Tag Archives: NaNoPrep

#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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Who should participate in #NaNoWriMo #amwriting

As summer ends and fall approaches, those of us who are regular NaNoWriMo writers begin to plan for November, our month of committed writing. We are making notes to and jotting down ideas as they occur to us. Some of us are making brief outlines which we may or may not follow.

Some years I start with the idea for a novel. The first draft of Huw the Bard was written during NaNoWriMo 2011, although he wasn’t published until 2014.

However, for the last four years, I have written short stories and novellas during NaNoWriMo, because I have several fantasy novels in progress and what I really need are literary fiction short stories for submitting to contests and magazines.

I always enter November with my literary guns blazing. I have a list of ideas for plots and hit the keyboard at 12:01 a.m. on November 1st by attending a virtual midnight write in.

Many people have heard of NaNoWriMo, but think the month is only dedicated to novel writing. People are always glad to learn that many people with no desire to be published authors use this month to create 50,000 word manuscripts.

  • Family historians
  • Dedicated diarists
  • People working on their PhD
  • people writing cookbooks

Anyone who wants or needs a month dedicated to getting a particular thing written will do so in November.

More people do this during November than you would think–about half the NaNo Writers in my regional area are journaling or writing college papers. The support of our online group gives the graduate student an added incentive to stay focused on writing their thesis.

This support group offers moral support to diarists and encourages them to write more about their world, their thoughts, and their philosophies.

I’ve been asked many times what I see as the differences between journaling and noveling. (Sorry, word-nazis—”noveling” is a word. I invented it several years ago for a blog post and still use it regularly.)

Anyway, journaling is keeping a personal diary with an eye to stress management.  As a self-exploration tool, journaling works best when done consistently. You write on a daily basis, or at least frequently.

According to the website, Very Well Mind: Journaling allows people to clarify their thoughts and feelings, thereby gaining valuable self-knowledge. It’s also a good problem-solving tool; oftentimes, one can hash out a problem and come up with solutions more easily on paper.

Diarists detail their lives, the world around them, and how the larger events of society affect them. A famous diarist was Samuel Pepys, whose diary details the Great Fire of London and include many tidbits about the famous people he knew.

From the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia: The detailed private diary that Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.

Noveling is telling lies, keeping them straight, and making the world believe it until the last page.

When I first began with NaNoWriMo, I spent some time lurking on the various threads on the national website. To my utter surprise, I discovered a contingent of writers who were not trying to write a book that could be published. For them, this was a game they wanted to win at any cost, and their goal was to see how high their word count could get.

One suggestion from them for increasing your word count was to use no contractions.

Let’s be clear: I do NOT recommend this. If you ever want to publish your manuscript, you will have a lot of work ahead of you to make it readable if you do that.

Whether you are journaling or noveling, participating in NaNoWriMo helps you develop the discipline of writing daily. Write for as long as you can when you can, and that will build your ‘writing’ muscles.

As a novelist, if I dedicate 3 hours of every day in November to just writing stream of conscious, I will chunk out 2500 to 3000 words a day, half of which are miskeyed and misspelled. No one is perfect.

When I can’t find a word to express a thought, I invent one. In reality, some words I invent, and some words invent me.

If you should choose to enter this highly addictive adrenaline rush of a month-long activity, go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up! Pick your name, get your author profile started, and look up dragon_fangirl (that’s me). Add me as your writing buddy, and I will be part of your writing posse, cheering you on when you need a morale boost.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Samuel Pepys,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Samuel_Pepys&oldid=854824642 (accessed September 4, 2018).

Quote from Journaling for Stress Management, by Elizabeth Scott, MS for Very Well Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benefits-of-journaling-for-stress-management-3144611, Ⓒ 2018 About, Inc. (Dotdash) — All rights reserved (accessed September 4, 2018).

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

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Pantsing vs. Plotting or Somewhere in the Middle #NaNoWriMo2017 #amwriting

A friend of mine recently said, “I did what some gurus suggested for NaNoWriMo and planned out my book. All the joy is off the idea now, and I want to do something different.” This is not an uncommon occurrence. For some people, planning the outline makes them feel they have already written the story and they lose their enthusiasm.

I am a plotter, but I am also a pantser. A great article on this subject can be found at The Write Practice.

