Tag Archives: #nanowrimo2020

Theme, Discipline, and Drabbles, warmup for  #NaNaNoWriMo2020 #amwriting

November, also known as National Novel Writing Month, is racing toward us. If you are planning to participate, it’s a good idea to give your project a working title.

Some even go so far as to write the first sentence and then leave the rest blank. That way, the project is waiting for them to dive into on November 1st.

Most authors have a difficult time churning out 1667 words a day, so not everyone is cut out to participate in this writing rumble. However, you don’t have to officially sign up. You can set your self a daily goal of 100 – 300 or more new words a day and try to accomplish that.

You never know what you will come up with.

I think of writing as a muscle of sorts, working the way all other muscles do. We’re healthiest when we exercise regularly.

Writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit

A little practice in advance helps. The more frequently you write, the more confident you become. Spending a small amount of time writing every day is crucial. It develops discipline, and if you want to succeed in your goal for NaNoWriMo, personal discipline is essential.

Trust me, it is not asking too much for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

On a personal level, you must decide what is most meaningful to you. Is your dream of writing that novel important? Or do you choose to watch a television show that is the result of someone else’s dream? This is a choice only you can make.

Suppose you are planning to write a novel in November. In that case, writing random short scenes and vignettes is a good way to develop that world in advance. This is also a good opportunity to create the characters you will put to paper on November 1st.

In writing these scenes, you have the chance to identify the themes and subthemes you hope to explore during NaNoWriMo. Theme is different from the subject of a work. As an example that most people know of, the subject of Star Wars is “the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.”

The themes explored in those films might be “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”

At some point, you might become brave enough to submit your work to a magazine or anthology. When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word ‘theme’ as well as your ability to craft clean and compelling prose.

For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.

Most of my own novels have been epic or medieval fantasy, based around the hero’s journey, detailing how their experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood and love of family.

These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, and so they find their way into my writing.

To support the theme, you must layer

  • character studies
  • allegory
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc. A way to get a grip on these concepts for your NaNo Novel is to do a little advance writing that explores your intended theme. Think of it as a bit of literary mind-wandering.

Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in the craft and gain different perspectives when they write short stories and essays. Each short piece that you write increases your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.

This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes, but most importantly they grow your habit of writing new words every day.

Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop an economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.

Writing drabbles means you have a limited amount of space, so your narrative will be limited to one or two characters. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the story’s outcome.

The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes. A side-effect of building a backlog of short stories is the supply of ready-made characters and premade settings you have to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.

Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment. When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

To write a drabble, we need the same basic components as we do for a longer story:

  1. A setting
  2. One or more characters
  3. A conflict
  4. A resolution.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and still others no prompt at all.

A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to 700+ Weekly Writing Prompts.

In a previous post on writing short stories, I showed how I use a loose outline to break short stories into acts. I’ve included that graphic at the bottom of this post.

A drabble works the same way.

We break down the word count to make the story arc work for us. We have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

Info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere have no place in short stories. However, they do make useful background files for your world-building and character development.

When you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.

Save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form.

Spend an hour to get that idea and emotion down before you forget it. The completed scene is a small gift you give yourself.

Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing a drabble hones your skills, and you will have captured the emotion and ambiance of the brilliant idea.

Good drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and fills them with curiosity to learn what happened next.

That is what true writing is about.

 

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Jump-starting #NaNoWriMo2020 #amwriting

I have been a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo since 2012. I started participating in this annual writing rumble in 2010. I  found myself taking the lead as the unofficial ML for my region in 2011 when our previous ML didn’t return. Organizing write-ins, cheering on my fellow writers—I didn’t know how it all worked. But it was a lot of fun, and I became close friends with a fantastic group of writers.

Over the years, I have learned many tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.

Most writers will start an entirely new project. Some have an outline, others are flying blind, or in author speak, “pantsing it.”

Other writers will continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress. On November first, they write all the new work in a separate manuscript that is for NaNoWriMo validation purposes.

This year I have several projects. One will be to write the final chapters of Bleakbourne on Heath, a novel that began life in 2015 as a weekly serial. I have the outline all written for that, and the ending is now firmly established. Finishing that should cover about 20,000 – to 25,000 words.

My second project is for my new duology set in Neveyah. I need to write the chapters that show my antagonist’s storyline. They are also outlined now, and when Bleakbourne is finished, I will move on to the Aeoven Cycle.

I also have three short stories and a novella to fill in on those days when I can’t focus on the tasks at hand, so I will have plenty to keep my mind churning.

Several years came where I had no novel-length ideas. For those years I wrote collections of short stories to submit to magazines and contests.

But what if you think you have no ideas worth writing?

Feel free to look on the internet for writing prompts.

