Tag Archives: writing

The Surface of the Story #amwriting

One of my favorite places to walk is McLane Creek Nature Trail. Within that nature reserve is a large beaver pond, with several accessible, easy-to-walk trails that wind around the pond and through the woods.

McLaine_Pond_In_July_©_2018_ConnieJJapsersonStrolling along, watching the birds and animals that make their homes there grounds me. When we leave, I feel spiritually rested, more rooted in the earth, stronger and at peace with myself. It is a serene place, a place of stillness and calm.

The pond is always fascinating. When you watch the water, you can see the effects of the world around it reflected on its surface. On a windless day, the pool will be calm, still. The sky and any overhanging trees will be reflected in it.

When a storm blows in, things change. The waters move, and ripples and small waves stir things up. The waters turn dark, reflecting the stormy sky.

Just like the surface of a pond, the surface of a story is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get layer. It conceals what lurks in the depths but offers a few small clues as to what lies below.

This layer is comprised of

  • Genre
  • Setting
  • Action and interaction
  • All visual/physical experiences of the characters as they go about their lives.

Genre determines the shelf in the bookstore: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Children’s books—those labels tell the reader what sort of story to expect.

I see the surface of a story as if it were a picture. At first glance, we see something recognizable. The all-encompassing shell of a story is the setting. The setting is comprised of things such as:

  1. Objects the characters see in their immediate environment
  2. Ambient sounds.
  3. Odors and scents.
  4. Objects the characters interact with.
  5. Weapons (swords, guns, phasers)

The still, reflective surface of a pond is affected by the breeze that stirs it. In the case of our novel, the breeze that stirs things up is made of action and emotion. These are the structural events that form the arc of the story:

  1. The opening.
  2. The inciting incident.
  3. Rising action and events that evolve from the inciting incident.
  4. The introduction of new characters.
  5. The action that occurs between the protagonist and antagonist as they jockey for position.
  6. The final showdown

Depth_word_cloud (50 words)-page-001The components that form the visual layer appear to be the story. However, once a reader wades in, they discover unsuspected depths.

We shape this layer through world-building. We can add fantasy elements, or we can stick to as real an environment as is possible.

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll showed us how an author might play with the setting by incorporating an unusual juxtaposition of objects and animals. The characters behave and interact with their environment as if the bizarre things are normal. The setting has a slightly hallucinogenic feel, making the reader wonder if the characters are dreaming.

Yet, in the Alice stories, the placement of the unusual objects is deliberate, meant to convey a message or to poke fun at a social norm.

Most Sci-fi and some fantasy novels are set in recognizable worlds, very similar to where we live. The settings are familiar, so close to what we know, we could be in that world. That is where good world-building creates a literal layer that is immediately accepted by the reader.

Setting, action, interaction—these most obvious superficial components are the framework that supports the deeper aspects of the story.

WordItOut-word-cloud-4074543The real story is how our characters interact and react to stresses within the overall framework of the environment and plot. Depth is found in the lessons the characters learn as they live through the events. Depth manifests in the changes of viewpoint and evolving differences in how they see themselves and the world.

Creating depth in our story requires thought and rewriting, but in the last week of NaNoWriMo, we are just trying to get the world built and the events in order. The first draft gives us the surface. We have an idea of what lies below, but at this point, all we are concerned with is getting the structure of the story down, and the characters in place with their personalities.

The true depths and emotions are yet to be discovered but will begin to reveal themselves in the second draft, sometime in December or January. That is when the real writing begins.

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The Credible Antagonist #amwriting

We are 21 days into November and NaNoWriMo. To this point, we have been writing a story around our hero. We have an idea of what they must overcome, but it may not be fully formed just yet.

depth-of-characterWho is the enemy, the true architect of that conflict? At this point, we may have a name, but who are they really?

It’s time to consider the opposition. Every hero needs an adversary, the evil that can take many forms. The evil that must be surmounted will be different in every story because it is up to you.

