Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

The garden-path sentence #amwriting

As NaNoWriMo winds down, I am preparing to face a manuscript full of wandering, garbled sentences. These are the products of my fingers not being able to keep up with my brain. I might know what that sentence means, but my editor won’t. My job in December is to be alert and watch for ambiguous phrasings.

MyWritingLife2021About garden-path sentences, via Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:

(The term) garden path refers to the saying “to be led down the garden path,” meaning to be deceived, tricked, or seduced.

After reading, the sentence seems ungrammatical and makes almost no sense, requiring rereading to fully understand its meaning after careful parsing.” [1]

In this case, confusion arises because we attempt to understand sentences as we are reading them. The “garden-path sentence” begins by taking you toward a particular destination. Midway through, it takes a turn for the bizarre.

There are two types of garden-path sentences.  The first is a “local ambiguity,” meaning it can be cleared up easily with the addition of a word or punctuation, such as:

“The raft floated down the river sank.” Add one word to make it clear: “The raft that floated down the river sank.”

“We told the man the dog bit a medic could help him.” Add two words for clarity: “We told the man whom the dog bit that a medic could help him.”

Wikipedia offers this example: “The old train the young fight.” Adding a comma reads: “The old train, the young fight.” The addition of the comma makes sense of the words. One could also argue that the sentence means “The old train the young to fight.”

The other type of garden-path sentence is “globally ambiguous” because the meaning stays unclear no matter how many times you reread it when it is taken out of context.

A sentence should be understandable even when removed from its context. Wikipedia offers the sentence: “The cat was found by the shed by the gardener.”

Hydrangea_cropped_July_11_2017_copyright_cjjasperson_2017 copyWhen I have asked a beta reader to read a section of my work, they sometimes flag a paragraph as unclear. It might make perfect sense to me, but if I am the only one who understands it, it’s time to tear that paragraph down to see if each sentence can stand on its own.

Sara’s missing cat was found by the shed by the gardener. Mittens was frightened and hungry but safe.

Let’s break that paragraph down sentence by sentence:

  • Sara’s missing cat was found by the shed by the gardener.
  • Mittens was frightened and hungry but safe.

The first sentence is passive and ambiguous, open to interpretation. Was the cat by the shed? Or was the shed by the gardener? Or were the cat and the gardener both next to the shed?

Once I’ve taken it out of context, it’s easy to see why the reader didn’t understand it.

Usually, a simple rewording to make my phrasing more active is all that is required.

The gardener found Sara’s cat near the shed. Mittens was frightened and hungry but safe.

Often, a new author has been criticized for using the relative pronoun ‘that’ too freely. Thin-skinned and bleeding profusely, they will go to any length to avoid using the word that, which can lead to awkwardly phrased sentences.

Relative pronouns have a fundamental place in English. While it’s easy to turn them into crutch words, they are essential words that make nouns specific.

  • That dog bites, so watch out.
  • Harry Potter was the boy who lived.

The way to resolve the garden-path sentence is to:

  • Insert a relative pronoun (such as “that” or “who”) for clarity.
  • Insert proper punctuation for clarity.
  • Reword the sentence to make the prose active.

Readers want to read without bumps and hiccups. Anytime they have to stop and reread something, you risk losing them. Sentences that are ambiguous stop the eye, which throws the reader out of the story.

Clementines_Astoria_White_Hydrangea2019I don’t want to introduce vagueness into my work. Just because I like what I wrote doesn’t mean it has to stay in the finished product. Maybe I don’t see that it’s confusing, but my friends who read my raw manuscripts will.

Every time I participate in NaNoWriMo and then take that manuscript through revisions, my first draft skills become a little stronger. I write stronger sentences in my first drafts and have to make fewer changes, which feels like a victory.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Garden-path sentence,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Garden-path_sentence&oldid=1053287156 (accessed November 28

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Mood and atmosphere #amwriting

I refuse to self-edit my first drafts, especially during NaNoWriMo, so the prose in my current work is less than stellar. Because I am inventing the story as I write it, the early drafts for all my work are littered with ‘ly’ words and other telling words.

MyWritingLife2021Once the first draft is a complete novel, I will step away from it for a few weeks and work on other projects. Then when I come back to it, I use the global search (find option) to look for each instance of ‘ly’ words and rewrite those sentences to make them active.

Active prose injects impact into the narrative, but the first draft is littered with telling instead of showing, because I am telling myself the story.

I’ve said many times that words are the colors we use to show entire worlds. I am always looking for ways to use words for better impact.

Every idea for a novel comes to me with an idea for the overall mood, and that mood can be described with a word. Sometimes though, that word is difficult to identify.

I make use of the thesaurus. This is where you will find words to describe mood and atmosphere, along with synonyms and antonyms, words with the opposite meaning.

I make a new storyboard for every story I write. Once I know what the story I intend to write is, I go out and look for the words that will help jar my imagination, words that convey the mood and atmosphere that I want to instill in my work.

I include the list of mood words in the storyboard file so that I have them on hand.

