One week until NaNoWriMo, guys.
One week until NaNo!
*Throws confetti and runs around in circles*
Second only to Halloween, NaNoWriMo is my favorite time of the year. Also my most stressful. Also my most angsty and delirious. I started participating in NaNo back in 2007, making this my 8th year in a row to write a novel in a month. The new website design also added a helpful little counter to my profile, which tells me I wrote over half a million words while participating these past Novembers.
Yeah, I’m pretty stoked about that. The true count for all my years writing is far up into the millions by this point, but it’s cool to see an actual recorded tally, even if for only a small percentage.
But back on point: NaNoWriMo starts at midnight in one week, and I am so ready for it. These past few weeks I’ve been doing dry runs to practice hitting higher words counts. On average I write about 1000-2000 words a day. That’s been significantly lower the last month since starting my new job, but I’ve dedicated my weekends to stretching those writing muscles and seeing how far I can push to make up for that.
I did a live tweet sequence a couple weeks ago setting my intended goal at 10,000 words in a day. Which, that’s hard but I’ve done that several times in the past for NaNo, and I like to push my limits. I clocked in at around 3400. For my first try I’m pretty happy with that result, even if I did struggle for the entire day and didn’t get anywhere near 1000 for the rest of the week.
So, with NaNo only a week away, I am going to dive into writing prep. For me, that means making outlines, sketching scenes, creating a NaNo specific document, setting daily goals with reminders, and planning my Essential Writerly Survival Kit.
So far the Kit only has Cheezits and Andes Mints. Don’t judge me.
Are you or anyone you know taking part in this crazy writing challenge? What is your game plan? And, most importantly, what do you stock in your Essential Writerly Survival Kit?
A great lesson I’ve learned through my writing is that I don’t have to write anything I don’t want to. It’s my story, my characters, and if I find that I’m bored with what I’m trying to write, that’s my cue to step back and reevaluate what is going on in the story because something is wrong. My excitement is key to pulling off the entire thing, like a one-woman heist. Only instead of jewels or Cayman bank accounts, I want to steal the reader’s attention.
That’s actually probably harder than a jewel heist.
To keep someone’s attention the story has to move. Stuff has to happen. Characters need to engage their world with agency. There can be introspective downtime, of course. In fact, the readers will need that now and then to process what is going on in the story, and so do you, but you shouldn’t stay there. Once the introspection is complete, it’s time to move again. Stagnation leads to dead fish and bored readers who abandon the story in favor of something else.
In my last post, I talked about moving the story forward by having the character reach out and touch the world, by making choices and following through with them. The other side of the coin is where the world reaches out to touch back. And by world I mean everything but your character, and by touch I mean royally screw up their day and plans. And possibly attempt to murder them, because what’s more exciting than that, right?
Interaction with the surrounding environment (actual environment, people, society, what have you) adds another layer of problems your character must deal with, because all sorts of possibilities arise and complicate the space between them and what they want. Your character should not exist in a vacuum. They have to come into contact with some outside force, preferably more than one, to keep them on their toes and the reader glued to the page to find out what happens next. If the storm doesn’t kill your character, it might be the forest. If not the forest, then it’s the bears. If it’s not the bears, it’s the bear traps. If it’s not the bear traps, it’s the illegal poachers looking to keep their profession secret so don’t count on them helping you out of your predicament. And if not the poachers, then it’s the gangrene breeding in that cut you got during the storm and ignored through the forest, the bears, the bear traps, and the scary backwoods poachers who want your head on a stake.
Outside conflict introduces friction and tension into the narrative and works against the character’s inner desires and plans. How will they deal with the problem? Will they overcome, or succumb?
Exciting, exciting stuff.
When writing Count Your Crows, I wrote and rewrote the first chapter so many times I have close to 50,000 words total languishing in a folder labeled CUT SCENES. Every one of them took me only so far and then lost their luster. I realized (eventually) that I was putting off what I wanted to write for later, and trying to shape the beginning into something more…I guess professional looking? I already had plans to publish it, so I got ahead of myself and was expecting perfection in a draft, as well as subconsciously comparing unpolished story to rigorously edited final versions of other people’s work. My expectations got me scared and I tried to play it safe with where the story went, what the characters did, which made me bored. When I figured out what I was doing I decided to say, fuck that noise, and started from scratch with the scene I was most looking forward to.
