NaNoWriMo – Days 18-19

My novel is up to 33,835 words now. The daily writing has become pretty habitual, so it feels like smooth sailing till the end.

Mapping the Field

As I write scene after scene, I feel like I’m mapping out a field of possibilities, not just for my story but also for what I can do with fiction writing.

This includes learning how to write different kinds of scenes and aspects of scenes, such as:

  • Dialogue between two characters
  • Dialogue with more than two characters
  • Fast action scenes
  • Slow action scenes
  • Action interspersed with dialogue
  • Indoor scenes
  • Outdoor scenes
  • Practicing “show me; don’t tell me”
  • Scenes with fixed environments
  • Scenes with changing environments
  • Solo scenes with only one character
  • Humorous scenes or moments
  • Surprises and plot twists
  • Creating different speech patterns for different characters
  • Introducing a setup in one scene to deliver a payoff in a later scene
  • Integrating exposition judiciously (without making it so obvious)
  • Weaving in subtext
  • Getting the pacing right
  • Sexually suggestive scenes
  • Sexually explicit scenes
  • Manipulative or persuasive scenes
  • Scenes involving suspicion or interrogation
  • Arguments and debates
  • Emotional, tearful, or vulnerable scenes
  • Creating interesting and varied settings
  • Sciency or geeky scenes
  • Minor setbacks
  • Major setbacks
  • Weaving a change of value for at least one character into each scene
  • Mystery elements
  • Dropping clues
  • Integrating backstory
  • Writing with different POVs (first person, third person, etc)
  • Scenes that require research
  • Describing sensory details (without overdoing it)
  • Describing characters
  • Introducing characters
  • Naming characters

So yeah… there’s a lot to learn and discover.

Tasting New Skills

The first time I write each type of scene or element, it’s a new experience for me. It feels awkward and bumbling since I’m out of my depth. But I always learn something, and the next time I attempt something similar, I’m a little better at it.

If all I do is write a type of scene and read it back the next day, I’ll surely spot some mistakes that I can learn from. And of course I can supplement this with studying the craft of writing in others ways too. But it really helps to at least taste the many different skill possibilities, so I can become familiar with them. I need to build hooks in my brain to hang all of these different skills. Then I can explore different ways to combine these skills.

This reminds me of going through a similar process when I was in Toastmasters for several years. I learned to do informative speeches, persuasive speeches, humorous speeches, Power Point presentations, storytelling, improvisational speaking, speech evaluations, speech contests, etc. Then I challenged myself with speaking opportunities outside of Toastmasters, speaking in other countries, radio and podcast interviews, and so much more.

Aligning Skills with Long-Term Goals

It took years, but eventually I acquired enough speaking experience that I could feel right at home doing my own 3-day workshops in a hotel ballroom on the Las Vegas Strip. I could weave in interactive social activities and games, bring people up on the stage with me, handle Q&A, and do plenty of spontaneous humor and playful banter. Plus I learned how to find and book rooms, negotiate meeting room contracts, to work with meeting planners. Now the whole collection of skills seems relatively straightforward, but it sure didn’t look that way when I first began.

When I’m starting fresh in a new field of learning, I find it useful to court a variety of experiences, so I can mentally map out the possibility space. This gives me more options and flexibility. It helps me figure out where I need to invest to get the most long-term leverage, so I can develop the right skills for my long-term goals.

With public speaking I wanted to do my own public workshops eventually. I didn’t want to get into corporate-style speaking. Could you see me donning a suit and speaking to groups of insurance agents and healthcare workers? No, thanks! My early skill-mapping phase for speaking helped me see where I needed to invest versus which skills I could mostly ignore. This helped me to avoid over-investing in skills that were relatively useless for my goals.

Embracing the Beginner Phase

I know from experience that the initial experience of getting into a new field can seem overwhelming. There are so many sub-skills to learn and practice, and when you’re just starting out, you’ll probably suck at all of them. That’s to be expected. But you can keep chipping away at the challenge by gaining experience, and this will add up to tremendous value over time. With speaking I did this one speech at a time. With fiction writing I’m approaching this one scene at a time.

Consequently, I’m using this first draft to practice writing different kinds of scenes. These are my first forays into the vast menu of fiction writing skills, so I want to taste a fairly wide range of skills. I’m not sure which skills I’ll need for this particular story, but by testing many different skills, I’m gaining some understanding of how I might use them.

I’ve never written a car chase scene, and I don’t anticipate including one in my novel, but since words are cheap, I could just take a stab and write one, and I’ll probably learn something useful from the experience. Even if I still don’t want to include a car chase, I might include some other kind of chase. Or maybe I’ll gain extra practice that could help me write a well-paced action scene. Moreover, I’ll surely learn more about my characters by throwing them into a car chase and seeing how they behave under that kind of pressure.

So as I see it, I’m trying to lose my fiction writing virginity with each type of skill I might find useful for fiction writing. Just crossing that threshold is useful because it reduces resistance to using unfamiliar and under-developed skills. I know my first car chase scene will be awkward to write, but if I lose my car chase virginity, I’ll expand my comfort zone. Expanding my comfort zone means that I’m also expanding the edge of my comfort zone, which means that even more interesting possibilities become accessible beyond that edge.

Another advantage to this approach is that you learn which sub-skills you enjoy. I’ve already figured out that I enjoy writing dialogue, especially between two characters. I enjoy weaving sexual tension into scenes and writing sexually explicit scenes too.

I also notice that I’m avoiding writing violent scenes. There are no guns, weapons, or fights in my book so far. So I may want to try writing a violent scene at some point to see how it goes and what I learn from it. That doesn’t mean I have to include violence in the book, but it’s good to at least explore that type of writing because it will help me understand what purpose a violent scene might serve. And by writing something violent, it also gives me a different perspective on writing a nonviolent story.

As you keep exploring known skills, eventually you’ll discover your own ways of doing things. My blog is very different from anyone else’s because I’ve followed my own path of skill development. I can see myself doing something similar with fiction writing, such as by diving into territory that seems relatively under-explored.