Walking Through Novel-Writing: November’s Last Step


Hi again, folks. I suppose this is the last of the walkthroughs here before National Novel Writing Month ends. I’d like to think people who’ve made it this far in NaNoWriMo without declaring “look, it’s just been busy, all right?” are going to stick around after November’s over. But I know better. Still, hope this’ll be a good sendoff. Let’s see, where had we left last time?

Oh, yeah, protagonists. I’ve left them with the default names so far. That’s not because I like the default names, I just haven’t figured a name that fits them more exactly. When I have one, I just — here, see, you right-click above either’s head and there’s the option for renaming them. There’s first, last, nickname, familiar name, alternate nickname, there you go. If you’re doing fantasy you might want to use the option about True Name that does magic stuff.

Yeah, nobody ever spells out True Names in full, for the obvious reason. You don’t want an eleven-year-old reading the book to try ordering the character to appear. That just spoils the whole illusion that your magic scheme could be real and you don’t want to deal with a kid getting angry at you on social media. You never want to deal with anybody angry at you on social media, but against a kid? Mister Rogers could probably thread that successfully, but he’s been dead a long time. He lived back when tweets were sent by Morse Code to a back room of the local Post Office, where they were ignored.

Now, you see the option here of “no name”? Yeah, don’t use that. Nobody likes books where nobody has a name. The only time you can kind of get away with it is if you’re doing first-person. The logic of that works as long as nobody who’s standing behind your characters needs to get their attention. If you have characters who can sometimes not face each other then you’re stuck. No, it does not count if your character is a detective or spy and gets referred to by profession. Then, like, “Spy” or “Detective” or whatever is their name.

Yeah, there’s novelists who tell you withholding names gives characters a sense of universality. Or it conveys a sense of modern society’s detached atmospheres, or an unsettling air of unreality or whatever. Nobody likes it. You’ll never get to be the subject of a coherent book report if nobody’s got names. You won’t get to be anyway. But that’s no excuse to add another reason you won’t get to be to the ones already there.

Now — oh, good grief, now these guys are flashing back. That’s a mistake. They only just met earlier this story, though, and I don’t want it revealed they used to know each other. Couple fixes for this. First is in the flashback change the name of the secondary lead. Then I can make something out of how the primary lead keeps attracting the same kind of person into his life. You see where that builds a score on thematic resonances and cycles of life stuff. On some settings that also gives you points for deep background.

You can swap deep background points out for fan bonus content, though. Like, here, if I snip out this whole flashback? OK. I put in a line referring to it, and then dump the scene on my book’s web site as bonus content. This way readers can discover this and feel like they’re in on a secret. That’s how social-media networking works. You want to put something out so everybody thinks they’re in on something nobody knows about. An accident like this is perfect. It doesn’t even have to fit logically the rest of the book because it’s an alternate draft. If you do it right any scrap text you can’t use, you can use. It’s a great time for writing.

OK, I suppose that’s about everything important for this step. Before I let you go let me name the Comment of the Week. That goes to ClashOSymbols for his funny dissection of every author-reader interaction on the Internet, everywhere. He’s not getting any less wrong about second-person. But remember what I said about engaging with eleven-year-old readers? That’s explained in great detail under section 4.4. Enjoy and catch someone later, sometime. But when can’t I say that truly?


About The Author: are a couple of pillows, a John McPhee book he’s had to renew from the library already even though he hasn’t started reading it, and several glass vases he’s worried he’s going to knock over if he sits up or back even the teeny-tiniest bit differently from how he’s sat every single time in the past.

Walking Through Novel-Writing: The Next Step


Hi, everyone, thanks for being back for the next part of this novel-writing walkthrough. You remember last time my leads had gone off down the wrong street. It’s so hard to keep a book on track when the characters drift off like that. Plus, there’s the risk of them doing something that a reader knows is wrong, and the reader then tweets something snotty about you. So what, you say? Well, how do you know that the tweet isn’t going to go viral? And you aren’t going to wake up one day underneath an Internet Dogpile of people mocking your naivete? The public pressure grows until the publisher recalls and pulps every copy of your book, and then goes after you for the money. You’re left with no choice but to escape your home, leaving behind all your loved ones and all the belongings that don’t fit in your cargo pants. And you have to flee to some obscure Canadian province where you eke out a bare living by working as an off-season basketball hoop. Then things get dire the second day.

But. Here’s how I’m going to double down and turn this accident into bonus points. See that? Second lead mentions how, you know, this is the part of town where Jonathan Lethem set most of Chronic City. Main lead didn’t know that but admits he never read it. Second lead reflects how he never read it either, he just heard this was the area. They shrug and get going back to where they should’ve been. Little detour is good for, like, 125 points total.

Why? First the obvious stuff. I get to mention a more popular author’s book, but not in any way that makes me look envious or sour. Readers who’ve heard of him now know I heard of him too, and they like me more because they figure we’ve got stuff in common. Even if they hate Lethem, that’s OK, because I point out the characters didn’t read him. More subtly, now, the story looks like I’ve used its specific setting. Major bonus in making the events feel grounded in reality. I get that even though if you look you realize I haven’t actually referred to any real details.

And if I have the reference wrong, I have a built-in excuse right there in text for getting it wrong. Even the most hostile reader has to agree, characters can get wrong details about books they haven’t read. Doesn’t say anything about what I screw up. Finally, having them talk about a book they haven’t read makes an echo of their talking about quantum mechanics they don’t understand. Almost nobody reading it going to pick up on that. But it adds this nice extra underpinning of security to the story.

You know, I bet this is all good for up to 150 points. Well, that depends on your scoring system. I use the one I’ve always used, some algorithm that was built into emacs back in Like 1994, because it’s too hard to learn another. Some madman exported it to a separate PHP script in 2002 and I’ve been using that ever since. And yeah, there’s this patch that’s supposed to let you use the 2009 revisions to standard story scoring but I’ve never gotten it to work reliably. You can score by whatever your word processor uses, or a web site if you’re doing this competitively. I mean my points and that’s enough for me.

So we’re getting near the end of this installment. Before I go, the Comment of the Week is a special one. In subthread BlooPencil had the happy discovery that Cat Rambo is a well-regarded editor and writer of science fiction and not a novelty tumblr full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. I want to thank everyone for whimsical comments on that. And for the novelty tumblr you put together full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. That’s the sort of loving and creative community everyone wants the Internet to be for. Keep it up, gang.


About The Author: Though he has never had any work produced in the movie or television industries, Joseph Nebus has seen aquarium animals with names that are compatible with their being Arrested Development references.