Friday, April 11, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Eleven

More about word counts today!

There is another flaw with word counts that I think people often get caught up in. Perhaps you don’t need to add meaningless words to your narrative; you are writing along, quite happy, and then boom! You are at 1667 words for the day! Rejoice, party, shut that laptop goodbye, and that is the end of it. No more writing for today.

The issue with the word “goal” is that it implies that you do not need to go above and beyond. If your goal is to run a marathon, why run an extra mile? You have hit your goal. Similarly, there is no difference between 1668 words in a day and 2667 words, because both are “above goal”. Goal-oriented thinking is useful, but the minute we start thinking of goal as synonymous to maximum, we are hurting our writing.

A word count goal, then, should be thought of as more of a quota. You can do more, and you should if you are really in the zone and writing well. If you meet your quota, then good for you! You have passed! But if you go above, then that is still good. It is all about meeting a quota, and if it averages out, then well done!

Furthermore, with the idea of a quota, you start the next day from scratch. I think goal has that component in theory, but in practice it appears not to. If you have a goal write 100 extra words on Monday, then you only have to write 1567 words on Tuesday. DO NOT DO THAT. Your quota remains constant; you have to meet your 1667 words a day, regardless of past performance. Try and bring that attitude into your writing, and see how much more you can write!

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: Your main character has a nightmare (can be a repeat of the dream they had before, as long as there are some differences). Fears are always full of interesting things to think about! Why is your characters afraid? What is the story behind their fear?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Ten

Yesterday, I smashed the idea of writing overly-wordy scenes just to get your word count up. Today, I want to focus more on the idea of a word count itself.

I would like to say that I am a big supporter of forcing yourself to write every day, and at having a goal in mind. After all, even if you only write one page a day, that is still 365 pages a year (which is a pretty hefty novel). But the problem that can arise out of that is that, again, you stop focusing on the content and start focusing on the quantity.

For example, say you need to write a 5-7 page essay for English class. A person who can only write four pages isn’t going to go, “Hmm, I wonder if I should analyze my thesis some more.” They are going to add words and use widows and orphans (which is when the last line of the paragraph has only one word) to bump their existing essay up to five pages. That is following the letter of the law, true, but not the spirit. The teacher wants five pages of analysis, not four pages of analysis and one page filled with meaningless words.

That happens when writing a novel too. I am just as guilty of it as anyone else. Obviously, with a word count instead of a page count, you will not be using the widows and orphans technique, but the idea remains the same. But should that count towards your goal? It does. It follows the letter of the law. By like I said yesterday, if 1667 words is turning into a chore, then the time you spend adding adjectives and the like should probably be spent working on your plot.

More on word counts tomorrow.

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: Have a character drastically change their appearance. It can be through liposuction, tattoos, botox—whatever. How do the other characters treat them differently?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Nine

(Heeeey, 30%!)

We have talked quite a bit about characters and plots, but we have yet to discuss the mechanics of how to write during NaNoWriMo (Camp or otherwise), so I am going to dedicate a few entries to discuss that.

I am not sure how I feel about a lot of the techniques people use to up their word count. After all, a good novel should be as brief as possible, while NaNoWriMo (or, shall I say, National Novel Writing Month) really encourages building a word count. While writing is writing, there is also something to be said about at least trying to write something good when you have a certain level of experience. Take this journal entry, just as an example. I am trying to make it as wordy as I possibly can, using longer idioms and useless words such as “really” or “shall I say”. Yes, my word count is going up, but my prose is also suffering for it. This paragraph will sound flowery in the end, and certainly not the way an actual person would ever speak.

That is why I am a bigger believer in making the writing as interesting as possible rather than making the writing as wordy as possible. After all, assuming that 1667 words will take the same amount of time, I would much rather write 1667 words that were filled with drama and romance and were interesting rather than 1667 words in one scene that was mostly boring. If you are going to be writing anyway, then why not try and have some fun with it?

This is not to knock the technique; writing is writing, and it is good. However, the next time you sense yourself reviewing your novel to take out contractions and add as many words as you can, reflect on why you are doing that. Is it because your novel is boring you? Then perhaps it is time to change that, and not how you write.

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: Try and include your favourite song. Lyrics, playing in the background, just a casual reference to it—just try to add it to your story!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Eight

Sometimes, when writing, you are just plain out of ideas. You have no idea where the plot is going to go, and no idea what the characters should be doing. You have to sit down and write, but how much more can you write? There’s only so much mindless dialogue you can fit on the page.

