#NaNoPrep: Guernica, Inspiration, and Finding Writing Prompts #amwriting

We are two weeks away from the opening hours of November and the official start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. So, let’s talk about inspiration. Poets know that one of the best ways to kickstart your imagination is writing to a pictorial prompt.

Picasso_quote_Art_is_a_LieOften the work that is inspired by a visual prompt has nothing to do with the image. But it has everything to do with the nature of storytelling. The ability to explain the world through stories and allegory emerges strongly in some people. Many are naturally able to form and express a story, and others find the subliminal prompting of an image will be the spark that lights their creativity.

My friends here at Life in the Realm of Fantasy know that I love looking at and talking about art. I’m not educated as an art historian, but I love the paintings of great artists because they tell a story. I like to share the images I come across and hopefully give others like me access to see the art that humanity is capable of, good and bad.

Perception is in the eye of the beholder. Perception also inspires extrapolation, leading the viewer to come away with new ideas.

When I see the story that was captured in a single scene by an artist, my mind always surmises more than the scene shows. I see the painting as depicting the middle of the story. Unintentionally, I put a personal spin on my interpretation, and ideas are born. I don’t mean to, but everyone does.

We are all inspired by the intellectual things we surround and entertain ourselves with, the art, the music, the television and movies, and the books we read.

Contemplating art, either paintings or photographs, or listening to music helps us relax. When we are at peace and contemplative, our minds wander. Pondering an image offers us a view of a static moment in time, but our minds are free to invent a past, a present, and a future for the scene.

But paintings also inspire ideas that have nothing to do with what the artist portrayed. The possibilities we imagine are endless, which is why visual images make great prompts for writers.

Let’s consider Guernica, a 1937 painting by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. This painting is considered to be one of the most powerful antiwar statements of all time. This single painting, done in shades of black and white, tells the story of the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain that was destroyed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the request of the Spanish Nationalists.

PicassoGuernicaPicasso’s choice to use black and white to tell that story is brilliant. Newsreels of the day were black and white, which influenced his decision. This piece is powerful because of the emotion the artist painted into the image.

In turn, the composition and symbolism in this painting had a genesis in the great art of the past. In planning the layout of Guernica, Picasso himself was inspired by Consequences of War by Peter Paul Rubens.

Watch this excellent YouTube video to see a short explanation of what inspired the artist, his view of both the horrific attack and the fundamentals of classic art. It explains Guernica well: Picasso’s Guernica by Great Art Explained.

So, we see that history, both the past and the present, inspires art, which inspires stories.

Iparkbenchnspiration can be found in the image of an unoccupied park bench in winter. The gray weather, the barren scenery, the loneliness of the empty bench could be the seeds from which a novel grows. Who is that bench waiting for? Who has just left it? Is the story light or dark?

The same can be said for an empty bench in summer. Either way, the viewer’s mind will answer the question of a light or dark story.

Meditating on a tone, a pattern, or an image is a time-honored means of expanding one’s mind. Meditating or daydreaming turns off parts of your brain. Our brain has an analytic part that makes reasoned decisions and an empathetic part that allows us to relate to others.

Researchers have found when a person daydreams, their mind naturally cycles through the different modes of thinking, analytic and empathetic. During this time, the rational and sympathetic parts of your brain tend to turn each other off, which is why this habit is so crucial to creativity.

Creative people are often guilty of mind-wandering, but researchers have shown that daydreaming makes you more creative.

You could be sitting on your porch watching the birds, as I often do. Or maybe you’re perusing the display in a local art gallery, or listening to Orff’s cantata, Carmina Burana—whatever you choose to meditate on doesn’t matter. The act of mind-wandering generates ideas. Soon, you may have the idea for a novel, a painting, or a piece of music.

Here are two good places where you can find both visual and non-visual writing prompts:

1100+ Creative Writing Prompts To Inspire You Right Now (reedsy.com)

Creative Writing Prompts – Writer’s Digest (writersdigest.com)

Alternatively, go out to www.wikimediacommons.org and see what the picture of the day inspires in you. Will those thoughts become your novel?

Perhaps so. But take the time to write those thoughts down. Writing them down in a journal offers you a mental image to contemplate, leading to the story, which grows into the novel.

Every step you take leads to another, and your notes become a storyboard, which becomes your novel. How you execute those ideas will be uniquely yours, your voice, your art.

#NANOPREP SERIES TO DATE:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, the End

#NaNoPrep: Signing up and Getting Started


Credits and Attributions:

Guernica by Pablo Picasso. 1937. Oil on canvas. © Picasso’s Estate and the People of Spain, Fair Use. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(Picasso) accessed 10, October 2021.

Neglected Park Bench, Park taeho, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, accessed 10, October 2021.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Facades of Handelskade, Willemstad, Curaçao – February 2020.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Facades_of_Handelskade,_Willemstad,_Cura%C3%A7ao_-_February_2020.jpg&oldid=598836309 (accessed October 16, 2021).

