National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, and, as usual, I’m not going the traditional route. I find this crazy hectic month of writing much more conducive to finishing up languishing projects, or focusing on a bunch of small ones. As such, I’m working on finishing up the first draft of Spirit of the Law, the full length play about Elsie Olmstead, wife of notorious rumrunner Roy Olmstead here in Seattle.
In the process of my year of research, I have reached out to and made friends with several different researchers and prohibition experts and authors, including people like Brad Holden, author of Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners & Graft in the Queen City. And now, when someone reaches out to them looking for information on the elusive 2nd Mrs. Olmstead, they punt the querent to me. And it’s…weird. Gratifying, but weird. I’m so used to working on speculative fiction that questions about good literature, diverse literature, writing tips, etc., are an everyday occurance and I delight in sharing the knowledge and tips I’ve gleaned over the years. But it’s different when you’re starting to be considered an authority on something more concrete. Something that happened in history and you’re the only person people can think of who has done the deep dive necessary to find out the small things. Things like she was so foul-mouthed she was teaching law-enforcement officers new cuss words.
It helps that Elsie is a vivacious and compelling character with even the little we know about her, and the tidbits that made it into writings about her husband Roy and his groundbreaking trial. If you don’t know, Roy was one of the very first people to be convicted based on wire-tapping evidence, and they took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. But that very lack of knowledge seemed to be deliberate on her part, one way to set up a smokescreen to her real involvement, which is one of the reasons people are desperate to know more.
Once the play draft is complete, I plan to write up a scholarly article about her, with all the attendant source citing. Hopefully by sharing all the odd bits and pieces I’ve pulled out of dusty old court records buried in the bowels of federal archives will help inspire other people to go digging as well and maybe even find some interesting things I missed. And in the meantime, I’ll keep getting that happy little thrill when I get the message that someone else has fallen in love with this woman and wants to know more, just like I did a year ago.
So, the first few times I did NaNoWriMo, I was pretty antisocial about it. Yeah, I friended people I knew in real life so I could watch their progress, but I hadn’t gone out to any of the write-ins for my area or anything like that. It got the job done, but this year is different, and I’m loving it. Not only am I doing the NaNoWriMo class for the Bureau of Fearless Ideas (with the lessons posted here for all ya’ll), but I attended a launch party for the first time last night with some friends and it was epic.
I’ve never managed to write socially before, I can’t do coffee shops or public spaces like that, I just get too distracted people watching, but the launch party was altogether different. People started trickling into the classroom at Shoreline Community College around 10:00 for the 10:30 party, and the room slowly but surely filled, giving us somewhere between 60 and 80 Seattle area novelists in one spot. Before midnight we socialized, plotted, had a costume contest (it was Halloween after all), and symbolically jailed and/or destroyed our inner editors before the starting bell.
When the clock struck midnight, it went dead silent in the room. Lobsters and cats, witches and “The Night” were all hunched over their keyboards, furiously writing away, racing to the first daily quota of 1,666 words. The first bingo went up around 12:25. I desperately want to know how they can type that fast, because that’s incredible. It took me 40 minutes to get there and I didn’t pause except to take sips of tea. (There was tea in the duck and sugar in the tea pot, just fyi :D) Until 1 am, the room was silent except for the clicketyclack of the laptop chiclet keyboards and the occasionally, and rapidly more frequent, shouts of bingo as people met their daily quota. It was actually quite the rush and I found myself writing faster (not necessarily better) than I do normally on my own. I am now looking forward to attending various write-ins around the city and working together towards that 50,000 word goal, which seems so much easier to attain when I’m sitting in a room full of people furiously writing towards the same goal.
If you’re in the Seattle area and would like to meet up for some write-ins, I can guarantee I will be at the three public write-ins at the BFI, details below. Until next time, brave adventurers, keep writing!
Nov 5 10-noon
Nov 12 10-noon
Nov 26 10-noon
Bureau of Fearless Ideas (Space Travel Supply Store) @ 8414 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and I’ve got a few tips to help you make your daily word count goals just a little bit easier.
- The backspace/delete key is OFF LIMITS. If you write it, it stays on the page. If you don’t like it, you can write a different sentence after it, but they are words you wrote, and they count, so DON’T DELETE THEM. You can highlight them to delete later, but leave them for the month.
