nanowrimo writing tips

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.

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

So the saying goes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you have no excuses for writing those thousand words during NaNoWriMo.

Before or during NaNoWriMo, look for pictures to represent your character, places, scenes, things, or events and add them to your research collection. When you run out of steam, turn to them for inspiration.

Look for what is in the picture to inspire you, but also look outside the frame. What is the person wearing? Why? What does that outfit do for them? Is it a uniform? Does it work with their recreational activity, or possibly work for their best-dressed work uniform in a corporate office?

Where are they? Do their clothes match the environment they are in? Why are they there?

If it is a place, go inside the picture to see what it beyond the bushes or trees, through the doors, around the edges in your mind so you see the whole picture.

Visual inspiration may come from a variety of forms. A picture in a magazine might trigger memories or concepts while having nothing directly to do with them. Add those to your collection to stimulate your imagination.

Also take advantage of Image Search on Google and other search engines. Type in a word or phrase and switch to the image view and scroll to find an image that catches your imagination. View the image alone and print it to add it to your collection if necessary.

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

NaNoWriMo Tips: The Ticking Clock

The Ticking Clock is a writer’s device to add tension to a scene or the plot. The clock is ticking, time is running out, the character(s) are up against a deadline and there is no escaping the ticking of the clock.

If you are having trouble writing ticking clock scenes in your plot, here are some questions to consider.

  • How long do the characters have? How much time are you going to give them to succeed before the clock runs out?
  • Could you shorten the time period? To what?
  • What does the character need to accomplish within that time frame?
  • What amount of time would it normally take to accomplish the task?
  • Why is the time period so short?
  • What does the character(s) need to do to “stop the clock?”
  • What will prove that the task is complete and the clock will stop?
  • What are the consequences of failure?
  • What will the character(s) lose?
  • What can go wrong?
  • Will one or more people die?
  • What are the physical obstacles in the way of stopping the clock?
  • What are the psychological obstacles (fears, dreams, risks) to stopping the clock?
  • How does the character(s) handle obstacles (physical and psychological)?
  • How does the race to beat the clock show the character(s) strengths and weaknesses?
  • How long does it take to overcome each obstacle?
  • How does the tension (suspense) grow as the deadline approaches?
  • What are the “cliffhangers” as the character(s) overcome each obstacle?
  • Does stopping the clock start another ticking clock? Is there another task the character(s) must tackle?
  • When all clocks have stopped ticking, then what? How has the character(s) changed? What is next?

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

NaNoWriMo Tips: When Passive Voice Starts Winning

As you plow through NaNoWriMo, are you finding yourself writing with conditional verbs: should, would, haven’t, could, maybe, might? It might be time to redirect your energies because this is a symptom of running out of steam and inspiration.

This isn’t about editing your work during the NaNoWriMo month of November. It is about changing your writing tune midway if you find yourself using passive voice in your writing.

This isn’t about a character who uses passive voice when they speak and in their actions.

This is about being unclear and unsure about what you are writing. It is about you losing confidence in your writing.

Switch immediately to active voice using action and active verbs. Don’t let your characters wonder through a fog of uncertainty. Put them in a place and let them thrive there with your word choices.

Still finding it difficult? Consider passive voice as a symptom. Here are some solutions.

  • Return to your original premise, the concept that sent you down this path. Has it changed? Evolved? Lost its way?
  • Have you swung off the path and meandered down a tangent? Switching to passive voice could be a sign that you are losing confidence in this story line, not the entire story. Find your way back, or start a new tangent and follow that.
  • Are you losing interest in your character(s)? Consider making another attempt at their character personality and descriptions and find what’s missing. Have you fallen out of love with them? Find a way to love them, or change them into someone you can love again.
  • Leave the story and dig into the back story, the history, the politics, the society in and around your story. It’s called worldbuilding. Like a child playing with tinker toys or legos, build the universe in and around your story to find the passion again.
  • Ask yourself why. It is that simple. Why are you using soft, cautious, careful words in your writing? Is it your story? Characters? Self-confidence? Guilt? Procrastination? Something is getting in your way and this is a symptom. Identify it sooner rather than later and get our your mental bulldozer to clear the path so you can keep writing.

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

NaNoWriMo Tips: Embrace Tangents

During NaNoWriMo, the challenge of the word count hangs over us. Take advantage of it and wander down those tangents. Explore a tickle of an idea. Flesh it out. Does it work? If so, keep meandering. If not, that’s okay, you might be able to use this as a short story or as extras for your website during the promotion of your book later.

Maybe the off-beaten path you’ve just beaten is really your story, not the one you were writing. Or a sequel. You might not have considered this as a series, but it could be. Why not?

Tangents can also help you with back story, character descriptions and personalities, worldbuilding, opportunities to expand your story and your thoughts about the story. You can slice and dice in the editing process, but if the call to deviate pulls your fingers in that direction, go with it for a while and see what happens.

Keep an open mind and let your unconscious lead you in what might be the right direction.

If it isn’t, your mind will pull you back automatically, so don’t worry. Keep writing.

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

NaNoWriMo Tips: This is Supposed to Be Fun

NaNoWriMo, learning something new, taking classes, starting a new hobby, no matter what you do, there will always come the moment when you want to just quit. You’ve had it. It’s not fun any more.

Keep going.

Yes, you can take a break, write about something else, go for a walk, skip a day, reward yourself with a treat, but keep going.

Runners and endurance sports participants often hit what is known as the wall or the bonk, a point where their body’s energies can no longer sustain their actions. Before the body gets to that point, however, there is another kind of wall they hit. This one is when the body feels like it can’t take any more, and it wants to crap up and quit, but experienced athletes know that this is just a warning sign and not the true crash. If they push through it, on the other side is a sense of euphoria, moving becomes second nature, breathing is easier, and they get a burst of energy.

When writers hit the wall, they can’t take it any more, sometimes on the other side of that, if they just push through, there is euphoria and a burst of creative energy that keeps them going.

Writer’s walls are usually psychological rather than physical, though if you’ve been sitting for 10 hours, it’s physical. Get up and move. The psychological walls are usually self-doubt, loss of confidence, or just plain stuck.

You’ve probably already developed the tools to deal with your occasional self-doubt and confidence issues, but what about when you are just stuck? The story ain’t going nowhere.

You can push through and hope to figure it out, or take a break and let the mind rest.

Sleep is a good solution, allowing the mind to process as it rests and flushes out toxins. So is taking a walk, exercising, just letting the mind go and the body take over.

There is another method promoted by Cheryl Richardson, author of the bestselling Life Makeover series. She suggests using the power of the mind to make an appointment with yourself. Give your brain an assignment, a task, something to mull over, and set an appointment at, say, 6PM tonight or 6:30AM the next morning. Instruct your mind that you show up, on time, ready for the answer. Put your unconscious to work. Between now and then, if your unconscious starts knocking early, tell it to wait until the appointed time. Amazingly, if you show up, the answer, solution, whatever you asked it to do, will be there, waiting. It takes a few tries, but it works.

Above all, when NaNoWriMo or any writing project starts to be hard work and not fun, remember this: it is supposed to be work. Work can be fun, but when you are working, you are working, and sometimes it is hard.

Don’t give in. Examine why it feels so hard right now when a few days ago it was a joyous experience. Identify the culprit, and find a way to find the passion again in what you are writing.

Keep going. Break through that wall. There is good stuff on the other side.

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