NaNoWriMo Tip #7: Chapter doesn’t work? Fix it in “post.”

THE-HOUR
Both my husband and I have broadcast backgrounds. One very important lesson we learned in those previous gigs serves us well when we're editing text articles or, in the case of National Novel Writing Month, novels:

Should you feel something isn't working on your project, you can always fix it later.

Broadcast producers can always rely on post-production: the time spent in the production booth, editing the footage shot or recorded for the project. If, while shooting the segment, what you're getting on camera runs too long (exposition; needless scenes, etc), or the subject stutters or talks too much (dialogue) — you rarely say "Cut" and start over. Instead, you'd wait until you were in the studio and saw the raw footage to determine which scenes needed to be trimmed.

The same goes for your manuscript. You job over the next few weeks is to put the story on the page. Afterward, you'll go through it page by page, chapter by chapter. If something reads false, go ahead and chop and dice it, until it reads to your satisfaction. 

This won't happen in second draft either. You'll go through several drafts before you're truly pleased with your work.

Even after it sells to a publishing house (YES IT WILL SELL; YOU MUST BELIEVE THAT) you'll get notes back from your editor on how a scene or character should be tweaked. Then it will go through copy edits, where someone with a better grasp than you of grammar and syntax will take a shot at it, as well.

Because when it's ready for its public debut, your readers deserve the best story possible.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.

The photo above is from the BBC TV series, THE HOUR, which is one of my favorite shows. It looks at broadcast journalism in London, during the 1950s.

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READ YESTERDAY'S  TIP, HERE…

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I've got a question for you, and be honest: How many times do you read a chapter before you write the next one?

— Josie

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #6: When your “backstory” should be the story.

HarryPotter

During National Novel Writing Month, many an aspiring novelist will start with a great character. He will know his hero backwards and forward, as if he is his very best friend.

He'll describe how the hero looks, down to the cleft in his chin. He'll know about his childhood, his teen angst, his tribulations and his desires.

But now that it's time to give his hero something to do, the writer stalls out.

Why does this happen?

Because in this case, the backstory is the story.

So why not move it front and center?

If you can answer yes to these four questions, then the Muse is trying to tell you (HELLOOOOO!) that the better book to write starts where your hero first intrigued you:

1. When describing your book to others, do you find yourself spending more time describing your hero's past, but get stuck on telling what will happen to him in the book?

2. Is half of what you wrote in your synopsis his backstory?

3. Did it take all of Chapter One to describe your character before you realized you had nowhere to go with Chapter Two?

4. Do you find yourself rewriting the details of your hero's past, because it's more interesting than considering his future?

Take a broad hint: There is gold in the hills of his backstory.

Harry Potter is a perfect example of this. Can you imagine if J.K. Rowling had started her epic story with, say, Book 6 The Half-Blood Prince — when Harry was already at Hogwarts and just realizing his true role in a world turning darker, more sinister? Surely this book in the series and the seventh, could  have been tweaked to stand-alone…

But consider how much was gained by knowing so much more of Harry's backstory.

That's because it was never just his backstory. It was the story.

Bottom line: start at the real beginning: when you first realized that your hero intrigued you.

Maybe it was when he did that old-soul thing at age three. Or when he had his first kiss. Or when he accidently drove his parent's car into the lake.

Not all stories were meant to start where we want them to begin. Sometimes they start earlier, or later.

If you start your story at a point that is most interesting in your character's life, your readers will be sucked along on his journey, too.

So take them along for the ride. 

It ain't the prequel. It's the beginning of a wonderful friendship between your hero and your reader.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP HERE…

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I've got a question for you: Which character's backstory would you have liked to have read about, as a book?

For me, it is the character of Ethan Gage, in the wonderful historical suspense series by William Dietrich. We know that Ethan once studied under Benjamin Franklin. it would be a hoot to see his antics stateside, before we're introduced to him in Napoleon's Pyramids.

