But then, after I signed up, I checked their web site more attentively. They suggest I have an outline in hand.
Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure. Previously written prose, though, is punishable by death.
Gulp. I am writing this post on Thursday, setting it to publish on Sunday, because I imagine I'm going to be spending Sunday night scratching out potential plotlines.
J.K. Rowling said that Harry Potter came to her in a vision and she knew she had to write it down. I don't think such inspiration works well under pressure, or within a three-day deadline. I've been touching my forehead with my fingertips the last couple of days, trying to coax out ideas, but it is starting to feel like a clean slate in there.
It's overwhelming to realize that I could write about anything. So right now I am in panic mode, trying to think of new ways of doing something that is already tried and true (giving me a new empathy for film producers!). Here's what I've come up with so far:
• As people are gathered in a fallout shelter in London, they each tell a tale from their lives to get through the night. 12 tales, based on Grimm's Fairy Tales, sort of a Canterbury Tales in the 20th Century. [After I imagined this, I realized it was inspired by the film "Atonement" and recently listening to a lecture in my car called "Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind." Why 12? I figure I'd write each chapter would be 15 pages, giving me the necessary total.]
• A female Holden Caulfield makes her way through a suburban Maryland high school year. But what does her voice sound like (too easy to fall into Valley Girl speak—not sure there is a recognizable Maryland teenager sound...)? What is her quest?
• 10 stories about Santa Cruz, each story a different character's story. Last story, they all come together.
The older I get, the more I realize how hard it is to be fresh and new and not derivative. There's an overwhelming amount of life experience to try to compact into 200 pages. At the same time, there's that need to drive the story along with challenges for the main characters, while scattering mysteries or unanswered questions every few pages that will keep the reader turning the page—to manage that is the difference between writing fiction and typing. I think I will be doing a lot of the latter, as I make my way through the necessary word count.