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Writing Excuses Season Three Episode 26: Nanowrimo

Writing Excuses Season Three Episode 26: Nanowrimo


Key points: Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month, is an opportunity to write 50,000 words in November along with 160,000 other people worldwide. See Nanowrimo forces you to write quickly, turn off your internal editor, shut up and write.

What do you do when characters act dumb? If it's in character, fine. If it's not, what information are they missing, what emotions cloud their judgment? Forging ahead is one of the best ways to find an alternate solution. What do you do when main characters digress? Keep writing, and expect to throw away words. Save the good stuff for another book, because there will be other Novembers. What do you do when the pacing changes? If you're comfortable, keep going. You discover aspects of your style by writing. It's possible to have character development in action -- fight scenes can reveal and develop characters. Getting ideas on paper lets you see them and develop them, plus it gives you good practice. Nanowrimo -- keep writing.

[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Dan] And I'm Dan.
[Howard] And there's only two of us.
[Dan] Because Brandon is a loser.
[Howard] On tour, in airplanes.
[Dan] Yes.
[Howard] But enough of that. We are here... it's actually not just the two of us, there's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine plus two plus producer Jordo. We're here at Dragon's Keep on a Tuesday night with the nanowrimo crew. Everybody shout hello.
[Chorus] Hello.
[Howard] Almost like a live studio audience. Dan, what are we doing here?

[Dan] We are talking about nanowrimo, as we have said. Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. It is every November. Howard, tell us a little bit more about what it is and why it's cool.
[Howard] Nanowrimo is cool because it is an opportunity to share the experience of trying to write 50,000 words with 160,000 other people worldwide via the nanowrimo website and via... I'm going to call it a study group, although it's different than a study... what do you call your group?
[Unknown] A writing group.
[Howard] A writing group. I should have known that...
[Dan] A writing group. There we go.
[Howard] It's a writing group. We did a whole podcast on writing groups and I couldn't come up with that word. During the course of the month, you attempt to write 50,000 words that are contiguous and consecutive and sensible and novelistic...
[Dan] Well, ideally, but they don't have to be.
[Howard] Dan's writing a poem. [laughter]
[Dan] I've cheated a couple of times on nanowrimo, but that's okay. The main benefit in my mind of nanowrimo for those who want to become published authors is that it forces you to write quickly. It forces you to turn off your internal editor. It forces you to stop looking forward to the book you eventually are going to write and just shut up and write it. I have found that... I have done nanowrimo three times. It's been fantastically valuable to me as a writer.

[Howard] Awesome. We are here with this group of nanowrimo writers and we've got questions for them. Jeff, let's start with your question. You had a fantastic question. I'm going to reach over here with my microphone so that people can hear you.
[Jeff] What do you do when your character has to do something dumb or your characters just do do something dumb?
[Dan] Characters who make dumb decisions. What do you do with that? Howard, what do you do with characters who make dumb decisions?
[Howard] It depends on the dumb decision. If it's a dumb decision coming from a dumb character, then test it, it didn't character, we move forward, we call it character driven, and I'm happy. If it's a decision that had to be made in this way because that's what moves the plot forward, but the character should be smarter than this, then we're being plot driven instead of character driven.
[Dan] Well, plot driven in a bad way. This is something that we call the idiot plot. You'll see it a lot... it shows up especially in low rent romantic comedies. You'll see all the time there.
[Howard] You just said that Jeff is writing a low-rent idiot plot.
[Dan] No, I didn't. It's a nanowrimo book. No, I didn't say that at all. What I said is that used improperly, that that's what it can be. It's called the idiot plot. It's a plot that can only happen the way it happens because one of the characters is a moron. But as you said, that's not necessarily a bad thing. If the character would make a dumb decision, awesome. In fact, I think that that's great. One of the reasons that I thought the new Battle Star Galactica was so successful is because every character was flawed and every character made stupid decisions every now and then. That made them seem much more real and much more human -- even the ones that weren't human.
[Howard] Let me approach it from a different angle. You're asking the question because it sounds like you are not comfortable with the decision the character is making. You don't want to make the character be dumb when the character isn't dumb area I would go back into... well, for nanowrimo I wouldn't do a rewrite. I would just forge ahead, let him make the decision or let her make the decision as is. But consider on your rewrite, withholding key information from that character so that the decision they make, makes perfect sense given the facts that they had.
[Dan] That's a very wise choice to make. Also, if you want the character to go ahead and make a decision that the reader can consider poor, give that character reasons to make a decision like that. It might be a bad decision, but they are very angry at the time or they have some kind of emotional reason clouding their judgment. A bad decision could work perfectly.
[Howard] Accidentally took two too many diphenhydramine and...
[Dan] I see you know Jeff, then. Now, the other direction to approach this from is changing what that decision is. You have to look very carefully at your plot and say, "Well, I thought it was going to be solved in this way or I thought it was going to head in this direction, but that involves a stupid decision and I don't want to do that." Then you take a good hard look at it and say, "Well, is there a different way that this problem could be solved that would allow this character to make a different decision?"
[Howard] You know what I'm going to say? I'm going to say that for nanowrimo, turn off your internal editor and just keep writing. Go fix it in post. Just keep going. Unless you feel so bad about it that you absolutely can't proceed. In which case, nanowrimo is here to teach you to proceed anyway.
[Dan] Exactly. Forging ahead, honestly, is one of the best ways to find an alternate solution. Just go ahead and have the character make a smart decision and see where it takes you. It doesn't work for everybody, but it might work for you.

