Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

The Stranded Novel #amwriting

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. For that reason, first lines and the opening chapters frequently become all that is ever written of a would-be author’s novel. Yet the authors of those few chapters have the entire book locked in their head.

Participating in NaNoWriMo teaches authors to write the entire book before they begin editing.

In your first draft, DON’T OBSESS over the small things and the finer details as these will derail your work. You will never get past the first chapter if all you can focus on is writing a brilliant opener. Write the entire story as quickly as you can, let it sit for a month or two while you do something completely different, THEN come back to it and focus on shaping the prose. Once you have the entire structure of the novel laid down on paper, you won’t be left wondering where to go next, writing and rewriting the same first chapter.

So, let’s assume the rough draft has been completed, and you are pleased with the way it ends. But you are looking at your early chapters, and they feel lackluster. Now is the time to shape the words, to write them so they are the words you would want to read if you were looking for a book to purchase.  The second draft is when you should obsess about your first lines.

One of the best first lines ever: George Eliot’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes one want to know Miss Brooke and the reader wonders who the observer is who chronicles this. It is a novel, but if it had been a short story, it would still have hooked the reader.

Good first lines make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  How about this first line from Ulysses, by the king of great one-liners, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Or, take the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” 

Should your first lines be required to introduce your main character? I think not.

Dickens introduced an era in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, etc…” 

In his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan frequently opened with a glimpse into the side of evil, illuminating the foes whom Rand Al Thor must somehow prevail against, and that always hooked me.

All of the above books were begun as great ideas and the manuscripts were finished, which is why they were published. Admittedly, Robert Jordan did pass away before the final books were completed, but he wrote 12 of the 15 books and left a complete story arc with enough notes that Brandon Sanderson could finish the job. Jordan left behind a complete story, not just a first chapter.

If you are serious about writing, it’s necessary to read, to see how other authors have completed their work. Of course, you must read works published in your chosen genre, but to become an educated reader/author, you should look outside your favorite genre. You don’t have to spend your precious book purchasing funds on books you believe you won’t enjoy. Do a little advance research via the internet and then borrow the books from the library.

Most importantly–published authors, whether Indie or traditionally published, have finished their work. Maybe they didn’t do as great a job as some people think they could have done, but they did finish the job.

Grand ideas about what you intend to write mean nothing if you don’t finish the job. If you want to lay claim to being an author, write the ENTIRE novel! Get that story arc down on paper before you begin rewriting the first chapter! If all you have ever written is the first chapter, over and over, and over… perhaps you need to set that idea aside and begin one that interests you enough to inspire you to write a complete novel.

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Jumpstart #NaNoWriMo2017 The Storyboard #amwriting

It’s mid-October and time for many writers to think about National Novel Writing Month—thirty days of dedicated writing where you take an idea for a novel, sit down and daily write at least 1,667 words of a rough draft. The goal of this month of concentrated writing time is to get the entire story down while the inspiration and ideas are flowing. At the end of the thirty days, you should have a novel-length story, hopefully with a complete story arc (beginning, middle, end).

Once that is done, the work really begins.

To succeed at completing a project with such an ambitious goal, it helps if you spend some time planning your novel.  To that end, I like to storyboard all my ideas. By making this effort when the idea is first in my head, if I become lost or find myself floundering in the writing process, I can come back to my original files and remind myself of what the original concept of the story actually was.

Many people use Scrivener for this, but I found the learning curve for that program to be too annoying, so I simply use a spreadsheet program, because all the important information is on the same line.

Scrivener costs $40.00which is not bad, but Google Drive has the free program, Google Sheets. This program is similar to Excel (which I use), so the principals I will be discussing are the same.

From Wikipedia:

Google DocsGoogle Sheets, and Google Slides are a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation program respectively, all part of a free, web-based software office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. The three apps are available as web applications, and as mobile apps for Android and iOS. The apps are compatible with Microsoft Office file formats. The suite also consists of Google Forms (survey software), Google Drawings (diagramming software) and Google Fusion Tables (database manager; experimental[8]).

The suite allows users to create and edit files online while collaborating with other users in real-time. Edits are tracked by user with a revision history presenting changes. An editor’s position is highlighted with an editor-specific color and cursor.

Admittedly, this program doesn’t do what Excel does but it is perfect for this if you don’t have Microsoft Office.

