Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo Prep

#NaNoWriMo prep part 8: Finding Time to Write #amwriting

Today is the final post in 2022’s NaNoPrep series. The game will be afoot on Tuesday!

30 days 50000 wordsMany authors are prepping for NaNoWriMo 2022. They are mentally committing to writing 1,667 new words every day beginning on November 1st or a total of 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th.

Right now, they are wondering how they will meet this goal. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer for that, as you must be able to pay your bills, or no books will ever be written.

When we are just beginning on the path to becoming an author, we feel guilty for taking the time to indulge in such a profoundly personal pleasure. Life tosses up roadblocks, and developing a regular writing habit is difficult.

We have jobs, families, duties to our religious faith, and many demands upon our time. We have all the extra work and activities that come along with living our lives.

In the 1980s, I could only write for half an hour or so at night after my children were asleep, pouring my angst into lyrics for songs. This is why my poetry has a rhythm: I’m a songwriter at heart, and there is always a melody in my head.

The most important thing about developing a writing process is to find one that works for you.

Give yourself permission to try different things until something works.

  • Do you work best in short bursts?
  • Are you at your best when you have a long session of privacy and quiet time?
  • Or is your process something in the middle, a melding of the two?

What if my style changes? What if the way that worked last month no longer works?

Give yourself permission to change, to find a way that does work. Be willing to be flexible.

Alarm clock quote ray bradburyUntil this past June, I wrote best when I had a long stretch of time to just sit down and immerse myself. Then my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disease, and our life underwent a fundamental change. I am now the only driver in the family, and we live in an area without public transportation.

Varying my projects and writing in bursts broken up by daily activities works best for my schedule nowadays.

The truth is, we must be open to the writing process that makes us feel productive, whether it works for someone else or not. We feel good when we’re productive.

I have my best ideas when I’m about to leave the house—no joke. If that is you too, do as I do and write those thoughts down. I keep a notebook around just for those moments.

You will be productive once you find your best style.

But first—you must give yourself permission to write. Once you do that, your family will too.

I have plenty of downtime between my daily tasks. That is when I work on whatever revisions are needed. You would be amazed at what you can get done in ten-minute bursts.

Balance is the key to a happy life. We want to feel productive and creative, and we need to share our lives and interests with our family and friends.

Therefore, we who wish to write must set aside time to do it. This allows us to be creative and still support our families, who all have activities and interests of their own.

As I have said many times before, being a writer is to be supremely selfish about every aspect of life, including family time.

  1. It also requires discipline and the ability to set aside an hour or so just for that pursuit, a little time where no one is allowed to disturb you.

800px-NotebooksA good way to ensure you have that time is to encourage your family members to indulge in their own interests and artistic endeavors. That way, everyone has the chance to be creative in their own way during that hour, and they will understand why you value your writing time so much.

Many times I wrote while my children did their homework. I was there, able to help, but I was doing my own “homework.”

To be happy, one must have a balanced life. Don’t become so obsessed with writing about fictional lives that you aren’t present in your own.

That need to be present in my real life is why I schedule my writing time. It’s also why I reward myself for achieving my writing goals.

  • Some people manage to fit short bursts of writing into their daily schedule, writing at work during breaks or at lunch.
  • Others must schedule a dedicated block of time for writing, either rising two hours before they depart for work or skipping some TV in the evening.

If you are a person who needs a dedicated block of time, do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 a.m., and don’t let anything disrupt you. On December 1st, you can reward yourself by sleeping in.

But maybe you can’t sit still for too long.

  • Write in small increments—ten minutes here, half an hour there. These short bursts add up.

If you want to meet the goal of 50,000 new words during the 30 days of November, I can’t stress this one thing enough: write every day, whether you have an idea worth noting or not.

dylan moran quote TIMEPerhaps your mind has gone blank. An idea is locked in your head, but you don’t have the words to free it. You can still advance your rough draft and meet your word count goal. Step back and view your story from a distance:

  • Write several paragraphs detailing what must happen in your story, such as: Fergus dyes Mason’s hair orange here. I don’t know why. Then comes the chase through midtown on bicycles. Fergus gasping, out of shape. Mason catches sight of Leo entering the museum.

Make a note about what blocks you and move on. Once you are past that spot, you will be writing the narrative again. Those notes will be there for you to flesh out when you come back to them. Plus, everything tallies toward your daily word count goal, even those paragraphs that are just thinking out loud.

I am a slow keyboard jockey, and I can do about 1,100 wonky, misspelled words an hour during NaNoWriMo. But every word counts, misspelled or not.

Writers and other artists do have to make sacrifices for their craft. It’s just how things are. But you don’t have to sacrifice your family for it. Sacrifice one hour of sleeping in, and sacrifice something ephemeral and unimportant, like one hour of TV.

By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you might finish your first draft and get that certificate that says you completed 50,000 words in 30 days.



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#NaNoWriMo prep part 4 Plot Arc #amwriting

Today we’re continuing prepping our novel by thinking about the plot, the story our characters inhabit. In post one, we thought about what kind of project we want to write–novel, short stories, poems, memoir, personal essays, etc.

