As of last night, I’ve written a bit over 25,000 words on Ex Urbes. That’s the halfway point in terms of NaNoWriMo, although I don’t feel that I’ve reached the halfway point of the story itself at all. Given how… not very good the story is, though, I’ll probably be pulling it to a stop at the 50K mark, wherever that ends up landing story-wise.
I’m not much of a plotter or outliner, and so my stories tend to be written very much “in the moment”: this happens, then this, and oh, this other thing as a consequence. This style of writing has its upsides and downsides. First, a few of the negatives.
- Complicated plots are hard. If there are a bunch of stories interacting, with characters moving between them, you’re going to want to have at least an outline to work with, tracking where everyone and everything is so that you don’t have massive continuity issues.
- It’s easy to get lost in the weeds. My stories have a bad habit of turning hard into tangents, as some idea takes me away from the actual thing that is happening for a while, until I fumble around and go, “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing about that.”
- Length ends up being pretty random. Sometimes what feels like an epic story gets told rapidly, because I haven’t thought up enough detail to make it the length it should be; other times, what should be a short bit of detail ends up a rambling diatribe. (See above.)
There are quite a few positives, though:
- My stories surprise even me. For example, I thought this particular one was going in a very specific direction; I even “stacked the deck,” so to speak, in an attempt to make that happen. But as of this most recent chapter, the main characters involved basically told me: No, that’s not what’s going to happen here. Instead, this. Which is fascinating. There are several stories I’ve written where I put something in early, for whatever reason, and then it ended up vital to a later part of the tale through no conscious planning on my part. That feels like magic when it happens.
- The plot tends to feel organic. Oftentimes the parts I have planned beforehand have to be tinkered with because, once you get to them, it turns out that they don’t fit; characters have revealed their motivations to be different, the world is turning out slightly differently than that particular beat needs, and so on. Because I do as little of that as possible, though, the path through the story ends up feeling very natural on rereading. Which makes a lot of sense, because it matches what I was doing in the moment when I was writing: following the most natural path for the story itself.
- It is very well suited for NaNoWriMo. I expect that I can write a well-plotted lengthy story, but that sort of thing takes care and effort that I don’t really have to give during a month-long sprint to the finish. Making it up as I go along? That I can do. I’ve only ever managed to write one heavily plotted NaNovel in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, and it was terrible. The plot also ran out less than a third of the way through, so I ended up having to wing a huge chunk of the story anyway.
Every writer is different and every story is different. I mostly write for myself during NaNo; I know that the quality of my output is hampered by the constraints, and so don’t concern myself overmuch with how consumable the end product is. I think that’s a smart decision, but I can also see how it’s holding me back. I really need to work on a story without those constraints, one that holds together from the start, and NaNo just isn’t the place for me to do that.
Maybe next year.