NaNoWriMo: Day 15 (100k and some change; book 2)

NaNoWriMo2016Sorry for missing yesterday. After a huge day on Sunday, I didn’t feel like blogging. Or writing. Or moving.

I’ve hit the 100k mark (double-NaNo) and finished up book 2, The Word Runner. I’ve also realized The Word Runner went horribly wrong (I didn’t write it with any sort of an outline, just a vague concept) and I’ll have to rewrite the entire thing from chapter two onward.

Ah well. Live and learn.

Today I will start book 3, Cheyna and the Doorway to Everland. I’m also prepping for Orycon in Portland, OR on Friday and gearing up to do a big attempt at marketing The Wicked Witch of Whatever. Yes. I am talking about marketing. But not until December.

So, it’s halfway to the end of NaNo and I’ve only finished two books. Maybe six was asking too much of this non-Figment body– and that’s okay. I’ll keep writing through December 15th to get as far as I can on first drafts. Theoretically, I should be able to do all six by then. It doesn’t take into account my steadily growing hours at the day job (retail-associated), but I can work around that. I think.

So, onward and upward. Moving on.

How’s your writing going? Are you halfway or better on your goals?

How to Write a Book: Outlining

Chess Board - TwitterI am aware that I just lost a lot of pantsers. I’m going to ask you to come back and give me an opportunity to woo you. I’ll even hold your hand if you want, but I’m running at the first sign of a restraining order. Stick with me through this post. Let’s see what we can do about┬áthis outlining idea.

There’s a reason we learn to outline in school: it’s a very useful skill to have, even if you’re not a writer. If you are a writer, it can be invaluable.

But, Zan, I hate outlining.

Here’s a thought: if you hate it, maybe you’re not doing it right.

But I’m a pantser. I like to just let the story flow.

There are people who can do this. If you’ve already finished books and published, ignore me. If, however, you either can’t finish a book or you get stuck in forever edits, let me try to help you. It might not work. The fun thing about anything artistic is that there is no real right way or wrong way; there’s only the way that works for you.

So, how do you outline a novel?

Start with the basics. Every book (except some really trippy random stuff) has a similar form to it. You have the opening, the first inciting moment, the second inciting moment, the faux climax, the oops moment, the third inciting moment, and the finale. (Yes, some of these are my own very technical terms.)

I didn’t outline for Veneri Verbum, but I did have these major plot points figured out. I’ll use that as an example. If you haven’t read it, you can still get an idea of what I mean.

If you are new to outlining, you hate outlining, or you’re a pantser and really against having the book set in stone (which it isn’t, but that’s a different post), just get down these key points:

  1. The opening. Get the who, the where, and the how at the very least. For me, it was Christopher, at his computer, trying to write a novel in one month.
  2. The first big moment. It’s not set in stone. If you really feel like writing it down limits you, write down several possible first big moments. You’ll end up with more of a flow chart than an outline… and that’s okay. For VV, it was Christopher realizing he’s not in Kansas (or at his computer) any longer.
  3. The second big moment. This will be the one that propels the story. In Christopher’s case, it was realizing that he had to get home or he would destroy the known universe.
  4. The faux climax. This is when your reader briefly thinks that big moment #2 is being resolved. In my┬ástory, it was getting everyone– almost– on the train.
  5. The big oops. Okay, the story isn’t resolved. Almost everyone got on the train.
  6. The third big moment. This is the one that has everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, holding their breath, waiting to see what happens. I think I sort of skipped through this one without touching down. Veneri Verbum is weaker for it.
  7. The finale or true climax. This is when everything comes together in a neat little package. That final chapter wraps it all up with a bow if you do it right. When Christopher… wait. That would be a major spoiler. Nope, not revealing that one. Sorry!

So, there you have it. Seven steps. Seven little bitty tiny steps. You can do that, right? (Note: if you’re using the flowchart method, then you’ll branch off at each inciting point, so you might have more than seven steps. “Might” in this case means “will”.)

There’s your homework. Go do your outline. No, no whining. I already told you this is not a safe zone. I will have to mock the whiners and that takes away from my writing time. Shame on you. Just do the thing. You’ll thank me later.

Probably.

How to Write a Book: Getting Ideas

Chess Board - Twitter

 

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card

I once belonged to a writing group. It was a mixed group, with experienced, published writers shuffled in with complete newbies. There was one thing that often made the newbies stand out. They’d come in, participate for a while, and then say, “I need help. Does anyone have a story idea I can use? I can’t come up with any.”

This is a relatively safe place. I try to not mock much…. Wait. Who am I fooling? I write humor, parody and satire. Mocking is my middle name. So if you are a sensitive soul who doesn’t like being the butt of a good poking (but not a poking in the butt; that’s just rude), you may want to pull out your blankie.

A good writer learns to see the millions of ideas out there. You cannot be a good writer unless you can come up with ideas.

The good news is that fourth word: learns. This is something that can be learned. I’m here to help you learn how to see the ideas out there.

1. Take a tip from Shakespeare

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. He was writing all the time. Most of his stuff is taught in classrooms and still performed on the stage. Most of his stuff also came from somewhere else. Chaucer inspired Troilus and Cressida. Plutarch inspired Julius Caesar. In fact, it’s quite possible only three of his plays are original.

