This month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to all the cool kids). For reasons modern science cannot explain, I have decided to subject myself to this ritual.
I walked into NaNoWriMo with a nonzero amount of hubris that was quickly shattered on the rocks of reality. It’s not that I thought I was going to be an amazing fiction writer right out of the gate, but I honestly didn’t expect to feel like I was drowning. After all, I thought, the daily word goal for NaNoWriMo is 1667 words, which is about the length of one of my blog posts here. Turns out I’m a lot better at blogging about gaming than I am writing fifty thousand words that go together in some way about people that don’t exist doing stuff that didn’t really happen.
I’d even planned fairly extensively for the kickoff. I’d had a story idea I’d wanted to use for something for nearly a decade, and this seemed like a good opportunity. I downloaded Scrivener and proceeded to lay out the bones of my tale. I wrote little synopses for each chapter. All I had to do now was to fill in the blanks, right? YOU ARE BOTH HILARIOUS AND DEAD TO ME, PAST ME.
Venn’s Intersecting Diagram
After several difficult nights at it, I think part of the reason I’m experiencing such difficulty is that this kind of writing occupies a very different kind of headspace for me — although it’s very familiar territory. When I blog, I typically relate personal stories or talk about something that’s been on my mind. It’s almost always events that have happened already, or the end result of some soul searching — the common component of these being they’re past tense.
When I write fiction, it feels very much like I’m playing D&D, and that similarity isn’t not as simple as it might first appear. A great many of the skills I’ve come to rely upon as a DM have transferred over to writing a novel. I planned the shell of a story, except this time I don’t have to worry about my players doing something unexpected and wrecking it. I do, however, have to check the actions my characters are making to see if they make sense and evaluate what would probably happen. I usually find the most interesting story in a game of D&D results from when I try to either be an unbiased arbiter or lean toward whatever result would be the most fun. I don’t roll randomly to determine what happens in my novel, but it seems like a good path to follow when I’m stuck. I have a rough idea of the encounters (so to speak) my protagonists will face, though combat is predetermined by the way I want the story to go. It’s definitely difficult. Trying to organize a rough story for a couple hours of play is one thing. Putting one together that will take someone several sessions to finish is entirely another.
There’s also the matter of deciding how the story framework I’ve constructed plays out, and that’s when I have to make all these imaginary people do stuff and say things. This finds me roleplaying just as I would at the gaming table. It’s a little different (and a little freeing) in that I don’t have to worry about letting the other characters have as much spotlight as my protagonist or pissing off the other players somehow. I’ve been trying to put myself in each character’s shoes, drawing on their backgrounds and experiences, and make them act accordingly in the situation I’ve put them in. It’s hard sometimes to do with one character in the moment. It’s harder (and this seems to be a recurring theme) to do it with multiple characters at once. Oh, and that thing where I said I don’t have to worry about my players doing something unexpected to wreck my story? Yeah, it turns out I’m that player even when I’m running myself through my own story. I’ve looked through a characters eyes a couple times already and realized things are going to go a little differently than I planned. It hasn’t unraveled anything major yet, but (as any of my former DMs will attest), it’s coming. As surely as the sun rises in the East and sets in an uncomfortable position atop the back of the legendary Tarrasque, it’s coming.
So, the short version as to why is this so much harder than blogging?
As a blogger, I have one role. As a fiction writer, I’m acting as an entire table full of players like me and the poor bastard DM who has to wrangle them.
It’s really no wonder I’m exhausted.
At this point, finishing the novel by the end of November is looking less and less realistic by the day. I’m OK with that, as long as I finish. After all, the stories my players write during the course of an adventure are usually far more interesting than what I’d come up with on my own, and I don’t want to miss out on that.
I think I might need to go lie down.