But you can do this any old way that makes you happy, even by drawing columns on a sheet of paper by hand. The point is to have a list of names and places with five pieces of information pertaining to the story all on the same line. I have so many ideas that I created a blank template that I fill in, retitle, and save in a new folder for each prospective story. I may make as many as five storyboards in a week, out of which I may not write any of them, lol. But the ideas are there for me to access when I want them.

The following is a screenshot of my blank storyboard template. Originally this began as a way to do short stories, but my novels begin with ideas storyboarded out this way too.

The storyboard for my ideas works this way:

At the Top: Working Title

If it’s an idea for a short story, the intended publication and closing date for submissions (not needed it it is for a novel)

Column A: Character Names: list the important characters by name, and also list the important places where the story will be set.

Column B: About: What their role is, a note about that person or place, a brief description of who and what they are.

Column C: The Problem: What is the core conflict?

Column D: What do they want? What does each character desire?

Column E: What will they do to get it? How far will they go to achieve their desire?

As I said, this plays directly to how a linear thinker like me works. It takes advantage of the ideas I have that might make a good story, makes a note of all the pertinent ideas I have at the outset, and offers me a jumping off point.

Feel free to take this idea and run with it. Design the storyboard that works for you!


Credits and Attributions

NaNoWriMo 2017 Municipal Liaison Badge, © 2017 www.nanowrimo.org, (limited use permitted for Municipal Liaisons on blogs and social media).

Wikipedia contributors, “Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Google_Docs,_Sheets,_and_Slides&oldid=805075002 (accessed October 15, 2017).

Screenshot of Blank Storyboard Template, © 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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

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

Scripturience

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

Pantser vs. Plotter

I wish to submit two controversial opinions:

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

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

Planster

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

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#amwriting: Dinosaurs Among the Birds

This week has been a challenge–life has conspired against my ability to write. So, being an ecologically minded person, today’s blog post is an essay, recycled from my archives.


I graduated from high school in 1971. My friends and I were so close in those years and we have held onto those connections, despite the rough seas of young adult life. We drifted apart during the ‘blender years,’ but as our children left home and our lives became more our own, we drifted back together.

Forty-six years ago, we were young and wild, determined to carve our path in the world and desperate to get on with living. We were tired of the war, tired of politics, and tired of being told what to think by a media that was controlled by pin-headed men in suits. We were tired of Congress selling us out.

We were going to change the world.

We did change it, but not exactly the way we naively believed we would. Even though we were unable to solve all the problems we wanted to, we did manage to make some positive changes. Unfortunately, we were too few, voices shouting in the wind.

And now we are somewhat jaded. The country is still divided, big money still buys votes. Congress is still selling out, and the media is still owned by pin-headed men in suits. There is always a war somewhere, and it is never done with.

My generation clings to our belief that we will see positive changes, but we don’t believe we’ll live long enough to enjoy them. Nevertheless, change is inevitable and it will happen, even if, like Moses and the promised land, we stand on the opposite shore and see only what yet may be.

My old friends and I are not exactly who we were in those wild days. Now we’re an amalgamation of everything we once believed would happen and the reality we lived. We are people who survived Reaganomics, who survived raising children through the MTV years. We held down three part-time jobs because trickle-down economics didn’t really trickle down the social ladder to our rung, and we had kids to feed.

We survived the Bush years with some of our dignity intact and didn’t fold under the “you’re with us, or you’re against us” propaganda designed to shut us up. We will survive whatever comes our way with the current regime because old wood is tough wood and doesn’t break easily.

We are jaded, but we have hope, we old hippies, we old women and men who are dinosaurs among the birds of the modern, hyper-connected world. We still believe small businesses feed more families and provide more jobs than big corporations do, and are therefore more deserving of the tax breaks that Corporate America extorts from the public coffers. We believe in the American dream of entrepreneurship, that the world can be a better place for everyone. The difference is now we know we can change the world… just not in the way we thought we would.

Now we put our money where our mouth is, donating to charities and spending our retirement years volunteering in schools and hospitals. We do it in small ways, chipping away, and little by little we have a positive effect.

We lost the battle to make the world a simpler, kinder place. Our parents were The Greatest Generation, and they won the second World War with their firm, 20th century belief that only through technology would mankind benefit, and that somewhere a miracle drug was waiting, one able to cure every disease known to man.  It just hadn’t been discovered yet. Now the drug companies have the government’s balls in one hand and a claw-like grip on our pocketbooks with the other. That hoped-for miracle cure is still somewhere out there on the horizon, and likely always will be.

