NaNoWriMo Boot Camp, or How to Produce a Killer Novel in 30 Days
Who says you’ve got only 30 days to produce your NaNoWriMo masterpiece? Why not start now? You could at least lay down the framework for your novel. Here are our seven tips for doing this with maximum impact.
- There are no rules (except the word length, of course). Your aim is simply to write a dynamite story. These days a lot of authors are having great fun with “genre blends.” Try it. It’s a great way to brainstorm and come up with a darn good story idea. Just take two or more genres you love and stir well. Here’s an example. Let’s say you love (1) murder mysteries, (2) urban fantasy and (3) YA. Hmm . . . a YA urban fantasy murder mystery. YA means a teenage protagonist. An urban fantasy would be set primarily in a city, and often there is a kick-ass heroine. A murder mystery means, well, a murder, and someone solving it. So your lead character is a city-toughened teen female who sets out to solve the murder of someone close to her. Since it’s urban fantasy, the suspects involve vampires, maybe a werewolf or two, a demon, and let’s throw in a shapeshifter. No—let’s make the shapeshifter her sidekick, a friend from school. We like the way this is shaping up. You try it!
- Focus on a great hook for your novel’s beginning. Do not start with a description of the weather, or some long-winded explanation of who your main character is, her life up to now, and so on. Start within the head of this character, who is in the process of doing something truly interesting. Now take from this situation a sentence to begin your novel that will make your readers sit up and take notice. Let’s take our urban teen amateur detective above. She’s gone to the home of her friend the shapeshifter to hang out after school. He has said he wants to show her something. The shapeshifter is most comfortable in the form of a mountain lion. He lives in the ruins of a building on the outskirts of town, and can usually be found up on a stone ledge. But today he’s not there, and your heroine can’t find him anywhere else either. However, it’s clear he’s recently eaten. Tarlon wasn’t on his usual ledge, but she knew he’d been here recently because a fresh deer carcass lay on the floor in front of her, its entrails torn out. That would certainly hook us!
- Since you’re working with only 50,000 words, keep story-slowers to a minimum. If your reader has seen one of these before, don’t describe it. If you must describe it, use “description in action.” In other words, what you’re describing is moving somehow. Let’s say you’re describing Tarlon’s abandoned building. The hospital had been bombed into oblivion at least ten years ago, but dust still rose from the ruins like dirty steam. Avoid flashbacks, which slow down or stop your story. Readers have little patience for them even in full-length novels. If you must show us something from the story’s past, do it in short bursts and spread them out. Finally, avoid explanations unless the reader needs one in order to understand what’s happening in the story right now, and that’s when you give it to us. Tarlon lovingly opened the mother-of-pearl box, looking sad—it had been a gift from his mother when he was a young shapeshifter.
- Keep your viewpoint characters to a minimum. You could easily go with only one viewpoint character—your lead—in a 50,000-word novel. Or two would work; possibly three, but that’s pushing it. Obviously, if you’re writing a romance, you’ll have two viewpoint characters, the hero and the heroine.
- In a novel of this length, avoid a subplot unless it’s integral to the main story line. Otherwise a subplot diverts interest from the story you’re really trying to tell, and that can be fatal in a short novel.
- Don’t start your wrap-up too late, or you’ll be accused of having written a “tacked-on ending.” A good place to start your story’s wrap-up segment is three-quarters of the way through the story. In a typical 50,000-word manuscript, this is around page 150 of a 200-page manuscript.
- Have fun and don’t hold back. This is your chance to really have fun. There’s no editor breathing down your neck or telling you your novel doesn’t fit neatly into a cookie-cutter category; no parent figure to tell you not to use “bad” words or write about sex; no creditors wanting you to write a story that will make money. This book is just for you. Sure, if you can do something with it later, that’s great, but don’t create it with that in mind. The best novels are written primarily to be entertainment for their creators.
I’m so looking forward to November 1st. Thank you, Evan, Martha!
Evan Marshall is a fiction expert, mystery author, and former editor. For 30 years he has been a literary agent specializing in fiction. The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, co-authored with Martha Jewett, is based on his bestseller The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing.
Martha Jewett is a memoir advocate, editorial expert, and co-author of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software. She has worked as an editor, editorial consultant, ghost writer, and literary agent.
Evan and Martha have kindly sent me the software and I shall be reviewing it on this blog in the next few weeks!
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