mechanics

Now while the image of a greasy shirt, black fingernails, and a cough inspired by decades of car exhaust might be coming to mind, my title refers to the mechanics of writing not those of car repair.

I guess if you never think about it, writing a novel might seem as simple as starting at the beginning, describing the action that ensues, and then stopping when all has been said and done. There are novels like that, some quite good, but that approach is risky and takes a lot of talent. Writing mechanics can take some of that risk away.

The reason this is topical for me is that it's November and while that means Thanksgiving here in the US along with turkey and cranberry sauce, for a certain segment of the population it also means NaNoWriMo.

What's that you say? Well, NaNoWriMo is National November Writing Month. It's a very informal contest that requires a person to write 50,000 words--not really long enough to be a novel but don't get technical--within the month of November. With close to 2,000 words a day, this isn't about quality it's about quantity. And that's the unabashed goal of the contest. Quantity.

But just because quantity is the main goal, it doesn't mean that you can't do a few things to improve the quality or at least the appeal of the writing. Any writing be it a greeting card, newspaper column or especially ad copy needs a hook. Novels are no exception. You want to grab a reader in that first page, better yet, the first paragraph. Starting at the beginning isn't usually the best approach.

I know it sounds odd, but it's a lot easier to get a novel moving if you start near the end, or at least in the middle. You get a point in the narrative where there's a lot of action, then once the reader is hooked, you backtrack and explain how the protagonist got into the situation at the beginning of the book. Once you catch up to that initial scene of the book, then you rejoin the action and move towards the endgame of the book.

Another thing that helps is to have some thread going through the book that adds to continuity. It'll often have nothing to do with the plot. A book I read last year by John Sandford used a chart from Rolling Stone Magazine for this. The main character in the book had read the list of the top 100 rock songs and didn't like it. So for the remainder of the book he, and others he met, kept a running commentary on songs that should be on the list. A thread like this is also a way to allow the reader to bond easier with the central character. It's all good. :-)

More on this later...

Comments

magz said…
BINGO! most good post here dave, you nailed it well!

In my life, I'd probably started and abandoned at least a dozen novels, bogged down in dull detail, or lost in aimless development, or just confused about where WAS it really going, after all?

then last year, voila; NaNo. First time ever i quit worryin about writin perfect, and just wrote! It was fantastic for me that way, dont look back, dont edit, and it's so fresh in yer mind there's no fumblin for where ya left off, it just flows.

for me? the best writing i've ever wrote was with the least thought and planning, and i'm continuing in that vein. Go David go... NaNo yer brains out, and tell us where; i wanna read.
kenju said…
I don't think I have a novel in me.

Utenzi, the meme you tapped me for is up now.
Stacie said…
Hmmm I may have to check into this nano thing. If there is one thing I can do well,its go on and on about something...Stacie
Dave said…
quantity? dang, I've been working on quality! and you're right about the starting in the middle. my first chapter is the present with enough introduction to whet the reader's appetite, with chapters 2-4 or 5 a flashback to how it all began. but then as I wrote chapters 2 and 3, I realized there were things in chapter 1 I wanted to go back and change. rather than get bogged down now, though, I'm going to do that once I reach my 50K. I'm really having fun with this. best of luck to you in your own efforts!!
Ciera said…
this sounds most interesting, this contest. I could do that.

I think. Might help me to quit obsessing about my problems!
I_Wonder said…
Utenzi, are you going to write and post a short story -- perhaps a version that could be developed into a novel? I've been tempted to try some short fiction.
Michelle said…
Urrrrghh...this nanonano things going to be the death of me. I am already behind my projected daily word count and its only 4 days in!
Best of luck Dave :)
sophie said…
I'm a reader, not a writer--except for my blogging--of course. Which John Sandford?? I must have missed one.
Samantha said…
That sounds like good advise! All my life I've wanted to write a book, but it scares the hell out of me, as does fiction in general.
utenzi said…
Sophie, it's Naked Prey published in 2003.

Samantha, don't be afraid--just do it. Writing is like talking. You just have to work a little at the cadence of your voice on paper.
Lisa said…
I could probably write a comic strip.

I guess that's a little different.
margalit said…
Hello. Michelle sent me.

I'm writing a good 2500 words a day so far. Not enough, but I haven't run out of content yet.
mom on a wire said…
Hi, Michele sent me too. I can't believe how many people are doing NaNoWriMo! I think it's pretty much everyone but me!
mar said…
I truly admire people who can clearly put thoughts in writing. It's something I can't do (I try, though!). I could never write a novel , not even in my own language (Spanish). Interesting tips!
Aginoth said…
I don't thisnk I'd have the time for the NaNoWriMo...I spend to much time blogging :)

Michelle sent me today, but I'm linked to you anyway :o)
Oreo said…
Hi Utenzi, here from Michele's this time!
craziequeen said…
So, Utenzi - have you taken the plunge and registered for NaNoWriMo?

I have :-) god help me....

here from Michele's - again!

cq
Tara said…
Hi Utenzi, Michelle sent me.
But I'm glad she did. Great post. I haven't had time or brain capacity to write anything in years. Are you writing a novel this month?
Indigo said…
Hello, Michele sent me. I'm keeping track of your noveling, I'm writing a mystery as well. Will you be sharing?
Here from Michele's.

I should register for NaNoWriMo, but I don't know.

My wife got a great book (I've read only part of it so far) where the protaginist has autism and is written from his voice. I wish that I could remember the name of the book.
Marie said…
Damn-the bloggin world is small. I was at Michelle's and she sent me to visit my buddy Utenzi.
queenofsass said…
Have you taken the plunge then? I think you should write a scientific murder mystery. Think of all the technical terms you could throw out.
queenofsass said…
I would email this to you, but your email link is not working. Di & I are getting together this weekend...would you & girlfriend be interested in meeting us for brunch on Sunday? You can leave your response on my blog.
Hey, I was just here!

I'm here again, I still don't remember the name of the book.

I like the picture on top of the blog, though.
Chas Ravndal said…
dropping by to say hello to each and one of you
ribbiticus said…
very valid observations. maybe i'll take it up next time. :)
Chatty said…
many of my blogging pals are involved in this. I give you all credit. I just can't do it!

I am returning the favor and Michele sent me too!
poopie said…
Michelle didn't send me dickhead ;) I'm like Judy, I don't think I've got a novel in me. At one time I did, and I can do the quantity thing. In the end though, it's got to be about quality.
utenzi said…
Thanks for the clarification, Janie.
j00|{z said…
Thanks for visiting! I've never heard of NaNoWriMo before. I think I'll try it out. ;)
Starting near the end makes sense - I always have the toughest time thinking up endings.
utenzi said…
Any time, Joo. You've got a good site.
jayne d'Arcy said…
I love starting somewhere near the middle. That's probably why I'm more successful with short stories than with anything long. Each year in Nano I've written a little bit more. This year I'm trying not to concentrate on the word count, but just writing. It feels a little bit different.

Thanks for stopping by, Utenzi. :)

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