‘National Novel Writing Month’, or NaNoWriMo, is a challenge to write a novel in one month. It happens in November every year and the aim is to write 50000 words. I decided this year to give it a go, after meaning to for the last few years – I never had any intention of trying to get it published, or even of showing it to anyone. It was more an exercise for myself! I’m not doing very well at keeping up with the challenge, and I’ve decided I don’t really like my attempt at a novel so far. The chances of me finishing it are fairly slim – especially because I want to enter a couple of essay competitions in the next couple of weeks, so I won’t have very much time!
I thought I’d write about some of the things that I was trying to do with my novel and problems I was coming up against that I tried to solve. I’m not the best writer, and I’m certainly not very experienced at writing fiction, so other ‘actual’ writers, published or not, can probably offer better advice!
One of my main issues was not being derivative – when I started writing, I wanted to write a novel with an unreliable narrator, and one where the truth seemed elusive. I have recently seen Don’t Look Now and the film of The Little Stranger, and earlier this year I watched the Netflix adaptation of Alias Grace, having read the book a couple of years ago in Whitby. That was the kind of vibe I was going for – I don’t think I managed to achieve it! Often the tropes around unreliable narrators end up being ableist or misogynist or racist, or a toxic combination of all three, and I want to avoid all that, obviously.
I also didn’t want my main character to become a self-insert – I think it’s both very tempting and quite easy to do, but it often comes across (or at least, when I read books it does) as a bland and lazy option. There is a line between writing what you know and your book just being about you with a different name!
Diversity is also important – I think representation should probably be explicit, and there’s not much point in retconning a character as LGBTQ+, for example, if you don’t put it in the text (hmm, I wonder which series of books I’m thinking of…). I also want to leave room for the hypothetical reader to bring their own imaginations and perspectives to it. Writing fiction does seem like a huge and paralysing game at times – I wonder if my idea would work better as a short story, or part of a series of short stories.
My way forward for now is to take a few days ‘off’, partly to focus on other bits of writing and partly to give me some breathing space to work all this out! I’m very unlikely to reach the word count but I’ve enjoyed the challenge so far, and it has definitely given me lots of food for thought, especially regarding why I like the books I like and don’t like thw ones I don’t.