NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an event that takes place annually in november. The event has been running since 1999 and in that time the company responsible for the event, also called National Novel Writing Month, has become a nonprofit. But what exactly is NaNoWriMo and what can you get out of the event? We’ve written about this event several times, but we’ve never written a sort of primer on how to get involved, or what you need to know. If the idea of writing a novel in a month sounds like a blast, a terrifying prospect, or something you find slightly curious – Then read on, as NaNoWriMo is a beast that should be taken on by all comers!
I made a big thing out of my attempt to join in with National Novel Writing Month in 2015, I’ll include links down below. By pass/fail standards then I didn’t make it, but 41,000 out of 50,000 isn’t bad going, and I’d reached a nice bridge into my third act, and I learned a lot in the process. More to the point it has triggered a series of learning experiences I wasn’t expecting, and while I may not be joining in fully this year I’ll still be working on a little side project to while the month away.
In short, this is why you too should attempt NaNoWriMo…
It’s amazing how much you learn about your own habits after trying something like this. I touched upon them before in my summary of NaNo 2015, my painful habit of using my own voice for characters, the challenges of description vs story, and exactly how much more planning I should be doing for these things. You all helped me pursue something that offered a real challenge, I rose to the challenge and I failed, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s what you take away from the experience afterward.
I’ve attempted a few other little writing challenges this last year, and had feedback from them. After three years (well, two and a half) of writing for GeekOut it appears I’ve developed something of a style that limits my audience; great audience, and I’m not going to change, but I’d be curious to attempt something different, alter my tone, break out of the comfortable niche I have settled into, the one full of lovely people who like things that I like and don’t judge me harshly when our opinions differ but will fight me to the bloody end over which Pokemon Go team is best*.
I feel compelled to pursue new projects, ones that I might actually finish. There are game designs left unfinished, a new writing endeavour to pursue that promises new experience and new opportunities, and other GeekOut related things for you to look forward to in the year to come. GeekOut got me to do NaNoWriMo in the first place, only right to feed that new drive back into the project.
This year I said I’d play more games, and I did, I committed time that I frankly didn’t have because it was something worthwhile. Next year I’ll be attending to another hobby I’ve let fall by the wayside, another that will help my next sprint at NaNo, reading, I haven’t read a good book in too long. Reading is good for you, and it makes you a better writer to read and understand the skills, habits, and failings of other authors.
Perhaps this isn’t the project for you, maybe you should get out there and run 80% of a marathon, or volunteer to help out at an event but have to duck out for the last hour or two. Or do the whole thing if that’s what you want to do. Doing something time sensitive, with a definite start and finish will help drive you toward achieving other goals, or help you aim for something new and unexpected. This month I simply do not have the time for another National Novel Writing Month, but in the spirit of the occasion I’ll be writing a little something every day, maybe no more than a couple of hundred words, perhaps not even that, but something.
Really that’s the point of pursuing a challenge like NaNoWriMo, it encourages you to do something new, and to work hard at it. It doesn’t matter if an old NaNo novel gets dumped into the endless limbo of the “To Finish” folder, because you tried something different and learned from it. The fact that a month of effort now fades into distant memory does not alter the fact that it has changed you for the better. The same can be said of anything new you try…
There was a sound beneath him, at the foot of the bed. He turned again, aware of the dull throbbing in his shoulder as he moved. His eyes fought his efforts to open them, and a blurry image of concrete walls greeted him, which slowly focussed to settle upon the shape of Juniper.
“I recall seeing this hat,” she turned the conical disc slowly in her hands, “almost every week in the library, stood before me once again for some new misdemeanour to be reprimanded. Somewhat iconic of Leylandii, wouldn’t you say? Almost as much a part of his identity as his smile, and his disregard for maintaining order. I shall miss it. Despite it all, I shall remember him fondly as the young boy who challenged everything he was told until he understood exactly why it was being told to him.
“Do you think that the same young boy would have ignored well reasoned advice, endangered the lives of his friends and comrades, his own life, and the lives of everyone at this facility, to retrieve a hat? No matter how well meaning the intentions, no matter how competent he may have thought himself, Leylandii was not fool enough to risk so much for so little.” She placed the hat on a table behind her, utterly expressionless “Your actions have not only shown contempt for his memory, but a total disregard for your own life, with which the council feels you can no longer be trusted.”
After two failures to even start an entry for National Novel Writing Month, I foolishly decided to turn this year’s entry over to you, asking you to help me pick the genre, overarcing story, a cast of characters, and the remaining features.
