Putting Play to Work


Editorial Note: The manuscript described here ended up being called The League of Marvelosities, and is currently being revised during the 2014 NaNoWriMo challenge.

As I shared on Monday, I’ve been rediscovering the power of play in my creative work. It also happens to be NaNoWriMo this month.

So on Wednesday, I shared three rules I set at the start of this 50,000-word marathon: rules designed to keep me playful in an otherwise pressure-cooker of a month.

We’re now halfway through. I’m 28,000 words in.

Already, I’ve noticed a few trends emerge from this experiment with play.

 1) High Concept

Overall, having a simple story hook makes it easy to play widely (and wildly) with details. (If you’re not familiar with this term, you might enjoy this helpful explanation.) Basically, the more easily-expressed the story concept, the more time and mental space you have to execute it memorably.

The novel idea I seized at the beginning of NaNoWriMo happens to employ high concept. I won’t say a lot about it, other than that it’s tentatively titled Miss Classified and features an alternate Victorian world with one major (and outrageous) alteration to the structure of social power. I’ve had tons of fun exploring this “what-if” situation and letting an ill-equipped heroine discover her own path to greatness.

2) Comedy

My rules made me promise I’d write something funny—which (if you know me) you know is pretty rare. Plus, the genre is steampunk. So this has been my chance to get whimsical, throw around huge old-fashioned words, and develop an omniscient narrator’s voice that parodies Dickens and Austen . . . things I never would have tried while sweating about “making it marketable” or (worse!) “making it perfect.”

It’s also given me a chance to blow characters’ foibles way out of proportion. Taking personality traits to their extremes has been so much fun. It’s incredibly easy to be write funny characters, I’ve discovered, when you’re not trying too hard.

 3) Curveballs

Early this week, I past the First Act threshhold and went hurdling into Act Two. Honestly, Act One was a cakewalk. But then came the infamous “Week Two Doldrums” of NaNoWriMo. Act Two began to teeter toward heavy drama and dark themes. The buoyant humor tangibly drained away.

So I stopped. Asked myself, “What’s the most BIZARRE thing that could happen next in this story?”

The answer that presented itself felt strange at first. Unrelated. Uncomfortable, even. But just a day later, as I allowed that “bizarreness” to soak into the story and alter its direction, I realized it was actually the most brilliant possible solution. It was as if, by unleashing my subconscious mind, I had invited the story’s “authentic core” to venture forth. Not surprisingly, all that buoyant humor rushed back into the text.

There are two weeks left in NaNoWriMo. We’ll see how Miss Classified actually turns out, but I have a strange sense that this “experiment” might turn into something more.

For now, though, I’m not too worried about where it goes.

I’m too busy having fun.

8 thoughts on “Putting Play to Work

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