Week One: When 'What If' meets 'Yes, and…'

Week One: When 'What If' meets 'Yes, and…'

Ah, week one. You learn a lot about your novel in week one. You may have discovered that you hate your plot and changed it or had your first character rebellion. You may have fallen in love with a place or gotten side-tracked on a detail. One week end the world is full of possibilities. Don’t be afraid of them.

This year we took one look at the artwork from the Office of Letters and Light and knew that steampunk would be the theme for our region, but what, you may ask, is steampunk? The term appears to have originated in a letter written by K.W. Jeter to Locus magazine in the mid-80s, but its influences reach back into the Victorian where steam ruled and the scientific romances of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells came into being. More recently it can be found in the work of authors like Cassandra Clare (City of Bones) and Raven Dane (Cyrus Darian And The Technomicron).

Steampunk is an amazingly versatile genre. Authors have taken the feel and technology of the Victorian era and asked themselves the question ‘What if?’. What if there was magic? What if instead of futuristic cyborgs, people were augmented with clockwork parts? What if combustion engines didn’t overtake steam as an energy source? Then they ran with it.

In the world of theatre we have an improv game called ‘Yes, and…”. It’s our equivalent of committing to ‘what ifs’ in our storytelling. While playing the game you are not allowed to say no. It doesn’t matter what the previous person threw at you, you have to accept it and go. Beavers may be bowling or aliens kidnapped you in the middle of a lovely date. You can’t change where the story has taken you, you can only take the ‘what if’ you’ve been given, follow it with a ‘Yes,’ and run with it.

As we head into our second week, that is what I encourage each and every one of you to do. When you hit writers block take an idea that is totally outside of your novel and ask ‘what if’. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it. Make ‘Yes, and…’ a regular part of your writing experience. Bring in an element of sci-fi to your literary fiction or horror into your fantasy. It may not live past December 1st, but it also may open you up to ideas that you never would have thought of otherwise.

Not sure where to get a crazy what-if? Here are a few places to find them:

  • Ask your friends and fellow writers
  • Visit the Adoption Society or Plot Doctoring forum threads
  • Use a plot generator (Here’s one, but there are a ton out there)
  • Browse a library, bookstore, Amazon, or your own bookshelves

Whatever you do, remember that NaNo isn’t just an opportunity to write a novel with a bunch of other somewhat crazy fellow writers, it’s an opportunity to explore. So just like those authors that started this whole steampunk culture, and in the immortal words of Nike, just do it.

I mean now. There are three weeks left, but I promise they will fly, so write like the wind, my wrimos.

Alaina aka A_Rachelle
Co-Municipal Liaison, USA::Michigan::Lansing

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