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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

73: What's been up with NaNoWriMo

Updated: Jun 12, 2023


Howdy! I do NaNoWriMo (writer's knock out 50K words of a manuscript during the month of November) every year. Used to be, I completed the word count with a week to spare, during which I continued on, because my stories trended between 60-110K. The last few NaNo's though, including camps, I've barely hit my word count before concluding the story. I think the problem is, with the manuscripts I've fully edited to the extent that I'm comfortable querying/submitting them, is that those finished stories were floating around my skull for months, years in Light Step's case, before I decided to write them down. What stories I've knocked out early drafts of, but not finished editing, were ideas I hadn't spent as long fleshing out. This NaNo, I picked an inbetweener story to work on. One I've thought about on and off for months, but not years. With the exception of my and my family's memoirs and some unwritten fan fics, I've written the stories that had years worth of planning.

The story I'm working on now is basically a New Englander's take on One Hundred Years of Solitude (so fabulist, not magical realist, as there aren't strong anti-colonial themes and the characters descend from England) and Tuck Everlasting. The plot centers around a secluded colonial family who have the tree of life. Now, I originally intended to tell the story from the perspective of late offspring, who've moved on from the island, leaving immortality behind. I went the epistolary route, so the manuscript is currently a series of written records, the letter from the last man to leave the island, his son, the son's professor, and then I was thinking of including snippets of letters from prior ancestors to each other.

The problem is, I like to tell stories in order. I'm not a fan of bouncing around a timeline, and while I totally acknowledge that can make sense when a past memory being revealed too early will take away from the drama of the present. Fine, yeah, whatever. But I want to tell this story in the chronological order. For that to work, the ancestors letters need to be included earlier on, and plot-wise, that would be difficult. Another issue is that the main letter encompassing the history of this family was being written to the narrator's wife. But I want to include the story of how the narrator got to know his wife. The letter could be written to his wife and son, as my husband suggested, but I think that would make the opening paragraphs clunky. It's easier to be passionate with the equal who know you best than the dependent you strive to make a good impression on.

I'm too far in to re-work the structure drastically and complete my word count by the end of November. At this rate, I'll just make the word count in time, and that'll involve drawing out these letters more than might make narrative sense. If this was flowing, I wouldn't mind the manuscript being a Novella. Maybe the book doesn't need to be a novel. But, it does need to come together in a way that feels natural and I don't know that the letters serve that purpose. I'm debating introducing the main character, his present circumstance causing him to share the history of his family, and the fact that he's writing it down, before lunching into the tale as a third person narrator. That's always charming when the story has fable like qualities anyway. It comes down to preference, but I enjoy a third person narrator for stories with a bit of whimsy, coincidence, and magic. It doesn't work as well for a serious tone, or one dealing with teenage romance, but romance isn't the point of the plot, really.

Ah. I'm frustrated. I really thought this story was going to feel less forced that other recent writing projects. The setting being so far from home, time-wise, is probably a major factor. I get side tracked with how the characters are feeding themselves, growing plants and keeping their livestock fed, when they have such little land. How can they live in seclusion for a century of more, and not starve? Not run our of candles? And before their seclusion, what was their contribution in town? With what did they trade? How did they make money? Who were they close to? Who did they butt heads with? Why?

Because the timeline and place lines up well enough, I've been naming characters after relatives in my own family tree. When I'm done with this draft, I plan to learn more about how folks got by in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, how people survived in lighthouses, and how they'd have been impacted by, say, the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, the Civil War, etc. There are some aspects of the timeline I can't tweak too far in either direction, namely that the son, the youngest character of note, would have to be writing his professor in the 1960's so it makes sense that his photographs of the island would be in black and white. I plan to hide a detail in one of the pictures, which the professor will draw attention to in a future letter.

Though, if I move away from the epistolary style, and instead write it as a third person narrative, then I could simply describe what details the professor recognized from the photograph. It is cheaper, easier, and takes less memory, to create a book that doesn't have any pictures inside. The epistolary route needs that picture. The third person narrative can do without.

And so it goes. This project is a slog. I hope, being more informed about the time periods involved, will help me see the scenes better. I should also get back to practicing poetry, to force me to not be so literal with every physical description, and maybe to push the emotions expressed in each scene. Always good to have a goal. I've got what, five manuscripts I haven't succeeded in fully edited yet? Let's finish something new.

I hope your NaNoWriMo project is going more smoothly than mine! Thanks for stopping by. I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

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