Lessons from NaNoWriMo Part Two: Do the Impossible Thing

Picture Sheldon Cooper leaning on the doorframe: “I’m baaaaaack!”

This is the second post on lessons I learned from doing NaNo this year, which was definitely the rip-roaring adventure I was hoping for. These lessons are not necessarily new or life-changing, but they’ve made a big difference for me already and hopefully there will be something here you can relate to as well.

Today we’re focusing on adding twists, turns, and layers- taking what seems like an impossible connection and making it probable. Technically, this is something you can add in during revisions, but I’m a big believer in writing a very fast but as complete as possible first draft, because for me at least the adding, subtracting, and polishing process is much more painstaking and slow than trying to get it close to right the first time.

It’s easy, usually, to figure out who is going to do what in the book. Many times it fits very naturally into specific character’s arcs and needs to occur at a certain point in order to move the story forward. I’m encouraging you not to stop there.

There are a number of questions I asked myself as I drafted and again as I revised, which really helped me incorporate new ideas into the book and make it a more interesting story.

Question One: Who is the most unlikely person to do this?

Just ask yourself and see what you come up with. Will it be more difficult to explain? Yep. Will you potentially have to add, delete, or completely change characters? Yep. But asking this question 1) makes your story much less predictable, and 2) can lead to fascinating discoveries about the history of your characters, their relationships with people you were dismissing as marginal players, and even whole subplots. It can also help resolve other issues, such as another piece of plot that needed shoring up and can be strengthened by incorporating the thread of motivation early on.

Question Two: What kind of stakes do I need here?

Few people act without reason. People are heroes of their stories. People desire. You need to know what is at stake, not just for your MC, but for the people who share the journey with them. If they’re mentioned in your story, they must have some role to play, and the fact that their lives intersect with your MC’s means they must have some kind of thoughts about what he or she is doing. What do they stand to gain or lose?

Question Three: What motivations are at play?

Motivation, in my mind, is not the same as stakes. Stakes can be as simple as winning or losing, but people will have any number of reasons why winning, or losing, matters to them. Some are in it for glory, some for power, some out of love, some out of hate, some because it’s the only way they know to be. What motivates a person can inform you about the stakes, but beyond that it can help you decide which of your unlikely people has the motivation to be involved in whatever the issue at hand is.

The kinds of questions that you ask yourself, both in drafting and in revisions, are keys to unlocking the depths of your story. The ones above will hopefully help you dive a little deeper and tug out threads you didn’t expect to find.

What kinds of questions help you challenge easy answers and add depth to your book?



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