November, also known as National Novel Writing Month, is racing toward us. If you are planning to participate, it’s a good idea to give your project a working title.
Some even go so far as to write the first sentence and then leave the rest blank. That way, the project is waiting for them to dive into on November 1st.
Most authors have a difficult time churning out 1667 words a day, so not everyone is cut out to participate in this writing rumble. However, you don’t have to officially sign up. You can set your self a daily goal of 100 – 300 or more new words a day and try to accomplish that.
You never know what you will come up with.
I think of writing as a muscle of sorts, working the way all other muscles do. We’re healthiest when we exercise regularly.
A little practice in advance helps. The more frequently you write, the more confident you become. Spending a small amount of time writing every day is crucial. It develops discipline, and if you want to succeed in your goal for NaNoWriMo, personal discipline is essential.
Trust me, it is not asking too much for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.
On a personal level, you must decide what is most meaningful to you. Is your dream of writing that novel important? Or do you choose to watch a television show that is the result of someone else’s dream? This is a choice only you can make.
Suppose you are planning to write a novel in November. In that case, writing random short scenes and vignettes is a good way to develop that world in advance. This is also a good opportunity to create the characters you will put to paper on November 1st.
In writing these scenes, you have the chance to identify the themes and subthemes you hope to explore during NaNoWriMo. Theme is different from the subject of a work. As an example that most people know of, the subject of Star Wars is “the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.”
The themes explored in those films might be “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”
At some point, you might become brave enough to submit your work to a magazine or anthology. When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word ‘theme’ as well as your ability to craft clean and compelling prose.
For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.
Most of my own novels have been epic or medieval fantasy, based around the hero’s journey, detailing how their experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood and love of family.
These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, and so they find their way into my writing.
To support the theme, you must layer
- character studies
These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc. A way to get a grip on these concepts for your NaNo Novel is to do a little advance writing that explores your intended theme. Think of it as a bit of literary mind-wandering.
Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in the craft and gain different perspectives when they write short stories and essays. Each short piece that you write increases your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.
This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes, but most importantly they grow your habit of writing new words every day.
Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop an economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.
Writing drabbles means you have a limited amount of space, so your narrative will be limited to one or two characters. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the story’s outcome.
The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes. A side-effect of building a backlog of short stories is the supply of ready-made characters and premade settings you have to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.
Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment. When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.
To write a drabble, we need the same basic components as we do for a longer story:
- A setting
- One or more characters
- A conflict
- A resolution.
First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.
Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and still others no prompt at all.
A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to 700+ Weekly Writing Prompts.
In a previous post on writing short stories, I showed how I use a loose outline to break short stories into acts. I’ve included that graphic at the bottom of this post.
A drabble works the same way.
Info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere have no place in short stories. However, they do make useful background files for your world-building and character development.
When you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.
Save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form.
Spend an hour to get that idea and emotion down before you forget it. The completed scene is a small gift you give yourself.
Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing a drabble hones your skills, and you will have captured the emotion and ambiance of the brilliant idea.
Good drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and fills them with curiosity to learn what happened next.
That is what true writing is about.