So yesterday I finally found out the results of my entry into the NYC Midnights 2020 Short Story Competition. Sadly, though not necessarily unexpectedly, I didn’t progress to the next round.
I’m okay with this, I re-read my story on Monday, and was cringing at the mistakes which I somehow had missed on read throughs prior to submission, and even at the time of submission I knew it was fairly high level summary like, and sparse on details. It was probably the wrong plot, of the wrong implementation of the plot for a 2,500 word challenge.
If I were to have another go at this, I’d probably quadruple the word count, but that wasn’t the challenge. Hopefully next year I don’t end up with genre: historical fiction, subject: a water shortage and key character: a lumberjack. For some reason I just found that really tough, and most combinations of two of those three elements I could have worked with much easier. Still, I’m proud I came up with something.
So, without much a do, here’s the story, and afterwards the feedback I got from the judges:
I wrote a thing. It’s not a particularly good thing all told.
So I mentioned last year that I was entering the NYCMidnight.com Short Story Challenge for 2020. I paid my entry fee back last year and waited for the start to see what my criteria for the 2,500 word first round would be.
Hot damn, did I get a challenge. Historical fiction was the genre, something I’ve considered writing but never actually done, but okay – then the subject had to be a water shortage. Fine I can work with that, that’s great. Then the challenging bit, it has to include a character that’s a lumberjack – which turned out to be pretty limiting.
So, it’s just about a week later. I’ve written something, but it meets the criteria. It was actually fun, went with a story of revenge, of a man literally playing god in the American Mid-West in the 19th Century.
I hit word count to, exactly. There’s no minimum required, but when I edited it down a little, I cam in at bang on 2,500 words.
Once entry has closed, and everything’s confirmed as entered (after three or four days), I’ll post the story up here. For now, just want to revel in completing the first challenge, and hope for a second. Hope the second is a little easier for me.
Do you know what the biggest problem with modern popular culture is? Lack of villains.
Okay, that’s not true, there are lots of villains, but no truly great ones, not recently.
I’ve been thinking this for a while, but it came to focus recently on watching the BBC’s The Musketeers (2014 – 2016). In season it had a fantastically complex villain in the form of Peter Capaldi’s Cardinal Richelieu, who could chew the scenery with the best of them, but was also in his way charismatic and patriotic. The dreadful things he did come across as being for the betterment of France, but insofar as his vision of France extends. The result was an extended fencing duel between Captain Treville and his three/four Musketeers, and the Cardinal Richelieu and his conspirators. The king is swaying in between the parties, almost as a marker of the progress of the fight.
Then in season two it the Comte de Rochfort, who was pretty one dimensional. The only cleverness is how long he Rochfort can hide his true intents. There is no real rhythm to it. Rochfort, though played well by Marc Warren, merely is evil, and he knows it – his only real goal is to capture or kill the Queen, he doesn’t see himself as the hero, he is a madman parading as the king’s confidant.
I’m only just watching season three now, and I’ve high hopes for Rupert Everrett as the Governor of Paris, I’ll take a guess that he’s plotting for the throne somehow, but the season seems to be a battle for the soul of Paris, and that’s okay it is a Musketeer story.
You know me and my love of Alexandre Dumas’ stories.
I cite this as an example within one show that went from great to weak villain. Generally, though, villains are weaker now. However, there are other examples of great villains, modern books, comics, TV and films are incredibly focused on the heroes, the desire to give heroes arcs overrides the need for an excellent complex villain.
Here’s the thing though, I don’t think it is as necessary to have a good hero arc, as it is to have a good villain arc. Heroes are fine being paragons, sure they can struggle, have complexities – but let Superman be Superman, let Lex Luther plot and strive to take on a paragon.
Give the villain a great motivation, give them subtlety, make them overcome obstacles, they’re the ones that need to struggle and succeed, that way your paragon of a hero has a true struggle, a good fight to overcome. Your hero is greater for having a greater villain. Be specific too; they should aim for something specific, achievable, not just vague.
There’s a reason why I think Thanos is greater than Palpatine in the villain stakes, Palpatine’s motivation is to rule the galaxy, with no real reason to, while Thanos aims to improve the universe in the only way he sees that can be achieved.
