Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

The Functions of the Scene revisited #amwriting

We are at mid-month for NaNoWriMo, and I am not writing my novel. Instead, I am trying to write short stories, but my mind won’t cooperate. I keep waking up with new scenes filling my head, scenes that demand to be written for all my works in progress.

Scenes are what I want to talk about today, but I just discovered that I wrote a perfectly good post on them last year and can’t think of anything to add to it. So, we may as well revisit last year’s post on The Functions of the Scene. I hope you find it useful as your writing journey continues.

Keep writing, update your word count every day if you are participating in NaNoWriMo, and happy writing to you, whether you participate in that merry month of madness or not!


A great story consists of a beginning, a middle and an end, and is made of scenes. We have action, emotion, ups and downs, a plot all sewn together by the thread that is the theme. But the entire structure of the novel is built scene-by-scene, connected by transitions.

Scenes may consist of conversations, or they may be action sequences, but put them together in the right order, link them with a plot featuring a good protagonist and a worthy antagonist, they combine to form a story.

I perceive the scene as a small area of focus within a larger story with an arc of its own, small arcs holding up a larger arc: the chapter. So, scenes are the building blocks of the story. Strong scenes make for a memorable novel, and we all strive to make each scene as important as we can. Therefore, no scene can be wasted. Each scene must have a function, or the story fails to hold the reader’s interest.

Some things a scene can show:

  • Information
  • Confrontation
  • Revelation
  • Negotiation
  • Decision
  • Capitulation
  • Catalyst
  • Contemplation/Reflection
  • Turning Point
  • Resolution
  • Myriad deep emotions

Make one or more of these functions the core of the scene, and you will have a compelling story.

Let’s examine a watershed scene that occurs in the Fellowship of the Ring, book one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series: The Council of Elrond. The scene is set in Rivendell, Elrond’s remote mountain citadel.

Each of those characters attending the Council has arrived there on separate errands, and each has different hopes for what will ultimately come from the meeting. Despite their different agendas, each is ultimately concerned with the Ring and protecting the people of Middle-earth from the depredations of Sauron, if he were to regain possession of it. This scene serves several functions:

Information/Revelation: The Council of Elrond serves the purpose of conveying information to both the protagonists and the reader. It is a conversation scene, driven by the fact that each person in the meeting has knowledge the others need. Conversations are an excellent way to deploy needed information. Remember, plot points are driven by the characters who have the critical knowledge.

The fact that some characters are working with limited information is what creates the tension. At the Council of Elrond, many things are discussed, and the full story of the One Ring is explained, with each character offering a new piece of the puzzle. The reader and the characters receive the information at the same time at this point in the novel.

Confrontation: Action/confrontation, conversation, reaction. A scene that is all action can be confusing if it has no context. A properly placed confrontational conversation (an argument/dispute) gives the reader the context needed to understand the reason for the action.

At the Council of Elrond, long simmering racial tensions between Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf surface. Each is possessed of a confrontational nature, and it isn’t clear whether they will be able to work together or not.

Other conflicts are explored, and heated exchanges occur between Aragorn and Boromir.

Negotiation: What concessions will have to be made to achieve the final goal? These concessions must be negotiated. Tom Bombadil is at first mentioned as one who could safely take the ring to Mordor as it has no power over him. Gandalf feels he would simply lose the ring, or give it away because Tom lives in a reality of his own and doesn’t see the conflict with Sauron as a problem. Bilbo volunteers, but he is too old and frail. Others offer, but none are accepted as good candidates for the job of ring-bearer for one reason or another. Each reason offered for why these characters are found to be less than satisfactory by Gandalf and Elrond deploys a small bit of information the reader needs.

Turning Point: After much discussion, many revelations, and bitter arguments, Frodo declares that he will go to Mordor and dispose of the ring, giving up his chance to live his remaining life in the comfort and safety of Rivendell. Sam emerges from his hiding place and demands to be allowed to accompany Frodo. This is the turning point of the story.

(The movie portrays this scene differently, with Pip and Merry hiding in the shadows. Also, in the book, the decision as to who will accompany Frodo, other than Sam, is not made for several days, while the movie shortens it to the one day.)

So, within the arc of the story are smaller arcs, arcs of conflict and reflection, each created by scenes. The arc of the scene is like any other: it begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, ending on a slightly higher point of the overall story arc than when it began, leading to the brief transition scene.

Transitions can be as simple as a change of setting, one character leaving the room for a breath of air. They can be hard transitions, the scene ends and with it, so does that chapter. Within a chapter, conversations can serve as good transitions that propel the story forward to the next scene, offering a chance to absorb what just happened. If using a conversation as a transition, it’s important you don’t have your characters engage in idle chit-chat. In literary terms, a good conversation is about something we didn’t know and builds toward something we are only beginning to understand.

