NaNoWriMo Prep: Testing the Waters

NaNoWriMo2016

If you’re not flat-out pantsing NaNo this next year (and I’m a fan of not pantsing the first finish, but I know that everyone is different), how do you get the plot from point A (the beginning) to point Z (the end) without writing it all out?

One way is linear. Use the old outlining method to just plug from beginning to the end with as much detail as you find necessary. It would look like this:
I. Part I
A. Chapter One
1. Kitty sees the mouse.
2. Mouse gets away.
B. Chapter Two
1. Mouse taunts kitty
2. Kitty plots mouse’s death
II. Part II

Okay, yes, it sucks. Do you really think I’m going to waste my plotting powers on a blog post? I mean, I like you… no, that’s not true. I don’t know you. What are you doing on my site?

I may need more sleep. The grump is gone. Back to plotting.

Another way is notecards. Write each major plot point on a notecard and just move them around until they make sense to you.

Another way is mind mapping. Now, I’m a Figment, so my mind is a bit of a nebulous construct in the first place, but you can find some good tools for mind mapping in this Lifehacker post. It also gives a general idea how to do it. Very general.

There’s also something called the Snowflake Method. Again, I don’t have much familiarity with snowflakes, so I have to rely on someone else’s guidelines, found here.

Finally, I have a major writer’s crush on Joanna Penn, so she’s my go-to for most writing things. She has a great post here. (Note that it’s a writer’s crush. I’m not stalking her. That would be creepy.)

Now, why are you still here? Either you’re a pantser and you’re bored or you’ve got work to do. Either way, you shouldn’t be wasting time reading my words any longer. Go make your own.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Step Three, Plotting Characters

NaNoWriMo2016

I’m going to get to the character part, but first I’m going to take a quick side step. What have you not prepped for that has nothing to do with writing in November?

  • You have told family and friends that you will not be socializing unless it’s at a write-in
  • You have told family and friends you can manage fifteen minutes of socializing at a time IF they bring food and caffeine
  • You have stocked up on foodstuffs, either freezer meals, pre-made dinners, cash for eating out, or family/friends bribery
  • You are prepared to do one very good, deep housecleaning on the week of November 1st and then to just to touch-ups during breaks for an entire month
  • You have shunted laundry duty to the spousal unit, children, or paid person. Or parental unit. Barring that, you have figured out how to do laundry between sprints.
  • You know how to ninja write at the table while socializing during Thanksgiving.
  • You already purchased Christmas presents (or you can deal with the “after Thanksgiving” rush)
  • You figured out how to write on your phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and (if necessary) regular paper and will be carrying as many items of mass wordage on you as possible at all times.

Okay, now that we’re past all that, let’s talk character stuff.

There are, largely, two types of people when it comes to characters: there are those who write plot-driven stories and the characters are revealed by how they interact with the plot or there are those who write character-driven stories and the plot is revealed by how the characters would naturally behave in a situation. My theory is that plotters tend to be the former and pantsers tend to be the latter, but it’s not a hard and fast line.

If you are the former, you may not need to do a lot of character set-up ahead of time (which amuses me, since these are the plotters). Names. Rough character sheet. The rest will come to you.

If you are the latter, you may have detailed character sheets for each person who shows up in your novel. You may know more about your MC than a good stalker, maybe more than a good diary.

I have to admit, I’m a plot-driven writer. I learn about characters as I write, rather than making them up ahead of time. So I can’t help much with character development. But here are some sheets for those of you who like to have a handle on your characters before you write the first word.

However you choose to get to know your characters, at least get a name list and rough description list ahead of time.

Really. You’ll thank me later. Or send chocolate. Or books. Money would be fine. But… I’ll settle for thanks.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Step Two, Developing the Plot

NaNoWriMo2016

You can go into NaNoWriMo cold, with nothing. You can. I can’t. I break out in a cold sweat thinking about staring at that screen, knowing I have to write a minimum of 1,667 words that day, hoping something will come to me.

No, thanks. I’m going into NaNo prepped. Those of you hardy souls who do not, I salute you. From far away. With a full CDC virus-protection suit on, just in case the insanity is contagious.

Instead, I’ll be doing some exercises over the next few weeks to get my stories into a rough sort of shape. Note that I’m not a hardcore planner. I only get the map set up. I let the story determine where I travel on that map.

Yesterday, if you did your homework, you came up with a number of potential plots. Now you need to spend some time developing them into a working thesis, so to speak. Or type. Or… whatever. Let’s move along.

There are lots of ways to do this. One is just to take the general idea and plug it into various genres and see what it gives you.

