This year was my first time entering the international 3 day novel writing contest. Most of the people reading this already know that it’s a contest where the contestants have to write an entire novel over labour day weekend.
If you don’t want to read this whole thing I will break down my experience for you in something that takes 3.7 seconds to read.
- Saturday: “This isn’t too bad. I can totally finish a book in three days.”
- Sunday: “Holy crap. There is no way on Earth this book will be finished unless someone else writes it.
- Monday: “I’ll have to cut out a lot of scenes and wake up before the sun to start writing but if I type until my fingers bleed I’ll be able to finish.”
Pages Not Words
I was told that the measure of the entry was taken by the page instead of the word, something I’m not used to. When I heard novel I immediately thought NaNoWriMo‘s 50k length and I wasn’t sure that was possible for me. Then I found out that it was measured by pages and that they were expecting between 90 and 150 pages.
That was more doable and I already had a strategy. The more dialog I used the more white space I would have and the more pages I would end up with.
Flexible Story Line
Then I realized I already had the perfect story idea. It revolved around a kid waking up, not knowing where he was, and then trying to find his family. The fact that he didn’t know anything and that the audience didn’t know anything was perfect. They could discover things together.
That’s what it started out as but then I decided it wasn’t interesting enough for me so I reversed everything and had the 12-year-old protagonist the only one who could remember anything and the rest of the characters lost there memories and identity because of a virus that swept over the planet.
That was cool to me. Now the protagonist was looking for a family that couldn’t even remember their own names.
I have a habit making my protagonist all the same so I named this 12 year old Nolan after my most mischievous nephew. Every time I typed his name I thought “how can Nolan get into trouble?” It was a solid way to keep my character consistent.
The structure of the story was also set up in a way that it could be as long or as short as needed. I knew where Nolan’s family was and what he needed to do to find them. They were simple accessable steps that also built into a solid climax.
In the mean time Nolan was surrounded by unique characters in an interesting setting. Each character had a clue to the climax or added another layer to the depth of the novel. Before the start of the contest I made a list of characters and how they would
interact with Nolan. It was like built in story events.
It was a perfect balance of structure and freedom. I don’t think I would have finished my novel if I’d gone with another story idea. I don’t know if I explained it well but trust me. When my book gets published (by me or if I win the contest) I’ll write a follow up post with more specific examples of my strategy.
Don’t Write on Sunday
I learned more than I thought I would during the contest. It was on the last day of that I had my best writing day yet. My previous best was only 7k but on the Sunday of this contest I wrote 13k and I still had more in the tank. I only stopped because the story was done and I needed to start editing before I submitted it. Now I know what I’m capable of so I can push myself more for NaNoWriMo.
I could do the same story in two days. My story ended up being 28k. 13k on monday 11k on saturday and only 4k on sunday. Sunday has always been the worst writing day for me. If I do it next year I’m not going to write on sunday. It’s just easier. Sunday was the most stressful day and had my worst writing. If I lose the contest it will be because I wrote on Sunday.
I Heart Dialog
I also learned that I love writing dialog. After the contest I’m going back to my other projects to make the dialog better. There is so much you can express through people just talking to each other. I mean I thought I knew how important dialog was but it has become incredibly more important to me now. The struggle for effective dialog is something I look forward to.
Boring is Boring
Unique characters are so much easier to write than normal characters. Kind of a duh thing to say that I learned. Feel free to judge me; I know I judge me and I know I can just go back and delete that last part but I’m too lazy to do such things. Sometimes I’m guilty of thinking all my characters are interesting or that if I make the protagonist too weird no one will want to read it so he has to be a normal everyday man. Characters with quirks that are believable and unique are a thousand times more interesting and easier to write than normal average characters. It doesn’t matter what they are doing. Boring characters doing exciting things is still boring.
3 Day Breakdown
So to sum things up I loved this contest. It was way more fun then I thought it would be. The weirdest part is how quickly you can go from awesome highs to depressingly antagonistic lows. Those quick changes are one of the funnest things about the contest. I will definitely think about doing it again next year and if you haven’t done it before you should think about doing it as well.