Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The First Month - Michael Palmer

I'll be starting my novel at midnight, the start of NaNoWriMo 2007 (see my NaNoWriMo post). With the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I also begin my No Shame Novelist project. November is Michael Palmer Month for the project. For those who don't know, Palmer writes medical thrillers, including The Patient, Miracle Cure, Natural Causes, and Extreme Measures. His website contains a detailed page of writing tips on every stage of the noveling process. Thank you, Michael Palmer! So, following along...his advice (which I will summarize - go to his site for his words) will be in regular type and what I'm doing for each step will be in italics.

1. His first step is to choose a "what if...?" question as a basis for the book. It should set up an interesting potential conflict.

I've already gotten this far in my no-shame novel. My question is: What if there were a secret gateway between a world inhabited by gnomes and a child's basement?

2. Next, pick the protagonist. What does the what-if situation call for? Does the protag need to be of a certain gender or age or background? What is it that forces the protag into the story? What does the protag have to lose?

My what-if scenario would work equally well with a girl or boy and I feel like writing about a boy. Because my intended audience is young but not too young to read a book of some length, I'll make my protag eight years old. I already know he will become fast friends with these gnomes after accidentally discovering them in his basement. Therefore, the logical thing he has to lose is his friendship with them.

3. Instead of writing a proposal, which Palmer says is more important for published authors wanting to write another book than for unpublished authors, I'll skip to writing an outline.

I've done this very minimally, without writing down any dialogue, but plotting the main action points from beginning to end in third-person present tense. To see Palmer's detailed outlining technique, see his writing tips.

5. The last element that I find relevant to this stage of noveling, though it's not the last on Palmer's site, is conflict. Conflict is what makes a story a story. Is there compelling conflict? Is there a resolution? Is there catharsis?

I've looked for and found conflict, resolution, and catharsis in my outline, so I'm ready to move ahead with the writing.

Note: My posts on authors' advice are simply summaries of my understanding of their words. I'll give you websites and book titles as we go along so you can go directly to the source.

The Authors

Some great contemporary authors have written books about the craft of writing or shared advice on their websites. Stephen King (see press photo above) wrote perhaps the most influential book of them all, On Writing. These are the authors whose advice I'll be following, one at a time, month by month, during the No Shame Novelist Project:

Michael Palmer
Anne Lamott
Madeleine L'Engle
Sol Stein
Stephen King
C.S. Lewis
Jodi Picoult
Julia Cameron
Robin Hobb
Dean Koontz
Judith Applebaum

I'll be in different stages of writing in different months, which means I can only use the featured author's advice on that stage of writing. The first three months I'll focus on getting the words on paper. The next three months I'll spend making revisions. More precise editing and polishing will take place the next three months, and the final three months will be about the publishing process.

Interlude: NaNoWriMo 2007

The first tool I'm using to write my novel is National Novel Writing Month. It's a miracle. Last year, 79,000 people challenged themselves to write 50,000 words in one month in the highly motivating company of each other. I've participated the last two years, and each year I came out of it with a 50K-word draft of a novel.

The rules are these:

1. Sign up to participate on
2. Begin writing November 1st.
3. Write 50,000 words before December 1st.
4. Embrace quantity, not quality. Just get those words down.
5. Upload your text to the NaNo word counter and get your count verified by midnight November 30th.
6. Rejoice in your crappy (but written) novel.

You can't imagine the carnival ride of NaNoWriMo until you've been on it.

Here's the Plan

If you'll stick with me through three sentences of relevant autobiographical information, I promise I'll get right to the plan of action. First, I've wanted to be an author since I was five years old, but after an unfortunately long battle with self-doubt, I find myself at age 30 with no published novel. Second, I ran track from middle school through college (it's more socially acceptable than writing books that no one's ever heard of) and reached two goals I never should have been able to reach: I became an All-American when my distance medley relay team got fourth place at the NCAA Indoor National Championships, and I was voted co-captain of my team. These goals were reached with a minimum share of talent and a maximum share of determination.

Now I intend to apply the same mix of resources to the goal I set when I was a little girl.

The plan works this way: Each month I'll follow a published author's writing advice while writing a novel. Instead of waiting to have faith in myself, I'll use another lesson I learned running track: When you feel like crap, put one foot in front of the other and repeat. During this writing experiment, I'll be following in the footsteps of others. When it's over, I'll have left a trail of my own.

You can do it, too. I'll post the tips and guidelines I'm following each month. Join me if it sounds like an interesting thing to do. If you think you're too busy or poor or untried to work toward your goal right now, you're wrong. You're as ready as you let yourself be. I have a potty-training toddler, a grad-student husband and supporter, two first drafts of unpublished novels, two rejected short stories, and a slew of untested ideas. Let's go!

Note: I don't believe fantastic storytelling can be acquired through lessons, advice, or tips, but I do believe perfectly readable novels can be written by people who just go ahead and do it.