According to Chris Baty, Founder of NaNoWriMo, most Wrimos (the nickname for participants in National Novel Writing Month) hit the creative wall during the second week. After screaming through the first week, creative juices flying everywhere (I know: Ew.), it seems second-week Wrimos suddenly screech to a halt during Week 2. They see plot holes. Their characters refuse to develop beyond anything but fuzzy old Polaroid photos. They have no idea where to take the story next.
Or, if you’re me, it happens on Day 3.
OK, it wasn’t quite that bad. I mean, I did have what I’m affectionately calling the drunken Alanis scene (think: “You Oughtta Know”) between Jaqi and her ex-boyfriend to write. And I wrote it with great gusto, plunging in and letting Jaqi pour out her rage at Adam in all her drunken glory, with Demon (an internal demon who has somehow become an “outie” kind of demon) poking and prodding her and whipping her up into a fine frenzy before Adam delivers his final line and Jaqi passes out on the sidewalk.
I sat back. I stretched. I yawned. (This NaNoWriMo stuff requires later nights than I’m accustomed to!) And I did my word count.
I wasn’t even halfway to the recommended daily word count, much less to my personal word count goal for the day, in order to meet the 50,000 word requirement. I had two significant hurdles to cross.
Hurdle 1: All that pesky (but fruitful) dialogue
Now, I’ve already been plagued by the fact that my novel-in-training is mostly written as dialog, with little description. It was, after all, supposed to be a play script, not a novel, so the writing I’ve been doing in my head over this past year has been in scenes (e.g. the “drunken Alanis” scene; the why-the-heck-is-there-a-demon-in-my-apartment” scene). So dialogue is natural. And I’m pretty good at writing it because I sort of experience life as a series of scenes. Besides, a lot can be revealed through dialogue, which is why theater and film can make people laugh and cry and think. But a novel needs…more.
The problem with “more” — description, back story, character details — is that trying to insert it into my writing at this point would mean having to stop and think. Stopping and thinking defeats the purpose because it decreases word count. OK, it’s not all about the word count, but the word count is the tangible measure of novel-writing progress. The point of NaNoWriMo is getting the darned novel out of one’s head and into some kind of format to be read by other humans.
In No Plot, No Problem, Chris Baty offers this bit of advice: “[D]on’t worry too much about lending an enormous amount of realistic detail to the tale’s backdrop. In the same way that a theater set will use two or three potted trees to suggest a forest, so should you leave much of your setting to the reader’s imagination in the first draft.” Oooo! I thought. Advice with a theater spin, which is apparently both my curse and my “out” on this detail thing!
So, for the moment, dialogue is keeping me moving forward on my (very drafty) draft.
Hurdle 2: Now where did I put that plot?
So, now Jaqi is passed out on the sidewalk, where Adam has just left her, and I somehow have to explain how she gets home. This really isn’t something Demon can accomplish by itself because no one can see it, and a floating Jaqi would likely get her burned as a witch or something. I’m guessing most taxi drivers in this day and age would conveniently remember another fare in another city, rather than take responsibility for an unconscious woman, and I’m really not ready to have Jaqi spend a night in the drunk tank. So…now what?
I hadn’t actually planned on having Jaqi pass out. She just sort of did it. And that’s something else Baty predicts: Characters take on lives of their own and move the plot forward in surprising ways. He provides this little gem: “Just focus on creating vivid, enjoyable characters, and a plot will unfold naturally from their actions…and there’s something uniquely thrilling in that moment when you see them take charge.”
OK, I thought. Jaqi’s out cold, and Demon is more-or-less a figment of her imagination. Adam just drove off with his new girlfriend. Who’s left?
The valet, who happens to be dating a cabbie and who convinces his boyfriend he’ll clean out the cab should Jaqi barf all over it or something.
Tah-dah! Jaqi wakes up, safe and sound, with Demon tormenting her in her hung over state. Even better: The unexpected exchange between Jaqi and Demon opened the way for the first real conversation she and Demon have about her inability to stay in a relationship. Which is kind of the point of the story.
Characters took charge, and the plot moved on.
Oh, and my final word count for the day was over 1,800 words. Go me! (And The Demon Project cast.)
Day 4 dawns bright
Late tonight, I’ll plunk down in front of my laptop for Day 4 writing. I still have to get Jaqi through the weekend. She still has to have an uncomfortable scene with the Nice Guy, whom she stood up for coffee because she was too hung over. Her best friend needs to see the ruin that was once her apartment, and some backstory about their relationship would be helpful, since it will impact Jaqi’s relationship with Demon — and, frankly, everyone else. Tall order.
But I’m learning: Trust the process. Or, failing that, let my characters take charge.