To begin with, I am behind.
Not horrendously so, nothing I can’t recover I swear. I’ve picked up the pace quite dramatically of late so I should be able to finish on time, and I’ve just started the second act, so the narrative is now officially in full flow. So while I’m busy getting on with it, here’s a quick summary of what I’ve done so far. (more…)
Huge thanks to everyone who took part in the vote for my NaNoWriMo entry. It all began in earnest on Sunday, and my work has already begun, albeit slowly, this weekend has been busy, and as well as writing a fifty thousand word novel this month I’ll also be keeping up a slightly diminished posting schedule here (and holding down a new, more demanding job).
For those of you who may have missed them, here are the articles that lead up to this stupid, stupid plan… (more…)
In a desert goes father than any living human has ever travelled, fractured societies gather around one of the few sources of water for miles. They struggle, and fight amongst themselves because if they wander to far in search of another source, there are far worse things in the sand than a few bloodthirsty marauders and one crazy old lady.
“Giant monster” is a nice and flexible term, our Kaiju has a lot of room for interpretation. The originals ranged from giant lizard, giant ape, giant moth and giant mechanical iterations of all of the above. So long as it’s a giant and can live comfortably in the desert, my options are – in theory – fairly broad. However, there are some key factors that are going to be limited.
How does the creature attack? From above? From below? As a distant threat the monster could add a level of claustrophobia to our watering hole, intensifying the conflict between warring factions. If it frequently attacks it could mount the need for defensive measures, big weapons, big walls, not easy to build from salvage. Kaiju usually have a well stocked military to deal with, our monster will have to be toned down so that it doesn’t instantly wipe out civilization.
Choose a monster…
Cloverfield‘s infamous shakey-cam style obscured the shape of its mighty monstrosity until the last few minutes of the film. Whether you enjoyed the film or not, there’s no denying that they nailed the idea of the slow reveal. We fear nothing more than the unknown, and what better place to hide a monster in a desert than in the midst of a swirling mass of flying sand?
“Sandstorm” could remain a mystery throughout the novel, raising questions about its very existence. Or the occasional glimpse of a shape or the descent of a claw could slowly build a picture of the leviathan, creating mounting tension. At some point in the narrative our Nomad would wander into the storm, and wander out seemingly unphased, likely with new trinkets and survival essentials, she may even be required to pull a protagonist or two out of harms way.
Every time the horizon vanishes, people die, dragged screaming upwards. There are conflicting ideas as to what the beast looks like, from the fleeting glimpses of eyes, claws, a shifting shadow against the swirling sky. Some people worship it as a god, others disappear beneath the surface, hoping not to be sniffed out or trodden flat.
A Dark Sun classic, Megapedes are monstrously large and many legged insects that swim through sand like water. Being Omnivores makes them not only a threat to the life of people caught in their path, but to the meagre crops that they maintain, and their ability to burrow allows them to menace the subterranean water supplies as well. The approach of the Megapedes usually means it’s time to leave.
These Tremors-style beasts not only have size, strength and speed on their side, but also numbers. A survivor successfully flees from one only to have their path blocked by a wall of slavering mandibles. The fact that they burrow also means that even safety may not be safe, underground chambers without metal walls are vulnerable, buildings above ground must fear threat from below, but what of the tunnels left behind? Could they lead to water? Some nesting ground that could be burnt down, staying the threat for a few years or more? Or perhaps a strange old woman could wander out of them, seemingly oblivious to the impossibility of what she has just done.
The ground rumbles, and erupts in a whirling mass of razor sharp pincers, and though the driver of the salvaged truck swerves, the creature is on top of them, behind them, around them! A screaming band of lunatics try for the hundredth time to saddle and ride the monsters, and once again they lose their strongest fighters. Surely only a lunatic would believe the tales of the witch who rides the Megapedes.
The ruins of the old world may be shrouded in dust, but the sagging metropolises are still a safe shelter and a source of water for the opportunistic. But some nights the ground shudders just a little, and the survivors of the end of the world must duck and cover as a shadow passes over the window frames on the 20th floor. An eye peers in, then another, and another, and another. Each time it comes another building crumbles, as another family becomes food for the hulking beast.
This is a more classic take on the Kaiju genre, an almost carbon copy of the Godzilla/Pacific Rim style skyscraping monster, but instead of the bustling metropolis where the scale of the destruction is what makes our Titan terrifying, it is the importance of every death that is emphasised. Each building would contain a fraction of a closely knit community, and even amongst those people shunned by the others every face would be known to one another across such a small space. The arrival of a stranger is likely to cause a stir, and suspicion if the monster is not far behind her.
