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Nov 24, 2012

NaNoWriMo Tip #24: Signs Your Novel Is Waving Red Flags

Beyoncé leads a post-apocalyptic revolution. In lingerie, as one does.

These are my personal tips for NaNoWriMo. You know the drill. Take only what works.

Writer’s block is almost always a red flag warning you about some problem with the novel. (The only other cause for writer’s block is severe personal stress, which may be negative, like a divorse, or positive, like a move, but either way absorbs all your mental energy. However, that’s outside the scope of these Tips. If you are in such a situation, give yourself a break and take care of the issue first.)

One of these red flags, and one that I’ve faced many times, is Ignorance. You sit down ready to write a scene…it’s right there in your outline… it should be no problem. You lift your fingers, like a piano prodigy, to wrest sweet story music from your keyboard, and…


The scene is not working because there’s something that’s stumping you. For me, it’s often something like the place and time of the scene. Sometimes it’s a deeper problem though. Occasionally, it’s something god-awful like a Plot Abyss At The Heart of the Whole Damn Book. (Shudder.)

Here are a couple of typical problems waiting to ambush you:

1. Logistical Problems.
Logistical issues trip me up all the time. This should have been ironed out a long time ago thanks to prepping my Map and Calendar, but I may have (1) neglected to do that, or (2) changed some critical thing in the plot that makes the map or calendar obsolete or (3) realize as I sit down to write the scene that what I planned so carefully was completely idiotic. It makes no sense, but I’ve already written the previous scenes that way, and now how am I going to make sense of it? Are they on the West slope or the East slope? Is it day or night? Is she wearing pants or a skirt? Are there five or seven goblins, and are they armed with spears or swords?

It’s amazing how much trivial crap like this can mess me up.

2. Character Issues.
A worse problem occurs when I’m about to write a scene and realize that I have no idea why my character is doing X. Usually that’s because I don’t know my character well enough—he’s a minor character, perhaps, there for plot purposes, who is still a cipher to me—or because I do know my character, and know he wouldn’t do X. Yet X he must.

Deep inside, the Three Laws of Wribotics won’t allow me to harm or by inaction allow harm to come to the basic integrity of my Character’s character, so if I command myself to do so, my head implodes.

3. Plot Holes.
A third kind of problem is the inverse of the above. I have some marvelous scene in which my characters have an exciting and dramatic conflict…and no logical way to include it. My plotroad has more plotholes than a country lane.

The absolute worst case scenario—and I have weathered it and lived to tell the tale—is if I realize that the entire premise of my book makes no sense at all.  Now, it’s in order to spare you this Horror From Beyond that I’ve suggested outlining your novel a thousand different ways before writing it, to discover any such Abysmal threats long before you’ve written 35,000 words. But. Maybe you didn’t listen to that, or maybe you somehow overlooked the Gaping Chasm of Logic until now by sheer blind stubbornness.

If any of these situations has befallen you, first let me pat you on the back and reassure you.

There, there. It’s all going to be okay.

It can be fixed. All you have to do is apply the Universal Remedy for all Writing Problems. Okay, chocolate, but that’s not where I was going. I mean, of course, brainstorming.

Most plot holes can be plugged with chocolate.

Sit down and brainstorm the logistics. Consult your map, or, if you skipped that stage, you bad child, draw one.

Sit down and brainstorm about who this character is and what motivates him. If he would never do this, ask what would make him do this, or what he would do instead.

Sit down and brainstorm the plot possibilities.

As always when you brainstorm, throw out the first few cliché and obvious ideas. Don’t take the easy way out, either.

1. If your problem is logistical, don’t leave it vague and hope no one will notice.

Example: “Julie wasn’t sure how far she ran, but soon she reached the gas station…”

Julie can be unsure how far she ran, but you should have a clue.

2. If your problem is character motivation, don’t insert an inexplicable mood swing.

Example: “Normally, Julie was hard working and never broke any rules, but today, for no reason at all, she decided to smoke weed on the pier while shooting pigeons with a BB gun.”

The reader will assume you are being ironic, that Julie is actually lazy and slightly wacked, not that she is normally hardworking. This works only if you are trying to be a smart aleck. Or if you have established a damn good reason for Julie’s character to change so dramatically.

3. If your problem is plot, don’t use coincidence, chance or deus ex machine.

Example: “Half way through the fight, Julie suddenly remembered her third grade Hapkido classes and defeated the five ninjas. She rushed to the computer. How would she break in? Suddenly she remembered her seventh grade nerd boyfriend who had taught her and how to hack high security government computers.” 

Just because a bunch of Hollywood B-movies jump off this cliff, does that mean you have to do it too?

If you prefer these Tips as an ebook you can buy it here for $0.99:


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