[Howard] Did I recall, we had another question from...
[Dan] Heather.
[Howard] Over here. Heather, go ahead and ask your question for us.
[Heather] What would you recommend -- for specifically nano novelers who are trying to get this crazy amount of words done -- when what their main character is doing doesn't really fit with their main character and they end up having to erase about 2000 words.
[Dan] I've run into that problem many times. I've actually talked about this specific scene before where I had two characters talking on a bridge and it was a wonderful conversation that did not progress the story and ended up taking the characters in a place they shouldn't have gone. I had to axe it. But this being Nanowrimo, you don't necessarily have to throw it all away. Howard, what do you suggest?
[Howard] Two pieces of advice. One, yeah, by all means, keep writing. Just keep... anything you can do to keep momentum, keep momentum. Second, expect to have to throw away words. Expect that once you've written 50,000 words and your story has a beginning and a middle and an end, you're going to go back and you're going to edit it. It's going to end up being 35,000 words long because you did all the pruning that needed to be done. Those 2000... that discussion, Dan, that your characters had on the bridge? Did you actually delete those words or did you take that chapter and just push it off to the side?
[Dan] I totally saved it and reused it later.
[Howard] Okay. So those 2000 words you've got? If it's fun dialogue, if it was interesting action, save it. Use it in a different book. Because November doesn't come once a century, it comes once a year. There will be other Novembers.
[Dan] There we go.
[Howard] I almost said because November doesn't just come once a year... wait a minute.
[Dan] Howard follows a very different calendar. One of the important things to remember about Nanowrimo is that, in truth, the goal is not to complete a novel, it is to complete a first draft. Your first draft does not have to be perfect. In fact, if you're pounding it out at this rate, it is not going to be perfect. If you just accept that, then you're happy. So you can keep that, knowing that later on you're going to have to justify events differently or you're going to have to cut that scene out. But for the purposes of Nanowrimo, yeah, you got 2000 words, good for you. Don't throw that away. It's great. Keep going. I think it is time.
[Howard] I was going to say, speaking of cutting and then keeping going, let's cut for a commercial and then we can keep going.

[Howard] This week's episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by Audible.
[Howard] Joining us as part of a Nanowrimo group is Nathan Hale who illustrated Shannon and Dean Hale's Rapunzel's Revenge which was nominated for an Eisner. Nathan, you've been listening to some audio books lately. What have you liked?
[Nathan] I just listened to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five narrated by washed up 80s actor Ethan Hawke.
[Howard] Oh, wow.
[Nathan] Yeah, it was really good. You got to hear all the pronunciations of the religion in the book about Granfalloons and uh... what's the planet that they're on? I should know this, I just listened to it. Anyway, it was great.
[Howard] Fantastic. Visit for free trial membership.