It is at times like these where it is a good idea to shift characters and find a new point of view. For one, you can go through the same scenes again—only this time, you have a different character’s perspective. There is no reason why you can’t do the same scene twice, or even three or four times. The bad guy is going to have a vastly different read on things than your hero does, and they also handle the before and after of the battle differently. Once you have changed perspectives, you can stick to a character for a while, too. Sometimes that can be the best thing to do if you are stuck. A new point of view, with a new and potentially more interesting character, might give you the bolt of inspiration that you need.

If you are not quite as interested in that, try having your main character write a journal entry. Really go into their head. Switching from first person to third person can also create words and new ideas. Don’t be afraid to spice things up. Just keep going!

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: Someone finds a beehive and accidentally hits it. The swarm of bees comes out. RUUUUUUN!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Seven

(Continued from yesterday)

Today we are going to discuss moving the “there” of your story up, which is another way to deal with a boring story.

As a note, this doesn’t always work with every type of story, but works well with character-driven stories and where the cleanup will take a while. To go back to yesterday’s example, would moving Voldemort’s death to book six have been effective? Probably not. But look at the end of season one of Fringe (FRINGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE). Originally, the other side was not going to be introduced until much later in the narrative. But what else was left to talk about? Not much; the only real mystery would have been the Observer.

So they moved the reveal up to the end of Season One. When you move the “there” to earlier in your narrative, new problems come up. There might be cleanup that is required. New characters can come in and change dynamics. It can sometimes be annoying to do; you have a wonderful climax planned, after all, and all that planning is now ruined. But raising the tension earlier will actually create a better ending, if your story is based on characters and not on the plot.

Don’t be afraid of moving your “there” to earlier in the story if you are bored. If you think the aftereffects will be more entertaining than your present passage, it is probably a good idea.

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: Have a character share a scary childhood memory. Remember: the more details, the better! (Details=words)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Six

(Heeeey, 20% done!)

There are few things harder than writing a boring story. Well, actually, there are a lot of things. Giving birth, moving, and watching someone suffer all come to mind. But writing a boring story is frustrating. It is supposed to be this wonderful time, something exhilarating, and instead it falls flat. You are bored, and everything is terrible, and why are you wasting your time doing this again?

One of the best pieces of writing-related advice I ever received was that if you are bored writing it, people are going to be bored reading it. There is absolutely no point in writing something that bores you. This does not mean to quit, though; rather, it means to re-examine where your story is going and whether you are taking too long to get “there”.

Why the quotation marks? Because “there” can usually be altered a little bit. To give an easy example, let’s talk Harry Potter. Now, there are a number of reasons why Jo needed winter to pass while the trio were in the tent. She needed the students at Hogwarts to fight for a while, she needed the wizarding world to change, and she needed Voldemort to search for the elder wand and for Harry to get some hints. So there were so plot-ish reasons for what is usually considered to be a boring part of the story.

So what did she do? She added some interesting things to the story. She added parts about Dumbledore potentially going evil. She added Ron’s departure. She made sure that there were other bits and pieces that were interesting in every chapter. That is how you are going to make it to the interesting parts. You have to keep yourself entertained and engaged, and that means throwing curves balls.

The other option is to bring your “there” up, which is what I will discuss tomorrow.

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: A kiss! Who with? Randomly? GO FOR IT.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Five

Today, I do not feel like writing.

I am tired. I have a stomach ache. I want to go to bed. I want to fall asleep daydreaming about being a writer, but I don’t want to actually do the work to become a writer. After all, can’t I catch up on my novel tomorrow? It’s only day five. I can write extra some other day and catch up.

But the problem with that attitude is that once you give yourself that excuse, it becomes inifinitely easier to give that same excuse the next day. And the day after that. And while it can be easy to gradually catch up on one day’s work, it gets a little bit harder to catch up every day.

That is why I am doing Camp NaNoWriMo this year: I am out of the rhythm. I missing writing every day, and I think about writing most days, but I can’t force myself to open the document and start typing. The problem is that I am never going to finish a story that way; I’ll never get to do the parts I love. I will never be able to drive to a bookstore and see my name on a book that is sitting on shelves. I will never be able to share the world I have created.

So perhaps I am not going to write 1,666 words today. But I am going to try for one page. If nothing else, that will get me one page closer to my goal. Do the same.

TODAY'S PLOT DEVICE: A lost puppy shows up in the backyard. What happens next?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Four

Ah, day four. Day four is always an interesting day in the NaNoWriMo timeline. We are getting further away from day one, which means that if we start over now, the odds of finishing on time are not so good. But meanwhile, our stories just don't seem very interesting any more.

