nanowrimo tips

NaNoWriMo Tips: Reverse Things

Your character is afraid of their own shadow. They creep through life trying to never disturb the dust of living, yet life still happens to them.

Write a scene like that with your character.

Then, throw the whole scene into reverse.

Write the same scene with your a brave, fearless personality at play, loving life, embracing anything thrown their way.

Which is the true definition of the character you want in your story? Is it one of these extremes or a compromise between the two.

Use this technique to not only learn more about your character, especially to identify strengths and weakness, but also to mix things up. Sometimes a brave and tough character has moments of fear, when they feel helpless and out of control. What would it take to make them feel that way? Might be an interesting part of your story.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Move Once an Hour

I’ve set a digital clock on my computer and phone to ping at the top of every hour. This reminds me to stand up and move.

While I will work through it if I’m in the middle of a writing burst, when the idea is complete, and it is safe to walk away, I will do so for at least five minutes.

Scientific research as shown that sitting for long periods of time is just about as unhealthy as smoking. Writing for 60-90 minutes without moving for only 30 days won’t be the death of you if you are regularly active, but consider a little movement to keep the juices flowing inside your body as well as your mind.

Go make a cup of tea, go drink a glass of water, walk around the room, or to another room and back. Don’t let yourself be distracted by walking into the kitchen or laundry room and seeing something that needs doing. Just move around.

Some writers stand up and do jumping jacks or squats for a few minutes. Many will stretch. Do something upright for just a few minutes once an hour.

You will return to your writing with more energy, a better ability to focus, and possibly a new idea for your story.

You are in the final stretch, so keep stretching.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Reminder – No Editing

The key to NaNoWriMo is the word count. Meeting the goal of 50,000 words. The best way to get there is to not edit, to not fix spellings or grammar, but to just keep the words coming.

There is another good reason not to edit. It is a distraction.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the wavy red line under a word and I’ve paused to fix it – after all, it’s just a right click and select the right word – and lost my train of thought. It can happen that fast.

The mistakes will still be there when you come back to edit. Just keep writing. The world will not come to an end because you mizpelled a word or messed up a tense. Keep going. You’re almost done. Stay on pace, stay on track, you can do it.

Note: According to Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and author of many books including No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, a good proportion of NaNoWriMo participants use procrastination to stall until the last four to six days of the month, then throw themselves into a frenzy to complete the 50K word count competition on overdrive. Even if you have been slacking, it is possible to write more than 10K words a day, if you stop editing and get out of your own way.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Point of View

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing just one thing. It is also a time for experimentation, which can also spice up the chore of your 1,667 words a day. Try experimenting with point of view.

Write a scene told from the perspective of the main character, written in third person.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of an omnipotent narrator.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of one of the other characters.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of one of the animals nearby, a bird, cat, dog, snake.

Write the scene in first person.

Which works better? Should you change your story’s point of view? Or keep it? Either way, it mixes things up for a writing session, and helps you see your story from another perspective.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Where are Your Cliffhangers?

Cliffhanger movie 1993 screencap of man falling from landslide on cliffHave you included some cliffhangers in your story? Cliffhangers are the moments in a movie or television show when there is a cut-away from the action, often for a commercial, and the viewer is left hanging, anxious about what will happen to the hero.

Cliffhangers are common writing devices, but they work. In a novel, these are found between scenes and chapters, but also between paragraphs, pulling the reader through the story to find out what happens next.

Where are your cliffhangers? Are they critical plot points or have you thrown in a few throughout the story to keep the reader on edge, eagerly turning page after page?

If you don’t have any, start adding them. Write them in. They add tension, conflict, and drag the reader through the story.

The key to a good cliffhanger is how it draws the reader into the story. They are a part of the action. They want to know what happens. A successful cliffhanger is one written to make the reader a part of the story, so they feel like they are the ones pushing or chasing the story forward.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Play with Time

Writers can make a moment last pages, even a whole chapter. Or they can make a sentence last a week.

As you work on your novel and stories, consider how you use time. Stretch it to make a moment last, compress it to add tension or skip the story ahead.

Consider adding a race against time element to your story. The clock is ticking and your hero has only so much time to accomplish the task and save everyone.