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#FineArtFriday: Harvesters by Anna Ancher, 1905

Anna_Ancher_-_Harvesters_-_Google_Art_ProjectArtist: Anna Ancher  (1859–1935)

Title: Harvesters

Date: 1905

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: w56.2 x h43.4 cm (Without frame)

Collection: Skagens Museum

What I love about this painting:

While she normally painted interiors, Anna Ancher captured a perfect late summer morning beneath blue skies in this painting. One can almost hear the rustling of ripe grain moving with the breeze.

I like the placement of the three figures, two women and a man. Are they husband, wife, and daughter? There is a sense of movement in this painting. They enter the scene from the right, and you feel sure they will exit to the left, where the field that is to be cut that day is.

The man will scythe, the woman who follows third will rake, and the woman in the middle will stack the sheaves.

These are not poor people. These farmers are dressed modestly in clean work clothes that aren’t tattered and patched. They are doing well; the grain is high, and life is good in these years of plenty before the outbreak of WWI.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Anna Ancher (18 August 1859 – 15 April 1935), born Anna Kirstine Brøndum, was born in Skagen, Denmark, was the only one of the Skagen Painters who was born and grew up in Skagen, where her father owned the Brøndums Hotel. The artistic talent of Anna Ancher became obvious at an early age and she became acquainted with pictorial art via the many artists who settled to paint in Skagen, in the north of Jylland.

While she studied drawing for three years at the Vilhelm Kyhn College of Painting in Copenhagen, she developed her own style and was a pioneer in observing the interplay of different colors in natural light. She also studied drawing in Paris at the atelier of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes along with Marie Triepcke, who would marry Peder Severin Krøyer, another Skagen painter.

In 1880 she married fellow painter Michael Ancher, whom she met in Skagen. They had one child, daughter Helga Ancher. Despite pressure from society that married women should devote themselves to household duties, she continued painting after marriage.

Anna Ancher was considered to be one of the great Danish pictorial artists by virtue of her abilities as a character painter and colorist. Her art found its expression in Nordic art’s modern breakthrough toward a more truthful depiction of reality, e.g. in Blue Ane (1882) and The Girl in the Kitchen (1883–1886).

Ancher preferred to paint interiors and simple themes from the everyday lives of the Skagen people, especially fishermen, women, and children. She was intensely preoccupied with exploring light and color, as in Interior with Clematis (1913). She also created more complex compositions such as A Funeral (1891). Anna Ancher’s works often represented Danish art abroad. Ancher has been known for portraying similar civilians from the Skagen art colony in her works, including an old blind woman.


Credits and Attributions:

Harvesters, Anna Ancher, Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Anna Ancher – Harvesters – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Anna_Ancher_-_Harvesters_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=371900766 (accessed October 14, 2021).

Wikipedia contributors, “Harvesters (Ancher),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harvesters_(Ancher)&oldid=1047378795 (accessed October 14, 2021).

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#NaNoPrep: Signing up and getting started #amwriting

Even if you don’t have an idea of what you want to write, it’s time to go out to www.nanowrimo.org and sign in or sign up. That will inspire you!

Navigating the website at www.nanowrimo.org can be confusing. However, if you take the time to explore it and get to know all the many tricks to using it, you’ll be more comfortable with it.

If you haven’t been a participant for several years and are considering joining again, you’ll find the new website is radically different from the old site. Many features we used and loved in the past are no longer available, but it includes numerous features that really are nice. The following screenshots will help you find your way around the website:

First, go to www.nanowrimo.org. This is the landing page:

nanoLandingPageOnce there, create a profile. You don’t have to get fancy unless you are bored and uber-creative.

Next, declare your project: Give your project a name if you have one. I don’t have a working title yet, so I’m just going with Accidental Novel 2 since it features the same characters as last year’s accidental novel. Pick the genre you intend to write in. Write a few paragraphs about your intended project if you know what you plan to write.

AnounceYourProject2021You can play around with your personal page a little to get used to it. I use my NaNoWriMo avatar and name as my Discord name and avatar. This is because I only use Discord for NaNoWriMo and one other large organization of writers. (Next week, we’ll talk about Discord and why NaNoWriMo HQ wants us to use it for word sprints and virtual write-ins.)

While you are creating your profile, write a short bio, and with that done, you’re good to go. If you’re feeling really creative, add a header and make a placeholder book cover—have fun and go wild.

right dropdown menu buttonNext, check out the community tabs. If you are in full screen, the tabs will be across the top. If you have the screen minimized, the button for the dropdown menu will be in the upper right corner and will look like the blue/green and black square to the right of this paragraph.

When the button is clicked, the menu will be on the righthand side instead of across the top.

Your regional page will look different from ours because every region has a different idea of how they present themselves, but it will be there in the Community tab. And don’t forget to check out the national forums, also on the Community tab.

Olympia_Region_homepageYou may find the information you need in one of the many forums listed here.

Now, let’s talk about eliminating heartache and attempted suicides among authors.

