Diary of a starter novelist


Week four: Some progress, but same old struggles

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Patrick Vaillancourt is a political essayist and seasoned in the arts of non-fiction writing. His first book, a memoir, is scheduled for publication later this year. He is participating in National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, for the first time. 

This past month, I have discovered that writing a novel is really quite difficult. I consider myself to be a decent writer, but coming up with characters and a plot through one’s own imagination is a work of the mind more so than a work of the pen.

I am also resigned to the fact that, unless I write like a madman for the next week, I probably will not make it to the 50,000-word mark required to “win” NaNoWriMo. The fact remains that many of the main concepts for this project have not been wholly thought out, and while some of it is written, the task becomes more daunting when you have no secondary plots or conflicts to give to your characters.

Despite being behind, I will keep working on the project, with the hope that a breakthrough will simply take place and that I’ll be able to hammer out the details before the end of the month.

One of the major tasks this week was in getting to really know my characters. Getting to know them not only helps with keeping them consistent throughout the project, but also gives the writer much more flexibility in terms of writing about them. It has proven to be an effective way to pad the word count while also giving the reader a better sense of who the characters in the novel really are.

Whether your character has an obsession with blueberry jam or has it out for their high school math teacher, these kinds of tidbits of information will allow those who read your novel to better appreciate your story. Readers like to be able to relate, and so the more detail you include about your characters, the more likely a reader is to read and say to themselves “Oh! I’m like that too!”

Finally, the one thing I will be putting to use in the final week is to basically get everything on the page, from every ill-conceived idea to every unfinished snippet of dialogue. Some seasoned participants may be all-too-aware of this trick, but the first-time novelist does not, and that has been slowing my progress considerably. I need to keep reminding myself that the goal isn’t to have a finished product by the end of November, but simply a 50,000 word framework from which to build a finished product.