It speeds up the writing process if I have a supply of descriptors to draw on to build my world without having to stop and look things up. It also helps me avoid crutch-words.

For the cash strapped author, the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus is your best friend. https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus

You will find many words, some of which are uncommon. Do yourself a favor and choose words that most readers with an average education won’t have to stop and look up.

For example, if you are writing something with a Gothic mood, your inspiration word could be ominous. It is an adjective that conveys the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. The word ominous brings other dark thoughts to mind.

ozford-american-writers-thesaurusSynonyms for ominous that we could use: baleful, dire, direful, foreboding, ill, ill-boding, inauspicious, menacing, portentous, sinister, threatening.

Related words to subtly reinforce the mood: black, bleak, cheerless, chill, cloudy, cold, comfortless, dark, darkening, depressing, depressive, desolate, dim, disconsolate, dismal, drear, dreary, forlorn, funereal, gloomy, glum, godforsaken, gray/grey, lonely, lonesome, miserable, morbid, morose, murky, plutonian, saturnine, sepulchral, somber/sombre, sullen, sunless, threatening, wretched.

Other related words: discouraging, disheartening, hopeless, unfavorable, unpromising, unpropitious, ill-fated, ill-starred, star-crossed, troubled, unfortunate, unlucky, evil, malign, malignant.

Antonyms for ominous, opposites I can use to provide contrast, so the overall mood and atmosphere is made more explicit: unthreatening.

Near Antonyms for ominous: auspicious, benign, bright, encouraging, favorable, golden, heartening, hopeful, promising, propitious, prosperous.

Toward the end of my work, I want things to feel hopeful. So, we might want to research the word auspicious the same way we did ominous.

Auspicious: having qualities that inspire hope or pointing toward a happy outcome.

Synonyms for auspicious: bright, encouraging, fair, golden, heartening, hopeful, likely, optimistic, promising, propitious, rose-colored, roseate, rosy, upbeat.

Words related to auspicious: cheering, comforting, reassuring, soothing, assured, confident, decisive, doubtless, positive, sure, unhesitating, favorable, good.

Antonyms for auspicious: bleak, dark, depressing, desperate, discouraging, disheartening, dismal, downbeat, dreary, gloomy, hopeless, inauspicious, pessimistic, unencouraging, unlikely, unpromising.

Near Antonyms for auspicious: cheerless, comfortless, doubtful, dubious, uncertain, grim, negative, unfavorable, funereal, glum, gray/grey, miserable, wretched.

But you can do the same for any word that conveys mood:

Humorous, mysterious—you see what I mean. The overall mood-word you choose for your work will have many synonyms and antonyms and you can use them to your advantage.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543If you are writing any kind of genre work, the best way to use your descriptors is to find the word that conveys the atmosphere you want with the most force. That word will help you visualize the scene and enable your ability to spew the story.

I refuse to self-edit my first drafts, so my prose in my first drafts is sometimes a mess. Because I am thinking out loud as I write them, the early drafts for all my work are littered with ‘ly’ words.

In the first draft the most crucial thing is to get the idea down without self-editing. For this reason, we don’t publish our first drafts!

If you are like me in your first drafts, cleaning up the ‘ly’ words could take a while, especially in a large manuscript. However, that won’t be a problem unless you write that novel all the way to an end.

Credits and Attributions:

“Ominous.” Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/ominous. Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

“Auspicious.” Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/auspicious. Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.


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The Character Arc #amwriting

The Discord channel for my region is a hub of activity these days. Our writers are a week into NaNoWriMo now and discovering aspects of their characters that they didn’t plan or expect.

Plot-exists-to-reveal-characterThe emergence of these traits is exciting, fueling the passion they have for their stories.

Over the next year, my own characters will be more fully formed, as they aren’t really who I envision them to be just yet. Even my protagonist is a bit hazy, as he is now five years older than he was in book 1. He now has children, and parenthood changes everything for most people.

You can’t just drop everything and hare off on some death-defying quest.

But he’s going to have to do just that.

At this point, I’m just trying to get the story written while it’s fresh in my mind. As I progress, the characters will all experience an arc of growth and change. After all, the characters are the story, and the events of the piece exist only to force growth upon them.

How people are changed by their experiences is what makes the story compelling. One of my favorite examples of this can be found in the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Bilbo Baggins is Tolkien’s protagonist. His story begins in a middle-class place of comfort, with few things to trouble him. He lives in his family’s home, a comfortable, well-kept place.

Bilbo has inherited a modest private income and has no need to work, so he devotes his time to writing and entertaining his close friends.

This is our hero in his comfort zone. He could have lived to the end of his days going along as he was and would have told you he was happy. But underneath it all, Bilbo is a little bored with his existence. Nevertheless, he’s a sensible, well-bred hobbit and refuses to admit to it.

If Gandalf had chosen a different hobbit that fateful day, Bilbo would never have developed any further as a person. He was stagnating and didn’t know it.

