NaNoWriMo

Are All NaNoWriMo People Crazy?

I don’t know. Would you call someone crazy if she ate a whole package of sugar cookies over the course of two days?

Oh hush you. It was a rhetorical question anyway.

Yes. To answer the title question – we’re all just a little crazy … about writing, that is. Myself included. But it’s a good crazy, I think. We want to write and when we have the chance to write, we don’t know what to write – it’s a never ending battle, trust me. I want to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m not sure I can take another year of FAILING at it.

You know what bugs me? Setting up my NaNoWriMo profile for this year and not being able to say that I participated, let alone won, the 2010 challenge.

I couldn’t tick 2010. Because even though I had PLANNED on participating, I didn’t. So of course, I didn’t WIN it.

That bugs me.

That space. That void. That FAILURE.

AAARGH.

You know what else bugs me?? I didn’t even ACCESS my NaNoWriMo profile until Saturday. In years past, I would haunt the site on September 30th, refreshing every few seconds so that when registration went live, I would be one of the first to sign up. What has happened to me?!?

I don’t know what was wrong with me last year – I just COULDN’T get motivated enough to write anything.

But this year. THIS YEAR, I will do better.

Maybe.

http://twitter.com/#!/writefromkaren/status/128183738470367234

I don’t know, man. I have a lot LESS time to do NaNoWriMo this year than I did last year. Last year, I wasn’t even freaking working. Now? I am. Full time. And it’s one of those jobs that SUCKS the life force right out of your body so that you get home, pale, shaking and desperately trying to control the tick in your left eye.

Fine. You caught me. I can make the time. I mean, how many posts have I written scolding whiny people complaining that they didn’t have the time for NaNoWriMo? Too many to mention here, that’s for sure. So yes. I can make time. I will get up earlier, or stay up later, or forego a blog post or two, or ignore my family … but yes, I can make the time.

My BIGGEST problem is finding the mental energy. Right now? I have just enough left over to formulate a sentence or two – but only a few. If anyone asks me anything deeper than “hey mom, what’s for dinner,” I may spontaneously combust from the sheer effort it takes my brain to fire what little synapses I have left.

In short? I will implode.

All of this to say, I still don’t know if I will attempt NaNoWriMo this year.

I guess I better decide something, the challenge starts in just seven short days!!

Listen to the audio version.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Progress Report #3

Getting Started

https://twitter.com/#!/writefromkaren/status/1384697888247808

I’m shocked by what I’ve written. Not the actual content, but rather, the direction my story is taking me.

I never begin these challenges with an outline, or even a plot, in mind. (Actually, I never have any clue where I’m going with any of my writing). I have an initial idea, I throw some cardboard characters in there and I dive in, head first, into the shallow end.

Somehow, and I don’t know how this happens, I inevitably start figuring out who these characters are as I’m writing. They have lives, they have interests, they develop weaknesses they become … people.

And ideas? Start tickling the back of my imagination. I can feel it, like a stray hair sweeping over your arm – you know it’s there but damn if you can’t locate it and remove it.

It’s bothersome. And that’s how it feels when I start getting AN IDEA.

This is what happened the other day. The germ of an idea was born but I wasn’t sure where it was taking me. I had laid the foundation, but I couldn’t see how the entire floor plan was supposed to look.

And then, THEN, suddenly, the plot idea *POOFED* and appeared before me.

https://twitter.com/#!/writefromkaren/status/1406560949501952

This, THIS, is why I adore NaNoWriMo. Its a real high when the plot magically puts itself together and it’s better than my original idea.

My story is moving along. I have transformed my character’s main love interest into the villain and it looks like the best friend might end up the love interest. I’ve also tossed in a serial rapist in the mix – my heroine is now in danger.

I’m telling you, writers, if you’ve never given this “don’t have an outline to save my life” approach to writing, you should try it sometime; it’s really liberating. You have to be willing to just let go and follow your imagination around, but it’s amazing where the bugger leads you – I’m constantly surprised.

http://twitter.com/#!/writefromkaren/status/1984794363695104

I’m barely keeping my head above water here. I’d like to be a few thousand words ahead of the game just so I have the buffer. I have a feeling I won’t have a lot of time to write around Thanksgiving (we’re hosting dinner this year), so I really need that word cushion.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Progress Report #2

Getting Started

I have discovered a secret weapon.

Write or Die.

It’s a writing program that pretty much MAKES you write. And if you stop? It will start deleting your words! So you really have no choice but to move forward.

