29 January 2010

NaNoWriMo: Rookie Mistakes

Al_HikesAZGive the Lady a Ride was the result of my failed 2007 NaNo attempt. Want to know why I failed? I got so excited about my subject, I wanted to research it. So I did. Trust me, that amount of time not writing is guaranteed failure in a contest where word count is everything.

Instead of competing in NaNo, I interviewed a former bull rider, visited a rodeo ranch, watched calves being tested for the bucking abilities, studied tapes of bull riding, attended a cattle auction and interviewed the ranchers, cowboys and auction workers on the scene. I did a lot of foot work, and I'm proud of the authenticity it gives my novel.

There's only one problem: I wanted to include absolutely everything I had learned in my book. You've heard of information dumps? Well, I'm guilty of a research dump. I found the world of ranching and bull riding to be fascinating and didn't want to leave out a single detail for my readers. In doing so, I lost sight of the plot. Give the Lady a Ride is a romance. The plot, dictated by the genre, is: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back.

In her letter rejecting my submission, the editor of White Rose Publishing actually counted how many times my main characters shared a scene in the five chapters I sent to her, and the result was not pretty. It's cool that she read all five chapters and took the time to respond, but the point is: Ride is a romance, not a college course on bull riding or ranch management.

I needed to weave my research into the story just enough to create the authenticityI was seeking, to give the reader a feel for the setting, the life, the activity. Don't get me wrong--the research was vital. I'm not saying cut corners doing it. I'm saying it's not necessary to write into your manuscript, in detail, everything you've learned.

I went back this past weekend and axed twenty-seven pages worth of research dump. The pages read well. The characters were active and engaged. Tension and conflict and all the wonderful stuff that makes a good novel better flowed through the scenes. What they lacked was a point. What they failed to do was to move the characters forward. I took out all those pages without affecting the story. The reader will never miss them. Heck, I don't miss them!

*Flickr photo, "Bustin' Out of the Chute" by Al_HikesAZ


  1. I always seem to want to do this in the first few pages that I write and then I stop there. I'm going to try to unbury the plot. Thanks for the advice.

  2. I'm glad I could help! The January 2010 issue of Writer's Digest has an article on the topic called "Fact into Fiction" on page 34 that's worth the read.

    Good luck with your manuscript!