Monday, 17 November 2008

Nano progress

What do maps, water sprites, miners’ tokens, flamestones and the tides between worlds have in common?

You don’t know? Well, that makes two of us. But I think they’re important – even connected – in my story. I just have to figure out how.

They’re what Holly Lisle calls “muse bombs” in her How to Think Sideways course: those little details that fall on to the page direct from the subconscious. You didn’t intend to put them in your story, they just appear, and then they catch your attention and insist on meaning something, making the story richer in the process than you consciously planned.

I’m having a lot of fun, though still regularly stricken by those panicked “but what comes next??” moments (just about every time I have to start a new scene, in fact). I realised today that I have about 6,000 more words written than I did this time last year, which pleases me. Still slightly ahead of the game at just over 31,000 words today. Once you make it into the 30,000s you start to feel you’ve broken the back of it, though in fact I know that story-wise I’m only about a quarter of the way through.

So I’ll end up having to do what I did last year, and write the end of the book as scene outlines instead of fully fleshed scenes. Chris Baty, the founder of Nano, recommends this approach, saying that it’s easier to come back later and fill out notes than have to dream up what happens next once you’ve lost touch with the characters and the narrative impetus. It certainly sounded logical to me and I was close enough to the end at 50,000 words last year that there were only about half a dozen scenes to outline.

The funny thing was that, by the time I got back to the novel to finish the first draft, I took one look at the notes I’d written and thought, “well, that’s not going to work!” and chucked it all. So it’s true what they say: you should put your manuscript away for a few months after you finish it and come back to it later with fresh eyes. You can view it a lot more objectively that way. I’ll be going back to that revision when I finish the current Nano project. Hopefully I don’t see by then that the whole thing needs to go!

Drama Duck’s caught the Nano bug and is trying to work out how she can do it too next year. Even Baby Duck is into novelling at the moment. His latest magnum opus is entitled Chickens From Space. He draws the pictures, we staple them together, then he dictates the text to me. In a world first, I give you a thrilling excerpt from this literary masterpiece:

Flapsy [one of the space chickens] laid an egg. POP! Out of the egg came a little chicken head and Stretchy [name-obsessed space chicken] asked what his name was too.

The chicken replied, “Bork!”

Stretchy said to Flapsy, “Is that his name? ‘Bork’?”

Flapsy said, “No, his name is John.”
Deathless prose! And he’s only five. Just think what he’ll be doing in another twenty years. Look out, Christopher Paolini!

Good luck to all the other Nanoers out there. Only thirteen more days till you can have your life back!


  1. I love that "muse bomb" concept--and I know exactly what it is. It's happened to me.

    And "Chickens from Space" was quite riveting. I hope you're paying the little one royalties. :-)

  2. NaNo is coming along great for me. I'm just passed 42,000 but only somewhere slightly beyond one third of the way done.

    I've already decided I'm going to try and NaNo througout December as well as I really need to have a completed first draft so I can return to my actual WIP.

    I know what you mean about what Holly Lisle calls "muse bombs". The moment I decided an off-scene character get to be called the Black Prince, he suddenly inserted himself as a POV character whose actions will shape the fates of half of my book's characters.

    I had no idea this guy even existed a week ago.

    Glad to see you're still going strong.

    (since LiveJournal is down for maintenance can't suthenticate my LJ Username, so I'm trying my post this way)

  3. Jenn -- muse bombs are so cool, aren't they! I'm loving stumbling over these little surprises.

    You'll be pleased to hear that Chickens from Space was finished today. After many run-ins with aliens, monsters and meteorites, we left our feathered friends playing a happy game of soccer back on Earth.

    CE -- I can't believe you're going to keep going through December. I'm enjoying Nano but I'll be pleased to stop and catch my breath when November finishes. I find it really hard to keep going and going without having a chance to stop and take stock.

    The Black Prince sounds promising. Good luck with the rest of it!

  4. I really, really would like to read the whole "Space Chicken" Story. Children are ever so inventive and their stories are usually a lot mor fun to read than most "grown up" stories.

    Please post it (or mail it to me).

  5. I love the Chickens from Space story, too. Sounds like there's a household of budding writers there!

    I'm going to take your timely reminder to heart and keep going with my nano project, write out the end scenes in outline form, and then leave the whole thing for a couple of months so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

    Glad you're having fun, and all the best with Dragonheart