I’ve been using the free, online version. They also have a desktop version you can pay $10 bucks for.

In the desktop version, you can disable the backspace, make it full screen, disable the save feature until you reach your goal (!!!), and make it so that you’re only seeing what you’re typing, that way, you’re not tempted to stop and re-read what you just wrote.

I’ve been using the Write or Die program on and off for the past two days and I’m quite convinced this is the reason I’m now over 11,000 words. When you use the program, you really have no choice but to write. I love it!! I will definitely be using it more and in fact, I think I might actually go ahead and buy the desktop version, just to give myself yet another kick in the pants.

The story is moving right along. I ended today’s session on the verge of a hot, steamy scene so it should be fairly easy for me to pick up when I start writing again.

I re-read a chapter and when I wrote it, I thought, “Geez, this really sucks.” But when I went back later and read it, it’s actually not too bad (if I say so myself). So take heart, Wrimos, chances are your work is not as bad as you think it is. But don’t read it yet! Save that for January … NaNoWriMo projects need a little time to “stew” before cooking any further. 😀

Kevin and I are getting ready to go grocery shopping. We’ve put it off long enough. Later, we’ll likely watch a movie and/or play a game with the boys. My birthday is coming up and I’ve been guilting the boys into playing Settlers of Catan with me. hehe I’m evil like that.

Hope your Saturday is going well!

NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

Writing is Never a Waste of Time

I have a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing: I majored technical writing and minored creative writing.

I don’t tell you this to brag, but to tell you that I know a little something about writing. (Though am not an expert and have likely forgotten most of what I learned by now).

I learned how to translate technical language into user-friendly language.

I learned the fine art of story telling (this is not to say that I practice the fine art of story telling – I’m still pretty much a newb when it comes to writing fiction … but it’s not for lack of trying).

I also learned that some writers? Take themselves WAY too seriously.

Seriously.

My technical writing classes weren’t that bad – we were there to do a job, it was pretty cut and dried.

But my creative classes were a lot more subjective; creative writing is an art, a subjective art. Some people hate what you write, other people enjoy what you write. It’s the luck of the draw. The only thing writers can do is write from their heart; you can’t please everyone, it’s impossible.

That’s why it’s called subjective – arising out of or identified by means of one’s perception. Or in other words, what appeals to one person doesn’t necessarily appeal to the next person.

Art is funny like that.

I read a lot of different writing styles in those classes, and I always tried to keep an open mind about what I was reading. I tried to look past the grammatical errors, or the sloppy descriptions, or the plot holes and focus on the POTENTIAL so that when it came time for me to give my critique, I would be able to give the writers something helpful to either learn from, or try the next go around.

And I appreciated when they did the same for me. (As opposed to saying, “there probably should have been a comma here.”)

Most of the writers were a pleasure to work with. We joked around, we brainstormed, we bonded.

And then … there were the writers who stuck their noses in the air, who thought they were so much better than the rest of us “lowly” wannabes. They were the writers who felt like all writing should be GOOD writing – who agonized over every line until it was perfect, (it’s never perfect), who ultimately never wrote anything as a result, and who were more likely to drown their angst in alcohol because they felt not to do so somehow indicated they weren’t “true” writers.

The rest of us? Laughed at them because their self-importance was truly ridiculous.

I have since been very sensitive to overly-serious writers. I have never understood some writers’ attitudes when it came to writing. I especially don’t understand how some writers can get so bent out of shape over a very rewarding writing exercise … like National Novel Writing Month.

Quite frankly, I resent writers who have a holier-than-thou-this-is-a-waste-of-your-time-and-everyone-else’s-time attitude when it comes to the NaNoWriMo program. (And NaNoWriMo is the acronym. So it sounds like something Mork would have said from “Mork and Mindy“, get over it).

I have a serious problem with writers who try and convince us that this program is a waste of time.

For whom? You? Because any program that promotes writing, that fires people up about writing, that encourages people to follow their dreams of writing a book (and yes, I realize that 50,000 words isn’t exactly a book, but it’s a pretty damn good start), that encourages people to be more aware of the importance of writing is not ever, EVER, a waste of time.

As in NEVER.

The writers that criticize this program have every right to express their opinions. They have every right to refuse to participate. They do not, however, have the right to discourage other people from taking part or to somehow make people feel like they’re not “real” writers if they participate.

They’re not “real” writers? By whose definition? Yours? Who died and made you the end-all authority on such matters?

You might be wondering where this rant is coming from. I read a post today at Salon.com entitled, “Better yet, DON’T write that novel:
Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy
.” That title alone is enough to start my blood boiling. You can imagine how fired up I got after reading the piece.