- Made your word count for the day, but you’re in the middle of a good scene? Good! Stop. It is scientifically easier to start writing the next day if you’re in the middle of a scene that you know where it is going than to stop when you don’t know what’s next. Stop in the middle of the chapter or scene and pick it up tomorrow and it’ll be easier to keep going afterwards.
- Scary blank page getting you down? Start with the character’s name (or “I” if writing in first person) or, my personal favorite, start with “Chapter #).
Alright, that’s my lessons done for now! Now take a deep breath, assemble your notes, and get ready to put pen to paper tonight at midnight. I’ll keep you all posted about how me and my students are doing throughout the month. Happy writing!
Okay, second to last Bootcamp post and then you guys get to go nuts on your own 50k words. Today we’re talking about World Building so…
Drop and give me 20!
Brainstorm 20 words or things that describe/apply to your favorite story’s setting. For example, if I were brainstorming about Harry Potter, I’d say magic, no science, weird people, animate food, pictures move…You have your favorite story in mind? Good! Get to it!
Alright, what have you guys got? Throw them in the comments and see if we can guess what story you are talking about!
Now that your brain is working, tell me a few things that you think you should know about your world. Go ahead, shout them out at your computer screen, I’ll wait…
Oh, that’s a good one.
And that one!
Wanna know what I’ve come up with? Here you go (and download the pdf):
These are the most simple of things that you need to know about a world, things that may have a real impact on your story. They are all pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll go over them briefly.
- Where are we? Do the characters know the name of their world/country/town? Do we as readers need to know the name? Don’t draw a map of the continent if we don’t need it, the name of the town might suffice.
- Weather – Is it sunny and everyone wears sunglasses? Are there storms that make it harder to get things done? Are there dust storms caused by global warming?
- Terrain – Does the story take place in a flat city? In craggy mountains? Across vast stretches of farmland? Underground? These will all dictate how easy it is to move around and how the characters get from point a to point b.
- People – Are they all small and blue? Are they all humans of various sizes and colors? Are they all aliens? What kind of populations do you have to play with?
- Politics – Do the elves and dwarves hate each other? Is there a world war on? Are the usual popular kids suddenly unpopular? How does this impact the main character?
- Economy – Are people well off, or are we dealing with people living from paycheck to paycheck? Is your main character aware of the situation or are they used to and accepting of the status quo?
- Religion – Is there one state religion and all others shunned? Are all welcome? Is there religion at all?
- Culture – Again, are we dealing with a single culture or a melting pot like New York City? Are people equal or is there a subset of people who are subjugated?
- Science, Magic, or a mix of the two? How does your world run? Do we have scientists and the scientific method? Or is everything magically run? Or, there’s the old adage that any science sufficiently advanced will seem like magic anyway…
Now that we’ve explored that list, let’s see what happens when we apply this to Harry Potter.
Fun, huh? Now comes the best part though…setting up your world rules. These are things about your world that are the hard and fast rules that absolutely cannot be broken.Wanna see what I’m talking about? Here’s some rules I feel apply to Harry Potter:
Are there any others you feel should apply? Fill in the rest of the commandments!
Now comes the best part: breaking your own rules. You get to set up all these rules, set up your reader’s expectations, and then pulling the rug out from under their feet. Hermione always has the answer? Well, what happens when she doesn’t?! There’s only one thing you have to make sure you do if you’re going to break your own rules–support the break. If you are going to break the rules, the why and the how must be absolutely air tight. No deus ex machina (will of god), no random serendipity. The reader has to be able to look back and go, oh man, I should have seen that coming! Breaking the world’s rules can be one of your most powerful writing tricks, but you have to be very careful to make sure you do it in such a way that you don’t break your reader’s faith as well.
That said, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe your world and figure out its commandments. We’re almost to November 1st, so we’re running out of time to prepare for our stories! See you in a few days for a few last minute writing tips, but until then, happy writing!
I hope you all had fun plotting your novel this past week, because now we’re moving on to building your characters!
First, to warm up your brain…
Drop and give me 20!
This time, I want you to go to this random item generator, have it generate you a few random items, and then you’re going to make a list of 20 things/words that apply to the character who would own those items. And NOT “My character owns these items.” For example, the generator gave me a pair of knitting needles, a needle, and a key, and this makes me think that:
- My character is a man
- on a plane, so can’t have his normal tools
- using knitting needles, a sewing needle, and a key to steal something
- though he really does know how to knit
- he also has yarn
- really likes silk yarn
- makes his own socks
- very tall
- … etc., etc., etc.