Consequently, I give you a sentence that will make your writing journey easier: "<INSERT PROTAGONIST'S NAME> thought they were dreaming."

Ah, the dream sequence. I find the dream sequence to be one of the most useful techniques in storytelling. We can see what our character wants or is afraid of, but also how they would act if that situation presented itself. That always makes for an interesting scene; how would your protagonist ask if their enemy came and kissed them? If they had to walk the tightrope at the circus? It can be lots of fun to write these scenes, particularly since they can be ridiculous; but since it is a dream, anything is fair game.

The added bonus with a dream sequence, though, is that it actually means nothing. The character can remember the dream or they can forget it, but it doesn’t actually change the plot. You don’t have to worry about the long term ramifications of two characters kissing or breaking up, but you can have all the fun and the words that come along from those scenes. So throw a dream sequence into your novel today!

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: A dream sequence that involves your main character being stabbed. Who stabbed them? Why? So much to dig into there!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Three

And we’re already 10% done with our novels! Or hopefully, we will be 10% done by the end of the day. I have found that nothing that makes a month faster than trying to write a novel in it. It just starts zooming by.

Given that you are about ten percent into your novel, odds are that you have introduced your antagonist. The antagonist can be a person, but it can also be a thing—to give a Shakespearan example, who would be the antagonist in Macbeth? It’s more the situation Macbeth is in rather than anyone in particular. So at the very least, by this point the antagonist has been introduced.

The funny thing about antagonists is that they are oftentimes the most interesting characters in the narrative. We want to know why they are antagonist-y and why they are causing so much trouble for the main character. You don’t have to start diving into the deep, scary backstory yet, but it can be good to start alluding to it. Even if you don’t know it, you can mention a few different things to help establish the character. A very good example of this is from the classic movie Mean Girls.

It does not have to be huge, or even too plot related. But just start to explain the antagonist. It doesn’t have to be everything. Just let it mention a few things to help flesh the character out. Odds are, it will give you more ideas about your antagonist.

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: There is a crazy kitty. The crazy kitty comes towards your protagonist and glares at them with a hiss. What happens next?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day Two

And we’re at day two!

Day two is when part three starts to hit—when you realize that your idea didn’t extend to chapter two. Maybe it covered chapter one, and it certainly covered the last three chapters, but you have no idea how to bridge that gap.

Welcome to the middle of your story.

The middle can actually be a very exciting place. You’re free to do what you want in the middle, as long as it somewhat moves the story along (and words generally do move your story along). Have you ever fantasized about something random? Like what it would be like to enter a baking competition, or what sports could be played in zero gravity, or going on a vacation to Nebraska? Guess what—now you can! It’s early enough in your story that you can do something completely random and it still fits in. You don’t even need to explain it that much. The invitation can come out of the blue.

And whatever you do, don’t make it go smoothly. Get on the wrong plane. Have your protagonist trip and spill the pie on the judges and get sued. Nobody wants to read (or write) about a world where everything is idellic and easy. We want the funny, the hard, the weird. So don’t be afraid of writing that. And if you have a random idea while writing, do it! Now is not the time to brush things aside. After all, you don’t have much planned for the middle, do you?

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: Give your protagonist a quirk. They are always drinking root beer. They jam their hands in their pockets and break the seams. Something easy that can be done again and again. It always makes a character seem more realistic!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014 - Day One

And so we begin.

Beginning a story is normally the easiest part. After all, who doesn't have some sort of idea for a story? You can talk to pretty much anyone and they will have some sort of idea. They don't often write them down, though, which is why they're busy talking about their ideas instead of writing them. So if you have sat down to write a story--congratulations! Part one is done!

Part two is the trickier part. You have to figure out specifics. Occasionally you already have the specifics figured out--main character is named Bob! The space station is named the Orion! But generally, those parts can trip you up. Just don't worry about that. You don't have to pour through baby name books looking for a name that is absolutely perfect. If you can't think of a name, just give them a generic one to start off. Names can easily be changed later on, after all.

Same with settings, for the most part. Your home in Florida can change to Minnesota if you realize you want snow. A couple of minor comments about flat-screen televisions and the internet can change your time from the 1960s to the 2000s. So don't worry about the specifics--those are the easiest things you can change later on. Just worry about how you’re going to introduce that exciting plot idea. Prologues can be a great way to do so, and they don’t have to be from the point of view of your main character. If it sounds cheesy, you can take it out later (in May). Just start writing that story!

TODAY’S PLOT DEVICE: Introduce a character named Fred who is OCD. Trust me: when starting off a story, it is always better to have too many characters running around.