Sunday, November 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update: Weekend #2

At the end of the second weekend of NaNoWriMo, I have 29,031 words. I'm one day ahead of where I need to be to hit 50K before Thanksgiving. I'm two days ahead of where I need to be to beat last year's word count. And I'm six days ahead of where I need to be just to win.

I'm still struggling with the story itself. But, I did a marathon session this afternoon, and in addition to doing wonders for my word count -- today is my most productive day this month, and my first 5K day since Day 1 -- it also felt good to just sort of power through the plot more than I have done all week.

I've also been really enjoying being a part of "Team IB"; a big thanks to Susie at Insatiable Booksluts for getting that going. And that brings us to the homework section of today's blog post. Today's prompt over at IB:

Re-read a really good scene from your favorite book. Write a blog post and talk about what you enjoyed about the scene, what you think made it work in terms of how it is written, and if you want, how you have or will apply that to your own writing.

Trying not to put too much thought into this, let's just pretend for the sake of the discussion that my favorite book is Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. I don't know that I'd normally say it's my favorite. It's among my favorites, for sure, and the genre and style of writing is probably more similar to my current novel than other books on my favorites list, so since I'd like to use most of my effort in actually completing the prompt, and not use it all up just picking the book, we'll go with that.

The scene I chose to re-read is a fairly early one in the book, the scene that begins September 2003 (pages 50-54 in the hardcover edition) if you care to read along. Alice and her husband are attending a holiday party. At this point, she still doesn't know what's wrong, or even that anything is wrong. Most of her mental gaps thus far have been momentary lapses, the sort of thing that you wouldn't think twice about, except that they're becoming increasingly frequent.

At the party, there are more of these subtle hints throughout that something isn't quite right, like the fact that she asks for a refill on her drink while she's still holding a half-filled glass in her hand. The scene is also filled with reminders that her field is psychology. The mind is supposed to be something she's an expert on, which makes her condition all the more frustrating.

The real meat of the scene, though, is when she's introduced to the wife of one of her graduate students, leaves to go to the washroom, and by the time she gets back she doesn't remember having met the woman. As Alice introduces herself with an "I don't think we've met," the others in the group exchange glances. Her husband quickly makes an excuse and the two of them leave the party, and she means to ask him what it was that she'd missed back there . . . "but she became distracted by the gentle beauty of the cotton-candy snow that had begun to fall while they were inside, and she forgot."

First of all, I love how subtle everything is. Of course it has to be, because we're seeing everything from Alice's perspective, and she doesn't yet understand what's happening to her. But I have a problem doing subtle. Not so much an issue during the first draft phase, but it still sort of makes me groan when I write things that are SO OBVIOUS, like the entire page is flashing with neon lights, and notes in the margin screaming, "THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!" I think in the case of this story, Genova can go even more subtle than usual, because we already know Alice's fate going into it. When it comes to hinting at something the reader doesn't know yet, it gets harder. How do we make sure that something stands out enough that the reader will remember it later and say, "oh yeah," as opposed to it being so subtle that the "oh yeah" moment doesn't come until they do a re-read?

Also (and I guess this is just another example of subtlety), I love the word choice at the end, that Genova ends the scene with the words "she forgot." Because doesn't that just sum it all up? Not the real heart of the book, but the intial problem. The catalyst. She forgot.


  1. Good luck!

  2. Ooh, I love your thoughtful analysis of that scene. I also haven't read that book yet (I know, what's wrong with me?) but I'd like to pick it up now.

    1. YES, you should totally read it! And despite how emotionally intense it is, it is also something of an "easy read," it went by really quickly. But she just does such a good job. I put the book down, and I had to shake off the haziness; it felt like my mind was going right along with Alice's.