However, one sunny day, he’s just enjoying himself on the bench beside his front door, when along comes “the inciting incident”—Gandalf, a mysterious character who plays multiple roles within the Lord of the Rings story arc.

In his first guise, Gandalf has the archetypal role of Herald. He is the bringer of change and unwanted dinner guests.

I like the way that Bilbo is shown here. He resents the intrusion, but politeness forces him to become an unwilling host to a company of strangers. Bilbo also dislikes being made aware of how bored he is with his comfortable existence.

We all fear what we don’t know, and Bilbo fears going into the unknown with the dwarves despite Gandalf’s insistence. Also, he’s not too keen on being labeled an ‘expert burglar,’ as he’s never burgled anything in his life and has no idea how to go about such a thing.

However, at the last minute, Bilbo realizes that if he doesn’t go now, he will always wonder what would have happened if he had.

the hobbitBilbo’s sudden irrational decision to accept the task of Burglar sets him on a path that becomes a personal pilgrimage, a search for the courage he always possessed but had never needed.

Fear of stagnation has overcome Bilbo’s fear of the unknown.

This begins the journey and events that shape Bilbo’s character arc. By the end of the novel, he has recognized and embraced his nature’s romantic, fanciful, and adventurous aspects. In the process, he discovers that he is competent and capable of bravery, winning respect by applying his wits and common sense to every problem.

Events in themselves don’t change us. We are changed by what we learn as human beings, by experiencing how incidents and occurrences affect our emotions and challenge our values.

Each person grows and develops in a way that is distinctively them. Some people become hardened, world-weary. Others become more compassionate, forgiving.

A character arc should encompass several events that precipitate personal growth. Three common experiences that change a person are:

  • Profound Grief
  • Failure
  • Success against great odds

What the incentive for change will be is up to you and depends on the story you are telling.

The character arcIn one of my current works in progress, my protagonist is a soldier of the Bull God’s world of Serende, an enemy sworn to conquer the goddess’s world of Neveyah. He undergoes a religious conversion, and his story takes him on a physical and spiritual journey.

Whether we are writing fantasy, literary fiction, comedy, sci-fi, or romance for NaNoWriMo this year, our characters must be changed by their experiences.

How they are changed will be up to you because it is your story.

The works that we consider classics are those in which the events are the sparks that ignite personal growth for the reader as well as the protagonist. Those novels stay with us, and we find ourselves thinking about them long after reading the last page and closing the book.

Credits and Attributions:

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

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What I #amwriting

Today is the opening day of National Novel Writing Month, and the clock is ticking. I plan to write the scenes detailing the incidents as presented in my outline and then link them together into a narrative. Today I am writing a first encounter scene.

NaNoWriMo-WriterBadge-555-2x-1This method involves hopping around in the story arc, but it works for me. I have a master file already with the storyboard in it. Today, I began writing each scene as a short story, labeling the file with a title like FoR_pub_scene_at_Linniston (Fires of Redemption, pub scene at Linniston). The title tells me where this scene will fit in the story arc. Everything will go into the master file in my writing folder and be saved to Dropbox. I’m starting with this one, as it introduces everyone.

Each scene will be around 1,000 words long, so I will shoot for two scenes a day. And truthfully, these scenes are really chapters, but I can’t think that far ahead at this point.

Once I have all of the major plot points written, I will stitch them into a proto manuscript and begin writing transitions and joining scenes. That is when the real work begins and should happen in about week three of November.

Everyone has a particular way of getting the story out of their heads. I used to write more linearly, starting at page one and writing forward as the story unfolds. But there are times when I can’t sustain that intensity of focus over a 70,000-word manuscript. My brain is like a toddler on jellybeans and Coca Cola.

spaghetti boilerThis will be one of the more challenging years for me, as life is throwing roadblocks in my path. A water pipe has broken beneath our master bedroom closet, and two weeks on, we are still waiting for a plumber. In the meantime, we have no hot water, but we do have cold still flowing, so we aren’t hurting too badly. I make hot water with the spaghetti boiler on my stove and feel glad we aren’t hauling it here from the creek.

In the meantime, all the clothes we own are in the living room, draped over the furniture, waiting to return to their closet.

Speaking of clothes, going to the laundromat was a shock—one washer costs $5.50 to run. On the positive side, it washed the amount of clothes I would do in three loads here at home.

But I was 50 cents short of having enough quarters, because I rarely use cash for anything.

However, you can pay via the QR code … just by entering your information into an impossible-to-decipher-on-your-phone website. Demons designed this particular website to enable us mortals to finance doing our laundry. After much struggle, a seriously frustrated hubby, and the aid of a fellow sufferer, we managed to wash our clothes.

be happy 3That was a week ago. We’ve been waiting for the plumber for two weeks, but a light is on the horizon. Hope looms, and an appointment for tomorrow has finally been confirmed.

One only hopes the resolution will be moderately un-invasive, as a radical deconstruction of my bedroom would be … unpleasant.

