Yes my friends it is #NaNoWriMo2014 and like every year I embark on a month long adventure that takes me to fascinating places without leaving the relative comfort of my writing desk. For those of you new to the game, November is National Novel Writing Month where established authors and newbies alike try their darnedest to write a story’s rough draft in a month. It’s fun, challenging, and other stuff. And although I’ve never finished a rough draft during NaNoWriMo I’ve always emerged from the month with a significant chunk of my story written down and it only takes me an additional week or two to finish up the rest.
For those if you taking on the fun challenge of trying to write a novel in a month, writer’s block is either a huge road block or nonexistent. Either way you should consider the follow questions as you’re typing away. So here are: The Questions to ask yourself when Writing Fiction
1. Who’s in the scene?
This may seem obvious but a writer really needs to consider this when taking in a scene. Who’s present? How many are present? Why are they there to begin with? Is someone hiding somewhere and listening in? Is someone looking at someone else through a hidden camera or a sniper scope. Is someone using a hidden recorder? Just because a character isn’t present doesn’t mean they aren’t there in one form or another. Really consider why each character enters that bedroom or brothel or church or gunfight. Their reasons may be similar but more than likely each character present has a different agenda than the other.
2. What do you want to do with the scene?
What do you want this scene to accomplish? What is its purpose? Does the scene introduce a new character or a new place or does some major event happen? How does this scene move the plot forward? Remember your story for the most part is a beginning, a middle and an end. Every chapter, scene, page, paragraph, sentence, word, syllable and letter is but a step toward that goal. Every scene in your novel should have a purpose to either move the story along or enhance the experience for the reader or both. Try to avoid adding a scene just for the sake of foreshadowing. Your reader will either think the scene is useless or see the foreshadowed event so clear you might as well call it five-shadowing.
3. Where does the scene take place?
Trust me this isn’t as straight forward as it sounds. Yes your next scene can take place in a hospital or in a graveyard or on a battlefield but the real question how do you make that place real for the reader? How do get them to smell the hyper cleanliness of the hospital or feel the bitter chill of a cemetery overpopulated with tombstones or smell the rotting and decay of countless bodies littering a battlefield. The area you’re reading this sentence in stimulates your senses at this very moment. Really take the time to consider what your characters are feeling, seeing and smelling and as a result, so will your reader.
4. When does the scene take place?
Does it take place right after the last scene? Or the next hour? Or the next day? Or a year from then? Some writers don’t put much stake in this question, preferring to allow the story pace itself. Which is why I’ve read stories where babies are born in five months or destroyed cars are completely fixed in two days or its sunset one minute and the sun is setting again on the next page and my personal favorite, trips on sail boats that realistically and historically last for weeks or months seem to take two weeks or a few days. Some authors overshoot it and it ends up taking years. Another problem that arises is that it messes with the pacing. Don’t ignore this question. Really consider when each scene takes place in relation to the other.
5. Why is this scene important enough for the reader to know about it?
Keep in mind, you’re not going to tell every last detail of your characters life. Ideally you’re only sharing the highlights within the framework of a story arc. Sure you want these scene to introduce a main character but why do you wish to introduce them this way instead of some other way? The why tends to be a very open ended question which inevitably leads to other ‘why’ questions but your goal is to justify you spending time behind a keyboard sharing this scene with your reader. This scene isn’t just about introducing a main character, it also reintroduces an old character, gives a back story in another character and foreshadows several major events in the book. Those reasons, plural, more than justify you sharing it with your audience. I’m sorry but a shower sex scene with your attractive female lead needs to do more than the reader that your character likes to have sex in the shower and nothing else.
6. How do you tie it all in to your scene?
Whenever my writing is blocked I ask myself any of the above questions and I DON’T accept “I don’t know” as an answer. The world of your story is yours to mold and shape anyway you see fit with the buck starting and stopping with you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to take risks, make mistakes and to try again when something doesn’t work the first time. Only you can answer “How”. So ask it, then answer it. And if you’re not having even a little fun answering these questions, then perhaps writing is probably not the profession for you.
I would like to thank everyone on Twitter who decided to follow me to see into the mind of a madman. I very much appreciate it. I would also like to wish good luck and Godspeed to all writers crazy enough to go through #NaNoWriMo and I wish you all the best in your writing adventures. Remember, even if you don’t finish, the time you’ve spent will not be in vain. Take care and thanks for reading.