National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges authors around the world to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Focused on writing a discovery draft of a novel, NaNoWriMo has local chapters and groups who meet up for write-ins, resources, and everything you can imagine — except for the actual writing.
Where does one start? As an author, structuring your story is one of the key elements in setting a strong foundation. Jessica Brody is an international best selling author, but she did not start out that way. She often speaks about being given Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" book by a friend and adapting the "15 Beats" to her writing and how it revolutionized her writing.
Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and Dine newsletters Although Blake Snyder passed away on Aug. 4, 2009, there is a group of people dedicated to sharing his principles, including Brody. She wrote "Save The Cat Writes a Novel" sharing the 15 Beat structure for fiction writing, as well as discussing familiar writing genres and tropes. Brody's work is referenced and used by authors and writers around the world and she is a strong advocate of the NaNoWriMo community.
I interviewed Jessica Brody on my WRUU 107.5 Radio show about "Save The Cat Writes a Novel," and asked her if she would do a follow-up Questions and Answers for NaNoWriMo authors.
Q: What is some of the advice you can offer for NaNoWriMo first time authors?
Brody: "My simplest piece of advice for all NaNoWriMo authors is also the hardest to implement, and that is: Don’t edit.
It seems easy but it’s actually very difficult. Especially for newbies. The thing about NaNoWriMo is that it’s all about forward momentum. In order to “win,” you have to write 50,000 words in one month. That’s a lot of words. It breaks down to 1,667 words a day and that’s a really hard benchmark to meet when you’re going back and changing things. Because changing words doesn’t add words and deleting words only moves you backward. So as much as possible, I urge writers to keep moving forward. Keep writing new things. As tempting as it is to edit what you wrote the day before, resist! Instead, keep a detailed To-Do list of revisions you want to make and use that list to revise your manuscript later. That way all of your energy and time in November is spent logging more of those 50,000 words and not tinkering with words that you’ve already logged."
Q: Can you please discuss the 15 beats skill set that people can develop for NaNoWriMo?
Brody: "Deep within the heart of every great story ever told, there is a “storytelling code.” It’s like the DNA of good storytelling. I’ve found this same code baked into novels written by (Jane) Austen, (Charles) Dickens, (Agatha) Christie, (Stephen) King, and all the novels at the top of the bestseller lists today. What is that code? Well, it’s structure. It’s what makes stories work. And what the 'Save the Cat!' method has done is taken that structure and turned it into an easy-to-follow 15-step blueprint or template. What my book, "Save the Cat! Writes a Novel," and my course, "Write a Bestselling Novel in 15 Steps," does is teaches novelists what that structure is and how to use to craft a story that is guaranteed to be compelling, engaging, and flawlessly paced."
Q: What is your imagination like when you are visualizing a character or a scene? Can you walk us through what it is like to look at it through your eyes? Can you translate how to move that from imagination into words?
Brody: "Scenes come to me in bits and pieces. Like a character’s thought or a progression of events. Sometimes a snippet of dialogue will pop into my head and I can hear the characters voices speaking as though they’re having this actual conversation in my brain. When that happens, I usually translate it first by using bullet points (just to get it quickly out of my head and onto the page) and then I flesh it out into a more complete scene. I find that using bullet points really helps me get it down quickly without getting bogged down with details and word choice and clever descriptions. I can quickly sketch the idea, like a painter might first sketch out a landscape with pencil before filling it in with colorful paints. Bullet points, like a pencil sketch, is a quick (and highly flexible) way to brainstorm. If you don’t like something, it’s easy to erase and try again because you haven’t yet committed yourself to tons of detail and effort."
Q: What is the goal of the discovery draft and the transition to editing?
Brody: "The discovery draft is basically the process of you telling yourself the story. Before you can tell the story to others, you first have to tell it to yourself. You may think you know what that story is — you might even have a full outline for it — but until you actually get into the thick of it and get to know the characters and the world, you don’t really know what the story is. You still have to discover it. The process of writing a first draft is that process. So, you really can’t expect for that first draft to be perfect, or even good! It’s just the discovery. You’re finding all the pieces of the puzzle, and only after you have all the pieces and you know what the story looks like as a whole, can you really start to assemble those pieces and make them work. That’s called revising.
If it helps, think of the whole process like doing an actual puzzle. Except you don’t have the box so you don’t know what the picture is supposed to look like — you just have a thousand pieces. So, you start going through the pieces one at a time. 'This one is an edge, or a corner, so I know that’s going to be part of the foundation. I can start putting that around the edges to hold the picture together. That one is blue, it looks like sky, I’m going to set it here for now with all the other blue pieces and come back to it.' You keep doing this, trying to figure out, 'what is this giant picture I’m creating?' By the time you’ve gone through all of the pieces and sorted them, you have a better idea. Maybe by then, you’ve found the box and know what the picture actually is. And maybe you’ve already crafted a good foundation (with the border pieces). So now, you can use that picture and that foundation, and start filling in the sky."
Q: What's new with you? What projects are you working on? Do you have a new release on the horizon?
Brody: "I’m just staying busy, busy, busy, always juggling a hundred things at once. Right now, I’m working on a new middle grade (project — it’s my NaNoWriMo project! It’s called "I Speak Boy" and it’s about a 12-year-old girl who discovers a magic app that can read boys' thoughts. It will come out from Random House in Spring 2021. But the next release for me is "Between Burning Worlds," the sequel to "Sky Without Stars," which is a sci-fi retelling of Victor Hugo’s "Les Misérables." It releases on March 24, 2020."
Learn more about NaNoWriMo in Savannah, "Save the Cat" and about Jessica here.