The gist of the article is this:

Rather than squandering our applause on writers — who, let’s face it, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not — why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

Though I can appreciate Ms. Miller’s attempts to encourage more people to read, I’m all for that endeavor, I don’t think discouraging people from writing, or telling them that doing something they’ve always wanted to do is a waste of time and “hey, why don’t you read instead” is the way to get the message across.

(Here’s an idea Ms. Miller: if the thought of thousands of writers taking part in a personal challenge bothers you that much, then put your money where your mouth is and start a National Read as Much as You Can in a Month program).

True. Reading is an essential ingredient to writing – reading actually educates a potential writer and helps him/her to improve his/her own writing, but to use the argument that there are too many books out there already and there’s never any way anyone could ever read them all, is a pretty weak argument.

I’m pretty sure people don’t have any aspirations to read everything out there. And I’m pretty sure people have no desire to read the same things – our interests are different, hence the reason there are so many books out there, to accommodate those interests.

I can also appreciate Miller’s derision that writing is a business. Again, yes. People buy how-to write books by the bookshelves. But to me, that just demonstrates people’s desire to learn more about the art of writing so they can someday try their hand at it. That’s not to be frowned upon, but celebrated.

But this part, this is what caused my eyes to cross in irritation:

I am not the first person to point out that “writing a lot of crap” doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November.

As someone who doesn’t write novels, but does read rather a lot of them, I share their trepidation. Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read. (That said, it has generated one hit, and a big one: “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, who apparently took the part about revision to heart.) The last thing the world needs is more bad books. But even if every one of these 30-day novelists prudently slipped his or her manuscript into a drawer, all the time, energy and resources that go into the enterprise strike me as misplaced.

Wow. First of all, who’s to say that the writer is writing crap? Secondly, why does Ms. Miller feel like she’s the ultimate person to judge whether what someone writes is crap. Thirdly, again, why does Ms. Miller assume that participating in this challenge is a waste of time? To her, maybe. But not to the person who filled the drawer.

And lastly, who says the writer participating in NaNoWriMo wants anyone to read it? The reasons people participate in the challenge are varied and certainly personal.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge, Ms. Miller. It’s a chance for someone to do something spectacular. It’s a chance for people to stretch their creative muscles and see how much they can bench press. It’s a chance for people to feel like they’ve accomplished a seemingly impossible task.

NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary.

Again, because YOU say it’s unnecessary then it’s automatically deemed unnecessary? And using that same logic, I suppose you’re also implying that writing conferences, “an event geared entirely toward writers,” is also unnecessary?

As with any art, Ms. Miller, writing takes practice. It is a rare person indeed that can actually sit down and produce something worth printing in the very first draft. I daresay the writers you enjoy reading so much produced some pretty CRAPPY first drafts.

Granted, there are some inexperienced writers out there that think they can simply participate in NaNoWriMo and go on to get it published without revising, without editing, but should we punish their naivety by denying them the experience of challenges like these?

There’s really nothing more I can add, everything is pretty much covered in the comment section, but I felt compelled to throw my two cents into the opinion pool because I am so sick and tired of seeing snotty writers criticize a pretty awesome program all in the name of “well, it’s not REALLY writing after all.”

That’s such a load of crap. Writing is writing, no matter what form it takes. And I think it’s arrogant and foolish to discourage anyone from trying their hand at it. It’s even more condescending to imply that people that take the bull by the horns, that make time in their busy schedules, who dare to dream big, are wasting their time by participating.

Writers, ignore these naysayers and participate if you want. What you put into the program is what you take away from it. Have fun. Let loose. Give yourself permission to just write it out.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll prove Ms. Miller wrong and go on and get it published; you’ll never know if you don’t try.

I for one say, write your heart out.

(ADDED: I’m not really as upset by this article as my post implies, but I am irked. I also think that Miller’s piece was most likely deliberately condescending to generate controversy thereby giving Salon.com and Ms. Miller’s page clicks. But maybe I’m just being cynical).

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Progress Report #1

Getting Started

I’m tired. No really, I’m exhausted.

This does not bode well for the rest of the month.

In addition to staying up way too late last night to watch the zoo that is our political system, I think I’m coming down with a cold.

And monthly Myrtle has decided to pay me a visit. And she’s not only here, she’s banging pots and pans, scattering toilet paper all over my house and generally being a HUGE nuisance. My abdomen is quite displeased with her.