— Josie

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #4: Meet your word count first; edit it later.

JacksonPollock
One analogy about the tips you often hear regarding National Novel Writing Month is to imagine your your sentences as strands of spaghetti that you toss onto the wall of your manuscript.

As with any wall that gets covered with wet noodles and tomato sauce, at some point it either looks like a mess—

Or, like a work of art. 

After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Remember: you are your own Jackson Pollock. This project is just the first of your many masterpieces.

You'll have a natural inclination to go back, re-read it, and edit what you wrote.

Don't.

Why? Because the whole purpose of NaNoWriMo is to put as many words on the page as you can in these precious thirty days.

If you''re spending an hour — or worse yet, a full day — honing a specific page (or paragraph, or sentence) you will NEVER make your word count. The sheer weight of writing — and endless re-writing — are like ankle weights strapped onto a marathon runner: well before you reach the finish line, you will collapse in exhaustion.

Right now, you have only one goal: those 50,000 words, which is about two-thirds or half a standard manuscript submitted for publication, depending on the book.

After your thirtieth day, having reached your 50,000 words, most definitely you should re-read your story.

And re-read it again. And again.

And rewrite it. Continually.

Take note of misspellings, phrasing that is awkward, scenes that are deadly, and characters who don't move the plot forward.

The time you take to reshape your manuscript is what makes it a masterpiece, not how many words it is, or that you even finished it.

Your characters have to be engaging.

Your plot has to challenge them, give them moral dilemmas.

Your story has to be satisfying to your reader.

But your first step is to move that story from your head to the page.

Because ultimately, others want to read your masterpiece, too.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP HERE…

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Okay, now, tell the truth: Are you meeting your word count? And tell me why, or why not…

— Josie

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #3: Don’t give up.

Boogie-man
Despite the fact that it is only Day 3 of National Novel Writing Month, I'm willing to bet that, before the clock strikes midnight tonight, one-tenth of everyone who began with high hopes of meeting their writing goals each day will have missed today's deadline…

And by tomorrow evening, they will have completely given up the ghost on the ideal of writing their book.

Don't let that person be you.

The only one who can defeat you from finishing your novel, then pitching it to an agent who sees its merit and wants to present it to publishers is YOU.

Yes, you heard me: you are your Boogie Man.

Your voice is the one whispering those niggling doubts that anyone will love your characters as much as you do.

No one taunts you more about your quirky sentence structure.

Only you think that your dialogue sucks, and that your plot has nowhere to go.

Do you see a pattern here? 

Defeat comes from within.

Well, guess what? So does faith.

If you don't believe wholeheartedly in your book, no agent will, either. 

If an agent never sees it, neither will any pub house editor.

And The Book That Never Was will be your greatest personal defeat.

It doesn't have to be.

Writing a book is not easy. Drawing from deep within that fantasy world within your brain and pouring it all out on (digital) paper is a skill that is honed one sentence at a time, and many drafts later.

In time, you will weave those sentences into the tapestry of your great story: one with tightly-woven plot threads that will awe all who have the chance to read it: first your critique partners, then the right agent, then an editor who is just excited about it as you —

And finally, a legion of fans, all of whom will be hungry to read your next book.

My first novel was sold as part of a two-book deal. When I broke this wonderful news to my sister, she was very excited for me, for all of about twenty seconds. Then, in a hushed voice, she asked: "But–they can't make you write another one…can they?"

Make me? Write another book?

Hell yeah, twist my arm…

Because it's what I do.

Whether anyone else believes I can do it or not, I write.

Hey, trust me: I have my own Boogie Man.

He fills me with doubts that the muse will some day kick me to the curb.

He tries to convince me that I'll lose my ability to tweak some real-life situation into a great "what if."

And that, one day, I'll just not care; that I will give up the need to write, to practice my art.

His stale breath has been wheedling doubts in my ear through three agents, four pub houses, and at least a dozen unsold manuscripts.