That is true of every aspect of a scene—it must reveal something and push the story forward toward something.

With each scene we are also pushing the character arc, raising the stakes a little. Our protagonist grows and is shaped by receiving needed information through action and conversation, followed by reaction and regrouping. This allows the reader to experience the story as the protagonist does, and then to reflect and absorb the information gained before moving on to the next scene.

All the arcs together form a cathedral-like structure: the novel. By creating small arcs in the form of scenes, we offer the reader the chance to experience the rise and fall of tension, the life-breath of the novel.


Credits and Attributions:

The Functions of the Scene, ©2017 by Connie J. Jasperson, first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on November 22, 2017.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Reissue edition (February 15, 2012) Fair Use.

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Version Control: Naming Your Files #amwriting

With the advent of November and NaNoWriMo, naming files and version control becomes an issue, especially for new and beginning writers.

For every new document you create, I recommend that BEFORE you do any work whatsoever, you give the file a working name and save it to whatever folder you normally work out of.

Do that immediately.

Do it while the page or spreadsheet is still blank, before you write the first line.

Most people never had more than a few personal files to manage. For this reason, they have no concept of how easily something that should have been simple can veer out of control.

This is where a good system of version control comes in handy. The worst thing that can happen is when you accidentally save an old file over the top of your new file or delete the file entirely.

It is vitally important for writers to save their work regularly. I don’t like thumb-drives because they’re easily lost, so I use a file hosting service called Dropbox. I have a lot of images on file, so I pay for an expanded version, but they do have a free version that offers you as much storage as a thumb drive. I like using a file hosting service because it can’t be lost or misplaced and is always accessible. I work out of those files, so they are automatically saved and are where I want them when I close out.

But you can use a standard portable USB flash drive.

What I want to discuss today is naming your files, so they are consistent and easy to identify.

A consistent system for naming your files eliminates accidents when it comes to saving your manuscript and subsidiary research files.

DIRECTORY

> FOLDERS

>> SUB-FOLDERS

> >>DOCUMENTS

My work is all saved in a folder labeled Writing.

Inside the master folder are many subfolders, one for each book, and one for essays and short stories.

Bleakbourne_on_Heath

Each subfolder contains documents, and each document has a proper file name:

Bleakbourne_V1_cjjasp

That stands for Bleakbourne on Heath, version one, by Connie J. Jasperson

A more recent version of that manuscript is named Bleakbourne_V2_cjjasp.

By clearly denoting which version it is in the file name, I should have no disasters.

In older Operating Systems the underscore was used instead of a space because the OS could not process filenames with spaces. Many publishers, editors, and agents want the files you send them to be named in this way, so it’s a good habit to get into.

When I first began working in an office that had upgraded to computers in the early 1990s, we had a rule for naming files: use no spaces, use an underscore where the spaces would go. There was a good reason for this.

When transferring files between different operating systems with different file naming conventions, the underscore prevents using what may be an illegal character in another OS.

So, if an office had to send files to an outside agency, the two users could open the files in their respective programs.

What are the different Operating Systems currently in use that your work may come across?

Linux

MacOS

Windows

Unix

Chrome OS

Some operating systems are more business oriented, but if you send files to a variety of publishers, your work could end up on a machine with a different OS than yours. Usually it will be a PC (Windows) or a Mac, as those two operating systems are most common. Using a Mac or PC is a personal preference. When purchasing gear, employers usually cater to the wishes of those who will use the machine, so the offices of publishers and editors will usually have both.

For this reason, we have some rules to obey regarding certain characters when we are naming files.

What are common “illegal characters?” The following characters are invalid as file or folder names on Windows using NTFS (New Technology File System) which took over from FAT as the primary file system being used in Windows:

/ ? < > \ : * | ”

Any character you can type with the Ctrl key. Most Alt Codes are also not permissible.

In addition to the above illegal characters, the caret ^ may also not be permitted in some Windows operating systems, those using the older FAT (File Allocation Table) system.

Also, don’t use # % & {   }@

These characters make files that can’t be opened on some operating systems, so even if your operating system allows these symbols, it is best to not use them.

One thing I learned the hard way is to be mindful of something called “Version Control.” Anyone who writes using both a laptop and a desktop machine will understand why this is still an issue, even when we save to Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, or any cloud-based storage service.

The scenario: you went to the coffee shop to write, and suddenly realized you were running late for an appointment. You saved your file but forgot to close out, simply shutting your laptop and going home, forgetting your word processing program was still open. That evening you go to the PC (or Mac) in your regular writing space, open your file, and continue writing.

When you save it, you have created a “conflicted file.”

