During April, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where bloggers come together to indulge in a bit of communal insanity, by posting on their blogs every day during the month (except Sundays – even the insane need a day off). It’s a great way to discover new blogs, learn new things (like how to kill someone through ectopia), join in a virtual community of like-minded people, and have an opportunity to practice writing in a supportive environment.
When I did the challenge last year, practicing my writing really wasn’t the goal. It was all about surviving, about churning out 26 random blog posts during the month. But, this year, I wanted to focus more on my writing, as well as add an extra dash of craziness to the whole endeavor by using a theme. And that theme was Nancy Drew, America’s favorite teenage girl detective.
Basically, I wrote a short story featuring Nancy’s investigation into the perplexing “Case of the Missing Anchor,” and presented it in installments aligned to each day’s letter (A is for Anchor, B is for Boatyard etc.)
While it was a form of story-telling, I didn’t stress out too much about it because, hey, it’s a blog, and no one expects too much from a blog, least of all me. Blogs, in my mind, are meant to be fun, informal ways of expressing yourself and sharing snippets of your life. Yes, I do realize that there are more professional or business related blogs out there, but mine is a far cry from that, so I felt no pressure whatsoever about impressing anyone.
It turned out to be a great way to practice my writing without freaking out, as well as put it out there for others to read. More importantly, it was fun. Given the struggles I’ve been having trying to finish a decent draft of this mystery novel I’m working on, it was nice to just write something silly and have a bit of a laugh. Imagine my surprise when I realized that, in the midst of all this silliness, I had actually learned a few things about writing from Nancy Drew herself.
1 – Sometimes your main character isn’t as much fun to write for as you thought she would be.
In the classic Nancy Drew mysteries, Nancy is clearly the star of the show. After all, the books are named after her. Nancy is poised, charming, clever, kind, immaculately dressed and she always cracks the case. But, she’s a snooze. I can’t relate to her at all. Sure, I’d like to be more like her and have her wardrobe, but I don’t really get her and there were times I got bored writing for her.
Now, her friend, Bess Marvin, she’s my kind of girl. Ditzy, nervous, inept at most things and a serious sugar addict - Bess is fun to write for. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I wrote about Bess’s latest goof-ups and binge eating episodes. I secretly hoped that Bess would engineer some sort of coup d’etat, push Nancy overboard, steal her beau, Ned Nickerson, and take over the dastardly ring of thieves stealing stuff at the marina.
However, Nancy knew better (and doesn’t she always) and convinced me to stick to convention, letting Nancy solve the case while Bess remained in her role as faithful sidekick, along with her cousin George. Thankfully, Nancy did let me know that when it comes to writing my mystery novel, I should feel free to let my characters battle it out and if someone more interesting than my original main character comes along, a coup d’etat would be perfectly fine, as long as there were plenty of chocolate chip cookies to console the losers with.
2 – Third person can be rather impersonal.
Does third person ring a bell? Take a trip back down memory lane to your English classes at school. Imagine Mrs. Smythe scowling at the class and standing up at the blackboard writing down words like he, she, it, they etc. That’s third person – writing about things from the point of view of a someone who isn’t you or me. I wrote my Nancy Drew story in third person, because that’s the way they’ve always been done and who am I to challenge convention, what with Nancy at my side reminding me of the importance of convention, especially when it comes to matching shoes and handbags and demure hemlines. All of my earlier drafts of my mystery novel were in third person as well.
Until I had a revelation. Actually, it was less of a revelation and more of Bess shouting inside my head saying things like, “Let me out of here! Get rid of the Nancy chick! She’ll dull! She’s dragging this story down!” Bess talks with a lot of exclamation points. It’s annoying sometimes. But, once I gave Bess some brownies to shut her up so I could get a few minutes peace, I realized that it was almost like I was talking, not Bess. "I" as in the first person.
If Bess had engineered a coup d’etat during the “Case of the Missing Anchor,” I’m pretty sure she would have taken over the story and we would have been hearing from her directly, in a much more personal way.
I know how this works from experience, because the main character of mystery novel recently took control, demanded to be heard and now I’m writing everything in first person. Things are going much more smoothly. And, yes, I know that first person isn’t what all the cool kids use when they’re writing, but let’s face it, this isn’t going to be any literary masterpiece that I churn out, so the first person will do just fine. Plus, it’s a lot more personal.
3 – I don’t have a long attention span.
I found it relatively easy to write the “Case of the Missing Anchor” because it’s short (around 15,000 words). Granted, it’s an incredibly simplistic plot so I didn’t need a lot of words to get the case solved. Chunking it into letters made each piece of writing I needed to do even shorter and more manageable.
When I try to work on my mystery novel, it seems so overwhelming at times (I’m aiming for 75,000 words) and no matter how I try to chunk things up mentally, I still get blocked. Perhaps, I just have a short attention span or I’m easily distracted by shiny things and episodes of House of Cards.
Nancy told me that I just have to suck it up and get on with it. Of course, everything comes easily to Nancy. Did you know that she’s a New York Times bestselling author? She writes under the pen name of Carolyn Keene so that people in River Heights don’t constantly ask her for her autograph. Now, that you’ve seen this other side of Nancy, you can probably understand why I was hoping for a coup d’etat by Bess.
Tips on how to channel my inner Nancy and cope with writing a novel-length manuscript would be gratefully received.
Whether you participated in the A to Z Challenge or just enjoyed reading everyone’s A to Z blog posts, what was the best part of the challenge for you? Did you learn anything new and interesting?
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