More on the non-novel side of things

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed the nonfiction type of NaNo project. It’s one of the more unorthodox types of NaNo, but if that’s what you’re writing, you are not alone in your “rebellion.” In fact, that’s what these unorthodox NaNo writers have been nicknamed in the forums of the official site: “NaNo Rebels.” That has a nice sort of ring to it, doesn’t it? Let’s have a look at some of the different approaches to doing the NaNo.

STRAIGHT NONFICTION

Academics

Doing some academic writing?

This one is already familiar to those reading this blog. It’s the NaNo that is written strictly as nonfiction, where you’re working on a report or some kind of description perhaps of an academic topic. Or you could just have decided that you didn’t know enough about anteaters, so you were going to research them and simply condense the information you’d gotten into a nice lengthy paper about them.

We’ve talked about trying to do some of your research in advance as well as doing a little bit about organization. As a further note on organization, remember that another approach is to try to establish your chapter topics before you begin. If you start organizing your information into chapter topics ahead of time, it may help you begin to see the logical progression of the information. If you’re writing about cats, for example (which would be my first choice of topic), you may notice that your information falls into three or four main sections: breeds and types of cats and where to get one; proper feeding, exercise, and care; and characteristics of a cat that make it a great pet, including a section on great cat stories. Then you can break your information down into smaller topical sections within each larger one, and you’ve got the basic outline of your chapters and the places in which you will do your actual writing. Then add an introduction (why does this matter to begin with?) and a conclusion (what are the implications of everything you’ve written?), and there is the skeleton of your nonfiction NaNo.

This type of project will probably involve a fair bit of research, unless you know your topic quite deeply and thoroughly. You may spend more time researching than you actually do writing, in fact. This is why it’s advisable to get the main body of your research done and noted before November.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

business graphics, as though in a comic book

What kind of graphic novel is this supposed to be??

This was a category I had never even considered, since I’ve always thought of NaNoWriMo in terms of word count as well as narrative. If you want to be a “NaNo Rebel,” you probably can’t get more “rebellious” than this category.

But of course, even graphic novels generally have words (though not always). These types of novels are conceived in different ways (some, I’m sure, that I don’t know about). Some people create a basic storyboard with a few thumbnail drawings that sum up or remind them of where they want their story to be by a certain point in the timeline or page count. Other graphic novel creators actually write out a complete script first, which I presume includes not only the dialogue within the story itself but perhaps also an outline or description of what the important scenes should be and what they will look like. (I imagine that some of them could almost read like the script of a play, while others may look more like an outline.)

If you’re doing a script, of course, that may involve you in word count again. Depending on how long your story is going to be, the script itself may add up to fifty thousand words by the time you’re done. Some graphic NaNoers are therefore doing more or less the same thing that their novella-writing fellows are doing: writing a story with words. Their words, though, may also include words that talk about the final story without being words that will actually appear in the story once it’s drawn.

Other graphic NaNoers are taking into account the amount of work that goes into creating a single page of their story and are aiming for a certain page count per day instead of a word count. So depending on the size of a page, you might aim for two pages in one day, including all the graphic panels plus any text that appears in them. The work of drawing a page can easily be considered the equivalent to the work of writing a certain number of words in a novel. There will be no way to “verify” such a project using the official NaNo site’s verification process, which is based entirely on text, so unfortunately, you won’t get the usual “Winner” badges and banners and special deals on writing programs.

A graphic novel “rebel” must be prepared just to be rewarded with the knowledge that he or she completed the project that was planned for the NaNo. But then, they’re already rebels, so I’d say they’re prepared, all right.

MEMOIR AND HISTORY

Aquaduct

Want to write about history?

These types of NaNo project straddle the two worlds of fiction and nonfiction. That is, they are essentially nonfiction, but they are telling a story. Writing history will certainly involve as much research as any nonfiction project, and unless you’re writing your autobiography, a memoir will also require you to research your subject well enough to write accurately about them.