So, that is the news from Casa del Jasperson. Writing is going well, providing a perfect escape from plumbing problems. My happiness quotient is full to bursting despite the hiccups in life, and you can’t ask for more than that.


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#NaNoPrep: What to Expect #amwriting

I am a supporter of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as a way to get people writing. Some people can’t resist a challenge, and NaNoWriMo is definitely that.

NaNoWriMoMemeNaNoWriMo is a personal challenge, a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel. It is a speed-run with daily goals to meet.

Day 1 – write 1,667 words or more.

Days 2 through 30 – rinse and repeat.

If you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website, you ‘win.’ Reporting your word count has been an honor system for the last two years, so you never have to upload your manuscript.

If you do cross the 50,000-word line, there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim waiting for you. You will, however, get a PDF winner’s certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall or keep in your digital files as I do.

Starting on day one, you will collect badges, little visible rewards, for your daily achievements. One badge that is difficult to get is the “update your progress every day” badge. 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.

We all know that a novel of only 50,000 words is a good length for YA or romance, but for epic fantasy or literary fiction it’s only half a novel. Still, 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.

With a simple outline and a few notes to keep you on track, that isn’t too hard. Most authors who grew up with computers (unlike me) can double or triple that.

NaNoWriMo-WriterBadge-555-2x-1As 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.

And unfortunately, for the first time author, the desire to publish that book without making revisions, and without professional editing is almost impossible to quell. Every year in February and March, many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to that fundamental truth.

So why do I participate every year? I love working with the writers in our area, and hope to see the rare, committed novelist, the one who stays writing all year long. That person will join our region’s Discord channel and be a part of the posse.

More people write during November than you would think. In some years, about half the NaNo Writers in my regional area are journaling, writing family histories, or even writing their thesis.

Every year, my co-Municipal Liaison and I see a wave of new people who fill the vacancy left behind by the people who either lost interest in the first week or couldn’t find the time to get more than ten or twenty thousand words during previous years.

Those people sometimes feel like failures, but they aren’t.

Ten thousand words is two or three short stories. Twenty thousand is a novella. Writing a story of any length is an accomplishment, and those authors should be proud. They will write more as time goes on.

However, for a very few people, participating in NaNoWriMo will give them the confidence to admit that an author lives inside their heart, 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 authors will take the time and make an effort to learn writing conventions. Grammarly’s website says writing conventions consist of four elements:

  • spelling
  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • capitalization

emotion-thesaurus-et-alSome new authors seek out books about writing craft and attend seminars. They will join writing groups and 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.

And one skill we must develop early on is a thick skin. Nothing hurts worse than to see your work through their unbiased eyes and discover it wasn’t perfect after all. Yes, some people will love and admire what we have created, but other times what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear.

For most authors success can only be measured in the satisfaction we get out of writing and seeing it published.

If your first novel is picked up by a traditional publisher, they may not put a lot of effort into pushing it, because you are an unknown author. They will test the waters and see what sort of reaction your book gets before they really commit to backing you.

Also, whether you are traditionally published or indie, you must do all the social media footwork yourself. You must get an Instagram account, a twitter account, a website, and so on. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

strange thoughts 2This is time-consuming, and you will feel as if you need a personal assistant to handle these things. I know several authors who rely on the services of hourly personal assistants to help navigate the rough waters of being their 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.

However, if you don’t sit down and write that novel, you won’t have to worry about it.

November is a good time to do just that.


#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, the End

#NaNoPrep: Signing up and Getting Started

#NaNoPrep: Guernica, Inspiration, and Finding Writing Prompts

#NaNoPrep: Time Management

#NaNoPrep: Countdown to November, Subject and Theme

This post:  #NaNoPrep: What to Expect


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#NaNoPrep: Countdown to November, Subject and Theme

NaNoWriMo 2021 officially begins one week from today on November 1st. For those of us who love a challenge, that will be the day we set the pen to paper and begin the actual writing of our projects.

plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedSo, what do we need to have in place during the next seven days before the big event?

One: We need to have characters.

Two: Our characters need an environment to live in, a world to inhabit.

Three: Our characters need some sort of backstory, so we know who they are when we begin writing.

Four: We need a plot or at least an inciting incident. We should have some idea of that moment when our frogs leap from the frying pan into the fire.

Five: You should try to identify your subject and unifying theme. We’ll talk about those things further on in this post.

How does my storyboard look right now?

Characters: This will be Ivan’s second book, so I have his backstory and don’t need to worry too much about that. Ivan is a fire-mage, an armorsmith, and a shaman. He is a father, a husband to his life partner, Kai. Kai is an earth-mage and a mason. The two share four children with another lashei couple, Avis and Venna. The children live with Ivan and Kai, as Avis and Venna are traveling dye traders.

The Home in WeilandEnvironment: Ivan and Kai live in Weiland, Tribe Weila’s riverport and mining center. Ivan’s extended family has five rowhouses at the upper end of High Street. It’s a steep but easy walk to the market for his grandfather, who lives next door and watches the children while Ivan and Kai work. I drew a little map for my notes, so I know the layout of where everything is in regard to their home and businesses. It could change, but I have something to start with.

