Tag 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

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: 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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NaNo Hangover: What to do between your first draft and second (Episode 2)

At the moment, I’m actually doing my final Ruins of Noe rewrite for my editor and can’t start rewriting my NaNo until my homework is done. Boo hoo. New projects are always more fun.

The below may seem obvious to some of you, but perhaps there’s someone else out there going through their very first rewrite  and feeling overwhelmed. If you are a more experienced / published writer, be sure to add your 2 cents about how you approach your rewrite.

First of all, rewrites are overwhelming. For all of us. You’re not alone. And you can do this.

So, the rewrite . . . First, print out your entire manuscript. If you have an aversion to paper waste, use recycled, scratch, or scratch recycled paper. All my paper gets used twice (and then recycled). I don’t like waste either.

Put it in a binder and then give it a big hug. I’m serious. Don’t skip this step just because it sounds too silly for the likes of you. It feels really good to have a physical manifestation of all your hard work. Yay.

Read the entire manuscript with pen in hand and in the shortest amount of time possible so you can stay in the flow of the story.

This was tough for me this week as I was working long days and on set. But having a print copy in a binder meant I could take it everywhere. I read/marked this sucker while I was on public transit (that’s how I commute most of the time), during my lunch breaks, and when I got home each evening.

Don’t worry so much about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or even word choice. Sure, if you see an obvious mistake, circle it and move on. But, trust me, you’ll be rewriting this thing four, five, six or more times and that run-on sentence you wanted to fix will probably magically disappear along the way. If not, it will get fixed in your final copy edit. Focusing on the little details (what we call “polishing your buttons”) is not helpful at this point.

Think big picture. Which is why you want to read it as quickly as possible to see if it all holds together.

How do I mark it as I read? Generally, I ask myself a lot of questions in the margins: what is this character’s motivation? does this match something I said earlier? do I need to reveal more here? etc. I also mark places where I need to expand something – more info, description, detail, etc.

When an idea bounces into my mind, I immediately write it down on the opposite page. OR, if my scratch paper doesn’t allow room, I keep lined paper in the back for chronological notes/ideas.

Other things you can ask yourself while you read:

  • Does my protagonist have a character arc? Does it grow naturally over the course of the story? Is it believable?
  • Is my protagonist an “active hero in conflict” (meaning, does she solve her own problems or does someone or some coincidence solve them for her)
  • Is there a clear dilemma?
  • Have I put obstacles in my protagonist’s way of achieving his goal?
  • Do my other characters sound flat / one-dimensional? Are they “too good” or “too evil”?
  • Does the story keep moving? Is it bogged down anywhere?
  • Are all my plot set ups paid off? Are any subplots left dangling? (If this is a series, some things may be left dangling, but you want the story to satisfy)

Please feel free to add suggestions for the things you look for in your rewrites!

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Filed under NaNoWriMo, novel adventures, Rewriting, weekend workout, writing life

NaNo Hangover: What to do between your first draft and second (part 1)

I don’t know if my NaNo is the best thing I’ve ever written, or the stupidest. It’s certainly the weirdest, and was definitely the most fun.

I think one of the most helpful things you can do after you finish a first draft is write a query letter.

DON’T SEND IT, for Pop’s sake, you manuscript is not ready. Not by a long shot. But writing the query letter does amazing things.

First off, it’s fun and you can ride the energy of finishing your first draft.

Second, it forces you to figure out what your story is really about because you have to summarize it on one page. Who is your story about? What are the stakes? What must she learn/do/experience in order to redeem herself? How is it resolved?

When I teach this I always ask: what MUST protag do BEFORE / OR ELSE what will happen?

Third, I like to try to capture the tone and voice of the story into the query letter itself to make it stand out. Be careful not to fall into a GIMMICK, though. It has to sound authentic.

There are tons of great web resources for writing query letters. Here are a few of them:

How to Write a Query Letter (AgentQuery)

The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Writing a Query letter (Sci Fi / Fantasy Writers of Am)

Query Shark (An anonymous agent who crits queries online)

Miss Snark’s First Victim (a repped/published author who has lots of query info and links)

Chuck Sambuccino over at Writer’s Digest who has a feature called Successful Queries that posts the letters that landed agents. Then the agent discusses why he/she liked the pitch.

REMEMBER – I am not saying you are ready to start sending your pitch letters out. I just think this is a fun way to help focus your story and prepare for the rewrite.

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NaNo Blog Party! Put Your Hands in the Air. w00t! w00t!

Hello fellow NaNo writers and bloggers! The month is at a close and it’s time to celebrate. Some of you I haven’t “spoken” to in, uh, days while we all shut out the world and typed away.

Whether you wrote 5,000 or 50,000 words you can celebrate, because it’s that many more words you have towards a finished novel than you did before.

Not that a party should have any rules, let’s make it more like a game. You have to bring something to share and you have to bring something to eat.

To share:  links to your favourite blog post you wrote during NaNo, your favourite line from your NaNo, a summary of your story, a link to a sample from your story, etc.

To eat: you may only bring what food and drink that are actually in your kitchen right now (cuz I’m assuming many of you did not shop during November)

I’ll start!

All I can offer you to eat is leftover carrot cake from my husband’s birthday (but it’s really good carrot cake. Just ask hubbaby. I made it myself) and some eggnog. If you’ve never tried it, eggnog is really good in coffee.

I’ve posted the first 10 pages of my NaNo Intergalactic: A Pop Space Opera on their website.

Would love to hear about you and your experience and have an eggnog toast (unless you’re lactose intolerant. In which case, I do have one bottle of red wine around here somewhere.)

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