This is not helping my fatigue. (Sorry, TMI)

I am already bored with my story. Three days in and I’m already stuck as to where I’m going. THIS IS NOT GOOD. I like my characters, I think this story has potential, but I haven’t quite figured out what that might be at the moment.

There’s no conflict right now. I’ve set up the situation, semi-introduced my characters and though the reader has been thrown into the middle of Marsha’s life (my main character), I know they’re thinking, “who cares??”

I’m not discouraged though, this is pretty normal for me, it’s just that I don’t usually reach this stage until the third week.

Not the third DAY.

I have to get my driver’s license renewed and my oil changed tomorrow. I have to – my license expires in five days and I’m going on 5,000 miles since my last oil change. Since the place I take my car is usually slow, I’m going to ask Kevin if he will bring me home so I can at least get in about 30 minutes of writing as opposed to sitting around the smelly waiting room and watching day time talk shows. *shudder* (And no, I can’t take my laptop and try and write in the waiting room. I can’t concentrate and besides, I spend most of my time people watching in situations like that – it gives me a chance to steal some characteristics).

I’m taking Dude to get his haircut tomorrow after school. BUT, we’re doing something a little different this time around. He’s driving us up there and I’m staying in the car while he checks in, gets his cut, and pays. We go to Too Hotties, which is a salon specifically for men. This means that there are hot girls wearing skin-tight t-shirts and short skirts who wait on the guys. (So sexist, but whatever, they give good cuts … geez, that sounded dirty). This also means it’s a terribly uncomfortable place to sit around since I’m the only female in there and I’m not exactly Too Hottie material.

At any rate, I’ll take my laptop up with us and write a bit in the car while I wait on him. I did that yesterday when I took Jazz in for his dentist appointment and I actually got quite a bit done – it’s amazing how QUIET the car can be.

My goal is to break the 10,000 word mark before Saturday.

Tell me, fellow Wrimos, how is your writing going? What is your word count?

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Workshop – You Can Do It!

This article was originally published on October 24, 2008 at Write Anything, but it still applies today.

This is the last day you’ll hear me talk about NaNoWriMo

At least, until the challenge “officially” starts, which is what … just a few short hours away? 😀

NaNoWriMo has got to be one of my all-time favorite writing activities. It’s not just about the writing itself (though that’s very satisfying), but the fact that we all come together and share experiences, advice, motivation and support to get through the challenge. I love NaNoWriMo because I FEEL like a writer.

And I have an excuse to put off chores because I have “to write.” 😉

I think writers either get NaNoWriMo, or they don’t. For some, it’s a waste of time. Why write 50,000 words, and go through all of that stress and trouble just to write trash?

And others appreciate and embrace the challenge of actually being productive – we’re no longer TALKING about writing, we’re DOING it.

I know, for me, NaNoWriMo has been my writing springboard. I’ve gone to college and taken quite a few writing classes. Which were great, and I HIGHLY recommend anyone halfway serious about writing in general to do so, BUT, it can actually be counterproductive because there are so many rules and guidelines you must remember that it can sometimes be overpowering, and even intimidating – so much so, that it can squash your creativity.

I think that’s what happened to me. I had been conditioned into thinking if I didn’t write well, then there was really no reason to write at all. That everything I wrote, needed to be worthy of public consumption.

Hogwash.

If you don’t write, you won’t get better. If you don’t get better, then how can you write anything worth reading?

I began the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2005. My novel was called “No Sleep, No Talk” and yes, it was as bad as the title implies. In fact, it stank – royally. I really didn’t have a concrete plot idea, I just sort of allowed my characters to lead me around. It was like feeling my way in a pitch black room; I had no idea where I was going, or where I had been. But man, I had fun writing it.

I have never once thought it was a waste of time. The experience, the LICENSE to let go and simply write whatever I wanted to was thoroughly liberating. I needed permission to let go of my preconceived ideas about writing and simply write. After crossing that 50,000 word line, I felt free, truly free, to be open and honest with my writing, for the first time in my life. I’ll never forget the experience.

In 2006, I wrote “Reality Check.” I took a news article and built an entire story around it. After crossing that 50,000 word finish line, I realized that the premise, though interesting, was a bit far-fetched. Though I still think the idea is cool, I think it might work better for a short story as opposed to a novel-length work.

