Essential writing skills: summing up the secret to writing that NaNo novel

In the past few weeks I’ve been outlining ways of planning for that elusive ‘first draft’ of your novel – which is what National November Writing Month is really all about.

Photo I took of some essential writing fuel I was about to consume...
Photo I took of some essential writing fuel I was about to consume…

Go check out those posts, if you haven’t already. If it’s done right, that draft should be a good basis for developing into a saleable novel without too much re-casting. The principles, just to recap, are:

  1. Plan first, write later.
  2. When making that plan, everything pivots around the ‘character arc’ of your lead character – this is what drives the narrative. Yes, you need subsidiary characters with their own arcs; but it’s best, certainly when on a learning curve, to focus on a single lead character. Keeps things simple.
  3. Planning doesn’t mean ignoring ‘seat of the pants’ free-flow writing; the two work together – the plan gives the structure and the ‘pantsing’ provides the creative spark to flesh it out.
  4. Don’t get too hung up on the specific wording in this first draft. The key is to get the structure, pace and flow right first – in short, broad strokes.

Working to that general plan should make it possible to knock out a 50,000 word draft in thirty days. It will almost certainly read badly – the usual issues with swift drafting are passive language, repetitive phrasing and vocabulary, and a general feel of ‘clunkiness’. But that’s not an issue – that is what word processors are for.

The more crucial part is having the right elements in all the right places; getting the character arc right and being able to tie the plot to it in a series of waves that maximise the tension at the pivotal point where the character arc resolves. As we’ve seen, that lead character arc acts as a very determined editor; using it as a tool, you can judge whether a scene or sub-character is extraneous or not.

What’s next? Cleaning up that wording and applying a suitable writing style. Of which more anon.

But before that, there’s the practicality of actually hammering out that draft. Which is a challenge in itself, not least because of the need to keep the pace going.

More soon. And meanwhile, get writing…what are you waiting for?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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5 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: summing up the secret to writing that NaNo novel

  1. I’m sitting here, fingers poised, heart racing ready to start writing. Then I start thinking that I can’t do this. I have my plan, my character’s arc….

  2. I shall have to try NaNoWriMo sometime…I’m in the midst of a 2nd draft of a novel right now, but maybe some other year. There’s something intriguing about the whole process of writing a first draft in a month…it’s bound to be crap at first, but you’d definitely see the whole picture when you’re working so fast. There’s something to be said for that.

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