Maybe I’m wrong; maybe I’m missing a lot of great villains out there. I can accept that. Feel free to suggest some books in the comment section; my reading lists can never be too long.
It’s been nearly two weeks since NaNoWriMo, and I’ll admit I’ve been struggling. The ideas aren’t flowing, and I’m struggling to write. I tried to keep to just a thousand words a day since December started, but just lacked inspiration.
So, we’ll save that goal for the new year. Nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions, other than the lack of follow through.
Instead I’m working on a single project, new writing wise, and that’s a Christmas folk tale, well, obviously not an actual folk tale, it’s an original piece by moi, but that’s the style I’m going for.
Still struggling for inspiration on the details – but I’ve set my mind to it, so that is what I’m going to do. It’s not a long piece, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 words, and the implementation is really important for several reasons.
First, this is for kids so the dialog needs to be excellent, which is excellent practice for my second draft of the Children’s fantasy I wrote during NaNo
Secondly, its got to be funny, I don’t write funny well and again this is something I need for the second draft of the Children’s fantasy and future endeavours
Thirdly, that short word count, I’m a verbose kind of guy, but kids don’t want to read twenty words where four will do, so good concise precise writing is called for
It’s a competition in rounds/heats to write a series of short stories based on word count target, a genre, a theme, and a set character that must be included. It takes place at the end of January next year, for the first round, with subsequent rounds should you pass beyond the first round taking place in April, May, and June – each round has a lower word count, and a lower time frame for submissions.
I’m really looking forward to it. Yes you pay to enter, and there’s a good chance I won’t make it past the first round, but, providing you’ve met the rules for a round and aren’t disqualified, the judges do give feedback on your work.
What you write, stays yours to do with as you please. So expect to seem my submission, (really hoping for submissions), to appear on here.
January, I’m going to go back over a few of the previous years prompts for some practice. I’ve no idea what genre I’ll be given for the first heat, and I have a lot of weaknesses, so practice will be key.
Speaking of short stories, aside from working on my Christmas folk story, I’m also finishing up the editing on a short story I’m going to share on here, its one of the NaNo ones – there’s an early excerpt from the story I used as part of a charity supporting vid for NaNoWriMo:
As mentioned, around all of this, I’m still working on replotting the chidlren’s fantasy novel with a view to a complete rewrite for a second draft. There are post its and everything so far.
I’m going to aim to do at least one post a week here – but if for some strange reason you are missing me, there’s a Vlog every few days, (sometimes every day for periods), over on my YouTube channel JL Aspiring
Wherever you are, whenever it is, hope you’re having a great time. Happy writing.
It’s day 30, I had just finished an epic short story yesterday and needed something new to write for my final day (complete the 30 day writing streak).
So in the NaNoWriMo Yorkshire region, we have our own series of WOTD, with two options presented every day, an easy option, and a challenging option.
So what better final challenge for my 30th day straight of writing? Use them all in a single short story. It seems a sufficiently difficult challenge, but I know others have done it before.
Here are the words that must be included:
And so, I set out with a shaky idea for a story, and have spent a few hours today writing it, it was slow going – people are clearly not speaking plain English, and in some places it’s a little forced. However, it is done. Complete. Challenge done.
And now I’m going to share it – it is unedited, served a purpose, and missed the mark of my original intention, (was going to make it feel like an 80’s comedy, and it went in a whole other direction, and I forgot the funny). But this is proof, that all those words can fit into a single story, (and warning it’s 5.282 words long):
So I’m still not busting out those monster word counts, and that’s okay. I’ve done plenty, this is highest ever NaNoWriMo word count, I’m on course for 160,000 words in one month.
That’s one full adult sci fi novel, three children’s fantasy stories, one long sci fi short story, plus three sci fi short stories, and a horror short story. In fairness, one of the sci fi shorts and the horror short I’ve only just commenced in the last few days, so they’re unfinished and what I’m working on in the run up to the 30th November.
Still, I like to think of that as an impressive haul. Not to mention the challenge of hitting 50k in 5 days, and doing a 20k day.
Of them all, the children’s fantasy stories are my favourite. So much so I’m doing the plotting on the first, because I’m going to rewrite it in a second draft. I’m going to be using my Fabula cards to do the re-plot. So between alternating writing on two short stories, I’m also working on that re-plotting.
