So it’s November again, and that means that since it is already November 16th, many of us aspiring novelists are knee deep in NaNo.
It’s hard to believe that there are many authors out there that are at least not peripherally aware of this seminal masochistic endeavor, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll summarize: Between November 1st and November 30th an author makes a dedicated effort to hack out an entire novel of 50k. Whoa, that’s a lot of words, right? It’s quite a few, yes, but broken down that’s only 1666 words a day. Within reach for most of us, even with families and jobs.
The idea here is volume, anyway, not quality — although the rules do allow for you create notes, character bibles, plot outlines or whatever esoteric voodoo you might practice. I don’t do any of that, and don’t know anybody that does. (But hey, I live in a small world.) NaNo is really about writing on a schedule, about letting go of your preconceived ideas about what writing well means. It really is quite liberating to be excused from over-thinking every scene and every line of dialog. The end result will almost certainly be a raw and rough bit of fiction, but don’t let that stop you, with a little work you just may have something worth sending out to a lucky agent or publisher.
As a quite biased example: my 2007 run at NaNo landed me a contract with BeWrite Books, an awesome European indie press. My book should be available as a paperback before the end of the year. That book is called The Movie, and I hope everyone will buy, borrow, or beg a copy, it’s a fun story about hopes and dreams, and bad science fiction. Of course, as nearly all my stories, it’s really about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Okay, okay, you are saying, I’ll buy the book when it comes out, (Thanks!) but what does NaNo have to do with flash fiction of all things? Flash fiction is just the opposite of NaNo. Well, to that, I assert the definitive reply of: well, yes and no. I’ve done NaNo in 2007, 2008, and 2009. And each and every time I can recall exactly how my work with flash fiction paid off to get these manuscripts written.
2007: The Movie
This was actually the third novel manuscript I wrote, and I was terribly intimated by length, and still wasn’t really sure I could write a novel manuscript that wasn’t painful to read. So I said to myself, Bosley you’ve written a few short stories, you know a bit about character arcs, and motivation, and conflict. Just set a goal for your protagonist and make sure he can reach it if he works hard enough. (Who likes a lazy protag?) So that’s easy enough, I said to myself … but it kind of wasn’t easy. Nope. Not for Bosley.
So I came up with the idea to put bits of a meta-story in the book, as a kind of way to refresh the readers perspective and hopefully distract myself long enough to forget I was writing a very long novel manuscript. In this case the meta-story was scenes from my protagonists fancy-pants movie script. And can you guess? Yep, those scenes are essentially flash fiction. I’m not so sure I would have finished the novel if I hadn’t been able to look forward to writing these silly little stories within the bigger story. Not only was it fun for me, it allowed me to indirectly communicate the protagonist’s thoughts at a personal level. (We are what we write, right?) If I hadn’t taken the time to learn the craft of flash fiction, the manuscript would have had much less impact, me thinks.
2008: Americana: The Last Gleaming
I actually punted on this manuscript and finished up at 30k. So I lost the NaNo that year. But I ran out of story, and happily finished it up at its natural stopping place. This story is about Drake Carson, a detective in the final stages of dementia who is chasing the Misfit, believed to be evil incarnate. Drake is a good guy even if he is insane. This story proper is actually 6 intertwined short stories/vignettes. How were are they intertwined, Bosley? You might ask. Flash fiction, naturally. What all the stories have in common are a series short flashbacks and self-contained scenes that describe the Misfit’s previous crimes and evil deeds.
These bits, essentially flash fiction, are the unifying force that holds the main story arc together. I’m on the second draft at the moment, so I’m not sure how well the final manuscript will actually work. But I am certain that this is 30k I wouldn’t have written if I hadn’t been able to look forward to those the ‘breather pieces’.
2009: Sweet Lies
There is less to say about this story since I’m only about 20k into it. But the first thing I did is find some method to my madness. In this case, Howie, a young murderous sociopath, has a tendency to deflect any serious thoughts by telling bizarre and surreal stories about his past. Not only does this keep others from thinking to hard about his actions, but it keeps himself from doing the same. What sort of bizarre and surreal stories? you might ask — right! What amounts to flash fiction. Good job. :p
I might even go so far as to cite upcoming novel, Servant of the Mud with Shadowfire Press as using that same technique of embedding mini-stories in story. This an urban fantasy with some tiny chapters woven into the larger story. These chapters attempt to show the more human side of the antagonist (despite not being human). It allows the reader to feel at least some sympathy to what would otherwise might be a kind of cardboard villain. Of course, these tiny chapters bear a great deal of resemblance to flash fiction.
So while flash fiction might seem tiny and insignificant next to a novel of even 50k, if one looks carefully enough it becomes clear that flash fiction can become another ingredient in a beautiful soup of words that perhaps someday will become a published novel.
And for those of you doing NaNo this year, come join me. It’s really not too late. You’ve got almost half a month left! Enough time to write half a novel. And if you are sitting this one out. No sweat, there’s one every year. And keep in mind that the Office and Letters and Light needs money to continue doing what they do. If you can spare couple of bucks, why not make a donation?
Saddly, as a postscript, I’ll say that I am a couple of days behind in NaNo, but I have a very good excuse. His name is Luke Fredrick Dean. We’ve taken him home on purely trial basis, but after some discussion with my wife, she seems intent on keeping him despite his prodigal efforts to eat us out of house and home. And, I’m told the grace period for returns is a measly five days. So it seems he will need to board with us for the next twenty odd years.
Until next post … ciao.
Bosley Gravel, eclectic hack of an author, was born in the Midwest, and came of age in Texas and southern New Mexico. He writes in a variety of genres. His fiction focuses on the absurdly tragic, and the tragically absurd. He likes good black coffee, nightmares, Billie Holiday, and that hour just before the sun comes up. You can find links to his flash fiction, short stories, novels, and other credits and affiliations at http://www.ripcot.com.