His brother, Aldric, and his wife, Marta, have three children. They live at the other end of the row of houses. Ivan’s father, Aengus, and mentor, Jan, have their homes there too. Behind the rowhouses are a walled shared garden and orchard and the family’s barn. Ivan and Jan’s armory is a short walk through the back garden, and beyond that is Kai’s quarry.

The backstory: is already established for this book, as book one is currently being edited.

The inciting incident: At this point, the inciting incident is the arrival of news that a neighboring town has been attacked by tribeless raiders. It’s suspected the raiders are led by a rogue mage. Ivan and Kai must go and deal with that, a simple-sounding thing that becomes complicated. Aldric and Marta join them, leaving the children in the care of the three grandfathers.

What I hope to achieve by the last paragraph of this book: Ivan will be forced to grow in his role as a shaman and mage. Kai will be challenged when an old acquaintance is discovered in the rogue mage’s entourage. Aldric’s and Marta’s skills with weapons will be critical, and the blade that Ivan made for Marta when they were young will be the key to resolving the final encounter. Each character will be tempered steel, able to do what must be done, and still remain compassionate.

Subject and Theme: So, what is a theme? It’s different from the subject of a work. An example that most people are familiar with is the Star Wars series and franchise. The subject is “the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.” The themes are “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”

The subject of this book is how the desire for dominance and power corrupts an abused young mage, and the destruction he creates in his attempt to control his life. This book will explore the theme of good vs. evil and the subthemes of comradeship and love of family. The books I am drawn to often feature these themes.

How do you identify your theme? Sometimes it’s difficult unless you start out with one in mind. Here is a short list of some themes for you to consider:

  • Abuse
  • Alienation/loneliness
  • Ambition
  • Coming of age
  • Conspiracy
  • Crime and Justice
  • Fall from Grace
  • General dehumanization of society
  • Good vs. Evil
  • Grief
  • Humanity in jeopardy
  • Love
  • Nostalgia for the good old days
  • Plagues
  • Rebellion and revolution
  • Redemption
  • Religious intolerance
  • Separation and reunion
  • The hero’s journey
  • War

theme_meme_lirf06302020A common theme in fantasy is the juxtaposition of chaos and stability (or order). This subtheme will feature strongly in my novel. Good vs. evil is a trope of the speculative fiction genre. Evil is usually portrayed by taking one or the other of these concepts to an extreme.

Epic fantasy is usually good vs. evil, based on the hero’s journey. The stories detail how events shape the characters.

That is what I am writing in November.


#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, the End

#NaNoPrep: Signing up and Getting Started

#NaNoPrep: Guernica, Inspiration, and Finding Writing Prompts

#NaNoPrep: Time Management

This Post: #NaNoPrep: Countdown to November, Subject and Theme


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#NaNoPrep: Time Management #amwriting

If you plan to write a 50,000-word novel this coming November, you will need to develop some time management skills.

NaNoWriMoMemeWriting is easier once it becomes a daily behavioral habit. However, making the best use of your limited writing time requires a little planning, self-discipline, and encouragement from your family.

Once you tell them that you have a goal of writing 1,667 words a day, they might be your biggest supporters. My family certainly has been.

My children are grown now, but most new writers have jobs and a family. When you have school-age children, time for personal projects can be limited. You are constantly going somewhere to some athletic or school function.

But I did it, and you can too. By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you might get your first draft finished and get that certificate that says you completed 50,000 words in 30 days.

First, you must give yourself permission to write. For much of my working life, I was a single parent, sometimes with three part-time jobs. My main job was as a bookkeeper or working in data entry for corporate America. Throughout the 1990s, I worked weekends and holidays as a hotel maid. I’m retired now, but although I’d never heard of NaNoWriMo, I was a secret novelist, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what I was writing.

Digital Clock FaceWe have this perception that taking time for creativity is selfish, and that will be your biggest hurdle. Trust me, it is not asking too much of your family for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

I wrote in the evenings while my children did their homework, which sometimes meant a lot of stopping and starting, but I did get some writing done. Some words are better than none! You can also set aside a block of time on the weekend to make up some words, although that can be difficult. Setting aside time on a weekend can become a hardship, especially if you have a young family.

Having me there, typing away next to the gerbil cage seemed to keep them on track with their homework, and I did get a page or two written every night.

What I churned out was pretty awful, but although I didn’t know it at the time, I was developing discipline and a work ethic in myself as well as in my children.

Having an artistic life means you allow yourself time to create something meaningful to you.

The following is a list of ideas to help you carve the time to write and still be a full participant in your family’s life.

  • You must decide what is more important, your dream of writing or watching a television show that is someone else’s dream. Do you want to create, or do you want to be entertained?

Personally, I would say that if you didn’t like how Game of Thrones turned out, too bad. Write it the way you think it should have been done. Writing fan-fiction is a time-honored way to start your writing career.