Give us your items and your 20 things in the comments below! No wrong answers here, just lots of fun!
Now, we’re going to talk a little bit about characterization and how to do it. First, I want you to take a moment and brainstorm all the things you think you should know about a character. Ready? Go!
Got some ideas? Good. I’m sure all of them are excellent choices, and they probably fall into one of the categories below…
- Physical attributes – Pretty self explanatory, but you need to know what your character looks like. Or in the case of characters like Mystique, what she’s capable of looking like. Height, weight, eye color, hair, skin, etc., and beyond. Now, you may not mention all of these things in your story, and for the sake of all that is holy, please do NOT start your story by describing your character, having your character describe themselves, or at any point having the character frankly examining themselves in the mirror unless it’s relevant to the plot. Details like these should come out naturally and only if they are relevant.
- Social/Economic attributes – These are things like what country is your character from? What economic class do they come from? How much money do they make a year? What ethnicity are they? This will help inform things like what politics they favor and who they will tend to side with in an altercation. Most, if not all, of this information won’t be explicitly stated in your story, but will inform your character’s choices, so it’s good to know.
- Personality traits – What kind of person is your character? What’s their attitude like? What kind of music do they like to listen to? What are their favorite colors? What are they afraid of? Things like their attitude is going to inform their actions and dialog, but their favorite color might never come up if it has no bearing on the story. But creating backstory sure is fun!
- Skills/Talents – Can they play an instrument? Are they insanely good at math? Can they paint/draw/sew? What sorts of things is your character good at and what do they have an innate ability with? Are they a savant at broom riding or have they struggled for years to perfect their jazz clarinet solos? Again, some of this might be relevant, some not, but it’s a lot of fun to think about.
- Motivation – This is the most important part of building a character. There are three kinds of motivation: Public, Conscious, and Subconscious. Public is what they tell OTHER people is the reasoning behind their actions. Conscious is what they THINK is driving their actions. Subconscious is why they are REALLY doing what they are doing. Sometimes all three are the same, more often, especially in the case of main characters, they are three different things. These motivations determine why the characters do anything and everything, and as such need to be well defined in your head.
Got all that? Sweet. Now it’s time to start building some characters yourself and to help with that process I’ve created a form just for you. It has a lot of the stuff we just talked about above, some other stuff, and maybe you’ve thought of even more. Perfect, write it on! Download the pdf here, or check out the image below:
Pretty straight forward! Don’t worry if you can’t draw, that box is just a spot to put whatever helps you visualize the character. Maybe it’s a sketch of their face, maybe it’s the symbol for their religion, maybe it’s something else entirely. And if you don’t know right now what some of the blanks should be, that’s just fine, start brainstorming what you do know. Let’s try filling this out for Harry Potter first. Ready? Go!
Excellent! Great job. Want to see what I put down for Harry? Your answers might be different from mine, these are just how I see the character:
See how much fun this is! I have a friend who just spends hours creating characters that he puts into a folder until they are useful. Now, I’m not saying you need to go THAT far, but I would advise printing out one of the character recipes for each character you’re going to have in your story, good, bad, and neutral. It will really help you get to know them and make it easier to decide what they would do in certain situations.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go forth and get to know your characters a little bit better, and we’ll see you back here next week for World Building! Until then, happy writing!
Alright, the last thing on plotting that I want to talk to all of you about is your outline. Yes, pantsers, I get it, you don’t outline. But again, I think this is something super useful that you can create as you write as well to help you remember what happened in your story for when you go back to finish the manuscript or edit it later. It can also help when you’re trying to figure out what is necessary or not when editing, or in trying to rearrange content. So whether you outline before, during, or after you write your novel, it’s still incredibly useful. For me, its an indispensable re-writing tool. A lot of my outlining I do in my head, but I always have at least one line of info to get me started on a chapter.
So, how does one outline? It’s a personal choice, but this is my method:
First, start with the big bullet points you know you need to hit.
- Dude gets accepted to magic school
- Dude finds out about a super secret thing
- Dude saves super secret thing
- Dude is a hero
That’s a bit over-simplistic, but you get the point. Big, broad strokes. Then you go back and start putting in a bit more detail:
- Dude is an orphan, killed by man who wants super secret thing
- Dude gets accepted to magic school
- Oh hey, wouldn’t it be nifty if they rode a train?
