Thursday 31 October 2013

From a bit of dialogue to 50,000 words!

Right then, it seems impossible that eleven months have flown by, and yet we are here again. Twenty-four or so hours and the relentless goal of being a NanoWriMo winner starts all over again. Last year I had a huge headstart with over 13,000 words of notes, bits of dialog, chapter and character details… this year I have a sheet of paper with all the prime numbers up to 6,977 with the corresponding dates listed next to them, few notes in a pile, a short synopsis and a blank whiteboard on the wall waiting for rushed ideas. Pretty much in the same state as most of the people who I met today at the pre-Nano meeting today at Waterstones.

I have just come home from a great gathering of people who will be taking part this year, some old faces which were lovely to see again, and many new ones whom I am dying to get to know some more. I managed to chat to a few people briefly and as always was fascinated to hear the diverse stories they had to tell, or in many cases are dying to write out. There sadly wasn’t enough time to speak to all the people who were there, nor was there enough time to get to know more from some of the people who I did get to meet and wanted to know more, including the couple who are testing out Cornwall by living down here for a few months and the lady who is writing a novel about Chinese history the old fashioned way; by pen.

The newcomers to the National Novel Writing Month I’m sure feel the same as I did when I first entered the competition, apprehensive about how to go about their task, worried that they will end up to look fools or have the so called writers block, or worse of all scared to talk and chat to those of us who have gone through it all before. The fact is that it’s not just the newcomers who feel all those things, heck, I’ve done Nano twice before and I still feel just the same as I did a day before my first one; the only difference is people expect me to sail through it, and so with that come expectations that I’m not yet sure I can fulfill.

This year I have set myself a real challenge. A story with little or no dialogue, written in the first person and about a man who cannot move, see, talk or even breath by himself… what was I thinking when I came up with that idea, I don’t know! I do have a backup story to fall back on though if everything does go wrong, but I will try and give it my all with the one I want to write, however daunting it seems. I really can’t wait to get started and see what it turns out like, or if it will work at all. One thing I know is, to paraphrase Chris Baty who first start up the NanoWriMo competition: “There is a novel inside me, that only I can write.”

As always, I got asked a few times how is it possible to write 1,666 words a day for thirty days (the minimum count of average words a day to reach 50,000 word count.) Every writer has their own answer to this, and I have one myself which is just write anything and worry about what you’ve written after the competition has ended. Alas, that answer doesn’t always bode well if you have a story, or part of a story in your mind that you want perfect right away. Well firstly, don’t disillusion yourself that it will be perfect first time around. I personally have re-written one of my novels called ‘Mother Nature’ a full seven times now with the last re-write totaling over 135,000 words, and it’s still not in the slightest way perfect. The thing is though, it gets better and better every time. It’s all to do with that budda thing of knowing that your journey for perfection will end when it is your end. It might well be the reason why I haven’t gone down the route of publishing any of my work yet?

For those who have realized that a story takes thirty days and 50,000 words, and perfection takes a little longer, here is a method that might just guide you a bit if you think the daily wordcount is impossible. I am going to take a couple of notes, a bit of dialog and cycle through it a few times… we’ll see what we can do with it. Let’s set a scene:

Sarah is in the utility room. She is about to do some washing. It’s Saturday.
Francis, her teenage daughter wants her jeans because she is going out.
There is an argument.

Okay, so there is not much to go on here, but it’s a short scene and it hasn’t been written yet… so let’s copy what we’ve got and add some dialog:

Sarah is in the utility room. She is about to do some MORE washing. It’s Saturday.
Francis, her teenage daughter wants her jeans because she is going out.
Francis: “Mum! Have you seen my jeans?”
Sarah: “You mean the jeans I found lying beside your bed?”
Francis: “Yeah… my new skinny ones.”
Sarah: “I’ve just put them in the machine.”
Francis: “Oh Muuuum… You know I’m going out tonight. I want to wear them.”
Sarah: “Well if you’d put them in the wash basket, they would have been the first things in the machine and would be dry by now.”
Francis: “You never wash my things first!”
Sarah: “Your things never find their way to the wash basket.”