In 2007, I wrote a mystery/suspense story entitled “Broken Silence.” In essence, it was centered around a group of people who lived on a cul-de-sac and who found themselves stranded after a nasty ice storm raged through. The story was basically trying to survive the elements, each other and some unknown force that was causing people to just … disappear. I still think the idea is marketable. In fact, I will likely go back to my project and rewrite it because that’s how confident I am about this idea. I based this idea on my own real-life experience. In 2006, we had an ice storm dump five inches of ice on us. Our city shut down. Seventy-five percent of the city lost power and we went into survival mode. My family was without electricity for almost 12 days. It was a test of my character, and the characters of those around me.

In 2008 I wrote a romance story. I’d denied myself the genre I love the most for long enough. It has nothing to do with the sexy parts, though there is that, but I’ve always been fascinated with relationships in general – just WHY do men and women connect, anyway?

My story was based around a NASCAR driver, with two possible love interests to juggle, an old family stigma to overcome, and other jealous, spiteful rivals to dodge. I’s fun, dangerous, exciting and sexy all at once.

I thought I would experiment with my 2009 project and write a series of short stories. I took one character from one short story and wrote the next short story using him/her as the main character. It was really fun, but terribly frustrating. It was more of a stop-and-go sort of pace as opposed to a smooth (?) flow of working on one story. I found it increasingly harder and harder to start over again time and time again so that by the time the end of November rolled around, I could barely make myself care, let alone write anything. I probably won’t try that experiment again any time soon. But don’t hold me to that.

For now though, I’ve talked enough. I’m ready to sit back and listen to what ya’ll have to say about YOUR projects. So, here are some questions for you, please answer them in the comment section, or on your own blogs and post a link, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

1. Do you have an idea for your NaNoWriMo project?

2. What instrument will you be writing your novel on?

3. Where will you likely be writing most of your story?

4. When will you likely write your story?

5. What is your daily word count goal?

6. Have you participated in past NaNoWriMo’s? How many years have you won?

7. What do you think about NaNoWriMo in general? A waste of time? Or beneficial?

Thank you again for indulging me these NaNoWriMo posts. I sincerely hope these past posts have helped you prepare for this challenge, or for your writing in general.

NOW, get organized, get those fingers warmed up and …

GOOD LUCK!!!!

(Stick around. If I have time, I’ll post some videos of me reading excerpts from my project. The keywords being: If I have time. Also, you can keep track of my progress on my NaNoWriMo profile page as well as receive updates about my progress here via word count widgets [in side bar] or funny little cartoons).

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWrimo Workshop – Constructing Scenes

This was originally published on Write Anything, October 23, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

*taps monitor* Are you awake? Are you daydreaming? I hope you’re daydreaming about your NaNoWriMo project because guess what?

We start in less than 48 hours!!!

No worries, right? *gulp*

If you’re just tuning in (welcome!), we’ve been talking about various aspects of beginning a novel-length story this week. We’ve covered finding ideas, setting, character, point of view, and plot.

Today, we’ll cover constructing scenes – from start to finish – and tomorrow, I turn the floor over to you and you get to share what sort of progress you’ve made thus far and offer any NaNoWriMo advice.

Let’s get started …

Again, I will be referencing Plot & Structure – Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell because in my opinion, this is one of the best books about plot on the market. If you haven’t checked it out, seriously, dude, look at it. It’s good.

Most readers judge whether they will A. continue reading the story, or B. like the story within the first ten pages of reading the story.

So tease your readers, make them want to stick around and read the rest of your story with a killer beginning.

THE BEGINNING of your novel actually performs several tasks:

1. Get the reader hooked.

2. Establish a bond between the reader and the Lead character.

3. Present the story world – tell us something about the setting, the time, and the immediate context.

4. Establish the general tone of the novel. Is this to be a sweeping epic, or a zany farce? Action packed or dwelling more on character change? Fast moving or leisurely paced?

5. Compel the reader to move on to the middle. Just why should the reader care to continue?

6. Introduce the opposition. Who or what wants to stop the Lead from obtaining his/her goal/objective?

First impressions are everything when it comes to tempting people to read your novel. Blow your first impression and you’ll have twice the work to get readers’ attention.

Bell suggests the following to grab readers:

Opening Lines:

Start your opening lines with the character’s name (Bell suggests looking at some of Koontz’s work – he’s the master of killer opening lines. I agree). In addition to introducing the reader to your character right off the bat, make something happen to that character, “and not just something ominous or dangerous. An interruption of normal life.”

Give your readers motion, of something that is about to happen or has happened. If you do this, it’s likely your reader will want to stick around to find out what happens next.

Action:

We’ve all heard it – in media res – in the middle of things. Start your story in the middle of some sort of conflict. Using dialogue, as in an interrogation, is a good example of this.

