Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Recovering From the NaNover

Another year, another NaNoWriMo gone by.

On the NaNo website it says that there were over 310,000 participants from all over the world (596 regions), though I’m curious as to how many crossed the finish line (if anyone can point me in that direction, please do). But even if someone wrote only 10,000 words, that’s still 10,000 more words that they didn’t have at beginning of the month. That’s something.

nano_13_winner_shirt_ladies_detail

I’m also curious as to how the process went for others and what they do once they’ve finished. Editing is certainly as personal a process as the writing part is.

This year was COMPLETELY different than when I wrote my first NaNoWriMo (INTERGALACTIC) novel two years ago. In 2011, I had been mulling the story and characters over for a few months, I had written an outline (what I call a sequence and beat sheet) and some brainstorming exercises around it all, I had wound myself up, started off with a bang, kept up a steady pace, and even finished early. I also had enough time to hang out in the forum and see how everyone else was doing.

This year I only had the seed of an idea (a location in space and time and 2 characters), had completed one brainstorming exercise, had a fuzzy direction with no sense of how the story would end, and I PANTSED it like crazy. I didn’t have much time early on, or in the middle, so with a week left to go I was still at 18,000 words. I wrote the last 32,000 in the final week. I didn’t have time to reread what I had written the previous day, just went for it. Also, the only contact I had with other NaNoWriMoers (NaNoWriMoists?) was on the @nanosprints twitter page where we encouraged each other to do things like write 1,000 words in 30 minutes.

Both times I was writing something out of my comfort zone. Trying on a new genre. In 2011 it was more plot-based genre fiction (a comedic YA sci fi), this time is was YA contemporary lit. Well, okay, I THOUGHT it was going to be magical realism, but it ended up more in the realm of “unreliable” narrator. The protagonist simply views the world differently than most folks and she’s a little mentally unstable. When it comes time to pitch it I think I’ll call it “The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Queer Girls.” Right now it’s called WINTERSPRING AND SUMMERFALL (although I’m thinking of changing that to Summerfall and Winterspring, whichever sounds better).

I am definitely more of a “planner” by nature when it comes to novel writing, though totally willing to go in new directions if inspired in the moment. I definitely let the magic happen during the creative process. The fascinating thing for me about “pantsing” it this year was that the story still emerged, even without the plan. It sprang from the ethers and I just had to trust. I had to let go of any expectations and just see where it took me.

One of my favourite aspects this time around was when a particular character emerged out of nowhere. A minor character (a gay teacher whose partner is dying from AIDS – this story takes place in the 80’s) turned up, who not only took the story in a wonderful new direction, he added drama, an ally for my protagonist, and a subplot that rounded out the story really magically at the end.

I keep saying that I have a “hot mess” on my hands, but I think when I finally read it (I’m setting it aside until my holiday break), it will be more cohesive than I believe it to be. That happens a lot to me and I have enough years of writing behind me for it to be so. Structure happens a bit intuitively for me due to my fabulous drill sergeant screenwriting instructors at the University of Washington.

So, how did you do? Did you pants it or plan it?

Are you going to give it a break or read it right away?

Set it aside to germinate or dive right into your edit?

And, most of all, what were some of your favourite magical moments?

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Filed under behind the scenes, do something different, Intergalactic, NaNoWriMo, novel adventures, Pantsing, Rewriting, YA literature

Weekend Workout: How To Be

Just because it’s NaNo month and I’m on Team Pantser this year, doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing my long-hand exercises. I’m sure a lot of people (especially Pantsers) type everything straight into their computer. During NaNo month, far more of my first draft definitely happens through my keyboard. But, I almost always warm up with a hand-written exercise and when I get stuck, I always reach for a pen. Writing by hand, for me, opens me up creatively,  frees my ideas, my blocks, and my editor.

Whether you are participating in the NaNoWriMo this month or not (and cheers to you if you are), I’ve cooked up a little exercise that you might find helpful at some point when developing a character.