Losing your files is a traumatic experience. Some authors within my writing group have lost several years of work in a surprise computer crash – an unimaginable tragedy.

I use a cloud-based storage system because entire manuscripts can go missing when a thumb drive or hard drive is corrupted.

fileFolderMake a master file folder that is just for your writing. I write professionally, so my files are in a master file labeled Writing.

Inside that master file are many subfiles, one for each new project or series. My subfile for this project is labeled Ivans_Story.

FileDocumentGive your document a label that is simple and descriptive. My NaNoWriMo manuscript will be labeled: Accidental_Novel_2.

First of all, you need to save regularly. I use a file hosting service called Dropbox. I have a lot of images on file, so I pay for an expanded version, but they do have a free version that offers you as much storage as a thumb drive. I like using a file hosting service because it can’t be lost or misplaced and is always accessible from my desktop, laptop, or Android. I work out of those files, so they are automatically saved and are where I want them when I closeout.

You can use any storage system that is free to you: Google Drive, OneDrive, or a standard portable USB flash drive.

Save regularly. Save consistently. DON’T put off saving to a backup of some sort – do it every day before you close your files.

One final thing for those who have participated in the past: NaNoWriMo HQ has announced that there will be no sanctioned in-person write-ins again this year. While this is disappointing, we care about the health of all our writers.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543Still, we can come together and support each other’s writing via the miracle of the internet. My region is finalizing a schedule for “Writer Support” meet-ups via Zoom – little gab sessions that will connect us and keep us fired up.

Our region will use the Discord Channel for nightly write-ins in the general chat and word sprints in our wordwars room. The pandemic has had one positive benefit – our region has remained active for the last year, with several intrepid writers doing nightly sprints.

Check out what you region offers you for year-round support. You might be amazed what they are doing.

The #NaNoPrep series to date:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, the End

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#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, Plotting the End #amwriting

Some writers are “pantsers,” not “plotters.” Maybe you fall into that group and love NaNoWriMo because you can let the ideas flow freely. I have “pantsed it” on occasion, and it can be liberating.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_Novel_in_a_monthBut sometimes, when writing the first draft, we realize our manuscript has gone way off track and is no longer fun to write. That is where the storyboard and my loose outline become important.

My previous posts in this series talked about the story arc and how having a list of prompts can move the story forward and keep it flowing. We have made a list of prompts that will help us get started. We have a character, we have a world, and we have a situation. My sample outline looks like this:

Outline10092021LIRF

Now we must plot the finale, the event that will give Dave his greatest desire.

Hindrances matter. 

  1. It’s an ordinary suitcase, one you might find in any budget-friendly chain store. Dave is familiar with clients who try to hide money and realizes he has to think like a crook.
  2. He purchases a matching suitcase to use as a decoy.
  3. Dave’s new furniture arrives from the Large Swedish Furniture company.
  4. He can’t read Swedish directions, but his neighbor, Sophia, does, and she helps him.
  5. While assembling his furniture, he realizes he has the perfect place to hide the actual suitcase. After Sophia leaves, he puts it in the open space behind the drawers beneath his platform bed.
  6. With the original suitcase hidden, Dave visits a secondhand bookstore run by his neighbor, Sophia.
  7. He buys a large number of secondhand books for his apartment, some of which are in bad condition, claiming he loves to read but loves a good bargain more.
  8. At home, he fills the decoy suitcase with the worn books and hides it in a closet.
  9. He is barely settled in his new apartment when he is robbed.
  10. The decoy suitcase is stolen, but all it contains are beat-up copies of the entire Wheel of Time series in English and two out-of-date copies of Accounting for Dummies.
  11. Dave is kidnapped and threatened with bodily harm.
  12. He doesn’t crack. Why?
  13. His neighbor, Sophia, poses as a pizza delivery person and springs him. Surprise! She works for his employer and is his bodyguard.
  14. The agent Dave is holding the suitcase for turns up dead.
  15. Dave is handcuffed to the suitcase again, and he and Sophia must hurry to take it to Paris.
  16. There is a battle at the airport, but they make it onto the airplane.
  17. Enemy agents are waiting in Paris, but Sophia has mad martial arts skills.
  18. The suitcase is handed off to the proper authorities.
  19. Dave is free to go back to Seattle and his old life as an accountant.
  20. But he is offered a permanent job with his current employer.
  21. What does Dave choose, security and boredom, or adventure and a bodyguard like Sophia?

The entire outline takes about two pages. You haven’t written the story, but you have given yourself a skeleton upon which you can hang a novel.

storyArcLIRF10032021

Each prompt can (and will) be riffed on or changed from page one, but ultimately, the final battle in Paris and the chase to the embassy will be the goal we are writing to.

If six authors used this outline, you would end up with six completely different novels. Once you begin writing, the creative brain takes over, and what emerges will be unlike anything another author wrote.

By the time you arrive at the end, it might have evolved into an entirely different book than you envisioned at the beginning.

