November, the month when many strive to complete a 50,000 word novel (or novelette according to today’s standard). Would I consider that an exercise stretching me to my limit? Or, an impossible fantasy? For me it is definitely the second. No matter how well I have thought out what I plan to write, I can only live a few hours of my day recording what is in my head. Then, ideas clear out like cockroaches fleeing from light. I must arise from my desk chair, fix food, clean up the kitchen, rearrange my closet, and straighten my bookshelf. Then, I find an interesting title that I haven’t read, yet. Five hours later, I am finally back to writing again.
However, over the years I’ve found ways to increase my written output. So, I do have some advice for those that want to attempt this impossible challenge. The easiest way to create the most content in the least amount of time is to write what you know. Your own life story may not be that interesting, so don’t feel confined to the truth. If better ideas spring up, or you decide to appropriate events that happened to friends or celebrities, remember that you are writing fiction, not a real autobiography. With a word processor you can use the search and replace feature to alter the people and places after you are finished. This also relieves the fear of being shunned by family members who don’t appear in the best light.
However, even when writing a novel based on your own life you need a plot. There must be a challenge you that you face or a problem to overcome; whether you succeed, fail, or just accept your fate. This requires an outline to keep your story on track. Think through the basic plots repeated in myths and fairy tales until you find one that mimics your life, at least partially. The story line found in Cinderella is often used. It starts out with recalling an innocuous event that shifted your life from pleasant to some degree of miserable. Then, after three nights at a ball—make that three different attempts to overcome the problem—you encounter one last disaster, run away and prepare for defeat. However, your fortune shifts due to someone’s gallantry or pure grit on your part.
Remember, this is still a scant outline that will need embellishment, lots of it. The initial event, each of the attempts to overcome the problem, and the final triumph each require multiple scenes. As a person who has a number of flash fiction pieces under my belt, I find a complete scene should be around 1,000 to 2,500 words. Using that word count would leave you writing 20 to 50 scenes, or an average of 35 scenes (which mean slightly more than one per day for 30 days).
The number of scenes will not be the same as the first two sections will have more. There might 12 scenes introducing the problem, and 15 scenes in the attempts to solve it. Then, for the ending stretch, when fortune shifts, only 8 scenes would be required. The next obvious task is creating a brief (one or two sentence) description of what occurs in each scene. That is not an easy task. In fact you might consider it Sisyphean.
What do you do? Turn to the same place as the word Sisyphean originated, Greek myths. Fortunately, some of the work has already been done for you by Joseph Campbell who reviewed mythology to create a list of events known as the Monomyth, or the “hero’s journey.” This design includes three major divisions: 1) The Departure, in which you (the hero) view your ordinary world and come across an inciting event which lures or forces you to leave it; 2) The Initiation, in which you venture into this unknown world with its unexpected hazards and actually grow into someone more heroic though trials and tests (three or more is good, just like in Cinderella); and 3. The Return, in which you triumph and return to your ordinary world. The benefit of the Monomyth plot is that Joseph Campbell has identified 17 different steps to spice up your story.
When or if you hit the goal of 50,000 words, you will still be less than half way to a new novelette. The next months will be consumed editing and rewriting until this morass of words makes sense and flows in a manner to keep the reader interested. So, while I will not be attempting this, best of luck if you are!