A few weeks ago, the students in one of my classes read How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor. A sweet middle grade story about a girl who must live in a car with her mother and brother after their father leaves them with no money and they are evicted from their apartment. Her mother is working two low-wage jobs in order to come up with rent and deposit for a new place. The girl decides she’s going to help her mother raise money by stealing a dog. She’ll wait for the owner to post a reward and then bring the dog back for the reward.

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I didn’t find anything particularly surprising or eye-opening about the story, but I did like the concept, the characters, and the voice. I think voice is one of those things that’s difficult to teach, and even to explain to writers, but you kinda know it when you see it.

In the book, the main character creates a list of instructions in her journal on how to steal a dog. The assignment I gave to my students after they read the book was to write their own instruction list for something in the form of a poem, vignette, or short story (for example, one wrote instructions for “How to Make Someone Uncomfortable When You Pass them on the Sidewalk ).

It was a great exercise, so I decided to use it another way. What if the character in your story wasn’t giving someone instructions  on how to DO something, but how to BE something. What about how to be them? This might be a great way not only to develop voice, but backstory, motivation, wound, etc. In other words: character.

YOUR WORKOUT

Set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Put your character in a place (so we know who her audience is): a psych ward, the waiting room of a dentist office, an auditorium, school lunchroom, or maybe just home in bed writing in her diary.

Your start line is: To be me, you have to…

Write without stopping and see where that takes you.

Don’t edit, cross out, or re-read while you write. Keep the pen moving!

If you like the exercise, try it again with another character.

And have a great weekend!

NaNo NaNo!

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

NaNoWriMo 2013: Team Pantser

Every year during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the discussion of “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of his or  her pants) vs. “Planner” (one who outlines in advance) pops up. For the past two years I’ve been boldly promoting the “Planner'” approach:

https://theaccidentalnovelist.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/weekend-workout-prepping-fo-nano-or-not/

Reading that post, I sound very convinced and quite smug. Really, there is no one way or best way to write a novel, there’s just the way that works for you. And this year, I’ve joined Team Pantser. Not necessarily because I’ve seen the light, but because I’m being forced to for lack of planning time. As a matter of fact, I can’t even begin until Nov 4, so I’m going to have to haul literary ass to catch up.

gizem vural

artwork by gizem viral

I was inspired by a recent discussion on this topic on a speculative fiction writers forum, and we heard from a few pantsers. There’s definitely something to be said for just going for it.

Jennifer (J.R.) Johnson wrote:

I spend no time outlining or researching. For me, the key to success is to achieve and maintain words-on-the-page momentum, and stopping to check an outline or fact just slows me down. In fact, anything that pushes me out of the story slows me down and is therefore banned from November.

 

Normally my system involves coming up with a basic idea (ok, a character and a situation) pretty much the night before. November 1st rolls around and I start writing. In the evening I spend about five minutes wondering where the story is going, scribble down a few notes about the most outrageous developments I can think of, then go to bed. Rinse and repeat:)

 

If the writing is slow I know I’m boring myself, so it’s time to throw in something crazy like ninjas (or whatever the equivalent is in your particular story)…

 

I think the success of NaNoWriMo depends on using it to fix whatever has been stopping one from writing … the two big advantages for me were giving myself the daily deadline and forcing myself to keep moving forward rather than stopping to endlessly rewrite the same paragraph over and over again until finally making enough progress to realize the paragraph/scene doesn’t belong in the book….

 

I always start with a vague idea of where the book is going — I’ve usually had fragments of scenes, some characters in my head for awhile—and just launch into it . . . when things slow down, I try to throw something new at my protagonists to keep them hopping…

 

… But—and this is important— putting this pressure [of the NaNo]  on oneself shuts down internal critic, so images and plot twists and characters pop out of nowhere, things I couldn’t possibly force out of my subconscious if I allowed the boys downstairs a moment’s thought. So what happens is, in desperation to feed the wordcount, they hand anything brainstormed out the door, and some of it is way better than you get thinking about it. I often over think stuff and always over critical to the point of cutting off ideas before they have had a chance to develop into something workable. NaNoWriMo forces one to just go with it and see what works. So…that can often be very helpful
Now, if all this pansting talk has gotten you inspired and you want to join in, but you have NO IDEA what to write about. Sherry Ramsey sent along an article she posted on “random generators” to get you started:

Help for the NaNo Panicked Part One

As well, she has a slightly different version of my 50 First Lines exercise:

 

I’ve actually never used one of my 50 First Lines exercises to write a novel (though I’ve gotten several short stories from them), but why not? You have to start somewhere.

