Tuesday, December 01, 2009

National Novel Writing Month 09 - A Personal Account

So what's it like to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days? If you like to write, I highly recommend it. There's something exhilarating about slamming out words with your internal editor turned off.

To me, this kind of pedal-to-the-metal writing is very similar to what I imagine authors of the 1930's did. It was possible to support yourself as a fiction writer then, but you had to write a lot -- and write it on deadline.

And so this year's novel, "Death in Five States," was another in a series of pulp homage adventures I've written about the mysterious crime fighter known only as Raven. I had a pretty detailed outline of the story prepared before I began the event.

The plot involves two rival gangs fighting over a mcguffin, which the heroine inadvertently steps into the middle of when she boards a cross-continental express train. Most of the action was take place aboard the train, with a brief denouement as the surviving parties disembark and finish the chase.

About halfway through, though, something happened. A minor character that was really only introduced to be killed threatened to take the story another direction.

Behind her two men emerged from the corridor. One was of average height, but broad. His face had a beefy quality to it, what little wasn't covered by his big bushy beard. He clutched a small valise close to his chest.

His companion was shorter, a slight man with watery gray eyes that peered out through rimless spectacles. The two settled into a couch next to Nancy. The small man nodded pleasantly to the girl. Encouraged by the gesture, Nancy beamed back

"I'm Nancy Whitaker. How do you do?" she said.

The small man nodded again. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm Eustace Smithers. This is my colleague, Mr. Bruno."

Mr. Bruno grunted.

"I believe we're travel companions," Smithers continued, "You're in 4C aren't you? We're in 3C."

Nancy cocked a quizzical eyebrow. "You two are journeying together?"

"Yes," said Smithers enthusiastically. "All the way to San Francisco. And you?"

"Same here," said Nancy. She peered over to Mr. Bruno. "That's a nice-looking satchel" she commented.

Mr. Bruno pulled the valise tighter to his chest, looking suspiciously at Nancy.

Smithers leaned close to Nancy. "Mr. Bruno is very protective of that case," he whispered. "It contains some... personal things that are very close to his heart. It's best not to call attention to it."

Nancy nodded slowly. "I see," she lied.

I have no idea where Mr. Bruno came from (the original walk-on didn't even have a name).

But that wasn't the only surprise. There's the FBI agent who was supposed to remain in the background, but ended up becoming a romantic interest. And the whole back story of the Gemini Gang, which turned my two ill-defined crime boss rivals into fraternal twins locked in a deadly struggle.

About half-way through my detailed outline no longer fitted the story -- or perhaps it was the other way around. "Death in Five States" had gone off the tracks, if you will. But with the month half gone and over 25,000 words written, I couldn't just start over, nor take the time to pull it back around by rewriting the first part if I wanted to finish on time. No, all I could do was keep typing, and read what was going to happen next.

The National November Writing Month slogan is Thirty days and nights of literary abandon. That's what it was for me. I learned a lot more about the writing process during this time, and had a blast.

I didn't end up where I thought I would when I started out, but it was definitely worth the trip.

- Ralph

You can read my Nanowrimo entry by clicking on the link below. This isn't edited yet - I've just gone through and fixed typos and added chapter headings.

"Death in Five States" by Ralph Graves - first draft pdf


  1. congratulations, Ralph. NaNoWriMo is a challenge, and you were defintiely up for it. happy writing.

  2. I had a great time for sure. Fortunately, the event is all about the quantity of words, not the quality. It was fun to stretch past 140 characters for once!

  3. Hee hee, Mr. Bruno and his nice-looking satchel!

  4. Writing is a mysterious process, indeed. I'm not even sure where the name Bruno came from!