My generation was conquered, despite the struggle to keep it simple. We old hippies now embrace technology and make it ours. We do this because we must either adapt or die, and I am not ready to die. We are a wired society, and we old people have the luxury of a little free time and occasionally, extra money. So, we have become wired.

Writing is my opportunity to live in the world as I would like it to be, and it is my chance to get away from the war, from politics, from the problems of everyday life. Writing is my escape.

I support creativity and free-thinking on a local level. I volunteer as municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo. I encourage people from all walks of life, and from every point of view to write. It doesn’t matter to me if we agree politically or not. Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are real and incredibly moving, and all the writer needs is the skill to tell that story the way it should be told.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbThey can gain that skill through participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Children and schools benefit year-round from writing programs sponsored by this organization. For me, November is the busiest month of the year. I will be meeting and getting to know many new people, and I will be writing the framework for a new novel.  For one month, thousands of people will be too busy writing to spend their evening in front of the electronic altar, being fed mindless pap in the form of ‘entertainment.’ Instead, they will entertain themselves and find they are so much more than they ever thought they could be.

With every new book that is written, each new magazine article or essay, the world opens its eyes a bit more, seeing more possibilities. Readers discover they are not islands disconnected from society, cocooned in dark living-rooms, unable to look away from the poorly crafted mind-porn we are force-fed by the big networks.

I am an old hippy, I admit it. But I am water, wearing away at ignorance, helping the world learn how to tell its story one person at a time.


Dinosaurs Among the Birds, by Connie J. Jasperson was first published 17 May 2017 on the  myrddinpublishing.com blog, http://www.myrddinpublishing.com/dinosaurs-among-birds/.

American Flag By Michael Dorausch (Flickr: American flag) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: Thoughts on #NaNoWriMo2016

winners-certificateIt is the final day of NaNoWriMo for 2016. I wrote 96,603 words: ten short stories and fifteen chapters on my next novel set in the world of Neveyah. I had my winners certificate by the 23rd, but I write everyday and update my wordcount. More than sixty of the 265 participants in my region will also get their winner’s certificates, which is a very good year. Some years only thirty participants in our region make it to the finish line. On average, 7 out of ten entrants will fall by the way in any given year, because 50,000 words is a difficult goal to achieve in only 30 days, if you are not completely fired up by your novel.

Those who fall by the way are authors who discover that having an idea that would be a good book and writing that book are two radically different things. They are daunted by the amount of work that is involved.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them 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 winners 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 lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get 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.

That is not too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that.

As always, there is a downside to this free-for-all style of writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you have the ability to write a novel that others want to read.

Over the next few months many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to this fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing. 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 a very few, participating in NaNoWriMo has fired them with the knowledge that they are authors. For them it was 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. They may go back to school and get their MFA.

These authors will take the time and make the 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 and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite it so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Authors must keep their day jobs, because success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books.

2016-placeholder-book-cover-smallThe fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing a first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

Going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—it’s a conundrum many new authors will be considering in the new year.

However, if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. The concept of NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue.

Today marks the end of NaNoWriMo 2016.  For many, it will be a mad scramble between now and midnight to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate.

Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go. But we are all walking a path that is more rewarding than any high-paying job I’ve ever had.

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congrats

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#amwriting: #nanowrimo momentum

2016-placeholder-book-cover-smallWe’re on Day 2 of NaNo 2016. I’ve written two short stories totaling 11,605 words, 80% of them misspelled, but I won’t worry about that until January. I admit I was hoping to have written four, but I’m still on track to make 50 short stories and flash fictions by the end of November.

Some people are already behind, but all is not lost.  Get caught up now and go forward by adding a few extra words every day.

Habitual behavior, or ‘daily routine’ goes unnoticed because we don’t engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. Thus, writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit.

Consider smoking.

Smoking is a behavioral habit as much as it is a physical addiction. Smokers trying to quit always tell me they don’t know what to do with their hands. When they first started smoking they trained themselves to do “the cigarette ritual,” shaking the cigarette out of the pack, lighting it, holding it, and exhaling the smoke with their own style each time they went outside.  They did this ritual every time they lit up their cigarette, and now their hands have “nothing to do.”

