Oct 25 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010 – How to write a novel

Published by at 3:04 pm under T-Space,Writing

The 2010 National Novel Writing Month is coming up in a week. I’ll be participating again, and I’m encouraging others.

One complaint/excuse/whimper of fear I hear is “but I don’t know how to write a novel, or what to write”. You know what, neither did I the first time I started — and the result (after revision and expansion) was a novel that a publisher has expressed interest in. If you read novels, then probably your subconscious at least already knows how to write one. You’ve learned story structure by osmosis. As to what to write…for the purposes of NaNoWriMo, anything you want. It doesn’t even have to make sense.

NaNoWriMo logoI’ll confess, I’ve finished NaNo — meaning I wrote more than 50,000 words in a month — twice without having any idea what I was going to do even on the day it started. So how did I start? I just typed stream-of-consciousness until some part of my brain said Enough! and started feeding me ideas for what will become Alpha Centauri (I consider what I have — 53,000 words with a beginning, middle and end — to be more a combination detailed outline and “0th” draft than a real first draft).

Turn off your internal editor, sit down at your keyboard, and just write. Sooner or later something will start making sense, and if it doesn’t, don’t worry about. As I said above, for NaNoWriMo it doesn’t have to.

Want to see what I mean? Below I’ve quoted the first couple of pages that I wrote for the 2009 NaNo. It’s utter dreck, and will never again see the light of day. It’s here just to prove to you that even a professional writer’s first drafts can be crap, because you’re going to clean it before you show it to anyone else. Except for me this one time.

by Alastair Mayer

Blah blah blah. Wordy wordy word. The quick brown fox up and jumped over the reclining dogbat’s back. What the frack is a dogbat? Kind of like a foxbat only slower and dumber. Is a foxbat a flying forx? And just what is a forx anyway? King of the torx wrinches. Whatsa wrinch? I dunno but I’m coming up with some interesting words. Like Niven says, “keep your typeos” Also your typos.
A typeo is your typical Oreo, as opposed to your atypical oreo, like one with cream cheese feelings, or fillings. Man my fingers ware (also are) wibbly wobbly tonight. Danged eggety nog.
Here’s me typing with the silly sleevy things on my hands to keep my fingers from becoming fingersicles. Seems to improve my typing somewhat too. Oh frabjous day! Now if I jout er could just get some rational content as well as just wordy things. (And stop backspacing, dagnambit!)
Maybe I should take off the backspace key. Or type blindfolded.
Hey, I’m almost at the bottom of the first page. That’s it down there V (can’t do down arry or arrow easily, but whatever.)
And now, the second (fanfare please) page! Ta ta ra!
Man, this stream of consciousness stuff is easy to crank out but it sure don’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. maybe it well will make cents instead. Or even dollars, thalers, pounds, sheckels,; inits, sols, yen, or even cumquats. Although why any one would use cumquats as currency is beyond me. Persimmons, perhaps. Small orangey fruity things that they are. I have a yen for some yen, or a pound of pounds. And that should be “intis”, not “inits” up there a few lines. So there.
The starship FANCYNAME entered orbit around the third planet from Aoph Centauri A (that’s Alpha, not Aoph). How? Did it aerobrake? Use thrusters? Either has Implications (with a capital I). What is the rest of the Centauri system like? How much do we know about it (then, in the future) from Solar-System based observation? Equatorial or polar orbit? Polar makes more sense for the initial survey. What do we know about it? It has to have a moon (stabilize). Any early signs of terraforming in the system? What about other stars with terraformed worlds?
Here’s the list from “Islands in the Sky”: Martyn Fogg’s article “A Planet Dweller’s Dreams” (NB Fogg wrote the expensive handbook on Terraforming from SAE):
Sixteen stars have better than 15% chance of having planets that could be “easily” terraformed, including: a Centauri A & B, e Eridani, e Indi, t Ceti, 70 Ophiuchi A & B, 36 Ophiuchi A & B, HR 7703 A, s Draconis, d Pavonis, n Casseopia A, 82 Eridani, b Hydri, and HR 8832. Highest percentage is alpha Centauri A at 44%. Cool.
So what do we know before we go?
Telescopic observation shows existence, maybe spectral evidence of free O2, other chlorophyll signatures (what would we see of Earth from as far?) Heavy planet in system would make it more difficult. Binary star more difficult yet at least through Doppler shifts. Terraform question: what would it take to move a planet from a Cen A to a Cen B (or vice versa?) How far out is stable zone ofr for aCen A :& B? Room for heavy planets?
Need to decide just what the Centauri system(s) look like.
We have: a Cen A has Sawyer’s World. a Cen B has Kakuloa, which has large ocean (and large moon, but then all Terraform planets have that. How large? needs to stabilize orbit.
What of Mars and Venus?

That’s where I stopped the first night. I didn’t even fix typos. (Don’t, until you’ve finished your 50,000 words.) It starts out pure crap. After a few hundred words I got the idea to write the story of the first Alpha Centauri landing (a paragraph in the early T-Space outline) and started brainstorming that.

So go ahead, sign up for NaNoWriMo. As Ms Frizzle in the kid series “The Magic Schoolbus” puts it, “Take chances! Make mistakes!” Go for it.

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