Friday, November 15, 2013

When Novel Characters Go on Holiday

It's November, which is also called National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, which is also called, How to Torture Yourself by Writing Fifty Thousand Words in Thirty Days or HoToYoWriFiThoWoThiDa. As a number of women in my author's group were joining in, I figured I would try it, too. It would be good practice for me and, who knows? Maybe I'll end up with one of those surprise successes and be the next J. K. Rowling.

First things first. I had to figure out what to write about. This didn't take too long. I went thirty-four years into my past and decided to write a novel based on my experiences working in a deaf/blind preschool. If nothing else, there were plenty of quirky characters involved. I remember the psychologist who came to the school to offer his advice and ended up talking mostly about the good old days when one could use electric shocks and other aversion techniques. It still makes me shudder.

Next? There wasn't really time to plan anything else. Suddenly it was November 1st and I had a word quota of approximately 1670 words per day over the next thirty days. I've learned a few things about writing in this way:

If you're working towards a word quota, always spell everything out. One thousand, six hundred and seventy counts as more words than 1,670. 

Don't go back and read what you wrote. You'll be tempted to delete something and that will take away from your word count.

Keep tea and chocolate on hand at all times.

Don't over think your writing. The characters sometimes just say what they are going to say. This is called, getting into the flow.

I was doing well with this until yesterday when one of my characters started to yawn. What's the matter, I thought, is my writing really so boring? He yawned again and I started yawning, too. It was contagious. I decided we all needed a day off. I announced this to my characters and let them know I would expect them back promptly the next morning. A couple of them cheered.

This isn't a new concept. I first learned of the secret lives of book characters when I read "The Eyre Affair" and "Lost in a Good Book", both by Jasper Fforde. The characters in these books travel around and generally do whatever they want to do at those times when they aren't needed for the story until page 178. 

If you haven't read these Thursday Next detectives stories, I would highly recommend them to anyone who enjoys intelligent literary humor and having your brain tied in knots while you try to figure out what's going on. Even if you read it just for the bookworms, who sometimes have digestive trouble and start farting apostrophes whi'ch make' eve'ry'one' tal'k li'ke thi's, you'll be glad you did.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the characters in my story. I decided they needed a break just as much as I did. It paid off. They were all back and ready to go to work today. Nobody yawned. I didn't ask them where they went or what they did. I figured it was their time and their business.

We're definitely back in the flow.

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