Many NaNo memoir writers are writing either their own personal histories (some major events that happened to them) or are writing histories of their families. Often, the latter histories involve how the family first immigrated to North America from Greece or Brazil or South Africa or Vietnam, or whatever. Sometimes, although the immigration is described, these stories involve going back to visit the “old country” and discovering certain roots there—whether that involves distant family members who have never been met before or going back to the scene of some major event that provided the impetus to leave.

Some use the writing of their personal histories as a way of working out their grief or making sense of a tragedy. Some have just lived a really interesting life and would like to get it down in words, perhaps to leave to their children.

History proper usually involves writing about larger events in the world, either writing a sequence of cause-and-effect events in the life of a country or a smaller locality or perhaps writing an in-depth examination of one major event. An example of the first would be a brief history of the reign of the Plantagenets in England. An example of the second would be, say, a look at the most recent election in Canada.

POETRY

Book of poetry with a rose inserted

Write some poetry

Why didn’t we think of this before? 🙂

Of course, I’m sure that many have thought of this type of NaNo from the very beginning; it’s not their fault that my own imagination was limited because I’m not a poetry writer. I suspect that I never thought of poetry because I would have been thinking in terms of writing fifty thousand words of poetry in the month and 1,667 poetic words in a single day. And frankly, I’m not even sure that anyone other than Homer would have been able to accomplish that.

But from what I’ve seen as I’ve peeked at the poetry thread in the NaNo forum is that the people who are doing poetry for the NaNo have a less limited view of things than I do. Some simply talk about doing one poem per day. Remember that a really good poem requires a great deal of thought and work; it’s not something that you just dash off in a few words, like a few simple rhymes that are essentially nursery rhyme types of poems or Hallmark poems. Serious poetry involves thinking carefully about the play and sound and rhythm of words as well as the picture they are creating. Some of my friends who are poets can wrestle for an hour with a single line.

So just like the drawing work on a graphic novel, the writing of poetry can easily involve just as much labor in a single day as any of the work that goes into writing 1600+ words that day.

OTHER NON-STORY NANO TYPES

There are all sorts of other options for writing a non-story NaNo. Again just glancing down the list of topics in the forums at the NaNo site, we see things like journaling or blogging or even the world-building for the later writing of an actual novel. Journaling gets close to the “memoir” type of category, though it’s more like a daily diary than outright memoir. Blogging, well, here I am, doing a blog myself.

Futuristic science fiction buildings

Do some world-building

Interestingly, a lot of people have talked about doing a travel blog, recounting many of their experiences in going to other places in the world. And of course, they’ve undoubtedly got a lot of pictures to include in the blog as well. Pictures are another thing around which people’s ideas pivot and differ, though. Some seem to be counting the insertion of photos as the equivalent of inserting a certain number of words, while others are viewing the photos as extra accessories that don’t really get to be considered as part of the word count. (The latter would be me. I doubt I’d feel differently even if the photos I’m using were originally my own photographs rather than [for the most part] pictures I’m finding on Pixabay.com.)

Others are writing out the details of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Doesn’t that sound cool? That is actually a sort of subsection of general world-building, which others are doing. World-building is an interesting case. So maybe you want to write a novel, but you don’t actually want to try to cram it into thirty days, and you don’t want to write just la part of it in that time and feel yourself under the pressure to produce. You can still get ready to write it later, more thoroughly and at your own pace. But if, say, it’s a fantasy world and you need to get some information settled about the various countries in your world or the laws and practices of magic or the types of creatures that exist in the world—what better time to do it than during this month? You can still build up the required word count, but while it’s contributing to your eventual work on your novel, it’s not putting you in the position of perhaps writing the novel too sloppy a way. You can be less picky about how you put the words together when you are just writing a history of your countries or describing creatures.

And then there’s the sort of project I did last year, writing encyclopedia entries for an anime world. If you feel rather limited by the idea of “just” writing a story (and don’t feel that the challenge of the constraints of NaNoWriMo justify trying to write one), you can be a “rebel” if you want to try something else. Poetry, history, academic writing, journaling, and even graphic novels—you can join with the whole NaNoWriMo crowd and do a nonfiction, non-story, or non-text type of NaNo.

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