Whipping Your NaNoWriMo Story Into Shape

NaNoWriMo is almost outta here (and I feel many participants in this annual event are mighty glad). Several will come away from the experience with 50,000 words that hopefully resemble a story. I’m here to congratulate you if you’re one of them (I tried but was derailed the day NaNoWriMo started – in a good way – by an agent’s phone call).

I’m also here to tell you that the fun has only just begun. Get out your pom-poms and make sure you have plenty of what you need on-hand (such as beer/wine/chocolate/ice cream/sin of choice). You’re going to need it for what comes next, because you’re not finished.

On December 1, you’ll still have a work in progress (WIP) on your hands. That’s because even though you’ve achieved the required 50K, your story still needs a massage. We’re talking the deluxe spa package that includes proofreading, copy editing, rewriting, more editing, beta reading. Oh, the list goes on! Did I hear a beer can pop open?

What I suggest, if you’re one of the lucky ones with a story in-hand, is to give it a rest for a few days and then read what you wrote. Keep a red or blue pen in your hand to mark areas of concern. And really – REALLY – look at your first three chapters, with a preferable emphasis on the first five pages of the whole enchilada. That’s because those are the ones that make or break your hook on the reader.

Next, feel free to chop away copy as necessary, even if this brings your word count back under 50K. There are no deadlines anymore, only a story that needs the right kind of pruning to grow the tree big and strong. Take out “hamburger helper” words and tag your dialogue sparingly. Check for transitions between paragraphs and inconsistencies with character names, dates, and places. Ask yourself if the pacing seems natural, and whether your point of view (POV) is correct – nobody likes first person jumping to third and back.

After the culling of crud, feel free to add copy as necessary to help your WIP flourish. Once you have something you feel satisfied with, send it over for a beta read at a writer’s forum such as Absolutewrite.com. Feedback is invaluable, and allows you to hone your story and tighten it until there is no give. Only then should your WIP move into the category of “finished.”

Don’t get out the bubbly and brownies yet, though. NowYouQuerMo. Enjoy!


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