What I Learned from Month of the Novel

We’re just about finished with Month of the Novel. It’s been a lot of fun working on this project from August until now, but all that remains is to ship out the DVD copies once they arrive from being duplicated. Which means it’s time for a retrospective look at what I’ve learned from the project.

Establish a Feeling and Enforce It

This being a web series, we had six episodes to deal with. Six episodes written by six different writers, each with a different style. It was important to establish a feel and rules for the show to make sure the six episodes felt like they belonged to each other.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t room for individual personalities to shine through. The first episode is a hilarious take on the epic quest concept. It contains all the elements of that sort of thing, from unlikely heroes to important magical things. The fourth episode is a completely random series of one-liners with almost no reference to the quest. Both are great!

Each of the writers used our master document of guidelines to establish the feeling for their episode. Along with that, we had a story team overseeing the writers and telling them where things needed to change to integrate the scripts together. As a result, we have a cohesive whole with different riffs on the same concept.

Great Story Supervisors are Worth Their Weight in Gold

I have to give a huge shout-out to our story supervisor, Aubrey Hansen. She was fully awesome on this project.

When I was satisfied with a script, she pushed the writer to take it farther. When I thought something was good enough, she picked at small details and took things to the next level.

That’s exactly what a great story supervisor does. Story supervisors, I’ve learned, tell the director when he’s not thinking big enough. They act as a safety net and a green light.

You see, I went onto the set with the script for the first episode without any clear idea of how it would turn out. For each of the other episodes, I could see them in my head. I knew how they would be if I got what I wanted. But the first episode never gelled for me until I hit the set and shot it.

Way before that, though, Aubrey told me it was good. And she was right! So find someone with great story sense to supervise your writer(s), and then listen to what they tell you. You won’t be sorry.

Let Your Crew Members Do What They Do Bestest

This goes along with the part about story supervisors. Let your crew do what they do. Tell them what feeling or emotion you’re after, and then give them space to make it happen. On Month of the Novel, I most experienced this with the show’s composer, Benjamin Dawson.

Although I listen to a lot of film soundtracks and play a couple of instruments, I’m pretty clueless when it comes to scoring a film. But that’s okay. Benjamin would ask what I was after, I’d give him a feeling or emotion, and he’d come up with something that, nine times out of ten, I loved instantly.

Don’t think you get off with just sitting back and letting your crew work, though. Because Month of the Novel was six episodes, I had ample opportunity to learn about the scoring process and what ideas I wanted to use. By the time we got down to the last two or three episodes, I wasn’t just sitting back and watching Benjamin compose. Instead, I was actively pointing to previous music from the show and asking for themes to return, then letting him overrule me and write something new.

One Good Tweet Can Launch You

This one is pretty simple. The show is based on NaNoWriMo, so we made sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and we let them know about Month of the Novel from the very start. Well, when they mentioned the first episode on Twitter, we practically had to duck to avoid being run over by the hoard of NaNo-ers heading to watch the show. I had to figure out how to stop my e-mail from alerting me every time we got a new follower!

Know your audience, then find the influentials in your audience and try to get their attention in a non-spammy way. We had an easy in because we had to e-mail NaNoWriMo to see if we could use their name in the show. You might have to jump through a few more hoops to get it done on your project, but it’s so worth it.

Posters are Easy

Go to Zazzle. Upload your artwork in the right size. Sell posters. We should have thought of that a long time ago.

You Don’t Brew Tea

Nope. You steep it. Who knew? Ruth Shafer (my editor and cinematographer) did, and when I had the Writer brew tea in the show opener, she let me know I had the wrong verb.

The lesson here is that you work with a passel of creative people, each with their own areas of expertise. Learn something new from each of them, no matter how small it is. At the very least, it might be on Jeopardy someday. 😀

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4 comments on “What I Learned from Month of the Novel

  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful words. This was a unique and fantastic project, and I’m really delighted I got to be involved from the early stages. Thanks so much for inviting me on! It means worlds to hear how helpful my involvement was.

    • Oh, there were a few times where I suggested reusing a theme somewhere, and then when you sent the draft score, you had come up with something totally new. Which is great!

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