According to Dropbox’s website, there are three ways you can end up with conflicted files if you are using cloud storage.

A conflicted copy is a file that is created when multiple people have access to a shared file and edit the same file at the same time. There are three ways a conflicted copy can happen:

  • Two users change the same file at the same time

  • Someone edits a file offline while someone else edits the same file

  • A file is left open on another user’s computer, which Dropbox saves as a new edit—this is especially common when using applications with an auto-save feature

Note: The last version saved will always appear as the conflicted copy, with the user’s name, such as File_Name_Connie’s_conflicted_copy.

So, now we know why we who use cloud storage sometimes end up with conflicted files. But how do we consistently and professionally name our files so that we don’t inadvertently save over work we want to keep, but aren’t currently using?

First of all, if you are trying to “save as” and a dialog box pops up warning you a file already exists with that name, you should click on cancel and rename your new file, or you will lose the one you just saved over.

Before your novel is published, you may create several versions of your manuscript. I advise you manage your versions with meticulous care. Nothing hurts like losing files you have worked on for months. Even having to rewrite a section you just wrote is aggravating.

Name your files promptly and save often—two things that will save you a lot of heartache when you are deep into writing your novel.


Credits and Attributions

Dropbox Help Center, What’s a Conflicted Copy, https://www.dropbox.com/help/syncing-uploads/conflicted-copy accessed 30 October 2018.

Open File Cabinet 2 Clip Art, PD, via Clker.co, Free Clip Art. http://www.clker.com/clipart-open-file-cabinet.html accessed 30 October 2018.

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Many will begin, few will succeed #amwriting

Every year, many writers begin writing on November 1st, fully intending to get their 1,667 words (or more) written every day, to get their 50,000 words by November 30th. In my region last year, 245 writers created profiles and began an official manuscript at www.nanowrimo.org.

The reality sets in within the first week. Last year 64 writers in our region never got more than 5,000 words written.

Some are young people just out of school who “always wanted to write a book.” They usually don’t have any idea of what they want to write, and no clue of how to be disciplined enough to spend two hours a day writing any words, much less the number of words it takes to make a novel.

They start, get 30 to 1,000 words in, and realize they have nothing to say. But 34 people made it to the 10,000 word mark before they stopped writing. That is almost a novella.

Others do well 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. Someday, they may actually succeed in finishing that book. Just not this year.

Even seasoned writers may find the commitment to sit and write 1,667 words every day is not doable for them. Things come up—life happens.

But 78 writers out of the 245 in our region made it to the 50,000 word mark, and 5 exceeded 100,000 words.

It takes personal discipline to write 1,667 new words every day. This is not revising old work—this is writing something new, not looking at what you wrote yesterday. This is starting where you left off and moving forward.

For me, having the outline keeps me on track.

I’m not a good typist. The words that fall out of my head during this month are not all golden, just so you know. Some words will be garbled and miskeyed. This means I sometimes have a lot of revising of the work I intend to keep.

Some of what I write will be worth keeping, and some not at all. But even among the weeds, some passages and scenes  will be found that could make a story work. I will keep and use them because they say what I mean to say, and the others I will revise.

One flash fiction that came out of November 2015 fully formed and required little in the way of revisions is The Iron Dragon. The story wanted to be told, and I wrote it in two hours one morning.

Yet another very short story came out of NaNoWriMo 2015, The Cat, the Jeweler, and the Thief. That story remained very much as it began, and also was written in one morning.

I had the prompts and basic ideas of what I intended to write when I sat down. The words fell out of my mind, and the stories told themselves.

For me, as a NaNo Rebel, this is my little vacation from the serious novels that take up most of my time. I don’t accept any editing clients during November or December—my attention is on writing in November and cooking in December.

It’s a matter of getting the ideas down and putting the words on paper. If you don’t get those ideas out of your head and onto paper, you can’t revise and reshape them into something worth reading.

How do we develop the discipline to write every day? This is my list of suggestions for how to have a successful NaNoWriMo, and end November with that winner’s certificate:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you.
  3. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Just write and think about where you want to take your real story. Write about what you would like to have happen in that story. Soon, you will be writing that story.
  4. Check in on the national threads and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  5. Attend a write-in if your region is having any or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  6. Delete nothing. 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.
  7. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the stories later. That way you won’t lose your word count.
  8. Validate your word count every day.

These suggestions require you to actually sit in a chair and write. Talking about what you intend to write isn’t getting the book written—for that you must sit your backside down and write.

That is what NaNoWriMo is all about. Writing, and developing discipline.

Authors write. Authors have finished manuscripts to show for their efforts, whether they are good or bad.

If you don’t actually have time to write, you may be a dreamer and a story teller, but you aren’t an author – yet.