Post two of this series introduced the protagonist(s), so we have an idea of who they are and what they do.

In post three, we explored the setting, so we already know where they are and what their circumstances are.

plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedNow we’re going to design the conflict by creating a skeleton, a series of guideposts to write to. I write fantasy, but every story is the same, no matter the set dressing: Protagonist A needs something desperately, and Antagonist B stands in their way.

What does the protagonist want? Everyone wants something. The story is in if they acquire it or not. Doubt, uncertainty, the unknown—these nouns comprise the story.

This is where we have to sit and think a bit. Are we writing a murder mystery? A space-opera? A thriller? The story of a girl dealing with bulimia?

Let’s write a historical fiction.

My uncle fought in WWII in Ardennes and was wounded. He never discussed his wartime experiences, but I like to use that battle as my example for plotting. Here in the US, that battle is referred to as the Battle of the Bulge. A book about that battle may be compiled from personal accounts, interviews, photographs, and diaries. But the author must build the events of Ardennes in December 1944 and January 1945 out of words that express memories, opinions, and wishes.

Even though your novel about this battle may explore an Allied soldier’s experiences, in reality, this narrative is a fantasy because the events it explores have disappeared into the mists of a long-ago time. They now exist only in a few places:

  • military archives
  • newspaper accounts
  • history as written by the victors
  • the memories of a dying generation
  • the handwritten diary of the soldier
  • the author’s mind
  • the pages of the book you are constructing
  • the readers’ minds as they are reading

Plot-exists-to-reveal-characterWhere does our soldier’s story begin? We open the story by introducing our characters, showing them in their everyday world, and then we kick into gear with the occurrence of the “inciting incident,” which is the first plot point. That might be their arrival at their first camp in the Ardennes region.

For our soldier, the inciting incident might be the orders that transfer him and his unit to Ardennes. After that, many things will occur before he and his fellow soldiers return home. Each event will range in intensity from the inconvenience of filthy living conditions to the unavoidable confrontation with the horror of war.

We will make a list, a ladder of events that give us landmarks to write to, like a connect-the-dots picture.

First, how long do you plan the book to be? If you plan to write 50,000 words, take that word count and divide it by 4. The first quarter opens our story and introduces the inciting incident. This is the moment of no return, even if our characters still believe they can salvage things.

The following two quarters are the middle of the narrative, exploring the obstacles that our soldier faces. If you are writing a historical novel, your plot will follow the historical calendar of actual events. The Battle of the Bulge was fought between 16 December 1944 and 25 January 1946, and reams of documentation still exist about that terrible month.


117th Infantry North Carolina NG at St. Vith.

Your plot arc might include these events, but in chronological order:

  • Initial German assault
  • Attack on the northern shoulder
  • German forces held up
  • Germans advance west
  • German advance halted

Attack in the center: our soldier will either be with the US 30th Infantry Division at the Battle for St. Vith (Americans) or the Meuse River bridges (British 29th Armoured Brigade of 11th Armoured Division). He likely couldn’t be at both unless he was in the US Army Air Force.

  • Attack in the south
  • Allied counteroffensive
  • German counterattack
  • Allies prevail

You will connect those dots. Take each incident and write the scenes that our soldier experiences. You might also write scenes showing the commanders planning the offensives and switch to show the enemy’s plans.

No matter what sort of book you plan to write, this is all you need at first. It’s just a skeleton of the plot. You will write the scenes between these events, connecting them to form a story with an arc to it.

As we write, our soldier’s thoughts and interactions will illuminate and color in the scenes. His encounters, how he saw the enemy—were they people like him or were they faceless—all his emotions will emerge as you write his story.

No matter what genre we are writing in, you must introduce a story-worthy problem, a test that will propel the protagonist to the middle of the book.


US Army Signal Corps photo of SCR-299 radio set in operation 1942, US Army Signal Corps

This event is the hook. We raise a question and set the protagonist on the trail of the answer. In finding that answer, the protagonist is thrown into the action.

  • If you are writing genre fiction, get to the action quickly.

Drop the protagonist into the soup as soon as possible, even if the conflict is interpersonal. Some books open with a minor hiccup that spirals out of control with each attempt to resolve it. This is the place where the characters are set on the path to their destiny.

Some plots are action and adventure. Other books explore a relationship that changes a character’s life for good or ill, while others detail surviving hardship.

When do the protagonists first realize they’re utterly blocked from achieving their desired goal? Note this event on your outline somewhere in the first quarter. This is the moment our protagonist realizes their problem is much worse than they initially thought.

At this point, they have little information regarding the magnitude of the trouble.

This is where the skeleton list comes in handy for me. Crucial knowledge that affects my characters’ choices, the information they don’t have, should be doled out at the point in the story arc where they need it. If I give all the information in the first 10 pages, there’s no point in reading the book any further—the reader knows it all.

plottingLIRF07122020One thing that I do is make notes that help limit my tendency toward heavy-handed foreshadowing. I try to keep it brief, but what will be enough of a hint, and where should it go?