 

I wanted to add that doing that NaNo takes a bit of “pantsing” no matter how much you like to plan. You need that momentum in order to finish 50,000 words in one month. The editor is going to have to be left behind simply to finish. And I really like that aspect of it.

 

If you’ve never done the NaNo, it’s a pretty unique experience. And there’s more to participating in NaNoWriMo than simply writing an entire novel in a month, although that’s pretty cool. There’s also the community, the dialogue, the sense of purpose, and the support. Oh, and the fun.

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, Pantsing, writing life

Weekend Workout: More NaNo / Novel Prep

In two days I’ll be off on a 3 week book tour in the U.S. so my posts might be sporadic (or simply reruns). But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about you.

For those in preparation of NaNo, I’ve collected a few things for you:

From Bob Ray and Jack Remick’s Writing Blog: New Tips for the 2012 NaNo

This post covers setting, character, backstory, subplots, and structure. This is not just good advice for NaNo writers, it’s good advice for anyone starting any novel any time. And Bob and Jack have plenty of other exercises to keep you going for the entire month. This is an extremely helpful site for people working on novels run by two of the best writing instructors I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

And if that’s not enough, there’s an entire PAGE of NaNo Prep advice, exercises, and offers on the NaNo site itself. Again, there’s plenty of information here for those not participating, but going to the site might inspire you to do so. I know it inspired me last year.

I wish I had time to write a new post for you. But, I did pop over to last year’s NaNo Prep and found THIS POST about how I prepared. It’s part inspiration, part permission, part practical preparation.

And just for kicks and giggles, here’s my NaNo Day One: Don’t Panic! post from last year if you’ve never NaNo’d before.

Have a great weekend!

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Weekend Workout: Prepping fo NaNo (or not)

I still haven’t decided whether I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, which begins, according to the ticking clock on their website, in 19 days, 12 hours, and 42 minutes, and 30 seconds (29… 28… 27…)

Regardless of whether you are going for NaNo 2012, starting a new project, or editing an old, I cannot stress enough the fabulousness of the Sequence and Beat Sheet. It is both inspirational and practical. I used to be much more of a “pantser” when it came to writing, but being organized beforehand has done wonders for my writing process AND saved heartache while editing.

I posted about this last year before NaNo and wanted to do so again for those about to begin. So, pardon the repeat post, although it has been edited and updated.

THE SEQUENCE AND BEAT SHEET

Basically, this is a form of outline for a story. Because of my screenwriting background, I tend to think of stories in sequences, beats, scenes, etc. Studying screenwriting is extremely helpful when learning about story structure.

After I’ve done copious amounts of prewriting (i.e. I basically know what the story is about and where I want to go), I write my first Sequence and Beat Sheet.

SEQUENCES are series of scenes that act as mini-movies. They have a set up and pay off and end in a change in status quo. Large “reversals” and “reveals” can happen at the end of a sequence to make the story go in a new direction (extremely important if you want readers to keep reading).

Writing out the sequences breaks a story down into manageable “chunks.”  In novels, those chunks usually turn into chapters, although you don’t really have to worry about that just yet.

Beats are the smaller steps inside each sequence that get you from the beginning to the end. For example, in one sequence these might be your beats:

-Anna gets a horse for her birthday.
-She starts riding lessons and has natural talent.
-Anna’s father loses his job.
-Parents can’t afford to keep the horse, or the lessons, Anna devastated.

See the change in status quo? Anna started happy and optimistic, praised for her natural talent, the world is her oyster. Then, boom, no more horse, no more lessons, no more rosy future, and new tensions in the home.