Set aside the time to write, develop a habit of writing, and don’t let anything get in the way of your writing time. Don’t allow your writing time to be infringed upon, but also, don’t let it eat into your family time. In 1989, as a single parent with one child still at home, I found myself writing on the bus as I rode to work. I hadn’t ever had the thought that someone would want to read my work, but I had one hour of peace and quiet each way in the morning and evening, and so I wrote in a notebook.

Find the least intrusive block of time for you to have to yourself. What would happen if you dedicated two hours an evening to writing your novel instead of watching TV? What if you got up an hour early and wrote before you went to work every day? Make it your rule, your daily habit to use that time to write 1,667 new words a day for the month of November.

That is how you can get your first draft of a novel written in 30 days and still have time for your family.


Credits and Attributions:

Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Notebooks, by L.Marie (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lenore-m/2812598573/) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#NaNoWriMo2018 pre-planning

When I begin penning a story, the working title is usually just a handle, something to carry it by for the time being, and which will be changed when I rewrite it anyway. While the title might not actually exist, the story does, in the form of an idea, a prompt.

So, before I sit down to write anything, I answer a short list of questions about the overall story arc of my intended tale.

I mentioned a few post’s back that I keep a document pinned to my desktop, one that I write down topics and ideas for stories on. This list is crucial, and now, as part of my preparations for next month’s madness, I am taking each idea, and answering eight questions, and making a separate file folder for each story.

I have a master folder in my writing folder that is titled: NaNoWriMo2018. Within that folder are my small files, one for each story I plan to write.

For a novel, you only need two files: your work-in-progress document, and a document to keep all the back story in.

But I am a NaNo Rebel and so for me, at this point, there are fifteen file folders in that file. I will probably only get ten of them written at 4,000 to 10,000 words per story.

I title each story folder with a working-title, such as Mitzi.

The file contains two documents. The first one is blank except for one line, which is the prompt, the  premise of the story. It is labeled MITZIdraft1. That stands for Mitzi first draft. This document will be the manuscript for that story. Any subsequent revisions will be labeled title_draft2, etc.

At 12:01 a.m. in November 1st, I will open this document and begin writing Mitzi’s story. I think her tale will top out at about 4,000 words. Then I will open the next file: Doors. I’ll begin working on that short story, which I expect will top out at 5,000 words.

I doubt I’ll keep the title of Mitzi, but it’s about a dog who “lives” at about six different homes, who answers to six different names, and the people who think they own her.

I got the idea for that story from “Rufus,” the name I gave the cat who sleeps on my back porch all day, but who actually belongs to one of our neighbors. We don’t know his real name, or which neighbor owns him. We never have to feed him, and his vet bills are not an issue for us. We just get to enjoy his orange and white fur, all over our outdoor furniture.

I mentioned there were two documents in each file. The other document is the basic premise of the story, answered in eight questions. Each answer is simply one or two lines telling me what to write.

  1. Who are the players?
  2. Who is the POV character?
  3. Where does the story open?
  4. What does the protagonist have to say about their story?
  5. How did they arrive at the point of no return?
  6. What do they want and what are they willing to do to get it?
  7. What hinders them?
  8. How does the story end? Is there more than one way this could go?

The answers to these questions make writing the actual story go faster because I know what happened, what the goal is, why the goal is difficult to achieve, and how the story ends.

Once you have answered questions one and two, you know who you are writing about and which character has the most compelling story.

At that point, you must decide what will be your inciting incident. An event happens that throws them into the action. Now, what is their goal/objective?

At the beginning of the story, what does our protagonist want that causes them to risk everything to acquire it? How badly do they want it and why? The answer to that question must be that they want whatever it is desperately.

Question number six is an important thought to consider. What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in their attempt to overcome the odds and achieve their objective?

Many final objectives are not issues of morality, but all final objectives should have consequences and should involve a struggle.

The answer to question number seven is vitally important because the story hinges on how the protagonist overcomes adversity. What hinders them? Is there an antagonist? If so, who are they and why are they the villain of the piece?

Answering question eight is crucial if I want to complete my short story during November. Endings are frequently difficult to write because I can see so many different outcomes. Because it is NaNoWriMo, and every new word I write counts toward my goal, I write as many endings as I need to.

This is where making use of scene breaks can be your friend. For a short story, an ending is usually only 500 words or so. I simply head that section (in bolded front) with the words Possible Ending 1 or 2, or however many endings I have come up with.

Once I have finished my short story, I save that file, close it, and move on to the next. I have to keep that story factory working, because during the rest of the year, whatever novel I am writing takes priority in the writing queue.

But I always have time to revise something that is already written, especially if I have come to a stopping place in my novel.