Don’t let your flashes of inspiration slip into oblivion. Write them down and use them. A pre-prepared list of prompts can stimulate any number of projects. It’s like an “extra brain,” full of ideas to jump-start a short story.

Great novels all begin with a random idea, a “what if,” so I save this document to my computer’s desktop. It’s nothing fancy, just a list of ideas and one-liners that seemed interesting.

You could use sticky notes or a pencil and paper, but the important thing is to not forget them.

Whenever I don’t have a specific project to write on, I go to that list, select a prompt, and start writing. I write new words on that idea for fifteen minutes.

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

It trains your brain to think like a writer.

The following are some of my favorite prompts:

  • Edgar always said there was no place for pansies in this war. His preferred weapon was a dahlia.
  • Dogs and little children hated Winston. The rest of us merely despised him.
  • Death is the one thing you can take with you, and Sheila Harris was packed up and ready to go.
  • The body in the trunk of Edna’s car had become a real inconvenience.

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

Yes—it’s true. I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel by writing the last chapter first and then wondering how the characters had gotten to that point, that place.

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

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

The book opens when he is a young man and takes him through grand love affairs and miserable failures. My soul was on fire with that book, and I couldn’t think of anything else.

Julian Lackland had a rough journey but was published this year.

Julian Lackland @ Books2Read

Julian Lackland @ Amazon

Julian wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I had completed. If you don’t finish your projects, the world will never read your work.

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

Creative Writing Prompts

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

Every day, things occur that I think would make such good magazine articles, and November is a great month to write them.

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

So many random ideas and so little time to write those stories! That is why November and participating in NaNoWriMo has become so precious to me.

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Autumn, and thoughts of #NaNoWriMo2020

September is ending. Here in my native northwestern forests, the colors of the big-leaf maples and alders paint the landscape in shades of yellow and gold.  Lower in the canopy, bursts of red and scarlet from our sumac and vine-maples shout that autumn has arrived, and summer is leaving.

In the high country, golden larches surprise those hikers who’ve never seen a deciduous conifer. They might think the forest is dying when really, it’s just going to take a long nap.

The autumn forest feels mysterious, a place of change and shadows, with depths we can’t really know.

The sky is also changing. Our days are shorter, and while the sun is shining this week, the monsoon months approach. Rain will be our most constant companion, or heaven forbid, lowland snow.

I don’t mind the snow now that I don’t have to drive in it, but something about the slightest dusting sends the Northwest into a panic. By the middle of October, gray overcast skies seem to linger unending, eternal.  Visitors from sunnier places wonder if the sun will ever shine again.

I always tell them to wait a day or two. When the clouds finally part, they reveal a shade of blue so beautiful that words can fail me.

These are the writing months, the mad dash to finish that first draft, and the build-up to NaNoWriMo. These are the days when inspiration knocks on the door, calling “Trick or treat!”

In October, I begin prepping for the month of intensive writing.

If I am going to be effective, I will need to make an outline of the basic story arc. I will make one even when my novel could end in several different ways.

Writing a story as it falls out of my head can be fun in short bursts. However, my years of experience with NaNoWriMo have taught me that I will quickly run out of ideas of what to do next if I don’t have some sort of guide.

In some novels, it feels as if the authors became desperate at the halfway point. Random sex and violence occur without any real feeling. It’s a terrible temptation to kill someone just to stir things up and raise the emotional stakes.

I don’t want to be faced with that dilemma. I intend to begin writing on November 1st with a solid notion of  who the story is about, what their problem is, and where the story will go. For me, good preparations are the key to a finished first draft. Sometime toward the middle of October, I will share some of my simple nano-prep ideas.

There are times when someone must die to advance the plot or fire up the protagonist, but readers get angry with authors who kill off too many characters they have grown to like.

Autumn and winter are also my reading days. In October I immerse myself in reading, mingled in with the writing I ordinarily do. I admit that some days I get so into what I’m reading that I forget to cook dinner.

Oops.

Today’s autumn glory will intensify and linger for a few short weeks. Then, the rain we Northwesterners are famous for will move in.

Those few leaves fortunate enough to go unraked will become soggy and moldy, waiting for the wind to set them flying. They will huddle in the gutters and against the foundations of buildings, seeking warmth and perhaps regretting their freedom.

And when the skeletal remains have turned to soil as all leaves must, perhaps a seed will take root. Maybe one day, the seedling-tree, nurtured by this year’s broken remains, will shade me as I walk.

In autumn, my ideas for stories are like fallen leaves. I cast them flying in the wind that is NaNoWriMo, letting them go where they will against the framework of my world and plot outline.

All I can hope is they come to rest in a place where they will nourish the seeds of the story I intend to write when November 1st arrives.


Credits and Attributions

Albert Bierstadt – Autumn Landscape PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Autumn Landscape with Pond and Castle Tower-Alfred Glendening, 1869 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

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