Friday, November 21, 2008


There are two sides to a coin.
Heads: My novel feels like it's progressing well, I see lots of potential, but I'm no where near done at 37,000 words. It feels like MAYBE 1/4 of the story.
Tails: NaNoWriMo ends in 9 days, and the goal of MOST people is to have a completed novel at the end (even if it is rubbish).

The crossroads I'm at is:
A) to decide to "hurry up" and finish the story, which would involve skipping around a bit and going back later to finish by filling in the gaps and beefing it up.

B) keep trucking on as feels natural to the story (and to my style of writing), and be satisfied as long as I have reached the 50,000 word goal for November; finish the story "properly" at my own pace.

Even before I was half-way through this post, I felt like I was already leaning towards B, but suffering from a bit of doubt.

Luckily NaNoWriMo has had 1-2 "pep talks" a week, that have been very insightful and inspirational. The latest one by Janet Fitch, author of "White Oleander", has helped me decide to make a decision. (I'm going with Option B)

Here's what she had this to say (if you're so inclined to read her pep talk):

"Dear Author,

It's happening. You're writing a blue streak. You're piling up the pages. You're roaring through this novel like a forest fire. Then suddenly you hit the immovable obstacle. WHAM. Ow. You're flat as a piece of typing paper, your mind as blank. Panic!

Whether you're taking a month or a year, this is always the question. What happens next?

Fiction is all about decisions. Let me give you a personal example. Working on White Oleander, I kept hitting this wall, about chapter 8. It was all going great, all the wheels in motion, and then WHAM. I just couldn't decide what to do next. I'd try this, try that, but each time I'd get stuck. The character would put her toe in and pull it out again. No, not that. Should I just bag it? Write a different book? Go to law school? Watch reruns of Hogan's Heroes? I was absolutely blocked at the crossroads.

Luckily I was seeing an amazing therapist at the time. I explained I was afraid that if I chose route 6, then I would be eliminating all the other possible routes. What if route 15 was better? Or 3 1/2 ? So I hedged. I couldn't commit. I was stuck. And she gave me the piece of advice which has saved my writing life over and over again, and I will give it to you, absolutely free of charge. She said, "I know it feels like you have all these options and when you make a decision, you lose a world of possibilities. But the reality is, until you make a decision, you have nothing at all."

So you have these options, but which one to go for? When in doubt, make trouble for your character. Don't let her stand on the edge of the pool, dipping her toe. Come up behind her and give her a good hard shove. That's my advice to you now. Make trouble for your character. In life we try to avoid trouble. We chew on our choices endlessly. We go to shrinks, we talk to our friends. In fiction, this is deadly. Protagonists need to screw up, act impulsively, have enemies, get into TROUBLE.

The difficulty is that we create protagonists we love. And we love them like our children. We want to protect them from harm, keep them safe, make sure they won't get hurt, or not so bad. Maybe a skinned knee. Certainly not a car wreck. But the essence of fiction writing is creating a character you love and, frankly, torturing him. You are both sadist and savior. Find the thing he loves most and take it away from him. Find the thing he fears and shove him shoulder deep into it. Find the person who is absolutely worst for him and have him delivered into that character's hands. Having him make a choice which is absolutely wrong.

You'll find the story will take on an energy of its own, like a wound-up spring, and then you'll just have to follow it, like a fox hunt, over hill, over dale.