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NaNoWriMo – The Traveling Shovel of Death and Other Cheap Tricks for Accumulating Words

We’ve been swept up by holiday madness here at the Anansi office (check out our rad festive sales on the homepage) but we haven’t forgotten you WriMos!

As promised earlier in the week, here are some NaNo hacks for when you want to add words rapidly to your WIP. Some are fairly tame for when you still have a plot, and some are really out there for when you are so behind you have thrown your plot out the window, and if you are behind like we are you are going to need them rolling full-speed into week four.

Lose Your Hyphens and Contractions


A cheap padding trick some might say, but effective. Deleting your hyphens will lose you grammar points but can be balanced out with never using contractions. Not only will your characters sound like fine, upstanding educated scholars, but you will add an extra word every time you do so.

The Elaborate Name


Give a character a long and possibly elaborate name and have them insist on always being called by their proper and full name. Have other characters mess up the name and your character correct them. To use a real world example of one of my very good friends (sorry Anna!) a name as complicated as Anna Corinna Julie Minna Fleix Davidson is often butchered in places like official government documents, hospitals, school, etc. Anna finds herself having to correct people on her full name more often than I think her parents realized, and this too can work for you character! It doesn’t even need to be this complicated. Instead of someone named Chris, have all his friends always refer to him by his full name (Chris Leeds!) and boom: you have doubled up every time you use his name. (And we all have a friend we do this to in real life!)

The Pop Culture Reference


Have a character who loves to quote movies, read novels aloud, recite poetry at inopportune moments, or serenades their friends. You can also make use of this technique by having a character describe or analyze songs/movies/novels either to themselves, the reader, or another character – think Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Not only did Ellis eat up a lot of words with Bateman’s materialistic obsessions but they added chilling dimension to his character.

The Traveling Shovel of Death (TSOD)


The Traveling Shovel of Death is a blood-thirsty shovel that travels from novel to novel in November throwing a wrench into plots and murdering characters. TSOD is the stuff of NaNoWriMo legend; unfortunately it’s both a blessing and a curse. It can add thousands of words to your novel, but also once you hear about it, TSOD tends to find its way into your novel whether you are planning on adding it or not. For a better explanation than I could ever write visit the TSOD forum to learn about the shovel’s legacy and how you can use it to wrack up a lot of words.

“And then they heard an explosion.”


Along the same lines as TSOD, “And then they heard an explosion” is a device that can be used when you are absolutely stuck in your plot and need a drastic new direction. It has many incarnations: “suddenly ninjas,” “suddenly ducks,” “And then trebuchets,” “and then a meteor hit the earth,” and many more. The point is to introduce big, diversionary conflict into your plot and kick-start a new wave of creativity.

Cliff Brooks


Murdering Cliff Brooks in your novel is a time-honoured NaNoWriMo tradition. A real-life person, and annual participant in NaNoWriMo, Cliff Brooks is a horror writer who bit off more than he could chew in 2004 when out of spite he murdered a fellow writer in his novel. To exact his revenge, the plucky writer (named Phil) convinced everyone he knew participating in NaNo to introduce a character named Cliff Brooks and murder him in the most painful and creative way they could think of. The tradition took off, and since then fictional Cliff Brooks has died in almost every way imaginable, but no one ever gets tired of trying to think up a way that has never been written before, and he can add a good chunk of words to your novel.

Visit the NaNoWriMo forums for even more inventive ways to add some mileage to your novel and we will see you in week four for the final stretch!

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