Subplots will emerge as we begin writing. It’s a good idea to note them on the outline as they come to you. In my opinion, side quests work best if they are presented once the book’s tone and the central crisis have been established. Good subplots are excellent ways of supporting the emotional parts of the story.

Now is the time to read in your genre and let your ideas simmer for a while. If you are writing in a fiction genre, read the bestsellers so you know what kind of plot the reading public is looking for. Don’t worry about inadvertently channeling their ideas—there is no such thing as a story that has never been told.

Whatever you write, you will take it one step further and give it your own spin.

Posts in this series:

#NaNoWriMo prep part 1: Deciding on the Project #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 2: Character Creation #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 3: Designing Worlds #amwriting

Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:117th Infantry North Carolina NG at St. Vith 1945.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:117th_Infantry_North_Carolina_NG_at_St._Vith_1945.jpg&oldid=661386897 (accessed October 14, 2022).



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#NaNoWriMo prep part 2: Character Creation #amwriting

Today is part two of my October NaNo Prep series. This post explores character creation. Often, we have ideas for great characters but no story for them. For those who don’t write daily, it’s a way to help get you into the habit.

nano prep namesThese exercises will only take a few minutes unless you want to spend more time on them. They’re just a warmup, getting you thinking about your writing project. Each post will tackle a different aspect of preparation and won’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes to complete. By the end of this series, my goal is for you to have a framework that will get your project started.

SO—let’s begin with characters. Some will be heroes, others will be sidekicks, and still others will be villains to one degree or another.

rudimentary stylesheetI recommend you create a file that contains all the ideas you have in regard to your fictional world, including the personnel files you are creating. I list all my information in an Excel workbook for each book or series, but you can use any kind of document, even handwritten. You just need to write your ideas down. See my post, Ensuring Consistency: the Stylesheet.

Perhaps you already have an idea for the characters you intend to people your story with. Even if you don’t, take a moment to sit back and think about who they might be.

No matter the genre or the setting, humans will be humans and have certain recognizable personality traits.

names keep them simpleSo, who is the protagonist of my intended story? Truthfully, in some aspect or another, they will be the person I wish I were. That is how it always is for me—living a fantasy in the safe environment of the novel. Bilbo was J.R.R. Tolkien’s younger self, an inexperienced man discovering the broader world through his wartime experiences. Luke Skywalker was the hero George Lucas always wanted to be.

For me, a story is the people—the characters, their interactions, their thoughts, and how the arc of the plot changes them. In return, writing the events they experience enables me to see my values and beliefs more clearly. I begin to understand myself.

I feel an author should introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story. But we must also use common sense. Too many named characters is too many.

So, let’s start with one character, our protagonist. First, we need a name, even if it’s just a placeholder. I have learned to keep in mind simplicity of spelling and ease of pronunciation when I name my characters. My advice is to keep it simple and be vigilant—don’t give two characters names that are nearly identical and that begin and end with the same letter.

Have you ever read a book where you couldn’t figure out how to pronounce a name? Speaking as a reader, it aggravates me no end: Brvgailys tossed her lush hair over her shoulder. (BTW—I won’t be recommending that book to anyone.) (Ever.)

You might think of the unusual spellings as part of your world-building. I get that, but there is another reason to consider making names easily pronounceable, no matter how fancy and other-worldly they look if spelled oddly. You may decide to have your book made into an audiobook, and the process will go more smoothly if your names are uncomplicated. I only have one audiobook, and the experience of making that book taught me to spell names simply.

Now that we have a name, even if it’s just a placeholder, we can move on to the next step. Then we write a brief description. One thing that helps when creating a character is identifying the verbs embodied by each individual’s personality. What pushes them to do the crazy stuff they do?

The person our protagonist appears to be on page one, and the motivations they start out with must be clearly defined. Identifying these two aspects is central to who your character is:

  • VOID: Each person lacks something, a void in their life. What need drives them?
  • VERBS: What is their action word, the verb that defines their personality? How does each character act and react on a gut level?

the hobbitIf we know their void, we should write it down now, along with any quirky traits they may have. Next, we decide on verbs that will be the driving force of their personality at the story’s opening. Add some adjectives to describe how they interact with the world and assign nouns to show their characteristics.


Maia (healer, 25 yrs. old, black ringlets, dark skin, brown eyes with golden flecks.) Parents were mages, father an earth-mage who builds and repairs levees in the cities along the River Fleet. VOID: Mother murdered by a priest of the Bull God. Father never got over it. Maia is not good with tools and unintentionally breaks or loses things. VERBS: Nurture. Protect. ADJECTIVES: awkward, impulsive, focused, motivated, loyal, caring. NOUNS: empathy, purpose, wit.

Once I do this for the protagonist and her sidekicks, I will ask myself, “Who is the antagonist? What do they want?”