In some stories, an enemy is someone who stands in the protagonist’s way, blocking them from achieving their goal.

Other times, self-deceptions and inner conflicts frustrate the protagonist. After all, we’re usually our own worst enemy.

In this scene from my 2020 novel, Julian Lackland, Huw and Jack have cornered Beau, voicing their concerns about Lackland’s ability to continue as King Henri’s Lord Commander:

Huw refused to let go of his animosity. “It has to be Lackland then, but he’d better have all his wits about him. If anything happens to Culyn because Lackland has lost his mind, I’ll never forgive you.”

Julian_Lackland Cover 2019 for Bowkers“God! You honestly believe I’m stupid.” Despite his anger, Beau kept his voice low. “There’s no reasoning with you. You’re convinced I’m besotted and Julian is barking mad. Get out of my way! I feel like hurting you.” He pushed past Huw, saying, “Go home, since you have so little faith in me.” He opened the door, intending to leave.

“Beau,” Jack’s quiet voice called after him. “Come back. Let’s bury this now. I wanted to hear what you had to say because I’m a father. I worry about my boys.” [1]

The great enemy that Julian Lackland faces is his internal conflict and how his subsequent breakdown affects the people who love him.

If the enemy is a person, they always believe they are the heroes. In your story, what are their justifications for that belief?

When we create an antagonist, we take what is negative about a character and take it one step further, hiding it behind a lie.

This is where I like to get wordy: first, we assign the enemy a noun that tells us who they think they are: Good.

Once we know why they think they are the heroes, we assign them the noun that says who the protagonist believes they are: Evil.

The antagonist in a current work in progress is Coran. He is a complicated character. His story begins in abject poverty. Through his desire to climb out of that abyss at any cost, it will end tragically.

To further complicate life for our hero, we can go two routes when creating the antagonist. One way is to allow one of the characters to make choices that ultimately harm them, which is how I am going with Coran, allowing him to gradually become the visible antagonist.

Another way is to take the negative that is directed outward and turn it into an inner demon, which I did in the previous book of this series with my protagonist, Ivan. He had two enemies to fight, one was someone he loved but was forced to reject, and the other was himself.

This time, Ivan and Kai share an inner enemy—the deep desire to return home to their children and the growing fear that it won’t happen.

The MArtian Andy WeirIn other stories, there is the nebulous antagonist. This could be the faceless behemoth of corporate greed, characterized by one or two representatives who may be portrayed as caricatures. In some cyberpunk tales, the antagonists tend to be goons-in-suits. In hard sci-fi, they might be members of the military or scientists. Andy Weir in The Martian made the planet of Mars the antagonist.

In fantasy, the nebulous antagonist might be a powerful queen/king or sorcerer whose forces/minions the protagonist must defeat. The mind behind the conflict is a person they might not actually meet. How the protagonist reacts internally to the threat posed by the machinations of those distant antagonists is the story.

Emotion makes the risk feel genuine to the reader, gives it life. To show great evil in genre fiction, we take that which is negative to an extreme and show the emotion of that experience.

I should say that while I do write some dark scenes, I don’t write horror, so I can’t speak to that, exactly. However, I can speak to the perception of corruption, and the evil humans are capable of that sometimes horrifies us.

For a reader, perception and imagination are everything. As children, what we infer from the visible evidence in a dark room after the lights have been turned out can be terrifying.

The formless monster that lurks in the corner terrifies us until we discover the truth—it is only several toys piled there and never put away.

As adults, what we infer from the visible evidence in a dark story can be equally terrifying. Thus, you can write dark scenes but don’t have to be utterly graphic.

No matter how right the cause, war is an evil that is difficult to make sympathetic and shouldn’t be. But sometimes, war, a faceless blob of evil, is the right villain for the narrative.

What single word (and its synonyms) can characterize our antagonist? An example is the word perversion. We tend to think of it as referring only to sexual deviancy, but it has many meanings and uses. Its synonyms are corruption, corruptness, debasement, debauchery, decadence, decadency, degeneracy, distortion.

