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04 May 2016

3 Things I Learned About Writing From Nancy Drew | IWSG

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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51 comments:

  1. I'm just a consumer of entertaining writing and I found that I have a higher chance of disliking stories written in the first person than those in the third person. Whether I can empathise with the characters seems to be quite independent of first or third person style, it seems to depends more on how well the thing is written.

    As to the heroine being a bore, that's quite common with heroic heroines and heroes. Caring for someone who's always perfect and righteous gets old very quickly and leaves little for drama. The funny or unlucky sidekicks or villains carry the story and have room for character development.

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    1. Yep, my main character is definitely going to have some flaws so that folks can relate to her. Nancy Drew won't be making an appearance :-)

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  2. You'll need to tackle it from Bess's point of view next time.
    I write in third person because I like the more impersonal feel. My two main characters were a bit messed up and I really didn't want to be in their heads that much.

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    1. I think third person worked really well for CassaStar. I don't think I would have wanted to be in either of their heads either :-)

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  3. I definitely liked and related to Bess most - Nancy's too perfect! The best part of the A-Z was "meeting" other bloggers and having a sense of community through blogging. I learned that "AC" means adult content and not Animal Cuteness, and you probably shouldn't click those blogs from your work computer. What larks! Lucy

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    1. Oh my - AC is definitely not animal cuteness! The sense of community as part of the challenge was fantastic.

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    1. There were a lot of clever and interesting themes this year. I'd definitely do a theme again.

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  5. I loved your A to Z Challenge and looked forward to reading it each day. I see your point, but not being the author of this I wouldn't have known any of this if you hadn't pointed these things out.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  6. Bess was definitely the more relatable character in the series -- Nancy was a bit of a know-it-all.

    Like Lucy, I enjoyed the sense of community that went along with following the same blogs throughout the challenge, but I also had fun discovering new blogs along the way. I think the biggest thing I gained from taking part is that I got back into the habit of writing every day rather than aimlessly surfing the web.

    Cheers, Stephanie @www.svcambria.com

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    1. Nancy did get to be a bit obnoxious and a show-off. I mean, who lassos someone on a boat?

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  7. I usually prefer third person, but it seems like first person is becoming popular, especially in YA and NA. When a story isn't working for me I sometimes switch POV just to see if maybe it'll help. Those are really valuable lessons from the challenge. I scrambled so much each day just to get my posts written that my biggest lesson is getting it done ahead of time. I enjoyed A to Z much more last year when I had had most of the posts written and scheduled before April.

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    1. I couldn't have survived if I hadn't of written all of my A to Z posts ahead of time.

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  8. All good points that I hadn't thought of while I was reading the A-Z. I vote for Bess taking over next time.

    I can't wait to read a novel written by you, it will be fabulous I'm sure! I like to write blog posts, but by no means do I ever aspire to be a "writer"
    Donna/svdenalirose

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    1. We'll have a mutiny next time. Bess will maroon Nancy on some island and then take off without her and have a lot more fun :-)

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  9. That's a really good idea to offer a story as a serial on the blog. I'll have to think about that.

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    1. There were some real pros and cons of doing a serial. Some folks enjoyed it while others probably got frustrated by having to read them all in order.

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  10. I always identified more with Bess, too. Glad she was able to give you some pointers on getting through your book.

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    1. Bess is a lot more helpful when it comes to being a writing coach than Nancy :-)

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  11. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you write a novel? One line at a time!
    Not very helpful, am I? But the important things are thus: First, you're writing. Do your 1000 words a day or whatever your goal is and don't beat yourself up! You're doing great.
    Second, we launch Sionna on June 3rd! Back on the boat in less than a month! Yay!!!

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    1. How exciting! I can't believe it's almost launch time - yay!!!

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  12. It's so funny that ditzy-but-entertaining Bess took over your story! It's great that you practiced your writing with no anxiety. Yay for the A-Z and all the things you learned! :)

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    1. Bess definitely turned out to be the star of the show :-)

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  13. I love the way you described the challenge as: "communal insanity" LOL
    That's a spot on description!
    I call April the "month of madness".
    There were soooo many great themes!
    Too many blogs, too little time.

    I think it was an important experience for you, to practise your writing in a comfortable environment...it will help to boost your confidence and growth as a writer. I'm glad you had that opportunity.
    Writer In Transit

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    1. I wish I had had more time in each day to visit and comment on more blogs. There are just too many great ones out there and too little time.

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  14. I write in both first and third person. Sometimes I want the reader to be in the character's head and sometimes I want them to have a wider perspective. The story is very different if told only through one person's worldview.

    I am very impressed by how you managed to keep your story going over all 26 days of the A to Z Challenge. Kudos.

