NaNoWriMo Prep: The Final Countdown

This is is, folks.  The last day before the madness, before the explosions of creativity, before you lose yourself to the stories already eating up your minds.

It’s time to make sure you have everything you could possibly need before NaNo begins.  Lucky for you, I made my own handy-dandy check list so feel free to use it and change it as you see fit.

Story-wise:

  • Outline and notes, if needed
  • Reliable typing machine
  • Reliable backup software/method
  • Writing warm up routine
  • Ideas
  • Time (if you can’t make it, steal it)

Person-wise:

  • Snacks
  • Drinks
  • Comfy writing space
  • Comfy writing clothes
  • Rewards
  • Near-inhuman excitement

That’s it, folks.  That’s all I’ve got.  I wish you all the luck and creativity the multi-verse has to offer and here’s to seeing you on the other side.  Just remember:

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NaNoWriMo Prep: Easter Eggs

The best thing you can give yourself when writing is Easter eggs.

No, not the chocolate ones, although if you have any tucked away in the freezer then yes, by all means, definitely treat yourself at some point when you deserve it next month.

Every writer has certain things they adore writing.  Certain tropes or situations or events just get you all excited and ready to jump in the middle of it.  I absolutely love writing snappy dialogue between sarcastic characters.  I also absolutely love infusing history with fantastical elements, which is why I eat up genres like steampunk.

In my outlining process I’ve added a new series of cards to my ring with Easter egg ideas.  Now, I won’t be able to use all of them, I’m sure, but there’s quite a few promising ones that I’m sure will jumpstart my imagination and make me excited to spice up scenes as I work through them.

Writing isn’t always glamorous work, and it’s easy to fall into ruts, fixated on where you think the story should be headed, but have zero motivation to get it there.  I’ve learned that when that happens I have lost interest.  No one is going to want to finish a book where the writer isn’t excited about the material, it bleeds right through the paper.  So I monitor my attention span.  If I start drifting or searching out distractions then it’s time to evaluate where the story is headed.

That’s time consuming work, and not productive when you’re in the middle of NaNo.  I take an afternoon or so and daydream about all the things that excite me to read and write.  How many of them will fit into a story?  It’s always more than I think.  So I put them on my notecards and stick them in the outline where they seem to fit.  This November as I work my way through the outline I’ll have plenty of prompts and inspiration to keep the momentum going.

When the goal is 50k you need a lot of steady momentum.  It’s not worth pushing through unless you’re writing what you love.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Word Count

I am not a runner.  I am not a jogger.  I’m not even a power walker unless I am in a grocery store trying to get what I need and get out because there are too many people and I am peopled the hell out.  Which is, like, always, and also why I prefer human contact through a computer screen, but that’s neither here nor there.

In order to run or jog it’s important to warm up and practice before doing a marathon, otherwise, you run the risk of doing yourself serious damage.  Writing is no different.  You may be sitting in one place, but your fingers and your mind sure aren’t.  So October is a great month to warm up to the word count you want to accomplish during November.

A good method that I like is word sprints.  The NaNo boards have great threads for this where you can check in with other people who are doing the same thing and they can offer encouragement and camaraderie.  If you aren’t used to writing much start off with 200 – 300 words.  Find a prompt that sparks something for you.  Or, if you prefer, write to a time limit, like 15 minutes.  If you can, keep going, if not take a break and then do it again in ten minutes or so.  Carve out a little time a couple times a day to practice sprinting.  That will train your fingers and your brain to take off and go, and you can build up your endurance along the way.

I write year round, but I also write inconsistently.  Due to day job constraints, health, and real life with all its un-lovely curveballs, I may go a couple weeks or a month without writing much.  Other times I may work steadily for weeks.  That comes with its own price tag, namely stiff fingers and sore wrists, as well as mental exhaustion.  This fall I have been making myself work nearly every day on my writing, though much of that has been revision and editing, which require different warm-ups than straight writing.  That consistency has helped better me by training my mind to get into focus when I need it, rather than when it feels like it.

