Monday, October 1, 2012

Novel November

It's all Joss Whedon's fault.

I was just minding my own business on twitter last week, when up popped ‘Ten Writing Tips from Joss Whedon.' Now normally, I take these sorts of lists with a large pinch of salt - especially since I recently read one from a very respected publication that advised ‘always write short stories in the first person.’ Really? Always? However, Joss is different: Joss is the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (if you’re eye-rolling, you know nothing and must order your boxset immediately), and Buffy taught me a hell of a lot about telling stories – not to mention fighting the forces of darkness – during my teenage years. So Joss, I would listen to.*

Eagerly, I clicked on the link. This was the first thing I read:
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.
I got no further through the list, as by this point I was experiencing a horrible gnawing sensation in my stomach: guilt. For although Joss was primarily advising screenwriters, I could not help but think of my own novel, languishing in a forgotten folder somewhere on my computer, so near yet frustratingly so far from being a complete manuscript. And the more I thought about it, that hateful work that I had banished from my mind for six months or more, the more I... Well, I kind of... missed it.

Oh, I admit it. I wanted it back. For a second, my subconscious went soft and ached to write it, to finish it - and that second was enough for the more businesslike side of my brain to seize upon its counterpart's weakness and go, "haha! Then write it and finish it, you wastrel!"

A timeline of 'the novel' (I hate calling it that, but all my working titles are, frankly, crap):
  • Sometime in 2006: thinking idly about the lack of modern stories featuring fathers and daughters (as opposed to fairy tales, where they're all over the place), I come up with a vague idea about a teenage girl's madcap weekend in London with her estranged, unstable father. 
  • April 2008: during my final term of the MSc, I decide it is an excellent idea to pen this emotionally complex plot - now set in my new home city of Edinburgh - as a novella in three months. Incidentally, it isn't a good idea and there are many tears. 
  • November 2009: due to the MSc trauma, I don't look at the story again for over a year. Then for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I decided to rewrite the whole thing as a full-blown novel. In a month. Somewhat surprisingly, I achieve this - although because a 'Nano' novel is only 50,000 words, the manuscript is unfinished. 
  • September 2010 - June 2011: I workshop a good chunk of the incomplete draft with my Edinburgh writers' group, WOW, until I move to Geneva.
But Joss is right, isn't he? Of course he is. I need closure. How can I edit the early part of the story if the end isn't even written? I need to finish it - and not just for the sake of it, but because over the years it's developed into a story I truly want - and think it's important - to tell:
Fifteen year-old Ruby Chase is devoted to her estranged father, the carefree and reckless Leo. But over the course of one weekend in Edinburgh, they are torn apart by his inability to control his bipolar disorder, and her inability to understand it.
Five years later, they are reunited at Ruby's grandmother’s funeral. The now medicated Leo is desperate to make amends for what happened in Edinburgh, but Ruby struggles to forgive him, caught now between the two Leos: the stable stranger who is offering her a father once more, and the adored, troubled dad she loved and lost.
Looking back at that timeline, it seems I've progressed the most with the novel under pressure: the MSc, Nano and WOW (acronyms seem to help). I was going to do Nano again with a new novel this November, but really what's the point when I have one already 70% finished? So instead, I've decided to come up with my own Nano-inspired challenge whereby I finish my novel in first/second draft. Then at least I'll have a manuscript. At least I'll be able to print it out, flick through it whilst laughing wildly, and scribble this is awful - cut, cut, CUT! all over it in green pen

So yes, exactly one month from today, it's not so much National Novel Writing Month as National Novel Finishing Month (NaNoFiMo? Sounds like some sort of Plasticine challenge). It's going to be difficult and it's going to be liberating. There will almost certainly be more tears.

And it's all Joss Whedon's fault.

Joss is Boss.

*If you need further proof of Joss' genius, watch the above and don't even try not to fist-pump.


  1. Ahh, Whedon and his wise words. I hold Joss responsible for a lot of things as well, like feeling the need to take a wooden stake out with me when I use to walk Dotty through the graveyard at night. I get so cross when people shrug off his work as just 'nerd stuff', he is honestly a an amazing storyteller, and how he handles his characters? Unmatchable.

    I am glad you are going to focus on Ruby for November, I have absolute faith that you can finish it! You'd better finish it, Leo will come after you if you don't soon.

  2. Hear hear! Joss Whedon should be abided by in all things. All the best with NaNo. I'm still debating whether to take part this year. ho hum ho hum.

  3. Thanks, ladies!
    Katy, let me know if you do decide to do Nano and we can become Nano friends - I love watching people's bar charts fill up, I really do.