Push Button Paradise
Sun, 30 Oct 2005
In case I'm not busy enough already, I'll be taking part in National Novel Writing Month, starting oh, in a little more than 26 hours.
Writing a novel is hard. I say this on authority, having started the task twice before but not finishing it. I can't help but break down the situation like an engineer. The biggest challenge is your "code base" quickly grows larger that what can fit inside one head. Unlike open source efforts, writing doesn't scale well to multiple heads--the differences in writing style become simply too jarring. (It's also far different from writing non-fiction.)
So, it's all up to you, by yourself. A classic beginner's mistake is to dive into code with zero up-front thought. I'm a little concerned that NaNoWriMo encourages this sort of behavior. Throw in a couple of famous authors who swear by it, and you've got trouble mounting.
According to the rules of NaNoWriMo, notes and outlines are permitted, though previously written prose "is punishable by death".
So here's my approach: I've outlined the whole story based on scenes, about at the granularity of "chapters" on a DVD. Each one has a one page hand-written (100% computer-free) write-up, including a synopsis, description of the offpage times and storyline, character notes, key imagery and sensory descriptions to include, "The Core", and potential pitfalls. Also, I have some additional notes and timelines.
Easy to say at this point, but so far it's working great. I ran into one sticky situation where Scene A had to occur before Scene B, B before C, and also C before A. I'm sure that could make an interesting story in itself, but for a normal story, it's a problem. In a straight-through organic writing process, a huge amount would have been thrown away right there--a novelpocalypse. Sometimes throwing away vast slabs is just what you need, but if you can avoid spending a huge amount of time writing something that will get tossed, I call that a win. In my case, I was able to make some minor changes--less than one written page in total--and move on with a clever solution that solved multiple problems at once. Just as with code, when a problem is spotted earlier, it's faster and cheaper to fix it.
Yesterday, I wrapped up the 49th and final scene this way. Right now, all 49 notebook pages are spread out on my floor. I'll organize them into a reasonable first cut sequence, properly alternating among the main storylines, mainly just for big-picture visualization purposes, then I'll pretty much be ready. The actual writing will be done on a computer. Each scene will live in a separate plain text file, at least until well past the first draft. If I get stuck on anything, it's easy to skip over to a different scene and plow away there. The overall outline I can keep in my head, so out-of-order writing becomes feasible.
One other thing I've noticed: blogging sucks up a large amount of creative brainpower. Expect November blogging to be light. -m