I’ve found my Novembers tend to start off explosive because I’m excited and ready to create, but if I haven’t warmed up properly beforehand I tend to slack off around the middle of the month and then struggle to catch up by the end.  I’ve always managed to by sheer force of will and absolute pig-headedness, but that’s not a good habit to stick with.  It doesn’t help me outside of November, and it doesn’t better my work ethic.

With seven days left until NaNo starts, there’s really no better time to start practicing so you’re ready to take off from the start line and keep yourself on track all the way to the finish.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Characters

I debated on whether or not to do a post about characters for my NaNo prep since every writer and all their imaginary friends have written blog posts on creating characters, but I decided to do one anyway.  Because I honestly love talking about characters and all their many layers, so why not?

I usually don’t set out to create a new character unless I need a side or supporting character to perform a necessary function.  My main characters tend to find me, so it’s just the rest of the cast that I struggle to sketch in as I expand the world and the storyline.  Sometimes the side characters become more important than I intended, sometimes they just fill the role I needed.  I don’t try to predict which one will happen, but I use the same method to create them.

I start with a name.  My go-to site is behindthename.com, and it is a treasure trove of names and meanings as well as links to its sister surname site, a highly customizable name generator, and lists of name themes.  I decide what nationality I want the character to be if that will have any bearing on the story and then I go searching through that language link.  Sometimes I choose a name because of it’s meaning and how it pertains to the character, other times it’s whatever sounds right.  I like the name combinations to roll off the tongue.  If it’s a name that sounds easy for a parent to shout at a misbehaving child I find it’s usually easy to write out as well as read.

Once I have a name I jot down some initial details as to what they look like, where they’re from, what they are doing, how they serve the story, etc.  If the character ends up sticking around for any length of time I will then summarize a backstory just so I have a uniform set of details to expand from and to give the character more weight.

Every character on the page has to have a reason for being there, but they also have to have their own agenda.  One of my weak spots is not fully shaping a side character who ends up being a wooden puppet feeding the main character ideas and lines without any other purpose, and I work hard to fix it in my revisions.  I’m learning that if I do the homework as soon as I know I need a new character then the story itself doesn’t snag on the flat new presence.

Also, if I do that homework well enough, and the character ends up not working for their intended purpose, I then have a decent character I can save back for something else whether it be a different part of the same story or maybe a new story of their own if they’re interesting enough.  No work you do on your writing is ever wasted.  Everything can be repurposed.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Outlining

I never used to be an outliner.  The most I probably did was sketch out a couple vague scenes I really wanted to write and figure out my main characters before I started NaNo or any project.  But after 11 years of doing NaNo and about 20 years writing total, I’ve got to admit that not having an outline screws me every time.

I get distracted.  I get bored.  I get stuck.   Those guys are the wretches and goblins that work so hard to keep me from achieving my goals.  So instead of getting overwhelmed by them, I’ve started to fight back with an outline.

Honestly, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize that’s what I need.  I use an outline at work all the time.  That one tends to be a running list of things that need to be done during my eight-hour shift, but it’s an outline none the less and it keeps me on track when phone calls, customers, and unexpected side missions happen.  Because they always happen.

So, my outlining method is pretty malleable.  I’m still figuring out what works because each project has different needs and so do I on different days.

This NaNo I am using a note card ring for a lot of my outlining, you’ll remember this picture from my last post:

I’ve been getting my note cards written out and in order, and so far this is what I have for each chapter:

  • Complete list of characters
  • Complete list of places
  • Short background bio on each character
  • Defining characteristics of locations, history tidbits tied to it, etc.
  • General summary of each chapter
  • Key scenes
  • Emotional journey in the chapter
  • Information on key objects pertaining to chapter events

This is enough to give me an idea of where I’m going in each chapter, and I add as little or as much information to each thing as I feel I need.  I like to have some room to improvise if the mood strikes me, but I also need a general line of sight to keep my goal in view to avoid following tangents into the wild blue yonder.

