It’s National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) where writers all over the world are testing their abilities – and the patience of their families, friends and lovers – by attempting to write a 50,000 word novel through the month of November.
Over the next month I will be posting a series of tips that I’ve found useful for logging those 1667 words per day while finding ways to fit a story in there somewhere.
#2 Gogglebox it!
In my 2015 NaNoWriMo attempt I would often (maybe too often) boost my word counts by having my characters watch television.
When things seemed to slow down in the story or when I needed a bit of time to think about the next plot point I would have them switch on the TV, or see one in the room, shop window, bar or whatever environment they were in and describe what they were watching.
While these scenes weren’t necessarily the most exciting, I began to find them a useful way to reveal to discover (and reveal) more details about the character and the world they inhabit.
Now I’m not just talking about the typical news report that flashes onto the screen your character just so happens to be near with news of the latest crime (though that is an effective tool for delivering exposition), but using the actual shows your character watches to show the reader, and yourself, the society your character inhabits.
Popular entertainment is centred around supporting/reflecting the values of the community for whom it is created. You can also use the character’s opinion/reaction/feeling/nostalgia of the show to reveal something of their character’s opinion of that community.
Next time you’re watching a film pay attention to any time there is a television on screen even passing one on the street, think of what’s on that TV and how much it tells you about the world. Even if only on a micro level.
Imagine yourself walking into a bar. Imagine the the details of this bar. Now imagine there is only one television. What would your impression of this place be if that one TV was showing a golf tournament. Now imagine how this impression would change if it was showing professional wrestling, soft core pornography, or Sesame Street. You can begin to see how even without interacting with the characters or environment the television can give us a sense what is considered acceptable in this place. Because if the things on the television were not considered acceptable, the channel would have been changed.
Now ask yourself:
What might a sitcom like Friends look like in a fascist dictatorship?
What might we think of a character who has a deep hate for romantic plots?
What was your character’s favourite show as a child? Why? How did it make them feel? What does this show us about them?
How many adverts would there be in 30 minutes of television in an extremely libertarian society?
So, next time you feel yourself slowing down on the way to your daily 1667 words why not try the following.
- Have one of your character look at a television.
- Have them describe everything they see, know and remember about the show they are watching. This could be a real existing show or one you’ve created to fit the world.
- Have them show the reader how this makes them feel about the world they live in.
- Have them take a specific action to move the story along.
You might be surprised how much information and backstory you will be able to fit in.
And if there is no TV?
You may have decided to create a story in a world that does not have television or television like entertainment.
Think of what the alternatives might be.
Start with where your character might hear jokes and stories. Are they told in public places or kept in books? What kind of jokes and stories are popular in their world? What kind are considered acceptable in the specific environments they are in? What kind of jokes and stories do your characters they like or dislike? Why?
If you want to get really primitive and into your character’s head why not have them watch something natural. A fire, clouds, flock of birds flying…etc. What patterns will they begin to see? What shapes will form? What stories will form from these shapes? Are these stories from the character’s memory or from the divine?
If you’re thinking of the future you will have all the extra fun of inventing your new form of entertainments from the tech available. Think about how it the technology works, what senses it might engage (smell-o-vision anyone?) and how these might be used to tell stories.