Raw Emotion:

“We bond with the Lead through his deep feeling of a universal emotion.”

Look-Back Hook:

Suggest there is a not-to-be-missed story about to unfold.

Attitude:

A good example of attitude is The Catcher in the Rye. The character’s voice is almost defiant and blase about telling his story.

Prologues:

“The use of prologues is a venerable one, used by all sorts of writers in many different ways. But the most effective prologues do one simple thing – entice the reader to move to chapter one.”

Personally, I’m a huge fan of prologues, both in reading and writing. In fact, I plan on starting my NaNoWrimo project with a prologue. And on a side note: I bought Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight today and though the prologue is short, it’s powerful. Here’s an excerpt from Twilight’s preface:

I knew that if I’d never gone to Forks, I wouldn’t be facing death now. But terrified as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to regret the decision. When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.

The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.

Brilliant. That definitely makes me want to keep reading.

Bell goes on to explain these techniques in detail – it would behoove you to read his suggestions. Again, the beginning? Can gain, or lose, your readers. Hone up on it and be aware that it’s crucial if you want to jerk the reader out of his/her reality and into your story.

All of your hard work will (should) compel the reader to move on to THE MIDDLE.

Bell says, “What you do in Act II, the middle, is write scenes – scenes that stretch the tension, raise the stakes, keep readers worried, and build toward Act III in a way that seems inevitable.”

Bell offers some suggestions on keeping the middle of your story interesting and moving forward.

Death:

What is the Lead’s ultimate obstacle? To stay alive.

And it’s not all about just physical death, the Lead could have an aspect of themselves die on the inside, too. Or even something die in their professional life, like they are denied a promotion, or they are demoted, or they are involved in a scandal that puts the entire company in jeopardy.

The Opposition:

The Opposition (which Bell prefers to call the antagonist because not all antagonists are evil), should be stronger than the Lead. Why? Because if they are easily matched, then why should the reader worry?

And don’t forget to write your opposition with an empathetic view – it just makes for a better character.

Adhesive:

An adhesive is any strong relationship or circumstance that holds people together.

“If the Lead can solve his problem simply by resigning from the action, the reader will wonder why he doesn’t do so. There needs to be a strong reason for the Lead to stick around, to keep the characters together throughout that long middle.”

Here are a few tips on making a strong adhesive:

  • Life and Death – staying alive is essential to one’s well-being.
  • Professional Duty – a cop can’t just walk away from his assigned case.
  • Moral Duty – a mother will fight to the death in order to get her child back.
  • Obsession – when you’re obsessed by something, then you’re just compelled to have it
  • .

Bell says to “ARM yourself for confrontation.”

ARM stands for Action, Reaction, More action. It is the fundamental rhythm of the novel. Think about it. Unless your Lead character is doing something, you have no plot. Plot results from the action of the character to solve the problems in front of him, all with the aim of gaining his desire.

Action requires that the character has decided upon an objective and that he has started toward it. This action must be opposed by something or the scene will be dull. So pick an obstacle, an immediate problem to overcome.

Bell goes on to explain how to stretch the tension, how to raise the stakes, how to energize a lethargic middle, and how to trim an overweight middle. Again, all GREAT tips to help you get past the middle hump.

A weak ENDING can ruin an otherwise wonderful book.

“A great ending does two things above all else: First, it feels perfect for the kind of novel it is appended to. Second, it surprises the reader. It is not so familiar the reader has the feeling he’s seen it somewhere before.”

Why are endings so hard? Because the novelist is like a plate spinner, you know, the guy who spins a dozen plates all at the same time while making sure none of them drop?

“Your plot will have lots of plates spinning by the time you get to the end. You need to get them off safely. You need a little flourish. And you need to do it in a way that is not predictable.”

Maintain the tension in the story until the last possible moment, then give your reader a knockout ending.

But in addition to the knockout scene, you need to give your reader a final scene in which something from the hero’s personal life is resolved.

Choose Your Ending:

1. The Lead gets his objective, a positive ending

2. We don’t know if the Lead will get his desire – an ambiguous ending.

3. The Lead loses his objective, a negative ending.

Don’t forget to tie up any loose information. And only you, the writer, can know if the information is important enough to wrap up. Missing pants are probably not that important. But missing money could be. If the loose information is important enough, you’ll most likely need to write an additional scene. This may entail some extensive rewriting – too bad, do it anyway. The majority of readers do not care for unresolved issues.