I also did note cards for the following:

  • Defining events
  • Twists
  • Theme
  • Histories and world building notes
  • Checks and balances
  • Beginning, Middle, End
  • Overall summary

Out of all these, I think the checks and balances cards are the most important for me.  My world has magic so I need clear rules of what magic can do and what it can’t do so I don’t stray off into the realm of Deux ex Machina midway through November.  The second most important would be the Beginning, Middle, and End, which gives a framework to where the story is actually going.

I don’t treat any of my note cards as written in stone unless it’s a fundamental foundation of my worldbuilding.  I keep myself open to inspiration and allow certain changes during the writing process because sometimes the best ideas happen when you’re in the thick of it all.  Outlines are more guidelines, after all.

NaNoWriMo Prep Time

Another year, another October and you know what that means: National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us!  Every year writers all around the world flock to nanowrimo.org to participate in the 50k word event during the month of November.  This will be my 11th year to participate and I wanted to kick off these last few weeks of October with some tips and tricks that I’ve tested out myself and found helpful.

With two and a half weeks left until the starting gate there is still plenty of time to get ready for NaNo whether you’re starting on something fresh or, like me, using it to finish something you’re already working on.

For this post I wanted to share some of the tools and methods I use for bare basic prep.

First, I write all my material in Scrivener.  I like that program best because it gives me a ton of tools and options to customize every project I work on.  I also like the fact that I can break up a project into files and folders and rearrange at will without risking damage to the overall piece.  My typical template set up looks something like this:

Nothing too fancy, just the generic Novel With Parts template Scrivener comes with.  I will write myself notes on each chapter or scene on the note cards to keep them straight and start importing research from the web so I have all the info I need in one place and I’m not tempted to break during a writing session to look up the count of Jim Bowie’s nose hairs or what date the telegraph was invented.

I don’t personally utilize the Character and Places folders, though.  I found I need a more physical means of keeping those straight so I’ve made myself a note card ring:

I’ll put a hole punch through the top left hand corner and add to the ring as I get information written out.  I find it helpful to break from the computer during the planning stages because it cuts down on distractions and sometimes just the act of writing with a pen helps the ideas flow better.  I seem to retain the information I write down better as opposed to typing as well.

One of the last bits of prep I like to do is my goal setting.  I am capable of writing 2000 words a day as a baseline, but I know from experience that the first two weeks are crucial in getting as far ahead as I can so there is a word count cushion for the end of the month when things inevitably get crazy.  There are the holidays and mandatory family gatherings, of course, but also business at work that saps my energy and the occasional cold that loves to pop up when it’s least convinient.

So this year my goal is to write 5000 words every other day and strive for 10-12k on the weekends.  That would put me halfway done by the second week.  If that is a pace I can sustain then I will finish my 50k well before the month is over, leaving me free to either write more or take a break and then get into revision.

I haven’t set it up yet, but I am going to create a calendar with my goals penciled into each date and hang it on the wall next to my bed so I can see that goal whenever I need a boost or a reminder.  Reminders, with me, are key.  It’s easy to lose focus if I don’t define my steps.

Last, but not least, an encouragement.  I found this little wall banner on sale at a crafts store today and knew it was just perfect for me.  I hung it by the door across from my bed so I will see it every time I look up from my computer:

 

Stay tuned for more NaNoWriMo tips and remember, be epic in whatever you do.

Flash Fiction: The Burning Year

Prompt: Phoenix

Sometimes you can see the future coming at you with all the immensity of a train hurtling down the iron tracks without its conductor.  Steam and fire pour out of its mouth and it gains speed with every mile and you know, you just know, that you can’t move yourself an inch from its path.  It’s gonna hit you, and it’s gonna hurt, and there’s no way to prevent it.

Sometimes you can see the future coming down, but it’s not you it’s meant to hit, but the sister standing beside you who may see it, may not, and her boots are stood fast to the ground as if made from the bones of a mountain.  You know it’s gonna be a spectacular and horrible collision, the future and the girl like mountains, and you know that if she won’t move then you won’t either, because leaving her to her own destruction has never been your way of things.

