Work Hard, Respect Your Fellow Writers

Since Jenny B posted an (excellent) excerpt from her story yesterday, I’m going to keep today’s post short and sweet. I want to briefly talk about how to be a reader for people working on NaNoWriMo. This is slightly different from being an editor for somebody working on a normal novel. Why? Because NaNo is basically a speed-blast first draft. We’re technically not allowed to go back end edit things (I mean, I’ll fix a typo, but you’re not suppose to go adjusting sentences and paragraphs, etc).

So what you don’t want to do is make your writer friend feel like they’ve created a pile of steaming horse dung that is going to take eons of work to make acceptable. Normally, you would want somebody to know this as soon as possible. In NaNo, it’s kinder to wait until December. When your author friend comes to you and says “that novel really is a turd, isn’t it?” you can agree with her. But not before then. Encouragement is the key.

So with that in mind, how should you approach reading a NaNo excerpt?

  1. Understand what kind of piece is being written. Is it a neo-noir crime novel? An epic fantasy? A space opera? A bodice-ripper? If you’re familiar with the genre that the piece is intending to fit into, then it will be easier for you to understand that tropes and conventions that your author is probably going to be using. Keep in mind that a NaNo novel is probably going to be more cliched than an more thought out work. Remember that this is basically a first draft.
  2. As you read, write down a list of typos that you observe, but don’t just force them on your author friend. You ought to say something like “would you like me to point out a few mistakes I think I noticed?” or something inoffensive to that extent. She will probably thank you. Keep in mind that it’s embarrassing for authors to have their rough work exposed to public scrutiny and be gentle.
  3. Look for story elements that are interesting or exciting. If you notice an author doing something that seems unique; if something is described particularly poignantly; if your mind was completely blown by a plot twist—make a note of this, and be sure to tell your author. We need all the encouragement we can get, and knowing that we’ve created something that somebody likes will nearly always drive us to greater efforts.
  4. Make a note of something that doesn’t seem to work so well, particularly something that’s developing. Perhaps your author has suddenly dropped a new character in without warning. Maybe the surly drunk from Chapters 1 through 5 suddenly becomes a chipper boyscout in Chapter 6 with no apparent explanation. You will want to point out something like this, but I encourage you to do it like this: “It seems to me that So-and-So is acting outside of the character you’ve established for him. You might want to explain his sudden change of heart.” The idea with this sort of criticism is to head off problems before they become major, yet not encourage your author to go back and scrap a major piece of work. That’s not allowed in NaNoWriMo.

I hope these tips help you and your author friends. I’ll be back at a later date with how to actually be part of an editing circle.

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, Writing Advice

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