Idea: Husband and wife are traveling 2000 miles to get to ailing mother’s house

Yeah, it’s kind of vague. That’s okay. This is where the brainstorming comes in.

  • Romance: Husband and wife, marriage on the rocks, need to travel cross-country to get to ailing mother-of-wife’s house. Wife can’t fly due to some illness (do research). Husband begrudgingly drives. Fighting happens, which leads to talking about their problems, which leads to making up, which leads to romance repaired by the time they get to granny’s house. (Yeah, I’m not going to step into the romance field any time soon. Relax.)
  • Fantasy: Husband and wife start on the journey to mother-of-whoever’s house. They decide to drive for reasons (brainstorm). On the way there, they pass through a portal and find themselves in a fantasy land where they have to battle monsters and still travel (although via horseback) to get to the castle in order to complete the journey and head back home. Since I write humor/fantasy, I’d throw in a yellow knobold (check to verify name) to assist them and… well, something else. This isn’t my story, so I’m saving the plot energy for the real thing. You get the idea, though.
  • Horror: Husband and wife start on journey because mother-of needs a kidney/ liver/ blood transfusion and wife is a rare match (research blood typing and donations). Wife has fear of flying, so they drive. They stop one night at a hotel. Freaky scariness ensues. I can’t even write about writing about it, because horror is scary and I don’t have anyone here to hold me after I’m traumatized. But… horror.
  • SF: H & W start on a spaceship to mother-of. Spaceship has issues. AI systems go haywire. Must get there. Blah blah.

You get it, right?

Notice there’s no outlining. There’s really no plotting, you scaredy-cat pantsers. There’s just a little bit of a map of where the story could go.

Go. Take one of your ideas from yesterday (or all of them) and just plug them into various genres. Go mainstream and figure out something literary. One-up EL James and do erotica. Make it an action-adventure ala Romancing the Stone. Whatever you do… go make a story map.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Step One, The Plot

NaNoWriMo2016

Alright, you’re set for the realities of NaNo. It’s hard. You should be ready. But you still don’t have a story.

I’ve known some writers to say that any writer who doesn’t have a plot isn’t a writer, but sometimes they’re just not trained in what they need to know to find plots. Because, you see, the plots are out there. They’re evil little bunnies with vicious teeth and sharp claws, and they… ahem. Sorry. Anyway, you just have to learn to look for the plot bunnies. Because they’re everywhere. Everywhere.

Okay, took a few minutes to get out of the hug-me jacket, but I’m back. Let’s get to specifics.

You can start with story prompts, but that’s so… generic. So if you want story prompts, you might want to go look at another blog. I’m going to try to teach you how to find plot ideas yourself.

  1. Go watch people. Every person has a story.  No, you shouldn’t go up to total strangers and pepper them with questions. You’ll get some interesting responses, but it’s hard to promote your novel from jail. Instead, make up their stories. Who are they? How did they get here?
  2. Listen to music. The tune, the title, the lyrics– any of those can spawn a story. Don’t plagiarize, but do use inspiration.
  3. Read some good books. Again, totally not promoting plagiarizing, but good writing builds on other writing? Don’t believe me? Go check out Shakespeare.
  4. Watch television. You may even be able to publish fanfiction on Amazon Kindle Worlds. Just (again) don’t try to publish something that you’ve borrowed from elsewhere.
  5. Brainstorm with other writers (or just other people). Write down everything, however absurd. Then harvest what you can use. Except organs. We frown on organ harvesting. So does the law.
  6. Look at artwork. What’s the story behind the picture? Can you make it into more than a story? Is it an entire book?
  7. Go for a run/ exercise of your choice. Exercise produces the good hormones that stimulate creativity.
  8. Keep a journal, diary, or a stack of sticky notes (I’m a fan of the stack of sticky notes). Write down every creative idea you ever have. All of them. Ruffle through them occasionally and see if something inspires you.

Go. Get thee some paper and a writing instrument (or clay and stylus) and start sketching out ideas. Do not stop until you have at least five, however crazy you think they are.

We’ll get to developing ideas in the next post. For now, just get them.

Shoo! Go write.

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Importance of Planning, Even for Pantsers

NaNoWriMo2016

Dear Pantsers:

I know every instinct is screaming for you to run for the hills. Stick with me. It’s worth it.

-Z

It is entirely possible to start NaNoWriMo on November 1st (or later) with no preparation. You can win with a late start. It’s also possible to scale Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen. If you’re a professional with the right physiology and a little luck, you can even survive it.

That doesn’t make it a good idea if you have any other choice. And you, my little writers, do.