Well that’s enough for now, heck I’m showing you a concept, I’ve got my own writing to do. Now though we are starting to see things developing. Let’s copy what we’ve got again, add a bit of description and this time, let’s put it into a format that’s more indicative with a written novel:

   It was Saturday again, and Sarah was already on her second load of washing. The first load of the day was already dry and if she was quick in folding it, could skip the process of ironing. Her second most hated chore was briefly interrupted by her over hormonal daughter.
   “Mum! Have you seen my jeans?” By the tone of the voice, her daughter was again going to spend the evening out of the house and with friends.
   “You mean the jeans I found lying beside your bed?” Sarah wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries, and certainly not in any frame of mind to have another argument.
   “Yeah… my new skinny ones,” Francis’ arms and surly demeanor worked in unison with each other.
Sarah would have dearly come out with a remark that would have ended any conflict before it had started, but even as she spoke she knew that the end was already a long way off: “I’ve just put them in the machine.”
   “Oh Muuuum…” There it was, the high whining note that could only be found at the rightmost end of a piano. “You know I’m going out tonight. I want to wear them.” The surly look fell almost as soon as it had arrived, and as quickly as her arms dropped the appearance of someone wronged took over.
   “Well if you’d put them in the wash basket, they would have been the first things in the machine and would be dry by now.” Sarah made a point of hitting the door of the dryer, which opened smartly as if it knew it would get blamed if it didn’t act quickly, and showed a full load of clean and sweet smelling laundry. “See!”
   There was a little quiver, hardly visible, internally in Francis’ chin. “For f**k’s sake Mum, you never wash my things first!”
   “Your things never find their way to the wash basket. You start taking responsibility and stop talking to me like that or you will find yourself in a whole heap of trouble, young lady.” Sarah took a step forward, which amplified the sense of anger that was brewing up quite quickly inside her.

Oh dear this is not good, but I’m hoping that you can see what I’m trying to achieve. Let’s go one more time and this time add in even more details… See if we can tidy this up a bit:

   It was the weekend again, Saturday, and Sarah had once again wasted it cleaning up the house. It somehow was mid-afternoon already, and instead of spending her day off doing the things she wanted to do, she was working harder than she ever seemed to at the shop; which unbelievably was her paid job. All through the working week she had waited for this day, looked forward to it, and yet now it was finally here, she found that it had passed her by without the slightest hint of ‘me’ time. It was just as well that the weather wasn’t much to look at. It would have been even worse if it hadn’t been mizzling outside, but then if it were sunny then she would have been tempted to say to hell with it, and leave the chores for another, less deserving day; one where the term ‘Dreckly’ couldn’t have been applied so freely.
   Still void of make-up, well what’s the point of putting your face on when the hair resembles a bomb site in Basra, and there’s no Ben Aflick look-a-likes around to warrant trying to hide the crows feet. Oh dear, crow’s feet! Why oh why does age show in your face first; it would be far less stressful if wrinkles started in your feet and took a few more years to work their way up, she wished… or is that begged?
   The second and last load of washing, and then maybe a sit down for a bit; biting her bottom lip, there was a thought. The dryer beside the washing machine had finished it’s cycle, and the warmth in the air marked a zone of comfort, just slightly more bearable than the chilly draft from the cracks around the edge of the back door, only a few feet to her left.
   Sarah stuffed the last load into the drum, threw in a tablet from the tub marked ‘Fairy’; as if their was anything magical about what she was doing, and slammed the shaped door closed. One button press and a whooshing sound of water marked the initiation of the hour-long whites cycle. Standing up she put her hands on her sides and leaned herself back, oh she was starting to ache… tomorrow, without a shadow of a doubt, she wouldn’t get up out of bed at all.
   Kicking an empty basket into place at the door of the dryer was a lot easier than bending down and moving it like a real grown-up would, and ….

Okay there I won’t ramble on and stop there… I’m sure I could do a whole lot more here, not least Francis seeing that the white washing is going a pink colour because a pair of red knickers snuck in there, but I didn’t want to diverse too much from the notes we originally had. The thing is, I cycled through each time and let my imagination go and from those first three lines it’s quite easily possible to take it up to a daily word limit needed for Nano.

Outside of the competition I tend to work the other way. I have a long novel and cut bits out, but while we are in the month of November then it’s perfectly acceptable to work this way, and lets face it there are many famous novelists who have a story on a sheet of paper and use this method to pad it out to 100,000 words or more.

The eagle-eyed readers of this blog post might have noticed that the word-count comes to 2,132 and yet all I have been doing is rambling for an hour and a half. As I have always said to anyone who’s asked, I write, I have never said that what I write is good… However, Nanowrimo is about QUANTITY and not quality. I have just taken a subject I know little bit about, have shown how just three lines of notes can be expanded to show more of a story, make it slightly readable and increase a wordcount.

Funny thing is, if I had written this tomorrow (that’ll get the grammar freaks worked up), then I could have counted this in my Nano total. Well, maybe!

That’s all this time folks!

Fred Deakin
Design Engineer & Writer