Well, I would say I made it by the skin of my teeth, but I feel like I lost some skin too! I did manage to reach the 50,000 word count, with a few thousand extra, but this year was the most rushed I’d ever felt doing NaNoWriMo.
It’s going to be interesting to analyze the finished product. I feel like the scenes alternate between having way more detail than necessary just so that I could make the daily quota, and having less detail so that I could move the story along. I was at one point worried that I wouldn’t have the space within the 50,000 words to get through the main story. Looking back on the experience now, I’m not sure how warranted that was, because it’s hard to tell how much of the detail I added was excessive. I tend to use extra detail in my default writing style, so if anything I most likely had to rein that in to get the story done in the one month.
Some things I learned this time around…
1. Not all movie weapons are real. Okay, I kind of new this already, but some of these were actually a surprise to me. It turns out those daggers from Chronicles of Riddick don’t have a real-life name because they were actually invented for the films and are not based on real weapons. I had long assumed they were a Chinese weapon design, and various Chinese weapons were on my radar for this story, but if I wanted knives with those specific designs then I had to make some modifications and rename them.
2. Night Owls do better to divide their days. At least this is what I found as a night owl. It was tricky waking up late and then trying to do my full daily quota before midnight. I found it easier to do a thousand words pre-midnight, and then another thousand after midnight (always waking up each day at least a thousand words ahead). This approach significantly reduced stress and made it easier to take breaks when needed.
3. The chaotic nature of zombie stories makes it difficult to write ahead. One of my strategies for meeting daily quota during NaNo has been to jump to scenes that I already had thoroughly thought out in my head and write those early on. I couldn’t do that as much with this story since in many cases I wasn’t necessarily sure which characters would still be alive or what sort of injuries they might have sustained by the time the story actually reached a particular scene. Fortunately, such details didn’t impact the flashback sequences, many of which were thoroughly thought out before NaNo, so that balanced out a bit.
4. Inter-chapter flashbacks are tricky to position. It was an idea that I had shortly before NaNo started, and I felt I could come up with a game plan, pairing 10 flashbacks with the standard 10 chapters that my NaNo books tend to have. But since the primary purpose of a flashback is to reveal information of interest, one has to think carefully about when certain information should be revealed, and pairing each flashback idea that I had with a specific chapter, keeping in mind information already revealed by the end of each chapter, proved tricky, especially since when I want the reader to sit with certain feelings towards certain characters before revealing information that could change that. I ran into this, to a lesser degree, with the pre-chapter quotes in The Final Power: Chronomancer, and most of those were just bits of world-extending trivia, but when deciding which quotes went where, it was very important to keep the tone of each chapter in mind.
5. Mid-month (or mid-project) is definitely the time to start editing. Until then, so much conceptual material was still in a revisable state and I needed to reach a certain point in the story to have a firm decision about certain things – things that would be best changed during editing instead of sooner. Due to circumstances, I ended up not starting editing until a week later, which only gave me half the time, which was stressfully tight.
6. How many different ways I can misspell the word ‘maneuver.’ – That number is 4.
7. Too many main-ish characters can stifle character growth. This doesn’t always have to be the case, when given enough time, but under a time restraint it can certainly be difficult to give each character the level of detail and history that one might like. But even in a larger story, having spotlight on too many characters can cause confusion in the reader over which characters are more important to the plot. Of course a part of how I approached this zombie-apocalypse-type story was to have a higher than normal volume of spotlighted characters so that, hopefully, each death seems surprising, and so that I don’t run out of characters too fast – a staple approach to zombie stories in which death is frequent.
8. Editing and revision are where ‘coincidences’ become more natural. You might know what I’m talking about – those moments in stories where things come together just a little too neatly, when it seems like the unlikely thing to happen. Coincidences, the writer arranging things a certain way in order to achieve the desired story and results, happen all the time in rough drafts. But during the editing and revision process is where the writer has the opportunity to alter certain details in order to make it look like those outcomes were more likely to happen. With less time spent on revision and editing, a lot more coincidences happened in my story than I would have liked. Normally I would call it lazy writing. Considering the marathon that is NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t call it lazy in this case, but certainly rushed. And now I have a slightly different attitude toward those plot issues when I see them in other works. What I might previously have labeled as simply ‘lazy’ writing, may in fact have been the result of a tight deadline, which, I’ve heard, is a common occurrence for writers.
And that’s what I’ve learned so far from this experience. There is going to be more, I’m sure, some of which won’t become clear until I have a broader hindsight view. If my guess is correct, I may be able to have this novel out before the end of the year. I’ll be posting updates on this blog as soon as it happens, whether it’s this December or in the new year.
Until then, thank you for sharing this NaNoWriMo journey with me. I hope you’ve had a great experience and learned a lot, as I have. Talk to you guys again soon!