NaNoWriMo 2014: Don’t Stop Believing


It’s day 7 of NaNo. The slower, less capable writers have begun to fall behind and are being eyed hungrily by those of us still struggling forward. No one has yet managed to solve the Sphinx’s second puzzle. Wolves are now stalking the island.

I’m well over what the NaNo Graph tells me my wordcount should be, but I’m making far slower progress than last time- last year I did something like 18,000 words in three days, whereas I am currently not even at 15,000. It’s entirely possible that writing that quickly when I had such little experience wasn’t a good idea.

The story’s going well, though. There are these twee phrases people use (I’ve noticed that online writing communities seem to gravitate to twee phrases), “pantser” and “plotter” as in, do you write by the seat of your pants or do you plot everything out carefully. I’m not really sure that this is as binary a distinction as some people think. I plot out my story very carefully, it’s just that I don’t know what the next part of the plot is going to be until I write it. This is probably not a very smart method, but it’s getting things done I guess.

Speaking of which I’ve received a pep talk from Veronica Roth, author of the bestselling Divergent trilogy (now a major motion picture from Lionsgate) that advised me to ignore writer identities and strict formulas and just do whatever works. Which is good advice, except it was paired with the following image:


You see this image, or similar images, a lot in relation to writing and screenswriting and its always kind of baffled me. What exactly is “rising action”? What if you have more than one inciting incident? What’s with that seemingly long setup, why not just have the inciting incident happen on, like, the second page?

I think the most baffling part about this method is that very few books and movies I’ve ever read or watched actually seemed like they were following it, but it always gets trotted out like its the rosetta stone of writing.

(You can see similar arguments against graphs like these in this article written by the Hulk)

On the other hand that graph perfectly describes the plot of most videogames, which generally spend their middle sections forcing the player to walk along a repetitive treadmill of increasingly bombastic action sequences before the story is allowed to arbitrarily reach a conclusion (see this article, which wasn’t written by the Hulk).

Veronica Roth does have a good piece of advice relating to this though, which is that you should avoid the temptation to halt the story where it is or try to go back. When I was writing my previous Nano story I constantly assumed that “okay now the characters should faff around a bit and, like, do stuff or something” but the need to keep writing quickly every day meant that that wasn’t an option, And that turned out to be a good thing, because it taught me a valuable lesson about when to push the plot forward (always) and when to just tread water and stretch things out (never).

Exhaustively blogging about a certain book series with a penchant for doing the latter might have helped as well.

Anyway, I’m still having a blast. Must write more words.





15 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo 2014: Don’t Stop Believing

  1. dollsgarden

    “last year I did something like 18,000 words in three days”
    Come on, Ronan. Don’t make me cry.

    As soon as I got that pep talk message, I loved how Veronica Roth of all people tried to teach me about “rising action”, because Divergent consists of almost nothing except Nothing Fucking Happening, to phrase it in your words, and showing off just how special and badass Tris is.
    And yea, I also noticed the problems with this graph you also discussed here. There is this 11yr old I’m giving private lessons and one of her classmates seriously failed a test last year because they were supposed to write a short adventure story and the classmate’s one supposedly had “two climaxes” – the protagonist falling off her horse, and then finding it after a long search. I couldn’t see how that were two climaxes, and what was wrong about that anyway. It’s so sad that kids get taught how to creatively write badly in school. And it’s even sadder that many adult professionals never get over that.

      1. Jamie

        If you haven’t checked out Hulk’s entire ebook on screenwriting, you might have a look. It’s every bit as thoughtful as that article and much wider in scope. It’s one of the few books I’ve read with practical advice on storytelling that doesn’t get bogged down in some individual writer’s idiosyncracies.

        It’s also extremely humbling. So much to learn…

  2. Signatus

    After my last experience I decided to fully change the formula to something similar of what has worked for me in the past. I normally plan the story roughly then let things happen as I write, Maybe it’s not very proffesional, but my best works were done this way.
    Then I told myself I needed to plan out in advance. The result was the biggest turd I’ve ever written since my very first novel. That forced me to go back and rewrite the whole damn thing twice. When I finally managed to complete it, I looked at it and said; “Meh, still better than the first one” but I still think it’s a turd. Since this was part of a series, the experience fully pushed me out of it, so I’m giving it a rest and doing something independent for now.

    Now I’m doing exactly the same I’ve done in the past. I plan out a rough sketch with the main concepts and the conclusions, I plan out parts that I want to put in the book (this is not rigid, it can change if the book deems it neccesary), and my characters (world details, some of the more important things). With that in mind, I get to work and let my imagination flow with the writing, not before the writing.

    I’ve been there, where I write some filler because “characters should have a life”. Those were the chapters that usually got eliminated in the first revision because they added nothing but a boring stop to the story. I like starting my books introducing already the conflict and let the story revolve around it. Since I write entertainment (not anything deep and meaningful), that’s the formula I’m looking for, fast paced and intense.

    1. Reveen

      For some of us, and I suspect a lot of aspiring writers, “planning” is a synonym for “procrastination”.

      I mean, I suppose going in with some sort of idea what you’re doing is a good idea. But I suspect that if we knew exactly what we were doing we wouldn’t be doing NaNo in the first place.

      1. Signatus

        Oh, I’m not doing NaNo, only writing for my own pleasure.

        In my case, it was less about procrastination and more about how tied I felt by the end and how unpleasant it felt to write that book. There was something weird in the process. It wasn’t like writing other books, where I’ve felt truly free to explore. It felt like a chore and I hated it, which made me hate the book in the end, and the result was… really, it was very bad.
        I’ve written many books and short stories, many of which were pretty bad. I dropped one book by the last chapter. Never have I felt something like that.

  3. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

    It’s nice to see that you’ve actually learned from your experience with NaNoWriMo last year. Too many NaNoWriMo-ers (is there a shorter term for them) seem to view it as a school assignment that they need to pad out to complete, hence the cheating thread and all the tedious, overly wordy work that emerges from it.

  4. Reveen

    A rising action is like when Sub-Zero uppercuts Johnny Cage through the ceiling to a new part of the level, right?

    Atleast she didn’t break out the monomyth. I’m fully expecting Brandon Sanderson to do just that.

  5. Austin H. Williams

    I’ve come more and more to see Freytag’s Triangle as a fractal: there’s this large, overarching sort of arc that should extend through the story, but that arc in itself is made of smaller arcs for each act, and each scene or sequence within an act should also some sort of an arc or progression, otherwise it’s dead weight.

    Triangles within triangles.

      1. ronanwills Post author

        This is what I did for last year’s NaNo. I think the three individual arcs of the story were good, but I had trouble combining them into anything coherent and it showed- characters were abruptly dropped out of the story once their arc was over, for example. It almost felt like I had taken an entirely trilogy and tried to cram it into some sort of mangled compilation.

      2. Austin H. Williams

        To put it simply, yeah, it’s something like that. But even in episodic stories you have smaller scenes and stories told within them.

        For what it’s worth, this is why I don’t like to plot too much in the first go ’round, so I have room for new characters to pop up and surprise me, or for characters that I thought would stay to get knocked off.

        I take Pratchett’s advice of “The first draft is you telling the story to yourself” to heart. I know that if arcs need to change, be subtracted or added, etc., that is something I can address in the second go, and I imagine it’s something Ronan is contending with as well…


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