Category Archives: NaNoWriMo and ScriptFrenzy

NaNoWriMo: Winning and Losing Some

Well, it’s November 27. There are three and a half days left in November, and I’ve written about 36,000 words since the beginning of the month. (Not counting blog posts.)

NaNoWriMo, of course, is an orgy of typing with the goal of writing 50,000 words of new fiction during the thirty days that November hath. At this point, I’ll be doing very well to produce 43,000 words by midnight on the thirtieth. So, I guess I’m going to lose.

But.

I actually like the way the story is going. The characters are branching out and showing me new facets of their personalities that tend to get them into (and out of) more complicated problems.* The plot is barreling along toward the end point I want it to reach. The setting grows more detailed the more I describe it. I like it.

And beyond that, I’ve learned a few helpful things about my own writing habits. Iff (that’s not a misspelling; it stands for ‘if-and-only-if’) I write for several hours every single day, I can expect to produce between one and two thousand words of pretty good prose most of the time.

Yay! Whoopee! Happy dance! Pause while I turn a dozen or so cartwheels!

Okay, I’m back. So, all I have to do is continue pounding away for two to four hours a day, and there’s a good chance I’ll have this story finished – not merely up to a word count of fifty thousand, but finished – by Christmas. And at that point, with perhaps a twelve-day pause, I can plunge into the revisions that it will definitely need; but the basic initial cliff will have been climbed, and I can stand on top of it looking over the landscape of my very own creation.

Well. Enough bragging. But I am very very pleased right at the moment.

* And a note on the great NaNo debate between “plotters” and “pantsers”. Some people – the plotters – like to work out all the details of their story ahead of time. Others – the pantsers – prefer to let things develop organically while they write by the seat of their pants. (I’m a pantser by instinct, though I’ve come to realize that it helps to start with an overall structure in mind.) We pantsers tend to suspect that too much advance planning results in a dull slog of uninspired typing and a lifeless final result. The plotters, on the other hand, tend to accuse us of being delusional and thinking that our made-up characters and places and situations have some sort of real, independent existence outside our own heads.

And we do often talk that way. I’d say that what we really mean – at least, it’s what I mean when I talk about my characters “deciding” to do something unexpected – is that the problem-solving part of my mind has gone off incommunicado for a while and returned with a way of continuing the story which takes the more accessible part by surprise.

But it’s a lot more economical to just say that my guy Wilm is running into some unexpected problems because he can’t keep his nose out of other people’s secrets and has found out things he wasn’t supposed to.

NaNo excerpt – Making plans

While I mull over what to write for Friday Fictioneers or Julia’s 100 word challenge, I’m going to fill in today with 300-odd words out of my NaNoWriMo story.

This is a fantasy set in a world where there are several species (or maybe subspecies) of humans, including  an overmuscled and reckless bunch who specialize in escorting travelers through dangerous territory. In another context, you might call them ogres, though that doesn’t quite fit these folks.

My main character and narrator is what we might call an “earth-standard” guy. At this point in the novel, he’s been saddled with the job of escorting several other people through a dangerous piece of wilderness to get them back to their home town. He’s spent time in the wilderness himself – that’s why he was given this responsibility – but he doesn’t know much about organizing things so an inexperienced group will come through safely. He consults with some of the ogres, since he needs advice while he’s –

Making Plans

The guards didn’t believe in looking ahead more than a handful of days, or holding grudges overnight. And they organized the caravans, not the merchants. Once you adjusted to their view of the world, they were fun to spend an evening with, too – sometimes out of control and frightening, but a huge relief from being always on duty.

“But look, Vundesner,” I said to the biggest and friendliest guard one afternoon, “what I don’t see is how you can take charge of getting a whole caravan from here to there through the woods without ever planning anything.”