  • You have the right to take an hour in the morning and the evening to use for your own creative outlet. Wake up an hour early and write until the time you would generally get up. That will be the quietest time you will have all day. Give up that 9:00 p.m. TV show and write for one more hour. There are your 2 precious hours.

Use those two separate hours for your stream-of-consciousness writing. You could easily get your 1,667 words written every day, possibly more. I am a slow keyboard jockey, and I can do about 1,100 wonky, misspelled words an hour during NaNoWriMo.

ALL words you write count toward the goal, misspelled or not.

Time_Management_Quayle_QuoteWrite for five minutes here and ten minutes there all day long if that is all you can do. Every word counts toward your finished manuscript. I took my lunch to work and wrote during my lunch half-hour whenever possible. I also wrote on the bus when I didn’t own a car.

You don’t have to announce to your co-workers or family that you are writing a book if you don’t wish to. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable saying anything about my secret life.

  • If you want to spend your lunchtime writing, politely let people know you’re handling personal business and won’t have time to chat.

Writing in the stream-of-consciousness style is an excellent way to cultivate your emotional and poetic mind. It will improve your writing skills in general.

During NaNoWriMo, you engage in unedited writing. Nothing is deleted and every word counts. Even with an outline, sections of your narrative will often be unstructured because it reflects your (or your character’s) observations at the moment you were thinking them.

Writing in this fashion mirrors the way internal thoughts in the human mind work. You are quickly processing thoughts and perhaps switching from one topic to another with abandon. Just go for it.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021Remember, what you are writing is a rough draft, so your story arc will be bumpy and uneven. It doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t worry about making it so. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get that first draft written in thirty days. So, every time you have fifteen minutes to spare, sit down and write as much as you can in that short length of time. Spew your story as fast as you can in those moments before you are pulled away. With six or seven short bursts of writing, you can really rack up the word count.

In January or March, or whenever you go to revise your first draft, you might be amazed to find that much of what you originally wrote has life and passion.

The point is to keep on writing even when you have fallen behind. Use whatever motivational tricks you need to encourage yourself, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Far more important than simply getting word count, the goal is to finish your novel.

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

You can achieve your goal of 50,000 words in 30 days if you give yourself permission to create and make the time to do so.


#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, the End

#NaNoPrep: Signing up and Getting Started

#NaNoPrep: Guernica, Inspiration, and Finding Writing Prompts


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#NaNoPrep: Signing up and getting started #amwriting

Even if you don’t have an idea of what you want to write, it’s time to go out to www.nanowrimo.org and sign in or sign up. That will inspire you!

Navigating the website at www.nanowrimo.org can be confusing. However, if you take the time to explore it and get to know all the many tricks to using it, you’ll be more comfortable with it.

If you haven’t been a participant for several years and are considering joining again, you’ll find the new website is radically different from the old site. Many features we used and loved in the past are no longer available, but it includes numerous features that really are nice. The following screenshots will help you find your way around the website:

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

nanoLandingPageOnce there, create a profile. You don’t have to get fancy unless you are bored and uber-creative.

Next, declare your project: Give your project a name if you have one. I don’t have a working title yet, so I’m just going with Accidental Novel 2 since it features the same characters as last year’s accidental novel. Pick the genre you intend to write in. Write a few paragraphs about your intended project if you know what you plan to write.

AnounceYourProject2021You can play around with your personal page a little to get used to it. I use my NaNoWriMo avatar and name as my Discord name and avatar. This is because I only use Discord for NaNoWriMo and one other large organization of writers. (Next week, we’ll talk about Discord and why NaNoWriMo HQ wants us to use it for word sprints and virtual write-ins.)

While you are creating your profile, write a short bio, and with that done, you’re good to go. If you’re feeling really creative, add a header and make a placeholder book cover—have fun and go wild.

right dropdown menu buttonNext, check out the community tabs. If you are in full screen, the tabs will be across the top. If you have the screen minimized, the button for the dropdown menu will be in the upper right corner and will look like the blue/green and black square to the right of this paragraph.

When the button is clicked, the menu will be on the righthand side instead of across the top.

Your regional page will look different from ours because every region has a different idea of how they present themselves, but it will be there in the Community tab. And don’t forget to check out the national forums, also on the Community tab.

Olympia_Region_homepageYou may find the information you need in one of the many forums listed here.

Now, let’s talk about eliminating heartache and attempted suicides among authors.

Losing your files is a traumatic experience. Some authors within my writing group have lost several years of work in a surprise computer crash – an unimaginable tragedy.

I use a cloud-based storage system because entire manuscripts can go missing when a thumb drive or hard drive is corrupted.

fileFolderMake a master file folder that is just for your writing. I write professionally, so my files are in a master file labeled Writing.

Inside that master file are many subfiles, one for each new project or series. My subfile for this project is labeled Ivans_Story.

FileDocumentGive your document a label that is simple and descriptive. My NaNoWriMo manuscript will be labeled: Accidental_Novel_2.

