And here we are! By the end of today, we will all have come to the halfway point of the NaNo. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Or have you run into some snags that you really want to get out of? We’ll talk about your status at the halfway mark. But first of all, you may be wondering, “Who the heck is Ian Woon and what does he have to do with the NaNo?”
MR. IAN WOON
Have you ever heard of an anagram? An anagram is the resulting product if you rearrange the letters of one word or set of words to create a brand new word or set of words. Take the word “stop.” If you rearrange the letters in that word, you can make the words “pots” or “spot” or even “opts.” Those are kind of mundane examples, though. The page, “Anagrams: Some of the Best,” has some more interesting, funny, and sometimes rather pointed examples such as “Debit card” being rearranged to read “Bad credit” or “Election results” being turned into “Lies—let’s recount!” But while that’s all well and good, what does this actually have to do with the NaNo?
Take a look at the letters of “Mr. Ian Woon.” Can you think of anything they might be rearranged to say? Or how about doing this backward? If you take the letters of “NaNoWriMo” and rearrange them, what do you think you might get? Yep.Mr. Ian Woon as an anagram of “NaNoWriMo” goes back a long way, in fact, right to the beginning of NaNoWriMo itself. It was the tradition, at least for the first few years, for NaNo writers to include Mr. Ian Woon somewhere in their stories. I suspect that this tradition no longer really exists, because I haven’t seen it mentioned for a long time. I think it was already falling out of practice when I did my first NaNo, back in 2000 or 2001. So it won’t be surprising if you haven’t heard of it yourself, especially if you’ve started doing the NaNo only in the past three or four years.
But I’ve always tried to maintain the practice, and friends who are doing the NaNo, from the forum I hang out on, have often tried to do it too. I believe that he might have been some kind of lizard in one of their stories one year. In one of my stories, he was kind of the equivalent of a Zen master. We never actually saw him, but my main character had just returned from three months of studying with him, so he was referred to. In two of my other stories, Mr. Ian Woon was the owner and head of an entire school of brilliant students working on virtual reality simulations. We saw him several times in those stories, because he played a fairly important role.
And look at this! Here I am, not even writing a story this year, and yet look who has shown up! So I’ve managed to get him into at least four of my stories, and I think he showed up, at least briefly, in a couple of others too. Mr. Ian Woon gets around.
It’s probably no longer necessary to try to fit some guy named Mr. Ian Woon into your story, because he seems to have dwindled in importance in NaNo circles. But you might consider it, if there’s some way of sticking him in. Maybe he’s the proprietor of a store your characters go to. Maybe one of your characters gets a misaddressed letter that should have gone to Mr. Ian Woon, and simply shrugs and returns the letter to the sender. Mr. Woon doesn’t need to take up much space, though of course he’ll add a few more words to your total.
I just think it’s nice to recognize that NaNoWriMo has been going for quite a long time now; I believe I’m on my fifteenth try, and it existed before I started. We’re already part of a longstanding tradition. And Mr. Ian Woon has been there in spirit with all of us, even if we weren’t aware of it, from virtually the beginning of this whole exercise.
But now for the checkup. We are halfway through the NaNo by the end of today. In theory, we should all have at least 25,000 words at the end of today, and if we’ve been smart and/or lucky, we’ve built up a cushion of even more words than that, you know, just in case. For Americans, especially, there’s a busy time coming up in the final week of November, so it’s a good idea to have piled the words up a little bit in the early weeks.
If you haven’t managed a cushion, or if perhaps you don’t even have 25,000 words by the end of the day, don’t worry too much yet. You can make them up. Have a look at your upcoming schedule to see whether there’s any day when you can take some extra time. After today, you’ve still got two Sunday afternoons that you might use to bash out several more paragraphs than usual. Or if you do most of your writing by sneaking in a few paragraphs in between other tasks, maybe add another paragraph or two each time you flip over to the NaNo, and they’ll start to add up.
And speaking of American NaNoers and their Thanksgiving events…remember Black Friday? Maybe you, like so many others, have decided that you really don’t want to promote the crass (and occasionally violent) commercialism of that day, and you are not going to go shopping that day. But maybe you can’t convince everybody, and you’ve got family members who still want to go out to buy stuff. All right, if they’re going to go, they’re going to go. You can stay behind, fire up the ol’ computer, and spend a few hours getting caught up with your characters. That’s a good day to write, and I’m sure you can fit in a few other tidbits of writing in the rest of the next fifteen days. Don’t give up yet on your word count or your story! A lot can happen in another half month.
How’s your plot?
Let’s remember how we decided we could pace our plot, back on November 4: Plot: Pace yourself through the month. Week One introduced the characters and, by the end of the week, introduced the main problem of the story. Week Two was to be the early phase of problem-solving, with hints of the problem possibly being more complex beginning to show up by the end of the week. This was also where the subplot began to surface in earnest. And this was meant to be the week where any conflicts between the characters, even if they were working together, began to be revealed. (These interpersonal conflicts could even be part of the subplot.)
So how are you doing? You will definitely need to have gotten past the basic “get to know the characters” stage by now. Of course there will be more things revealed about the characters as you go along, but at the very least, their basic temperaments, inclinations, and skills should be well-known to your readers at this point. Have you got the main problem in the plot completely established now too? Have your characters had the chance to deal with it to some extent and try to figure out how to solve it?
If you haven’t quite gotten there, you can speed up the process in the coming week. Have your characters get down to the serious business of working on the main problem of the plot. Since Week Three is supposed to be the week when big complications in their proposed solutions start showing up, you can just have the problems come in immediately rather than phasing them in gradually. The week to come is where your plot doesn’t just get complicated but all sorts of other unexpected glitches show up. Something could happen, in fact, that makes the characters have to devise totally new solutions.
The same thing might even happen to your plot; surprises could occur that make it veer off in another direction entirely from what you had anticipated. If this happens, go with it. But be sure that you can rein it in fairly quickly, because by the end of next week, you need to get your characters right on the verge of discovering the final resolution of the big problem and starting to implement it and having it actually begin to work. You are approaching the week around which most things in your story revolve, in fact, because the week after that will really just be the resolving of the problem and the wind-down. So rather than the halfway point (today and tomorrow) being the pivots around which everything turns, it’s really Week Three that is the pivot point. So if you need to speed things up in your plot in the first day or two, to get to where you need to be, do your best to do that.
Remember that you do have two extra days at the end, after the end of Week Four, so there’s just a teeny bit of leeway. If you need to extend the work of Week Two into tomorrow and the next day, go ahead and do that. But you will still need to do what you can in the five or six days after that to bring your plot to where it’s supposed to be at the end of Week Three.
We’ll check in again, this time next week, just to see how you’re doing with the pacing.
Meanwhile, I hope you’re still at it. If you have kept up with the daily word count and stand where you’re supposed to be by the end of today (with at least 25,000 words), and if you’ve managed to pace your story so it’s about where it should be if you want to complete it within the month—well done! You have already accomplished a great deal!
Take some time to very briefly pat yourself on the back this evening, once you’re finished today’s NaNo work. Then get back in the saddle tomorrow and start the work of Week Three in earnest. And if you’d like to carry on a long tradition and feel connected to NaNo writers from the beginning of its history until now—take Mr. Ian Woon with you for a brief stroll too.