But I’m a pantser! I don’t do prep!

And you can choose not to. But why not make something that’s already an incredible feat a little bit easier?

Today, let’s talk about the bare minimum of what you really should have to write a semi-coherent novel by the end of November:

  • A very basic plot. This doesn’t mean: Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. This means: Boy meets girl at club when he’s with another girl. Boy is intrigued by girl and has a friend get in contact with her. Boy convinces girl to date him. Girl finds out boy is technically dating someone else and didn’t tell her… oh, you get the picture.   “A man died. A woman died.” isn’t a plot. “A man died. His wife died of heartbreak.” is.
  • An MC (that’s main character) you know reasonably well. If you took the MC out to eat, what would he order? If you went shopping together, what would she do? The more you know, the more naturally the story will flow.
  • A chosen form of recording your story. Notebook and pen. Computer with Scrivener. Tablet with a notepad app. Dictation machine. A combination of the above. Make sure you have your tools ready.
  • Support. You can find support groups online, in the NaNo forums, or in-person groups. If you’re still at a loss, get one friend to be your accountability partner.
  • A reason. Know why you’re doing it. If you’re just doing it because it sounded like a cool thing to do, then you may do fine. You may also crumble if things go wrong. If you’re doing it because you need to finish a novel (finally?), then you’ll know that you might be putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Knowing the reasons ahead of time can help motivate you when it gets hard.

That’s all you really need. Here’s a few more things that might help:

  • A title. Some books don’t get a title until just before production. Some get a working title. Some titles are intrinsic to the book.
  • A cover. While it’s not necessary, a cover helps motivate. It’s like being able to see the course before you run the race. It doesn’t need to be a professional cover. In fact, it shouldn’t be. But having something visual that means your book to you is a nice motivator.
  • Supporting characters. Again, the better you know your characters, the better your plot can flow.
  • An outline. Unless you are of a very particular mindset and know you can hold the bones of a book in your head, putting something on paper keeps the words flowing. Outlining also serves to let you try out ideas without having to write all 50k words before you figure out that you wrote yourself into a corner.

And, with this, we’re done with generalities. Tomorrow’s post will start on the specifics of working out your plot.

See, pantsers? That wasn’t so painful.

WorkIt Wednesday: Get Up and DO Something

Chess Board - TwitterI’m deep in the guts of revising my publishing schedule, so my WorkIt Wednesday is going to be simple. I don’t want to get stuck in this chair all day; it’s not healthy. But I do want to get this done. So here is the challenge:

Movement

For every hour, do five minutes of movement. Stretch, go for a walk, do a quick tidy about the office, or throw in a fast bout of yoga. Do not sit for more than an hour at a time. Use a timer to accomplish this.

Writing

Remember that book we’ve been working on together? Let’s plot our schedule from plot to finish. Need a guideline to help you get there? Here’s roughly what I use:

  • Day 1: Idea, outline, researching, rough cover idea
  • Day 45: finish rough draft
  • Day 65: finish first pass edit/ rewrite & send to beta readers
  • Day 95: do second rewrite/ edit
  • Day 115: send to editor
  • Day 135: do third rewrite/ edit
  • Day 145: proofread, finish cover, format
  • Day 166: submit books, pre-release, ARC copies
  • Day 180: (yep, six months later) release book

Your turn! If you’re feeling really brave, share your timeline here. I’d love to see it.

 

Side note: remember my goal to do 2k a day in run/walk, writing, editing, reading, and eating? Here’s my results:

  • Run/walk: goal of 34k (17 days).  Did 36.7k.  +2700 WIN
  • Writing: goal of 34k (17 days).  Did 12,593. -21,407. Ack.
  • Editing: I didn’t.  I just… failed.
  • Reading: goal of 34k (17 days). Did exactly (or close enough) 34k. WIN
  • Eating: goal of 34k (17 days). I went over, but I need better tracking. That’s on my to do list for today.

I can do better for June. I will do better. Are you doing this with me? How’s it going?

A to Z Blogging Challenge: M

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Mapping It Out

A to Z Blogging Challenge: M

Do you map things out?

I’m not referring to making a map like a Tolkien book (and please don’t get me started on how geologically impossible Tolkien’s maps are in the first place). I mean, do you map out your writing journey?

First, do you map out your book?

Of course not, you say. I’m a pantser.