Nord, a tribeless mage, turned rogue. Warlord desiring control of Kyrano Citadel. Intent on making a better life for his children and will achieve it at any cost. VOID: Born into a poor woodcutter’s family. Father abusive drunk, mother weak, didn’t protect him. VERBS: Fight, Desire, Acquire. ADJECTIVES: arrogant, organized, decisive, direct, focused, loyal. NOUNS: purpose, leadership, authority.

Our characters will meet and interact with other characters. Some are sidekicks, and some are enemies. Don’t bother giving pass-through characters’ names, as a name shouts that a character is an integral part of the story and must be remembered.

Your project could be anything from a memoir to an action-adventure. No matter the genre, the characters must be individuals with secrets only they know about themselves. This is especially true if you are writing a memoir. Over the next few days, list these traits as they come to mind.

Name your characters as they occur to you. Assign genders and preferences and give a loose description of their physical traits. If you like, use your favorite movie stars or television stars as your prompts.

We are changed in real life by what we experience as human beings. Each person grows and develops in a way that is distinctively them. Some people become jaded and cynical. Others become more compassionate and forgiving.

Everyone perceives things in a unique way and is affected differently than their companions. In a given situation, other people’s gut reactions vary in intensity from mine or yours. Whether we are writing a romance, a sci-fi novel, a literary novel, or even a memoir, we must know who the protagonist is on page one.

That means we need to create their backstory, just a paragraph or two. This will grow in length over time as the story takes shape. As we write each personnel file, we will begin to see their past, present, and possible future.

name quote, richard II shakespeareMaking lists of names is essential. You want their spellings to remain consistent and being able to return to what you initially planned is a big help later on. When we commence writing the actual narrative, each character will have an arc of growth, and sometimes names will change as the story progresses. Do remember to make notes of those changes.

Heroes who arrive perfect in every way on page one are uninteresting. For me, the characters and all their strengths and flaws are the core of any story. The events of the piece exist only to force growth upon them.

Posts in this series to date:

#NaNoWriMo prep part 1: Deciding on the Project #amwriting

Credits and Attributions:

Dustcover of the first edition of The Hobbit, taken from a design by the author, J.R.R. Tolkien.


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#NaNoWriMo prep part 1: Deciding on the Project #amwriting

National Novel Writing Month is not only about writing novels. This is a month solely dedicated to the act of writing. Even if you have no intention of “doing” NaNoWriMo, it can’t hurt to think about what you might like to write.


November’s Goal

First, we must decide on a project. Once we know what we’re writing, we can begin laying the groundwork.

Many people know they want to write something but don’t know what. The words live within us, but how do we free them? First, we have to find out what those words want to be.

Some ideas are:


  1. What genre?
  2. What is the central theme?
  3. Who are the characters, their gender, their culture?
  4. Will you “pants it” through the plot or create an outline?

Poetry collection

  1. What genre? Free verse? Or do you prefer traditionally structured poetry? Odes, Haikus, Elegies, Sonnets, Dramatic Poetry, or Narrative Poetry? In my misspent youth, I was a musician and wrote lyrics for a heavy metal band, so I tend to write lyric poetry. I have a friend who writes sci-fi poetry.
  2. What is the central theme of this collection? (The central theme in my poetry is the landscape that shaped me, i.e., the lake where I grew up, the river emerging from the south end of it, and the hills rising above it.)
  3. Will these be random poems expressing the thoughts of the moment?
  4. Will these poems be planned to express certain ideals and beliefs?

Old booksShort story collection

  1. What genre? Or will it be a mix of genres?
  2. What is the central theme that gives shape to this collection?
  3. Will you have a recurring character binding the collection together?
  4. Will a different protagonist be featured in each?
  5. Will the stories be set in one town or in many?
  6. Will you “pants it” or write little outlines? I work both ways when it comes to short stories.

You’ve noticed that I’m repeating myself—but trust me, a fiction project is easier to create if you know what genre you are writing for and can see the central theme that will bind it together.


  1. Have you read any memoirs? Do you know how the plots of successful memoirs are constructed?
  2. Your actual memories or a fictionalized account?
  3. Dare to name names or not?

Family history

  1. Are you just curious, or are you searching for an identity, trying to find a past to know who you are and where your family comes from?
  2. Research from a site such as ancestry.com or gleaned from family bibles, letters, and other collected papers? A combination of both?
  3. Photographs?
  4. Will you include interviews with older family members who may remember something about your family’s history?

Academic Papers

  1. Will this be the basis for a thesis, or is it an independent study?
  2. Will it become the basis for a textbook?
  3. Will you be required to conform to a specific format for disseminating the arc of information? (Structural editing.)
  4. Will you need to use a specific Academic Style Guide for grammar and mechanics? If so, where can you acquire it?

As we go toward November, we will delve further into plotting a novel or short story. We’ll also talk about structuring literary collections (short stories or poetry) so a reader will stay involved and finish the book.

Now is a good time to declare your intention to participate, if you are so inclined. But navigating the website at www.nanowrimo.org can be confusing. Take the opportunity to explore it ahead of time and get to know all the many tricks for using it. You’ll be more comfortable when November arrives.

