Ya smell that? Sniff past the heavy fragrances of pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and morning frost and you’ll catch it. The smell of nano prep season. What does it smell like? Since it’s a metaphor, it can smell like whatever you want, to be honest. But for me? It is the nostalgic and comforting smell of the library.
Throughout the year, but especially during nano prep, I like to peruse the writing section and see what jumps out at me. Even if the advice given doesn’t help or particularly apply to me, I always find that reading these books gets me good and pumped to take part in the writing process. And one of the major gems I found awhile back was Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques That Ensure A Great First Draft by Laura Whitcomb.
Just reading the title, the word ‘fate’ came to mind. Seriously, if I was watching a fictional movie about a writer who participates in a yearly novel speedwriting event and they just happened upon this book? That show better be a heartfelt, over-the-top comedy or else I’m calling BS. But luck would have that I DID happen upon this book when I participate in a yearly novel speedwriting event so bully for me!
The premise is simple and it’s all in the title: ten techniques for a better first draft. And it tracks because some of it is stuff you’ve probably hear before or even tried before (Chpt 8, Fast Track to Deeper Emotion). But hearing them in the context of a first draft and using these techniques to improve that draft may assist you in putting your mind in the right headspace.
I’m posting this semi-early in October so hopefully you’ll have time to check it out before the nano storm begins. Even if you’re the type who just likes to sit and see where your writing takes you (‘pantsing’ is what it’s called), some of these techniques might be a godsend if you get stuck (Chpt 4, Shortcut to the Scene was a freakin’ revelation, one of the many reasons I bought the book).
Shortcut to the scene is an exercise Whitcomb came up with themselves and breaks the scene down into separate components of: what happens, what’s said, and what’s felt. Just reading the way they broke down the scene helped me rethink the way I approach scenes when writing. Plus, it’s an exercise about writing lists and I love me some lists. It’s a really great and simple exercise and again, was the reason I knew I NEEDED to have this book as my own. Shortcut to The Scene is a chapter I will definitely come back to again and again this NaNoWriMo.
But of course, like with any writing advice book, your mileage may vary, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a content warning for rape for the mixed perception section of Chapter 7 Stealing Tricks From the Best. Mixed perception scenes are where you create tension or character development by making the action interpretable in more than one way. For the first scene given, as a reader it was very obviously a rape scene, no grey area, and with no warning, I found it very jarring. Whitcomb specifically talks about the action being perceived differently by CHARACTERS and not necessarily the audience (though she does touch on that a bit) so it’s a fairly okay example, especially when Whitcomb breaks down word choice and how it might differ from character to character. The first scene also pairs well with the second example, the perspective of a vampire who might view feeding on humans like killing livestock versus the victim who might view it more akin to rape.
This small section in this chapter is probably what I’d consider, at least for me, the weakest part of the book. And even there I found the advice to be sound and helpful.
Novel Shortcuts makes use of excerpts from many books as examples of scenes, techniques, or quality one may aspire toward. So be prepared for your reading list to grow after diving into this great book.
I highly recommend Novel Shortcuts. It’s organized well and the techniques are simple and brilliant. Familiar enough that you’ll feel comfortable diving in head first, and wide and varied so that each aspect of your book is touched (and hopefully improved upon).
Since there are only three more weeks of nano prep, I say head on over to your local library and give it a look for yourself.