We view the antagonist through the protagonist’s eyes, so coloring the enemy with a perception of perversion (distortion, corruption) drives home the evil they represent.

Someone—and I wish I could remember who—said a few years ago in a seminar that the author is the character’s attorney, not their judge.

This is an important distinction. Credible villains become evil for sympathetic reasons. They care intensely, obsessively about something or someone. It is our job to make those deeply held justifications the driving force behind their story.

scienceA true villain is motivated, logical in their reasoning, and is utterly convinced of their moral high ground. They are creatures of emotion and have a backstory. As the author and their lawyer, you must know what their narrative is if you want to increase the risk for the protagonist.

As always, the reader doesn’t need to wade through an info dump, but you, the author, need to know those details. Having this backstory to draw on will make your characters easier to flesh out.

But more importantly, you will know what is at stake for your antagonist and how much they are willing to sacrifice for it.

And every word you write detailing the enemy’s background and view of themselves counts toward your goal of 50,000 words by November 30th.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from Julian Lackland, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2020 Myrddin Publishing Group. Used by permission.

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Research and Development #amwriting

I love learning how other authors work. I recently watched a 2015 podcast, Adam Savage Interviews ‘The Martian’ Author Andy Weir – The Talking Room. This is a fabulous interview, where Andy explains his intense research for the bestseller, The Martian, and his writing process.

The MArtian Andy WeirAndy Weir is genuinely a nice person and is the best example of an inadvertent teacher that I’ve ever seen. This interview is a brilliant seminar on how to research and plot a book. He writes hard sci-fi with a heart, but the principles of creation are the same for any genre.

If you haven’t read The Martian, I have to say it is my favorite sci-fi novel of all time. DO PLEASE watch that interview—his method of writing and researching is genius.

Targeted research is crucial if you want your fiction to be plausible. Identify what you want to know, use the internet, ask an expert, and create a searchable file or database of information that backs up your assertions.

Once you establish the technological era you are writing in, you know what you need to research and how theoretical your narrative may need to be.

Here are some of my go-to sources of information. I’ve published this list before, but here it is again:

If you seek information about low-tech societies (the past):

My best source of information on low-tech agricultural (farm) life and culture comes from a book I found at a second-hand book store in Olympia in the mid-to-late-1980s. Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley is still available as a second-hand book and can be found on Amazon. This textbook was meticulously researched and illustrated by a historian who personally knew the people she wrote about.

I also discover a lot of information on how people once lived from the art found at Wikimedia Commons. Under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830), you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters, artists living in what is now The Netherlands.

These painters created accurate records of ordinary people going about everyday life. Their genre art depicts how they dressed and what was important to them in their daily lives.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to bookmark in general:

www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)

Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)

Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

oxford_dictionaryTED Talks are a fantastic resource for information on current and cutting-edge technology.

ZDNet Innovation is an excellent source of existing tech and future tech that may become current in 25 years.

Tech Times is also a great source of ideas.

Nerds on Earth is a source of valuable information about swords and how they were used historically.

If you are writing a contemporary novel, you need to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society. Go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Big Name Bookstore and peruse the many publications available to the reading public. You can find everything from mushroom hunting, to culinary, to survivalist, to organic gardening. If people are interested in it, there is a magazine for it. An incredible amount of information can be found in these publications.

We all agree that while the early pioneers of science fiction got so much of our modern reality right, they also got it wrong. So, we can only extrapolate how societies will look in the future by taking what we know is possible today and mixing it with a heavy dose of what we wish for.

SpaceX

NASA

Digital Trends

If you write sci-fi, you must read sci-fi as that is where the ideas are. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the era of classic science fiction is today’s current tech.

Ion drives and space stations are our reality but were only a dream when science fiction was in its infancy.

Think about it: your Star Trek communicator is never far from your side, and your teenagers won’t put theirs down long enough to eat dinner.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapMAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world, your characters will be traveling in places that exist in reality. You want to write the landmarks of a particular city as they should be, so bookmark google maps for that city. Even if you live there, make sure you write it correctly because readers will let you know where you have gone wrong.

