NaNoWriMo – Days 4-5

Here are my latest progress updates for my novel:

Day 4

I had a very pleasant writing session on this day, now at 6872 words total. I’m starting to enjoy this more as the scenes are coming together, and I’m getting more familiar with the key characters.

I spent some time organizing the manuscript scene structure before I wrote any scenes this time. I created placeholders for the remaining signpost scenes, found a cleaner way to arrange my existing notes, and did a little more journaling with my characters.

In general I find that journaling with my characters and asking them what we ought to write today is a great way to begin each writing session. This is basically the method from Stature called “Chorus” applied to fiction.

Another ace of a habit is listening to focus tracks while writing. When using the phone app version, I prefer the “deep work” tracks for this type of work. Oddly the “creative flow” tracks tend to make me sleepy.

On Day 4 I wrote two more signpost scenes:

  • The Doorway of No Return #2, which is the final scene of Act 2
  • Mounting Forces, which is the first scene of Act 3

This gives me a sense of how Act 2 could end and how Act 3 can begin. I’m not sure if I’ll keep these scenes as-is though. It’s an interesting place to take the story, but I’m not sure if these particular scenes will set the characters up for a strong enough ending.

Playing with the signpost scenes is like figuring out the spine of the story. I can see how it will be easier to fill in the remaining scenes once I figure these out. It’s basically the 80/20 rule applied to fiction writing. Figure out your 20% most important scenes, and write and arrange those first. Those are the scenes that provide 80% of the value.

Day 5

I’m at 8605 words total now. On this day I wrote the Lights Out scene, which is signpost scene #11 and the second scene of Act 3.

This is the dark, bleak, “all hope is lost” scene that sets things up for the finale.

It’s interesting that in many story structures, right after the lead character makes a big decision, you knock them down a notch in the next scene (or shortly thereafter). One reason for doing this is that it raises the stakes, showing just how big or risky the decision really is. This increases the tension and helps maintain good pacing. The “Lights Out” scene raises the stakes as high as they’ll go.

Isn’t real life like this too sometimes? You may make a big decision such as to quit your job or leave a relationship, and now you have an upcoming scene where you have to tell your boss or partner, and that’s often an unpleasant situation that knocks you back a bit. But then you can at least have some recovery scenes afterwards.

In fiction and in real life, courage is a big part of the journey. Without sufficient courage, you can’t make those big decisions, and the story can’t progress.

This was a hard scene to write, so it took me considerably longer to write than any other scene. I kept pausing and reflecting along the way on where to take it next, like after every few hundred words. There were a lot of options at each point.

This is also a very unusual Lights Out scene, not something I’ve seen elsewhere. While the idea of having a scene like this isn’t new, the way I’m approaching it isn’t familiar to me. It’s close to an addict hitting rock bottom, but it’s actually way worse than that. It’s like taking an addictive drug that’s also conscious, so it won’t let you quit even when you decide to.

I wonder if I overdid it though. I buried the main character so deeply in this scene that it looks totally impossible for her to escape her fate now. But that also makes it kinda interesting to see if I can use this. If I can’t see a way out, the reader may not be able to see any way out either.

The writing is feeling a little easier now that I’ve done five days of it. It’s still challenging though. If I didn’t have my daily quota of writing at least 1667 words each day, my word count would surely be lower at this point.

I feel like what I’m really doing this month is mapping out the story space. There are so many permutations and branches of the story I could write. Every writing session gives me more clarity about what I could do, but it won’t necessarily be what I end up going with.

I find the “words are cheap” mindset helpful. It’s not that difficult to throw a scene onto the screen and see how it turns up and then reflect upon how it fits with the other scenes. At this point I’m not worrying at all about polished language. I’m writing the scenes fairly plainly to explore more possibilities each day.