First of all, you need to save regularly. 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 from my desktop, laptop, or Android. I work out of those files, so they are automatically saved and are where I want them when I closeout.

You can use any storage system that is free to you: Google Drive, OneDrive, or a standard portable USB flash drive.

Save regularly. Save consistently. DON’T put off saving to a backup of some sort – do it every day before you close your files.

One final thing for those who have participated in the past: NaNoWriMo HQ has announced that there will be no sanctioned in-person write-ins again this year. While this is disappointing, we care about the health of all our writers.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543Still, we can come together and support each other’s writing via the miracle of the internet. My region is finalizing a schedule for “Writer Support” meet-ups via Zoom – little gab sessions that will connect us and keep us fired up.

Our region will use the Discord Channel for nightly write-ins in the general chat and word sprints in our wordwars room. The pandemic has had one positive benefit – our region has remained active for the last year, with several intrepid writers doing nightly sprints.

Check out what you region offers you for year-round support. You might be amazed what they are doing.

The #NaNoPrep series to date:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, the End


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#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, Plotting the End #amwriting

Some writers are “pantsers,” not “plotters.” Maybe you fall into that group and love NaNoWriMo because you can let the ideas flow freely. I have “pantsed it” on occasion, and it can be liberating.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_Novel_in_a_monthBut sometimes, when writing the first draft, we realize our manuscript has gone way off track and is no longer fun to write. That is where the storyboard and my loose outline become important.

My previous posts in this series talked about the story arc and how having a list of prompts can move the story forward and keep it flowing. We have made a list of prompts that will help us get started. We have a character, we have a world, and we have a situation. My sample outline looks like this:


Now we must plot the finale, the event that will give Dave his greatest desire.

Hindrances matter. 

  1. It’s an ordinary suitcase, one you might find in any budget-friendly chain store. Dave is familiar with clients who try to hide money and realizes he has to think like a crook.
  2. He purchases a matching suitcase to use as a decoy.
  3. Dave’s new furniture arrives from the Large Swedish Furniture company.
  4. He can’t read Swedish directions, but his neighbor, Sophia, does, and she helps him.
  5. While assembling his furniture, he realizes he has the perfect place to hide the actual suitcase. After Sophia leaves, he puts it in the open space behind the drawers beneath his platform bed.
  6. With the original suitcase hidden, Dave visits a secondhand bookstore run by his neighbor, Sophia.
  7. He buys a large number of secondhand books for his apartment, some of which are in bad condition, claiming he loves to read but loves a good bargain more.
  8. At home, he fills the decoy suitcase with the worn books and hides it in a closet.
  9. He is barely settled in his new apartment when he is robbed.
  10. The decoy suitcase is stolen, but all it contains are beat-up copies of the entire Wheel of Time series in English and two out-of-date copies of Accounting for Dummies.
  11. Dave is kidnapped and threatened with bodily harm.
  12. He doesn’t crack. Why?
  13. His neighbor, Sophia, poses as a pizza delivery person and springs him. Surprise! She works for his employer and is his bodyguard.
  14. The agent Dave is holding the suitcase for turns up dead.
  15. Dave is handcuffed to the suitcase again, and he and Sophia must hurry to take it to Paris.
  16. There is a battle at the airport, but they make it onto the airplane.
  17. Enemy agents are waiting in Paris, but Sophia has mad martial arts skills.
  18. The suitcase is handed off to the proper authorities.
  19. Dave is free to go back to Seattle and his old life as an accountant.
  20. But he is offered a permanent job with his current employer.
  21. What does Dave choose, security and boredom, or adventure and a bodyguard like Sophia?

The entire outline takes about two pages. You haven’t written the story, but you have given yourself a skeleton upon which you can hang a novel.


Each prompt can (and will) be riffed on or changed from page one, but ultimately, the final battle in Paris and the chase to the embassy will be the goal we are writing to.

If six authors used this outline, you would end up with six completely different novels. Once you begin writing, the creative brain takes over, and what emerges will be unlike anything another author wrote.

By the time you arrive at the end, it might have evolved into an entirely different book than you envisioned at the beginning.

This is because you will be “pantsing it” between the prompts, and anything can happen when you sit down and write whatever enters your mind.

Just make notes of your changes and keep the overall story arc in mind.

Some people (and I am one of them) occasionally find it easier to begin writing a novel by writing the last chapter first. That is how I wrote my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel.

I wrote that final chapter, then asked myself who the characters were, how they had gotten there, and why they were in those circumstances. For that book, I wrote the outline in reverse.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to write a novel.

Neil_Gaiman_QuoteEvery novel is different, has a different genesis, and emerges from the author’s mind with its own personality.

The trick for NaNoWriMo is to get 1,667 new words written every day for 30 consecutive days. At the end of November, you should have 50,000 or more words written, and possibly your entire first draft.

To sign up for National Novel Writing Month, go to www.nanowrimo.org and get your profile started.