Every evening, I copy and paste each day’s work into my NaNo Master Manuscript, which is also in my NaNoWriMo2018 file. This gives me the satisfaction of seeing my total word count growing day by day.  I upload that manuscript every night to the www.nanowrimo.org website so that my work is validated and my writing buddies can see I am meeting my daily word count goals.

November is the only time I can dedicate to exploring the many topics and wild ideas that come to me over the course of a year. On December 1st, I will go back to my usual routine, editing for clients in the morning and working on my novel after editing is done.

When I need a break and something new to work on, I will pull out my short story file, and begin revisions. The work I have planned for selected anthologies will be revised first, as they will have deadlines early in 2019.

This keeps me working and ensures I am being productive even when my novel is stranded in the desert of “Now What?”.

Pre-planning means I have a good system established for version control for my revisions, as each story has its own file and I don’t have to waste time dealing with that on the front end. As I say, this is my system, and it works for me. I use this system for all my work.

Develop your system, lay the groundwork for your novel. Create the master file, and in that file, include any sub-files that pertain to your novel. Do it now, well in advance of November 1st, so that all you have to do is write and save your work.

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October 22, 2018 · 6:00 am

Ideas to jump-start #NaNoWriMo2018 #amwriting

I have been a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo since 2012. I started participating in this annual writing rumble in 2010. I  found myself taking the lead as the unofficial ML for my region in 2011 when our previous ML didn’t return, and we didn’t have one that year. Organizing write-ins, cheering on my fellow writers–I didn’t really know a lot about how it all worked, but it was a lot of fun and I met so many wonderful people.

Over the years I have learned a lot of little tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.

Some people continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress but on November first, they write all the new work in a separate manuscript that is only for NaNoWriMo validation purposes.

Most will start an entirely new project, which is what I do. Actually,  since 2012, I have started a bunch of new projects, an attempt to amass a collection of short stories to submit to magazines and contests.

Many times, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do until 12:01 a.m. on November 1st.

But that lack of a finite plan doesn’t mean I have no ideas. I am always prepared to write something new.

One of my favorite tools is the prepared list of one-liners that I keep on hand, little ideas to open a story with.

You must write every day, even when you are only writing for yourself. When you write every day, you keep your “writing mind” in top condition–you are training yourself the way an athlete trains for a big event.

For this reason, I have a document saved to my desktop that I use to write down ideas as they hit my brain.

Everyday I pick a prompt out of my list and start writing. I write new words on that idea for fifteen minutes.

Often, I end up with a good drabble to show for my fifteen minutes. Other times, what I produce is not worth much, but the act of writing new words is important.

On November first I will pick one that will be the first short story I write, giving me a jumping off point to riff on.

1 – Leonard always said there was no place for pansies in this war. His preferred weapon was a dahlia.

2 – Dogs and little children hated Eldon. The rest of us merely despised him.

3 – Death is the one thing you can take with you, and Harvey Milton was packed up and ready to go.

4 – No dogs or cats for Mrs. G—she had pygmy goats.

5 – The body in the trunk of Edna’s car had become a real inconvenience.

6  – “Technically, it’s not my cow. It’s my stepdad’s cow. Anyway, we aren’t going to harm her. She’s just going to school for a day.”

And what about essays, those wonderful commentaries and literary pieces for various magazines? I’m stricken every day with ideas that would make such good essays, and November is my month to write them.

  • Impressions of a spring day at the Olympia Farmer’s Market (one of the largest on the west coast).
  • The story of a mentally ill homeless woman whom I met on a rainy day.
  • A road trip down Washington State Route 105 from Westport to Raymond, and the ghostly, nearly abandoned coastal towns of rural Washington State.

So many random ideas and so little time to write those stories! That is why November has become so precious to me—it is my time to make use of my flashes of inspiration.

Another trick to both jump-starting and finishing a NaNo Novel is to write the last chapter first and set it aside in a separate document from the NaNo Manuscript.

Yes–its true. I wrote my first complete novel by writing the last chapter first and then wondering how the characters had gotten to that point, that place.

Once I knew how the book ended, I was easily able to write 60,000 to 70,000 words to connect up to that final denouement.

The original premise: An old man returns to a town that was the scene of his most treasured memories.

The book opens when he is a young man of barely twenty and takes him through grand love affairs and miserable failures, a Don Quixote-like story of madness and bravery. My brain was on fire with that book.

I still love that book and one day I will republish it.

Maybe.

That wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I had completed—and if you don’t complete your projects, you can’t really lay claim to being an author.

We all have false starts—it’s part of writing. My first novel was begun in 1994 on an old Macintosh Performa. The original manuscript was lost when I switched to a PC in 1998, but I rewrote it. Over the next ten years, that version evolved to over 250,000 rambling words, ten different story lines, and it was still nowhere near the finish line.