If it’s minor information that’s flapping in the wind, it’s probably enough to have a character simply explain it away.

You want to leave your readers with a last page that makes the ending more than satisfying. You want it to be memorable, to stay with readers after the book is closed.

Working to make your last page (memorable) … is worth every ounce of your effort. It’s the last impression, what psychologists call the recency effect. Your audience will judge your book largely by the feeling they have most recently, namely, the end. Leave a lasting impression and you will build a readership.

Whew! That’s it! I hope this week proved insightful for you. I also hope it got you excited about writing your novel for NaNoWriMo. Keep all of these things we’ve talked about this past week in your mind, but the bottom line is TO WRITE your story. Try not to think about it too much. Knowing all of this information is great, but the bottom line is, do what feels right for you and your story.

Next month is all about quantity, not necessarily quality. Get your words down on paper first, then you can go back and polish later.

It’s hard to polish something that isn’t there. 🙂

Thank you for sticking it out with me! If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, look me up! I’ll be giving updates about my writing progress next month, so stick around!

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Workshop – Plot

This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 22, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

Plot happens. Or in my case, it doesn’t happen enough.

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but plot … *insert heavy sigh here* is indeed my Achilles heel.

I normally have no problem finding ideas, settling on a (vague) character or finding that character’s voice, but plot … I have a problem with.

I think, at heart, I’m a short story writer. I can whip out short stories like nobody’s business, but when it comes to stories longer than 4,000 words? My brain completely locks up. I never know where to go, which way to turn and my stories tend to veer off the main highway and before long, I’m out in the middle of rural imagination land scratching my head and wondering how in the world do I find the road back to my original premise.

So, writing about plot? Is NOT an easy thing for me. However, I’ll try my best to make this post coherent and informative – for both you AND me. (And if you have anything to add, you’re MORE than welcome to do so!)

Plot, in essence, is the board, or frame, for your story puzzle pieces. You take an idea, snap on a few characters, insert them into a POV, border it with conflict and voila! You have a plot for your story.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

I’ll be referencing several areas from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure because it truly is an invaluable how-to plot resource guide. If you don’t have this book, I recommend buying it – now.

You might be one of those writers who likes to have their story all worked out in your mind before you write your novel. You preplan, plan, revise the plan before writing. Perhaps you have index cards all over your wall or desk as you read this. (Guilty?)

Or, you might be one of those seat-of-the-pants writers who loves to plop down each day at the computer or over a pad of paper and just write, letting your story flow without planning, anxious to see where your story takes you.

Or, you could also be a ‘tweener (*raises hand*) who does a bit of planning but still seeks some surprises and spontaneity.

Which ever method you use, you have to ask yourself one question: Does it connect with readers? After all, that is the purpose behind plot.

Readers are subconsciously asking these questions when they open books:

What’s this story about?
Is anything happening?
Why should I keep reading?
Why should I care?

These are all plot questions, and if you want to make it as a writer of novel-length fiction, you must learn how to answer them.

There are a few basic plot elements, that if understood and applied, will help you come up with a solid plot every time.

Let’s talk about Bell’s LOCK system:

L is for Lead

A strong plot starts with an interesting Lead character. In the best plot, that Lead is compelling, someone we have to watch throughout the course of the novel.

O is for Objective

Objective is the driving force of fiction. It generates forward motion and keeps the Lead from just sitting around. An objective can take either of two forms: to get something, or to get away from something.

C is for Confrontation

Opposition from characters and outside forces brings your story full to life. Readers want to fret about the Lead, keeping an intense emotional involvement (and investment) all the way through the novel.

K is for Knockout

Readers of commercial fiction want to see a knockout at the end. A literary novel can play with a bit more ambiguity. In either case, the ending must have knockout power. A great ending can leave the reader satisfied, even if the rest of the book is somewhat weak. But a weak ending will leave the reader with a feeling of disappointment, even if the book up to that point is strong.

Now that you know the key points, you need to structure your plot. Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better. Structure is about timing – where in the mix those elements go. You need a three-act structure: beginning, middle and end.

For a breakdown of these three-act structures, you really must read Plot & Structure, but in essence, “a plot is about a Lead character who has an objective, something crucial to his well-being. The major portion of plot is the confrontation with the opposition, a series of battles over the objective. This is resolved in a knockout ending, an outcome that satisfies the story questions and the readers.”

But how do you come up with a plot that people will want to read about?

Bell suggests you ask yourself a series of questions. Here are a few to consider:

What do you care most about in the world? (If you care, you’ll write with passion. If you write with passion, that passion will transfer to the readers and they will care right along with you).