If breaking certain habits is difficult, creating new, more positive habits is also tough. Behavioral patterns we repeat become imprinted in our neuro-pathways, so repetition of positive behaviors is necessary to make the behavior automatic. Wikipedia, the Fount of all Knowledge, says this:

“As the habit is forming, it can be analysed in three parts: the cue, the behavior, and the reward. The cue is the thing that causes the habit to come about, the trigger of the habitual behavior. This could be anything that one’s mind associates with that habit and one will automatically let a habit come to the surface. The behavior is the actual habit that one exhibits, and the reward, a positive feeling, therefore continues the “habit loop”.[13] A habit may initially be triggered by a goal, but over time that goal becomes less necessary and the habit becomes more automatic.”

In his November 3rd, 2013 blog post for Creative Writing Guild, Rob Blair says:

“Studies on habit formation have found that extra willpower is almost never sufficient for getting a new habit to stick. What does seem to work is an intervention that looks like this:

  • Write out the details of what you want the new habit to be. (In your case, it’s going to be writing 1,667 words per day.)

  • Plan the details of how and where you will be engaging in the new habit. Be as concrete as you can be.

  • Plan a “trigger” for when you will start doing the new habit. How will you know it’s time to start writing? This can be a specific time, but I’ve found it’s better to choose a point in your normal daily routine where you can insert the new habit. (e.g., “After pouring coffee but before changing out of my PJs.)

  • Write a list of the pitfalls, detailing what’s most likely to go wrong. What’s prevented you from writing in the past? Did you get busy? Did you sleep in? Did you “feel uncreative”? Be honest with yourself, and get your normal traps and tribulations on the page.

  • Write a response plan for each pitfall. This can be something complex, but research has found that even simple response plans (e.g., “I’ll remind myself this is writing time and I can sleep in come December”) are astoundingly effective. (end quoted material.)

I like what Rob has to say about doing a small intervention to short-circuit self-defeating habits, but remember such effort only works if you are honestly committed to the project. He also offers a great deal of other useful advice in that article, so I highly recommend you read his post in its entirety.

But what I really believe is that you will succeed in developing the habit when you write something you are really fired up about. When you are passionate about a story, the words will flow. Find that moment in your daily routine when you can insert a new habit, put pen to paper and begin writing!

The best thing about stream-of-consciousness writing is you don’t take the time to over-think things. You write it as you think it, and the word count grows as if by magic.

I’m using this time to write short stories, but just as if I were writing a nano-novel, I will be done writing at the end of November. I will take a break from this project until January and then, over the course of the next year I will be pulling these rough drafts out of the 2016 NaNoWriMo file and polishing them up.  That is when I will worry about what is wrong with these little stories, and implement plot adjustments. Right now, I am just writing it as I think it, warts and all.


Reference Sources:

6 Steps for Nailing the First Week of NaNoWriMo, published November 3, 2013, on http://www.creativewritingguild.com · by Rob Blair

Wikipedia contributors, “Habit,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Habit&oldid=747213739 (accessed November 1, 2016).

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#amwriting: #NaNoWriMo Jump Start

NANO CrestIf you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, you’re quite busy right now and don’t have time to read a long post. So, here are a few quick tips and resources to help get your novel off the ground:

Tips:

  • Never delete, do not self-edit as you go. Don’t waste time re-reading your work. You can do all that in December when you go back to look at what you have written.
  • Make a list of all the names and words you invent as you go and update it each time you create anew one, so the spellings don’t evolve as the story does.
  • Write 1670 words every day – 3 more than is required (to account for differences in how your word processing program and NaNoWriMo’s official word counter validates wordcount – you don’t want to come up short at the end! This has happened and is quite frustrating.

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

If you are writing about a fantasy world and your characters will be traveling, quickly sketch a rough map and refer back to it to make sure the Town names and places remain the same. Update it as new places are added. This is all you need:

sample-of-rough-sketched-map

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

  • Magic with no rules is both impossible and creates a story with no tension. No one wants to read a story where the characters have nothing to struggle against.
  • Each character should have limits to their abilities. Because they are not individually all-powerful, they will need to interact and work with each other and with the protagonist. They will have to do this whether they like each other or not if they want to win the final battle or achieve their goal. That will provide openings for some great interactions.
  • This gives you ample opportunity to introduce tension into the story. Remember, each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world, and conflict is what drives the plot.