You can be a pantser (or at least a plantser) and still have a map. Depending on the genre and style you’re writing in, your book needs certain checkpoints. Some people manage to get them automatically, but I find having the little checkpoints means I don’t have to stop to think about it (which means I spend more time writing). For my current WIP, I’m using “The Hero’s Journey“. It’s can also be called the three-act character arc, although I see it as four acts. Here are the main checkpoints:

  • The starting point/ real world/ normal world: introduce things as they currently are and always have been
  • The inciting moment/ call to adventure: something happens that gives the protagonist a kick in the pants (but he’ll refuse the call)
  • Major plot point/ personal test/ baddie #1: the protagonist gets another kick in the pants. Reluctantly or not, he’ll end up heeding the call this time.
  • Switch over to the adventure/ road/ trials (starts Act 2)
  • Major plot point/ personal test/ baddie #2 (also called a pinch point): puts the protagonist to the test again and reminds the readers there’s a big bad world out there
  • The protagonist starts to figure things out and act on his/her own
  • Major plot point/ personal test/ baddie #3 (2nd pinch point): after the protagonist seems like he might win, the antagonist deals him a blow that shows it’s possible the protagonist won’t win. This leads to emo time for protag.
  • The protagonist, at his lowest, makes a decision to carry on
  • The climax/ showdown/ Big Baddie: battle of one sort or another
  • The resolution

Even if you’re a fly-by-night pantser, your story will almost automatically contain all of those. However, by having a map, you can look to see where you should be heading next any time you get lost. Helpful in preventing those pesky blocks.

So there’s that. But what about your writing career?

I just write for fun.

Good for you. I think you wanted the door down to the left. I mean, you can stay, but this part is more to help you plot out your six-book series.

If you have a number of books you want to write, list them all. All of them. Be honest.

Now, what are you writing first? How long does it take you to write? To edit?

I’m a bit of a hyper-focused Figment with no life and a boredom issue. I schedule 45 days to write my first draft. Then I give myself 15 days off. That gives me some squirming room.

I do a fast, run-through rewrite in about a week. Note that I edit a bit as I go.

Then I send it to betas. I give them four weeks, but I pad that with two weeks if necessary.

More edits. Lots of edits. Finish up covers and blurbs. Then formatting.

All told, because I cycle quickly, I put a book out in three or four months. However, I write short books. You may need a full year… and that’s fine. You just need to know what you need. Because, if you really want to get that ball rolling, you’ll want to start writing your next book while the first one is with the beta readers.

It gets a bit complicated on my end, so there is a spreadsheet. Mostly I just liked messing with a spreadsheet, but it does work.

How do you organize your books? Your writing plans? What has worked (or not worked) for you?

Setting Big Goals (or Big Goalposts)

The Annals of Bobian

Lately I’ve been hearing about this event Reeyal Peeple go to called The Super Bowl. To my disappointment, most don’t attend in person and it has nothing to do with large bowls of ice cream. However, it does have something to do with today’s post: Big Goalposts.

I have been told that this is a game in the Reeyal World and that it sometimes hangs in the balance on kicking a ball through these rather large goalposts. I’ve also been told by my Social Reality Person that if I mention “Wide Right”, I will be looking for a new Social Reality Person. Those goalposts are important.

I don’t have goalposts, but I do have big goals: I’m planning on putting out five books this year.  Book one is out. The Annals of Bobian is a YA humor book about the importance of ice cream in life. There are probably some life lessons, too, but read it for the time-changing aliens.

I digress. I have four more books planned for this year and my Social Reality Person insists she is putting out a book as well and I may have to deal with Reality on my own for a bit. So we’ll say I have five books coming out, one of them vicariously. Really, it’s the same thing.

Will I actually get all five books out and will they all be quality? Honestly, don’t know. This is always the goal, but sometimes Reality and I have a nebulous relationship. What I do know is that last year I had the goal to put out one book and see if I could get in a second. How many books did I publish? One.

If I don’t put up big goals, I won’t reach for big goals. If I do put up big goals, I might fall a little short, but I’ll do more than I would have if I hadn’t had those goals at all.  As long as I don’t fall “Wide Right”, I should have a good year.  So what are your big goals this year?

By the way, I’m apparently hiring a new Social Reality Person. Some people just can’t take a joke.

Publishing a NaNoWriMo Book: Achieving Your Goals

CaveatReader CropHoleColorRev7B

So, now that you’ve set your goals… you did set your goals, right? Back in this post, I walked you through how to set goals. Hopefully you did your homework, because I’m going to blather on about how to achieve them.

For those who are wondering how I’m qualified to talk on goal-setting and achieving, I read a lot of books. I’m a Figment; we don’t need to eat or sleep much, so I read. I also set a really daunting goal with my last book and achieved it. So… mostly qualified.