GOOGLE EARTH is your friend, so use it!

If you are writing about a fantasy world, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

Please, make sure your literary murders are done in a way that doesn’t fly in the face of logic. Do the research on poisons, knife wounds, and consider all the possible reasons why that particular murder wouldn’t work in reality. Then write a murder that does work.

Talk to police, talk to doctors, talk to lawyers–many are willing to help you with your quest for accuracy about their professions. Also, you can Google just about anything. Fads, fashion, phone tech, current robotics tech, automobile tech—it’s all out there.

We may be writers of fiction, but we are also disseminators of information and dreams. It’s a big responsibility!

Do the proper research, target it to your needs, and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the many bunny trails that lead you away from actually writing.

 

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About foreshadowing #amwriting

Today marks the halfway point for NaNoWriMo 2021. Many writers are working on the first draft of a new manuscript. Others are revising last year’s novel and rearranging the story’s events and writing new scenes.

NaNoWriMoMemeForeshadowing is integral to a well-plotted story.

Those of us who have been working from an outline may have included some in the planning stage. For authors who wing it, this happens on a subconscious level, but it does happen.

But what is foreshadowing? It is the subtle warning that all is not what it seems, a few clues embedded in the first quarter of the story to subliminally alert the reader that things may not go well for the protagonist. We include small warning signs of future events, bait, if you will, to lure the reader and keep them reading.

In the first draft, we commit certain sins of craftsmanship, road signs for us to examine in the second draft:

  1. Clumsy foreshadowing, baldly stating what is going to happen later.
  2. Neglecting to foreshadow so that events arrive out of nowhere.

Recognizing those signals can be a challenge, but that is where writing craft comes into play.

When a possibility is briefly, almost offhandedly mentioned, but almost immediately overlooked or ignored by the protagonists, that is a form of foreshadowing.

Some readers will miss the suggested possibility just as the unsuspecting characters do. Other readers will guess what is going on.

If the narrative is well-written, readers will stick with it as they will want to see how it plays out.

We are subtle with foreshadowing because we want readers to feel surprised when all the pieces fall into place. We want to reward the reader with a moment when they can say, “I should have seen that coming.”

Now is an opportune time to hone our foreshadowing skills. This helps avoid using the clumsy Deus Ex Machina (pronounced: Day-us ex Mah-kee-nah) (God from the Machine) as a way to miraculously resolve an issue.

  • A Deus Ex Machina occurs when, toward the end of the narrative, an author inserts a new event, character, ability, or otherwise resolves a seemingly insoluble problem in a sudden, unexpected way.
  • Foreshadowing also helps us avoid the opposite ungainly device, the Diabolus Ex Machina (Demon from the machine). This is the bad guy’s counterpart.

When an author suddenly realizes the evil his character faces isn’t evil enough, we may see the sudden introduction of an unexpected new event, character, ability, or weapon. The intent is to ensure things suddenly get much worse for the protagonists, but it falls flat.

As a reader, I hate it when a character suddenly gets a new skill or knowledge without explanation. When this happens, it’s usually explained away as a Chekhov’s Skill.

A casual mention early on of the characters using or training that skill will resolve the situation. Without briefly foreshadowing that ability, the reader will assume the character doesn’t have it.

This is when the narrative becomes unbelievable.

Literature and the expectations of the reader are like everything else. Tastes evolve and change over the centuries.

In genre fiction today, a prologue may not be a place for foreshadowing. This is because modern readers don’t have the patience to wade through large chunks of exposition dumped in the first pages of a novel.

DickseeRomeoandJulietI often refer to the way that Shakespeare used both exposition and foreshadowing. In his works, more significant events are foreshadowed through the smaller events that precede them.

Let’s look at Romeo and Juliet and the scene where Benvolio tries to talk Romeo out of his infatuation with Rosaline.

“Take thou some new infection to thy eye,

And the rank poison of the old will die.” 

