Update: 141 of your fellow adventurers are now enrolled in Amplify, our new creative productivity deep dive. Join us for this epic journey as you amp up your creative flow for 2021 and beyond! Save 40% when you join by March 12.
I just finished my 12th day of novel writing for NaNoWriMo. Since I started on November 1st, my novel has grown from 0 to 21,087 words. I’ve written 17 scenes so far, so I’m averaging 1240 words per scene.
While I had some aspects figured out before I began, I’m mostly pantsing it as I go.
I’m not writing the scenes in order, preferring to jump around a lot. So far I’ve written 4 scenes for Act 1, 10 scenes for Act 2, and 3 scenes for Act 3.
Words Are Cheap
I can usually write a draft of one scene in 30-60 minutes, depending on how long it is. Since it doesn’t take much investment to write a scene, throwing some words onto the screen is an easy way to explore possibilities. I don’t feel attached to a scene that took less than an hour to write.
It would be easy to overthink a scene by planning it out in detail, but I could easily spend more time planning a scene instead of just writing it. I’m also likely to discover a few things while writing that I wouldn’t have anticipated during planning.
Writing without much planning is a discovery process. I don’t always know where a scene will go when I begin it. I like to listen to the characters to see where they naturally want to take the scene.
I’ve written a few scenes that are inconsistent with other parts of the story, so they couldn’t all co-exist in the same book. I’m doing this deliberately since I want to explore alternative ways of telling different pieces of the story. It’s like writing a Choose Your Own Adventure book and then collapsing it into a linear story when I can see what the most interesting path is.
Motives and Subtext
The writing is getting easier, especially as I get to know the characters better. As I deepen my understanding of a character’s motives and desires, the character basically writes their own dialogue for me.
When I first started writing but didn’t know the characters very well, it was harder to write dialogue that sounded natural because I didn’t really know what each character wanted. At first I would just have them talk for the sake of talking, which led to bland, stiff, and lifeless dialogue. When the characters aren’t clear in my mind, their dialogue is very “on the nose,” meaning that it’s too direct.
When I read back this type of dialogue, it reminds me of what I commonly see in very amateurish fiction, where every character pretty much speaks the same way.
A scene feels very different when characters speak with an agenda in mind. Having a clear agenda makes it easier for a character to convey details through subtext. It also makes it easier to differentiate characters.
In good stories characters communicate a great deal through subtext. People don’t say what they really mean.
Building Fiction Circuits
I feel like the more dialogue I write, the more my brain is building out the circuitry and algorithms for this particular skill set. Whereas in the beginning this type of writing feel like pushing through mud, now it’s flowing more easily, which makes it more enjoyable too. It’s really so much nicer in Week 2 than it was in Week 1.
To pace myself to reach 50K words on November 30th, I should be at 20,004 words today, so I’m now 1083 words ahead of schedule. My goal when I began was to get ahead a little and stay there, and that’s what I’ve done, padding the buffer but a little more each day. Framing this as a daily commitment to write 1667 words per day (plus a little extra) is working nicely.