Today I bring you a (slightly belated) recap, a progress post if you will, of how NaNoWriMo has been going during week one. As you may have seen, I decided this year to firmly give up the ghost of trying to write a novel I’ve been trying to write for the past three NaNos: The Upper Deep. Based initially in a steampunk, revised to a gaslamp, fantasy world, The Upper Deep was inspired by Tennyson’s ‘The Kraken’, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and the film Stardust with a sprinkle of the aesthetic, the action, and the humour Sherlock Holmes (as directed by Guy Ritchie) and the film Van Helsing. The problem with this story idea is that I have the overarching concept, and I have the characters and their motivations and relationships, but I struggle to work out all the plot points and scene I need to write in order to tell the story I want to.
I’m a very indecisive person (as I’ve much discussed on here) and I haven’t yet found a plotting strategy that will help me to make decisions easily enough to settle on my plot trajectory and the scenes I need to write. This has happened too with another novel idea I’ve been toying with in the past few weeks, a genderbent Hades and Persephone retelling I’ve been calling Half goddess, half hell. When I say “toying with” I really do mean that. I’ve been randomly writing scenes here and there and I’m not sure how any of these will fit together at all, or whether they’d even make it into any version of an actual manuscript of this novel idea. But I have my characters and I know their voices, so there’s that at least.
In a sense, my writing style ought to be quite suited to NaNo because I just blurt out words to get them down and I stop when I’ve run out of ideas. However, this strategy is also what damns me every NaNo – because I don’t have enough of a structure to know I’ve finished a scene and so can move onto the next, I never feel like I’ve wrapped up anything. Everything feels a little bit unfinished which is allegedly fine in a draft manuscript but means I’ve also never managed to “win” NaNo because I rarely get past the first week or so. It’s no coincidence that most of the drafts I have written during NaNo haven’t got past 15,000 words.
It’s an ongoing struggle I’m having and it’s one which I tried to strategise around when deciding on my project for this year’s NaNoWriMo: I decided not to work on just one novel that was high concept or fantastical in any way. I settled on writing what I love – trope-y contemporary. I settled on two conceits: one was a ‘royal secretly goes off to university, meets people who don’t know who he is, he learns about the world’ story, and the other (the one I’ve written most of this past week) is a ‘fake dating’ story set in the London theatre world. As these are liable to be quite tropey, I thought it would be a less decision intensive sort of plot; I could focus instead of making sure that I could write effectively and build character, rather than worrying about first needing to settle on every little detail of worldbuilding that writing a more ‘high concept’ fantasy story would require.
I think my original strategy has worked in many respects. With the exception of one day where I didn’t write at all (my defence? I was on a trans-Atlantic flight), I have mostly stayed on-track with my word count and that’s even whilst being on holiday in Disney World, something which, I think you’ll agree, could be a mighty big distraction from writing at all. However, yet again I’m hitting that 15,000 word mark at which I usually ditch NaNoWriMo for another year – and, with it, my draft manuscript.
Even though these two contemporary story ideas probably won’t ever be properly finished into a coherent novel form, I did want to finish telling whatever story I was telling. Because the stakes were lower with the world-building, I wanted to focus on having a story that went from A to B effectively. Unfortunately, I’ve fell back into old habits and I’m still not doing that; my story still feels like bits and pieces that aren’t properly linked or part of a narrative… yet.
So, now, I think I need to alter course a little bit with NaNo. I need to sit down and force myself to plot, force myself to make decisions on plot points and make ‘action to consequence’ linkages, rather than continuing to have these scenes I’ve written just floating around. That is my strategy for the next week in NaNoWriMo.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you participated before? Or perhaps you’re a writer? Do you have tips for useful plot techniques to help me flesh out a narrative with plots/scenes/chapters? Any advice is greatly appreciated!