NaNoWriMo: Where to Go with your Story?

I had a chance to meet with one of my builders. Building a third home for myself, you see. They’re about a quarter of the way done, but the work’s on hiatus.

“What?” I ask. “You just stopped all of a sudden?”

“Sorry,” say the builders. “We don’t really know where to go from here. Didn’t have plans beforehand.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What do I do when I don’t know where to go with my story?
—Daphne Roberts, Cleveland

(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 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

Go back in time.

November comes every year (except for back in 1126, 1884, and 1902), so you should have planned ahead. Had an idea? That idea just got spent over your first 8,000 words. You needed more.

Keep going somewhere.

You only think you don’t know where to go. You probably do, but it’s that “finished product” mentality holding you back. If you hit that roadblock after 10,000 words, start writing the last 20,000, come back to patch the road later. If there’s a great patch of dialogue between the werewolf boyfriend and the vamp girlfriend, write that. If you have all these great murder scenes in your head, press that ‘Fast Forward’ button, kill people off, and write ‘em up.

Retrace your steps.

Chances are, since you didn’t plan, you got lost. Whatever it was that got you up to the thousands for words: find it. Your dashing and unflawed protagonist. That inane backstory teeming with minutia that only you will find interesting. The formulaic opening to introduce your cast of characters. You liked writing about something. If you can’t summon the willpower to progress a story, we can worry about that some other time. Not NaNaWriMo time.

Just end it already.

Like it is with finding your way somewhere, you know where you start, and you have an idea of where you’ll be ending. Writing isn’t linear. If your novel doesn’t have an ending yet, well, tough luck. Make one up. If it doesn’t work, pull a page from the prog rock playbook and make it a false ending. The more you write of the end, the easier it will be the get there.

Go somewhere crazy.

You subconsciously reject the outlandish, only because it doesn’t seem to be what your story needs. No, wrong thinking. It’s exactly what your NaNoWriMoManUScript needs. Young adult cyberpunk tech-thriller? Throw in a serial Tyrannosaurus. Zombie apocalypse? Have them start a religion, philosophy, academies. Suburban women’s lit dealing with emotional trial over a husband cheating on a trusted friend? Turn that tryst into a full-blown love octagon. High fantasy epic? You don’t need crazy, just drawn-out backstory, maybe a few extended alchemic footnotes, and maybe a sudden war.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Doing Description Wrong

Description. There’s an art to it. Writers miss it when they fumble the juggle between showing and telling, and there’s nothing worse than an overeager wordsmith slathering on words like blobs of paint to make for a Pollockian tapestry.

Description doesn’t quite work that way. You’re telling a story. Don’t forget that part.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Could you give me a few pointers on my descriptive paragraph?

“Caked mud gripped the desolate path. The faceless sky breathed a white empty fire. Nocturnal whispers retreated from the land like reverse rays of beaming sun. Rocks rose with purple resilience amid the bleak soil. Lonely black trees danced solitary in a faint breeze. A weary shadow heralded the traveler’s coming.”

—Caleb Hilton, Bothell, WA

I’ll give you one pointer: start over.

This isn’t describing anything. These are wasted words slapping into dull thuds, lacking any sort of verve in sentence structure. You’ve colored with shimmering paints, muddying the canvas with unclear blobs and no definition.

Description isn’t how many fancy words you string together, or how many words you can check off from your “Thesaurus Rex of Awesome.”

I’d only keep the last sentence, if that. Tell your story first. Make something move. Draw those lines, color within them as you go.

Description without meaning is an empty art. When things “move,” your reader will fill in the gaps, letting you interject to fill in the rest. I can look at an Epic Fantasy Picture Book if I want scenery. But you’re a writer. Give me a story worth describing. We’ll get there.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

You Are Nothing if Not Critical

Hello, dozen or so readers:

We’re back to the scheduled regularness. My second-written, first-to-be-offered novel—The Travels of Sir Michael Zazu—is off looking for a publisher. Wish it well for me. Thanks.

In the meantime, there’s still a lot of bad writing out there.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Hey, did you see this article: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2012/08/writers_and_readers_on_twitter_and_tumblr_we_need_more_criticism_less_liking_.html 

It’s almost like they read your blog, that is, if your blog were popular enough to read, LOL!

—Brad Millen, Akron, Ohio

I hate you. But I don’t hate the point you make.

But please, do give the article a read. It’s much more fun to read the same sort of material from someone more famous. (Done? Yay, great.)

It’s exactly why writing has become more of a sham than it deserves. Schools haven’t failed, creatives haven’t been squelched, and literacy hasn’t plummeted as much as people support.

It’s because writers are too nice. 

Nice to each other, nice to simpering fans, nice to anyone who will review for publicity, retweets, snacks, whatever. Amidst all the niceness, we’ve lost what makes writing better. You are nothing if not critical, and here’s why:

Too much niceness spoils the broth

“Oh, I love everything you do, write, and say! I love sticking @ mentions of you in my Tweets, and liking all your Facebooks and Google Plusses! I want to polygamously marry you and be wedded to your infinite goodness!”

Yeah, because that’s going to prompt good reading and/or writing. Love and hatred both falter when sharing the same blindfold.

Criticism ≠ hate

The social media honeypot abounds with sticky, sappy, gooeyness, but not enough bees. You are not a “hater” if you rightly point out a flimsy plot, stilted characters, or poor word choices across the board. You have a right to demand excellence, even if your favorite author and her fans won’t retweet it.

Fan of great writing, or fan of attention?

Which writer are you going to enjoy more: the one who acknowledges your measly existence from his lofty pedestal, or the one who writes well and couldn’t be bothered to reply to you?

Why are you a fan? No, seriously: ask that question. Don’t lie with a good answer. What about this author tickles you, makes you smile each day, enriches your life?

It’s the fact that they connect with you, isn’t it? It’s that you feel like you’re a part of their “community,” their fan base, yes? And you wouldn’t dare say an untoward thing about what they do, no? They might just—gasp—unfriend you.

I’m not saying that every popular author can’t write worth beans. But if popularity and “connectability” are the new standards of excellence, then we’ve got more going all wrong than just writing.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).