For National Novel Writing Month, participants need to write 50,000 words in order to win. The prizes include a certificate you can print, bragging rights, and some offers from the various sponsors like Scrivener and CreateSpace.
In the seven years that I’ve been a participant, I’ve seen all sorts of strategies. Sure, there are the rebels who work on multiple stories, master theses and other non-novel work. However, there are some more dubious tricks that I’ve read about.
Having your character start singing an entire Broadway musical, reciting recipes, or giving all your characters super long names with just one difference (e.g. Abe Braham Carter Day and Abe Braham Carter Ed) so that you have to refer to them by their full name, DO in fact increase word count. However, these sorts of methods have the tendency to derail your story. After you get through the final act of that musical, where will you from there?
People use these types of “plot devices” as a way to get their 50K. They’ve hit a dead end in their plot, and instead of hunting “plot bunnies,” they do what they can to just add words. The problem with these methods is that they don’t help your plot at all. Instead, they add meaningless words and help keep a true plot at bay.
To me, it’s the same as getting a large cat. Those plot bunnies aren’t going to come your way if they see a big cat on your front step just like ideas aren’t going to come if you keep resorting to meaningless word count methods.
Now, just to clarify, I am not saying you can’t use some of the dares in your novel. Some of them are helpful and will add plot and conflict to your novel. Lyrics and recipes generally do not.
I already mentioned a few strategies in my last post, and actually a couple here are duplicates because they’re great strategies.
With that in mind, here are a few strategies you can resort to when push comes to shove, and your plot bunnies are avoiding you as if you had Swine Flu.
This is when your characters take a break from the main plot to pursue something else. Then, once that subplot is revolved, they go back to the main plot and continue on with their day.
For example, they can be walking down the road in search of the Powerful Deadly Overlord of Cheese and end up seeing something shiny in the bushes. Intrigued, they investigate and find a set of keys. Now, being the heroes they are, they decide to find the rightful owners of the keys, because of course keys are always important. Once they find the owner, they can go back to searching for the Powerful Deadly Overlord of Cheese. Perhaps they even get an award that will later be of value.
2. Have a fight
Now, there might already be a fight planned for the end. It’s usually between the antagonist and the protagonist. However, there are other fights.
- A fight between your MC (main character) and his/her love interest?
- A fight between the MC and his/her best friend.
- A disagreement between your MC and his/her horse.
- Maybe there’s danger ahead and your MC is too stupid to realize it.
- Maybe someone actually gets (Swine) Flu
- Or there’s the all favorite, “we were quietly minding our own business when a group of bandits jumped out of the bushes.”
Conflict moves a story forward, so don’t be afraid to resort to a little violence.
3. Throw a party
Parties make people mingle. It is a great way to introduce a new character or even a great way to hear the latest gossip. Maybe your MC goes to the party in hopes of finding information about the antagonist. And, if you’re really struggling, you can always have a party turn into a fight.
4. Switch characters
Write a chapter from a different character’s point of view. (Bonus tip: this works well when dealing with fights and some conflict because you can see both sides)
Jump over to your MC’s best friend or even a minor character. Sometimes you’ll find a different character can tell the story better. Perhaps you’ll realize you chose the wrong MC. Or perhaps you’ll get an insight on an event that you wouldn’t have thought about before.
Write from the antagonist’s point of view. Seeing the story from their side will help you understand their motivation better and help you gain sympathy for him or her. Or it. A sympathetic villain is a more powerful one in my opinion. No one likes the “Mr. Gloom and Doom with a PHD in Taking Over the Universe Because He’s Bored” sort of villain. They’re too flat.
Completely stuck? Write a previous scene with a different outcome. Where does the story take you now?
5. Remember, remember, the 5th of November, the Gun Powder Treason and plot…
On many NaNo calendars, you’ll note that the 5th of November has “Blow something up” in honor of Guy Fawkes day. If your world or story has gunpowder, blow something up. If it doesn’t, plan some other sort of natural disaster or terrorist plan or homicide. Mass murders and disaster tend to bring people together – and drive people apart due to differing opinions.
Flashbacks offer a look into your character’s history as well as the history of the life and culture around him or her. Sometimes, flashbacks can even help you untangle your thoughts and discover plots.
Admit it. There are a lot of characters out there with the sole purpose of recapping. I tend to think of Dumbledore on this one from Harry Potter. They are often considered cliché, but hey, this is NaNo! And, it’s a rough draft.
Go ahead. Have a character recap some of the things that have happened so far. I will caution you though. Don’t go back to look through the story. Reading what you have already written tends to make the inner editor come out. It also tends to make you lose self-confidence. Write about what you recall. It’ll be more accurate that way too. No character, unless they have a photographic memory, is going to remember everything that’s happened. Feel free to have other characters fill in the gaps as you recall them later.
8. Kill someone off
Death moves the plot forward … or at least, for those who live. A death of someone close to the MC can really impact him or her. Have your MC go through the stages of grief, from denial to acceptance. Have a funeral. Throw in some cultural beliefs and funeral preparations/traditions. Maybe your MC’s species or race or group don’t believe in burial. Maybe they don’t believe in an afterlife. This can be really helpful if you decide you don’t like your MC or if you realize your minor character really ought to be your MC. Kill him or her off and start writing from another character’s perspective.
If you decide later on that you need that character, you can always bring them back.
9. Take a dare or adopt something from the NaNo forums.
Go to the NaNo forum. Pick up a dare and run with it. Or visit the adoptables forum and find something that needs a new, loving home in your novel. You know, unless you decide to kill it. Hopefully it was loved until then at least.
Do NOT spend forever choosing a dare or adoptable though. The forums have been known to consume many a writer during the month of November.
As you can see, there are lots of things you can resort to when the plot well is running dry that can help keep you moving. Don’t get scared when the story seems to be going nowhere. It happens. Just keep pushing forward and you’ll find something to work with eventually.
Sometimes placing yourself in the story helps too. Have your character argue with you a bit. Get to know your character a little more. And keep going. Yes, the best thing in NaNo is to just keep going.
If worse comes to worse, and you absolutely cannot think of anything using these methods, ask for help from the other writers. Twitter is wonderful for this as is the forums. The NaNoWriMo community is one of the kindest online communities out there. There is bound to be someone who can help you out.
What tips or strategies would you add to this list? If you’re working on a writing project, how is it going?