What is your physical appearance? How do you feel about it? How does it affect you?

What do you fear most?

What secret in your life do you hope is never revealed?

What is your philosophy of life?

“Answering these questions opens up a door into your own soul. From that viewpoint, you can better evaluate plot ideas. Does the story you’re considering hit a nerve inside you? If not, why write it?”

Here are seven of the twenty plots suggested in 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias:

1. Quest: as the name implies, quest is the protagonist’s search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible. (This will be the crux of my NaNoWriMo story).

2. Wretched Excess: people who push the limits of acceptable behavior, either by choice or by accident. This fascination for people who inhabit the margins of society is what makes this plot so interesting.

3. Sacrifice: your protagonist is sacrificing something from his/her life whether it’s physical or spiritual.

4. Forbidden Love: think Romeo and Juliet here.

5. Transformation: deals with the process of change in the protagonist as she journeys through one of the many stages of life.

6. Underdog: the protagonist is faced with overwhelming odds.

7. Temptation: the story of the frailty of human nature. If to sin is human, it human to give in to temptation.

We’ll cover constructing plots tomorrow, but for now, let’s talk about common plot problems and how to solve them.

Scenes That Fall Flat:

Always make sure scenes have tension in them. Even when characters are calm and relatively quiet, there should be an undercurrent signaling that things are not as calm as they seem.

Every scene should have that moment or exchange that is the hot spot, or the focal point.

Mishandling Flashbacks:

There is an inherent plot problem when you use flashbacks – the forward momentum is stopped for a trip to the past. If not used properly, the reader can get frustrated or impatient. The following are tips when using flashbacks:

1. Necessity – is it absolutely necessary?

2. Function – make sure it works as a scene. Write it as a unit of dramatic action, not as an information dump.

3. Navigation – getting in and out of a flashback can be tricky, so make sure it flows naturally. For example, write in a strong, sensory detail that triggers the flashback.

The Tangent:

The tangent is a side road that was not on your original plot map. It is a suggestion of your writer’s mind. You can ignore the tangent and move on, or you can follow the tangent for a while because it could lead to a better idea. Bell suggests that instead of continuing with your story, open up a new document and follow the tangent. If it fits with the rest of your story, copy and paste it into your story. If it doesn’t, keep it, it may come in handy for future stories.

Resisting the Character for the Sake of the Plot:

Sometimes, your characters will want to take over. Let them. See where they lead you. It could add a whole new element to your story.

Slogging:

The part of your story that slows down and appears sluggish. Here are some suggestions to get past this point:

1. Go back. Is there some place in your earlier pages that seems dull? Or beside the point? Have you lost sight of the Lead’s objective at any point? Keep going back until you find a spot where you felt good about the writing, about beingn on track. Come up with a better scene idea than the one that is already there.

2. Jump Cut. Jump to the next scene, move your characters forward in time, put them in a different location, if you wish. Sometimes jumping ahead can help you connect your story later.

Shut Down:

What if your imagination shuts down? There’s nothing there. Don’t panic – it happens to all of us at one point or another.

Bell suggests:

1. Recharge your battery. Write through it. Give yourself permission to be bad. Write first, polish later. (Hence NaNoWriMo. *smile*)

2. Relive your scenes. Not rewrite. Relive. Have you ever imagined yourself to be the characters? Tried to feel what they are feeling? Then try it. Let the characters improvise. Don’t like what they came up with? Rewind the scene and try it again.

3. Recapture your vision. What does you novel utlimately mean? What is it saying about life beyond the confines of the plot? How does it illuminate your vision of life? Every story has a meaning.

To outline, or not to outline? That truly is every writer’s question. And unfortunately, there is no fast and easy answer. It really all depends on you, the writer. You’ll need to experiment with both methods to find what works for you. Bell’s section on Plotting Systems (Chapter 10) offers some great advice for the NOP’s (the no outline people) and the OP’s (the outline people) complete with step-by-step methods you can try for yourself. But the bottom line is – what works for you? There’s only one way to find out – experiment.

Bell writes, “What makes a plot truly memorable is not all of the action, but what the action does to the character. We respond to the character who changes, who endures the crucible of the story only to emerge a different person at the end.

“So, look to create character change in your novels in a way that deepens the plot and expresses a theme. For when a character learns something or suffers because he changes for the worse, it is an expression by the author about the larger canvas – not merely what happens in the novel, but what happens in life.”

Lastly: Constructing Scenes