This is because you will be “pantsing it” between the prompts, and anything can happen when you sit down and write whatever enters your mind.

Just make notes of your changes and keep the overall story arc in mind.

Some people (and I am one of them) occasionally find it easier to begin writing a novel by writing the last chapter first. That is how I wrote my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel.

I wrote that final chapter, then asked myself who the characters were, how they had gotten there, and why they were in those circumstances. For that book, I wrote the outline in reverse.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to write a novel.

Neil_Gaiman_QuoteEvery novel is different, has a different genesis, and emerges from the author’s mind with its own personality.

The trick for NaNoWriMo is to get 1,667 new words written every day for 30 consecutive days. At the end of November, you should have 50,000 or more words written, and possibly your entire first draft.

To sign up for National Novel Writing Month, go to www.nanowrimo.org and get your profile started.


#NANOPREP SERIES TO DATE:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

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#FineArtFriday: The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table by Salvador Dalí, 1934 (revisited)

About the painting, from Wikipedia:

The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table is a small Surrealist oil painting by Salvador Dalí. Its full title is The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used as a Table (Phenomenologic Theory of Furniture-Nutrition). It makes reference to The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer, a famous seventeenth-century work in which a painter, thought to be a self-portrait of Vermeer, is depicted with his back to us, in distinctive costume. It is one of a number of paintings expressive of Dalí’s enormous admiration for Vermeer.

Vermeer is represented as a dark spindly figure in a kneeling position. The figure’s outstretched leg serves as a table top surface, on which sits a bottle and a small glass. This leg tapers to a baluster-like stub; there is a shoe nearby. The walls and the distant views of the mountains are based on real views near Dalí’s home in Port Lligat. In Vermeer’s painting the artist leans on a maulstick, and his hand is painted with an unusual blurriness, perhaps to indicate movement. In Dalí’s painting Vermeer rests the same arm on a crutch.

What I love about this painting:

I love the composition, the detail Dali puts into Vermeer’s hair and doublet–the attention Vermeer applied to his own work. This speaks to me of the desert, the way the sky looks in the afternoon just as the hottest part of the day slides into a cooler evening. Vermeer, the Master of Light, is enjoying the view. He is shown in a small courtyard, enclosed. Vermeer rarely left his rooms in Delft.

It is unsigned and undated but known to have been completed c.1934. It is currently on display at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, on loan from the E. and A. Reynolds Morse collection.



Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Ghost_of_Vermeer_of_Delft_Which_Can_Be_Used_As_a_Table&oldid=861917029 (accessed March 1, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Johannes Vermeer – The Art of Painting (detail) – WGA24677.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Johannes_Vermeer_-_The_Art_of_Painting_(detail)_-_WGA24677.jpg&oldid=268076769 (accessed March 1, 2019).

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#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2 #amwriting

I have developed mad skills at carving out time for writing because I participate in NaNoWriMo every November. As a municipal liaison for the Olympia area, I must get a minimum of 1,667 new words written each day.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_Novel_in_a_monthI usually do this with a little advance preparation. Then on November 1st, I sit in front of my computer, and using the ideas I have outlined as my prompts, I wing it for at least two hours.

So, where am I in this process? I’m now listing prompts for the middle of my novel, book 2 of a fantasy series.

However, for this series of posts I’m using an exercise from a past seminar on plotting to illustrate how my method works. This is a plot that can be set in any contemporary, paranormal fantasy, or sci-fi world. Change the vehicles from cars to horses and carriages, and it can be placed in a historical world.

Depending on your personal inclination, this could be written as a political thriller or a romance, or a combination of both.

In my last post, we met our protagonist, Dave, an unmarried accountant. We saw him in his usual surroundings, a café he regularly has lunch at. An event occurred, which is the inciting incident. What could possibly have enticed Dave out of his comfort zone? What did he do that was out of character for him? He “paid it forward” and bought a stranger lunch.

  • This act changes his life. It’s the first point of no return, leading to the first crisis.

Dave didn’t know it, but that was the moment he was thrown out of his comfort zone and into the situation, which is the core of the plot.

  • Dave walked toward his office, only a few blocks away, but as he waited for the light to change so he could cross the street, a limousine pulled up alongside him. Four large men in black suits hustled him into the backseat.
  • He was forced at gunpoint onto a plane bound for a foreign nation, handcuffed to a suitcase with no explanation.

Those are the circumstances in which Dave found himself in my last post. 

scienceHow will the next phase of Dave’s story start? That will begin the middle section of the story, and this is what we are going to give a brief outline of.

As I’ve mentioned before, everything that occurs from here until the final page happens because Dave has an objective: he wants to go home.

I suggest we give ourselves a few prompts, all of which center around Dave achieving his objective: to get rid of the suitcase and go back to his job. He wants that desperately. Desire drives the story. Objectives + Risk = Story

  1. A silent guard accompanies Dave.
  2. Dave has been left in possession of his cell phone, but mysteriously, it has no signal.
  3. They arrive at the embassy.
  4. Dave is taken to an interrogation room and questioned about his relationship with the woman he bought lunch for.
  5. Dave discovers that the only key that can remove the handcuffs is in the custody of the mysterious woman who is interrogating him.
  6. The woman leaves the room. While she is out, Dave’s phone lights up with a text message from his boss in Seattle. Because he hasn’t been to work for two days and didn’t call in, he has been fired.
  7. He can’t seem to call out or reply to the message, another mysterious thing.
  8. The interrogator returns, having verified that Dave is who he claims he is. She also seems to know he’s now unemployed.
  9. She offers him a job. All he has to do is babysit the suitcase for two months until a certain agent who is otherwise occupied can claim it.
  10. Dave wants to go home, but he can’t. He’s unemployed and homeless in a foreign country with no luggage, and no money other than his credit cards, which have limits. If he accepts the job, he will be given a work visa, a flat to live in, and a salary.
  11. He needs these things to achieve his deepest desire: to go back to Seattle and get another accounting job, which he can do after fulfilling his part of the bargain.
  12. The wage he is offered is good, significantly so, which makes him nervous. Still, he can see no choice but to accept the job. (The second point of no return, leading to the next crisis.) After all, he’s always wanted to visit (Stockholm? Insert foreign capital here).
  13.  Anyway, how hard can it be to babysit a locked suitcase?

That question must come back to haunt him for the next 40,000 words, and if you list a few prompts, you will take Dave to his ultimate meeting with fate.

Hindrances matter. Add to the list of obstacles as you think of them, as those difficulties are what will force change on the protagonist, keeping him and his story moving forward.

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_PacingIn any story, the crucial underpinnings of conflict, tension, and pacing are bound together. Go too heavily on one aspect of the triangle, and the story fails to engage the reader. By outlining a few important events now, we can add trouble and hitches during the writing process and increase the tension. Pacing will be something to worry about in the second draft—at this point, we just want to get the bones of his adventure down on paper.

Scenes involving conflict are controlled chaos—controlled on the part of the author. Stories that lack conflict are character studies. And perhaps, a character study is what you wish to write, and that is okay too. It’s just a different kind of story, more literary in its approach. Regardless, it will need an arc of some sort to bring change and growth to the protagonist.

The middle is often easiest to write because that is where the action happens. But it can easily be messed up, again with too much detail inserted in dumps. Several more events will follow, all of them leading toward one or more confrontations with the enemy. Without a loose outline, some of these events will be “desperation events.”

  • Killing off random characters
  • Random explosions
  • Yet another gratuitous sex scene

Next week we will plot the conclusion of Dave’s adventure. We’ll also examine the way writing the ending first can inspire beginnings. My 2010 NaNoWriMo novel grew out of what was really the final chapter.


#NANOPREP SERIES TO DATE:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

This Post: #NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

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#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 1 #amwriting

Today’s post begins a three-part series on the story arc. At this point, I’ve been talking about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, for several weeks. It begins on November 1st, and to sign up, go to www.nanowrimo.org .

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_Novel_in_a_monthWe know our genre and have written a few paragraphs that describe our characters and who they are the day before the story opens. Also, we know where the story takes place. (To catch up on earlier posts, the list is at the bottom of this article.)

I always feel it’s necessary to have a brief outline of the story arc when I sit down to write. “Pantsing it” is exhilarating, but my years of experience with NaNoWriMo have taught me that when I am winging it for extended lengths of time, I lose track of the plot and go off the rails.

Not having even a loose outline creates a lot more work in the long run. It stalls the momentum if I must stop writing, take the time to analyze where I’m at, and then throw together an outline for the next section. Stopping the flow lowers my NaNoWriMo word count for that day.

For those who are new to writing and are just learning the ropes, turning your idea about a book you’d like to write into a manuscript you would want to read takes a little work.

First, you need to know how to construct a story.

magicEvery reader knows that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They start in a place of relative comfort, and through rising action, they follow the characters through events that change them for better or worse.

However, when a new writer sits down to write a novel in only thirty days with no plan and no idea what they’re going to write, they can easily lose interest and stop writing altogether. Others might force themselves to get their 50,000 words, but have no control of character arcs, setting, or plot. They end up with backstory infodumps and side quests to nowhere. The ending either slowly faints away or is chopped off.

All the infodumps and history can be gotten out of the way before you begin the opening paragraphs on November 1st.

The progression of events from an opening line to a final paragraph is called a story arc. It is called an arc because the action begins at a quiet point, rises to a pitch, and ends at another quiet point.

So, let’s consider the beginning. Now is a good time to write a line or two describing the opening scene, simple prompts for when the real work begins.

Beginnings are the most critical and are easiest to mess up with too much information. All beginnings are comprised of situation, circumstances, and objectives.