Vundesner gave me a sideways grin and scooped a handful of walnuts into his mouth. His huge teeth crunched loudly through the shells. After grinding away at them for a bit, he washed the nuts down with a swig of the herb tea he liked. “What we don’t plan,” he said. I thought, maybe, he meant something like “what do you mean saying we don’t plan?”. The guards have their own language, and once in a while what they say in our language can be confusing.

“You don’t look like you’re making plans.”

“Town is different. Other people worry about town. Not my problem.”

I thought that over. Rushing conversations with the guard people never turned out well. It annoyed them, and they considered it rude. Besides, I usually needed to puzzle over what they said for a while before I saw the real point.

“Away from town,” I said, “it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s lonely.” What I meant was, there aren’t other people to take care of the problems.

Vundesner ate another handful of unshelled walnuts. I waited. Grinning so that his fangs showed, he scooped up a few more nuts and sat there tossing them up and catching them. I waited. “Away from town,” he said at last, “a smart man knows nobody worries. So he worries before he leaves town. You’ll leave town soon.”

“I’d like to be smart.”

“Good.”

* * *

After which Vundesmer settles down to explaining how to organize everything ahead of time so you don’t need to make plans in the middle of a crisis. Not that this helps much when they’re hustled into leaving too early, and when an earthquake almost drops them into the ocean, and when…

What do you think of this snippet out of the middle of a much longer tale? Comments are very welcome.

NaNoWriMo, a third of the way through (more or less)

And once again, I’m participating in the collective madness called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which has long since become international). The basic idea is to churn out fifty thousand new words of fiction during the month of November; not quite 1700 words a day.

How am I doing? In one word, fair. The actual writing is going very well. I’ve never in my life turned out two thousand words a day before; this month, I’ve hit and passed that mark over and over. And I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve written. The characters are taking shape nicely and what happens in the story feels like the kind of things these people would do, faced with those problems. Sounds like it’s going great, doesn’t it? But I ought to have produced a little over twenty thousand words by now, and I’m three thousand short.

Why? I lost several days last week – we had to visit my mother and deal with her bills and pills and grocery shopping, and most of Saturday was taken up by a friend’s wedding. Better yet, I have to expect that I’ll write little or nothing on the 22nd and 24th – I’ll spend those days cooking two different Thanksgiving dinners. (For those of you outside the U.S., the fourth Thursday in November here is always Thanksgiving Day – in principle a day to be grateful for our blessings, and in practice a day when families gather to feast on roast turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberries and various other odds and ends.) I’ll spend Thanksgiving itself in Pennsylvania making dinner for my mother (and husband and son and self), and then on Saturday do it all over again in New Jersey for the benefit of my father in law. Gotta be done – there’s nobody else within a thousand miles to make it happen.

So I’ve got a bunch of external roadblocks to deal with. Will I make the November 30th fifty thousand word goal? It all depends on whether or not I can write 2000 – 3000 words on all the available days left in the month. I’m not especially worried about it; now that I know two thousand words a day is possible, I should certainly finish this one by the end of the year.

What an amazing thought.

100 Nano Words

(I’m written out. I have no idea what to say in a post. So I’m going to inflict 100 words, more or less, from my Camp Nanowrimo effort on you, ready or not.

Situation: My main character Wilm and his lifelong friend have just made it back to their home town after being shipwrecked and spending weeks in the wilds. Wilm is tired, hungry, and filthy as he trudges into his family home and finds his grandmother playing with magic, as she likes to do.)

Excerpt:

A green bat with blue wings fluttered out of the smoke and hovered in front of my face. It was one of Grandmother’s better color combinations. “Well, you sound like Wilm,” the bat said. “But you don’t look much like him.”

“You wouldn’t either if you’d been lost in the woods for weeks, Grandmother,” I said.

“Is that your story? You got lost? And you barely out of the harbor, from what I heard?”

“Grandmother, is there hot water?”

“Your father, now, he wouldn’t get lost in the harbor in a little rowboat.”

“My father’s dead.”

“Well? I’d like to see him getting himself lost.” The bat peered down its nose cross eyed. “Are you sure you’re Wilm?”