The point of this is that there is nothing wrong with getting ideas from elsewhere. Veneri Verbum and Beta Beware owe a lot to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Just be sure that you’re only using other sources for ideas, not for actual stories. There’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiarizing!

2. Read the news

There’s a saying: truth is stranger than fiction. There are plenty of writers who have gotten their inspiration (or an entire book deal) out of real life. Read the news on a regular basis and make a note of any stories that jump out at you. Be sure you reference the original article.

3. Play the “what if” game

I have a favorite game. I will go out in public, suitably disguised so my fans don’t chase me for autographs, and I will play a “what if” game. What if zombies suddenly appeared in this mall. What would the bored girl in the food court do? What about the jock boy who’s busy bragging to his friends about what he did this weekend?

You can play the same game. Get a notebook, go out somewhere in public (you don’t have to talk to someone), and write down some “what if” scenarios. If you don’t have your own, there are cards and books that will get you started.

4. Use story prompts

I’m not going to link you to story prompts because I don’t use them. However, if you search “story prompts”, you’ll get more than you could ever use in a lifetime.

5. Take part in a writing competition

Usually, competitions will give you the topic. How’s that for easy?

6. Use photos for inspiration

Go look around the internet and see how many photos can spark a story idea.

 

There are plenty more ways to get ideas, but these are good ways to start. One key to this is to always keep something with you so you can write (or voice-print) your ideas. You get ideas in the shower? (Lots of people do.) Get a waterproof pad, because you will forget by the time you get out. You get ideas in the car? Get a voice recorder. I always have my phone (with a notetaking app), a notebook and pen, and a voice recorder with me. Always. I also go through an inordinate amount of sticky notes.

Keep a file (paper, electronic, or both) of your ideas. Even if an idea is just a snippet, it can be invaluable.

There you have it. Six easy ways to get story ideas. Your assignment this week is to try all six ways. That’s right. Go do something to improve your writing. Then come back to tell me what worked best for you.

By the way, when you’ve been doing this long enough, you’ll start to see story ideas everywhere. I call them plot bunnies. Be sure to stab them. They are both voracious and extremely fecund. You will soon be overrun.

How to Write a Book: Getting Ready

Chess Board - TwitterHow do you write a book? There are as many answers to that as there are books, really, but I’m going to attempt over the course of however long it takes to walk you through the process of writing and publishing an independent book. Your mileage may vary and please do try this at home.

NOTE: I believe everyone should write. I’m a huge fan of everyone writing. I do not believe everyone should publish a book, any more than I believe everyone should dance Swan Lake. The advice I’m giving here is for writers who want to publish, although parts can be used by anyone.

So what is the very first step to writing a book? Writing, right? Wrong. It’s not even outlining (if you’re a planner) or getting an idea.

The very first step to writing a book is learning how to write.

This idea may make this my most unpopular blog post.

“I’ve been through thirteen years of schooling, plus four years of college where they continued making me take English classes.” (Side note: if anyone had to make you take English classes, why do you want to put yourself through the hell of publishing a book, which is like a Masters Class in English??)

  • Going to school and taking generalized English classes will generally teach you just that: general English. Even if you took creative writing classes (bonus points to you), you may not be fully equipped, but we’ll get to that. The basic English taught at most school is just enough to get you through life. Trust me, we’ve read your business letters. It’s a close thing in many situations.

“I took every writing class offered at school. I wrote in a journal; I blog daily; writing is my LIFE.”

  • Hurrah for you… and you now have the first piece in place for being ready to write a book. You’ve learned to write regularly. That’s one piece.

“I took literature classes where I had to critique other novels and write papers on them.”

  • Now you’re getting somewhere. I’ve never understood how indie writers feel qualified to critique their own work when they’ve never had any practice in critiquing in the first place. There are plenty of writers who get away with this; I’m just suggesting it’s not the best choice.

“I read books.”

  • Writers should read books the same way they should write: regularly, if not daily. If you are not devouring books, both in the genre you want to write in and outside of it, on an almost-daily basis, you do not have the framework for writing one.

“I write real good.”

  • Take a grammar class. In fact, take more than one. A traditionally-published writer can possibly get away with never taking a grammar class. An indie writer needs to know how to properly put a sentence together and when you can break the rules (or not). Please don’t tell me that’s what your editor is for. How will you know your editor is any good if you don’t understand the basics of grammar? I’m not saying become an editor. Just understand how grammar works. Really, writers should take a grammar refresher once a year.

Alright, you’ve done all this. Now go take a writing class. If you don’t have money (starving writers, unite!), get a book. Take a class online (try Coursera or EdX). Make sure the class teaches structure (again, it’s better to know the rules before you try to break them) and, if possible, teaches the restrictions of your genre. It’s a lot different writing an epic fantasy than it is writing a hard-boiled detective novel.

Come back when you’ve taken the class (and only take the class if you’ve done all the other steps).

“But such-and-such famous writer never said they did this. In fact, they said they didn’t.”

There’s an exception to every rule. There are also people who win the lottery. Unless you feel your odds are up there with the lottery winners, I’d stop trying to be the exception and go about doing things the way that works. But that’s just me. I don’t want responsibility for feeding you or teaching you the facts of life, so you can take or leave this information. I’m just passing it along.

Where are you at? Need some advice for how to get to the next step? I love to hear from you. Except you, spammers. I like putting you in the time-out box.