Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

NaNoWriMo: What I Learned

What an exciting (but exhausting) adventure was NaNoWriMo last month! I had a fantastic time writing my 50,000 words in less than 30 days, and learned a lot during the process.

Getting to Know My Characters

There were surprises in getting to know my characters. This story (orphans Jay, Poppy, Robyn and Blu stand only a few inches high and live in a tree; when their home is threatened with demolition they become refugees overnight) was one I have carried in my head since I was a child.

In my head, Robyn was always my main character and very lovable.

On paper, Jay – in his quiet, unobtrusive way – took centre stage early on and stayed there. And I was okay with that, if surprised. Robyn turned out to be quite selfish and lazy though she had good qualities too.

In my head, Poppy was very much a bossy big sister, a bit stressed, rather controlling.

On paper, I found Poppy intriguing. Like Shrek, she has layers, and I enjoyed the process of her allowing me to peel them back and find the real person beneath. Actually, I think she was quite a lonely and misunderstood character, often taken for granted by her siblings. She also took me completely by surprise with her archery skills when a fox raided their camp late one night. I didn’t see that one coming!

getting-to-know-characters

Just Go With It

A big part of doing NaNoWriMo for me was having fun getting to know my characters and letting them take over the story. For the first few thousand words, I wrote and they did whatever I told them.

But what a thrill for me when they suddenly started to think for themselves and do what they wanted.

The showdown came when they were fleeing the destruction of their tree home. I wanted them to hike through the woods. They thought escaping down river was best. We argued on and off all night. They won. And I’m sure the story is the better for it. From that moment onward, I let them take charge and simply followed where they led.

Leave and Start Mid-Scene

More experienced writers recommend leaving mid-scene when finishing writing for the day so that you have something exciting to come back to. I found this very useful. Initially, I switched off my laptop at the end of a scene, but found it much harder to get going the next day.

When you leave mid-scene, it’s easier to get started and keep going because your imagination is quickly stimulated.

Writers’ Block

A writer-friend recommended giving your characters emergencies and issues to handle when you’re stuck for where to go next with the story. I did this a lot. My poor little fictional family! But it was fascinating to see what they did with the various problems I threw at them and how well they coped.

Thankfully, this prevented me from getting writers’ block and from feeling like the story was flopping in the middle of the month.

Writing Buddies

With all my fine resolutions, I may not have started NaNoWriMo if not for my writing-buddies who spurred me on. On Day One, I wrote nothing. It was pretty daunting being faced with a mountain of 50,000 words in a month. But my friends emailed to ask how the word count was going and encourage me to get started. On Day Two, I began to write.

Thank you Janey, Wendy, Fiona and Angela 🙂

 

4 Comments

  1. What fun you had! Glad you found and used the ‘leave in the middle of a scene’ technique 🙂

  2. Janey Clamp

    04/12/2016 at 7:05 am

    Well done., again, Mandy, This experience will shape you as you continue to write. You’ll never forget it, and if you do, just look again at the certificate!

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