Perhaps you haven’t been a participant for several years and are considering joining again. You’ll find the new website is quite different from the old site. Many features we used and loved in the past are no longer available. However, the new site includes many features you will enjoy. The following screenshots will help you find your way around the website:

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


Next, create a profile. You don’t have to get fancy unless you are bored and feeling creative. On your profile page, click the “Announce New Project” button. Open this to declare your project.

profile page

dragon_fangirl’s profile page at http://www.nanowrimo.org

  1. Give your project a name if you have one. I don’t have a working title yet, so I’m going with 30 Days of Madness and Pot Pies, my all-purpose NaNo title, when I have no idea what to call my project.
  2. Pick the genre you intend to write in.
  3. Write a few paragraphs about your intended project if you know what you plan to write. If you have nothing yet, don’t worry about it.

You 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 two other large writers’ organizations. (Later in this series, we’ll discuss Discord and how numerous regions rely on it for word sprints and virtual write-ins.)

While creating your profile, write a short bio. 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.

NaNoWriMo-Menu-IconNext, check out the community tabs. The tabs will be across the top if you are in full screen. 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 left of this paragraph.

When the button is clicked, the menu will be on the right-hand 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. It will be there in the Community tab. Also, don’t forget to check out the national forums, which can be found on the Community tab.

You may find the information you need in one of the many forums available.

Book- onstruction-sign copyBy the time November arrives, I hope that those who want to “do NaNoWriMo” will have the tools they need and the confidence to get it done.

Many people don’t choose to participate in something that intensive but still want to write. November is dark and gloomy here in the Pacific Northwest–a good month to begin a casual writing project, but often, people don’t know how to get started.

If that is you, my goal will be to get you closer to identifying what you want to write and helping you begin that project.

Whether you participate in NaNoWriMo or not, I hope to help you take that nebulous idea and turn it into written words.


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October is #NaNoPrep Month #amwriting

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is approaching, and October is NaNo Prep month. I have participated in that annual writing event every year since 2010. For the past 11 years, I was one of my area’s Municipal Liaisons for NaNoWriMo as a way of volunteering in my community.


November’s Goal

Usually, I have earned my “winners’ certificate” by the day they become available, but even so, I continue writing on that project every day through November 30th. I update my word count daily because using every moment available in November is a personal challenge.

I say this every year because it’s true: NaNoWriMo is only a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website, you ‘win.’ It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing.

This year, my personal life has taken a left turn for the different. I stepped back from my position as Municipal Liaison. I will still participate, but I can no longer serve my region as they deserve.

My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in June and will be starting an intensive physical therapy regimen in the middle of November: Big Therapy For Parkinson’s – ParkinsonsDaily.com

I am already seeing improvements from the medication and the PT he has already been given. We’re fortunate to have good health insurance, an HMO providing us with a terrific neurologist and cutting-edge physical therapy.

An immediate effect of that diagnosis was that his doctor said he was not to drive. We live south of Olympia in an area with no public transportation and no uber or even a taxi.

StarshipHydrangeaLIRF072022So, for the two final weeks of November and the first two weeks of December, we will be firing up the Starship Hydrangea (our hydrangea-blue Kia Soul) and driving 30 miles a day to and from the clinic. This will happen four out of five days a week, barring snow.

Then, I will have an hour or two to kill at the clinic. I could take a laptop and write, but I find that more disruptive than waiting until I get home. Instead, I will probably read or daydream and make notes for possible plot twists.

And that’s not terrible. Taking a break from the grind helps spur creativity.

Usually, I end November with around 90,000 words on two or three projects. But twice I’ve finished with more than 100,000 words. Most were crap—I wrote them, cut them in December, and used them as fodder for other projects later.

50,000 words is an acceptable length for YA or romance. But for epic fantasy or literary fiction, it’s only half a novel. But regardless of the proposed length of their finished book, a dedicated author can get the basic story arc down in those thirty days.

Alice in Wonderland Tea SetI have no problem getting the first draft done with the aid of a pot of hot, black tea and a simple outline to keep me on track. All that’s required is for me to sit down for an hour or two each morning and write a minimum of 1667 words per day.

So how do we find time to write daily? I plan ahead and use my time wisely. Cooking and cleaning are things we all have to do. I think simple is best when it comes to food and housework.

I have a crockpot that gets a workout every winter. I use it two or three times a week for soups, chilies, and stews. I’m a fan of meals that can be cooked in the oven, and also of dinner salads. I serve tasty and eye-pleasing meals that don’t take much time to assemble.

We all have to live in a home, which means we all have housework. It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s how I get my exercise. I zoom through the house daily, wiping down surfaces and vacuuming.

When the holidays approach, I locate the cobwebs, spray them with hairspray, toss a little glitter on them, and presto! The house looks festive with little effort on my part.

(My mother’s ghost just fainted.)

(Did I mention I write fantasy?)