It was that way when Helios came into our lives.  Dark eyes and sharp grins and just enough mean to make it through the world mostly whole, he and Fred were like each side of a mirror, maybe even cut from the splinters of the same dying star when their souls came to be.  He was drawn to her the moment he stepped foot in camp.  I heard Fred draw a harsh breath and whatever magic or chemistry or soul lay between them, she was caught from the very beginning.

I watched them exchange barbs and laughter and see the challenge light up in their hearts, and I heard the scream of that train in the distance.

Helios kept his past to himself.  That wasn’t so strange to us at first.  We were all of us coming or running from something painful we wanted to forget or make right.  Over time he mentioned a brother he loved and lost, and bits about an old woman who taught him how to throw a knife dead accurate.  He knew magic, but he said it was only a little, only enough to keep him safe in the wilds.

I didn’t believe him, but I had no cause to call him on it at the time.  Sometimes I wonder if I had…  But that’s no use.  That train was coming, I doubt any such action on my part could have turned it aside.

We moved camp to stay ahead of the Rangers and the Army, such as it was, and Fred fell more deeply in love with Helios and he with her every day.  They took to hunting together, coming back with their hair disheveled and their clothes in disarray.  I moved into Dove’s tent after a while.  There’s only so much of your sister you can share before you want to take a fork to your eyes.

Dove watched Fred and Helios, too, and his mouth slid deeper and deeper into frown.

“You’re getting too distracted,” Dove told her one day.  “Love is a fine thing, but it’s making you lazy and stupid.  You forgot three of the boundary wards last night.”

Dove could have worded it better, but I suppose it stung him something deep, seeing Fred go so completely wild for this stranger who did nothing more than walk into camp one day.  I cringed as Fred coiled over on herself and rose up like a kicked rattler.

I don’t remember exactly what Fred shouted back, but every word was laced with venom and she struck deep into every vulnerable soft spot Dove had left.  She’d have been kinder to bury a knife in his chest.  They both left steaming, and something broke between them that day.  They never did fix it.  They worked around each other from then on out, never directly speaking, but they kept any other arguments under the surface.

The damage was done, though.  In-fighting weakens any army, even one so small as ours.  The Rangers caught up to us in a box canyon and we had it out.  We lost nine under the fiery sun and left them in the sand where they fell.  We escaped only narrowly with the help of a sudden rain storm and a landslide that took the Rangers’ ponies.  We scraped our way to the high country and hid out for weeks subsisting on lizards, quail, and alkie water.

Four left us that night, preferring to go back to whatever was left of their families and tribes.  Fred, me, Helios, Dove, and the Cayburr cousins were all who stayed.  We still required vengeance or some sort of justice.  We decided to ride for Antelope Head Junction.  A risk, but we weren’t looking for a future beyond some kind of last stand against the coven alders responsible for our pain.

Helios started acting strange.  He withdrew some of his affection and volunteered for solo hunts and scouting.  It hurt Fred and she couldn’t see what she’d done wrong.  She tried to talk to him.  I would hear him brush it away with a smile and a trail of kisses.  He was just jumpy, and tired, and hungry.  He needed some time to himself.  It was some kind of anniversary, though I never heard what kind, that had him out of sorts.  Fred accepted it to his face, but she worried, and she chewed it over every time he left.

Then, two days before we reached Antelope Head Junction, the Rangers came upon us with three coven alders in tow.  They took us by surprise, and it was so much like that night at Turtle River it felt we’d been kicked in the teeth.  Within an hour we were trussed up tighter than a tangled net and set on our knees before the alders.

All except Helios.  He stood behind them, gun still in his holster.  One of the alders, a plump short man with gray robes and three gold rings pierced through his eyebrow that marked him as High Alder, gave Helios a wand.

