How I Wrote a Novel, Part Two

(continued from part one)

National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo to its participants, occurs every November, with the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Quick math: that’s 1,667 words a day, about 5 double spaced pages. When you break it down like that, it doesn’t seem all that bad, does it?

What, just me?

Alright, I know I’m not your average guy–or person for that matter. I like complicated things. Really complicated things. My wife says my leisure activities are more complex than most people’s jobs. She’s probably right. My favorite books are thousands of pages long encompassing hundreds of characters involved in intricate interweaving plots (Lord of the Rings, Song of Ice and Fire). My favorite video games take hours of dedicated gameplay over many months to unravel all the deep lore and nuance of the designers’ vision (Elder Scrolls, Zelda, Civilization). My favorite board games cost over $50, take hours to play (or an hour to take your turn), and involve great strategic thinking and planning (Axis & Allies, Agricola). My ideal movies are hours long, with artsy camera work, strange plots and lots of quiet reflection afterwards (The Fountain, The Thin Red Line).  I like my music to be multi-layered, in odd time signatures, busy, and out there (Genesis, Yes).

So, write a book in a month? Game on.

October 2010 was planning time. The rules were that you couldn’t have any prose before Nov 1, but you could have an outline. I took all month to write a ten page outline and I also drew a map. (Fantasy books need maps, you know.) I had just joined a writing critique group, so I had 8 people who knew what I was doing. I told many other friends and family. I highly recommend this strategy: the more people you tell, the harder it will be to quit, because you will have to tell them.

Nov 1 arrived and I hit the ground running. I wrote during lunch at work, and at night at home. Sometimes it flowed so fast that I was done in an hour. Other days I had to stretch myself for 3 hours to get anything down. Sometimes I didn’t make the daily quota, other days I got ahead. I took Thanksgiving Day off. I kept a good pace. Here’s my actual chart:

National Novel Writing Month, November 2010

National Novel Writing Month, November 2010

Yes, I charted it. I’m a geek, so what? It worked though, because you notice the end there? Yeah, I did it. I won. 50,000 words in one month. Unbelieveable, right? You know what was even more unbelieveable?

I was only halfway through my book. Argghh.

For my own sanity, and my wife’s, I took a break. All of December. During that month I let my critique group take a look at the first chapter. I know, I know, you shouldn’t let anyone read your first draft. It really wasn’t that bad, though. I wanted to see what they thought.

They liked it. A lot. Praise felt good. Well, there was one guy who didn’t really like it. He’s been published before, I better listen, right? He came to the group after I started. He didn’t know the origin of my story. And what did he have to say?

“It doesn’t read like a novel. It sounds more like a role playing video game.”

Uh oh.

…Continued in part three

How I Wrote a Novel, Part One

My novel wasn’t a novel at first.  It began as a video game.


Since the mid 90’s I have always wanted to make my own Role Playing Game (RPG) in the style of my old-school SNES favorite Final Fantasy II (IV if we’re being true to Japanese numbering).   I still do.  Making games takes time, though.  I worked on learning programming over the course of many years, and only gave a little bit of thought to the story line.

A few years ago I discovered RPG Maker XP, and then the easier-to-use RPG Maker VX.  Wonderful tools, just a little too expensive and too short of a trial period.  But I started making something I really liked without the hassle of coding.  It was fun.  And lo and behold, a story emerged.

The demo ran out of time, but I kept writing the outline for the story.  That was fun too.

Then life happened. Depression happened.  Life ambitions fizzled, and with it my life’s focus.  A dark page.

I can’t remember why I started thinking about the old game, but it was around the summer of 2010.  I guess I just wanted to be creative again.  I looked over my notes.  It was pretty good.  Complex story.  A bit cliche, but standard fare for the RPG genre.  I remember thinking about the first task the game required: go to the temple cellar and kill all the rats (a deliberate cliche).  I remember picturing the lead character, Adain, swatting away rats with a pole, the weakest weapon in the game.  In my mind it looked like a movie.  Wait, what if I wrote it down like a story?  I hadn’t written fiction in 10 years or so.  But sure, why not?  I wrote a paragraph.  Wow, pretty good again.   Not bad for a depressed guy. But it sat for a while.

And then in October of 2010 I saw something that would change my life:  National Novel Writing Month.

…Continued in part two