(copyright 2012)

Friday Fictioneers: Caravan

Here’s this week’s photo prompt from Madison Wood for Friday Fictioneers

Caravan

We traveled light. There was nothing to take. Water is heaviest, but there was no water to spare. At least the people of the oasis let us drink our fill before driving us out with what we and our camels carried in our bodies.

It wasn’t their fault. Who knows why water comes and goes? No, the fault was ours for drinking so much when they had so little and needed every drop. We slept on the shady side of sand hills in the day and trudged forward by moonlight. Would we live to see the green places where it rains?

* * *

Speaking of fiction – I’m plunging headfirst again into one of those writing marathons – Camp Nanowrimo. The goal is to churn out 50,000 words of fiction between June 1 and June 30. And yes, I intend to keep posting here and going on with the rest of my life. And yes, I’m nuts. 😉 Wish me luck!

It’s about to get screnzied around here

Script Frenzied, that is. April is the time for a shared marathon of writing scripts for plays or movies or TV shows or graphic novels – a spinoff of November’s NaNoWriMo, where the idea is to write a rough draft of a short novel in a month.

I know just about nothing about writing scripts. But why let that stop me?

And luckily – unlike NaNoWriMo, where the honor system rules call for a completely new story – Script Frenzy allows for adaptations. And I have just the thing to adapt – a story I started for NaNo several years back which got stalled partly because parts of it (lots of it) turned out to be much more visual than I could handle in prose at that point.

Let’s see how it works as a graphic novel. I already know how the first page will start, with a confusing high-altitude view of – something – and then several zooms and cutaways that clarify what we’re seeing and show that our viewpoint character is a vaguely batlike flying humanoid. And things get a little complicated after that.

Yes, I do like science fiction. Why do you ask?

Letting the boulder take flight

My fantasy-in-progress has been stuck for months, making little twitches in random directions.

It really isn’t any fault of the f-i-p. A couple of Octobers ago, I was hunting for a Nanowrimo plot, and decided it would be fun to toss together as many cliches as possible. (Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland inspired me.) Getting to the required 50000 words was easy, though the story was nowhere close to finished by November 30. So I kept pushing it along, just like Sisyphus, as it got heavier…and more awkward…..and almost……..too………….unwieldy to move at all……………

But if I abandoned the Encyclopedia of Stale Tropes plot, what sort of story would I have? Sure, I liked several of the characters and some of the scenes, but how to give them an interesting world to inhabit and something coherent to do there? A sensible person would have given up, but then I’m not sensible. I kept struggling for a plot and a theme, and the story kept lying there twitching.

When I pushed myself back to regular blogging – was it only a week ago? Yep, it was – it kind of felt like I was making a mistake. I’ve been struggling to steal time to focus on fiction writing and steal energy to focus on fiction….anyhow, clearly blogging would be a waste of my overbooked life.

So I did it anyway.

Guess what happened? Plot snarls that have been tangled around my ankles for months unknotted themselves and slunk away, or turned themselves into decorative bows perched on top of chunks of story background. All of a sudden, the fantasy-in-progress works; I know what kind of people (for a loose definition of people) should inhabit it, what kind of world they live in, what they want and fear, and how they can struggle with each other trying to fix things. And what they’ll do when they see how their struggles turn out.

I guess this is what writing exercises are good for. (Yes, I’m the last would-be writer in captivity to figure that out.) Apparently spending time writing anything wakes up the underground part of your mind that solves problems, including plot problems.

It’s not Sisyphus’ uphill boulder any more. I don’t know about anyone else, but the f-i-p has turned into a story I want to read. I’d better hurry up and write it.

Not clear on the details

but, as usual, I’ll try first and figure it out later. What is “it”? The WordPress “PostADay” challenge / game / marathon. Apparently some people started last January, but I didn’t know about it till I got an email yesterday more or less describing PostADay and tying it to good old NaNoWriMo – the idea here is “prep for writing 50,000 words in November by committing to posting daily in October”. Okay. I can try to do that, at least if nobody winds up in the hospital this month, for a change.