The groundbreaking television show 24 told the story in real-time, so to speak. Each hour increment in a 24 hour period represented 60 minutes of the story line. They even used a clock to help track the hour during each episode. It was an exciting story device that kept the viewer on the edge of their seat as the drama raced forward.

Doctor Who - the Stolen Earth screencap.

In Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companions and the other characters in the stories can shift between time within a few seconds not just on this planet, but across multiple planets and galaxies. In the finales of Season 4, the time traveling machine called the Tardis was controlled to dial through time, allowing the Doctor and Donna to watch an event that could take thousands or millions of years to complete, helping the viewer experience it with them, adding drama to the story line. In the book and BBC show, Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett, young kids discover a woman who can travel through time with a shopping cart, and go back and forth to World War II to prevent a bomb from exploding in their 1990s time period. Creative manipulation of time lines in stories is found everywhere, helping not only add drama, but to also help the reader understand what’s going on.

As you write, ensure the reader is with you on the passage of time. Do they track that it has been minutes or years between scenes? How have you made that clear?

It’s challenging to keep a reader on track with your creative manipulations of time. Flashbacks, backstory, dream sequences, future thoughts, movements of time between scenes…work it carefully, dragging the reader through the space time continuum.

Help them keep up with the time and the pace of your story, but have fun with how you use time.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: How Many Ways to Write a Scene

A novel is a collection of scenes, held together by chapters. During NaNoWriMo, you will write dozens of scenes, each one adding to the plot, taking the reader, and your characters, on a journey.

Think about a single scene. How many ways can you write it?

Let’s set the stage. A woman is sitting in her car in rush hour traffic, going nowhere. The man in the car next to her turns his head and looks at her.

How many ways can we tell this story?

  • From the perspective of the woman?
  • From the perspective of the man?
  • From onlookers watching the two from their cars?
  • What if it is hot out and their windows are open?
  • What if it is cold and they have to wipe the condensation from the window to even see each other?
  • What if one of their cars has smoke or steam coming out from under the hood?
  • What if one has a coffee cup or a lunch bag on the roof of their vehicle?
  • What if one vehicle has a low tire?
  • What if one of the car is an expensive luxury car and the other isn’t?
  • What if one of them is poor and just evicted from their home and their car is their only safe place?
  • What if they know each other?
  • What if they knew each other as teenagers?
  • What if they are married?
  • What if they were married and just drove away from the lawyers office after signing the divorce papers, and each are the last person they want to see?
  • What if there is a dog in one car?
  • What if one of them is depressed?
  • What if one of them just got a raise and is overexcited?
  • What if one really likes the look of the other?

We could go on and on with all of the perspectives, points of view, and what ifs.

What if the scene is critical to the story, and you don’t want to go off on a bunch of wild “what if” theories. How could you tell the story differently and keep the story line the same?

  • What is the emotional state of the characters? Can you change one or both of them?
  • What is around them that they have to or might interact with? A gear shift? Squeaking brakes? The steering wheel? How would they handle it?
  • Use your senses. What do they smell, feel, temperature, body pains, body positions, hear, see? Which details add or subtract from the scene?
  • What if you threw another character into the mix? A person pops up in the backseat or someone honks behind them? How will each character respond?
  • Can you show the scene from the perspective of a memory?
  • What if they are anticipating seeing each other in traffic and it hasn’t happened?

Other than changing the location, time, and weather, brainstorm all the different ways you could write the scene and then pick from these when it is time to edit – in December.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Generalizations and Stereotypes

It is easy when writing in a hurry with something like NaNoWriMo to write sweeping generalizations and use stereotypes to describe characters and scenes. If it works and the character or scene is small, then use it, but NaNoWriMo is a word-count driven competition with yourself. Go beyond generalizations and stereotypes to flesh out your scenes and characters.

All villains aren’t evil. Some function within society with few noticing until something triggers their evil ways. Help us see past the stereotypes of an evil villain to see what they are really made of.

Not all heroes are here to save the day. Some go reluctantly such as antiheroes, the reluctant heroes that ambivalently thrust into conflict and onto the hero’s journey not of their own free will.

