What I Learned While Writing 20,000 Words

This year I took part in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Leading to November 1, the author needs to get their story together, learn about their characters and plot out the story events. Before starting writing on November 1, the author should have everything ready, but I hadn’t given myself the time to do this.

I took on the challenge this year and set out to write my 50,000 words. At the end of the month I had reached 19,231 words, far short of the goal. I didn’t even reach the half way. Most people would see that as a failure, but I see it as lessons learned.

The first lesson is a simple one, you can’t sit down and start writing a novel without knowing where your story is going. Normally I write screenplays. When I sit down to write a new screenplay I have every detail of the story laid out in front of me. I have the plot points defined. I know the characters very well and I know both where I’m starting from and where I’m going. Unlike a novel a screenplay has only 120 pages to get to the end of the journey. There’s really no time to look around. No time to explore while telling a story.

When I started writing my novel, I didn’t know anything about where I was going. The story was just wandering around in my head and very quickly I ran out of ideas. I got the characters to a point and I didn’t know what comes next. I didn’t even know where they were going. No one would get in a car and drive off without knowing where they’re going. Even when just driving around your sitting “going for a drive.”

So the first lesson I learned was working through every detail of the novel before sitting down and putting the words CHAPTER ONE on the top of the page. I had no background on any of my characters nor did I know what they were going to do, other than travel to the town of Rockport. When they got there I had them sit in a tavern and then nothing. “Why were they in Rockport?” I had them searching for a legendary helmet but I knew nothing of the helm. Was it just legendary or was it magical? Who wore it when it became legendary? Were they a hero or a villian? These are questions I had not asked myself.

But when I reached my writer’s block, I suddenly found ideas flowing, just not for this novel. I suddenly found a solution for a plot point on a screenplay I’ve been working on. I pulled out that screenplay and added the solution and found the story then flowed forward freely. Now I’m about 15 pages away from the end of the story. Also, I had been tossing around a character name in my head for the last several months, Amanda Dolores Stork. I had no idea who she was or who she would become. With my brain realigned for writing I suddenly started to see Amanda in my head. She is a short woman, more than 150 pounds overweight and depressed with her life. Her story was starting to form and I have started writing down plot ideas for her novel.

Since high school I’ve had a super hero character in my head. He has appeared in a number of stories and screenplays that I have written over the years, but I’ve never nailed down his story. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning I have been struck with a perfect story line and history for this character.

Although I didn’t get the 50,000 words written I learned a few things about MY writting. I’ve always believed, that failure is just an oppertunity to learn a new lesson. My lesson was simple – KNOW YOUR STORY before starting to write it.

See ya next month – –

Steve

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