Writer Productivity: Seven Narrative Writing Tips For NaNoWriMo Success

by @thewritermama on November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo is upon us! Time to get productive, writers, so you can write better.

Because, let me guess, you don’t want to write 50,000 words of junk?

I can help. Here are seven simple tips to help keep your future readers happy:

1. Write the climax first. If you know where your story is headed, then why not write that climax scene first? You’ll learn a lot, including what info you’ll need to convey before your reader gets to the climax. Takeaway: you’ll likely waste less time writing chapters you don’t need, once you know where your story is going.

2. Always include movement. Two people sitting talking stiffly is not something your reader is going to sit still for chapter after chapter. Remember: you need your reader to sit still, not your characters. For ideas about how to keep your characters in constant motion, take a peek at TV shows like The West Wing. This is a show that could have been incredibly boring. After all, it’s about bureaucracy. And yet, there is never a dull moment on The West Wing thanks to masterful storytelling by Aaron Sorkin. You want to keep your readers reading? Then don’t ever let your characters sit down.

3a. Take the reader on an adventurous journey through your story. Storytelling is a journey. It’s an adventure. Every moment of the telling is heightened. Every detail is electric and alive. Over-dramatizing mundane moments is not the same thing as heightening what’s naturally dramatic. The drama will come through your writing naturally when you know you have a story worth telling. So take some time before you begin writing to think about your story as a journey. If you want to tell a good story, it helps to be familiar with archetypal stories like The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers enlightened all of us about the Hero’s Journey back in the late eighties, with a little help from our friend, George Lucas, and his archetypal tale, Star Wars. If you don’t know about the stages of the Hero’s Journey, you should familiarize yourself with them before you start your novel. Chris Vogler wrote a book on the topic called The Writer’s Journey, maybe check it out after NaNo is done.

3b. But don’t forget the feminine journey. If you are writing a novel with a female heroine, you might want to consider that the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey might not be the exact same story. Human potential leader, Jean Houston has said that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the archetypal female adventure story. I think this is worth thinking about. I found some interesting notes comparing Dorothy and Luke by student Elisa Sparks at Clemson University posted in September 2000. Some good food for thought there before you set out on your journey to write about a journey. Writing is a journey, but remember, your readers don’t need your journey in the story. Just your main character’s journey. So above all, let your main character have a story worth telling. And then focus on the job of telling that story from beginning to end.

4. Let objects move the story forward. If your story is going to take place in the real world or a world of your creation, then we need to see that world. And we can’t see it, if you don’t give us anything to see. Objects create live, 3-D action, simply by offering images our mind can recognize. So if you find yourself moving too rapidly through space and time or filling page after page with voluminous dialogue, why not establish a few key objects right at the beginning of every scene, so the reader will feel more grounded in the reality of your story?

5. Use a rough outline but don’t be afraid to abandon it. To use an outline or not to use an outline, that is the question. My suggestion is both. Use an outline and don’t use an outline. How else will you have a general sense of your story unless you have an outline? But don’t follow your outline religiously. Be willing to take a detour or write off in an unexpected direction. The reader likes surprises. And so does the writer. If you are surprised, follow that thread and see where it goes. Since you will be writing for 30 days anyway, don’t worry about going off in surprising new directions once in a while. It’s all part of the fun of story writing.

6. Write scenes. If every chapter you write during NaNo is a scene, you might very well have real a novel by the time you are done. And a readable novel at that! A scene simply means people in action in a place. What will you start with? The people? The action? Or the place? Why not try to start with action every time? You can always go back later and fill in anything the reader absolutely needed to know as needed. In the meantime, you will finish NaNo with a whole bunch of excellently written chapters that you may be able to string together into a real, working novel down the road.

7. See it! Imagine a writer, hunched over her desk, frantically scribbling, then scratching out, then crumbling paper and throwing it across the room. This is the image of the archetypal writer that we have inherited from our culture. Forget that writer. Lift up your head and look at a blank wall. Stare at the wall until you can begin to see scenes of your story unfold in front of your eyes. When you can see some scenes, write them. Write them by hand or type them out quickly. You want to get your word count done for the day? Then don’t write what you can’t see. See if first, and then write like mad. Conversely, if you can feel it or hear it or intuit where your story is going, this works just as well. We are not all visual thinkers, after all. What I’m getting at is, abandon the tortured curmudgeonly writer archetype, in favor of the alert, engaged creative soul who writes by senses that are alive and productive.

All it takes to “win” at NaNoWriMo is a couple-few hours of writing a day. And this is exactly what successful authors and novelists have always known and done.

Want to write a novel or a book? Step one is write the story.

Step two is write your story, the way only you can write it.

Why not you? NoNoWriMo is set up to launch novelists.

This year it might be you. Have fun and then try again next year.

Happy NaNoWriMo-ing, writers!

• • •

The Writer’s Workout, 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques From Your Writing Career Coach is written by Christina Katz for Writer’s Digest Books. For sale everywhere quality books are sold, including: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, IndieBound and Writer’s Digest. Listen to the introduction. Download an excerpt from Scribd. Get motivated by The Writer’s Workout Motivational Poster. Ready to get your career into shape? Let’s write the future…together.

Previous post:

Next post: