Tag Archives: NaNoPrep

#NaNoPrep101, Creating Societies

Worlds are comprised of plants, animals, and geology, which we touched upon in the first post of this series. But if intelligent life-forms are living on that world, there will also be societies.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_101We humans are tribal and like having an overarching power structure because someone has to be the leader, which isn’t a job most people want once they see what is involved. Being the leader means bearing the responsibility when things go wrong, usually more often than basking in the glory when it’s all good.

Proving how tribal we are, all smaller segments within societies, from families to businesses, to churches, to governments – all have organized leadership structures, even if they aren’t formally described as such.

We will be pantsing it (writing stream-of-consciousness) for the month of November, which means we’ll be writing at least 1667 new words every day, connecting the events that we will be storyboarding later in this series. We won’t have time to think about logic once we begin writing the narrative, which is why we’re creating the storyboard.

If your society is set in modern suburbia, that culture and those values will affect your characters’ view of their world.

But perhaps you are writing a sci-fi or fantasy novel. To show a world logically and without contradictions, we must know how things work in the cities and towns, whether set in a medieval world or on a space station. Merchants, scientists, priests, soldiers, teachers, healers, thieves – each occupation has a place in the hierarchy and has its own chain of command.

Dirck_Hals_001Society is always composed of many layers and classes. Below is a list of questions for you to consider when building your fantasy or sci-fi civilization. I admit it’s long, but please bear with me.

These are what I think of as “porch questions.” This is the stage where I sit on the  back porch and consider the world my characters will inhabit. Going somewhere quiet and pondering these questions will make the culture your characters inhabit clearer in your mind. 

How is your society divided? Who has the wealth? (Feel free to copy and paste the list to a page you can print out.)

  • Is there a noble class?
  • Is there a servant class?
  • Is there a merchant class
  • Is there a large middle class?
  • Who makes up the most impoverished class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality and how do we treat each other?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated?
  • How are men treated?
  • How are the different races viewed?
  • Is there a cisgender bias or is there acceptance of different gender identities?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life?
  • How is murder punished?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is the truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?

Power structures are the hierarchies that encompass the leaders, the people with the power. It is an overall system of restraint and control among selected members of a group. Think of it as a pyramid.

Pyramid_of_Power_Structures_09132021LIRF

Religion rarely is a component of sci-fi but often figures prominently in fantasy work. In sci-fi, science and technology take the place of religion, with similar hierarchies and fanatics, just with different job titles.

Archbishop might be replaced with Head of Research and Development.

Cardinal or Pope might be replaced with General, Admiral, or CEO (Chief Executive Officer).

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities are available to them? What about transport?

  1. Hunter/Gatherers?
  2. Agrarian/farming?
  3. Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  4. Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  5. Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  6. Modern-day?
  7. Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  8. How do we get around, and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?

Portrait_of_King_Henry_VIII, Hans Holbein the YoungerGovernment: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  1. Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  2. How does the government fund itself?
  3. How are taxes levied?
  4. Is it a feudal society?
  5. Is it a clan-based society?
  6. How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  7. How do the citizens view the government?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior, and how are criminals treated?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?

Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what their level of technology is. It is critical for you, as the author, to understand what weapons your characters will bring to the front. You must also know what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

A common trope in fantasy is magic, which brings up the need to train magic-gifted people. Authors use everything from dumb luck and experimentation to apprenticing to sorcerers, to training by religious orders, and in the case of Harry Potter, a school of some sort. (Never fear, we’re going to build believable magic and future-tech systems next week.)

In many real-world historical societies, the Church/Temple is the governing power. The head of the religion is the ruler, and the higher one rises within the religious organization, the more power one has. The same is true of both universities and research facilities.

Power quote John AdamsPower in the hands of only a few people offers many opportunities for mayhem—followers may inadvertently create a situation where the leader believes they are anointed by the Supreme Deity. Even better, they may become the God-Emperor/Empress.

The same sort of God-complex occurs among academicians and scientists. Some people are prone to excess when presented with the opportunity to become all-powerful.

If you were unsure what your plot was before you got to this stage, now you might have a real villain, one presented to you by your society.

SO, in your world, what sort of society do you envision? How will that culture shape your characters?

Up Next: Magic and Future-tech

#NaNoPrep101 series to date:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?

#NaNoPrep101, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep101, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep101, More Character Building


Credits and Attributions:

Image: The Merry Company, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Dirck Hals 001.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dirck_Hals_001.jpg&oldid=549782256 (accessed September 13, 2021).

Image: Henry VIII of England, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Portrait of King Henry VIII.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Portrait_of_King_Henry_VIII.jpg&oldid=250517909 (accessed September 13, 2021).

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#NaNoPrep101, More Character Building

We are still working on creating the characters for our NaNoWriMo 2021 novels. Our plan is to have everything in place on November 1st to begin writing with all the prep work done. We intend to have the first draft of our novel written from beginning to end on November 30th.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_101When we commence writing on the 1st of November, we will know what has to happen at each point along the story arc, but we will have the freedom to “pants it” between each plot point. “Pantsing” is writer slang for “flying by the seat of your pants.” Hopefully, we will be able to write 1,667 words every day and meet our goal of a finished novel or 50,000 words at midnight on the 30th.

We are still working on our storyboard, and today we are fleshing out the sidekicks and other characters. To see how I do a storyboard, check out this post: #NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story? | Life in the Realm of Fantasy .

My main character, Ivan, has a complicated life. He is a husband and father, a master armorsmith, and a shaman. A fire-mage, he is a Sword of Aeos, dedicated to serving the people of Neveyah. He is secretly a Hunter of rogue-mages and mindbenders (empathically gifted healers who have gone rogue.)

Lee French, my co-municipal liaison here in the Olympia Region, suggests you identify what your main character wants. She says, “Everybody has goals, and so does your MC. They want things. Some goals are big and world-shaking. Other goals are small and personal. Some goals are easy and quick to achieve, others take months or years, or a 20-book series.

“For your MC, define at least three goals your character has at the start of the story, either knowingly or not. Big, small, easy, or hard, they need or want something, and that’s what will get your story rolling.”

These are some examples of goals that Lee suggests:

  1. Survive
  2. Make a friend
  3. Find love
  4. Kill the bad guy
  5. Escape a bad situation, like prison or an abusive relationship
  6. Find food and/or water
  7. Steal something specific
  8. Admit they have an addiction problem
  9. Take Thing X to Location Y
  10. Learn a specific skill
  11. Get a job
  12. Earn respect from Person A
  13. Acquire $Z
  14. Rescue or protect Person B
  15. Save the world

Any of the above goals can be the main driving force of a story, or they can be secondary goals that help determine how your MC pursues the primary objective (s).

My main character, Ivan, wants to eliminate the rogue-mage, save the people of Tribe Anendale, and get home to his children.

With Ivan’s goals identified, I move on to the others with a part in this story. I will add a little information to my storyboard every day as I think about it.

Who are Ivan’s side characters? As this is a book two, Ivan’s support group is established.

Kai is an earth-mage and a master mason, Ivan’s life-partner. Kai is tall, has brown hair, green eyes. He and Ivan’s father, an earth-mage named Aengus, have a quarry on the outskirts of Weiland. Aengus usually manages large building projects for the tribe, such as canals or fortifications, and Kai runs the quarry and builds the occasional home for community members as needed. They have four children. Ivan’s obligations as a shaman limit his free time, but he and Kai share parenting and homemaking duties.

The rest of Ivan’s family lives in the same row of five rowhouses, joined by a long porch. The family consists of his brother Aldric whose wife Marta is a water-mage and their three children. In the center house is their maternal grandfather, Benn, who cares for the children while the others work. Also living in their row of houses are his father, Aengus, and Jan, a master-smith and Ivan’s business partner (Aldric’s father-in-law). All but Benn are involved with hunting rogue-mages and mindbenders.

Nolin is the high elder of Anendale. He is tall, has dark skin, black curly hair, and dark brown eyes. He wants Ivan’s group to eliminate the rogue-mage and root out the dark god’s disciples.

Neveyah_storyboard_Characters_09112021LIRFEvery side character has hopes and wants something, so that will be noted.

But what of my antagonist? I’m plotting book two, so a new antagonist is required.

Coran Branson: Tribeless fire-mage, turned rogue. Follows Tauron the Bull God. Born into a poor woodcutter’s family in the Sherman Valley. Abusive father, weak mother. Warlord intent on carving his empire. He considers the tribes weak and rich, ripe for the pickings. Sees himself as an all-conquering emperor on a holy mission of pillage and plunder, a Genghis Khan but with fire magic.

Neeve: Tribeless healer, empathically gifted. Kidnapped in a raid on her village at the age of fourteen and forced to become Coran’s wife. Too cowed to disobey him, she never truly accepted the Bull God, but Coran has bound her to serve him with a geas she can’t break. Think Stockholm Syndrome.

Neveyah_storyboard_antagonist_LIRF09052021My antagonist will have trusted captains, who will carry out his orders. I just haven’t met them yet, and probably won’t until I begin plotting the antagonist’s arc of the story.

If you see something in your storyboard that no longer fits, don’t be afraid to modify it. While we are in the planning stage is a perfect time to do so.

I work back and forth, make changes, and adjust things as I go. That way, I’m not wasting writing time in November.

Now that we have a cast of characters, we will go back to looking at the world they inhabit and their place in that setting.

As Lee French regularly tells me, the process of planning involves making changes now, so we’re not making them while writing or in revision.

The #NaNoPrep101 series so far:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?

#NaNoPrep101, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep101, Building Characters

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#NaNoPrep101: Building Characters

If you have been following this series, you know that I rely heavily on a storyboard. If you are curious how I create this thing, you can find the first post here: #NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story? But don’t worry. The list of articles in this series is included at the bottom of this post.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_101We have opened the discussion on setting, and we will continue that later in this series. But today we are going to take an hour or so to build our main character. No matter how many primary or POV characters you have, pick the one you consider the most important or the main character. My protagonist is Ivan Aengusson. He is bonded (married) to Kai Ellison.

Who is this person? Start with the basics: race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, appearance/coloration.

Who are youRace: This is a post-apocalypse world. When the survivors were preparing to leave the catacombs, they divided into 50 tribes and blended the various races and ethnicities as evenly as possible to widen the gene pool. Everyone is of mixed-race heritage, regardless of outward coloring and appearance.

Appearance and coloration: Ivan is exceptionally tall, has red hair, brown eyes, and light coloring.

Ethnicity: Both Ivan and Kai were born into tribes that settled in the north.

Age: Ivan is 27, Kai is 29.

Gender/sexuality: This is important, as gender and sexuality play a role in my novel. A broad view of gender/sexuality is a fact of life in their culture. Ivan and Kai are life-partners. The elders of each tribe arrange co-parenting pairings for the purpose of childbearing based on how distantly a man and woman are related. This evolved as a way to prevent inbreeding because they were sprung from so few people. Regardless of who they share children with, people are free to live with the partner of their choice. These co-parenting contracts will be discussed when we get to the next stage of world building.

Lashei indicates those attracted to the same sex. Kai is lashei.

Non, those attracted to the opposite sex.

Bin, those who are both lashei and non. Ivan falls into this category. Non and bin are the most common sexual preferences.

Other-born, souls born into the wrong gender. Also, people with no interest in sex consider themselves other-born.

My co-Municipal Liaison, Lee French, suggests you write once sentence to describe them, and move on. I’m not good at one-sentence descriptions, sorry. A paragraph is more my style. I suggest you write what comes to mind, and you will fill it in later with the details.

Who is your main character in their ordinary life? Think about their job, hobbies, relationships, possessions, or anything else that defines who they are. This is how my storyboard looks:

Neveyah_storyboard_characters_LIRF09052021

I will fill it in with more information: Ivan is a shaman and fire-mage. From 5:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., he is a master armor smith. In tribal society, everyone who can lift a weapon is trained to fight and defend the community from predatory animals and tribeless raiders. Ivan’s grandfather cares for the children while Ivan and Kai work at their crafts. After the midday meal, Ivan and the other adults in the family train with their various apprentices and journeymen in weaponry and fighting for one hour. Afterward, Ivan may be called to act as a justicer, truth reading miscreants, usually ale-hounds whose love of ale has gotten out of hand.

Ivan, like all mages, is sworn to use his magic only in his craft and to serve the people of Neveyah, but (plot point) all members of Ivan’s family belong to a sect of sworn mages who secretly hunt rogue mages. He and Kai share four children.

These are the seeds of who my main character is. The page of my storyboard with the characters listed and what I know about them is growing.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021Next up, we will look closer at our characters and see who their companions are. Some of Ivan’s companions are already established as they were featured in last year’s NaNoWriMo novel. Others are new, and I need to understand who they are and how they fit into Ivan’s story.

#NaNoPrep101 series

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?

#NaNoPrep101, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

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#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?

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. I  suggest to my fellow writers that they shoot for 1,670 to allow a little cushion in case the validator counts differently than their word processor.

I usually average 3,000 to 5,000 words per day, but writing is my job. When I was working in Corporate America, I managed 2,000 words per day.

nano-computer-word-countI do this by having my daily prompts all set out in advance in the outline. Then I set myself in front of my computer and wing it for at least two hours.

Some passages that emerge are good, and others, not so much. But it is an exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing at its most extreme. Some of my best literary work has been produced in its raw form during NaNoWriMo.

Preparation is the key for me. I apply project management skills developed during my years working in Corporate America.

The first step of project management is to Identify your Project Goals. Your story is your invention. You want to be able to sell that invention.

Some inventions take years. Others are complete and ready to market in a relatively short time. Regardless of your timeline, this is where project management skills come into play.

I use a phased (or staged) approach. This method breaks down and manages the work through a series of distinct steps to be completed.

  1. The Brilliant Idea. Make a note of that idea, so you don’t forget it.
  2. The Planning Phase, creating the storyboard. Some people don’t need this step, but you will see why this step is so crucial to ending with a novel that will be acceptable to an agent or can easily be Indie published.
  3. The Construction Phase begins on November 1st—connecting the dots and writing the first draft from beginning to the end in 30 days.

After this, we have several more steps to go through to end with a publishable book, but we won’t be concerned with them until January.

First, what are you going to write?

Identify your proposed book as either fiction or nonfiction.

  • If it’s fiction, what’s the genre and subgenre?
  • If nonfiction, what kind? Is it a memoir, a history, or a technical book?

2020_nano_Project_coverLee French, my co-municipal liaison, has given us great advice over the years. One thing she starts us with is something writers usually don’t think of until they have to: genre and keywords.

If we wanted to search for your book on Amazon, what would we look for, and how would we find it? What genre are you writing? What keywords would we use to be directed to it?

But what are keywords, and why should you care? This question is important to consider at the outset because you need to know what market you are writing for, no matter if you are going with an agent or intend to go Indie.

Search engines use keywords to recognize what a website or web page features, their products, (or in the case of authors) the kind of book they have written. Amazon and all other book retailers are simply large search engines that want to sell your book.

It helps me direct my creative energy at the outset if I know what I will eventually want to sell. Thanks to Lee French, I know the genre of my next novel is epic fantasy. I also know a few keywords would be male protagonist, LGBTQ, magic, mysticism.

WritingCraftSeries_narrative modeOther things to consider are point of view and narrative tense. Who can tell the story most effectively, a protagonist, a sidekick, or an unseen witness? And will it be written in the 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person limited, or 3rd person omniscient? What narrative time will the story be set in, the present or past tense?

Will you switch between multiple characters?

Sometimes, it takes more than one point of view character to tell the story. I have three strong characters, one of which is the antagonist. I always feel one should have a little sympathy for the devil, so seeing things from his point of view is valuable when trying to show the struggle.

Therefore, my project is in the 3rd-person limited, involves three POV characters, and has hard chapter breaks between each switch.

What is your story? Example: I’ll be writing a novel detailing a shaman’s struggle to keep his people safe from a rogue mage and his raiders.

To succeed in completing a project with such an ambitious goal, I storyboard all my ideas, making this effort when the idea first enters my head. If I become lost or find myself floundering in the writing process, I can come back to my original files and remind myself of the original concept of the story.

The storyboard for my ideas works this way:

First, I open a word document or an Excel workbook. You can use a program like Scrivener, or use a paper notebook and pencil, whatever makes you most comfortable.

My current novel is in an existing world that has an Excel workbook devoted to it.

This workbook has ten active spreadsheets. All my information is right there, from magic systems to the spelling of made-up words and what they mean.

Neveyah_storyboard_printscreenLIRF08312021I always give the proto novel a working title that becomes the storyboard’s label. The book I am writing is set in the world of Neveyah, and so it belongs with the rest of the books set in that world. The workbook is labeled Neveyah.xls, and the spreadsheet that I will be working on will be labeled “Ivan’s Story II,” as I currently don’t have a title.

Over the next few weeks, we will identify and answer as many questions about our November novel as we can.

And some of what we think now will grow and change once we begin the actual writing because stories always do.

ProjectManagementLIRF05232021Preplanning takes advantage of all the pertinent ideas I have at the outset and offers me a jumping-off point. Like a connect the dots game, I know how to write the story that happens between and because of each event. Having this knowledge helps me take the story to its conclusion, allowing me to have the full story arc written in thirty days.

That doesn’t mean the book is finished, not by any means. We have only completed the first draft and gotten the basic structure finished.

But as I said, we’ll deal with all that in January.

Next up, we will talk about setting, and get to know the place where your novel takes place.

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Making the most of your writing time #writetip #nanowrimo2020

No matter where you are in the process, the act of writing daily is an important thing. Many people participate in NaNoWriMo because having a visible goal forces them to find the time to write.

I have been a Municipal Liaison for my region since 2011, and my co-ML is author Lee French. Between us, we keep the writers in our area stoked about their projects and help them get through the rough spots. In the past, we have hosted write-ins, both virtual and at libraries and coffee shops.

This year, due to the pandemic, we are going completely virtual, hosting meetups through Discord and Zoom.

As established authors, we have learned a few tricks that we’re always happy to share with those planning to “do” NaNoWriMo for the first time.

If you are just embarking on this literary joyride for the first time, here are a few quick tips and resources to help you stay organized:

Things you want to have at your fingertips, so you don’t have to stop and look it up:

MAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world and your characters will be traveling, walking a particular city, or visiting landmarks, bookmark google maps for that area and refer back to it regularly to make sure you are writing it correctly.

If you are writing about a fantasy world and your characters will be traveling, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer back to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

TECH: Many people are writing sci-fi novels. In hard sci-fi, technology and science are the central core of the stories, so it’s a good idea to know what tech is available to your characters well in advance of writing their scenes. A little planning now will aid you greatly in the writing process.

If you are writing fantasy involving magic or supernatural skills, briefly draw up a list of rules identifying who can do what with each ability. Remember:

  • Magic without rules is both impossible and creates a story with no tension. No one wants to read a story where the characters have nothing to struggle against. Working within the rules develops opportunities for growth.
  • Each character should have limits to their abilities. Because they are not individually all-powerful, they will need to interact and work with each other and the protagonist. Establishing boundaries can drive your story in some creative and unusual directions.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources well in advance, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to kickstart stalled creativity:

Resources to bookmark in general:

  • www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)
  • Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)
  • Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers about grammar, written in plain English:

Never delete, do not self-edit as you go. Don’t waste time re-reading your work. You can do all that in December when you go back to look at what you have written. If you don’t like it, change the font color or use strike-out. Those words will all count when you go to upload the manuscript, even those using the strike out. You wrote them, so count them!

Make a style sheet: If you love your sanity, make a list of all the names and words you invent as you go and update it each time you create a new one, so the spellings don’t evolve as the story does. Save this to your desktop, so all you have to do is click on the icon to open it for updating.

My co-ML Lee French and I have found that setting a goal of 1667 words a day really is the best way to meet the goal of 50,000 words by November 30th.

However, if the stress of writing that many words a day is too much, step back and write at a speed you are comfortable with.

Sure, there’s a contest full of personal goals involved. Still, NaNoWriMo is really about encouraging the act of writing and developing the discipline to set aside time to write daily.

Every word you write is essential because it gets you closer to having a book you can hold in your hand and say, “I wrote this.” By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you will get your first draft finished.

Here is a list of earned badges we who participate hope to acquire from the national website:

  1. (this one is the easiest) Update your progress! If you want some of the later badges, do it on day 1, and then do it every day after that.
  2. Update more than once in one day!
  3. Start a streak – update two days in a row (do you see a pattern here?)
  4. Update 3 days in a row!
  5. Update 7 days in a row.
  6. Update 14 days in a row.
  7. Update 21 days in a row.
  8. Update 30 days in a row (our personal favorite!)
  9. Achieve par every day (1667 words) (difficult, but doable).
  10. Update at precisely 1667 words (fun!)
  11. Reach 5 k words.
  12. Reach 10 k words.
  13. Reach 25 k words.
  14. Reach 40 k words.
  15. Reach 50 k words by November 30th!
  16. Download that winner’s certificate!

Some years I write words like a fountain spews water and write two novels worth of words.

In other years, every word is torn from my keyboard, accompanied by the howling of banshees. During those years, I can barely make my word count.

For me, the most important thing is having my project that much closer to completion.

If you choose to embark on this project, make that your goal. Write because you have a story burning to be told, and have fun doing it.

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Theme, Discipline, and Drabbles, warmup for  #NaNaNoWriMo2020 #amwriting

November, also known as National Novel Writing Month, is racing toward us. If you are planning to participate, it’s a good idea to give your project a working title.

Some even go so far as to write the first sentence and then leave the rest blank. That way, the project is waiting for them to dive into on November 1st.

Most authors have a difficult time churning out 1667 words a day, so not everyone is cut out to participate in this writing rumble. However, you don’t have to officially sign up. You can set your self a daily goal of 100 – 300 or more new words a day and try to accomplish that.

You never know what you will come up with.

I think of writing as a muscle of sorts, working the way all other muscles do. We’re healthiest when we exercise regularly.

Writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit

A little practice in advance helps. The more frequently you write, the more confident you become. Spending a small amount of time writing every day is crucial. It develops discipline, and if you want to succeed in your goal for NaNoWriMo, personal discipline is essential.

Trust me, it is not asking too much for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

On a personal level, you must decide what is most meaningful to you. Is your dream of writing that novel important? Or do you choose to watch a television show that is the result of someone else’s dream? This is a choice only you can make.

Suppose you are planning to write a novel in November. In that case, writing random short scenes and vignettes is a good way to develop that world in advance. This is also a good opportunity to create the characters you will put to paper on November 1st.

In writing these scenes, you have the chance to identify the themes and subthemes you hope to explore during NaNoWriMo. Theme is different from the subject of a work. As an example that most people know of, the subject of Star Wars is “the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.”

The themes explored in those films might be “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”

At some point, you might become brave enough to submit your work to a magazine or anthology. When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word ‘theme’ as well as your ability to craft clean and compelling prose.

For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.

Most of my own novels have been epic or medieval fantasy, based around the hero’s journey, detailing how their experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood and love of family.

These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, and so they find their way into my writing.

To support the theme, you must layer

  • character studies
  • allegory
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc. A way to get a grip on these concepts for your NaNo Novel is to do a little advance writing that explores your intended theme. Think of it as a bit of literary mind-wandering.

Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in the craft and gain different perspectives when they write short stories and essays. Each short piece that you write increases your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.

This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes, but most importantly they grow your habit of writing new words every day.

Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop an economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.

Writing drabbles means you have a limited amount of space, so your narrative will be limited to one or two characters. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the story’s outcome.

The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes. A side-effect of building a backlog of short stories is the supply of ready-made characters and premade settings you have to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.

Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment. When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

To write a drabble, we need the same basic components as we do for a longer story:

  1. A setting
  2. One or more characters
  3. A conflict
  4. A resolution.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and still others no prompt at all.

A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to 700+ Weekly Writing Prompts.

In a previous post on writing short stories, I showed how I use a loose outline to break short stories into acts. I’ve included that graphic at the bottom of this post.

A drabble works the same way.

We break down the word count to make the story arc work for us. We have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

Info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere have no place in short stories. However, they do make useful background files for your world-building and character development.

When you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.

Save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form.

Spend an hour to get that idea and emotion down before you forget it. The completed scene is a small gift you give yourself.

Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing a drabble hones your skills, and you will have captured the emotion and ambiance of the brilliant idea.

Good drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and fills them with curiosity to learn what happened next.

That is what true writing is about.

 

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The Antagonist’s Story Arc – part 2 #amwriting #nanowrimo2020

In Monday’s post, The Antagonist’s Story Arc, I explained how I organized my notes for each book or series using a workbook from a spreadsheet program, such as Excel or Google Sheets. Today I am continuing to plot out the opposition’s story arc to dovetail with what has already been established in the protagonist’s storyline.

So now, I go back to the notes on my protagonist, Alf, and look at my calendar of events. What clues have I inserted about the antagonist, Daryk, from Alf’s point of view? I need to make sure those are noted on Daryk’s timeline.

At this point, Daryk is only partially formed in my mind. I see him as he was before he triggered the mage trap, which is how Alf sees him. Daryk was a close companion, a canny adversary in any competition, and especially at the game of stones. He was a dedicated Sword of Aeos, deeply committed to rooting out the Bull God’s secret covens. Strategy and battle tactics were second nature to him. His best skill was how well prepared he was for every turn of events. He and Alf had worked together successfully since becoming hunters.

Alf only wants to remember him that way but knows he will be forced into a direct confrontation at some point. I have written the book’s opening chapter, where the event that changes everything occurs.

Since NaNoWriMo ended last year, I’ve gotten the first draft of most of Alf’s story arc written to the point where these two characters must face their destinies.

But only the protagonist has been fleshed out.

One thing that occurred to hold up this aspect of the first draft was the protracted illness and death of my good friend and structural editor, Dave Cantrell. Dave was an integral part of my writing posse, giving me the male perspective, which helped to round out my characters.

Now I need to decide how many chapters will be devoted to Daryk, and what events are important enough to be highlighted from his view. First, I need to identify his quest.

In a good novel, characters aren’t evil for no reason. Perhaps what the protagonist perceives as evil is merely a radically different way of living, a cultural difference. Or maybe they’re under pressure from some external force. In Daryk’s case, it is both.

While battling a mindbender and his coven, Daryk is separated from the Swords of Aeos. He enters the enemy’s altar room and finds a statue cut from amethyst crystal. This is a trap set to snare mages serving Aeos, Goddess of Hearth and Home.

The moment he touches it, Tauron, the Bull God, seizes Daryk’s mind. No mere mortal can withstand the personal attention of a god, and Daryk is now set on a collision path with destiny. Tauron is the God of War, jealous, paranoid, and insecure. He demands abject worship, extreme sacrifices, and harshly punishes those who fail. Success is rewarded richly, and the strongest rise to the top to rule over the weak.

Steeped in the lore of his warrior culture, Daryk is easily bent to the Bull God’s path. He is now convinced that he is the rightful heir to be the War Leader. He sees Alf as serving a weak and feeble deity, and that the tribes have lost their strength. His goal is to seize power and use the tribes to conquer Neveyah for the Bull God.

Tauron gives Daryk new gifts, one of which is the ability to sway large gatherings of people. Since he has no empathic magic, he needs to find and snare an empathically gifted healer to project his compulsions.

To do this, Daryk must accomplish several things from the outset:

  1. He must find the crystal cave and undertake a vision quest. The Bull God doesn’t know how Barbarian shamans are trained, so this quest is very different. The high trial Alf undertakes is vastly different from his first shamanic quest. Daryk was not trained to be a shaman, so he doesn’t know what the true trial entails. Since only the strongest are fit to rule, the test the Bull God sets before him is a much darker journey, one of overcoming and bending demons to his will.
  2. Having survived the trial, his first task is to find an empathically gifted healer and bind her to him. He uses Helene to project his spells of compelling and takes over her village to make his small army.
  3. Daryk needs a base of operations, so he must acquire a citadel. He and his new wife go to a lesser known place, Kyrano, as it isn’t somewhere Alf would look for him. Using compulsions to present themselves as distant relatives and charming the elderly baron, they are officially named his heirs. The old man dies that night in his sleep.
  4. Daryk needs to conceal the fact he is a rogue-mage, or he will have enemies on all sides, and he isn’t ready for that yet. He acquires a coven of elemental mages, binding them to him and using them to have a greater chi reserve to draw on when casting spells. They conceal from the population at large the fact that their new baron is a rogue mage.
  5. He must gather the resources to lay siege on Aeoven. Everything is at stake here: if he can’t defeat Alf on his home turf, Daryk will never bring Neveyah to the Bull God.

By charting his story arc, I’m laying the framework for what I will begin writing in November. Those weeks will be spent writing backstory and building Daryk’s world. I will connect Daryk’s timeline to Alf’s.

This kind of work is mind wandering, in a way. By writing this out, I am cementing Daryk and Helene’s characters and passionate commitment to their struggle in my mind.

Certain scenes showing critical information that Alf doesn’t have will be included in the final draft, but only those essential to the advancement of the plot. This is so the reader knows what is happening in the enemy’s camp.

For the reader, this knowledge raises the tension. Daryk must be shown to have a stronger position and better resources.

I intend to write about 30,000 words detailing Daryk’s story. Little of what I write will find its way into the final manuscript. My hope is that it will be there in how solidly I show these characters, their deities, and why they do what they must.

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The Antagonist’s Story Arc #amwriting #nanowrimo2020

We’re already approaching the middle of October. This is prime NaNo prep season for me. A few weeks ago, I shared that one of my projects was writing the final chapters to Bleakbourne on Heath, a novel that began life in 2015 as a weekly serial. I have the outline all written for that, and the ending is now firmly established. Finishing that should cover about 20,000 – to 25,000 words.

My second project is for my new duology set in Neveyah. I need to write the chapters that show my antagonist’s storyline. For my protagonist’s story to make sense and be compelling, I must show why my antagonist opposes Alf, and why we should have compassion for him and his struggle.

To that end, I must spend the next few days outlining what needs to happen for him at each point in the overall two-book story arc.

I also have three short stories and a novella to fill in on those days when I can’t focus on the tasks at hand, so I’ll be well set up with ideas.

So, let’s take a look at what I have to accomplish on Heaven’s Altar before November 1st.

The first hurdle I must leap is a trap of my own devising.

The calendar.

Neveyah Calendar © 2015 Connie J. Jasperson

In 2008 when we were designing the world of Neveyah as an RPG and before the story had been written, I had the bright idea to make a calendar where each month has

  1. 28 days
  2. The months are named after astrological signs and the days are sort of named like the Julian calendar.
  3. The 13th month is called Holy Month and is between Harvest and winter, but belongs to no season. It’s set aside for religious observances and family events.
  4. The 365th day of the year falls on the Winter Solstice and is called Holy Day. A day of feasting, it stands alone between Holy Month and Caprica, the first month of the new year. Every 4 years you have a double Holy Day, and the community throws a big party.

Was I out of my mind?

Yes! I suggest you stick to the common Julian calendar we know today, as it makes things a lot easier for you.

However, six books later, it’s canon in that world, so I have to roll with it. Fortunately, I was smart enough to make a visual calendar in an Excel workbook. I can cut and paste easily, note changes, and move events around if need be. This workbook covers all of the books set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah.

I was a bookkeeper for many years, so I use an Excel workbook to keep the stylesheet, plot outline, pertinent back history, and worldbuilding in one logical place. The tabs across the bottom show the different sheets detailing each aspect I need know for that world and that story.

I do this for every project or series, and you can do the same. If you don’t have Excel, you can use any free spread-sheeting program, such as Google Sheets. It’s just a visual way to keep things organized and avoid introducing conflicting elements.

The process of writing out my antagonist’s storyline is essential. At the outset, from Alf’s storyline, we know that Daryk has powerful earth-magic. However, Tauron, the Bull God, gives him new gifts, one of which is called “compelling.” Since he has no empathic magic, he needs to find and snare an empathically gifted healer to project his compulsions. He also needs to enslave a coven of elemental mages to have a greater chi reserve to draw on when casting spells.

So, there are five people with whom he has close relationships and conversations. The backstory of each of these characters must be created and added to both Daryk’s storyline and the overall cast of characters.

This is so I don’t inadvertently give two characters the same (or ludicrously similar) name.

I have already designed the magic systems for both sides of this conflict, and the world has been established. I have comprehensive maps that I use in conjunction with the calendar for plotting my events.

I’m fallible, but I do try to take everything into account when plotting my events. This way, when I begin writing I can concentrate on laying down the opposition’s story as if he were the hero and maybe generate a little sympathy for him.

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#NaNoWriMo2019 Prepping: Setting #amwriting

If you follow this blog and you are planning to write a novel in November, you now have the first three key elements you will need to begin:

  1. Plot: Devising a Plot in 8 Questions
  2. Outline: The Outline for Pantsers
  3. Characters: Prepping your Characters

All you need now is a world to set this story in. Prepping now will save you time when you begin the 30-day challenge.

Worlds evolve as we write the first draft, but it helps to have a solid idea of where we are setting the story at the outset.

What follows is a plan to help you lay the groundwork for the world in which your novel is set.

Picture the opening scene.

Open a new document and give it a title, such as your_book_title_worldbuilding.docx

Simple and clear labels make a good file names. You want one that clearly says “this is world building” for whatever you have titled your novel, and if you put it in the same folder as your manuscript, you will be able to easily find it.

Here is a short list of questions to help you begin the process:

  1. What is the name of the world in which the story opens? What is the name of the town/village where the protagonists are living? Place names can give the reader an idea of the sort of town or village it is set in.
  2. Does it take place on earth in a real place? If so, do the research and use Google Earth and Google maps.
  3. On earth in an alternate time/place? Make that clear at the outset
  4. Is it set on some other world entirely? The best way to make the fantasy world real is to visualize the scene clearly. Blend the real world into it and write out all the details that will never make it into your story.
  5. Where is the protagonist, indoors or out? Is it a gentle or a hostile environment? Does the environment work for or against him/her?
  6. If the setting is indoors, is it home, an office, a shop, a smithy…etc. etc. How does the protagonist fit into this place? Are they visiting, or do they live/work there? List the furniture and other objects that the characters interact with and know where it’s placed.
  7. Looking through their eyes, what emotions do they feel about the world around them? THIS DOES NOT HAVE TO GO INTO THE NARRATIVE, as this is backstory for you. It will evolve into the story organically as you write.

Now we get to the tactile parts of the setting:

  1. How does the air feel, and what scents and odors are common to that place? The smells, the sounds, the way certain doors creak are all good things to know.
  2. What is the quality of the lighting both indoors and out? Is it dark, bright, subdued, glaring, etc.?
  3. If they are out of doors, what is the weather like? Weather is crucial and impacts your characters’ ability to easily go places.

On this world-building document, write every single detail the characters see and feel, from the largest down to the insects. Keep adding to it whenever you think of something new. The act of designing this scenery builds the world in your mind. For my own work, I stick with the familiar, with some unfamiliar creatures thrown in for fun. Use all the power words you can think of to build that world.

As you write the first draft of your novel, the world you are creating will grow and evolve. I highly recommend two things:

  1. Draw a quick, simple map, such as the sample map to the right, if your characters are traveling in a fantasy world—it doesn’t have to be fancy. This way your place names and directions won’t inadvertently shift as the book progresses.
  2. Make a list of character names and place names, and any words that are unique to your world and your story. This will be your reference manual for this novel and will keep the spelling from evolving as you get further into the story.

A world is more than the environment. You should have an idea of how your society works, to ensure your characters are firmly in your mind at the outset:

  • How is your society divided? Who has wealth?
  • Who has the power? Men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect? Is one race more entitled than another?
  • What place does religion have in this society? Is it central to the governance of the society, or is it a peripheral, perhaps nonexistent thing?
  • What passes for morality? Is sex before marriage taboo? What constitutes murder, and how is it viewed? You only need to worry about the moral dilemmas that come into your story.
  • If a character goes against society’s unwritten or moral laws, what are the consequences?

This is atmosphere. This is knowledge the characters have, but the reader does not.  The way you convey this is to show how these larger societal influences affect your character and his/her ability to resolve their situation.

Fantasy worlds often involve magic. If magic is central to your story, it is essential that you have finite rules for limiting how magic works.

Unlimited power is completely unbelievable. If magic is part of your story, rules and limitations create the tension that moves the plot forward.

  • Who has the magic, and what social power does this give them?
  • What are the limitations of his/her powers? How does this hamper them?

Each time you make limits and frameworks for your magic, you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world. Conflict is what drives the plot. There can be an occasional exception to the rules, but there has to be a good reason for it, and it must be clear to the reader why that sole exception is acceptable.

Spending an evening working these details out before you sit down to write will make your work go faster. Many things will change as you go along, and better ideas emerge, but having the jumping off point will get you out of the gate with confidence.

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Prepping your Characters #NaNoWriMo2019 #amwriting

November and NaNoWriMo approaches. On November 1st thousands of authors will begin the 30 day challenge. Many will fall out of the game in first few days, but an amazing number of authors will finish their novels in those 30 days.

I see on the boards at www.nanowrimo.org  that a large number of people are drawing up personnel files for their characters. They are finding pictures of actors that might look most like their characters and writing short bios. I have done this in the past, and it worked well, as far as getting the obvious things down.

But I discovered that personnel files only show us the surface of these characters. Thanks to my obsession with learning new things and going to seminars, I do things a bit differently nowadays.

A seminar by Damon Suede triggered a cascade of ideas in my mind, the things I habitually did but didn’t realize I was doing it. These aspects of characterization were in my head but never written down, and as a consequence, things sometimes got muddied up in the writing.

We form our characters out of Action and Reaction. This happens in several ways. I will use the 3 main characters in my forthcoming novel, Julian Lackland, as my examples, as they are most firmly in my mind right now.

First, we  make a simple word picture of each character. The word picture is made of a verb (action) and a noun (person, place, or thing), the two words that best describe each person.

We want to know the good things about these characters, so we assign nouns that tell us how they see themselves at the outset of the story. We also look at sub-nouns and synonyms:

Julian’s Noun is: Chivalry (Gallantry, Bravery, Daring, Courtliness, Valor, Love)

Beau’s Noun is: Bravery (Courage, Loyalty, Daring, Gallantry, Passion)

Lady Mags’s Noun is: Audacity (Daring, Courage)

The way we see ourselves is the face we present to the world. These self-conceptions color how they react but aren’t engraved in stone. By the end of the story, the way they see themselves will change because circumstances will both break and remake them.

Next, we assign a verb that describes their gut reactions, which will guide the way they react to every situation that arises. They might think one thing about themselves, but this verb is the truth and while it may evolve, it does not completely change. Again, we also look at sub-verbs and synonyms:

Julian has 2 Verbs. They are: Defend, Fight, (Preserve, Uphold, Protect)

Beau’s 2 Verbs are: Protect, Fight (Defend, Shield, Combat, Dare)

Lady Mags’s 2 Verbs are : Fight, Defy (Compete, Combat, Resist)

When I write one of these three characters, I know how they believe they will react in a given situation. Why? Because I have drawn the portrait of their soul in words:

Julian must Fight for and Defend Chivalry. Julian’s commitment to defending innocents against inhumanity ultimately breaks his mind.

Beau must Fight for and Protect Bravery. Beau’s commitment to protecting Julian and concealing his madness consumes his life.

Lady Mags must Fight for and Defy Audacity. Mags is audacious–she is determined to remain a mercenary knight, no matter what the cost. She’s at war with herself in regard to her desire for a life with Julian and Beau. That war ruins her chance at happiness.

Do you see what happened? Placing the verb before the noun describes their core conflict. It lays bare their flaws and opens the way to building new strengths.

Who they are before we meet them is important, so go ahead and make that personnel file. But their story will be built upon who they think they are and what their gut reactions are.

Our characters’ preconceptions color their experience of events, which color the readers’ view. They are unreliable witnesses. It shades their reactions when they fail to live up to their own standards. These are the watershed moments when they must honestly examine their motives.

It adds to a scene where they triumph despite their flaws, succeeding against the odds.

What two words describe the primary weaknesses of your characters, the thing that could be their ultimate ruin?

Julian Lackland: Obsession and Honor

Beau Baker: Steadfast Loyalty

Lady Mags De Leon: Stubbornness and Fear

So, when you sit down to make a personnel file for your characters, you need more than a picture of your favorite actor and bio. You also need to decide the verb (action word) and the noun (object of the action) that best represents your characters.

For me, knowing these two words about my characters make writing the story easier. Their actions and reactions unfold as if the story writes itself.

I am in the process of assigning verbs and nouns to the characters in my own projected NaNoWriMo novel. Some of my characters are difficult to get a grip on, so this exercise will help me on November 1st when I begin to write their story.

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