In fact, he was there last night, taunting me about a book proposal that went out just yesterday. He wants me to believe that it will be laughed out of every publishing house it's been sent to…

Well, he's wrong.

I may not have a magic force field to keep him out of my life, but I have a silver bullet that stops him dead in his tracks, every time:

I believe in my book.

Just like I've believed in all my books, even when others didn't.

I've now got a body of work to prove it. My books have found avid, appreciative audiences.

Yours will, too.

How about you?  Do you believe in your story, your characters, about your vision of a life as a writer?

Then start writing it. Again.

Put those words down on the page. Set a daily goal for yourself, and meet it. Trust me, you won't be writing REDRUM REDRUM REDRUM over and over.

To paraphase Winston Groom, author of  Forrest Gump, writing is a bowl of cherries.

Now, in a paraphrasical mashup of Mr. Groom and Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather: 

Drop the Boogie Man. Take the bowl of cherries. 

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All Rights Reserved

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Here's yesterday's  Tip #2…

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— Josie

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.

Writing-tips-best

I am forever amazed at authors who tell me that they write their books without first outlining the plot of their stories.

Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Would Be Author: "Plotting? NOOOOO! I'd never do that! I'd be crushing my muse! My characters take me on their journey, not the other way around…."

Me: "Yeah, right, whatever….Um, how long have you been working on that book?"

Would Be Author, after a long silence: "Well, let's see…I started it in the third year of W's second term in office…"

You get my drift.

Dear NaNo Newbie: I never want to have that same conversation with you.

I never want to see the pain in your eyes when you hear that NaNo Pal Such-and-Such just finished his novel/got an agent/sold his book to Random House. Why? Because I know you'll be thinking, "That could have been me, had I only (a) gotten beyond the first chapter (b) figured out where my story was going (c) hadn't run out of steam…."

By the way, "steam" is a euphenism for "plot."

Which gets us back to the iceberg at the bottom of this tip: Create an outline for your story — so that you actually have a plot.

Would Be Author is what we scribes call a "pantser": someone who writes by the seat of their pants.

Even published authors do it. Many of my writer pals, in fact (Hey! Yeah, YOU! You know who you are…)

They are the ones who (a) work 10 hours a day for the same 3,000 words it takes a plotter to do in, say 4 hours, or (b) turn in their manuscripts after their editors deadlines, and yet (c) still stubbornly insist it's the only way they can write….

WRONG.

Writing is a discipline, and plotting is the foundation in which your wonderful book will be built.

Don't get halfway through it, then kick yourself because it needs a character who should have entered 40 pages earlier, or because you have to substitute more action in place of all that middle-of-the-book navel gazing…

Admit it: YOU were navel-gazing, too…weren't you?

That's because you got lost in the wilderness of your wonderful mind…

The breadcrumbs are your plot.

You will still see all those wonderful characters on the way to your final destination, but your novel's outline is the map that takes you there.

This outline will route you through many twists and turns. Along the way, you'll write in many interesting characters that actually DO something in the story which moves the plot forward: up some very challenging plot hills, and down into scary abysses–

All the while allowing the reader to care–no, to LOVE–your hero or heroine.

Bottom line: give your story a great beginning, and page-turning middle, and a satisfying ending.

Think 30 chapters (estimate) in 300 pages (again, nothing written in stone) —

And write something on each page — in each chapter — to make readers want more of your hero(ine).

You may argue, "But doing an outline confines you to those plot points!"

I disagree! Your outline is the path that takes you from Point A (your first word) to Point Z (The End). Along the way, feel free to stop and smell the roses you find there, be they a character who comes to you out of the blue, or an incident that allows you to meander in a field along your way to your final desination–

The completion of your book.

(c) 2015 Josie Brown. All Rights Reserved

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP, HERE…

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Okay, now, tell the truth: Do you plot, or pants? And tell me why…

— Josie