Friday, October 03, 2008

Friday Forays In Fiction: NaNo Project Prep

I have settled on my NaNo project and updated my profile at the NaNoWriMo site to reflect that I intend to participate again this year. This will be my fifth year. I reached the 50,000 word goal only once and that was last year.

The first year though, I signed up rather late--on the 23rd!!! That year I only got 6000 words. The next year, 2005, I doubled that to just over 12,000. That was the year I went to Longview, WA to be with my family as my Dad was dying of cancer in late September and stayed until just after my birthday in mid November. So between the volatility of emotion and the disruption of routine when I had to pack, travel and unpack midway through it was a miracle I got that much and probably only due to the brand new laptop I bought on the day I arrived in Washington. In 2006 I doubled it again to around 25,000 words. That year I allowed myself to get too sidetracked by all the temptations that our recent acquisition of 24/7 access to a high speed internet connection offers--from blog reading to IM to games to...well it's infinite isn't it?

Last year I had developed some discipline from participating in the 70 Days of Sweat challenge that summer and I made it but spent so much of the first two weeks fiddling with plot and research that the bulk of the words were squeezed out in the last fifteen days. But that left me with such a mess that I haven't had the courage to look at it again since January. Which is very discouraging in light of how excited by that story I was. And that is why I seriously considered not participating this year.

It wasn't until this week when an idea I've been playing with for months finally gelled into something I thought just might work for a NaNo novel and after a few more days of contemplation I began to get excited by it too. This is the first year that I've started serious prep work for the NaNo novel any sooner than one week before the start. I hope that augers well for this year's success.

Here is the synopsis of my novel which I just posted on my NaNo profile:

Set in a mobile home park Mobile Hopes features the lives of a dozen or more separate families through the summer and fall of 2008. Each family is living its own crisis that is impacted by the current events of July through November. From the immigrant family hoping for citizenship to the family forced out of their foreclosed home in the suburbs hoping for another chance at the brass ring, they epitomize the American Dream and breathe life into the headlines.
What helped this story concept gel for me was when I got the idea while reading a collection of very short stories that I would like to experiment with that form in the way that I have been experimenting with poetry this year. Then a bunch of things fell together in my mind all at once. One of the things that helped me with the poetry writing was to find something to inspire the poem--usually an image but a few times a novel I was reading or a current event. I wondered if there might be a way to use inspiration triggers like that for short stories.

I didn't wonder long.

First: Have camera will wander. Over the next month I'm going to gather all the pictures I've taken around our trailer park and the nearby creek, strip malls and town, including the library buildings, into a slide show on my computer and set about taking dozens if not hundreds more around the same areas. Unlike with the previous pictures though I am going to aim willy-nilly without trying to predict what I might need.

Second: I will use the Internet to collect a handful of headlines for each day of July through the end of November.

Third: I'm going to send for several collections of short stories from the library and--I already have a couple--beginning now and through the end of November I will read a minimum of one story per day. This because I seem to learn best by a kind of osmosis; a soaking up under immersion and I want to imprint the form of the short story in its infinite variety on all levels of my consciousness.

Meanwhile, I will be setting up my WhizFolder application for the project where I will create my families and their crisis and assign them a few headlines to reflect their issue and the date of their particular story. I aim for a minimum of twelve families before November 1st but I won't stop there if more come to me. And I imagine they will proliferate as the first few family's stories emerge and the neighbors they encounter become part of the overall story.

Among the crisis I imagine are: drug or alcohol abuse; street drug production and distribution--meth and marijuana are rampant around here; pregnancy; lost job; foreclosure on home and or business; a minor child arrested; an adult child released on parole required by the terms of parole to live with their parent; eviction; power or gas turned off; repossessed vehicle; death of a spouse from a long illness; an adult child caring for an incapacitated parent; caring for a physically or mentally challenged child; mental illness; an adult child in the military stationed overseas; immigrants from Latin America, the Middle East and elsewhere struggling with assimilation; racisism and bigotry; children subject to bullying in the park and/or at school; gossip; divorce; domestic violence.

OK enough. But see how I should have no excuse for running out of inspiration? In fact I could even create a numbered list of these crisis and use a random number generator to choose the crisis for a family if that ever becomes an issue keeping me stuck for more than a few minutes. And of course there is nothing prohibiting more than one of these crisis to be at issue in any one family.

So on November 1st I will choose whichever one of the family's stories I am most moved to write that day, glance at the headlines and gaze at the slide show for a few minutes and then start telling their story. I will give myself a minimum of one 90 minute session and a maximum of two to get whatever I can of that family's story down. Each day I will start a new story whether I feel the previous story was finished or not. Yes, that means that ideally there will be 30 stories. Some of them may be flash fiction at under 1000 words but I'm confident there will be enough over 2000 to average out to the NaNo pace of 1666.7 words per day.

How, you may ask, is a collection of short stories a novel? Well, I intend to weave them together in the way people are woven into community. Each family will in the course of the events in their story have encountered one or more members of one or more other families.

Also, each family will be the recipient of a random act of kindness from one of their neighbors which, though it may not resolve their crisis, will at least alleviate some of their pain and open their hearts to hope and grace such that one or more of them will be moved to a random act of kindness towards another neighbor. The ripple effect of these random acts of kindness is the story that I hope will weave a novel out of a seemingly random collection of families in crisis.

And to tighten the weave there will be one character who appears in each story however minimally--a stray cat left behind by someone who moved, died, or went on a trip who wanders the park mooching food and affection and shelter off anyone willing.

2 tell me a story:

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