“You more than earned it back.  To think, the infamous Granny Ness’ grandson finally brought to heel, and the legendary Sisters who burned Great Falls to ashes.  This is a momentous occasion.”

Maybe it was the late hour and the flickering torchlight, but Helios seemed pale in the face and all his usual charm and bravado had fled him.  He was sent away.

“You are cursed, Helios!  You betray your loyalty, you betray your friends, you betray your heart!  You will never rest in peace above the earth or inside it.  You will have a cluster of thorns in your side for the rest of your days and you will never love, never again, and never have the love of another for so long as I will it!”  Fred’s voice was the crack of a rifle across an empty plain, and her voice struck Helios dead center.

He looked back at her, just once, and then he rode away, unable to withstand her fury.

The Rangers and the Alders took us to Antelope Head and lined us up on the execution platform after the trial.  They took our boots and jackets and put the nooses around our necks.  People cheered for our deaths in the crowd below.  A few did not, but they raised no protest, nor staged attempt at rescue.

“I’m sorry,” Dove said as the mayor read out the charges for everyone to hear.  “I wish it had not been this way between us.  You both fought bravely for the cause.  Granny is smiling on us now.”

“When you see her, give her our love,” Fred said, her voice hoarse.

“You’re family, both of you.  Granny will be waiting for all of us at the docks to bear us over.”

The mayor finished the charges and signaled the executioner.

“It’s not our time to die,” I said as they sprung the lever.  I don’t know if he heard it as an apology or not, but in that moment I almost wished it was the end for us.

Later, Fred and I dug our way out of the loose grave dirt and rose, breathing, under the light of a half moon hidden behind a skein of clouds.  Dove was still buried, his grave marked with wood and a simple inscription of ‘Dove Traveller, Criminal’.

“What now?” I asked in a whisper as my throat healed from the severe wrenching.

“We finish what we started,” Fred said.  She knelt by Dove’s grave and placed a hand on the mound, head bowed.  “First the Alders.  Then Helios.  We right our wrongs and pay for them as needed.  Life is not ours to live until it’s all done.”

I put my hand out to help her up.  She took it.

Fred was never the same after that.  Neither was I, of course, but it was more subtle with me.  I remembered that night the story Granny told us of that mythical firebird that lived to the far east.  How it burned itself to ash and rose from it once more.  That night we both entered the fire and burned, fast and merciless, through the coven lands until we found those responsible for everything.  I make no apologies for it, though I know it made us no better than the alders themselves for killing all we held dear.  We made them fear the Sisters, we seared our agony and anger into every house, every fence post, and every field.

The smoke settled on our skin and wrapped its tendrils around our hearts to smolder beneath our ribs.  We hit hard and fast and disappeared into the dark, pulling the shadows around us like old friends.  We found the alders seven months later, and by then we’d broken the line of their ranches and freed the people they enslaved under false contracts.  The alders surrendered.  We hung them from their alter tree and watched the central stronghold burn until it turned the very sky dark.

We found Helios not long after.  He had taken shelter in an abandoned homestead where shredded curtains blew in the warm breeze and the door hung ajar by its bottom hinges.

Fred’s curse struck deeper than I could have predicted.  An infection had taken hold of him, leaving a track of dark lines to spider web his skin and cripple his strength.  It covered his side, his chest, and his back.  He had wandered, he said, delirious and weak, and no one would so much as look at him when he called for help.  They dodged from his grasping hands and closed their ears to his cries.  He burned while awake and he burned in his dreams.  All he saw was Fred on her knees, her eyes empty pits of flame, holding his heart in her hands.

He asked for mercy.

Part of Fred wanted to give it to him.  It was a small part, made brittle and frail by the fire.

She took his gun and wand.  She tied his horse to ours.

“I have to live with what you did for so much longer than you do.  You can suffer for as long as possible, it will never be long enough.”

We left him and ignored his shouting, his pleading.  It did not bring Fred any peace, but then, neither did killing the alders.  Peace is a thing of comfort and warmth.  Justice is cold and hard, but it opens the door of peace for others, for them who come long after and don’t have the wreckage of their lives still at their feet.

