Working cover for Noren the Strong, my 2016 NaNoWriMo entry (image: James Kemp)

At the end of May I went back to my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel, having left it in the early hours of December 2016. After a gap of 18 months I figured that I would have the detachment from it necessary to give it a good edit.

Reading my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel

It stood up pretty well on my first read through. I spotted many typos, and highlighted bits to re-write. But for the most part it got left alone on this read through because it was better than I’d expected. I’ll do more with it as I find time, mostly when waiting for trains, or traveling.

The main things that I noticed that I need to fix are:

  • It needs a new title.
  • The first six scenes are close third person and the rest is Yngvild’s point of view.
  • The last three chapters are still just outlines, so they need to be written properly.
  • I need to consistently dialect some of the character dialogue to give each character their own unique voice.
  • Yngvild’s ordeal needs to be deepened so that we feel her fear and then despair before it is resolved.

Constructing my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel

My 2016 NaNoWriMo Plan
My 2016 NaNoWriMo Plan written by my son on a Starbucks napkin in Bergen, Norway. (photo: James Kemp)

It’s worth a short note on the construction process for my 2016 NaNoWriMo entry. This was my first real attempt at a novel after finishing my undergraduate creative writing course. So I went about it differently from the previous attempts.

Previous NaNoWriMo Attempts

2012 NaNoWriMo was a totally unplanned attempt, and I wrote 50k words in under 30 days, but I started a few days in, and finished the 50k after 30 Nov. So it doesn’t count as a win. In editing it became Crisis Point, even though I didn’t know what I was doing it seems to have been well reviewed by the people that have read it.

2013 took about 20k words from the 2012 material and expanded it into a full on novel. I’ve tinkered with it a bit and gone through three rounds of editing. It hasn’t published because I’m not quite happy enough with it. One day I may come back to it.

I didn’t do NaNoWriMo in 2014 or 2015. I had some ideas, but I was rather busy with work in 2014 and had just started a new job on promotion in 2015.

Planning 2016 NaNoWriMo

In September 2016 I tried to plan my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel. I created a bunch of characters, did some research, started world building and outlined the story. It was all ready by early October.

I went on a family holiday to Bergen in Norway for half term in October. My friend Callum had sent me a fabulous leather notebook cover from Baghdad and a couple of US green notebooks to fill it. We stayed in an Airbnb place with a Game of Thrones DVD box set. Bergen is great, and the scenery is fantastic. I was inspired and scribbled loads in the notebook.

Changing the Plan

A scribbled map of Skyss, based loosely on Scotland and Norway (photo: James Kemp)

My 2016 NaNoWriMo plan got held over for 2017 (more on that another day). I had some scribbled maps, and an idea how the society of Skyss worked. They were a stable sea going lot, evolved from Vikings to traders and spies. The spying, and interference in other countries affairs, was all very pragmatic and about keeping business running smoothly and profitably.

As well as the civil society and governance I’d also sketched out their nine gods. I’d decided that they would be real and that all the heroes would be the descendants of the gods. All that remained was to create some characters and come up with a story arc.

Hero’s Journey

I was reading The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler. So I decided to consciously use that structure. There would be twelve chapters, and I’d write a scene or two per chapter every day of November. I didn’t plan it any more than that.

I gave my 2016 NaNoWriMo entry the working title of Noren the Strong. Noren was one of the main characters I’d developed and I thought we’d follow his Hero’s Journey, with his companion Yngvild. Old Bjorn would be his mentor.

During November I wrote in wattpad (you can still read it as Yngvild & Noren on wattpad) on my journey to and from work. I copied it all into Scrivener in the evenings. There were 54 scenes written, including four from other points of view that I didn’t make public.

Reflections on Editing the First Draft

Notes on how Yngvild develops as a character through the story (photo: James Kemp)

The working title

The main problem with the original working title (Noren the Strong) is that Noren wasn’t the main character as it actually got written. I’d intended for both Noren and Yngvild to be equally involved, but the story would be about finding Noren’s lost parents and his understanding his heritage. The story is still about that, but it became clear to me a few days in that Yngvild was a better protagonist.

Also Noren ended up with a different cognomen too, as Skyssians are prone to a bit of banter he ended up being known as Noren the Dwarf, because he’s really tall.

I’m not sure what the final title will be, but the working title has changed to Yngvild & Noren for now. That doesn’t quite trip off the tongue. Nor does it give you a flavour of the story. So it still needs a better title. Maybe Yngvild the Fierce? Whatever I end up with will need to reflect the fantasy theme of the story and also give potential readers some sort of hook. I’ll also need a better cover, ideally a painting of Yngvild being fierce!

Using Dialect

One of the main things I did when reading through Yngvild & Noren was to make a note of all the characters and highlight their speech. One of the secondary characters in the first two chapters uses some dialect that’s sort of Shetland-ish some of the time. It gives him a distinct voice, so this is something that I want to plan for those supporting characters and then go back through and re-write their dialogue.

Finishing the Story

I went a bit past the needed 50k words for my 2016 NaNoWriMo attempt, ending around 55k. However the story wasn’t finished properly. The ending was a bit rushed, and it needed to consciously complete the Hero’s Journey. So I replotted it. The main re-write will be to up the ante in the ending to make it more satisfying. It’ll probably add another 20k words and make it feel like a proper novel when it’s in paperback.

Yngvild’s Emotions

On my pass through the wattpad scenes as well as fixing the typos I’ve been writing little snippets of Yngvild’s inner thoughts. These show us her emotions, without resorting to dialogue. I’ve mostly used it when she’s not able to figure out what is going on, and doubting herself. It’s something that I’d quite like to test with some beta readers when the draft gets to that stage.