- Dude doesn’t like the people he meets from this one part of the school. Let’s name it after a snake, cause that sounds menacing.
- Dude makes friends with a guy and a girl (gender balance is good)
- Kinda like a heart, guts, and brain combo
- Dude gets to play school sport
- Soccer meets flight. How’s that supposed to work?
- Dude finds out about super secret thing
- Dude does more research, finds out others are after it
- Dude saves super secret thing
- challenges for all his friends
- Dude is a hero
See how I dropped in questions as I had them? This reminds me when I go back through on my next pass that this was something I wanted to work on. So maybe I spend the entire next day figuring out the rules to this imaginary sport, or trying to name the houses. As I outline, I will find lots of these places where I should probably expand, and I will also find those pesky plot holes when I discover I have no idea how to get from one bullet point to another. Like, how does Dude get from finding out about the super secret thing to saving it? What steps do I need to have Dude take? Also, I should probably spend some time figuring out what to name all these people…just saying.
Keep expanding your outline, and add in as many subdividing layers as you need. Sometimes my outlines are all one level, sometimes I’ll have four or five indented lists under things. It all depends on the story and how much detail it is going to require. Once I feel like I have dreamed up all the stuff I’m going to need prior to getting down to the actual writing, I do one more thing. Divide by potential chapters.
Here’s where that Google drive setup comes in handy again. I’ll keep the whole outline in one file, but then I’ll copy the section I think belongs in which chapters into individual files so that it’s easier to look at just that chunk of prep work. Of course things are going to change and shift, and the end of your story may end up being drastically different from what you initially thought it would be, but this way at least helps make your writing process go a bit faster. And it also keeps you from looking at a blank page, because, man, are those scary.
Now, go get to outlining, and I’ll see you back here next week for Character Building! Until then, happy writing!
That last post was getting really long, so I decided to break up my plotting lessons a bit to make them more digestible. Today, we continue the grand discussion on how to plot your novel with a discussion of the Hero Cycle, or, as I also like to call it, the way to plot a best seller. No, this isn’t some get-rich-quick formula, but an astounding number of stories follow this format, so much so that a scholar named Joseph Campbell identified and simplified it for us. It seems to rove around in our subconscious as a culture, which makes it particularly easy for our readers to identify with. If you find this lesson interesting, definitely look up more about Campbell, he’s written several amazing books about tropes and archetypes that fuel our subconscious.
Some of you may already by familiar with the cycle, though there are a few different version. If you think you remember something about it from school, go ahead and see which of the steps you remember on the chart below:
1? 2? Get all 12? Well color me impressed if you remembered any of it, I always have to go look up a few of them. Want to know what the ones you couldn’t remember are? Here you go:
See! You remembered more than you thought you did. Now, what do all these steps mean?
- Ordinary World – This is the everyday, the normal world, the status quo. Wherever the character was and whatever they were doing before the story begins.
- Call to Adventure – This is the inciting incident: death, attack, imminent threat, something is going to change the normal, if the character is willing to take it on.
- Refusal of the Call – Normally in these stories, the character, even if they’re excited for the opportunity, is sure there has been a huge mistake in asking them to take on the adventure. They’re not worthy, they’re not ready, or maybe they’re just feeling really lazy. But they start by saying no, before they say yes. If they just said no, this would be a very short story…
- Meeting the Mentor – There is always somebody who can give advice, whether it’s an aged wizard, a teacher, a friend, a computer simulation, there is usually a figure who knows a bit more about what is going on than the character and can guide them through the difficulties.
- Crossing the Threshold – Here’s where things get weird. Up until this point, the character has been safely in their old world, but things are now new. Sometimes that’s taking off in a spaceship, landing on a new planet, going through a mirror, or sometimes as simple as going through a doorway into a new classroom. It marks the transition from the known to the unknown. Frequently steps 4 and 5 are reversed, as in Harry Potter. He crosses into the wizarding world before he meets Albus Dumbledore, his main mentor in the series.
- Tests, Allies, Enemies – Just like with rising action, the bulk of your story probably happens here. Making friends, making enemies, learning and testing new skills, and in general preparing for the ultimate confrontation.
- Approach – This is the ramp up to the climactic encounter. Sometimes a series of challenges, sometimes a long dark hallway, just something that gives the readers a hint that the big bad is coming.
