While I loved majoring in English lit, these days I like my fiction pretty fluffy. But last week, as I scanned the shelves of my library for vacation reading, I found myself getting irritated that every other chick-lit confection I picked up featured the same basic plot elements or setting. Yes, I read genre fiction when I’m in the mood for a particular kind of story, and maybe even some guarantees. But that’s just the bare bones — why so much sameness in the details? Here are just a few of the clichés that are driving me crazy lately:
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Inspired by Twitter’s “Follow Friday,” I’m going to make an effort every Friday to post a recommended read. I’ll try to make it something that has run that week, but since things sometimes take longer to make the rounds on the Internets, that will be a pretty loose requirement.
Three years ago I wrote a 50,000-word novel during National Novel Writing Month. Since then, I’d picked at it, knowing it needed a lot of revising before it would be ready to pitch to publishers. But I could never get the motivation to do the hard work — maybe because while I knew generally what I needed to fix, I didn’t know why or how.
Then, I stumbled on a blog post about some fiction writing classes taught by Lani Diane Rich. I knew the name because she’s the first amateur writer to have her NaNo novel published. (She’s since published quite a few others.) I was inspired, and intrigued by her method of teaching — via webcast and a private forum where she’d answer her students’ questions in some detail.
Nov. 28, 2006, was one of the coolest days of my life. That’s the day I wrote the 50,000th word in my budding novel, and thus “won” NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. (Everyone who hits 50,000 by Day 30 wins.) Writing a novel in 30 days was one of the most insane, intoxicating, awesome things I’ve ever done, and I can’t recommend it enough.
One of my grad school professors once said, “No one’s going to break into your house and read your work when you’re not looking.” Translation: Don’t be afraid to put something — anything — down on the page. This is precisely the mantra of NaNoWriMo. In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to muzzle your inner editor. Don’t worry, she’ll have a chance to speak her mind on Dec. 1, but you’ll be surprised how much workable stuff you have by then — and how much plot develops by the simple virtue of having to move forward with what you’ve got. And there are so many delightful surprises along the way, like when your protagonist falls in love with the guy who’s just supposed to be a distraction. Characters have a way of doing that if you let them.
So, if you’ve always wanted to write a novel, go sign up now. Fair warning: NaNo is highly addictive. I hit the sophomore slump in 2007 and didn’t finish, and last year I decided to pass because I was planning my wedding. (Although, in retrospect, it probably would have been a great stress reliever.) But I’m fully motivated this year. If you’re in, friend me, and we’ll muddle through November together!