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

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.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.

A #NanoWriMo Diversion

The writer sits down in front of his computer. His phone has run out of batteries; the dishes are washed; the laundry is done. He has fed the cat, and the kids are asleep. There is nothing preventing him from getting on with that #NanoWriMo novel, except for anxiety and writer’s block.

He stares at the screen. The screen stares back at him. He rereads what he wrote the night before. Complete drivel. He had stopped the previous incoherent, stream of consciousness session of inane babble at particularly difficult plot point, and, having slept on it, and having gone through an entire day taking care of his two kids, he is no closer to resolving the conundrum than he had been the night before.

He briefly considers summoning Mephistopheles, which, if the texts he’s read are any indication, would be significantly easier than resolving that plot issue, but considers whether his immortal soul is worth the paltry reward. Surely, there are better things to ask of the devil, and if this month so far is any indication, he does not relish the prospect of spending eternity in writing hell staring at the blank page on the screen.

The writer’s shoulders slump a bit further. How is this even possible? He already has the weight of the world on them. He turns, first to one side and then to the other and sees two metaphysical beings that have appeared, perhaps conjured through the mere act of thinking about the Marlow play, within shouting distance of his ears.

“What’s the point of nano anyway?” the first one says. “It’s not conducive to your writing style. How are you going to keep yourself from editing as you write? You love to rework sentences. Just now, you rewrote the previous paragraph three times before moving on to this one. I know; I was in your head when you were doing it. There is no way you’ll be fast enough to finish something like this. Face it: you’re doomed to fail before you even start.”

“Don’t listen to him,” the voice on the other shoulder retorts. “This will be good for you. It will force you to get out of your own head a little. Your process is so tortured, no wonder your blood pressure is high. Let you hair down, and just write what comes. It will be fun.”

“Ha!” the first voice responds. “Like he could ever. 1700 words a day—not going to happen. Look: we’re a week in, and you’re already behind. Go to your web browser for a minute. Good. That document will still be there when you get back (it’s not like you’ve written anything in it today, anyway). See that ‘success line’ on the bar graph? It’s already trending away from your ‘words written’ line. You’re digging yourself a hole. A deep one.”

“Don’t look at that graph. Look at the days written chart. You’ve written every day this month. Every. Single. Day. You haven’t done that in a long time.”

“Not enough.”

“You’ll get there. You’re just hitting your groove. 1100 words a day is great. Any other month, and you’d be thrilled with that output.”

“My point exactly,” the first voice cut in. “You’re writing more words per day than you’ve ever written, and you’re still falling short. It’s unlikely that you’ll increase that by enough each day to get this thing done.”

“Of course you will. The main thing is to develop the habit. 1100 words this week, 1600 next week. More on the weekends, probably. And, even if you don’t finish, so what? You’ll have developed a habit that will keep you writing throughout the year.”

“Yeah, a habit that’s unhealthy and unsustainable. You’re snacking too much, and not working out. You’ve put on five pounds since Halloween, and we’re only a week in. You had better get that novel done quickly, because, if you don’t, you’ll likely by dead in five years anyway. Put the computer down and take care of yourself.”

“Oh, nonsense.” The second voice sounded exasperated. “You’re just getting used to it. You’ll adjust and get back to exercising and eating well.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Look, this will be good for you. It’s about discipline and time management. Exercising, diet, proper sleep. Writing. Work on the behavior. Learn some will power. Once you develop one habit, it will be easier to develop the others. This month, you have an excuse to develop the writing habit. Get that one down. The others will come.”

“Writing, working out, eating well, sleeping—when will it end? Managing your social media, updating your blog—you’ve written 768 words here, about this nonsensical fantasy instead of putting them into your nano wip. You can’t afford that.”

“Actually, I agree,” the second voice chimes in.

“Wait, what?”

“Take the 800 some odd words in this blog and add them to the 1100 you’re going to write later tonight, and that’s your daily total right there. Stop procrastinating. Get off the blog, and write.”

The voices go quiet. The writer listens to their silence for a minute or two, shakes his head, opens his document, and types the first words of his nanowrimo session for the day.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.