The next sequence might be like this:

-Anna convinces parents to wait one more week before selling the horse.
-Anna gets a job at the stables to support her horse-riding.
-Anna falls from a loft and breaks her leg.
-She learns her leg will never heal properly without surgery, which they can’t afford. Good-bye horse-riding.

In this sequence, Anna goes from a new optimistic and rosy-future, only to crash even farther than the first time (also important for storytelling, intensify the complications as the story enfolds). These changes from the character getting closer to her goal, and then the goal being yanked from sight, are called “reversals.” This is how we empathize with characters – we want them to get their goal, and something gets in their way.

Sometimes I know exactly what’s going to happen in a sequence and my beats are more detailed. Other times I get to the middle of a sequence and I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I know something must happen, so I write something vague and add in some questions:

Anna makes an ally at the hospital (male/female? a love interest?)

For an even more detailed post about the Sequence Approach, CLICK HERE

art by Jose Manuel Merello, click for source

APPROACHING THE SEQUENCES AND BEAT SHEET

When writing out my sequences and beats, the first thing I think about is how the “status quo” is going to change at the end of the sequence, then I write out the beats it will take to get there. I also name my sequences (what is the mini story I am telling here?)

I use this Sequence and Beat sheet as an outline when writing the story, AND I rewrite it before I do my first big edit.

Here’s the second sequence of Intergalactic (the YA Sci Fi story I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year). This is the rewritten version, not my original.

SEQUENCE 2The Rethulan Gig
For this sequence, I wanted IdoLL to start nervous and impressed with the palatial quality of this venue, only for something major to go wrong so that the gig is a bust.

I came up with main beats for this sequence:

*IdoLL and the Intergalactics land on Rethula and meet the intimidating queen, who immediately dislikes IdoLL.
*IdoLL learns that she playing a private birthday party for the princess, and she’s not the main act.
*When they arrive at the venue, it is filled with children.
*An obnoxious mini-com call interrupts her tribute to Rethula.
*IdoLL storms out of the concert.

If I need more information, I sometimes go back and fill in a few details (bitty beats), to make sure that each scene has TENSION (as well as set up and foreshadowing). For instance, in the scene where she meets the queen – I added the following smaller beats:

*IdoLL meets the Rethulan Queen:
-IdoLL is uber-impressed with the palace and all the pomp and circumstance
-The Queen appears and has a creepy way of gliding on one foot.
-She mauls IdoLL’s face with her finger nodes to make sure IdoLL is “non infectious.”
-She throws IdoLL and her bandmates into a cell-slash-greenroom and won’t let them leave due to security reasons.

The character of IdoLL is a bit of a brat, so I wanted to create a sequence where we would sympathize with her, where she is devastated and we are devastated with her. There are bits of unexpected foreshadowing with the way the queen moves and her mauling IdoLL’s face with her finger nodes, which come to fruition later in the story when the princess stows away on IdoLL’s ship. Everything here is intentional and serves a purpose in the larger story.

handwritten Sequence and Beat Sheet

Does this sound like a lot of work? It can be. But when I’m writing the story,  I’m always SO glad I have my beat sheet to follow. Even if there are some blank spaces and vague ideas. I can always fill them in when I get to that sequence.

Let me know if you have any questions about any of this! And let me know if you try your own beat sheet and, if so, how it goes.

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Filed under behind the scenes, Intergalactic, NaNoWriMo, The Sequence Approach, weekend workout, writing exercises

NaNo Hangover Episode 3.5

I realized that I may have been a bit hasty recommending you all go for your rewrite without checking to see how much of your story needed to be rewritten! If it’s going to be quite the overhaul, I recommend you go back to an outline or, what I use, a sequence and beat sheet.

Don’t attempt one until you have done your This is a Story About exercise and can put your story into a logline. One or two sentences. If you can’t do that, you don’t know your story’s focus yet.

I cannot stress enough how helpful a sequence and beat sheet is. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of designing a novel prep class solely about creating one of these.  It’s your map, your guide, your blueprint.

