NaNoWriMo is two days away and counting down. If you’re going to use the month of November to write a draft of a novel, now is a good time to sketch out ideas so you’ll be prepared to dive in when the clock strikes midnight.
In the past, I’ve been tripped up when I started to write because I wasn’t grounded in the key elements of my story. A basic framework will propel you towards your NaNoWriMo goal.
In my last post, I wrote about choosing your novel’s story question. Today, consider how you can sketch out the setting of your story — the environment where your story takes place.
Besides geographic location, setting details include information about the time period your story occurs. What time frame does your story take place in — the present? Future? Past? Some novels take place over years and some the space of several weeks.
In your notes about setting, consider the time of year and the weather. Sometimes these details can drive your story in new directions and create complications that add conflict. The weather can also contribute to the mood and tone of a story. Your setting can even become another character in a story and create momentum that drives the action. Read more
When reading other authors’ novels, do you ever find yourself skipping over the setting descriptions? I do. If that description goes on for more than a few paragraphs or, God forbid, a page, I’m annoyed.
I know some bestselling genre novels do this and get away with it, I think, because of the big names of the authors—they come from an earlier time (you know, when raptors roamed the earth). But, after a few weeks, they seem to fall off the list. Those books that tend to stay on the list for weeks and weeks (I’m thinking books like The Help and Water for Elephants), don’t annoy us with pages of dead description but have learned how to tell us what we need to know when we need to know it.
One way to keep your reader engaged in your story is to make sure your setting is active. Instead of dropping big chunks of setting description in your scene—which may have been all the rage when Jane Austin was alive but is a sure way to bore your reader to death now—is to drip in bits of description and to “make it active.” What do I mean by that?
The easiest way to explain is to show you a “before and after” example from my work-in-progress: Read more
In literary agent April Eberhardt‘s short story workshop at the recent Pacific Northwest Writer’s Contest, she gave us a list of six elements to look for in stories.
Eberhardt suggests that we write our story first and then overlay these six elements on it to help polish our work.
Six elements of short stories:
Setting. Set the stage close to the beginning of the story. In my earlier post, I quote poet Nelson Bentley, “Give the readers a place to stand, and then you can take them anywhere.” Read more
Ever read a novel that you were really into and then suddenly hit a dry patch of description that made you start to nod off? I have. If the story is really good, I might put up with it and skim over those parts. But if the story isn’t stellar, the author is in grave danger of losing me.
I used one of author and writing teacher James Scott Bell’s tips when I began writing my memoir. Though I grew up in the small town featured in my memoir, I visited the area again once I started writing the story, snapping pictures and traipsing through back roads.
Through research and immersing myself in the location, I discovered interesting facts about our town that I didn’t know growing up. It was helpful to go back, because as an adult and a writer, I have a different perspective.
Bell has produced a short video on how to make your setting and writing come alive. He gives tips for turning your setting into a character.
What is your work in progress? If you’re thinking about what to write next, consider this: Write the story only you can write.
1. Did something happen to you when you were a child that stuck with you your whole life? A distinct memory that is decades old but feels like it happened yesterday? Mine this memory and figure out why you’ve held onto it all these years. Maybe it’s a question you wrestle with. Ask what meaning it holds.
2. Make a list of turning points in your life when something changed your direction, you lived differently, or looked at life in a new way. Turning points could include starting a new career, getting married or divorced, losing someone you love, or making a geographic move. Times of great change fuel inspiration. Read more