#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2


Filed under writing

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2 #amwriting

I have developed mad skills at carving out time for writing because I participate in NaNoWriMo every November. As a municipal liaison for the Olympia area, I must get a minimum of 1,667 new words written each day.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_Novel_in_a_monthI usually do this with a little advance preparation. Then on November 1st, I sit in front of my computer, and using the ideas I have outlined as my prompts, I wing it for at least two hours.

So, where am I in this process? I’m now listing prompts for the middle of my novel, book 2 of a fantasy series.

However, for this series of posts I’m using an exercise from a past seminar on plotting to illustrate how my method works. This is a plot that can be set in any contemporary, paranormal fantasy, or sci-fi world. Change the vehicles from cars to horses and carriages, and it can be placed in a historical world.

Depending on your personal inclination, this could be written as a political thriller or a romance, or a combination of both.

In my last post, we met our protagonist, Dave, an unmarried accountant. We saw him in his usual surroundings, a café he regularly has lunch at. An event occurred, which is the inciting incident. What could possibly have enticed Dave out of his comfort zone? What did he do that was out of character for him? He “paid it forward” and bought a stranger lunch.

  • This act changes his life. It’s the first point of no return, leading to the first crisis.

Dave didn’t know it, but that was the moment he was thrown out of his comfort zone and into the situation, which is the core of the plot.

  • Dave walked toward his office, only a few blocks away, but as he waited for the light to change so he could cross the street, a limousine pulled up alongside him. Four large men in black suits hustled him into the backseat.
  • He was forced at gunpoint onto a plane bound for a foreign nation, handcuffed to a suitcase with no explanation.

Those are the circumstances in which Dave found himself in my last post. 

scienceHow will the next phase of Dave’s story start? That will begin the middle section of the story, and this is what we are going to give a brief outline of.

As I’ve mentioned before, everything that occurs from here until the final page happens because Dave has an objective: he wants to go home.

I suggest we give ourselves a few prompts, all of which center around Dave achieving his objective: to get rid of the suitcase and go back to his job. He wants that desperately. Desire drives the story. Objectives + Risk = Story

  1. A silent guard accompanies Dave.
  2. Dave has been left in possession of his cell phone, but mysteriously, it has no signal.
  3. They arrive at the embassy.
  4. Dave is taken to an interrogation room and questioned about his relationship with the woman he bought lunch for.
  5. Dave discovers that the only key that can remove the handcuffs is in the custody of the mysterious woman who is interrogating him.
  6. The woman leaves the room. While she is out, Dave’s phone lights up with a text message from his boss in Seattle. Because he hasn’t been to work for two days and didn’t call in, he has been fired.
  7. He can’t seem to call out or reply to the message, another mysterious thing.
  8. The interrogator returns, having verified that Dave is who he claims he is. She also seems to know he’s now unemployed.
  9. She offers him a job. All he has to do is babysit the suitcase for two months until a certain agent who is otherwise occupied can claim it.
  10. Dave wants to go home, but he can’t. He’s unemployed and homeless in a foreign country with no luggage, and no money other than his credit cards, which have limits. If he accepts the job, he will be given a work visa, a flat to live in, and a salary.
  11. He needs these things to achieve his deepest desire: to go back to Seattle and get another accounting job, which he can do after fulfilling his part of the bargain.
  12. The wage he is offered is good, significantly so, which makes him nervous. Still, he can see no choice but to accept the job. (The second point of no return, leading to the next crisis.) After all, he’s always wanted to visit (Stockholm? Insert foreign capital here).
  13.  Anyway, how hard can it be to babysit a locked suitcase?

That question must come back to haunt him for the next 40,000 words, and if you list a few prompts, you will take Dave to his ultimate meeting with fate.

Hindrances matter. Add to the list of obstacles as you think of them, as those difficulties are what will force change on the protagonist, keeping him and his story moving forward.

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_PacingIn any story, the crucial underpinnings of conflict, tension, and pacing are bound together. Go too heavily on one aspect of the triangle, and the story fails to engage the reader. By outlining a few important events now, we can add trouble and hitches during the writing process and increase the tension. Pacing will be something to worry about in the second draft—at this point, we just want to get the bones of his adventure down on paper.

Scenes involving conflict are controlled chaos—controlled on the part of the author. Stories that lack conflict are character studies. And perhaps, a character study is what you wish to write, and that is okay too. It’s just a different kind of story, more literary in its approach. Regardless, it will need an arc of some sort to bring change and growth to the protagonist.

The middle is often easiest to write because that is where the action happens. But it can easily be messed up, again with too much detail inserted in dumps. Several more events will follow, all of them leading toward one or more confrontations with the enemy. Without a loose outline, some of these events will be “desperation events.”

  • Killing off random characters
  • Random explosions
  • Yet another gratuitous sex scene

Next week we will plot the conclusion of Dave’s adventure. We’ll also examine the way writing the ending first can inspire beginnings. My 2010 NaNoWriMo novel grew out of what was really the final chapter.


#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

This Post: #NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2


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