Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo and the Snowflake Method

November is known by many writers as the birth month of first drafts. National Novel Writing Month has always seemed like a very fun -- if not stressful -- idea to me. While I have often weighed the benefits of joining in, I've ended up skipping out on the event for the last two years. There's always been something else in the way. I've been too pressed with work, too bogged down. But this year will be different. I'm going to give it a shot. If you're running the gauntlet as well, be sure to add me to your friends, my user name is BradyBones.

Is this the first time you've heard about NaNoWriMo? Well, simply put, it's a writing event spanning the entire month of November. The goal is to write 50,000 words during that time. There are varying degrees of involvement you can subscribe to. Perhaps just knowing you are joining the cause along with countless other authors around the world is enough, maybe even all you have time for. But if you need to feel like part of a group, to get and give support to your comrades, you can participate in forums and even join regional groups. For some, this support network is the true spirit of NaNoWriMo, and the networking resources to be gained are worth the effort. And the writing? Icing on the cake.

What happens if you fail to produce 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th? Nothing. The world will not end. You won't be pointed out or ridiculed. In fact, you'll most likely get a pat on the back. Your 20 or 30,000 word effort will be yours to keep! And if you succeed, if you meet or surpass the milestone with your first draft intact? More of the same, really. The congratulations of your peers and the knowledge that you were able to meet your goals is yours for the taking. I can think of nothing short of publication that would fill a writer with more pride than setting a seemingly impossible goal and deadline and then rising to the task.

Does your novel have to cut off at 50,000 words? Not at all. In fact, 50,000 words is considered to be on the lower-end of the spectrum for novels. Some writers choose to omit minor scenes for their first draft, others opt to set their word goal without modifying the pretense of how long the piece should be. Either way, a finished draft that requires fattening up or a draft that is 50,000 out of 70,000 words is still an incredible milestone.

It's a good idea to start out your month of writing knowing where your novel is going and who your characters are. A tip from the leader of our now defunct Speculative Fiction writing group referred me to the Snowflake Method touted by novelist and theoretical physicist, Randy Ingermanson. Hey, I took physics in high school and Mr. Yahne's class was one of my favorites, so I'll bite.

The Snowflake Method is a way to develop the premise for your writing, work up the backgrounds for your characters, and expose the gears of how your story will unfold. It promotes character-based progression and helps to grease the gears of your plot to ensure that the engine of your novel will purr. In short, it is a method of outlining.

There are, of course, infinite methods of outlining and it may or may not be appealing to your style of writing. At the very least, I would recommend checking it out, even if you don't intend to work an outline into your routine. With the post-dating of this entry to my blog to mark the start of NaNoWriMo, it may be too late to go back and outline. But even today, two days before the event kicks off, I found it to be an illuminating read, one that I will likely refer to after my draft is complete to help organize my novel and give it more definition.

I will admit, I pulled up the page and intended to read it several times. But after working all day staring at a computer screen, I just couldn't convince myself to go through it. It wasn't until I finally printed it out and tucked it into my bag that I finally got around to giving it a read. Even then, it was on my second trip to the library as an intro into starting my writing. In the end, I'm glad I took the few minutes it took to read through it. What's more, aside from the paper and ink, it didn't cost me a thing!

Who knows... maybe I'll break it out a few times during November while I'm writing to remind myself just how much work I've already got done. I don't have an outline yet, and there isn't a whole lot of rhyme or reason to what I do have. But I've got my two very rough chapters, my notes, and the voice recordings I captured when my fingers didn't feel like typing out the waterfall of thoughts gushing out of my head. It may not be as intrinsically beautiful as a snowflake, but it's a start.
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