Anyway, as in many good things, there is a downside to November’s intense month of stream-of-consciousness writing. Just because we sit in front of a computer and pour words into a document doesn’t mean we’re writing a readable novel. Many cheap or free eBooks will be published every year, a testimony to that fundamental truth.

to err is human to edit divineThe real work begins after November. After writing most of a first draft, many people will realize they enjoy writing. Like me, they’ll be inspired to learn more about the craft. They discover that writing isn’t about getting a particular number of words written by a specific date, although that goal was a catalyst, the thing that got them moving.

For a few NaNo writers, writing becomes about embarking on a creative journey and learning a craft with a dual reputation that is difficult to live up to. They will find that we who claim to be authors are either disregarded as arrogant ne’er-do-wells or given far more respect than we deserve.

More people write during November than you would think. In some previous years, half of the NaNo Writers in my regional area devoted their time to journaling, writing memoirs, or even writing college papers.

For a few people, participating in NaNoWriMo is about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years. These writers will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. They may find the courage to go back to school and maybe even get their MFA.

steering the craft leguinA good way to educate yourself is to attend seminars. By meeting and talking with other authors in various stages of their careers and learning from the pros, we develop the skills needed to write stories a reader will enjoy.

One good way to polish your work (which costs nothing) is to join a critique group. Be bold—ask the clerks at the local bookstores in your area if they know of any writing groups that are open to new members.

Every year, participating in NaNoWriMo will inspire many discussions about becoming an author.

Books contain ideas, and ideas are the most dangerous magic of all—a magic that topples kings and gives rise to great civilizations.

Dare to be dangerous.

Go ahead and write that book.


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What is National Novel Writing Month, and should I participate?

September is nearly here. I’m a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Over the next two months, my focus will be on preparing my region for 30 consecutive days dedicated to the act of writing a novel, and my posts here will reflect that.

MyWritingLife2021BIf you haven’t heard of this before, it’s a worldwide event that happens in November. Each year thousands of people in all parts of the world dedicate themselves to writing a 50,000-word narrative in only thirty days.

I’m a rebel. Some years I work on a new novel, and others, I scratch out as many short stories as possible in those thirty days.

NaNoWriMo is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website, you win. But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no monetary prizes or fame for those winners, only a PDF winner’s certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

Depending on your intended audience, a manuscript of only 50,000 words is a short novel. It’s a good length for YA or romance, but it’s only half a novel for epic fantasy or literary fiction.

Regardless of the planned length of their finished novel, a dedicated author can get the basic structure and storyline of a book down in those thirty days. They sit for an hour or two each day and write a minimum of 1667 words.

That’s all you need to do, write 1667 words every day. At the end of 30 days, you will have written 50,000 words.

Author Lee French and I are co-MLs for the Olympia Region for NaNoWriMo. In our region last year, 175 writers created profiles and began an official manuscript at www.nanowrimo.org.

We’ve been doing this for a while, and we have seen a pattern.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021The first roadblock happens when reality sets in and the writers realize that it is work.

This usually occurs within the first few days. Last year 64 writers in our region never got more than 5,000 words written. One stopped at 34.

A majority of new NaNo writers are people who “always wanted to write a book.” Often, they don’t know what they want to write and have no clue how to be disciplined enough to write any words, much less the number it takes to make a novel.

They start, get 30 to 1,000 words in, and realize they have nothing to say. But in our region, 17 of these people made it to the 10,000-word mark before they stopped writing. That’s an achievement—it’s almost a novella.

Other new writers are fired up on day one. They go at it full tilt for a week, or even two, and then, at the 20,000-word mark, they take a day off. Somehow, they never get back to it. Their novels will languish unfinished, perhaps forever.

Even seasoned writers who have crossed the finish line at NaNoWriMo in previous years may find the commitment to sit and write 1,667 words every day is not doable for them. Things come up—life happens.

Plot-exists-to-reveal-characterBut by November 30th last year, 70 writers out of the 175 in our region had made it to the 50,000-word mark, 3 made it to above 80,000, and 1 exceeded 100,000 words.

Some of these novels had complete story arcs and were ready for revisions. Most were not, but these proto-novels could be made publishable with a lot of work.

It takes commitment and discipline to write 1,667 new words every day. You are not revising old work. Instead, you’re writing something new and not looking at what you wrote yesterday.

To do this, you must sit down at the keyboard, open the document to where you left off, and begin writing forward.

For me, having an outline keeps me on track and writing a coherent novel. We will talk about this later.

How did I do last year? I got started and was doing well, finishing a novel that only needs another 20,000 words or so. Then I intended to write the ending for Bleakbourne on Heath, a serialized novel that only needs 4 chapters. After that, I planned to write several short stories to keep on hand in case I needed a quick story to submit to an anthology or magazine.

strange thoughtsBut I got side-tracked. On day 5, I thought about an artifact’s origin that has a role in my still-unfinished novel. 80,000 words later, that bunny trail had become a novel, The Ruins of Abeyon.

I’m not a good typist. The words that fall out of my head during NaNoWriMo are not all golden, just so you know. When writing stream-of-consciousness, many words will be garbled and miskeyed.

