NaNoWriMo 401 — All Filler, No Killer

November 14th. Thirty days hath Optober, Janruary, and November. You’re halfway there (if you’ve been diligent), or you’re done (if you don’t work full-time) by now.

NaNoWriMo reminds me of making homemade dog food. Uncle Billus and I would toil until the sun ceased to hang. We produced savory barrelsful of scraps, skins, hair, leather, and cage-free organic free-range hand-deboned chicken.

Uncle Billus grabbed a thick handful some of the fresh, just-baked nuggets of doggie goodness. He tasted some of my work, smiling at first, then shaking his head. I asked what was wrong with it.

“Ther too much food in this here batch, not nuff filler. Got ‘nuff fer fo’ [4], reckon, fi’ [5] barrel worth here ‘um. Like writ’n one uh them NaNoWriMo books: can’t jus’ stick all the good stuff in one barrel, mmm-hmm. Gotta give ‘er more filler, stretcher out some.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

My novel is DONE! But I’m a few thousand words short, and I refuse to tack on any excess mess with random rabbit trails. Getting a finished work is one thing, but I need a way to flesh it out without stretching it too thin. Any advice?

—John Patrick Moran, Scottsdale, Ariz. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

While you may want to market your next rap/hip-hop/dubstep/crabcore album as “All Killer, No Filler,” you can easily apply the inverse to this November Novelthing. There are just as many ways to pare up your novel as you (naturally, I hope) pare it down.

Instead of:

“Take that sock off your head!” she said.

Go with:

“Take that sock off your head!” she exclaimed wistfully, like a budding, tangible breeze, toying with the senses of the mind and teasing the faculties of intellect; an overwrought sensation of rebuke from a charmer scolding a cobra that strays too far from the sanctuary  of a thatched basket.”

That’s what we call “putting more hay in the dogfeed.”

In addition to expanding the dialogue, you can also:

Use stock phrases.

Homer (Greek poet, inspiration for Homer Simpson) beasted every round of NaNoWriMo by putting that hay in the dogfeed. He coined a boatful of stock phrases like “wine-dark sea,” “rosy-fingered dawn,” “grey-eyed Athena,” and “mud-bustin’ 4-wheeler,” all of which filled the barrel with plenty of meat to spare. Don’t settle for grin when you can make it an “impish” grin, or don’t let that cottage stand without making it a “cozy little cottage” first. Like everyone else.

Plant a descriptive perception.

Maybe that’s too grown-up a term. Simply put, it’s the description you employ when your description is too weak to let the reader think for himself. While you could go with:

“Delectable strawberries, bursting with amaranthine juices,”

Tack on something ungainly:

“Delectable strawberries, bursting with amaranthine juices, like you’d eat on a midsummer’s toasty afternoon in the shade of one’s own home, petitioning mother for sugar and cream to cap off such royal treatment.

A baby unicorn vomits black sprinkles every time I read this sort of thing. I cannot wait until the end of NaNoWriMo, but alas, we’re in for the count, not the charms.

Remind people of what you already told them. 

When Moses wrote the 24th chapter of Genesis, he employed this same trickery for emphasis. They hadn’t invented italics or boldface type yet, so he needed something to hammer the point home. At 60+ verses, you could tell he was stretching the canvas and putting that hay in the dogfeed.

And since it’s NaNoWriMo, you can do this for every chapter, every sentence:

Ronnie rode his rusty bike back to the creepy old home, which as we all know, was Ronnie’s least favorite place in the whole entire universe, due to his meaner-than-teachers Stepuncle Frothmouth and Stepaunt Bourtha, both intent on draping the curtains of misery on Ronnie and all his hopes and dreams of un-misery.” 

He pushed aside that creaky old door that continued to remind him of the wailing spiders that, as you remember, devoured his dad and mum and grandmum; indeed, its pitch and timbre petrified and terrified the lad who, as you recall, feared spiders worse yet than the prospect of his evil Stepuncle Frothmouth and Stepaunt Bourtha, who jointly, as was mentioned afore, would descend from webs…”

You get it.

So what kind of hay do you put in the dogfeed?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.


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