Quote: Simply put, a plotter is someone who plans out their novel before they write it. A pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything or plan very little.

Planning what events your protagonist will face is called plotting, and I make an outline for that.

“Pantsing it,” or writing using stream-of consciousness can produce some amazing work. That works well when we’re inspired, as ideas seem to flow from us. But for me, that sort of creativity is short-lived, unless I have a brief outline to follow, a road map of some sort.

Participating in NaNoWriMo has really helped me grow in the ability to write on a stream-of-consciousness level, but that only works for so long before I need a reminder of what my story was about in the beginning. My storyboard gets me back on track without making me feel like the creativity is already done.

One NaNoWriMo joke-solution often bandied about at write-ins is, “When you’re stuck, it’s time for someone to die.” Sadly, assassinating beloved characters whenever we run out of ideas is not a feasible option because we will soon run out of characters.

As devotees of Game of Thrones will agree, readers (or TV viewers) get to know characters and bond with them. When cherished characters are too regularly killed off, the story loses good people, and we must introduce new characters to fill the void. The reader may decide not to waste his time getting invested in a new character, feeling that you will only break their heart again.

The death of a character should be reserved to create a pivotal event that alters the lives of every member of the cast and is best reserved for either the inciting incident at the first plot point or as the terrible event of the third quarter of the book. So instead of assassination, we should resort to creativity.

This is where the outline can provide some structure, and keep you moving forward.  I will know what should happen in the first quarter, the middle, and the third quarter of the story. Also, because I know how it should end, I can more easily write to those plot points by filling in the blanks between, and the story will have cohesion.

Think about what launches a great story:

The protagonist has a problem.

You have placed them in a setting at a given moment, and shown the environment in which they live.

You have unveiled the inciting incident.

You know what they want, but you aren’t sure how far they will go to achieve it.

Now you need to decide what hinders the protagonist and prevents them from resolving the problem. While you are laying the groundwork for this keep in mind that we want to evoke three things:

  • Empathy/identification with the protagonist
  • Believability
  • Tension

We want the protagonist to be a sympathetic character whom the reader can identify with; one who the reader can immerse themselves in, living the story through his/her adventures.

But for NaNoWriMo, speed is everything. I need to get my 1,667 words every day, and I can’t take the time to sit back and ponder what to write next.

I find that this is where a loose outline helps me write quickly. Readers want the hindrances and barriers the protagonist faces to feel real. A loose guide helps me develop setups for the central events. This enables me to quickly lay down the narrative that shows the payoffs (either negative or positive) to advance the story: action and reaction.

Some authors resort to “idle conversation writing” when they are temporarily out of ideas.  If you can resist the temptation, please do so—it’s fatal to an otherwise good story. Save all your random think-writing off-stage in a background file, if giving your characters a few haphazard, pointless exchanges helps jar an idea loose. (However, for purposes of wordcount, if you wrote it, you can count it!)

One failing of NaNo Novels in their rough draft form is their unevenness. Try not to introduce random things into a scene unless they are important. Remember, to show the reader something is to foreshadow it, and the reader will wonder why a casual person or thing was so important they had to be foreshadowed.

Both over planning and under planning can lead to a book that is stalled and a writer who believes they have ‘writers’ block.’ For me a happy medium lies in a general outline, done as a brief storyboard:

What has prevented you from writing in the past? Did you get busy? Did you sleep in? Did you feel uncreative? These are mental roadblocks we all experience. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to develop the ability to work through these hindrances.

Remember, you are a superhero with a keyboard, slaying the monsters of indolence and lack of creativity.

My dear friend, author Stephen Swartz, had this to say on the subject of over planning: “The story is your ship, the NaNo your ocean. Let the keyboard be your wind! May metaphors drive you to new lands!”

I completely agree. Do a little planning, but write like the wind, and let the story take you where it will.


Credits and Attributions

The Pros and Cons of Plotters and Pantsers by The Magic Violinist, The Write Practice, http://thewritepractice.com/plotters-pantsers/ © 2017

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Developing Discipline #NaNoPrep #NaNoWriMo2017

Every author knows that writing is about so much more than merely laying words down on a page.  Most people with a minimal education can do that, and can even whack out a creditable paragraph or two. However, sustaining the momentum and carrying that vision through an entire novel is quite another thing.