This means that for me, the revision process is a long and winding road.

I had begun Ruins with no outline, so the story arc evolved as I wrote the book. I outlined as I went. Later, when I was revising, it was easy to see the arc and make decisions to move certain events to more logical places.

Fortunately, the story is set in Neveyah, a world I have been writing in for twelve years. I have a stylesheet for that world, so the magic and political systems are all in place, along with good maps.

Having the fundamental prep-work of magic and social structure in place made switching to a new project easy. This is because, unlike Bleakbourne on Heath, which was written and published one chapter at a time six years ago for a now-defunct website, Ruins had a coherent story arc from the beginning.

Participating in NaNoWriMo is a watershed experience. Some people don’t thrive when they have deadlines, but others work better under pressure.

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_PacingSucceeding in writing even a short story gives many authors the confidence to continue. In their case, NaNoWriMo is about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.

If you have a novel in your soul and it’s bursting to get out, this might be your chance. However, planning for a successful NaNoWriMo is like preparing for a marathon.

We let our families know well in advance that it’s coming and share how vital reaching our goal is to us. That way, we have their emotional support. We also plan ahead for meals and family time, so the important people in our lives aren’t neglected.

In many ways, we’re preparing for a writing marathon, physically and mentally. We build our strength and get our families behind us by ensuring we have prepared well in advance.

strange thoughts 2Over the next few weeks, we will focus on laying the groundwork for our novels so that we will be ready and able to write when November comes. Much of what I will be discussing has emerged from our experience and comes from my co-ML Lee’s prep work as much as from mine.

Together, we will get that novel written.


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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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Prepping for NaNoWriMo during the pandemic #amwriting

The first week of September is upon us already. This is when I will begin prepping for my tenth year of participating in November’s National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, and my ninth as a municipal liaison.

The primary goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word (or more) novel in 30 days. Of course, the end result will require serious rewriting and editing, the same as any first draft. But having the bones of a novel finished, with a beginning, middle, and end is a huge accomplishment.

That month of merry madness forces me to become disciplined, to lose the bad writing habits I slip into during the rest of the year.

Most importantly, having to maintain daily word count output forces me to ignore the inner editor, that unpleasant little voice that slows my productivity down and squashes my creativity.

Also, for this one month of the year, nothing comes before writing. In past years flu season hit me hard despite having gotten my flu shots, and I was unable to attend write-ins for part of the time.

Nevertheless, I still wrote and got my word count. Trying to use my laptop while obeying orders to stay in bed gave me an impetus to get well quick.

This year will be very different. Due to the pandemic, NaNoWriMo headquarters has declared that there will be no sanctioned in-person write-ins. My co-liaison, author Lee French, and I agree whole-heartedly with this the sense behind the decision.

Instead, we will meet via a service called Discord, which we began using last year. We may do some through Zoom Video Conferencing or Google Meet. I also have MS Teams, which I personally think is the best of the bunch.

Coming together to write might seem like an awkwardly silent meeting. Still, these meetings help push word counts and get writers closer to their finished manuscript. Writing in a group situation, even in a virtual environment, enables participants to stay connected. It lessens the feeling of aloneness that writers have historically suffered from since long before Covid19 made everyone else feel isolated.

This sense of belonging keeps us on track and helps us to burn through the roughest spots, days when all we can think to write looks like so much “blah blah blah.”

Our Facebook page will be a place for staying connected, and in past years we’ve had many fun writing sprints and virtual write-ins there.

I’ve posted these before, but here are my rules for succeeding at writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days:

Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required). This takes me about 2 hours because I’m not fast at this.

Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. If you are really committed, you will do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time. Don’t let anything derail you.

If you are stuck for what to write next, talk about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Use this time as a brainstorming session and just write about the direction you would like to take your story. This will loosen up your ideas, and you will be fired up all over again.

Don’t delete those ruminations, though. Every sentence you write counts toward your goal of 50,000 words. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.

Check-in on the national threads at http://www.NaNoWriMo.org and also your regional thread. You need to keep in contact with other writers, and the forums are fun to participate in.

Join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.

Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end and you are only at 7,000 words, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the sections later. That way, you won’t lose your word count.

Validate your word count every day on the national website. You will gain achievement badges for this, but more importantly, you will know if your word-processor counts the same way as the Validator App at NaNoWriMo. You don’t want to get an ugly surprise at midnight on November 30th!

As writers, we go through stages where we tend to focus too much on the quality of what we have already written and forget that output is important too. NaNoWriMo reminds us that if we don’t write new material every day, we stagnate. Nothing is worse than going over the same stale passages and wondering why you can’t move the story forward.

I write to a loose outline, but the pressure of having to get my word count means I don’t always follow it. The act of sitting down and just writing whatever comes into your mind is liberating.

Even if you don’t want the world to see what you write during the 30 days of NaNoWriMo, you have an outlet for your creative mind, a sounding board for your opinions and ideas. Rant about politics and religion to your heart’s content—no one will be offended if you are only writing for yourself.

