18 November: Things are starting to pick up

I’m starting to enjoy this novel more now. The story is picking up pace, there’s going to be a lot more action from now on, things are falling into place and it’s starting to write itself.

On this same date last year I wrote a blog post titled ‘Squeezing blood from a stone’, complaining how I’d got stuck in the mid-novel doldrums after an easy start. It’s interesting how different nanorimo novels can be so different. The first half of this novel has been a struggle and now it’s starting to get a little easier.

The best feeling when you’re writing is always when it feels effortless, like the facts are being given to you, you’re not having to scrape them up from the bottom of some barrel in a dingy, damp alley, while a rat watches you speculatively.

Nanowrimo forces you to write quickly. In my experience this is good for developing the plot, action and characters. You have to keep the story moving and, because you’re writing every day, you really get to know your characters.

This doesn’t mean you won’t need to make some major changes after November, but it’s an effective way to do the basics in a very short space of time. Planning will only get you so far, you need to live in the story and characters to find the essence of your novel.

What I find it’s not good for are the finer details like description, creating an atmosphere and a sense of place and… well, just good writing – using unique and evocative descriptions, not repeating yourself and wittering on.

One of the cardinal rules of good writing is ‘show don’t tell’. (That’s so important I made it bold). If your character is afraid, show it through their actions and words rather than just using the authorial voice to tell the reader.

As a teenager one of my favourite novels was a largely unheard of (I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s read it) fantasy called ‘The Road and the Hills’. It was a loose retelling of the story of Alexander the Great, but told from the point of view of a woman who talked herself into the Alexander-equivalent’s army.

I hugely admired the author’s style. She never told you what the point-of-view character was thinking, she just used the character’s actions and words. This is an extreme form of the ‘show don’t tell’ approach, and not one you see very often, but the power of it stuck with me and influenced the way I write. Consequently, I often find it quite hard to write interior monologues or use the author’s voice to tell you what the character is thinking. I’d rather just show the character in action.

However, during nanowrimo, because of the speed and the need to keep writing, I find I do a lot of telling rather than showing, lots of the characters have long discussions with themselves in their heads, often recapping what’s happened in the previous chapters. I look forward to stripping all of that out after November.

Today’s word count is 2,840 words, leaving me just 1,835 behind target.

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