My guidance for this section about goal-setting is from Goals! by Brian Tracy. He believes there are twelve steps to set and achieve any goal. Our goal is to publish our NaNo book. Let’s walk through it:

  1. Desire. I know a lot of people say “I want to win at NaNo this year”, but then fail. I’ve failed. Why? Most likely it wasn’t the thing we wanted most. (Occasionally outside stuff interferes, but that still means that outside stuff is what you want most). There’s nothing wrong with wanting other things more; you just have to be aware of it so you can work around it. Priorities. If you want to publish a NaNoWriMo book, nothing is going to stop you (but it might slow you down– and that’s okay).
  2. Belief. If you don’t believe you’re going to publish your book, chances are pretty good you won’t. This is a hard one for Writers and other Artists because we run on self-doubt. You don’t have to beat that to believe you’ll publish. You just have to believe in the next step. Then the next. And so on.
  3. Write it. You should know the power of words. You’re a Writer. Writing down your goal and posting it somewhere prominent will make it more real, more concrete. Keep that goal constantly in front of you.
  4. Starting point. You have to figure where you are coming from. Some of those who do NaNoWriMo have been writing for decades; for some, it’s the first time they’ve really tried to write. Starting points are going to be different for everyone. If you write all the time, then you may just need a quick idea or outline. You’re set. If you haven’t written much, you might need a refresher course in writing, a critique group, extra time, and a Frequent Sipper card from your nearest overpriced coffee chain. Be honest with this step; no one is there to judge you except yourself. You can’t reach your goal if you start at the wrong place.
  5. Motivation. You have to know why you want this. Another thing about NaNo is that it attracts all different sorts of motivations. Some are doing it for bragging rights. Some do it as a bucket list item. Some want to improve as a Writer. Some already are Writers and this helps them crank out the next book. Why are you doing it?
  6. Deadline. You need to set a deadline. Actually, in this case, the deadline has been set for you (thank you, NaNo Royalty). November 30th, come Conductor or high water, you must finish. However, if you want to publish, you’ll need a second deadline. (Really, you’ll need a series of deadlines, but that might be another post.)
  7. Obstacles. Everyone has ’em. Mine is a crazed Conductor chasing me everywhere and messing with my Writer Mojo. Yours may be Work, Lyphe, Family… figure out your obstacles now. Then plan how to overcome them. In The Martian, Mark Watney and NASA often have contingency plans for their contingency plans. You don’t have to be that extreme, but at least have some options. If you get behind, are you going to try to extend your word count every day or catch up in one heroic marathon session? Are you going to start ahead, writing 2000 words per day, so you don’t have to stress over a bad day? Are you planning to skip National Kill Ben Franklin’s Favorite Bird Day (if you’re in the United States) just so you can write?
  8. Skillz. Okay, skills. Spoilsport. What skills or information do you need before you start on this noble goal? It’s getting a little late for taking a writing class before November, but maybe you can do a quick brush-up course. You can start researching publishing avenues. You can make notes on Time Management. I won’t tell the Rabbit you want his job. Maybe you just need information, like how many jurors it takes to push a train off the tracks. Figure out what you need before you start and you’ll go further without mishap.
  9. People. Everyone needs a support center. I have a small, clandestine Writing group in Figmentland. We’re all outlaws, so we rarely meet in public, but we know we’re there for each other. You may have an in-person Writing group or an online group. Either way, get involved. Make some personal connections and find people who will hold you accountable. Some of those people may not even be Writers.
  10. Plan. Now it’s time to put it all together. You have a starting point: starting a book. You have a finishing point: finishing a book (or, for some of us, publishing a book). Now, even you Pantsers, take a moment to plan. Put down the big direction changes. Writing: November 1-30. Goofing off: December 1-31. Editing and Revision: January 1-31. Beta Readers: February 1-28… to March 31. Revision 2: April 1-30.  Editor: May 1-30. Formatting: June 1-30. Publication: July 1.  (Really broad strokes there, but you get the idea.)
  11. Visualize. Remember when we wrote down our Goal? Wait. You didn’t write it down? GO WRITE IT DOWN NOW. Put that goal where you will see it all the time. Put it on your bathroom mirror. Post it next to your bed. Scrawl it on your refrigerator. In fact, put it in all three places. See your goal constantly.
  12. Persevere. Never give up. Ever. Ever. If you “fail” at NaNo this year, keep writing all year. Make it a habit. Next year it will be easier. If you finish NaNo, but never finish the novel, you’re one step closer. Keep taking the next step until you get there and eventually you will be there. The only way you truly fail is if you quit.

Now, go do your homework. The next time I’ll be talking about Writer Platforms. It’s not just a train station.