I stuck my character up a tree and trapped her there with a pack of hungry chupacabra below.
And it worked out awesomely. I finished a chapter I was proud of and the story took off in a direction that was thrilling and prompted me to show up at the keyboard every day until the whole thing was done. By shifting focus to have my character’s initial decisions meet the resistance of the world around her I created some pretty fun clusterfucks. I also learned that imposing an expectation on a draft at the expense of the story was holding me back, not just here, but with other stories, as well.
Overall, re-educating myself to first and foremost have fun, and second to write selfishly, not only made the act of creation entertaining for me, it drew out a more authentic story and character. Stories, after all, are not any one thing. They come in all kinds of packages and formats. They can be as short as three words or as long as a million. You can write from one POV or many. You can do it as poetry, as song, in traditional books or digital. You can write it all at once or in increments, write it from the middle out or from end to beginning. There is no limit to what kind of character and human, or non-human, experience you write. Just so long as it’s entertaining and you enjoy it. Because you, you are the first reader. Before it finds its way into anyone else’s hands, your story must first entertain you.
So go. Get excited. Throw out what isn’t working and write what does, no matter how crazy it feels, or unprofessional, or different. Write your story in a way that keeps you interested.
Because, honestly? You’re the only one who can.
So. I woke up this morning and checked my Tumblr like I always do before I get to work and saw this lovely morning destroying gem: http://www.isfanficlegal.com/post/116301992754/update-below-weve-been-getting-pings-and-s
Basically, the site Ebooks Tree snatched a bunch of stories from Archive of Our Own, turned them into download files, and put them up on third party sites without the authors’ consent or permission. If you find yours and try to look at the downloads, or the comments readers have made on those third party sites, you have to register and provide credit card info.
I checked the site and, yep, indeed, one of my old fanfic works is on there.
Really? Fucking really?
This is bullshit and I’m not in the mood to deal with this kind of asshattery. It’s a violation, and damn disgusting. I’ve already sent the recommended DCMA notices to the sites listed. They didn’t steal any of my original works, at least not that I’ve been able to find.
So, if you have posted any kind of fiction, original or fan, on Archive or other sites, I recommend checking Ebooks Tree to see if yours has been stolen. Keep an eye on Tumblr blog http://www.isfanficlegal.com/ for any further updates or info on the situation.
I’ll post teasers for my upcoming book later. Right now I need a cheeseburger and something with sugar to help soothe the savage murder feels I’m experiencing right now.
I’m disappointed in myself that I haven’t been updating my Doneness status like I said I would, but I have been working to further it every day, so I’m still succeeding in the completion process, all told. I’ve officially switched the story I started writing this month, and though that happened mid-month I’m about a third of the way finished with it. So far I have a little more than 10,000 words written, so, yay me! *throws confetti*
I haven’t run into nearly as many writing blocks with this story as I have the original, so I’m thinking I can probably pound out another 20k by month’s end if I keep at it. That will give me the complete manuscript I need to go into February as an editing monster and I can’t wait. I love the editing process. Instead of stretching my brain trying to create I can work with what’s already there and make it better.
As for the story itself, I’m keeping momentum by not writing boring stuff. Which, you know, kind of sounds like an obvious tactic when writing a story, but I have a habit about getting bogged down in something that no longer works and, thus, becomes nothing more than a steaming gray pile of word vomit. Which sucks on so many levels, though I’m sure it’s something all of you have dealt with at one time or another. Given the time crunch I’ve set for myself, I sit down at the computer and write only the interesting stuff I have floating around in my brain. The few time’s it’s started to get boring (no matter how ‘vital’ I thought that scene might be), I backtracked and went on to the next Big Cool Thing. It’s a constant thing to remind myself that I can always go back and insert any important information later, when I have a finished mass to work with, but now is not the time. Now is the time to dump everything on the ground and create connecting piles. Editing will be the time to make the piles and the connections make sense.