I promise you, that is one book that will never see the light of day.

NaNoWriMo has shown me that writing prompts are a wonderful tool that we can use to jump-start our imaginations. The Writer’s Digest website has an excellent post dedicated to writing prompts:

Creative Writing Prompts

If you want to practice writing something but can’t think of what, take a look and see if something interests you.  No two people are alike, so don’t be afraid to use a prompt from a popular site like Writer’s Digest. The way you go with it will be as unique and individual as you are.

In the meantime, start keeping a list of ideas, prompts that you think would make great stories. Save it to your desktop so it is always available with just a click. Great novels all begin with a random idea, a “what if.” Don’t let your ideas slip into oblivion–write them down and use them.

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Thoughts on the Advent of Autumn #amwriting

I’ve mentioned before that I love the changing of the seasons. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the colors of our native big-leaf maples and alders are beginning to paint the landscape in shades of yellow and gold, dotted with pops of red sumac and scarlet vine-maples.

In the higher hills of the lowlands and up in the Cascades, the gold of our native larches is astonishing to those who’ve never seen a deciduous conifer. It can seem like an entire forest has died. But they’re only getting ready to sleep through the winter, the way bears, maples, and cottonwoods do.

I’ve always been awed by the majesty of the autumn forest here in my part of the world.

The sky is also changing. The days are growing shorter and the rains of the monsoon months approach. The long dry spell has ended, and rain has returned to us.

In November, the gray overcast skies linger unending, eternal. My friends and I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. But just as I am feeling desperately sorry for myself, the clouds will part to reveal a patch of blue so beautiful my eyes hurt. I have to dig out my sunglasses to shield my weak, Northwesterner’s eyes from the radiance of the great yellow orb.

We who have grown up in the long dark winters have little tolerance for such brilliance. But we’re always ready to discuss our never-ending quest for cheap sunglasses. We adore those accessories that are so much more than a fashion statement.

As my previous posts have said, these are the writing weeks, the mad dash to finish the first draft of my work in progress, and my preparations for NaNoWriMo. Stockpiling staple groceries, perusing my recipe file for crock-pot meals—comfort food is on my mind at this time of year.

After all, food was love in the family I grew up in, and our favorite comfort foods make the winter seem warmer. The time we spend at the table sharing the evening meal is inviolable—no TV, just quiet music and conversation. This is our time to reconnect, to rebuild the ties of love and family that bind us.

Autumn’s glory will linger for a brief few weeks. The rainy season will come, turning unraked leaves to sodden, moldy messes waiting for the winds of November to send them flying from yard to yard. I will watch from my front room window and admire the leafy ballet.

Once the leaves are gone, evening and morning will still bring color, but it will be the sky that has the dominant role. At that time of year, the sun, low on the southern horizon, reflects on the clouds, turning them every shade of pink, gold, red, purple, and even a gray so dark it’s black.

Sporadically juxtaposed against that riot of cloud-color will be patches of poignant blue. It’s a color that makes my heart ache for spring, makes me yearn for sunshine and warmth.

I have prepared the back porch for winter, abandoned my favorite thinking place. The cushions are put away and the chairs are pulled to the center where they will stay dry except in the heaviest wind-driven rains.

Since spring is a full six months away, and the weather is fairly nice today, I will uncover a chair and sit on the back porch and write about a world where the sun is shining, and birds are singing.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Thomas Worthington Whittredge – Woods of Ashokan.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Thomas_Worthington_Whittredge_-_Woods_of_Ashokan.jpg&oldid=296638658 (accessed September 13, 2018).

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What is NaNoWriMo and why bother with it? #amwriting

As most of you know by now, I regularly participate in the annual writing rumble known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m a rebel in that I usually scratch out as many short stories as I am able in those thirty days.

I participate every year because for 30 precious days, writing is the only thing I “have” to do.

My friends and family all know that November, in our house, is referred to “National Pot Pie Month,” so if you drop by expecting a hot meal from Grandma, it will probably emerge from the microwave in the form of a formerly frozen hockey puck.

I usually have my “winners’ certificate” by the day they become available, but I continue writing every day through the 30th and update my word count daily.

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 huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winner’s certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now let’s face it–a novel of only 50,000 words is not a very long novel. It’s a good 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 novel, a dedicated author can get the rough draft–the basic structure and story-line of a novel–down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

With a simple outline to keep you on track, that isn’t too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that. As always, there is a downside to this intense month of stream-of-consciousness writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you can write a novel that others want to read.