In other words, “Bro, the minute you see a different girl, you’ll forget this one.”

Benvolio’s advice proves correct because as soon as Romeo lays eyes on Juliet, he forgets his obsession with Rosaline and is fixated on his mortal enemy’s daughter.

And again, later, when Benvolio brings the news that Mercutio is dead, Romeo says,

“This day’s black fate on more days doth depend; 

This but begins the woe, others must end.”

Romeo predicts that Mercutio’s death is only the beginning, that disaster looms for everyone. He feels as if he is racing toward an unknown future.

William_Shakespeare_-_First_Folio_1623In that moment, we see that Romeo is deeply aware that he has reached a point of no return.

He will fight Tybalt to avenge Mercutio because his society requires it. Therefore, he must duel but is fully aware that killing Tybalt won’t resolve anything. Instead, the murder will only perpetuate the problem.

Romeo has seen the foreshadowing and knows he is no longer in control of his fate.

Inserting slight hints of what is to come into your narrative gives the protagonists an indication of where to go next.

It tantalizes a reader and keeps them turning the page, and that is our goal.


Credits and Attributions

Romeo and Juliet, by Frank Bernard Dicksee, 1884 Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

First Folio of William Shakespeare’s Plays, 1623 by William Shakespeare, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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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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Autumn, Industry News, and Week 1 of NaNoWriMo 2021 #amwriting

The terrible heat wave we Northwesterners suffered in June has given us one of the most colorful autumns we have had in many years. All last week, even the native trees were colorful. Usually, our native maples are relatively dull as compared to the non-native ornamentals.

MyWritingLife2021My euonymus alata compacta, AKA Burning Bush, was glorious this year. That is a non-native shrub, but wow! The hedge really brightened up the yard.

Our magnolia tree even bore two fruits this year, which it never has done before. We planted the tiny sprouts in containers, hoping maybe they would grow. Who knows, we might end up with two more trees.

In industry news, Publishers Weekly reports that with most categories posting increases, sales at the 1,158 publishers that report results to the Association of American Publishers’ StatShot program rose 6.9% in July over July 2020.

They also said that Amazon’s growth has slowed to 15% in the third quarter of 2021. At the same time, Hachette Book Group’s third-quarter sales dropped by 9%. I find that interesting, as it says that with the pandemic easing, people are making less time for reading. Amazon sells far more than books, while HBG’s focus is on printing and selling paper books.

I ran across an older article in the HuffPost yesterday that still has merit: Traditional Journalism is Dying: Why the Publishing Industry Must Adapt to Survive | HuffPost Impact.

Apparently, short attention spans are still affecting that side of the industry. If people don’t have the patience to read a short article—

euonymous burning bushWhere was I? Oh, yes. Today (Wednesday) is the third day of NaNoWriMo2021. I am managing to get all the clerical work for my region done and keep a path cleared through my home. Monitoring the Discord channel for my region has been a bit distracting. However, I still have the time to get a respectable amount of work done on my new book.

At the time of this writing, the plumbing is still a problem on the homefront, but that is closer to being worked on. More on that debacle later when I have at least an answer and an estimated cost.

This year having an outline has been a real bonus. With my home in plumbing hell, having the outline for reference keeps me focused on the story.

Today, my goal is to finish fleshing out the Antagonist’s backstory. When that is finished, I will move on to the inciting incident.

My novel is not a book at this stage, and it won’t be until sometime in January. But I hope to have the entire story arc written and ready to flesh out by the 30th of this month.

I learned early on that even with an outline, this first draft is my “thinking draft.” It will be a combination of backstory and brilliance. In January, the weeding will begin. Hopefully, I will be in the editing stage by next November, just as I am now with last year’s NaNoWriMo novel.

So that is the news from the Command Corner at Casa Del Jasperson. Happy writing!

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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 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

#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 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

#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 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

#NaNoPrep: Signing up and Getting Started

#NaNoPrep: Guernica, Inspiration, and Finding Writing Prompts

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