How I Wrote Dessa and the Nurse Dragon(and confessions of a NaNoWriMo cheater)
This year I was not going to do NaNoWriMo. I had typed “the end” on Elemental Realms 2: Call of the Waters like a week before NaNo was to start. I had editing to do. We’re moving cross country in December. I’ve done it three years straight, so I didn’t have anything to “prove.” No reason to try to push out a crazy amount of words in a month.
Then I got an idea that would not be denied. I started thinking about it and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to write it RIGHT NOW!
I wrote Dessa’s story a little differently. I’m not a plotter. I usually know how my books will end and begin and one or two major plot points just because I think about them a lot, but I don’t chart and plan and whatnot. Sometimes, to help me keep things in order, I’ll make a skeletal outline, like a “to do” list for my characters (Find the Man in Black, get wheelbarrow and cloak, have fun storming the castle), but I love to write via discovery and let my characters lead. When I’ve tried to write out a more detailed outline, I’ve usually ended up abandoning it. I threw out my outline for Thaddeus Whiskers when he took on his own life in chapter one and I realized the happy ending I planned wouldn’t satisfy him. I changed the ending of Beggar Magic and Lands of Ash. I just rarely stick with my plans. I love to chase inspiration.
However, the plot to Dessa came to me so suddenly, I think I needed to prove to myself that there was a story there, so I wrote out a detailed, chapter by chapter summary of the book. Without spoiling too much, I’ll share the first few chapter summaries here, just so you can see what I mean:
Scene 1: Dessa observes a dragon race with her best friend, Abry. Afterwards, she heads to the shop and sees the different sorts of dragon eggs. Fantasizes about which she’d like to have, picks out which egg set she’s going to save up for. Hint that Abry has enough to buy a set but doesn’t wish to in front of Dessa.
Xavian is in the shop buying a luxury set. The clerk tells him h gets a basic set free with his purchase. Xavian is dismissive. Dessa wishes she could get the set, but Xavian takes it with him. On the way home, Xavian pelts Dessa with dragon eggs. She’s more horrified about the loss of the baby dragons than the mess. She cries. Xavian mocks. Tells her she can’t hit him because her dad works for his dad. Abry points out that she still can. Xavian runs away. Dessa spies an egg that landed unbroken in a pile of leaves and scoops it up.
Scene 2: Dessa returns to her workshop at the back of her father’s greenhouse and puts the eggs under a growth light among seedlings. She then feed her mayfly dragons in their terrariums, taking notes about what she feeds them and their lifespans.
Her father enters, is disappointed that she skipped school. Wants her to have a better life than he does as a gardener for Xavian’s dad. She wants to be a dragon racer. He explains how unhappy captive dragons are. Dessa doesn’t think her Mayflies look so unhappy.
For the most part I stuck to my outline this time. It was almost like the book presented in its entirety. I couldn’t write it fast enough and was averaging over 3k words a day (my usual is 1k). I’m not sure if it was having the road map of the summary that made it work so well (I always knew what I was going to write when I sat down to write for the day, and if I felt lost I consulted my “cheat sheet” that described the scene in decent detail.).
The thing is, I’ve always come down on the pantser side of the pantser/plotter debate. I hate restrictive guidelines, and I am more of a doer than a planner. I learn best by “jumping in and pushing buttons.”
But different pieces have different needs, and Dessa’s story just sort of came to me in a stroke of inspiration.
Now for the “cheating” part. Dessa’s story is only about 39k words, so while I finished it well ahead of time, (typed “The End” on November 11th) it is still 11k words shy of meeting the NaNoWriMo goal of 50k words in a month. Whoops.
I suppose I could add in some fluffy stuff to pad it out, but it is a middle grade book and they aren’t really supposed to be that long. 39k is right about where it should be. So what to do? I’m writing “supplemental” material. Blog posts, world building details, things I hope I can use when it comes time to promote the book. I could try and edit it a bit, but I think it will probably go down, not up, in word count when I do this (I’m already eyeing a few scenes that could be more succinct). I only have to write about 500 words a day to finish on time now. It’s just an issue of what those words are, with Dessa’s story tied up so nicely.
Anyway, I can’t wait to share Dessa’s story with you. It’s a really heartfelt story, and one of the few times I’ve cried when writing was when I penned the ending for this one.
Linked on Round-Up Inspiration