Every year many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to that fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing and are fired to learn the craft. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important. For them, it is about embarking on a creative journey and learning a craft with a dual reputation that difficult to live up to. Depending on the cocktail party, authors are either disregarded as lazy ne’er-do-wells or given far more respect than we deserve.

As I said in my previous post on NaNoWriMo, more people do this during November than you would think–about half the NaNo Writers in my regional area devote this time journaling or writing college papers.

For a very few people, participating in NaNoWriMo will give them the confidence to admit that an author lives in their soul and is demanding to get out. 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.

These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. Whether they pursue formal educations or not, these authors will take the time and make an effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle, and an incredible end.

They will properly polish their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it. They will have it professionally edited. These are books I will want to read.

The life of an artist or author is not one of constant accolades and fetes. After you have downloaded the PDF Winners’ Certificate from www.NaNoWriMo.org, you will rarely receive an award to show for your labors. Yes, some people will love and admire what we have created, but other times what we hear back from our beta readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear.

The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and persevere. They pull up their socks and keep to the path and don’t expect or demand overnight success.

When we write something that a reader loves—that is a feeling that can’t be described. That moment makes the months of intense work and financial sacrifice worth it.

And whether we go indie or the traditional route, writing is a career that will require financial sacrifice.

Most authors must keep their day jobs because success as an author can’t always be measured in cash or visibility in the New York Times bestsellers list. For most authors, success can only be measured in the satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than the more successful indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books and earn more because of that.

The fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing the first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself, tweeting, getting an Instagram account, getting a website, etc. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

This is time-consuming, and you will feel as if you need a personal assistant to handle these things—indeed, some people rely on the services of hourly personal assistants to help navigate the rough waters of being your own publicist.

Every year, participating in NaNoWriMo will inspire many discussions about becoming an author. Going full-time or keeping the day job, going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—these are conundrums many new authors will be considering after they have finished the chaotic month of NaNoWriMo. While few of us have the luxury to go indie and write full-time (my husband has a good job), many authors will struggle to decide their publishing path.

However, if you don’t sit down and write that story, you aren’t an author. You won’t have to worry about it. With that in mind, November and NaNoWriMo would be a great time to put that idea on paper and see if you really do have a novel lurking in your future.

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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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Works in Progress Update #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

I don’t write quickly, as some of the authors I know do. Some write well in the first draft and can turn out a good book every six months but not me. It takes me several drafts to get a manuscript to a publishable form. I have a mind like a grasshopper in the sun, hopping around in the first draft of a manuscript with each new thought that occurs to me. While the initial outline I made for the novel is linear and details the important points of a complete story arc, the way I put the story on paper is not.

During the initial writing process, I have a friend who is a structural editor who points out plot holes and places where a story arc has flatlined. He sees the larger picture. The final draft goes to my editor, who line-edits and gets into the smaller issues of usage and style.

For me, taking a novel from concept to publication takes about four years. This is because after I finish writing each scene, I have to decide how I want to proceed with what I know must happen the next.

So, I work on something else until I get that flash of inspiration that kickstarts my brain again. The plots and characters of all my works in progress are lurking in the back of my mind at all times, which is why I always have several manuscripts in various stages of the process.

The manuscript that is currently closest to completion is in third draft form and just came back from my beta readers. I have some large changes to make, but thanks to their input this will go much more quickly than the previous drafts. I still expect to publish it next summer.

I am still working on the first draft of a new duology (2 novels) set in the world of Neveyah, a prequel to Tower of Bones. That manuscript is at the ¾ mark for the first novel and the first draft of book 1 will possibly be completed by Christmas.

I also have a contemporary fiction novel in the works that has been pushed back, but whenever I have a flash of inspiration, I do pull it out and get a bit more done on it.

But September, October, and November are what I think of as Short Story Season.

The calendar is full of conventions and NaNoWriMo events. My ability to focus on a long project becomes fractured, so I use this time to write as many short stories as I can so that I have a backlog of work to submit to magazines and anthologies.

And on the short story front, I’ve received minor edit requests on work I submitted to two anthologies, which I will have resolved today.

By using the Submittable App, I have found three more anthologies that have interesting themes that I would like to write stories to. The final dates for submissions are still six months out on these so I may have something worth sending by then.

This will be my eighth year of participating in NaNoWriMo, and my seventh as a municipal liaison. That month of merry madness forces me to become disciplined, to lose the bad habits I slip into during the rest of the year. It 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. Some years flu season has gotten in the way, and I was in bed for part of the time. Nevertheless, I was still writing and getting my wordcount when I was awake. Thank God for NyQuil.

My rules for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you.
  3. If you are stuck, write 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 what you would like to see happen in your story. Change the color of the font so you can easily cut your ruminations out later.
  4. Check in on the national threads at http://www.NaNoWriMo.org and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  5. Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  6. Delete nothing. 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.
  7. 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 stories later. That way you won’t lose your word count.
  8. Validate your word count every day.

