NaNoWriMo 2015 Recap

NaNoWriMo 2015: I succeeded, but barely, and a little sloppily.

NaNoWriMo Winner Badge!

The words weren’t all from the same novel, for example. And normally when I write, if I change my mind mid-scene about how the scene should go or what line of dialog the person should say, I will delete the previous stuff. Here, I just marked it off and kept going.

Anyway, it’s NaNoWriMo so it’s okay.

Originally, I wanted to do NaNo this year because I had an SF idea that I wanted to explore, when I’m actually really supposed to be working on a final draft of the Waking Up Naked in Strange Places sequel. So I thought, “Ah, I’ll set aside one month exactly to explore this other idea that’s been kinda bugging me!” And about three days in, I realized that other idea just wasn’t ready to be born yet. Plus, I got a fortune cookie that said something like “old ideas resurface” or “your past comes back to haunt you” or “that thing you were working on before, go back to that.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

The fortune cookie had the last word. So, for the rest of the month, I worked on Tales of the Rougarou Book 2. I wasn’t writing-writing so much as I was pre-writing: sketching things out, exploring, brainstorming. It turned out that I was more or less using the technique recommended by Rachel Aaron in her book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love even though I didn’t read that book until the final week of November, after having it recommended by Annie Bellet at Orycon. Rachel’s book gave me some additional ideas, and also encouraged me that what I was doing was likely to pay off.

So now I’ve got 50,000 words of pre-writing, waiting to be turned into actual writing. What is the difference you ask? Here is what pre-writing looks like, in a scene between Abby and Steph’s mom in New Orleans:

oh my goodness i hear her exclaim from the other room
the newscast about a dead tourist
abby has fear
i don’t remember what happened last night
could i have done it i have to find out
showing where the body was found
???where was it found????
okay, in the quarter near the river, that little park area, down near the water where there’s all that gravel and stuff see if you can find a picture of it i think i took a picture of it
i recognize the spot
i have to get there soon or i won’t be able to tell anything from the smell
I’m feeling kind of — i need to get out of the house mrs. marchande. i’m going for a walk
by yourself?
it’s 11 am mrs marchande
it can still be dangerous out there
i know. it’s dangerous everywhere
sigh. i guess you’ll do what you want anyway, huh? steph always did
brief flicker of curiosity to have her tell me about steph as a teenager
but i need to go. i guess. i smile. remember why steph even knows me. because i ran away from home.
oh honey, but that was — that was a very bad situation. that’s not like — she searches around for an emotion and settles on indignation. we never treated steph the way your father treated you. that.. torture and all.
of course you didn’t. but mrs. marchande. until i left, i didn’t really know i had been mistreated. everything my father did to me, to us, he said he was doing it for the sake of our souls. and i knew how much i hated it, but i didn’t know any better. i thought the flaw was in me. that’s why i left. not to punish him or even get away from him, but because i thought i was the trouble. the one making things bad. i didn’t leave to save myself, i left to save everyone else.
my voice shakes and we sit in silence for a moment while i blink back tears.
she frowns clearly distressed but unable to think of what to say
well, just take your phone with you. and remember that extra battery!
i will. thank you for helping me pick out a dress. (dress in bag so she doesn’t have to go all the way back home to change.) ??what time was their dinner with Pere Claude supposed to be again??

This is very typical of my pre-writing. A little plot logic, a few logistical notes, a couple of notes to myself to look something up, and a whole lot of dialog. My pre-writing is nearly all dialog. (Although sometimes it’s internal dialog, especially in a first person book like this.) I don’t know if it’s just the way I do things, or a habit from years of scripting Goth House, but dialog is nearly always where I find the heart of a scene. I wind people up and let them talk at each other and eventually they tell me what the scene is about.

I might use exactly none of those words in the final edit. But I have still figured out the conflict between Abby and Steph’s mom here — Steph’s mom has an impulse to exert parental control over Abby, at least partly driven by feeling that she failed to do that with Steph. Abby needs to make her own decisions, like mot teenagers, but also, how can you possibly explain the whole being-a-werewolf thing to your adopted sorta-grandmother? Still, she doesn’t want to make Steph’s mom feel bad, so she tries to explain why she’s not very responsive to parental control, and finds herself touching on something emotionally deeper and more upsetting than what she intended to be talking about.

Also, notice the general lack of capitalization. That’s how you can tell I was writing this in Evernote instead of in Scrivener, because I have Scrivener set to capitalize new sentences automatically. It was sort of an experiment to see how well Evernote (which I already use in a possibly futile attempt to keep my life from spiraling madly out of control) and my iPad worked as a primary writing combo.

I think Evernote works for pre-writing and planning and idea-capturing fairly well, but it can’t replace Scrivener as a final-version drafting tool. It lacks certain basic features, such as global search-replace for that one character whose name I keep changing, and it does not replicate Scrivener’s nesting architecture at all. The structure I like to use puts scenes within chapters within story sections within beats within acts. The beats and acts more or less conform to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet.

This structure helps me locate individual scenes when I’m looking for them, but the ability to look at the story in layers also helps me think about the layered story arcs. You know, is there movement in this scene, in this chapter, in this section, in this story beat. Evernote is much flatter — notes within notebooks within stacks is the limit of its nesting.

But the real problem turned out to be sort order. Scrivener allows you to just put things in a certain order, while the only real way to sort things in Evernote is using titles. I made a stab at coming up with a title-sort-scheme early in the process, but quickly realized that it was too cumbersome when doing things like breaking up a scene into two sub-scenes, or anything else that changed the order of scenes.

So, what do I have now? A pre-drafted novel waiting to be turned into an actual draft. That seems like a reasonably productive November.