If you are getting into genealogy through Ancestry, this is your golden opportunity to write about what you have learned, compiling the information for your own records.

Watching TV and playing video games all evening long doesn’t allow for creative thinking.  Your mind doesn’t get to rest from the daily grind.

Creative thinking—assembling puzzles, quilting, writing, painting, building Lego cities—these activities are far more relaxing than vegetating in front of the TV. Putting together jigsaw puzzles is a great way to organize your mind and sort out plot points.

Something I have found over the years is that by getting away from the TV for a while, your mind becomes sharper. By doing something different, you give your active mind a vacation. You rest better, and your whole body benefits from having done something positive and restful in your free time.

Over the next 60 days, I will be plotting several short stories and a novella, all of which I hope to write in November. They may all get written, or some may be shelved, but either way, I will finish November with new fodder for my short-story submission mill.


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COVID Brain and the Writer #amwriting

The pandemic (and the politics surrounding it) has affected everyone differently, especially in how we go to work, or even if we have a job to go to. For those in my area of Washington State, we first became aware on February 29, 2020, when the first death from coronavirus in the U.S. was reported at Evergreen Health Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington. That was followed by two other confirmed cases in a nursing home in the same city.

Since that day, officials passed down a series of unprecedented orders. They closed down schools, businesses, and restaurants; only takeout and delivery were exempt.

Terrified, newly unemployed people made a run on grocery stores, buying everything they could lay their hands on and stockpiling it.

Stores quickly became large, empty warehouses. People who shopped as they normally did were unable to find such necessary items as soap or toilet paper.

Things have changed and restrictions have loosened a little, but life will never go back to the way it was. Residents are now trying to settle into what has become a new normal, following social distancing guidelines and staying at home as much as possible.

While shopping has returned to a new kind of normal and stores now have most of the basic necessities, life is not returning to what once was ordinary, nor will it ever. Wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing has become de rigueur. In my home state of Washington, these are mandatory.

No shoes, no shirt, no face-mask, no service.

Remote school was a struggle for many parents. Now, for many, their spouse is either laid off or working from home. During the spring, their kids were home-schooled, then summer happened. They ended up with a house full of bored kids and no place open to take them for entertainment.

For those who live in apartments, even most parks are closed. Going for an afternoon walk quickly loses its charm for the average four-year-old.

Unfortunately, in my state of Washington, schools will remain closed through the fall, and online classes will be the norm. This is a disaster for the poorest families, those without access to the internet. The schools provide your child with a Chromebook, but what do they connect it to? And in most really poor families, the parents have no idea how to hook up a computer or use one.

Even parents who are financially better off are trying to keep their children focused and entertained. This, while they attempt to work from home and are once again faced with also trying to educate them.

Zoom meetings are frequently interrupted by toddler tantrums and cats—the way business is done in our new world.

I know several prolific authors whose ability to write has gone out the window. Many people are only now getting back into some sort of schedule.

This is for a variety of reasons. First of all, if you are writing full time, you rely on those quiet hours of the day while the spouse is at work and kids are at school.

For those whose day jobs meant they scrambled to find time for writing, unemployment was a blessing as far as their writing went. They now had time to write and plenty of apocalyptic stories to tell.

However, we who write full time were thrown out of the normal routine and into a world where every day felt like Saturday, but no one would leave the house and just let you get on with your work.

We had what my Texas editor, Irene, calls “COVID Brain.”

If you are one of the many whose ability to think and write has been affected by the way our world has changed, you are not alone.

However, we are adaptable. All those hours of playing Stardew Valley when you should have been writing weren’t wasted. Your mind was resting, taking a break from the craziness.

I am so grateful for the tools that participating in National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo) every year has given me. If you are struggling to connect two sentences together, here are some thoughts for you:

Writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit. First, you must give yourself permission to write.

Your perception that it is selfish will be your biggest obstacle. Trust me, it is not asking too much of your family for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

You must decide what is more important, your dream of writing that novel, or watching a television show that is someone else’s dream.

Do you want to create, or do you want to be entertained?

Give up that 8:00 p.m. TV show. If you want to create, you must turn off the television or log out of your video game for a certain length of time every day because you’re not writing if you’re playing a game or watching a show.

Trust me about the six hours a day playing Stardew Valley thing.

But you don’t have to give up the things that keep you sane. Do this in baby steps.

You have the right to take an hour in the morning and the evening to use for your own creative outlet. Get up an hour early and write until the time you would usually get up. That will be the quietest time you will have all day.

Write for five minutes here and ten minutes there all day long if that is all you can do around the demands of educating your children and working from home.

Every word, every idea counts toward your finished manuscript. By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you are redeveloping the discipline you once had.

Normal has changed. We have had to wrap our heads around this new way of life, but we are adaptable.

For those who are now faced with schooling their children at home, I offer you this YouTube video from Kathryn at Do it on a Dime, which has some useful tips for making their learning time productive and reducing your stress. Toward the end, Kathryn offers some excellent advice, words we all need to hear.

Remote Learning Made Easy


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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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