  • A good story opens with the main character and introduces their companions (if any). (Circumstances)
  • The antagonist and their cohorts are introduced. (Circumstances)
  • With the introductions out of the way, something occurs that pushes the main character out of their comfort zone. (Situation and Circumstances)
  • That event is called the “inciting incident” and is named that because this occurrence incites all the action that follows. (Objectives)
  • These scenes comprise the first ¼ of the story arc. The beginning ends with the first major incident, where the action kicks into high gear, transitioning to the middle section of the story. (Situation, Circumstances, and Objectives)

strange thoughts 2In your musings, on what day does the serious event occur, the one that changes everything? THAT day is where the story begins, and everything that happens before that moment is backstory and isn’t necessary. A plot outline I have used before as an example is set as a political thriller, but it could easily be a paranormal fantasy, a sci-fi thriller, or a romance.

At the outset of the story, we find our protagonist and see him/her in their normal surroundings. Once we have met them and seen them in their comfort zone, an event occurs which is the inciting incident. This is the first point of no return.

At the outset, Dave, an unmarried accountant, sees a woman from across a café, and through a series of innocent actions on his part, he is caught up in a spy ring. We begin with the protagonist.

  • What could possibly entice Dave out of his comfort zone? What would he spontaneously do that is out of character for him? Perhaps he buys a stranger lunch. This act must change his life.

Because Dave paid for a stranger’s meal, he draws the attention of the people who are following her. They think he must be involved with her, putting him at risk.

That was the inciting incident, the moment that changed everything.

Now, Dave is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the situation, which is the core of the plot.

  • On his way back to his office, a white limousine pulls up alongside him, and four men in black suits hustle him into the backseat. He is forced at gunpoint onto a plane bound for a foreign nation, handcuffed to a suitcase. The only other key that can remove the handcuffs is at the Embassy in the custody of a mysterious woman.

This is the circumstance in which Dave finds himself at the beginning of the story. 

  • How will the next phase of Dave’s story start? That will begin the middle section of the story.

Now we come to the next part of the core of your plot: objective.

  • At this point, our hero just wants to get rid of the suitcase and go back to his job. He wants that desperately. Desire drives the story.

Everything that occurs from here until the final page happens because Dave has an objective: he wants to go home.

However, to counter the enemy, we must decide how to get Dave and his story to the next plot point, which we’ll discuss in the next post.

Those paragraphs are all that is needed as far as an outline for the beginning goes, unless you’re in the mood to go deeper. All we need is an idea of who, what, and where. We’ll discuss how to plot the middle, or the why, in the next post.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543If you work at a day job and using the note-taking app on your cellphone to take notes during work hours is frowned on, you can still capture your ideas for the storyboard.

Carry a pocket-sized notebook and pencil and write those ideas down. You can discreetly make notes whenever you have an idea that would work well in your story, and you won’t be noticeably distracted or off-task.

Part 2 of this topic will talk about action and reaction, plotting the middle of the story arc.


#NANOPREP SERIES TO DATE:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

This Post: The Story Arc Part 1

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#FineArtFriday: Augustiner Bräu and Mülln Abbey by E. T. Compton

Edward_Theodor_Compton_Augustiner_Bräu_und_Kloster_MüllnPainting: Augustiner Bräu and Mülln Abbey in Salzburg

Artist:  Edward Theodore Compton (1849–1921)

Medium: Watercolor and opaque white on paper, 24,5 x 35,5 cm

Inscription: signed E. T. Compton

Date: by 1921

What I love about this image:

This is a cityscape, a genre which Compton was not famous for painting. The central building is a brewery, and in background rises the steeple of an Augustinian abbey. The day is pleasant, not too bright or warm, but comfortable. People are out without coats, so perhaps it was painted on one of those slightly overcast days in June.

The muted colors and gray skies make this a familiar kind of day to me, as June in the Pacific Northwest is frequently overcast, but pleasant.

Compton is known for his vast mountain-scapes, but this painting shows us that he found the architecture and community of his adopted country interesting too.

Judging by the dress of the walkers, I would say this was painted just after WWI. The skirts are not full and are hemmed well-above the ankle, which was not a pre-WWI style at all. The blouses are simple, with no lace or ruffles; the clothes of women who worked both at home and at jobs. After the war, cloth was expensive, and fashions changed accordingly.

About the Artist, Via Wikipedia:

Edward Theodore Compton, usually referred to as E. T. Compton, (29 July 1849 – 22 March 1921) was an English-born, German artist, illustrator, and mountain climber. He is well known for his paintings and drawings of alpine scenery, and as a mountaineer made 300 major ascents including no fewer than 27 first ascents.

Compton was born in Stoke Newington in London, the son of Theodore Compton, an art-loving insurance agent, and grew up in a deeply religious Quaker household. He attended various art schools, including, for a time, the Royal Academy in London, but otherwise he was mainly self-taught in art.

In 1867, wanting the best education for their artistically-talented son, and due to the high cost of schooling in England, the family decided to emigrate to Germany settling in Darmstadt. The city at that time was the seat of the Grand Duchy of Hesse under Grand Duke Ludwig III, and a community of artists had sprung up there. Entries in Compton’s diary show that both he and his father were art teachers – Alice, the Princess of Hesse numbered amongst Edward’s students.

