Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Almost the halfway point.

Hi everybody!

November's a busy month around these parts, too-- I try to get as many things wrapped up before Thanksgiving as I can, so this last full week before the holidays is a mad rush of sending out submissions, wrapping up contract negotiations, and general desk-clearing.

It's tough to get a lot of people's attention between Thanksgiving and New Year's. There's a lot going on outside of work, and even though publishing doesn't party at the holidays like it used to--a friend of mine tells stories of champagne fountains ("tell me again about the rabbits, George!") at a publisher's holiday party-- it's still challenging, at most publishers, to get enough people in a room to make a decision about whether to acquire a manuscript. This presents the risk, from my perspective, of an editor's enthusiasm for a project cooling off before the bosses have had a chance to weigh in. So, with some carefully-thought-out exceptions, the tenor of my job changes quite a bit at that time of year.

But if things feel hectic for me, I can only imagine how the NaNo participants among you must be feeling, staring down the barrel of that 50,000 word count, with a little over two weeks to go. (Okay, that was mean. Sorry.)

If you're proceeding "chronologically" through your manuscript (writing page 1, then page 2), as a client and I were talking about this morning, then you should be near the novel's half-way point. Given the pacing of NaNoWriMo, it's not a great idea to do much editing as you're cranking out the pages, but if you can avoid switching your "inner editor" all the way on, you might give some thought to the pacing in this part of your story.

I wrote, briefly, in my first NaNo post about what I and a lot of others call the "flabby middle," that plague of writers everywhere, the primary symptom being that the story runs aground for some chunk of time. Imagine an Agatha Christie novel in which Miss Marple stops searching for clues for a little while, and instead describes her current knitting project for ten or twenty or thirty pages. (I might actually like that, but I am a knitter, and I have eclectic taste.) The knitting part might be pretty interesting, and it might be beautifully written, and it might be true to the character, but if it's not moving the story forward in a meaningful way, it should be frogged.

Here's a suggested first-draft technique for avoiding the flabby middle: write a one-sentence summary of each of your chapters. Simple as you can. Doesn't matter if it would read as very cryptic to someone else. If you get to a chapter description that reads like "Character goes away and thinks about what just happened for a while," then that's probably going to read like a flabby middle, unless that character makes substantial progress of some sort during the scene, and unless there's no other (more active!) way for that progress to take place.

Do you have any techniques for avoiding the "flabby middle?" Got any battle-of-the-bulge horror stories? And what's your word count?


Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

30,237!!! :) e

Kara said...

WOW...Elizabeth! I have word count envy! I have about 20K snippets that don't quite fit together. Which is fine. (See me, trying to convince myself that this is fine?) The good news is, I have a solid idea. NaNo helped me find that solid idea, and I am going to now take my time (rather than try and pound out 30K in the next two weeks) and grow that idea into something decent. Not a total waste :D. Plus, Other Things Of Great Importance have crept their way into November. Concentration is at an all-time low this week!

Jessica Brockmole said...

Only 15k over here. I am definitely going at a slower pace this year, partially through outside forces and partially through an inner editor more overactive than usual.

I like your idea for checking whether your middle is starting to sag. I do something similar, a one-sentence summary to see how active each scene/chapter is. Also, I try to aim for ending each chapter on a high note, which I think keeps me heading towards a particular mini-goal.