HERE IS MY POST ABOUT WRITING A SEQUENCE AND BEAT SHEET

I mention changes in “status quo” in the above post. This can be a change in power, a solution that leads to a new mystery or change in plans, a mystery uncovered to reveal a new mystery underneath, a major setback, a traitorous act, or something else that turns up the “we’re in deep doo-doo” factor.

You must, must, must have these things to keep your story moving no matter what genre it is. And if you think of your story in chunks at the end of which is a change in status quo, you’ll find the plot practically writing itself (okay, maybe not, but that’s a nice idea).

Here are a few examples from my first novel:

SEQUENCE ONE: At the beginning I set up the status quo for the White Forest. The faeries live a pretty simple life, Brigitta’s friends are getting their wing changes before her, she is in charge of her pesky sister, her parents (and every other adult faerie) are in the middle of prepping for the Festival of the Elements. Poor Brigitta. At the end of this sequence, after we’ve learned about the forest and who she is, BOOM, a curse hits and her entire world is turned upside down. Change in status quo.

SEQUENCE TWO: It becomes more and more clear that Brigitta and her sister are the only ones untouched by the curse. They explore their forest to find every single faerie and beast turned to stone. They have no idea what to do and B is getting frustrated and scared. Then, when looking through her Auntie’s things, she remembers that there is one faerie left who was banished long ago. Their only choice is to leave the forest and find her. (change in status quo)

If your NaNo suffers from runaway plot, I highly recommend taking time out to do this.

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, Rewriting, The Sequence Approach, writing exercises

NaNo Hangover Episode 3

Okay, so you’ve printed your newborn, placed it in a lovely binder, hugged it, read it through (completely) with magic purple pen in hand . . . and had the following response:

a) Wow! I love this!
b) Wow! This is terrible!
c) No one will ever publish/read/enjoy this. I’m a hack.
d) I should not have quit my day job.
e) All of the above

Loving, hating, smiling, laughing, cringing, crying and especially combinations thereof are all natural responses to your new work. Heck, they are even natural responses three drafts into your work. But do know this – every day you sit down to work on your manuscript you make it a little bit better.

But, how to start? What next?

As I’ve said, unfortunately I can’t work on my NaNo story yet due to a strict deadline for Ruins of Noe. But I’ll tell you what I will do once I read my newborn, because I always start a rewrite the same way.

This is a story about . . .

I am a firm believer in timed and spontaneous writing exercises. For both poetry and prose and for various reasons.

For narrative fiction, it aids in the thinking/brainstorming process. It’s where ideas can be explored, baked, fertilized, broken in half, put into beakers, shaken and stirred with no pressure, because it’s just writing exercises. And within those exercises lie the answers. Trust me. You need to get out of your head.

This is a story about . . .  is my fallback exercise. I use it when I start a new project, start a new edit of said project, or if I haven’t written in a while. It’s dependable. It’s simple. It opens me up.

I have been using timed writing exercises since Mr. Bedecarre made us write them in my 8th grade journalism class. This is a story about I owe to Jack Remick, Bob Ray, and Geof Miller who made us do this exercise countless times in the University of Washington Screenwriting program (thanks, guys!).

So, having just read your story from start to finish, grab your notebook (I always use one notebook per story), set your timer for 5 minutes, and HAND WRITE – I repeat, HAND WRITE – starting with the line This is a story about . . . (do not stop, edit, cross out – heck, you don’t even need punctuation, just dump)

When the timer stops, go to the center of that exercise, pull out the middle line, use that for your next start line, and write for 7 minutes this time. Repeat for 10 minutes.

Now go back with a highlighter or another colour pen and mark the things that make sense to you.

There are many, many more fabulous writing exercises you could do to prepare, but let’s just say you can now start your rewrite and I’ll post some of these exercises along the way.

Turn to page one of your binder (i.e. printed version of your newborn) and page one of word document and begin.

(up next: what to do when you don’t know how to fix something)

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, novel adventures, Rewriting, writing exercises