- Ordeal, Death, & Rebirth – Here’s the money shot, what the rest of the story has been working up to. Big fight/confrontation/climax, whatever it is that your character has been going after, here’s where it happens. Sometimes they’re facing an enemy, sometimes they’re facing themselves, sometimes they’re facing the environment. But here is where their old self dies, and their new self takes its place. That can mean they literally have a near-death, or death experience and get brought back, but sometimes it means they have a revelation and chose to make themselves different/better/more evil. Think about Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. He’s confronted with the horror of his own death and in that moment his old life dies and he is reborn a more giving man.
- Seize the Prize – Pretty self explanatory. Loot the room. This may be a magic sword, or self-confidence, or a new found purpose and strength, or even just the safety of a removed threat, but here’s the prize the characters have been working towards.
- The Road Back – Your characters have to leave the place of encounter, which can be as simple as walking over to a group of friends, a month long journey home, or the simple act of letting go of the rage and anger that led them to the confrontation. Not everything in this cycle has to be literal and physical. Mental and emotional journeys are just as important.
- Resurrection – Here’s where your characters get back to their friends and they were all, “We were sure you were dead!” Sometimes they literally think the character was eaten, and sometimes they just can’t believe the character didn’t get beat up by the bully they went to confront. Feels good to be loved.
- Return and Reward – Here’s the very end of the story. They’re home (whether a new home or their old home, either works), they’re out of combat, wounds on the mend, or, maybe, the character is drifting in heaven and looking back and wondering precisely when they forgot to duck, but they are done with this cycle and can reflect on the rewards reaped from the story, whether physical, mental, or moral. Of course, the nice thing about the cycle is that when you get to this point, and the character is basking in their new normal, they are primed and ready to go for another cycle. Feel free to drop in some foreshadowing!
These twelve steps make for a pretty tidy storyline, don’t you think? The important thing to remember about the cycle is that this is an approximate summary of hundreds of stories, so your story might not fit in exactly. It’s more like guidelines than law, if you know what I’m saying. Keeping that in mind, how do you think Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone fits on this cycle? Here’s a blank worksheet to help, image below, pdf here.
Think you can identify most of the correlating steps? Excellent! Here’s what I came up with. Yours don’t have to match mine, but if you got stuck on a step, see what I thought about it:
See, stories don’t have to fit exactly to still be similar enough to the cycle for it to apply. The fun part is, all the Harry Potter books follow the cycle in at least a cursory manner, but the whole SERIES overall fits the cycle almost perfectly. Quite the adventure.
So are you ready to start expanding your cursory plot roller coaster? Your mission, if you chose to accept it, is to start trying to map out your story in relation to the hero cycle. You’ll find that all kinds of stories will fit, from realist literary fiction, through to the strangest science fiction, it’s not just for fantasy stories. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below!
Next, we talk about the importance of an outline! Until then, happy writing!
Today, we’re going to be talking about plot. What is plot, you ask? Well, it’s what happens in the story, or in other words, the action. If you need more of a definition, check out this article. Now…
Drop and give me 20!
Since today we’re starting with plot, your first task is to summarize your favorite story’s plot in exactly 20 words. No more, no less. Twenty. For example, I would summarize Harry Potter’s plot as follows:
A boy learns to be a wizard, makes friends, learns he has enemies, and tries to save the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Post your plot in the comments below so we can see your brilliance, and try and we will all try and guess what book you’re talking about. Fake internet points to whoever gets them right!
There, we’ve warmed up your brain a little bit and we can get down to business. We may know what a plot is, but can anyone here name the parts that make up the basic plot? Here’s a hint, the structure is a bit like a roller coaster. Don’t scroll down yet! Take a moment and see if you can dredge up the names of the parts of a plot from your freshman English course. Any luck?
If not, don’t worry. If you did remember parts, did they look something like this?
There’s a few different names you can give some of these parts, but today we’re going to be using Hook, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution. I’d also have accepted Denouement for that last one, but Resolution is just so much easier to say and spell. What do these parts do? I thought you’d never ask!
- The Hook – This is the part where you do something interesting to get your readers, well, hooked. Something different, something that makes them ask, what’s going to happen next? Common tropes I advise you to stay away from: flashbacks, waking up, dream sequences, flash forwards, unexplained action. All of these things have been done to death and unless you’ve gotten really REALLY good at writing, you’ll probably leave your readers sneering at the page. If you’re lucky, they won’t put it down. You can do some very creative things with dialog, exposition, and characterization to keep a reader interested. The best thing you can do is write a whole bunch of hooks and go back later to decide which one does the best job of setting up the rest of the novel.
