I’m a little past the halfway point of the month. My goals were 1) to complete a draft of my YA murder mystery and 2) to lose 5 pounds. I’m on track with my word count (29,421 words!) and I’ve lost 2 pounds.

But I’ve got a real mess of a story. I know, a NaNoWriMo story is supposed to be messy. But this is beyond messy. I don’t even have the story broken into chapters. Every now and then I’ve inserted brackets and the words “chapter break?” But I wouldn’t say I’m thinking in terms of chapters. I’ve never not written a novel (or chapter book) without thinking about chapters.

I have a pretty solid opening (well, it needs to be rewritten with voice…but in terms of what’s happening, it’s fine)…and I know what my ending is going to be. But the middle is a mess. Somewhere along the line I lost my cause and effect. I’ve started some threads and dropped others. I realized I’m not developing clues and subplots quite the way I should. I feel like I’m just putting in my 1667 words each day without any thought about plot or character (which again, is maybe part of NaNoWriMo?)…and I’ll just keep doing this until I feel I’ve got enough words to start the ending.

I also have not reread ANYTHING I’ve written on this novel. This is VERY unusual for me. I’m constantly going back and rereading, revising…it’s part of how I usually move forward.

If it sounds like I’m getting ready to quit NaNoWriMo, it’s because I am. I’m meeting with a couple of friends who are also stuck on projects and we’re going to brainstorm together. I will likely come away from that get-together with a decision one way or the other–to forge ahead with NaNoWriMo or to go back and start the story over…and write it the way I normally write a book.

But I still can’t say the NaNoWriMo thing has been all bad. In some ways, I’ve used it as a way to think about my story. But instead of just thinking about various scenes, wondering if they would work or not, I’ve drafted them out. All in the interest of getting my 1667 words in each day.

In the process I’ve learned some things about my story. One of the things I’ve learned is that there are a number of things I need to figure out better. In preparation for my “plot-in” (it’s like a write-in only instead of people writing together, they’re plotting together) this morning I made lists of what I’ve learned about my story since the beginning of the month and what I now see I still need to figure out about my story. (Hey, that’s what Buddy would do! He’d make lists just like this. Oops…wrong project.) My list of what I’ve learned has six things on it. My list of what I still need to figure out has 9 things on it. But some of those things are BIG things…with sublists. For instance, I need to figure out what is going on off-stage while my story is happening…I have a list of five characters for sure that I need to know what they’re doing while my main character is going about solving this mystery. I think this is actually key to figuring out my middle. Once I know what everyone is doing, I’ll know how they’re going to butt heads.

And now for the cool thing. One of the things on my “this is what I know” list is the name of the town this story takes place in. I normally like to make up names of towns. I don’t like to be too tied to reality. So I go out of my way to make sure the town I made up doesn’t actually exist. My murder mystery is set in small town Minnesota. I tried on several names: Eagle Bluff, East Bluff, I don’t even remember what else. None of them felt “right.”

But when I was in the shower this morning, the name Elm Creek just came to me. It felt right. So right, in fact, that I was absolutely certain it had to be a town in Minnesota. When I got out of the shower, I went right to my computer to look it up. It’s not a town (yay!!!), but it is a township…and it’s a township in the county I grew up in! I can take a township name and turn it into a town. And the fact that Elm Creek township is in the same county I grew up only convinced me more that this IS the setting for my story.

November goals check in…and something cool!

3 thoughts on “November goals check in…and something cool!

  • November 18, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    That’s more than cool – that’s a sign that your process is working, whether it feels like it or not.

    Since NaNoWriMo works primarily as a way to break through the inhibitions ordinary people have against putting their butt into the chair and writing, there’s no shame in dropping out of it. It sounds like you’re taking a story that’s still mostly in the preconscious working-it-out stage and arbitrarily yanking unripe bits into consciousness every day. If that helps you figure out more about how your process works, and which bits of your process are process and which are crutch or self-limitation, more power to it.

    My middles are always like that. And in the current work I started out with chapter breaks, First Second Third, and then I came to the transitional middle chapter that had to consist mostly of exposition and moving all the characters into the places they needed to be, and it’s clearly too long and will have to be broken up or cut or changed around in unpredictable ways, so now when I get to what I feel like is probably a chapter break I put in ??th Chapter and keep going. Into the unknown, because this part of what had been a pretty meticulous plot outline is mostly a list of payoffs and I have no idea how they fit together.

    I bet Shakespeare had fits over the middle part of Midsummer Night’s Dream, too.

    • November 19, 2010 at 3:36 am

      That’s comforting! (Both the fact that your middles are “always like that” AND the idea that perhaps Shakespeare had trouble with the middle of Midsummer Night’s Dream)

      Are your middles always like that even when you’re writing a mystery? Seems to me in a mystery we shouldn’t have to worry about the sagging middle because we’re chasing down clues. Things are happening…well, they SHOULD be. I realized in my story things were happening to other people more than they were happening to my main character. So I had to rethink…

      • November 19, 2010 at 1:46 pm

        Yeah, mysteries too. Maybe if you’re writing a puzzle mystery that’s all interlocking parts and perfect timing you get to skip the middle blues, but the thing about clues is, in the “real life” they’re mostly accidental and can be missed or interpreted wrongly, so they don’t lay down a linear path through the book. Because of the direction I work from, I have to figure out what the offstage people who leave the clues did and are doing, which means understanding their motivations, and figure out how that intersects with what the protagonist is thinking and doing, and how this skews her perception of the clues. Having two sets of characters overlapping in time and space but functioning separately can create a lot of sprawl; especially when the timing doesn’t slot together perfectly.

        There’s a sense in which all stories are mysteries, anyway. So the rules of mystery writing can’t be that different from the rules of writing anything else.


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