Initially painting in the English romantic tradition, Compton later developed a more realistic representation of nature, being guided by his true artistic ideas while retaining topographical accuracy. Even his early watercolors show the great importance of brightness and light and his work is also remarkable for its portrayal of the elements such as water and air, including ascending mist and fog. He can be regarded as an impressionist.

Although Compton never had much formal art education and did not found a school, he influenced artists such as Ernst Platz and Karl Arnold as well as his son Edward Harrison Compton and daughter Dora Compton. [1]


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Edward Theodore Compton,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Edward_Theodore_Compton&oldid=1021678754 (accessed September 30, 2021).

Image courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Edward Theodor Compton Augustiner Bräu und Kloster Mülln.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Edward_Theodor_Compton_Augustiner_Br%C3%A4u_und_Kloster_M%C3%BClln.jpg&oldid=331463362 (accessed September 30, 2021).

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NaNoPrep, Construction, and Deconstruction

We are building up to NaNoWriMo 2021. For the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the creation of a storyboard. We’ve discussed characters and worldbuilding. Today, we’ll talk about book construction and what we can learn by reading work published by the big traditional publishers.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_Novel_in_a_monthWhether you hope to be published traditionally or plan to go indie, you must know what the reading public is buying. You will probably write a book that is squarely set in your favorite genre.

I read in many genres. Most of what I write is genre fantasy, but mystery and contemporary fiction also intrigue me.

Your assignment for today is to find a book you love, sit down with a notebook and pencil, and dissect that narrative to discover what that author did to draw you in and keep you involved.

Even the best books have flaws. Great characters, proper pacing, and attention to plotting keep those rough places from derailing a brilliant book. The flaws are just as important for me to identify as are the things I love.

So, let’s take a look at the construction of a recent entry into the classic mystery genre that impressed me, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.

Publisher: ‎Harper; Unabridged edition (June 6, 2017)

Publication date: June 6, 2017

Print length: 501 pages

But first, THE BLURB:

41OtsmHYJLLWhen editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

Masterful, clever, and relentlessly suspenseful, Magpie Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction in which the reader becomes the detective.

My Dissection:

First, Magpie Murders was published by one of the Big Traditional Publishing houses, Harper. This means the publisher decided it would sell enough in hard copy to justify supporting the author with advertising.

What makes this book better than the competition? Many authors published by Harper don’t get the kind of support this book got. What made this book more marketable?

  1. It was an original way to twist the Agatha Christie formula for cozy mysteries.
  2. Readers are given a story within a story, and within that story is hidden another story. The novel opens with an editor reading the manuscript of an author whom she despises personally but whose work she loves.
  3. We read the manuscript that editor Susan Ryeland has been given, experiencing it simultaneously as she does.
  4. Within the novel that Ryeland must edit are many clues, not only to the mystery she is supposed to edit but also to solve the murder of the author.
  5. Those clues take an unusual form—word games, something people who love anagrams and word puzzles will enjoy. The dead author used this trick to write his acquaintances into his novels, rearranging the letters of their names and portraying them in an unflattering light.
  6. The murdered author was known for using the plots of his less talented students’ work and stealing plots and names wholesale from Agatha Christie.
  7. These name anagrams are intended to be noticed by his fellow authors and acquaintances, a deliberate attempt to make them uncomfortable or angry.
  8. Halfway into the novel, our editor discovers that the final chapters of the book are missing. She goes on a mission to find those chapters.
  9. In the process, she discovers just how hateful and rotten the murdered man was.

chicago guide to grammarNow, let’s talk MECHANICS. The author of the Magpie Murders has worked as a journalist. He has taken the time to become educated in grammar and understands common industry standards.

  1. If you want to write a book that other people can read, you must understand the fundamental rules of grammar.
  2. He didn’t get too artful, except when he was writing as the murder victim. That artfulness was there to point out the victim’s arrogance.

What I take home from dissecting books like this is that a plot can be complicated, but simplicity is sometimes best for prose.

A few things I didn’t like, some of which were deliberate. These things didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book:

  1. The pacing was a little uneven. In one place, it grinds to a complete halt. I could see why the author had made that choice as part of the overall plot, but I didn’t like it and wished he’d found a different way to make that point.
  2. The novel “written by the murdered man” was gripping, but I didn’t understand that fictional book’s ending until the editor confronted the author’s murderer. Again, that was deliberate on the dead author’s part, written that way as one more reason to hate him. But I would have liked to understand it before we got to that place.
  3. The relationship between Susan Ryeland and her boyfriend lacks tension. When their relationship was threatened with falling apart, I didn’t care.

Overall, this is an excellent, well-written book. If you write mysteries and want to know what the big publishers are looking for, you must read what they publish.

This is why I read what Tor Forge publishes in my genre of fantasy. If I hate it, I dissect it and find out why. An editor accepted that manuscript and promoted it, and I want to know why. If I love it, I dissect it for the same reason.

