The key I've found that works is to use a basic rule of design I learned years ago when doing graphics design. It's a cute little acronym that's easy to remember: CRAP. Apply the rules of CRAP or a crap design is what you'll get. So what's this crap all about? :) The 4 elements of design are:
C = contrast
R = repetition
A = alignment
P = proximity
I've discussed the idea previously, back when I was discussing book covers. It works for designing images and amazingly, it works for designing your writing, as well! You have to think in terms of your book being a whole thing, not individual pieces. Make the entire work operate in synchronicity by applying unifying design rules.
Most importantly for Nanowrimo participants, while you're writing, whenever you get to a spot where you're not sure what to do, go through these 4 rules in your head to see if one or more of them might be the answer to getting those words churning out again. Click through the jump-break to read about each rule in turn.
In writing terms, this usually equates with conflict: adding a conflict, resolving a conflict, augmenting a conflict, but it could also be just as effective a method for describing a room. When you deliberately think of how this contrasts with that, suddenly it's not so boring to write a description of a room. Best of all, your readers won't be bored reading it if you're interested and excited to write it. Suddenly boring prose takes on a life with meaning and your white room description has texture and dimension. Contrast makes everything in life richer because contrast provides context.
You can also apply the rule of Contrast to your characters when you're designing them--and you'd better believe you should be designing your characters not merely writing down names. If you already have three brown haired guys named John, Jim, and Jeff in your story, make one a blond named Sam or be really daring and make him a gingerhead with a Gaelic name. I won't offend my Irish and Scots followers by attempting to pluck a "typical" name out of thin air (though I have several I use often :)
If you feel inclined to make your fiery redhead a sexy vixen in the stereotypical mold, don't. Contrast her with the stereotype. She'll be more memorable for it. Whenever you're designing any aspect of your story, apply the rule of Contrast by creating misunderstandings, conflicting tastes, opposing viewpoints. These aren't merely plotting conflicts; they're contrasts that enrich the scene and help build your world.
You might think repetition is something you want to avoid--and when it comes to individual words, yes, usually you do--but there are word-level repetitions that work. They're called alliterations. That's when the first letter of each word is the same. She sells seashells by the seashore alliterates the letter "s" (and helps people overcome lisps...so they say). Word-level repetitions can also work if they are deliberately designed into the sentence or paragraph structure. Beyond the paragraph level, repetition just looks like a writer who was too lazy to come up with another way of saying the same thing--or saying something new!
There are sentence-level repetitions that work. That's when you repeat a phrase or concept or thought. For instance, one I just read in my current SciFi thriller went as follows. The male lead character is standing guard at sunrise and reflecting on his life, which his gut has been telling him is about to end. I use the repetition to reinforce his internal resignation to his own death wtihout having him behave in any kind of melodramatic way. For those of you who swear by the rule of "show, don't tell" here I'm "telling," but in a way, I'm also "showing."
Maybe you don't like the way that reads. I do (a lot!) and it's one of the scenes I remember more than any other in this book, second only to the upcoming violent death I've foreshadowed here. There's a good reason it sticks with me so much: it's the repetition.
There are two of them, actually, first of the word "moment" and then the phrase "next time." I remember when I first wrote this (in the 1980s) and how I've tweaked it over the years to emphasize the word repetitions. Even more so, the two repetitions work together because they're both time-related. I know that might sound like an awful lot of analysis to put into one little wordy paragraph but the devil is in the details. These things stick with a reader because they stand out without actually jolting the reader out of their "reader's trance." You never want to jolt a reader out of the book, just make the book stick with them with your word choices.
I suggest worrying about alliterations or repetitions during the editing phase and not during Nanowrimo writing. Occasionally, you'll stumble upon one of these gems as you're writing, but generally, it's something you design in as part of that editing process where you "polish" or "wordsmith" your work. It doesn't actually change the content or plotting or characters; it just makes the writing tighter and ... "prettier."
Okay, I'm sure you understand where the concept of alignment comes into play with graphics design. When two visual elements are misaligned, it automatically draws your eye and your brain says "mistake" but have you ever considered this happening with words? It can and it's even worse when you make an alignment mistake in your writing. Then again, it's actually a really useful design tool to apply when you get stuck and don't know where to go next with a storyline.
When you have a conflict in your story, the design tool of alignment can strengthen your plot's conflict. Align a secondary characters with your Hero and he suddenly has a following which makes him more Heroic. Align characters with the other side of a conflict and your Hero suddenly has flaws--if he didn't, why would his supporting cast be defecting to the other side? Simply aligning characters (making one character share ideas or opinions or desires with another) can change the reader's ideas about them. Aligning characters can be done with or without their knowledge--and in the latter case, the reader is "in on a secret" making them more engaged with your story.
Like Alignment, the design rule of Proximity can be applied to your story to quickly and easily change the level of complexity. For instance, say your Hero is being targetted by your Villian. By simply placing a tossaway character (often called a Redshirt) next to your Hero, you can create a case of mistaken identity.
This one little detail has now affected 3 characters without your having to do anything else. How? The Villian has missed his target, the Hero now has to figure out who's targetting him and why and, of course, your secondary character has to figure out who's targetting him and make them stop--or die.
Constantly being in the wrong place at the right time--in close proximity to the bad situations, forex--can make for some truly eye-watering comic relief in a taut action story. Why? Contrasting the humor with the tension works better by creating an emotional rollercoaster....and that circles us back to the beginning of this CRAP so I'll stop there for today.
This Friday is Veterans Day and I'd like to be able to feature just soldiers stories or milfic and/or milSF stories but I need YOU to make that happen. If you've published a milfic or milSF eBook and can make it free for a day to offer readers a Veterans Day special, please submit it here to my Freebie Friday feature. Please share the link around with your friends. Let's see what we can give away this Veterans Day!