That year we burned and died and burned again.  We were reborn.  I can’t say yet what we were reborn as.  Maybe just older.  We still have to figure that out.  Until we do we have ashes and wreckage to sort through.  Then, later, see what we can rebuild.

Flash Fiction: Into the Abyss

“That’s just unnatural,” Taz muttered, eyeing the dark liquid inside the cup.  “What do you suppose it is?”

I tilted the cup around in my hand, so the liquid swirled around.  There was no way to see the bottom of the cup.  The liquid was thicker than water, but not so thick as molasses.  There was no reflection on it, either.  Just a tiny sheen of white as the setting sun light skimmed the edges.

“I would say coffee but even the sludge Mama used to make wasn’t like this.”

My heart twinged at the memory of Mama, but I pushed it aside.  Another day, I promised myself.  When all this crap was over I would let myself mourn.  Though, to be fair, there wasn’t much of a chance I’d live long enough for that.

“We have to make a decision,” Taz said.  “The sun is almost gone.  Do we want to take this chance?”

I swallowed against the sour taste in the back of my throat.

“Gonna have to.  No other way around it.”

“There’s always another way.”

Taz said it not to sway my decision, just as a reminder, but the sun was disappearing and the ash in the air clung to us like dirty snow.

“Yeah, but nothin’ we’d figure in time.”

Taz nodded, accepting and completely trusting.  I never used to question her faith in me.  I never had to, but that was before when I was a stupid child and taking things for granted was the way of things.  Taz didn’t have to be here.  She chose to be and chose to follow my lead, madness infecting my brain and all.

Before I could second guess myself, I upended the cup and drank half the strange liquid down.  It was cold, with a copper aftertaste and a squirmy sensation, like it was alive and worming its way into all my insides.  Taz took the cup as I gagged and finished it off.  She coughed and wiped her lips.  A dark smear went across her cheek.

Twilight fell on us and the world spun like a spindle, around and around.  The plains disappeared around us.  When it stopped we were back in that midnight desert, mountains shaped like sleeping giants in the distance and a set of footprints leading into the dark.

Writing, Behind The Scenes

Writers are not glamorous creatures.  I don’t know who started that particular rumor.

We can create entire species, countries, worlds, out of the gray squishy bits between our ears, sure.  We can bring characters to life with our imaginations, put them through hell, give them a chance at happiness, offer them roads of adventure and excitement that most people will never get a sniff of in their own lives.  We can understand and twist around the psyche to explore the hidden depths and drifts of the human mind.  We can even make people so invested in our creative ramblings that they forget the real world exists around them, if only for an hour or so.

But writers are not glamorous creatures.

Because while we are capable of doing everything listed above, we also find ourselves in certain situations most people are smart enough not to encounter.

Like leaving the house with your shirt on inside out (not even the first, second, or third time that’s happened) because you need coffee and coffee is across town and, honestly, most of you isn’t even present in your body because part of it is still in the dream from last night, another part is playing Fishdom puzzles, a slightly larger part is where you left off editing at 2am, and the rest of you can barely open your eyes because mornings are stupid and far too bright and 9am is waaaaay too early for functionality.

Writers are not glamorous creatures.  Sometimes it’s amazing we don’t set our houses on fire trying to make cereal.

Onward and upward and all that jazz

Editing time!  I wrote the last lines of the ending the other day, now it’s time to start cleaning house.  I have my fuel, my notebook, and in a minute I’ll start the cringe-worthy read through of my story collection.  The plan, as it stands now, is to do a full read from beginning to end and take extensive notes so I have a solid idea of what I’m up against before I go ripping into the meat of this strangely assembled beast.  I have a vague sense of missing character development in several parts, sudden character introductions at the end, and several missing KEY POINTS that were never set up.  So, figure out what needs axing, what just needs a prune, and what needs complete revision because I decided somewhere along the way to go completely off road and into the abyss.

It should be quite a wild ride.