National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo) is in a few days, and many of us are still scrambling around, trying to complete our plans before November 1.
Some #NaNoWriMo participants are feeling particularly confident right now. Maybe they spent the last few months plotting. Maybe they’re excited about pansting their next work. Regardless of the reason for this confidence, there’s always room for a little challenge.
Characters need to be developed, plots need to be ironed out, subplots need to be created, and timelines need to be tightened. Our scenes need to be so vivid in our minds that we can paint pictures, showing even the most minute of details. Writing programs, sticky notes, and worksheets are all among the tools available to us, but what happens when need to test our own knowledge of our worlds? How can we dig deeper, and try to push beyond the boundaries of our chained imaginations?
Of course, I’m sure you know, flash fiction is the answer.
Here are three flash fiction exercises to help you get #NaNoWriMo ready in a few hours:
You may be pretty sure you know your main characters. You know which actors would play them in movies, you know their favorite songs, strengths, weaknesses, and secrets. Most of your focus has been on the roles they play in helping your plot to unfold, so you’re confident about that. What if you scrambled the roles? What if character A now has character C’s problem? What would she do? How would character B sold character A’s problem. Put your characters in the situations of other characters. This will not only help you to explore your characters more deeply, but ensures that your plot is not standing on its own, being unfolded by nameless, faceless characters. Every act is being carried out by a specific character, and those actions are particular to the actors, based on their backgrounds, personalities, and desires rather than your own wishes. Give each main character 750 words to fight their way out of other characters’ situations.
Setting are important in novels. We often tend to focus on one sense – sight. Start to explore other sensory details of the primary settings in your novel. Even in appearance, we often overlook things that are not as obvious as furniture. To help you do this, invite a group of experts into your setting, and have them make observations. A housekeeper may notice cobwebs in areas less occupied. A crime scene investigator can pick up on clues your characters don’t know they left behind. What if a contract killer can spend a few minutes in a setting, and be able to plan the perfect, undetectable crime? Would an antique shop owner uncover family secrets? Choose three main settings and give your chosen experts fifteen minutes to make observations. Then, in 1000 words of dialogue only, write their roundtable discussion.
Whether you have fully planned scenes or a loose idea of what they’ll look like, it can be helpful (and fun!) to make little changes, move them around, and explore the effects of deleting them. Identify the scene that makes your novel possible. It’s the one that changes things and forces your main character to take a particular action. Write three 500 word replacements for the next scene in the event that (in the pivotal scene):
- The opposite happens
- Someone intervenes and changes the course
- The scene does not exist
No matter how ready we are to write, we can always prepare more. It can be fun to explore, challenge ourselves, and learn as we go. Even as creators, we have a lot to learn about the stories of our own making.
NaNoWriMo is a time to enjoy every minute of our writing. We can revel in the community feel of what is usually a solitary experience. It’s a lot easier to be in the moment and engage other participants when we’re prepared, well-equipped with intimate knowledge of our novels to-be. Have fun with the exercises, and feel free to tweak them to suit your needs. It’s all about making it work for you and your novel.
Alicia Audrey is a writer, editor, blogger and social and political commentator living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. She enjoys writing flash fiction, and is currently working on a women’s fiction novel entitled The Whispering Willow. She prides herself on keeping the local post office open by sending far too many penpal letters and packages to friends and strangers alike on a weekly basis. Her favourite things include journals, tea, cupcakes, sarcasm, challenges, and autumn. She tweets her musings to everyone, but no one in particular, as @_AliciaAudrey.