Sunday, November 17, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Bump the Slump

The following was originally written for the Fear of Writing website back in 2010, and still rings true today. Now that the South Jersey Writers' Group is in the midst of NaNoWriMo, I think this might be a good time to unearth this nugget. Notably, since its writing, I am now on my eleventh year of NaNo-ing, and have finished three times. Enjoy, and be sure to check out FoW for great writing resources and inspiration.

You jumped right into the NaNoWriMo full tilt midnight Halloween night, didn't you? Your fingers raced across your keyboard building worlds, breathing life into characters and tangling them all into intricate plots. You roared ahead past five thousand words, ten thousand words and even twenty thousand words. However as you cooled your creative jets and eased into the next ten thousand something began to happen. Something bad.

You ran out of steam. More specifically, maybe you got bored with your story, maybe the characters no longer appeal to you, maybe you are simply blocked. You have hit the deadly NaNoWriMo mid-month slump. How do you get out of it? Do you just give up? Toss what you have and start again? The answer is simple really. Just shake things up a bit. Or a lot.

An old writing question, used when the author is stuck, comes to mind - what is the worst that can happen? In many cases, and many writers will tell you in all cases, the worst is what must happen for optimal drama and suspense. The wife finds out about not only the husband's infidelities, but also his other identities? Do it. The company goes bankrupt. Do it. The speeding train suddenly loses its brakes. Do it. Superman caught at ground zero of a kryptonite bomb. Yeah, do it. Whatever bad can happen, make it the worst. Characters are defined by what they can and cannot overcome. Do your worst.

Of course there are other ways to spin it, spin being the operative word. Throw a monkey wrench into your story, something wild, something unexpected. Make it fresh for yourself as well as your readers. Think about Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn, think about it hard, and pretend you never saw any previews for it nor knew the surprise twist. It begins as an action thriller about two serial killer brothers on the run, and would have worked beautifully as such, had Rodriguez let it. But then halfway through the film, it almost inexplicably becomes a vampire flick. That turning point, that one, out of the box, crazed moment makes the film. That's what you can do with your NaNoWriMo.

Throw that monkey wrench hard. Surprise your readers. Shock your readers. And, bottom line, get out of that slump and make the writing interesting to you again. Most of all, think out of the box. Is your protagonist boring you? Kill him and find a worthy (or unworthy) replacement. Send your Gothic romance into outer space. Are there zombies in the backyard seen through the window of your kitchen sink drama? Flat tires happen to everyone, and broken down cars can end up anywhere from haunted mansions to mad scientists' labs to that creepy old house from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And where did that dinosaur come from?

Don't laugh. Crossing and blending genre is the state of the literary mainstream these days. Rarely does a book have one single genre. I say Harry Potter, and you say fantasy, but we all know it's really about growing up, and racism, and fascism. What about one of the biggest bestsellers of recent times, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Is it literary? A thriller? A mystery? Heck, arguments could be made for the romance or cyberpunk genres as well. Mix and match, folks, you never know what you will get.

The bottom line is, when you get stuck, think outside the box, shake things up, go wild. Make your NaNoWriMo exciting for yourself, and it will be exciting for the reader. Now keep writing!

About the author: Glenn Walker is the Membership Director of the South Jersey Writers' Group, Associate Editor of Biff Bam Pop!, and a French fry connoisseur. He gets his nerd on at The GAR! Podcast, and dreams of Disney on The Make Mine Magic Podcast. You can read his short story, "Live to Write, Write to Live" in Strange World available here.

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