I’m not at all sure I’ll be up to spec, though. The instructions seem to say you’re supposed to write something based on their prompt of the day. But what if I have something else to say?

Oh well. I’ll just focus on posting something daily. It’s not like I’m going to lose a promotion, or even a paycheck, if They don’t like my approach. PostADay, here we come.

Writing backwards

I’ve been struggling for months to find a direction for the fantasy-in-progress, without being very happy with any of my attempts. Then a few days ago I started thinking about how it’s only a month to NaNoWriMo, and so I ought to come up with a new story to tackle for November. What to write…Oh! I know!

Over two or three hours at the most, the plot and various characters for a Regency assembled themselves. All I had to do was beg the ideas to slow down a little so I could transcribe them before they got lost. It was so much fun, and so different from picking up hunks of mental debris, turning them this way and that, then trying unsuccessfully to wedge them into chinks of the fantasy-in-progress to serve as a wobbly foundation for the rest of the story.

Okay, it was easypeasy to put together a Regency plot. Why? Well, we know where it has to end: hero and heroine realize that they are both charming people, and every bit as well suited to each other as the readers figured out pages and pages ago. And most of the other characters get happy endings too, suited to each one’s personality.

We don’t automatically know where a fantasy plot has to end. In fact, I’m trying to wrench the ending of the fantasy-in-progress away from that old dull overused trope in which hero and friends defeat the Dark Lord and save what little is left of the world. I’d like something closer to a “regency ending” – I don’t mean the story should end with true love, but it ought to leave most of the characters in situations that fit them well.

Ah. Now I know more clearly where I’m trying to go. Lead character(s), and many secondary characters, achieve a private satisfaction that may have public ramifications (if they’re the kind of people who are born politicians), but does not involve burning down Rome just to make a good campfire to toast marshmallows over. That’s the kind of story that I want to read. Since too few are being written for me by other people, like the Inklings I need to write my own.

I just need to figure out what would be a satisfying situation for Wilm (the f-i-p’s lead character) and friends to wind up in, and then arrange the story so they can get there.

(And so I started making notes about ways in which my characters could live more fulfilling lives, and after half an hour or forty-five minutes, I know how to take the f-i-p from its present state as a challenging, disheartening mess that neither characters nor author know how to fix, all the way to a nicely rounded story that ends with almost everybody better off than they were on the first page. Tomorrow – if I can squeeze out any time at all for writing when I’m already committed to help with a book sale – I know what to write next. Happy dance. Happy dance!)

Unreliable narrators, or, don’t believe everything you read

Not even if you wrote it yourself.

See, when I wrote several days ago (well, April 15), that I was giving up on my scriptwriting experiment, I really meant it. I really believed myself. I was frustrated by having to pause the action. After every eight or ten words. Of dialogue. And having to keep inventing different irrelevant. Actions. To give readers. Something. To. Look. At, instead of letting them pay attention to the story.

You know, the story. The reason we’re bothering to turn ourselves inside out. Trying to write a script made me feel like a dog on a leash held by a careless, hostile owner. Whenever I wanted to – needed to – go immerse myself in exploring a wonderful aroma, the format yanked me away by the throat and said “Bad dog! Time to go on to the next panel! Sitstayheelfetch!”

So I quit.

But I didn’t stay quit. I had to go scratch that itch and sniff that strange scent. I had to try again to script my story instead of just telling it. And I really don’t know why, except that this uncomfortable awkward process made me look at my people and my events and my way of introducing them to the world differently.

I didn’t reach the arbitrary 100 page goal. I don’t care. I learned something about another way to present a story. I spent time trying to tell a story in a way that somebody else might want to read. In a way, I had fun whacking that brick wall with my skull. Maybe I even dented the bricks just a little.