Nano Project: A Clean Slate

This is it! The final post of Blogtober 2019, and the day before the start of National Novel Writing Month.

Today I’m going to talk about what I planned to write for Nanowrimo 2019, focusing specifically on the preparations I make before launching into such an endeavor.

Am I Doing Nano This Year?

As I stated a few posts ago, I’m writing this post early in an effort to give myself a greater chance to succeed at finishing Synthetic Dreams before November. I do not want to be working on two first drafts at the same time, and as I described in yesterday’s post, I’ve already lost Synthetic Dreams at least once before. I don’t want to go through that again.

As of the time of this writing, I have just under 20,000 words left in Synthetic Dreams. That’s a ton to write in just a few days, and it is highly unlikely I’ll be able to do it.

On the other hand, it’s the end of the first draft, and I have a history of getting really excited and becoming extra productive once I hit the home stretch. With The Repossessed Ghost, my first successful Nanowrimo, I wrote around 25,000 words in three days, with 12,300 words written on the very last day.

It is possible, but unlikely. If I don’t finish by November 1st, maybe I’ll just start Nanowrimo later in November.

As they say, “Never give up! Never surrender!” The word count for all of the posts I’ve writing for this buffer comes out to close to 12,000. That’s all in one sitting, on a Saturday afternoon. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

A Story, Recovered

Yesterday, I talked all about recovering stories that have been lost. A Clean Slate falls into that category, but the preparation I’ll be doing for Nanowrimo is the same as if it were a brand new story.

I can find all the prose I wrote for the first Nanowrimo attempt, and I can find the first few chapters where I tried to rewrite it out of band. I’m not going to use anything from either document. I’m starting over from scratch.

The Basic Idea

Imagine a cross between The Bourne Identity and Glen Cook’s The Black Company. A band of adventurers are awoken from stone and set on a grand adventure to save the kingdom from evil doers gathering on the border. This group of heroes remembers how to fight and how to use magic, but they don’t remember who they are or how they came to become statues in the first place. They set out with good intentions, but discover along the way that they may not be the heroes their liberators intended.

That’s the idea. There are bunches of other details, including a race of magical constructs which feed on human emotion and strike strange bargains, such as securing rights and access to wear human faces once a person has died.

The story deals with forgiveness, the right to bear arms, and whether or not the ends justify the means. There are some Big Ideas in the story, and I think I can make it into something special.

Why This One? Why Now?

My first novel was an urban fantasy. My second and third novels were both SciFi. I want to write a fantasy and make sure I actually have a taste for it.

I read fantasy stories, and I enjoy them, but I’ve never actually finished a non-contemporary fantasy story of any substantial length. I think my particular authorial voice will make a fantasy story interesting, and I’m inspired and excited about the idea I described.

I want to write stories with Big Ideas, and A Clean Slate has the potential to be such a story. I’ve been thinking about it for months, and I think it’s time to breathe life into it, once again.

How to Prepare

The first thing I’m going to do is write an outline.

If you’re a discovery writer, relax. I’ll talk about discovery writing your way through Nanowrimo in a moment. For me, in order to start this story and see it through to the end, I need a road map. That means writing an outline, even if it’s very loose and barebones.

The first time I tried to write this, I wrote it as a pantser and I fell on my face. I wrote about 11,000 words that whole month. My daughter participated in Nano with me that month and wrote around 45,000 words. Neither of us knew what we were doing, and neither of us had an outline. If we had, we might have finished.

You don’t need an outline in order to succeed at Nanowrimo. I did not use an outline when I wrote The Repossessed Ghost, and that was a Nano success. It was more stressful than it needed to be, though, because I wound up having to write half of it in the last three days.

For A Clean Slate, I need an outline because the story I have in mind is a little bit complicated. I need to work out some of the details in advance so that I don’t flounder when I get to them.

Preparing for Nanowrimo as a Discovery Writer

Since today is October 31st, my advice on preparing for Nanowrimo as a discovery writer is timely. Unlike plotters, you don’t have to take the time to craft an outline. You scoff at outlines! Your way is to sit down and let the voices of your characters carry you through the narrative. Like Stephen King, you find the story the way an archeologist unearths a skeleton, or the way a sculptor finds the artwork in a block of stone.

There are some things you can do to prepare, however. Since you are carried by the voices of your characters, it helps to get to know your characters in advance. This could mean writing up character sheets for them, like you would for a roleplaying game. It might mean writing some experimental flash fiction, where you can test to see what the characters sound like. This is virtual throat clearing, and it will make the writing on November 1st feel natural and easy.

In Damn Fine Story, Chuck Wendig describes the plot of a story as river, which cuts through bedrock, bending and winding its way around. It’s these twists and bends that slow me down when I try to discovery write a story, so my advice for pantsers in November is to carry a flashlight. When you get to the end of a chapter or a scene, shine the flashlight into the darkness. Try to get an idea as to whether a bend in the river is coming or not. This isn’t outlining, and you don’t have to make notes of the things you see up ahead. It just helps you get mentally prepared to write what’s next.

Parting Thoughts

Happy Halloween!

Thank your for sticking with me through this month of writing advice. When I started this month, I didn’t think I had it in me to do this. I knew I’d be able to finish Blogtober because I’ve done it three times before. But a solid month dedicated to nothing but writing tips? That sounded preposterous.

I’m not sure what comes next. I’ve enjoyed breathing life into my blog again. I like posting my thoughts, even if there’s just a few of you reading along. I might keep going.

If you’re in Los Angeles for the World Fantasy convention, I hope to see you there!

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