NaNoWrite – Tips to Help You Focus by Deborah J Ledford

Okay, so you’ve made the decision to join thousands of other writers for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2011 project. I thought some tips to help you focus might be helpful.

1) STAY FOCUSED:  Nothing is more frustrating than losing focus and veering from your original story idea. In an effort to eliminate any confusion, write a Logline that merely answers: WHAT IS MY STORY ABOUT? 24-30 words maximum. Think of it as a TV Guide blurb. Print the description out in bold font and keep it close at hand. This description should be fused in your memory so that you may respond to the often dreaded request: “Tell me what your story’s about.” By committing these lines to memory, you fuse their reality and make your works an achievable goal. At the start of each writing day, read the Logline so that you may focus your thoughts on what you originally intended to achieve.

For example, here is the logline for my latest novel SNARE: One rock star sensation. Two men from her past want her dead. Three others will risk everything to keep her safe. Who will be caught in a trap?

This is the logline that kept me focused while writing the first book in my Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series STACCATO: Three world-class pianists. Two possible killers. One dead woman. Who is her murderer? Who will be next?

2) KEEP MOVING:  If you’re stuck on a chapter—move on to the next one. Make notations as to where you are stuck to remind yourself where stumbling blocks raised their wicked head, dismiss them for now and start another chapter. Keep moving!

3) VISUALIZE REAL PEOPLE:  It often helps to visualize performers speaking your lines of dialogue. It will also help you “see” these actors employ mannerisms and quirks which make your characters come to life. www.imdb.com will help you research performers you have in mind. Take a look at their films or TV programs and put them in your scenes.

4) CHARACTER SKETCHES:  Even minor characters should be thought out fully. Create a character breakdown indicating what each character in your piece is about. Quirks, hobbies, downfalls, character flaws, likes/dislikes are all instrumental in creating “real people”.  Create a breakdown of each of your characters. One paragraph is sufficient for minor characters, but major players should be detailed to the extreme. You will find that by writing two pages of text about these people you will know them better and be able to convey their reality to the reader.

5) BRING EACHCHAPTER FULL CIRCLE:  Each chapter should be a short story within itself. Consider if all elements you have included are necessary to advance the plot. Do you really need a flashback within the chapter?  If flashbacks are too long you risk tricking the reader into believing the flashback is playing in real time.  Do you really need to throw in that extra character?  Focus the scene (chapter) where you want to lead the reader.

6) CREATE A HOOK:  One of the most important elements to integrate is a hook at the end of each chapter—no matter the genre. Your main goal is to get the reader to NOT quit reading. If you reveal a cunning chapter end, chances are, they’ll be compelled to turn the page.

7) AVOID EXTRANEOUS TAGS:  If it’s evident who is speaking, cut the HE/SHE SAID tag at end of your sentences. Chances are the reader is going to skip this qualifier anyway.  If you stay true to what your character is saying, their dialogue (in many cases) will reveal their identity. Instead, throw in a bit of action—what he/she is doing or reacting to in order to keep the scene active.

8 ) KEEP A DAILY RECORD OF WHAT YOU HAVE WORKED ON:  Use a Daily Planner to notate word count you have composed at the end of your day’s writing. This is also great to notate details pertinent to your work. Keep this “journal” for your professional output only. Be sure to do a word count when you finish writing and notate this on your planner—think of it as your cookie at the end of the day.

9) TELL PEOPLE YOU’RE “WORKING”, NOT “WRITING”:  Laypeople don’t understand writers or what we actually do. They do however understand “work” and can process this delineation much better. If a family member or friend calls and asks what you’re doing, merely state: “I’m working.” That usually does the trick.

Congratulations on making the commitment to complete an entire manuscript this month.

Deborah J Ledford’s latest suspense thriller novel SNARE, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, is book two of her Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series. STACCATO, book one of the serial, is also available. Both novels are published by Second Wind Publishing.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “NaNoWrite – Tips to Help You Focus by Deborah J Ledford

  1. Great tips for those trying to write a book in a month, and even more apropos for those trying to write a novel over the course of several months or a year. That’s when it’s particularly hard to stay focused and particularly easy to lose track of what one is doing.

  2. Right, Pat. I keep these tips in mind whether I’m working on a short story or a full-length novel.

    • I hadn’t thought about the tips in terms of a short story. I have to write a story for the upcoming Second Wind anthology, and I can use all the help I can get. It’s been a while since I’ve written fiction of any length.

  3. Wonderful pointers! When I was in a pinch to finish my last book, I wrote 14,000 words in less than a week, in addition to doing edits. I haven’t tried the NaNoWriMo yet, but it’s a great challenge.

  4. Whoa, 14,000 in a week! That’s outstanding, Christine. I haven’t ever had the need to participate in NaNo either but admire those who have finally decided to take the plunge and actually write a manuscript, rather than merely wish they would.

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