Tag Archives: The Night Circus

Do NaNo Novels Get Published? A Case Study

On the eve of the National Novel Writing Month competition, the perennial critics always question the value of a novel written in just 30 days. Keep in mind, though, that any completed NaNo novel is just a first draft. Still, an impressive number of NaNo novels have eventually been published by traditional publishers.

According to the NaNoWriMo website, more than 100 NaNo novels have found their way to publication. These include such bestsellers as The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Morgenstern’s book is an interesting case study.

Morgenstern began writing what would become The Night Circus during the NaNo competition in 2005. She would rewrite and resubmit it two more times for NaNo. “It was good for me,” she said of NaNo, in a published interview. “I had done a little bit of playwriting in college, but I didn’t really finish anything.

“National Novel Writing Month was a great tool for me. I’d write that page and still hate it and then had to write another,” she said.

Morgenstern eventually submitted the manuscript for publication, but there were no takers. She participated in NaNo in 2009 with a different book. She returned to The Night Circus manuscript in 2010. “I pulled it back out in January and spent the winter and spring of 2010 rewriting the entire thing. That’s when the competition between the magicians (Celia and Marco) was added,” she said. The competition between the two illusionists—spurred by a bet between their rival sponsors, of which they were not aware—provided the fuel for the story. I won’t reveal any more details because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read this wonderful story.

What lessons can we draw from Morgenstern’s experience? First, she clearly benefited from the discipline she gained from participating in NaNo. By her own admission, she had done some writing, but she had never finished anything. NaNo forced her to write in compressed time frame. Second, she honed her work by redrafting it in subsequent years. According to NaNo rules, writers can use previous work as the basis for a novel, but each new word must be original. Third, even after a third rewrite, Morgenstern came up with a key plot change that transformed and invigorated the story. This was more than four years after she began working on The Night Circus. NaNo novels, like any first draft, require revision, revision and revision, and then polishing and then more revision.

It’s a long process from idea to publication, but the writer has to start somewhere. NaNo will help writers jump-start their novels.

What about you? Are you planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month?


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Book Review: “The Night Circus,” By Erin Morgenstern

One of the strongest elements of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series was the setting. Rowling created a highly detailed and sweeping world that was both magical and scary. In her dazzling debut novel, The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern attempts a similar feat. Like Hogwarts, Le Cirque des Revers (Circus of Dreams) is vivid, whimsical and highly developed. That’s where the similarities end.

Unlike Harry Potter, the stakes in The Night Circus do not involve the fate of the magical world. The stakes are personal as Morgenstern explores issues of love and obligation, competition and collaboration, fantasy and reality, free will and coercion, and the pursuit of one’s dreams.

The story centers on a bet between two illusionists in the late 1800s: Prospero the Enchanter, also known as Hector Bowen, and the mysterious Mr. A.H., also known as Alexander and the man in the gray suit. Prospero puts up his daughter, Celia, against a gifted orphan, Marco Alisdair, handpicked by Mr. A.H. The venue for the competition is a fantastical night circus, designed by theater impresario M. Chandresh Christopher Lefevre (you’ve got to love the names Morgenstern gives her characters).

The two stern taskmasters train their protégés without divulging the rules or the nature of the competition. They don’t even tell their competitor the identity of their adversary. Telling a tale like this is tricky high-wire act for any writer, but Morgenstern’s writing has a seductive quality that cajoles the reader into going along for the ride.

The strength of this story is the highly imaginative and detailed world of the circus. Morgenstern evokes all of the senses in her description of setting, making the circus come alive in the reader’s mind.

Eventually, Celia and Marco catch on to the game. They fall in love and, instead of competing, they decide to collaborate. But they must figure out a way to end the game without triggering a catastrophe.

I’m a fan of ambiguous endings because real life is that way. Rarely do people live happily ever after. However, this ending felt a little too ambiguous. It was as though Morgenstern wrote herself into a corner and couldn’t bear to end the story by making a more painful choice. That’s as much as I can say without spoiling the ending.

My only other criticism is that Morgenstern spends much more time describing every detail of the setting than she devotes to character development. In particular, I would have liked to have seen more about how Celia and Marco fell in love. It seemed to happen quickly without a lot of contact between the two rivals.

Still, these are minor flaws. I found The Night Circus to be an unusual and enjoyable novel.

How important is the setting to your novel?


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