- Rising Action – This is 2/3 of your novel, ish. Don’t get out a ruler, it’s a rough approximation. This is everything leading up to the really super exciting part of the novel. Making friends, making enemies, learning life skills, setbacks, love, a lot happens during the rising action. One thing to keep in mind is it should all be relevant to the climax of either this book, or the climax of the series if you are working on a series of books. Get rid of anything that doesn’t serve the larger purpose of the narrative. If it’s something you think is just WAY too cool to cut entirely, save it for a short story teaser you can give to your fans as a Christmas gift after you get famous. They’ll love you for it.
- Climax – This is the part we all love, isn’t it? You’ve been working and working towards the big event and it’s finally here…and then it’s over. Just make sure whatever you make your readers work for is neither anti-climactic, nor unsupported by the rising action. Remember, if you’re missing parts of the track leading up to top of coaster, your readers are going to fall of the track and die. Not really, they’re just likely to put the book down. Boy, that’d be something though, wouldn’t it? Death by plot hole?
- Falling Action – Here is everything on the downslope from the climax. Tidying up from the battle, patching your wounds, planning recovery, burying the dead, dropping foreshadowing for the sequel. Whatever needs to be taken care of, but remember, readers don’t always like everything tied up in nice pretty bows. Leaving a few rough edges can have them coming back for more. It’s like that bit of corn kernel stuck in your teeth after eating popcorn. The feeling when you finally get it lose and have an “aha!” moment can be so satisfying. Make sure you leave some of these for your reader to connect on their own, they appreciate it.
- Resolution – This is your “what’s next?” spot. Are we done and the characters taking a curtain call? Is everybody in a better place? Is everybody dead? Or are they all gearing up to go hunt down the guy who killed their family, friends, dog, and class turtle? This is the full stop at the end of your novel.
Phew, okay, did that make sense to everyone? Excellent. Drop any questions you have in the comments below.
One more thing I want to mention about the plot roller coaster. The diagram above is a lovely skewed right bell curve, and overall, that’s the case. Particularly in simple things like short stories. However, such a straight line would get a bit boring in a novel, so don’t be afraid to put in a bunch of small rises and climaxes with a bit of a break after them, gearing your readers up for the big rise and fall at the true climax, like below.
Now we get to practice identifying these aspects in a story most of us are likely familiar with: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone. I’ve even made a handy dandy worksheet to help! You can use the image below, or download the pdf here. You task is to identify all the parts of Harry Potter that fall onto the plot roller coaster, and where. Remember, you can’t fit EVERYthing on there, just the really important stuff. Ready? Go!
All set? Good. Now let’s see how you did compared to me:
Not too shabby! See, you don’t need to be super detailed in this exercise, this is just to sort of give you an idea of how things go together to shape a plot. Are we feeling more comfortable with plotting? Yes? Excellent. Then, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take that blank plot worksheet and start figuring out the direction you think your NaNo novel is going to take. Some of you may be thinking, but, Rebecca, I’m a pantser, I don’t WANT to know where my novel is going. That’s just fine! Keep this worksheet beside you to make notes on your plot as you go to make sure you’re keeping all your bases covered, and maybe you’ll find you do have an idea of where you want your story to go. It can be as detailed (or not) as you want. Some others are probably thinking, but I don’t KNOW where my novel is going, is that a problem? Nope! Not at all. Revel in your lack of knowledge and let your characters take you for a ride. But again, use this to keep notes on what’s going on in your head. Try some plots out, see if any of them strike your fancy. You’re not wed to any of them.
Oh, and that reminds me of the most important note of them all at the end of this lesson. Say you know precisely what you want your story to do, and then, all of a sudden, you’re writing along and one of your characters starts going off the rails. You yank them back in line, but nope, there they go again. Don’t force it! Maybe your subconscious has a better idea, see where it goes, and don’t be afraid to change things up, even if you’ve already outlined it. Everything can and should be fluid right up until your editor tells you the book is going to print and they can’t possibly change another thing. And even then, that’s what second editions are for…
See ya next time where we’ll be talking about a tried and true plot format, the Hero’s Cycle! Until then, happy writing!