So many habits and tricks to learn, even though I’ve been writing stories for as long as I could use the alphabet. There truly is always something new to learn.
I’m still plugging away at the blog, too. Any waking hours not used for the story are dedicated to getting my posts out on Twitter and writing new content every day for the blog. I’m also crafting the bones of several writing ebooks, although I don’t have anything definite written on those yet. One thing at a time, I tell myself.
Besides writing, I have to share the most hilarious thing that’s happened. My Mom’s cousin had a birthday a week or so ago and wanted to go to dinner and a movie. The movie she chose was Into The Woods. Now, I will say upfront that I had no idea what it was really about. I did not know it was a musical. Even the Cousin didn’t, and said the previews made it look like something akin to Once Upon a Time, so she was all for seeing it.
Now, I have nothing against musicals, but they are something I have to be in the mood for. I really wasn’t in that kind of a mood that night, at least not at first. But then I started having fun watching it, and catching all the funny little innuendos lurking among the lyrics. And then came that one scene. This one, in fact, which is here in it’s glorious, ridiculous entirety:
This barely started playing and the entire theater exploded with raucous laughter. Well, half of the theater did. The women in the audience were doing their best to remember how to breathe and the men in the audience were caught between abject horror, questioning all the life choices they’d made that brought them to that particular moment in time, or pretending they didn’t exist, and neither did the peacock posturing on screen. I really though Random Theater Lady, who sat in front of me, was going to need medical attention. Her husband, on the other hand, spent most of the movie with his face in his hands. Pretty sure he was muttering ‘why me?’ as well.
At the end of the Agony scene the theater started to go quiet, the laughter dying off into muted wheezing and muffled tears of joy. Then the Cousin belted out, ‘Encore!’ and the theater lost any semblance of dignity they were trying to reclaim. To be honest, I can’t really tell you what happened after that. The rest of the movie was a blur, except for the comments made by the group I was with, which sent us all into peals of face reddening laughter.
On our way out of the theater at the credits, Random Theater Lady was in front of us. I heard her tell her husband, “I can never look at Captain Kirk the same way again.”
Me either, Random Theater Lady, me either. That was one final frontier I never figured he’d traverse, but he did, and evidence exists, so I think the world is now a slightly brighter place.
That’s really all I have to update on. Besides the snow, which we got a ton of the night before last. The Mom and I aren’t planning to leave the house until it leaves first, so our days are spent snuggled up in blankets, wrestling with our brains and our computers, and glaring at the nasty white stuff just lounging about on the lawn and threatening to blind us with it’s bright glare in the noonday sun. I don’t know if it’s apparent, but I’m really not a winter person.
Now I’m off to work on the story and the next blog post. Shooting for 5k words with a glimmer of hope that I can push on to 10k. I really want to dive into editing this sucker.
What, exactly, makes a good story? Is it a strong cast of characters people can relate to and root for? Is it strong prose that transports the reader to another world? Is it a plot so exciting and twisty it could qualify among the top death defying roller coasters in the history of ever?
No, it’s something more simple than all that (though those points also play a part in making a good story). The two things that are key to a good story are the Question and the Answer.
At its very basic level, a story begins with a burning question.
Will Frodo succeed in destroying the Ring? Will Thomas find a way out of the maze? Will Harry defeat Voldemort? And so on and so forth. That’s the basis of your beginning. The ending, therefore, is the answer to the question asked in chapter one.
Sounds simple, yeah? Sometimes it is, but oftentimes it takes a while before you figure out what your question is, much less your answer. If I don’t know what my story is asking, I spend a lot of time writing useless junk. While this can be good for getting the junk out of my head it doesn’t save any time or headaches when writing on a deadline or actually finishing a project.
1. First and foremost, take a look at your main character/s. What do they want? What do they need? What is driving them?
2. Consider the world you’re characters are in. What’s going on at a local level? A state/providence/whatever level? A national/kingdom level? A galactic level, if you wanna explore off world?These social environments can easily pose the question you need.