Resources to Bookmark:

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

Most importantly – enjoy writing that novel. This is time spent creating an amazing story only you can tell, so above all, enjoy this experience.

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#NaNoWriMo2016: The Ghosts of NaNoWriMos Past

NaNoWriMo-General-FlyerYou’ve had this idea rolling around your head for a while now for a book you’d like to read, and you keep wishing your favorite author would write it. In my experience, you’re going to have to write it yourself, or it will never happen. This is because your favorite author can only write so fast, or, as in the case of several of my most respected authors, they might be dead. Dead authors rarely publish new books, unless they are ghost writers. (heh heh.) From what I can see, most authors don’t live beyond 100 years of age, so there you go–if you want that book, you’re going to have to write it yourself.

My first NaNoWriMo novel, written in 2010, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz Lieber might write if he were still alive (and if he had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms). You see, I had just finished re-reading my collection of Fritz Lieber 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 a requirement for survival.

What I actually 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 frequently overblown dialogue it had the bones of a good story.

My addiction to NaNoWriMo began innocently, as all good addictions do: A young writer in the Philippines whom I had met through a gaming website mentioned he was going to do this writing challenge. It was a worldwide thing where hundreds of thousands of people actually began writing a novel on November 1 with the intention of having it finished by November 30.  The catch was, you couldn’t start until 12:01 am on November 1st,  it 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 winners goodies.

My friend challenged me to enter, and not sure I would really be able to do this crazy thing, I did. He said all I had to do was write 1,667 words a day, which I felt I could do. I figured the worst that could happen was that I would fail to get the word count. In the past, fear of failure had never stopped me from making my life more complicated, so of course I went out to the national website and signed up. I chose the handle dragon_fangirl.

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.

Well, that 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.

However, out of the wreckage of that book came the story of Huw the Bard. You never know what characters you will need later, so killing them when you get stuck for a plot point is not really wise.

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, draw a line at the bottom of the page and start a new story, in the same manuscript. You can always separate the stories later, and that way you won’t lose your word count.
  7. Validate your word count every day.

These are the novels I have written during the month of November since 2010:

  • 2010 Billy’s Revenge (published 2011 as the Last Good Knight, has since been unpublished and will remain that way)
  • 2011 The Bard’s Tale, which was published in 2013 as Huw The Bard.
  • 2012 Neveyah 3, which was published in July 2016 as The Wayward Son.
  • 2013 Valley of Shadows, which was published May of 2016 as Valley of Sorrows.
  • 2014 The Seventh Space, still under construction, may not be a novel after all.
  • 2015 November Tales – 42 short stories, totaling 107,000 words. Included in this mess were ten truly awful poems, along with chapters 7 thru 11 of Bleakbourne on Heath, an ongoing serial, published 2015-2016. That serial is now past the mid-point and will end in the spring of 2017.
  • 2016 November Tales 2016 – 30 Days of Madness and Pot Pies – nothing written yet, but I will hit the keyboard at 12:01 a.m. on November 1st, and begin churning out as many short stories, flash-fictions, drabbles, poems, and chapters of Bleakbourne as my feeble fingers are able to do.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbIf you should choose to enter this highly addictive, adrenaline rush of a contest, 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.

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#amwriting: advancing the plot

e.m. forster plot memeIn the previous post, I discussed the story arc, and how it relates to what E.M. Forster said about the plot: that plot is the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story. The story arc is a visual description of where events should occur in a story. For me, knowing where they should happen is good, but it doesn’t tell me what those events are.

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

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

Participating in nanowrimo has really helped me grow in that ability, and one nanowrimo joke-solution often bandied about at write-ins is, “When your’re stuck, it’s time for someone to die.” But we all know that in reality, assassinating beloved characters whenever we run out of ideas is not a feasible option because soon we will run out of characters.

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

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

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

Think about what launches a great story:

The protagonist has a problem.

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

You have unveiled the inciting incident.

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

  1. Empathy/identification with the protagonist
  2. Believability
  3. Tension

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

Also, we want the hindrances and barriers the protagonist faces to feel real to the reader. They must be believable so that the reader says, “Yeah, that could happen.” Within every scene, you must develop setups for the central events of that moment in their lives and show the payoffs (either negative or positive) to advance the story: action and reaction.

