If you’re joining us for the first time today, this is the third installment on writing a 30-day novel (or writing by the seat of your pants, for those who aren’t writing fanatics!). Here are the links to the previous lessons:
Today, we’ll talk about goal setting and about the first steps I took in getting The Candidate going.
Ordinarily, I’m a big advocate of goal-setting. Setting goals and working toward them is one of the 7 habits of successful people. You should set goals and you should work toward achieving them.
But unless you’re pushing to accomplish something by a pre-determined date, setting goals can be a bit more tricky when you’re writing intuitively. After all, if your characters have nothing to tell you, what do you write about? And will a word count or a time goal really work?
I’ll be honest. I have no goals for Carolyne’s Wooden Horse beyond writing whatever comes to mind when it comes to mind. I wrote the first scene May 2011. I wrote the second one June 20, 2014. You can see how pointless it would be to set goals. But this story is not my primary project, so I can afford to let it set idle for three years, one month, and eleven days if necessary.
Not so with The Candidate. The Candidate is my primary work-in-progress and it is my 30-day novel hopeful, so I have to set goals of some kind.
Pre-July goals were simple. Get to July 1 with as much information as I could come up with in less than two weeks.
For July, I set a monthly goal 75,000 words. That should be enough to write a first draft complete enough to consider finished, but that can then be fleshed out to the more typical 100,000 words in the rewriting process.
I don’t write on Sundays, so that leaves 27 writing days. In order to reach 75,000 words in 27 days of writing, I have to write 2,778 words per day. That translates to about one chapter every writing day.
That looks like a big chunk of work given other things going on in July, but I know from doing NaNo in 2009 that it’s possible.
‘Nuf said about goals.
Getting Started: The Candidate
As mentioned in the previous post, The Candidate began with two facts. A character and an event. I knew those two things existed, even though I knew more about the event than the character.
Because Danielle was writing her series on letting the character tell the story, I started with her character exercises and wrote down the first question to come to mind. Who are you?
Although that question is quite broad, I learned enough about the character to begin getting a feel for who she is and her station in life.
- She’s engaged
- She believes she’s living right and doing right
- She absolutely, positively does not want to be front and center for any reason
- She thinks the story is about the person she works for (a politician running for office).
The last item seemed counter-intuitive because the rule of thumb when developing characters is that every character–major or minor–thinks the story is about them. Everything I’ve read about writing says so.
But this character doesn’t believe the story is about her and that’s the one fact that came through loud and clear. Shortly into the discussion, I discovered why she believes it. What’s more, I understood it. So I did what Danielle suggested in her series and carved “this character is unaware that the story is about her” in stone.
I also learned how she reacts to The Event at the moment it happens, in the immediate aftermath, and as time passes. That, too, was important information. Information worthy of being carved into stone.
But most of the answers I found during the first week didn’t concern the character’s personality or traits.
Finding Answers Wherever They Appear
I worked with the character a little bit each of the first two days I worked on the story. Mostly asking questions and waiting for answers.
But I also had The Event to work with. A scene that was pretty well developed from the get-go and that I could have written in fictional format almost from day one.
I didn’t do that the first few days for personal reasons and when I did get to it, other scenes were quickly taking shape, so rather than write them all in full at risk of getting so caught up in one that I forgot others, I decided to write scene descriptions.
But I did begin with what I had and sketched The Event scene much like an artist sketches a potential subject. I kept the sketch brief, but included all the big details.
From that point I worked backward to what I thought was the beginning of the story and forward through subsequent scenes. I described whatever scene came to mind, not bothering about where the scenes might appear in the finished story. My mantra was simple: Write it down and move on.
At the end of the day, I’d written 3,560 words of scene descriptions. I added a few more scenes the following day.
I worked for three days on The Candidate and although I skipped from one thing to another, progress was made. Nearly 5,000 words of progress.
Remember I mentioned in the introduction that the intuitive writing process is prone to jumping from one thing to another without warning? The Candidate did just that on the fourth day of work when I started the day with the approach of the bad guys. Join me next week for their story.
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