3. Your supporting cast. What do they need and want, what are they willing to do to get it, and how does that affect your main character/s?
Once you have some of that sketched out it’s easy to get lost in the sheer amount of options you now have. Pick the most interesting one out of the bunch, the one that has you slobbering and straining to get to the keyboard and work on. That will be your main question (you can layer in other questions as sub plots, but that’s a post for another time).
Now, to find your answer.
Yes, Frodo destroys the ring, but it costs him almost everything. Yes, Thomas finds a way out of the maze, but then into something much worse. Yes, Harry defeats Voldemort, but it takes a civil war and many deaths.
And the answer doesn’t always have to be yes. In Game of Thrones, Ned Stark sets out to expose the corruption hovering around the king and almost succeeds, but his sense of honor trips him up and gets him killed before he can accomplish that. In essence, it’s worth a good long brainstorm to figure out what kind of answer to pair with your question. Shake it up. See what kind of interesting twists you can put on it.
Once you have both question and answer, my advice is to put them up on a wall where you can look at them regularly. This helps reaffirm what your story is about and where it is going by keeping the core elements in the forefront of your mind. If the question and answer change, change the copy on the wall. Don’t try to keep it all in your head, there’s no need to make writing any harder than it already is.
Do you have any tips or methods you use in finding the core Q&A of your story? If so, share them in the comments!
A couple more resources:
Hey all! Long time, no see. Sorry about that. Work took a sudden turn in a spiralling roller coaster of disaster and horror and I’ve been stuck working 12 and 13 hour days for the past month. Not fun except when I finally get the paycheck, and definitely not conductive for trying to blog as well as write. Writing won out in the end, that keeps me more sane, but now I am back! Hooray!
Anyway, here is to getting back on track writing wise. *lifts tequila*
Every writer has an origin story, just like a superhero, or a grand villain, depending on where you fall in the spectrum of things. Some start young, some not so young, but if you think about your journey I’m sure you can retrace it back to a single or series of events that flicked the writer lightbulb on in your head and you decided, hey, this is what I wanna do.
Mine happened in third grade.
See, I’ve been writing down and telling stories forever. I had a rapt audience in my little brother and our collection of barbies and G.I. Joes, but I never quite put together the fact that people wrote all the books in the library that I raided like a viking in England. Not until I met John R. Erickson.
John R. Erickson is the author of the Hank the Cowdog series, a children’s mystery series that centers around a cast of animal characters set on a Texas ranch. The library in town had all of those books in prominent display because, while it’s an awesome series, the author is also local to the area with his own ranch not even an hour from the tiny town I grew up in. I absolutely adored the series, not only because it was based in a locale I was intimately familiar with, but there were also audio cassettes of the books with strange and hilarious voices for all the characters. My brother and I played those tapes until they wore out, getting hours of fun from them on rainy days.
In third grade, my parents took me to some kind of event at the Perryton, TX museum. Even then I was a sucker for museums, archaeology, and anything having to do with history. It just so happened that Mr. Erickson was also there doing book signings. I wasn’t sure why he was writing his name in all those nice shiny books, and, indeed, was kind of worried since defacing books was right up there with dog-earing pages according to the librarian code of conduct.
That’s when Mom told me he wasn’t going to get in trouble. “He’s the author.”
Author. A word I’d often heard but never understood the meaning. Mom explained. “He’s the one that writes the books you like. He also reads the audiobooks and does the voices.”
The lightbulb that went off in my head at that moment was more akin to a crack of lightning glancing off the curvature of my cranium. He wrote the books I loved. He was a person telling stories.
I was a person and told my own stories, too.
After that walking into the library was like entering an entirely different world. I saw all the books on the shelves and ran my fingers over the names of the authors and thought, these are written by people. Just like me. I’d been telling and writing little stories of my own since I could talk and write, but I never made the connection. Once I did, I knew deep inside my little third grade heart that a writer was what I wanted to be, first and foremost and for always.
And I’ve been doing that ever since.
So, you. What’s your writerly origin story?