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    1. I'm not sure I could manage to use both first and third in the same book - that sounds like it would be quite challenging to pull off.

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  15. Loved this post! I think there's been a change of style since the original Nancy's were written, back then heroines were perfect and beautiful, but these days we prefer people with chinks in their armour. Look forward to hearing more from Bess ;)

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    1. That is an interesting point. When I read Nancy Drew as a girl, Nancy was my favorite character. Maybe as I've gotten older I relate more to folks who have lots of flaws, like me.

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  16. Great post and a great idea for the A to Z challenge. I'm always looking for other writers to follow. My wife and I are attempting to get a novel or two out there, too, and have dealt, frustratingly, with the first-person vs third-person issue. My dragon fantasy I'm finishing up in third, but I have another one planned that I'll try in first. I must say this. I recently read "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", a great cold war alien paranoia sci-fi, and it's in first, and it was absolutely gripping. Really put me in the main character's head. And you're right about heroes being a bit, stuffy, shall we say. I'm having that issue, too. So, Beth might need to have a voice. :-)

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    1. Thanks Tom! Good luck with your novel writing. Are you and your wife writing them together? If so, that would be really neat to collaborate with your spouse.

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    2. We have a couple of novels we're writing separately, but we've collaborated on a picture book and have plans to collaborate on some mysteries in the near future.

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  17. Love your post. LOL What a clever way to handle the challenge. Congrats, btw, on finishing. I don't do it. Not enough time in the day. I'm going back to read your ND story. She inspired me to write mysteries, and I do them in 1st person POV, like the hard-boil detective series.

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    1. Thanks Diane - so glad you liked this post :-) I'll have to check out your mysteries to get a sense on how you use first person in them.

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  18. All good lessons!

    I write in both first and third person - depends on what the characters "tell" me. Or what the story requires. Good that you learned that it's okay to write in either POV.

    Now I'll have to add yours to the list of blogs to go back and read challenge posts!

    @dSavannahCreate from
    dSavannahRambles
    #AtoZChallenge2016 theme: dSavannah Defects

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    1. Thanks for popping by! Good to know other people's characters talk to them too :-)

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  19. I'm glad you had all these realizations, Ellen! I learned from the A-Z challenge that I do not have enough time in the day to write a daily blog or even every few days. Not at this moment, anyway! Being back in Belgium seeing friends and family, doing a part time job and having a hurt and still swollen hand do not help... My priorities have to be elsewhere. :-(

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    1. That's too bad about your hand :-( Be sure to eat lots of Belgian chocolate, that should help the swelling go down. Or, at least help you forget about it.

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  20. What a wonderful place you have here! I didn't make it by during the Challenge but I'll definitely go back and read your Nancy posts (or, your Bess posts??) I've written some things in First Person and I like it. I just don't do it because Third Person seems so much more powerful to the WRITER and not as powerful to the characters. Uh-oh. It looks like I've had another revelation here. It's not really about me, is it? It's about the story...oh dear...:) Have a wonderful weekend! Happy to have found you and thanks for stopping by my blog the other day!

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    1. I wonder if I'd like third person better for a different kind of project? Hmmm, after I finish this project, maybe I'll try it again.

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  21. Ellen,
    A-Z challenge was definitely great for inspiration for me. I think that was a great idea to write a story in nugget size pieces and when you put it that way I also think you're right, part of what makes blogging fiction so great is it's no pressure, just writing a blog. That's a really good point. I've often found it's just the thing to get my creative juices flowing in a pressure-free way. Interesting.
    Thanks!
    Anne from annehiga.com

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    1. It ended up being a really worthwhile exercise for me - really glad I gave it a go. Thanks for popping by!

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  22. It was very enjoyable, and very creative! Thanks for writing it, and thanks for visiting my blog as well!

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  23. I don't have a long attention span either. I write shorter books and shorter chapters for this very reason!

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    1. I have been toying with the idea of trying my hand at short stories for that reason.

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  24. Sorry I didn't get a chance to visit your blog during the challenge. Your theme sounds interesting. Great idea to have a continuing storyline, so people will keep reading, day after day.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Debbie. There are so many blogs participating that it's impossible to visit all but a tiny fraction of them. I think the continuing story line worked for some, but not so much for others.

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  25. Write from the POV that works for you. I can tell that you'd like to write Bess' story. Do it. Do it for next year, or just for fun. She's a character you connect with. She has her own story to tell. Maybe she has a fight with Nancy, or has to take a trip without her, and discovers her own strength. Now, that's a fresh story that I'd like to read.
    You did great with the challenge. Congratulations!
    Mary Play off the Page

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    1. Thanks Mary! I think parts of Bess are definitely going to end up in my main character in the book I'm writing. I definitely connect with her :-)

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