You must read if you want to know how a good book is plotted, how worlds are created, and how characters are built. Make notes and learn from the mistakes and successes of others.


#NaNoPrep series to date:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

This Post: #NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

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#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

All through September, we’ve focused on building our NaNoWriMo storyboard. We’re preparing the groundwork that will allow us to write 1667 new words or more every day during the month of November.

We are four weeks into this series, and we’ve compiled a long list of essential things to consider. So now, we’re going to zoom in and take a closer look at what my co-ML, Lee French, calls “the stuff that permeates everything, and how they interact.”

We have looked at designing systems for technology and magic. We know which scenario we are choosing, and we’ve figured out how it works. Now we’re going to look at how those systems are connected to the people and how they impact the way our characters live in their worlds.

Lee reminds us that in the case of technology and magic both, the most significant impact is on the efficiency of routine tasks:

“In a contemporary, real-world setting, you have everything we have now. If you want to contact someone, you can call, text, or email them.

“In many fantasy settings, magic replaces tech with a fantastical version of something, like casting a spell instead of calling, texting, and/or emailing.

“In sci-fi settings, advanced tech typically makes things faster, like having a cranial implant that eliminates the need to type–all you do is ‘think’ and it happens. Maybe there aren’t voice calls anymore, and everything happens by text.

“In low-tech, no-magic settings, things take longer to accomplish. There is no phone, so you have to write a letter or go visit someone in person.”

Just because some technology exists doesn’t mean everyone has access to it.

We go back to considering the layers of society. Who is in charge? Where does our protagonist fit in that hierarchy? Who has access to the best magic/technology? Is our protagonist one of the lucky few or one of the underclasses? Where does the antagonist fit in society?

Think about the subgenre of cyberpunk: it encompasses many features of hard science fiction and the dark anarchy of classic Sturm und Drang but is set in a dystopian society. The religions people worship are technology and industry. Corporate uber-giants are the gods whose knowledge mere mortals desire and whom they seek to replace. Recreational drugs are the magic potions, and technology is the superpower mortals desire to wield.

And, just like all demi-gods in classical mythology, when a powerful and clever protagonist does manage that feat, nothing changes for mere mortals. The new gods are no better than those whose thrones they have usurped.

Wikipedia defines cyberpunk: Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on the society of the proverbial “high tech low life”  featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.” [1]

Works in this subgenre are always set in a post-industrial dystopian world with deep divisions in the strata of society. Some have a specified caste system, but most people live in extreme poverty in all cyberpunk tales. There will be a small middle class, and at the top, a few of the most powerful people hold incredible wealth. These societies have fallen into extreme chaos, which is the driver of the story.

Protagonists acquire and use technology in ways never anticipated by the original inventors. A central element of cyberpunk is “the street finds its own use for things.”

So, now we understand that privilege, or lack thereof, shapes a person’s place in society, no matter what genre you choose to best tell your story. How does the protagonist see themselves in relation to the antagonist? Better than, as good as, or beneath but clawing their way up?

Who are these characters when they’re home? Write a paragraph or two introducing them to you, showing them as they are when no one is looking. Do they cook, clean, answer messages, etc.? What tech/magic are they comfortable interacting with on a daily basis? Get this out of the way now, so it doesn’t make an appearance in the narrative as an unnecessary info dump later.

Considering these things now can speed things up when you plot your opening scene. You’ll see your characters fully formed in their comfort zone and know who they are and how they think. When you write those first lines, you will have no trouble seeing them as unique individuals.

If you are writing a novel set in our contemporary world, most of the work is already done. Your concerns should focus on the specifics of where your story takes place and the opinions of your characters.

If you choose to include contemporary politics, events, and tech, keep in mind that your novel will no longer be current in ten years. It will recount a history that recedes further into the past every year.

That is NOT a bad thing, not by any means.

One of my favorite genres to read for pleasure is mystery. I have always enjoyed the characters in the Gregor Demarkian series by the late Jane Haddam. These novels were set firmly in the political climate of the 1990s and early 2000s, the era in which most books in the series were written.

While references to technology and political events date these books (as do the religious and social complications), great characters, murder, and the mystery of why it happens are timeless.

These novels are compelling despite the advances in today’s technology and the changes in the way society sees itself. The characters are engaging, and the worldbuilding creates a solid, believable image of 1990s Philadelphia.

If you are setting your story in a historical era, remember that sometimes the events of one year can change everything about a society.

If your story is set in a specific year with significant events that changed everything for whole societies, take some time to think about whether you want it before or after the incidents. Think about how those events impact your characters.

I would say that 2019 was a vastly different time than 2021. Any novel set in contemporary 2021 will have societal aspects and complications that are wholly unique to this time and this world and very different from one set in that long-ago-time of 2019.

#NaNoPrep series to date:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

This post: #NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Cyberpunk,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cyberpunk&oldid=1020463998 (accessed May 15, 2021).

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