NaNoWriMo 2013 has concluded. Did I successfully complete the challenge? Well, yes and no.
On November 30, my word count graph indicated I would reach 50,000 words on December 12. As of this afternoon, when I rechecked the number of words I had written, I discovered I had a total of 49,686 words. Therefore, I did not fulfill the challenge of writing 50,000 words.
However, I consider the last six weeks to be a success. Not a success in writing 50,000 words, but a success in accepting the challenge from my friend to learn more about how to write.
Let’s go back six weeks.
When I decided to accept the NaNoWriMo challenge, I was in the middle of rewriting my first novel, The Pendergast Prerogatives. I have recounted, in blogs I have posted, the suggestions my friend gave me: 1) to study two books she considered important for a developing writer; and 2) to read some authors in my same genre.
The decision to join NaNoWriMo was reached only three days before the start of the month. But, I had a couple choices at that point. Should I enter the project with a book half rewritten or start with an almost blank page? My choice was Second Cousins, a novel I had finished less than 3000 words of.
I am sorry I disappointed my friend, who thought I should have stuck with the rewrite of Prerogatives. My intent was to continue the evolution of Prerogatives as I worked on the NaNoWriMo challenge. Sadly, I was unable to do both.
As soon as my friend gave me the suggestions, I trundled over to the library. Alas, only one of her suggestions was available. I submitted a request for the missing book, brought the available title and two John D MacDonald books home, and began to read.
Then came NaNoWriMo and I eagerly leapt into the creation of Second Cousins, compiling a sufficient number of words in the first ten days to be notified I would finish on or before November 25. However, on November 25, I was again informed I was almost two weeks from completing the challenge.
First, I was actively doing one of the things my mentor had suggested — I was reading one of the two study books (Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress).
As I read Ms Kress’s book, I began to look at Second Cousins, as well as Prerogatives and the other novelists through new eyes. Suddenly, I saw things in other books that I didn’t want in mine. And just as suddenly, I begin to focus on learning more about writing rather than continuing to add words to my own book.
Second, I was reading other author’s books acquired through free offers at Amazon. And I was learning about how other authors were writing their books.
What did I learn?
First, show, don’t tell. Telling gets to be very boring. Forty-four paragraphs of telling is extremely boring. Those paragraphs were needed to explain some details about the hero, but would flow better as back story.
Second, don’t intersperse dialog with action (or inaction) to create a gigantic paragraph. An early editor suggested to me that each new segment of dialog needed to be a new paragraph. I learned in two of the books I read that following the flow when dialog and action were not clearly specified was almost impossible. If the books had been mine, I might have used a highlighter to let me know where conversation ended and action re-emerged.
Third, if my readers don’t develop a relationship with my characters, they won’t be reading my next novel. In her critique of one of my novels, my friend commented she had no idea what my hero looked like. Wow! And ooopps! It’s hard to be interested in a character if the character has no dimension. Is he six feet tall or can he walk under the dining table without crouching? Does she have long blonde hair or is she bald? These are two questions my friend must have asked. And they are two questions I failed to answer.
Fourth, is the plot reasonable? Or are the trevails dumped on the hero simply to fill pages, but have no legitimate purpose (unless the author is being paid by the word). One of the books I read was page after page of trial and tribulation. Eventually, the ability of the reader to empathise with the hero exceeded the possibility the hero could actually overcome all of the situations he had gotten himself in to. I finally simply removed the book from my Kindle. No one could have that much bad luck.
What to do, what to do?
Because Pendergast Prerogatives was such an important part of my writing life, the first book I wrote, I have decided to finish the first draft of Second Cousins while continuing to learn more about writing. Hopefully, what I learn will be incorporated into the novel and will be illustrated within its pages.
When I have written the final word of the first draft, I plan to set Second Cousins aside and return to The Pendergast Prerogatives, now titled The Prerogatives, a Pendergast Brothers novel. (It’s really a new novel, so why not give the book a new title?) I was at page 150 of 211 the last time I opened the file on my computer. I guess it would be better to start over at page 1.