more with my lack of noveling practice. Novels are scary. (Yup, they still are. And your only chance, when all hope is gone is that you’ll manage to make the next novel better, even if this one goes to shit.) But in 2019, I’ve realized that I can actually listen to the characters, and go with the flow of the story—unless the story wants to go where I’m unwilling to follow it, which is a good enough signal, to me, that something went wrong.
Murder mystery=a closed room case (my favourite!)+it had to be personal because that’s more painful=I know whodunnit. (All I had to go on, at the beginning, was the first part of the equation.) And on and on, and now I have fragments, four-line paragraphs, up until almost the very end of Johnny’s Girls; things that need to happen, organically, if the scenes before have happened, too, and if I want to keep having fun with this story, which I’m dying to. All that’s left for me to do is to connect those points in time with all those damned words which will, in the end, create the novel itself.
How hard can that be?
P.S. Oh, yeah, and the next novel you write will be better than this one. I’ve a gut feeling about this.
Photo by Marc Majcher.