There are only a few days left in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), and I suspect that many of my fellow writers are going to have to hustle to reach their 50 Thousand word goal. If you find yourself behind, fear not. There are many of tried and true techniques you can use to beef up your word count, even at this late juncture. So, shelve your inner Hemmingway, fight off the tryptophan, and consider these strategies which were favored by some of history’s greatest writers:

Homer—Stock Epithets: Homer’s famous epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey were originally sung or recited orally long before they were written down. As such, they feature certain techniques that allowed the bard to recite them more easily. One of these techniques is the use of stock epithets and phrases. Characters, as well as certain other personified phenomena were described using stock phrases that were easy to remember and that bard could recite without thinking, allowing them to focus on remembering the upcoming lines.

Odysseus, the main character of The Odyssey, is often described as “man of misery” or “the man of twists and turns” (Fagles, trans.) How many times do you mention your main character in your novel? Multiply that by 3 to 5 depending on the stock epithet you choose, and, bam! That’s hundreds of words you can gain through a simple find and replace.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Homer uses stock epithets for many of his supporting characters as well, “wise old Nestor”, “Zeus who marshals the thunderbolts”, “Red-haired Menaleus, lord of the war cry.” The possibilities are limited only by your Dramatis Personae.

William Shakespeare—Hendiadys: As mentioned in last week’s blog post, Polonius, a character in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is prone to Hendiadys, or using two words connected by “and” to describe a single idea. Check out these examples:

Tis told me, he hath very oft of late
Given private time to you; and you yourself
Have of your audience been most free and bounteous: (1.3)

But, sir, such wanton, wild and usual slips
As are companions noted and most known
To youth and liberty. (2.1)

That’s three words for the price of one, every single time.

Charles Dickens–Anaphora: Nanowrimo can be the best of times or the worst of times, the age of wisdom, or the age of foolishness, the epoch of creativity, or the epoch of crap, an era of productivity, or an era of procrastination, so who better to look toward to beef up your word count to the man who was, famously, paid by the word early in his career? Dickens style tended toward verbosity, he often used multiple similes and metaphors to describe the same object, and, as in the example parodied above, he would, from time to time, use three or four sentences or phrases, layered on top of each other, to describe what most writers would describe in one. That style worked for him, and became his trademark. While your own narrative style may not be Dickensian, you can still steal some of his techniques to push you over that final word count hump.

One technique to consider is Anaphora, or the repetition of a word or a phrase at eh beginning of a sentence. Dickens uses it, expertly, in the following excerpt from Book 1, Chapter 5 of A Tale of Two Cities:

The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and started up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.

That’s eight repetitions of the word “hunger” in one paragraph, seven more that you probably would have written. Additionally, the Anaphoric repetition gives a framework for the type of repeated descriptions delimitated above. Moreover, while Dickens style is considered antiquated in today’s literary circles, anaphora is still a commonly used device in modern parlance. Because it emphasizes an idea through the repetition, it is considered a powerful rhetorical technique, and it’s often used (along with its sister device epistrophe, which is the same type of repetition at the end of a sentence) in political speeches to this day. (Martin Luther King’s I have a dream for Anaphora; Barack Obama’s Yes, we can for epistrophe).

So don’t despair. Get to it. Bang out those words, and achieve your Nanowrimo goals.

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One thought on “How To Beef Up Your Nanowrimo Word Count, Featuring Literary Techniques From Some Of Your Favorite Classic Authors

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