Wednesday, December 1, 2010
NaNoWriMo - Week Four: I'm Finished
When I started the novel, tentatively titled Claw & Eye, on November 1st, I had only an inkling of what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted one of the main characters to be in an a cappella group; I knew I wanted the setting to be something like 25,000 years in the future; I knew I didn't want typical faster-than-light travel or spaceships, even; and I knew I wanted the tone of the novel to be noirish. Beyond that, I knew nothing of my story: no plot, no secondary characters, no understanding of the world(s) I was building. This, of course, wasn't a particularly thoughtful way to start a novel. You run into a lot of contradictions and unknowns writing a novel from scratch; however, many of these problems can be taken care of in later revisions and if I hadn't allowed myself the opportunity to "just write" - if I'd had it all planned out - many of the exciting turn-of-events that did occur within the story may not have seen the light.
Writing without a net, so to speak, also allowed me see the glaring mistakes I was making firsthand. If on page 120, Nyanna Ogadevu says something about the manikin warehouses that makes more sense than what Yqe said about them on page 68, I'll go back and change it or rewrite Yqe's lines or write it out completely. I was aware of the threading of the novel more because I was making it up as I went along. Whenever I've completely world-built a novel in the past, the story, at least, becomes kind of boring and I'd lose the threads because I knew what was happening and I didn't care anymore.
However, writing completely without that net, as I did for NaNoWriMo, won't help me finish my novel either. What works best for me is to build the world around me, mold its shape, find a story worth telling in there, thread the plot here and there, write down a few big scenes for the main characters but not how you get them to it, and then begin writing. I've already started revising the first half of Claw & Eye and I'm doing this completely different too: I'm writing longhand, something I rarely do, and I'm loving it. Part of what bugged me about the initial draft of the novel was that the voice was too loose; around thirty-five thousand words I began writing in the narrative style that I think suits the story better: more plainspoken with an occasional embellishment in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Writing longhand, for reasons I'm not sure of yet, helps me keep this voice, perhaps because I write slower than I do with a keyboard, so I have to think harder. Once I get a few thousand words written in my notebook (the real kind, with lined paper!) I revise it in the Word document on my laptop. It's a hell of a lot of fun seeing what words are kept and which are lost from original printed draft to notebook to laptop.
I finished NaNoWriMo on November 23rd, a few days early, and began worldbuilding and revising in earnest: five hours a day, every day. By doing this, I discovered the futuristic setting didn't really make sense and was even a little cliched for the story I wanted to tell; so I've revised the world into the near-present. Immediately, I steered away from post-apocalyptic settings: more cliches will abound. Instead, I settled on an isolated State, cut off voluntarily from the rest of the world (some might see resemblances to North Korea, but I'm working very hard at disspelling any sort of mirroring; in no way is this story a metaphor for the troubles with Pyongyang). Because I had to change the setting, I also had to change many of the characters' names. Knowing the world I've created better and understanding the narrative voice with which to tell these characters' stories has already helped me invariably with the revision process.
NaNoWriMo got me started on the first novel I've started that I think is worth finishing in a long time. Along the way I hit some bumps - particularly plotwise - but the experience of writing 50,000 words in a month was certainly worth it, especially because I got to know these characters so intimately. You don't know want to know how many fake conversations I had with Moo or Daniel Yu: you'd have to keep a light on at night, you'd be frightened so badly.
The burning question: will I do it again next year? The answer: probably, but I hope I won't have to - I don't want any more gray hairs.