Updated: Oct 20, 2021
Our preceding posts this month have emphasised the need for planning in order to succeed at reaching our 50k goal in November. But no matter how much you plan, there will always be periods where you are stumped, floundering for your next burst of ideas. And as the story does develop, the plot that you imagined in the planning stage can change quite significantly. If you read last week’s post, you now understand there will be periods in NaNoWriMo when you would literally prefer to pluck out your eyeballs rather than continue. But there are all sorts of tips and tricks to keep your forward momentum moving.
Ways to Boost Your Word Count:
You can use the traditional method of freewriting if you wish, though I would suggest you write around a word that is relative to your setting, action, characters or theme. Does this chapter need emphasis on theme above character or character above setting, or setting above action, action above all else? Choose which framework it is and write it from there. This will help make your chapters seem fresh and not too insular or samey . Write from the point-of-view (POV) of your character, not yourself. What would their thoughts be about this subject?
An alternative way of freewriting, rather than use a word as its centre point, is to chose a household object – any object – and begin by describing it (again, FROM THE POV OF YOUR CHARACTER and their unique view on the world), allowing the narrative to follow tangents.
You might have encountered writing advice that decries using too much exposition in a story because it drags the pacing down. If you are unfamiliar with what I mean, exposition means backstory, technical procedure, social structures and politics. Basically, anything that explains instead of dramatises. But with Nano, that isn't a concern. Here you can indulge yourself and write lengthy narratives diving into your characters deep and distant pasts. You can squeal with delight at your intricate details of how to make a nuclear reactor. You can describe everything the character sees right down to the speck of dust on the skirting boards. It doesn't matter. Eventually, you will see the clearing in the woods which is where your actual scene takes place. When you go back to revise, you will keep only the absolute relevant details and scrap the rest.
I know, not the most comfortable of areas to write in for the majority, but a sex scene can really get the zing back in your flow. It can be humorous, absurd, trite or embarrassing. The point is, it gets the words flowing and moves you onto the next part of the story. And the best thing is: YOU CAN DELETE IT IN THE REVISION. Do bear in mind that by writing how your characters have sex brings you one step closer to knowing all of their facets. Don’t dismiss it too quickly just because it takes you out of your comfort zone. You’re a writer - exploring the spaces in human nature is what we do.
Have your character prepare and/or cook food. What is it they like? What mood are they in when they cook this particular day? What could it indicate to the reader? Cooking scenes give you a structure to work to – your character is following a recipe or procedure, so it gives you some action to write. Maybe they are under pressure. What is the reason for making this dish or hosting this feast? Who might they want to impress? What could go wrong? Food can also reflect culture so cooking scenes can throw up all sorts of angles, beliefs and emotions.
Going on a trip or mission/quest.
Sometimes our writing becomes stale because we are so focused on one central character operating around one principle setting. Why not send your character on a trip or a quest? Give them a weekend away. Give yourself a writing weekend away – get a change of scenery for a writing weekend somewhere, where you can experience new stimulants. No one said you had to stay in one place to participate in NaNoWriMo.
It might create a diversion from the main plot, but you also might be able to create a little mini drama in itself and come back to the main story with a fresh outlook. And who knows, while you revise and perfect the main manuscript next year, you could publish it as a stand-alone short story or novelette to get potential fans interested in your book or to keep them sated while they await the follow up. That’s marketing.
There are many sets of story cubes available online. These are the ones I have so far added to my collection, but there are others, too. The big orange box in the photo is the basic, main set and the smaller boxes are specific to different genres. Got a scene that needs to be scary? Roll the Fright cubes and write a scene around the symbols that present. Story set in space and you need a new plot point? Roll one of the intergalactic cubes to provide you with a new event. The pictures are open to interpretation. Try rotating them to view them from different angles and see if that throws up something new. You can roll to find a theme to write to, an action, characteristic, special power, weakness, event, new character. It's entirely up to you.
We can spend hours, weeks, months creating characters, but there’s nothing like a good, quirky kernel of truth to truly bring them to life. Original quirks and idiosyncrasies can be tough to invent. That’s why I go to postsecrets.com to find authentic glimpses into real people’s lives. Pick one to three postcards and write a scene or chapter around or including them.
Before you start any writing, start your session off with ten minutes of meditation. Even if it's just breathing exercises, this practice will focus your mind for the task ahead. Some days you will be lucky enough that this focusing of the senses brings forth a scene that's been in the back of your mind, enabling you to now visualise it, and that's all you need to start you off. On days where that doesn't happen...
Plan your scenes day-to-day.
Stories change mid-write, so be prepared you might need to re-sketch some of those scenes you thought were so fixed when you first started out. After your meditation session, take a pen and paper (not your computer) and bullet-point the logical next steps leading on from the scene you wrote yesterday. Think about how the characters will react to those events, what decisions they might draw and any odd bits of dialogue that comes to mind (sometimes imagining a conversation your characters might have can create a whole scene). Bullet-point those too.
How to stop yourself from grinding to a halt:
Agonising over a name? Use a place holder and move on. GigglyGirl, NuisanceFace, TotalPrat are types of placeholders that will catch your attention when it comes to the revisions and by using something about their personality as a marker, helps you develop their psychology and role in the story.
Research in advance. Research is probably one of the biggest killers of momentum in NaNoWriMo. What does a place look like, what kind of people live there, how rainy is the climate and what kind of flora might there be? Or maybe you need more technical knowledge, planetary knowledge or religious, even. The internet is so vast and immediately gratifying, it’s easy to think you’ll take a small diversion while you find out the answer to your question. Inevitably, one question leads to the next and before you know it you’ve popped down the rabbit hole and can’t find your way back out. Do not fall into this trap. Think about the various settings your story will take place in and research them. Save images of the landscape and people, so you get a sense of what it’s like and who lives there, and so that you have a visual of images you might need to describe without staring out the window for a whole afternoon considering it. Also, if you pin-up pictures of your setting around your room, it will help keep you in the setting as soon as you sit down to write.
Read up on your pagan folklore, or Druid, or whatever it is so you can draw on that knowledge when you need it. For areas that you really couldn’t research in advance you could use placeholders as you would for names. If you really, really must research mid-write then do it quick – set yourself a timer of ten minutes and be strict with yourself! Togl.com is a timer software to help you with this.
You don’t have to write every scene in the order it happens back-to-back from the beginning until the end. Write the strongest scenes first, even if you haven’t written the connecting tissue – you can do that in the revision. Write a quick summary of the main pertinent info for in between events and info if you need to and move on.
These are my own personal tricks for squeezing blood out of a stone, but NaNoWriMo has its own set of challenges to boost word count. Check out your local forums and chat rooms for word wars, sprints and other such shenanigans.
Quelle surprise, I won't be blogging during November, but you can read my older posts on editing your Nano project if you need more advice.