Over the years, I’ve seen disparaging articles where people have expressed their scorn and disdain of authors who participate in Nation Novel Writing Month, mocking the notion of a “competition,” deriding both the authors and work that emerges from this month of madness and frozen pot pies.

They’re missing one important point: to write a novel one must begin a novel and make the time to complete it. It takes discipline to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Most people don’t have what it takes to commit to that kind of regimen. Participating in NaNoWriMo forces the author to sit and write a minimum of 1,667 new words every day. If the participant does only that, they will have completed a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I generally manage between 2,000 and 4,000 words a day during NaNoWriMo.

So, to the naysayers, I say, “Fine. If it takes a special month of writing and a group frenzy to get some people fired up about an idea they’ve had rolling around in their heads, who am I to complain?” I am a reader as much as I am an author. The more books that are written, the merrier I will be.

Here’s a short list of well-known novels to emerge from NaNoWriMo particpants:

  1. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. On the best-seller lists for over a year, turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, started as a NaNo novel.
  2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. What eventually became The Night Circus began life in 2004, seven years before it was finally published, started as a NaNo novel.
  3. Wool, by Hugh Howey. Howey’s dystopian sci-fi novel is one of those credited with putting self-publishing on the map, started as a NaNo novel.

Authors all begin knowing very little about how to write something another person would want to read. But if you maintain the dedication you develop in November, you can learn how to express what your heart feels. Work at learning the craft as hard as you worked to get your wordcount, and you will develop that talent for storytelling.

I think of the many authors to come who will gain both discipline and love of the craft through participating in NaNoWriMo. Many truly talented people are now embarking on learning a craft, committing their time and resources to educating themselves about how to write a novel that others will want to read. Several years down the road, who knows what wonderful works of fiction will have emerged from this year’s madness?

I only know that I am always looking for a good book, and so I will be first in line, hoping to be impressed by a fresh, new work of art. Therefore, I volunteer as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo. Every year we have new, young writers, with fresh, amazing ideas. But we also have many new older people who are writing their first novel, embarking on a dream they always had but never thought they could do.

The fact is, most people who begin a novel in November do not reach their goal of 50,000 words and never finish those novels. They do not have the discipline to sit down every day and dedicate a portion of their time to this project.

A great number of NaNo authors discover that doing NaNoWriMo is just like doing karaoke. They love to read, and they want to write the next Gone with the Wind, but their work reads as pleasantly as a tone-deaf drunk singing Wind Beneath my Wings. They are not talented writers, and their work isn’t stellar. Just because the rough draft was finished in thirty days and the author got the winner’s certificate of completion, it doesn’t mean that what they wrote was good. It just means they had the discipline to write it.

But despite the high number of would-be authors who fail to finish their novel, a few writers in each age group will continue writing after the month of madness is over. They will embark on the process of educating themselves in the craft.

These authors see the goal and are filled with the desire to finish what they started, knowing they will have to rewrite, edit, revise, and edit again to truly finish their book. When I talk to them and hear how fired up and passionate they are, I am proud to have been a part of their writing life.

Whatever gets a writer fired up and writing is fine by me, and we are all the better for the experience.

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#NaNoPrep Season: Learning Your Pre-writing Style #NaNoWriMo

Today I am featuring a post by my good friend, and fellow Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo, Lee French. Lee poses the question: Are you a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter?’ For me, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I plot, then I wing it, then I replot, and let it fly. Without further ado, here is Lee’s post.  I heartily suggest you read it all and click on through to finish the post on her page.

Lee French

There are many writers who claim to pants their stories. That is, fly by the seat of their pants, aka no plan, no outline, no nothing before starting to write. The other option is planning, which consists of drawing up a complete outline, character bios, detailed setting documents, and so on.

Pantser vs. Plotter

I wish to submit two controversial opinions:

  1. Pantsing and plotting are not two options, but rather two ends of a spectrum.
  2. As with many linear scales, most of us fit most comfortably somewhere between the two extremes.

The popularized term for folks who do “both” is Plantser. My argument is that we are all plantsers. Or, at least, the majority of us are.

Planster

The hitch: until you start writing, you have no real idea where you fit on that spectrum. You may think you’re on the Pantser end, then you get stuck on Day 4…

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