Off the beaten path: NaNoWriMo Writing Tips

by • November 22, 2013

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Guest post from Matthew Quinn

It’s been said that everybody has got a book in them, but in these days of the big publishers consolidating, the small presses overwhelmed with submissions, and truly vast offerings available via self-publishing platforms like Kindle Direct and Smashwords, it’s more important than ever that people’s work stand out.

So here are some tips to make your NaNoWriMo project pop:

Draw your reader in. Noted science fiction author Ben Bova had a friend who edited movies for late-night television. In one episode, Bova had the hero throw a punch and then went to a commercial break; the film resumed with the bad guy being hit. This is how chapters should end, since the end of a chapter is often where the reader gives up on the book. Remember the Hardy Boys novels? Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger — and although this may be overkill, when used in moderation it can help maintain reader interest.

Funnel time. Consider writing early chapters in your novel to cover longer periods of time, while later chapters may cover progressively shorter periods. Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain is a great example. It’s last fifty pages cover a race against time to defuse a complex’s nuclear self-destruct device.

Be descriptive. Stephen Hunter’s Dirty White Boys is a great example of detailed writing. Passages such as, “a large dragonfly flashed in the sun” or “a starburst had fractured the left lens of Ted’s Ray-Bans; blood ran in a snaky little line from down the obscured eye” are descriptive examples of how an author can bring text to life. Be sure to use all five of your senses — authors tend to rely heavily on visual. Rather than repeat, “It’s cold,” describe many different things associated with the cold — including a character’s breath steaming on the air, the crunch of snow beneath his boots, etc.

Avoid characterizations. Villains should not be mindlessly evil, but have distinct motivations and personalities. Remember the credo, “Everyone is the hero of their own story.” For example, General Zod in the film Man of Steel wants to save the Kryptonian race, while in the musical Les Miserables, Inspector Javert believes himself to be enforcing law and order (both by hunting the fugitive Jean Valjean and infiltrating the student rebels to spy on them).

Engage the environment. In the novel, The Killer’s Game, the hero accidentally shoots a nearby electrical transformer. This leads to lots of sparks, dangerous loose cables, the lights going out, etc. that complicate an already-tense situation. Whether you’re writing a fight scene or a love scene, make sure that you think about the unique environmental complications that can make your story more vibrant.

All of these things will help your NaNoWriMo project shine. But don’t forget the most important thing of all — write! It’s better to write and revise later than write so slowly that you don’t get the project done.

About the Author

Matthew W. Quinn blogs at The World According to Quinn and has several stories available on his Amazon author page. Those interested in free samples can check out his Viking horror tale “Nicor.”

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