Thursday, 1 November 2012

Do You NaNo?

It's that time of year again folks! NaNoWriMo otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, the aim is to write a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. You can start at 00:01am on the first of November in your local timezone and you can keep going until 11:59pm on the thirtieth. The idea is that everyone has a novel inside them, you just need a little bit of motivation (and competition) to get it out. The focus is quantity not quality, editing is for December, just get the words on the page and keep going.

I first learned about it back in 2004 about a week into the madness, but thought I'd save it for the following year and quietly completed my first NaNo attempt in 2005. I've done it every year since then, winning every year except last year when I was trying to do it by hand and didn't have internet access for most of the month.

On two occasions I've managed over 100,000 words on a novel; two consecutive years I wrote a crime story, the second year rewriting the previous attempt based on the original notes I made. It remains unfinished but it's quite possibly the best NaNo story I've ever produced and I've got a funny feeling it may come back out again at some point in the future for a third go around.

This year I'm going for a story which I got the idea for during an OU tutorial way back in 2009. We were talking about Philosophy and the idea of an 'Experience Machine' which you could enter into and experience only good things and whether you would be able to learn or grow in that environment. I spent a fair bit of time planning it as a story but kept pushing it aside to work on other stories, then Inception came out and I shelved it for good.

Until now, that is.

Theodore Finch lives a perfect life; he's got a perfect job, a perfect house, a perfect wife and a perfect daughter. Everything is good, it's always been good and it always will be good, he's not sure how he know's this, it's just the way life is.

And then he wakes up.

Suddenly he's a frail middle-aged man with a wasted body, stuck in a rehabilitation hospital for 'Machine Junkies' those strange society outcasts who prefer to spend their time hooked up to Experience Machines to live out their fantasy lives. He's got to come to terms with the fact that his wife and daughter do not exist and learn to live in a world he has shunned for twenty years.

But it's not that easy. There's something sinister happening within the Machine network; a virus has been unleased, people have been reported missing, and maybe his wife - Sarah - wasn't the Machine creation he was led to believe. One thing's for certain, the only way Theo is going to get to the bottom of this mystery is to go back into the Machine, and there's no guarantee he's going to be able to get back out again.

I'm quite looking forward to getting started now. I've tried two different approaches to writing NaNo over the years; there's the 'seat of the pants' method (where you go in with little to no planning and just hope the story unravels as you go along) and then there's a more organised method where you plan everything out. I like a mix of the two, as much as I'd love to be able to just jump in on November the 1st, I just can't do it. I need to have an idea of where I'm going and how I'm going to get there.

I've found the best approach is to follow a vague plan. For The Experience Machine I broke the story down into five chunks (each giving me 10,000 words), then each of those chunks into five (giving me 2,000 words for each) and each of those points into two, so I've got a plan of fifty points each one coming in at around 1,000 words. It makes it nice and easy to keep track of what I'm writing and how I'm getting on towards my word count. Plus it means I know more or less what's going to happen at each stage of the story, but as each point is no more than one sentence long, it gives me plenty to play with so I've got a little bit of 'seat of the pants' approach going on - but it's one I've planned for.

I'm still not entirely sure how The Experience Machine is going to end. I've got two possible endings, I might even write both and see which one I like more. I'll probably post updates (and maybe even extracts through the month) to show how I'm getting along.

I'm trying out a new approach this year as well, traditionally during NaNo I aim for 1,667 words per day, which means that you can finish on track on the 30th. The system I've found this year is named 'The Reward System' and means that each day you can write a little bit less. The month begins with 3,346 words and with your word target each day decreasing until the end of the month when (if you've stayed on track) you'll only have one word left to write. I think this'll work for me better than my past approach because I can get ahead at the weekends and coast during the week - the first few days will be trickiest, but that's when you've got the most momentum.

Whatever method I take in the end, I'm looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

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