Drop and give me 20!
20 unique letters and number, maybe a special symbol or two, for a password. No, don’t tell me. You’ll need it for the two things you should set up before you start writing.
The first thing we need to do, before we start talking about craft, is setting up everything you need to succeed. Now, how you choose to write, how you choose to set things up, this is entirely your own thing. I’m just going to outline for you how I set up my digital writing space so you can take what you want and leave what you don’t.
First thing first, I know there are a lot of you who prefer to write by hand, but you won’t survive NaNo that way. You need to write 50,000 words in the space of 1 month, and to officially “win” you need to be able to drop those 50k in NaNo’s official word count verifier, so they have to be typed. Can you imaging trying to hand write 50k words and THEN having to type them all in as well? That right there’s a nightmare, that’s what that is. So you need to set up a digital space in which to write.
(Edit – According to the official NaNo site, if you don’t have access to a computer, you can write by hand, count all your words the old fashioned way, have a friend verify that, and then use a random word generator create the words you need to fill the word checker on nanowrimo.org. As you were…)
I highly recommend setting up your space in an online file storage system like Google Drive. Dropbox works, or whatever your favorite cloud storage system is fine, but Drive is my favorite for two reasons: ease of use and auto-save. That’s right, it saves your work FOR you, and frequently, so if something crashes, you won’t lose everything you forgot to save from your writing session which started three hours back. If you already use drive, good for you! If you want to set up drive, click here.
Next, you want to set up your files within Drive. Create a new folder with your working title, so all your files are in one place. Then I create three files immediately. Outline, People Places and Things, and Table of Contents. Lastly, I start creating separate files for each of my chapters. This allows the files to be more manageable, have fewer errors on saving, and open faster. Of course, you it’s harder to tell what your total word count it, but that’s where the table of contents file comes in handy.
I use table of contents to do three things. 1) Track word count 2) Check that my relative word count per chapter is roughly balanced for whatever effect I’m driving for (sometimes having long and short chapters is desirable, sometimes more equal lengths creates the proper effect) and 3) Help figure out my chapter naming scheme once the book is written. It’s totally fine to keep your chapters numbered and unnamed, most people do, but this particular series uses quippy fun titles to reference what’s coming up in the chapter, so making sure they work together is necessary. Here’s what my TOC looks like at set-up:
Ahhh, nice and fresh! I’ve left my cursor on the total count cell so you can see the equation I’m using to track the important stuff. The equation for total page count is, you guessed it, =SUM(D1:D15). The reason it goes to 15 is because I’m pretty sure I’m going to have more than 11 chapters, so i’m just being prepared. The nice thing about Google Spreadsheets is if I insert a line within the equation parameters, it automatically adjusts it for me. How sweet! Make sure to update this every time you write, and then you can drop your total word count into the NaNoWriMo site.
What’s that? You don’t have a log in for the NaNoWriMo site yet? Well, that’s the second thing you should probably set up. I mean, you can totally go it alone and not bother with NaNo at all, but I find the community and tracking system very motivating. So, if that sounds like fun to you, you should go here and set up your free NaNoWriMo account!
From there, you can set up your profile and the details for your novel for this year. It’s a lot of fun thinking up a working title and designing a quick little cover. You can also link up with your friends (my username is writerlybliss) and keep track of how well you all are doing! Check out my page for this year:
I think that about wraps it up for the prep work I like to start with. Come back next week when we start the story prep with plotting! And even if you’re a pantser* you can still benefit from this session, promise.
*A pantser is a novelist who prefers to write by the seat of their pants rather than creating an outline prior to beginning work.
Have you ever wanted to write a novel? Have you read about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but were too scared to give it a go? Or thought you just didn’t have the time? Guess what, that’s about to change!
This month, I’m starting a NaNoWriMo bootcamp, taught in person at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas on Greenwood in Seattle, and posted online here for anyone who wants to play along remotely! I will be working on the sequel to Less Than Charming (working title Written to Be) at the same time. But you won’t get spoilers out of me that easily! For the purposes of the exercises we’ll be using Harry Potter to fill out the worksheets and talk about the various aspects of a novel you need to have prepped for next month.
If you want to make sure you don’t miss anything over the next couple months, be sure to subscribe to my blog! And you may yet get a surprise at the end as a treat for attempting NaNoWriMo yourself…