As writers, we tend to forget that output is important too. NaNoWriMo reminds us that if we don’t write a paragraph or two of new material every day we stagnate.  How unexciting it is to be stuck, going over and over the same stale passages, wondering why the book isn’t finished.

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.

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. Assembling puzzles is a great way to sort out plot points.

If you have an obsession for a TV show that is interfering with your ability to find time to write, maybe this isn’t your time to be a writer.

My thought is that those shows will be available forever on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime and your favorite video games will be available too.

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 with your free time.


Credits and Attributions

Underwood Standard Typewriter, PD|75 yrs image first published in the 1st (1876–1899), 2nd (1904–1926) or 3rd (1923–1937) edition of Nordisk familjebok.

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), from Wikimedia Commons

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Fritz Leiber, Takuma Sato, and #NaNoWriMo #amwriting

My first NaNoWriMo novel, written in 2010, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz Leiber might write if he were still alive and if he had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms. I had just finished re-reading my collection of Fritz Leiber tales, and I had Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser on the brain. These two characters are scoundrels, living in a decadent world where a lack of scruples is a requirement for survival.

The book I produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written. But within the uneven plot and hokey, frequently overblown dialogue lay the bones of a good story.

My participation in NaNoWriMo began in 2010 when a young writer in the Philippines whom I had met through a gaming website mentioned he was going to do this writing challenge. I was intrigued, discovering it was a worldwide contest of sorts, where hundreds of thousands of people began writing a novel on November 1st with the intention of having it finished by November 30.

The catch was, you couldn’t start until 12:01 am on November 1st, and the finished book had to be at least 50,000 words long, but it could longer than that if you needed it to be. And, you had to have it validated by 11:59 PM on November 30th to “win” the coveted winner’s goodies.

Fear of failure had never stopped me from making my life more complicated, so when I signed up, I chose the handle dragon_fangirl.

As my favorite Indycar Driver, Takuma Sato says, “No attack, no chance.” At 6:30 a.m. on November 1, 2010, I looked at my laptop and had no idea what to do. Then it came to me: Just write the first line:

There was a cabin in the woods.

It wasn’t exactly literary brilliance, but it wasn’t too terrible, and it gave my idea little more form. I just began telling the story as it fell out of my mind. To my surprise, I discovered my word count averaged 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. By day fifteen I knew I would have no trouble getting the 50,000, and by November 21 I had attained the winning number of words.

At the 68,000-word point, I had completed my rollicking tale of snark and medieval derring-do. Of course, it was completely unpublishable, but I didn’t know that until later.

What I did know, was that I had written a complete novel, and told a story that I would have wanted to read. Three years later I realized all it needed was rewriting, editing, revising, rewriting, and putting in a drawer, never to be seen again.

Out of the wreckage of that book came the novel, Huw the Bard.

One rule they tell you at NaNoWriMo is “never delete,” and “don’t self-edit” as you go along. This is all strictly stream-of-consciousness, write it the way you think it. That was hard for me, but I did get into the swing of things eventually.

When I was out lurking on the various threads on the national website, 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.

My rules for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Just write, and think about where you want to take your real story. Write about what you would like to see happen in that story.
  3. Check in on the national threads and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  4. Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  5. Delete nothing. 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.
  6. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the stories later. That way you won’t lose your word count.
  7. Validate your word count every day.

This year, I have so far written over 80,000 words. I’ve made headway on a manuscript, set in the world of Neveyah, five-hundred years before Tower of Bones. I have also worked on several short stories, trying to flesh them out and discover who the protagonists are as people. I’ve written some poetic doggerel and a great many words that will never see the light of day. But buried deep within the rubbish are some good words, words that will one day become a novel.

Participating in NaNoWriMo forces me to become disciplined, and forces me to ignore the inner editor, the little voice that slows my productivity down and squashes my creativity.

For those two reasons alone, I will most likely always “do” NaNoWriMo, even when I am no longer able to be a Municipal Liaison.

I love the rush, the thrill of having written something for myself, something that I alone will see and enjoy. But more than that, I love knowing that some of what I have written is good, and is worthy of submission elsewhere. Perhaps one or more of these short stories I have begun fleshing out will be accepted by a contest or magazine.

As Takuma Sato says, “No attack, no chance.”


Credits and Attributions

Cover art from Swords and Deviltry by Fritz LeiberAce Books, 1970. Fair Use. Wikipedia contributors. “Swords and Deviltry.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 May. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2017.

Takuma Sato May 28 2017 Indy 500 by Jonathan Mauer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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