The Countdown to NaNoWriMo 2011 Continues

Last November, in the midst of my epic first novel, I started NaNoWriMo. It seemed like a great idea, and I’d been toying with it since hearing about it several years ago (whether in college or in grad school, I do not know). Since I was in the midst of a long dry spell for employment, I figured that it would give me something to do. I’d treat writing (and editing) as a regular, 9-to-5 job. In reality, it was more like 7:30 until whenever, but it gave me something by which I could keep myself occupied during those hours when my wife was out winning our bread. Things are different this year.

This year, I will come in to NaNoWriMo having been gainfully employed for ten consecutive months, assuming I don’t pull an American Beauty and start lifting weights and smoking pot in the garage. This employment means that I am occupied from 8:30 to 6:00, assuming you take into account my commute. This leaves considerably less time for me to work on my novel–vote below in order to help me shake the “Tentative Title” that serves as a header for each page. Due to this, there are certain changes that have taken place in terms of my preparation.

While I did my research for last year’s novel, I was still able to churn out 183,000+ words through flying by the seat of my pants and knowing my characters. Henry would always be Henry, and Brooke would always be Brooke. It also helped that there were really only two primary characters, a half dozen secondary characters, and a glut of tertiary characters. I wasn’t dealing with the Fellowship of the Ring here!

This year, I am plotting in advance, and plotting heavily. At the end of NaNoWriMo, I want to have 50,000 words for November, but I’m also aiming for the month of December to be dedicated to mop-up work. In contrast, it took me around seven months to complete my first novel AFTER WriMo. The problem with this little endeavor is that it feels less organic. I was happy going by the seat of my pants last year. I will be happy writing this year, too, because I’m not married to plot points being in order. Good thing, too; my wife wouldn’t go for Mormon marriage.

It is a nice safety blanket, that much is certain. I am busy plotting seven sections of the novel. So far, I’ve plotted three… fora total of 81 plot points or ideas–of course, I’m using plot point quite loosely here. Assuming that I divvy up the 50,000 words evenly (and allow for a little bit of wiggle room), I’ll have about 7,500 words per section. Using that as a means of measuring those three sections, those 81 plot points should cover 22,500 words–less than 300 words per plot point/idea. Wow, who knew building a safety blanket would involve so many steps!

I’ve written additional points in the remaining four sections, but I am having more difficulty than I anticipated in plotting something with this level of detail that is so far ahead of my real-time novel writing. Characters develop, they change. Even stoic characters must change a little, no matter how much they resist. That is the most difficult aspect of it all, especially considering I have a hobo slumgullion of characters with their own unique needs and personalities. In addition, I’d be covering dangerous ground if I decided to change plot points that impact the resolution.

As I was on my commute home, as well as doing some late night grocery shopping, I started to wonder about some of the most recognizable writers and their stories. Did Stallone know that Rocky would beat Apollo? Did Robert Rodriguez really go in knowing that The Mariachi and Bucho were brothers? Did the team behind the newest BSG have a detailed list of who was a cylon and when it would be revealed? I think that these three examples run the spectrum from “absolutely” to “probably not,” and it leaves me to wonder. Some books translate very well to the box office, and follow a clearly discernible heroic arc. Some books get where you expect them to be, but the journey from the alpha to the omega is a bit of a roller-coaster. And there’s the last kind of book. The kind of book that makes you go “who’s on first, what’s on second, and what the hell was I supposed to ask Alice?”

As I work my way towards the end of this novel, I wonder how much I should plot it out and how much I should leave it all to chance. Stephen King talks about writing as if you’re unearthing a fossil. The story’s all there, but you have to be careful how you unearth it. I love that analogy. I also think that writing is a means of making the subconscious conscious, and I am wondering just how much I want to funnel those subconscious processes into a very focused form of consciousness.

As with many pursuits, writing is like life. Rather than jump around from one brain dropping to another, and trying to expound on this one, I’ll leave it up to you to make the connection. How do you like to live your life?

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