Each scene propels the characters further along, each act closing at a higher point on the story arc, which is where the next one launches from.

Some authors resort to “idle conversation writing” when they are temporarily out of ideas.  Resist the temptation—it’s fatal to an otherwise good story. Save all your random think-writing off-stage in a background file, if giving your characters a few haphazard, pointless exchanges helps jar an idea loose.

imagesDon’t introduce random things into a scene unless they are important. What if you had a walk-on character who was looking for her/his cat just before or just after the inciting incident? If the loss of the cat is to demonstrate the dangers in a particular area, make it clear that it is window dressing or remove it.

If the cat has no purpose it needs to be cut from the scene. To show the reader something  is to foreshadow it, and the reader will wonder why the cat and the person looking for it were so important that they had to be foreshadowed.

Every memorable element in a fictional story must be necessary and irreplaceable.  In  creative writing, this concept is referred to as “Chekhov’s Gun,” as it is a principal formally attributed to the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov.

Finally, we want to keep the goal just out of reach, to maintain the tension, and keep the reader reading to find out what will happen next. Readers are fickle, and always want what they can’t have. The chase is everything, so don’t give them the final reward until the end of the story.

But do have the story end with most threads and subplots wrapped up, along with the central story-line. Nothing aggravates readers more than going to all the trouble of reading a book to the end, only to be given no reward for their investment of time.

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#amwriting: working in the blender

caloricclassic red blenderOnce you have a book published, the hardest, most difficult part is trying to fit writing the next book into all the other demands on your time. I have an editing job that I work at from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. daily, I write five blog posts a week for various blogs (3 for this blog) I have several novels in the works, and I am my own publicist.

That last part is not going so well, just so you know.

For one of my writing gigs, I am a member of the staff for Edgewise Words Inn, which had been quite fun as I get to explore the creative writing side of my life. I just began a serial there, a medieval fantasy, called Bleakbourne on Heath. The first installment posted September 11th,  and the next will post  on Tuesday the 29th of September. This has been quite fun, as it is a series of short-stories (Less than 2000 words each) chronicled by Leryn, a bard. He is the observer, but is sometime drawn into the action against his better judgement. The first two episodes are a little dark, but episodes 3 & 4 have been far-fetched and quite fun to write.

I have also signed on to edit an anthology for my publishing group, Myrddin Publishing. That has been an absolute joy–the stories that are being included in this anthology are extremely high quality. And the good part of that is, I have wonderful people working with me on the production of that book, Alison DeLuca and Lee French.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbNaNoWriMo is approaching–and I am planning to spend the month of November writing a series of short stories, some set in Bleakbourne on Heath, and several random shorts.

But, like every other working person, I also have a home to keep in some sort of order, minimal though that effort is, laundry to do, cooking (yes, even vegans cook) and I try to maintain some sort of communication with our kids and grand-kids–even if it is just stalking them on Facebook.

And lets talk about Facebook, that soul-sucking time-waster from the Netherworld. Many of the events I do are organized though Facebook, and that means I get a lot of email to sift through, while I am trying to accomplish something productive for my clients.

So-and-so, the organizer, encourages everyone involved in the ordeal to post something in a thread:

  • But if you do, you will get 200 emails from that thread alone.
  • But if you don’t, you will miss some critical piece of information.
  • But if you do, you will get 200 emails from that thread alone.

If you are careful when you select which event to get involved with in the first place, these events can raise the indie author’s visibility, and indeed, any author’s visibility. I have done many that were not good experiences, and many that helped sell books.

To that end, I, along with many of the authors I know and a lot whom I’ve never met (over 200) will be participating in the first annual Virtual Fantasy Con in November, the 1st through the 8th.

virtual fantasy con 2015

So far, at least on the participant’s end, it is being set up like a really well-run convention, so it will be interesting to see how smoothly this goes, and how much visibility we will actually gain from this. We participating authors will have the opportunity to take part in many publicity events prior to the actual convention.

The only thing I worry about is how confusing keeping up with all the email and information is. I am afraid I will accidentally not do some critical thing–which is why I am the world’s worst personal assistant for myself.

But it’s a lot of work keeping everything organized. My ‘personal assistant’ is not as good at her job as I wish she was.

Sigh.

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