[Howard] And we're back.
[Dan] We're back. We have a question from Stephen.
[Howard] We do. I'm going to slip off my microphone and hold it in front of Stephen here. Go ahead, Stephen, you're close enough.
[Stephen] I'm writing the second book of a trilogy right now. In my first book, I was able to introduce my characters and throw in a lot of character development. But it seems like in my second book, I'm just going straight from action scene to action scene to action scene without a lot of down time. Is this a problem for the second book in a trilogy?
[Howard] What do you think, Dan?
[Dan] What do I think? I think that being the second book of a trilogy is in some ways irrelevant to the point. Any book can have too much or too little action regardless of where it falls in a series. In this case... I guess the best answer is to say that if it works, it works. If you feel like there's too much action, it's likely that your readers will feel the same thing. If you feel like there are things being left out, then your readers are probably going to feel the same thing. If on the other hand you are thinking, "This is so awesome. I can't stop typing because this is a really exciting, really thrilling book." then ideally your readers will feel that as well. Howard, what about you?
[Howard] I'm going to ask you a follow-up question, Stephen. The first book in the trilogy... was this your first book that you'd written?
[Stephen] No, it was my second one.
[Howard] Your second. What we're seeing here is an increase in 33% of your experience in writing. That may be what has affected your pacing. It is entirely possible that the book you wrote first wasn't written as interestingly as the one that is being written now. I for one love reading a book that goes from action to action to action without all that boring character development. I'm just... I'm throwing this out because as a new writer, you're going to discover aspects of your style while you write that... the only way to discover them is to keep writing. You've written... what, at this point, 150,000 words? How many words have you written, total? Do you know? Between your first two books and this one?
[Stephen] Approximately 130,000 words right now.
[Howard] OK, 130,000 words. You're 10% of the way to your first real word according to what's his name...
[Dan] Whoever said that.
[Howard] Who said you have to write a million words. Jerk. The point is, this is fantastic. You've written 130,000 words. I think that discovering that you're writing something that's more quickly paced than what you wrote first is going to be good for you. Finish it this way and move on. Way too many... in my estimation, anyway... way too many second installments and trilogies are just a placeholder to get me to the third book. What is it, second book syndrome? Second movie syndrome?
[Dan] The second one always tends to slow down a little. If yours is speeding up, that could be a great sign. There's also to consider that it's entirely possible to have all of that character development in the action. A great example of this is Joe Abercrombie. His books are not nonstop action, they do have several slow scenes in them. Or, I won't say slow scenes, but slower paced than the fight scenes. But every one of his fight scenes is an opportunity to reveal and develop character. In fact, that's where the characters tend to grow, is when they're halfway through cutting some barbarian's head off. So use this fast pace and throw in all that character development. It's entirely possible to do both at the same time.

[Howard] Awesome. Let's see, can we come up with another question before the end of the cast?
[Dan] Do we have any more questions from the audience?
[Howard] I think we've got room for one more.
[Dan] We have a question right there from a young man named...
[unknown] Nathan Hale.
[Nathan] Hi. This is Nathan Hale. I just want to know what you did, Dan, with your nanowrimo books that you finished.
[Dan] My nanowrimo books that I finished? I have them on my computer, and every now and then I look at them and go, "Wow. I should really get back to that someday." Let's see. The first one I did for nanowrimo was The Saga of Crag, and it was about a barbarian.
[Howard] It sounds like Krod Mandoon and the...
[Dan] Yeah, it was really ridiculous. It was a really cool idea that I don't think I would have done if it had not been nanowrimo because it was very silly and very weird. I would like to go back to it someday. I am glad, however, that I used that idea and actually saw it through. A lot of writers have a tendency... especially ones who have never written at all before... to think, "Oh, I want to save this idea for when I am a better writer and use it then." I personally don't agree with that philosophy. I think that getting that idea out on paper allowed me to see it more fully, to see it in a different way. It made everything I have written since much better because I had more practice. Now I know, next time I go back to revise that or more likely to just rewrite it from the beginning, it will be a much better book because of that. That has been my experience with nanowrimo, is it's a great way to get these ideas out, look at them, do a first draft of an idea that you aren't sure is going to work any other way. That is my answer to that question.

[Howard] Well, we're out of time, so you're out of excuses...
[Dan] Wait, we have a writing prompt.
[Howard] Oh, we need a writing prompt. You're right, we need a writing prompt.
[Dan] A writing prompt? OK...
[Howard] Should we ask the crowd for a writing prompt? Anybody want to throw a writing prompt at our listeners?
[Katherine] Have you done the traveling shovel yet?
[Howard] I have not heard about the traveling shovel. What's your name, please?
[Katherine] Katherine.

[Howard] Katherine, give us a writing prompt that involves a traveling shovel.
[Katherine] On the nano forums, I don't know if any of you all have been there but there's this sort of motif about the traveling shovel of death. One of your characters gets killed with a shovel somehow. You just have to work it into your story.
[Dan] Awesome.
[Howard] There's your writing prompt. Kill somebody with a shovel. No, wait a minute. Write about killing somebody with a shovel. You're out of excuses, now...
[Dan] Kill somebody with a shovel.
[Howard] Go write.
Tags: action, character development, digressions, dumb characters, internal editor, nanowrimo, pacing, style, writing excuses
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