Wednesday, December 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo Postmordem

Yeah, so I slacked a bit on the blog, but only because I needed to devote time to NaNoWriMo itself.  And I finished!  51,000 words, in the can.  Is it a novel?  Oh, child, heavens no!  But, it’s the makings of one.  A lot of it may never see the light of day in its current form, but it was still valuable work.  More than anything, it helped me figure out what my story was about, which is, you know, kind of important.

There’s an old cliche that states “How do I know what I think until I see what I have written.”  More than anything, that is what NaNoWriMo always becomes for me:  a way to figure out what I’m actually writing about.  Whenever I start a story, I have an idea in mind.  Sometimes it’s as simple as an image (a man who would not shake hands) or as complex as a concept (a second-rate super villain trying to get out of the business).  As I write--and especially if I write with the freedom that NaNoWriMo provides--I figure out who my characters really are, and what my story is about beyond the nuts and bolts of plot.  

That discovery is always the coolest part of the process for me.  I don’t quite buy into the romantic idea that writing is this magical process and that authors are just conduits through which the muses speak.  I think that diminishes the work we put into it.  I have always preferred Stephen King’s analogy, in which he compares writing to archaeology.  Writers have to dig up the pieces, dust them off, see how they fit together, and construct a narrative of what they find.  Much like real archaeologists, writers don’t always know what they are seeing at first.  Is that a weapon or an ancient medical tool, a Macguffin or a piece of character development?  Sometimes you find something (a bit of dialogue, a pithy phrase) that doesn’t really fit anywhere--the only thing you can do is tuck it away and hope it makes sense somewhere else.  

And sometimes you expect to find one thing but discover something else.  The Dance-Master’s Lady (my first NaNoWriMo attempt) started as a story about a hangman falling in love.  By the time I hit 50k words, I realized it was about people who would rather die than change their way of life.  The story about the bumbling super-criminal turned out not to be a novel, but a series of them.  I’m still not sure what it’s “about” in the broader sense, but I know it’s going to take me longer to tell the story, whatever it ends up being.

This year, a crazy story about talking animals took a very dark, very unexpected turn.  No artist works in a vacuum, and so recent ugliness in the world no doubt helped nudge a traditional “Hero’s Journey” tale into a broader examination of terrorism and how certain people respond to it.  Pretty heavy stuff, right?  No one was more surprised by this development than me.  

But, fear not!  I plan to maintain the funny, off-the-wall insane tone I had always intended for the story.  There will still be cats in jet-packs, evil donkey masterminds, and luchadores.  But humor is sometimes the best way to deal with serious issues.  Without my unexpected detours into the dark alleys* of NaNoWriMo, I never would have known how serious my absurd little story would end up being.  

*Attentive readers will realize that I carried through the “dark alley” imagery from a previous blog-post.  Hey, you’re dealing with a professional here!

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