Not all butlers, maids, or shoe polishers are black. Not every car mechanic is Latino. Not every person shot by police is black. Not all rich people are white. Break with stereotypes and add life, texture, and passion to your characters by breaking the mold.

When you write with generalizations and stereotypes, you are often selling your characters short. Let them breathe into being with full hearts, souls, attitudes, and presence in your story. Peel away the layers to find what makes them unique and introduce that uniqueness to your readers so they can break through their own stereotypes and judgement calls.

Human beings are complex creatures. Sure, there are some characteristics and traits that most of us share across cultural and historical divides, but go deeper. Paint colorful pictures for your readers.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: What Ifs

If you get stuck in NaNoWriMo, bring out your what ifs.

What if questions can be fun. They can break the writing rut and break open your imagination.

Begin by looking for opposites. Identify your characters strengths and weaknesses and consider how they would behave if they were switched, their strengths suddenly became weaknesses. If it is raining in the scene, make it sunny and dry, just to see how the characters would behave if the weather was different.

Change locations. What if this scene happened in the middle of the night on top of a skyscraper? Or early morning in a car park? Or instead of the desert, deep in a forest? What would change? Would the characters behave different? Would the story change? Sure, it would, but how?

What if your character was different? Instead of skinny, was obese? Instead of Latino, was Russian?

Then ask yourself other what ifs like:

  • What if the characters knew each other in grade school?
  • What if they were meeting for the first time and had no history?
  • What if their parents were in the room?
  • What if they never completed high school?
  • What if their life was really a lie?
  • What if their next actions would get them put into the witness protection program?
  • What if their parents died when they were young?
  • What if their parents died in a crash two weeks ago?
  • What if one parent was a philanderer?
  • What if one or more of the characters escaped from a cult in their past?
  • What if the character decided to give up everything they had, their life, work, everything, to join a cult?
  • What if the character lost everything and became homeless?

The what ifs can go on forever. Some lead from one thought to other, so keep writing out your what ifs before you start answering them. Pick one or two when you are ready and write them up. It could get your writing juices flowing again, and possibly help you understand your characters and the story better.

It could also lead to a sequel. Never know.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: The Thing in the Room

At a Willamette Writers Conference one year, Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, was a keynote. She spoke about how she will start writing a scene based upon elements found in the location she is writing about. While she might not use the item, this technique often helps her get her writing juices flowing through a series of questions and answers to describe the place, the moment, and the characters.

She spoke about how she collects auction house catalogs associated with the time period and cultural elements of her books. She will pull one out and flip through it, looking for things that could be in the room with her character. In her example, she chose an amber crystal vase.

In her mind, she put it in the room, but had to debate with herself where in the room it should go. On the window sill? On a shelf? On the desk? She chose the desk.

What color amber was it? Was it deep or light colored? Where was the light coming from that illuminated it, or was it in the shadows? She chose the light coming from the window shining on it.

If the light was coming from the window, then what time of day was it? Where was the light positioned? What color was the light? Was it strong or filtered? What was outside that would block the light, or be clear for the light to pass through?

Returning to the vase, she looked at it in her mind. Why would it be on the desk? Did it have historical significance? Personal significance? Who put it there? Was it the main character, the spouse, housekeeper, or possibly a decorator and it had no significance at all to the character? If it had significance, what is its story?

What is it made of? Is it truly crystal from stone or cut from glass? Who made it? Does it matter who made it to the character or the story?

Is it on a pedestal or plate or just sitting on the desk? What is the desk made of? Why? Was that a good material to choose? Where is there light on the desk? From outside or is there a lamp? What kind of lamp? Where is it? What fuels it? What does it look like…

Where is the character? Is he sitting at the desk? Standing next to it? Is he looking at the object? Why? What does he see when he looks at it? What does it remind him of? What is he thinking as he looks at it?

You get the picture, and that is what she does, she creates the picture from an object and keeps going, testing it out on the character, fleshing out the scene in and around the object. It isn’t about the object but the object helps to define the scene and the character, making the scene come alive through this brainstorming series of questions, each one building upon the other.

Think of a thing in the scene with your character and go through the same process. Keep asking questions, building the scene piece by piece, including light, sound, texture, pattern, smells, all the elements around the character, then paint that picture with your words.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.