This year’s Nano just got a whole lot harder. Demon Duck announced tonight that she is going to do Nano too. Holy shrieking tantrums, Batman.
Demon Duck is – how shall I put this? – not the most placid of persons. I can see it now. November will be full of daily crying jags, fights and bitter complaints that everyone else is hogging the computer.
And that’s just me.
Wait until she gets started. The you-know-what will not just be hitting the fan, but knocking the fan right through the wall, destroying everything in its path before coming to rest, a twisted wreck, a mile down the road. The world is not ready for the terrifying collision of NaNoWriMo and Demon Duck’s, shall we say, underdeveloped strategies for coping with stress. Sorry about that, world. But what can I do? Her big sister has been planning excitedly for weeks.
I could refuse, on the grounds that I won’t get any writing done if she is storming down the hallway every five minutes to throw herself on her bed and sob. Unfortunately, the fact that it is true won’t win me any points in the Being a Good Parent Stakes. Instead, I will have to grit my teeth and Encourage the Budding Novelist.
Just one more thing they never tell you in antenatal classes. But don’t get me started on that.
So. My feelings about Nano are something of a mixture. There’s the usual oh I can’t wait, all tangled up with its old friend what the hell are you thinking??? There’s the twins this year I’ll be more prepared and I still have plenty of time, but now they are shadowed by their gloomy cousin Good Lord, now I’m support crew for not one, but two junior Nanoers and his sidekick this is all going to End Badly.
The sensible thing would be to do a lot of preparation. Plan and outline to the nth degree, know exactly where my story’s going before November arrives. There are people in my writing group who write like that. They even use spreadsheets to order their scenes.
I’ve been thinking about the eternal plotters vs pantsers debate as I write Dragonheart. I started with a one-page outline in very general terms that covered the initial situation, the main conflict, half-a-dozen characters and “it ends like this and they all live happily ever after”. I did more planning than I’d ever done before, considering character motivations and some worldbuilding details. The first few scenes were clear in my mind. So not a complete pantser.
Once I got stuck into the frantic terror of Nano I wished most desperately that I’d planned in more detail. Worldbuilding’s all very well, but what would the characters actually do? My brain was bursting with the effort of dreaming it all up on the fly. I resolved to be more organised and never put myself through this again. How much easier it would be if I had a scene outline for every scene, not just the first few, and all I had to do was flesh it out. Plotting was definitely the way to go.
Or was it? I’ve talked about muse bombs before: those little gifts from the subconscious. They start off as little details, mere window-dressing on a scene, but on reflection they morph into something huge and wonderful in the story. The closer I get to the end of Dragonheart, the more I can see how enormously these features have influenced the shape of my story.
They didn’t exist in the outline. Lots of things didn’t, of course; it was very basic. More importantly, they didn’t exist in my brain at the outset either, and I don’t think any amount of planning would have unearthed them. They grew out of the story as it unfolded, when I arrived at that place in the telling.
Another one appeared the other day. 83,000 words in, you’d think I’d know everything about my world. But a perfectly innocent sentence came out of a character’s mouth and I looked at what I’d just typed and went “Oh my God – how did I not see that before?”. My whole magic system got turned on its ear.
I know the plotters say that an outline isn’t set in stone. You can change it as you go along. But if you’re going to end up changing 90%, what’s the point of going to the effort of nutting it out beforehand? Dragonheart would be a very different story without the ideas that joined the party along the way, so I don’t think major plotting is the best way for me. Even though it might stop me feeling that my brain is going to explode out my ears.
That’s not to say that I won’t do any planning for Nano. I’m thinking that a happy medium might be to plan the first quarter of the book fairly tightly to get me off to a good start.
After that anything goes. And probably will.
Now I just have to find me a flame-retardant suit for when Demon Duck gets started.