Using a city of our backdrop also opens the opportunity to bring in a little history to the world, perhaps tell the story of the monster’s rise to dominance in the dying world, rather than keeping it shrouded in mystery, or having its existence a symptom of a far larger problem.
The sun beats relentlessly down on the endless sands, and while its torturous presence is a constant grim reminder of the impossible task of staying alive, at least while the sun shines, death is not an immediate issue. Because when the beast comes, it blots out the sun!
The only guaranteed way to make a giant man-eating monster more terrible is to make it fly. It makes sense in a desert for a creature able to ride the intense heat into the sky, it might even drink the very clouds, thriving off the vapour so far outside of the reach of the survivors, but to bring the creature down would not only turn a hero into a legend, it would also yield enough water and food for generations.
Darkness suddenly becomes a terrifying prospect, not just the sudden darkness of “Eclipse”, but night removes any chance of early warning. The wise dive underground before it can sneak up and make a quiet kill, and yet our Nomad moves at night, walking through the cold and dark seemingly without care.
Filling the sky with terror reduces humanity to burrowing rodents, fearful of the dark and the predator that descends from on high. It also turns our Nomad into an incredible anomaly, someone seemingly unafraid of death who has nonetheless evaded it for years. Those who rail against subterranean life might see her as a saviour, or an example to follow into the open air.
With that, I am nearly, so very nearly ready to begin. Only one of these monsters will be dominating centre stage of my NaNoWriMo entry, vote to seal my fate now:
Thank you all for helping me build towards this years’ NaNoWriMo, I have a track history with failing to complete projects, but I figure putting this claim so brazenly on the internet I have no choice but to finally follow through with completing a book based on your suggestions. Wish me luck.
The tale of the wandering Nomad won last week’s vote, I said I wanted a challenge and by gods that’s what you’re determined to give me. Alright so let’s see what I can do.
All that’s left to do is to populate our stage with a cast of characters: The Nomad is our focal character, in order to maintain mystery of his or her origins and methods of survival it’s important that the narrative not be told from their perspective. So the protagonist is therefore an Observer, someone who witnesses the actions of the Nomad, and whose life is shaped by them.
The Observer comes from a community of survivors. The leaders of the community, and the ways they have found to survive will inform the way the Observer interacts with and interprets the deeds of the Nomad, but they will also help bring detail to the world. (more…)
And the winner, after a particularly hairy vote, is Desertpunk – Kaiju! Not going to lie, this is definitely the harder of the four genre options, but I wouldn’t have put it up there if I weren’t game for a challenge. Now on to the story…
Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots supposes that all narratives ultimately fall into the same basic pattern or series of stages with seven broad themes that inform the story, either alone or in combination. Polti’s Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations help set the stage and give me a few ideas to build upon. I advise anyone who’s planning their first novel to have a look at both of these as a jumping-off point, mix and match, see what inspires you.
To make full use of the genre omits a lot of the options. The Rags to Riches basic plot doesn’t really work in a world where water is the only valuable commodity, and giant monsters will have very little personal impact on the journey made by the protagonist. The Adultery drama also seems a little petty when lives are on the line every day.
For my inspiration I’ll be drawing on the likes of Dune, Tremors, and the D&D world of Dark Sun as my strongest connections to the mix. Pile on top of that a little Mad Max, Fallout and Godzilla. In effect I’ve built a mood board of films, games, artwork and story to toy with. (more…)
As with starting a D&D campaign, I have to start with the broader picture, the genre and the world. They inform the characters, the story, the very tone of the writing. They can give us a base upon which to build detail, and out of an organic world living characters can arise to face real situations that practically write themselves.
My previous attempts were in a future earth with a strong super-power cyberpunk theme, so I am going to attempt to avoid that altogether. Here instead are some genre blends I think I could write, along with some ideas for stories that you’ll get the chance to vote for later in the month. Vote below for your favourite. (more…)
Any of you ever take part in NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month began in 1999; it’s a yearly effort to encourage creative thought and determined effort to a deadline. Participants have from the first minute of the first day in November until midnight on the thirtieth to complete a fifty thousand word novel from early planning stages to finished product, or at least a first draft. It’s a great way to get people motivated, bringing people together in a supporting network to get that niggling “I’m going to write a novel one day” feeling out of your system once and for all. (more…)