First of all, I’ve mapped all the scenes in my first draft:
Now, I’m populating my Fabula setup with post-its, filling out the heroes journey proper.
The original first draft, which I wrote in a single day (the 20k day), had the most barest planning, which largely consisted of some story cubes, and I just wrote the hell out of it.
And that was an amazing challenge, but the second draft I’m trying to get more serious about. All the stuff I learned about my story from the first draft will carry over, I’m going to drop some unnecessary elements, some waffling sections and try to get to a tighter plot. I also need to develop a sub plot or two in there, there is kind of one that was setup for events in the second story, but it wasn’t very strong.
I always intend on getting to second drafts, and editing my novels, but I’ll be honest after the initial burst of creativity in writing something, I’m nearly always ready to move on to something else. I can’t help myself, I’m addicted to the new and shiney. However I’m making a strong commitment to myself, that this year, this December, there will be a second draft to the children’s fantasy novel, and I’m hoping that we’ll get into the sequel, or at least the planning done for it.
I still want to do the same for the first novel I wrote for this year’s NaNoWriMo, the Sci-fi piece, as I genuinely do think that’s got legs and could develop into something I’d share – but the children’s fantasy story just seems to be closest to my heart, so I’m going all out at that.
So my next few posts are going to be about how I approach the plotting, and second draft. Because it’s something I don’t get round to, it’s a new area for me. One thing I do love, is learning new skills, so I’m going to share that love along the way.
Happy writing everyone, I hope those of you taking part in NaNoWriMo are having a good final week. If there’s anything I can do to help you, give me a shout, (short of writing your last few words for you that is, I’m good with ideas, names, and if I give you advice its usually to make you think about your own way).
For a few days I’ve been struggling to write. The story is there, and in short bits it comes out easily on to the page. However, I don’t seem to be able to focus on writing for more than three minutes at a time.
It’s not writers block – I can write, just slowly and in small bits. The biggest problem is the frustration, I have things to write, just not the will power.
But its okay, instead of ramping up the challenge, which I nearly did by aiming for 200k by the end of the month (total word count),
So where as earlier in the month where I kept ramping up the challenge, I’m now ramping it down, I’m doing a couple of thousand or so words a day. It feels a bit better, and I’m filling my time to with building the Saturn V rocket Lego model, (I built the Moon Lander earlier in the month). I’ve also bought the Lego Y-Wing to go with my A-Wing, (my two favourite ship models from Star Wars).
So for those that marvelled at that early word count – I couldn’t keep it up.
As to why, I don’t know – could be burn out, could have done too much too quickly, but there are other factors out there, I don’t think I’m over the riot that happened on my street a few weeks ago, I’m also missing the structure of a normal work day, not sleeping to a proper schedule, I’ve slipped a few times into having caffeine after 4pm, (which has been a no-no for me for over a year now). And lastly I’ve had some medical issues to deal with, not just illnes that affected me earlier in the month, but also a couple of more chronic conditions I’ve been diagnosed with, which has imposed some lifestyle changes.
So, chill for a few days, I’ll ramp up for the last few days, finish my current story, and will do some plotting using my new Fabula deck, (review to come later).
Today I want to talk about designing maps – my way. Maps are a very useful reference tool not only in the real world, but in your story.
The important thing is, if you’re going to be moving around in your story, it helps to have you something to reference. There are plenty of tools online that can develop maps of worlds, countries, and right down to cities, also interior decorating tools can help you design a floor plan for a building if you want to go to really low level detail. Good news, if it’s in the real world, existing maps have you covered, but you can always add a feature or two.
So that’s what this post is about, my method – enjoy.
So, as you know I won NaNoWriMo already – in fact I’ve soared all the way up to 130k so far (go me, I’ll try to reign in the smugness). Then I did the 20k challenge starting a new children’s novel, which I did (come on reign it in JL).
So I did a pretty reasonable job on my first attempt at first draft of a children’s novel, especially considering I had no planning or plotting whatsoever. I had an idea where I wanted it to go, and the story adapted from there as I wrote it.
Things went so well I didn’t find an end point and continued writing. So when I come to the second draft, I’m going to have to do something about ending the first novel, and starting the second novel. That’s fine though, there are many worse problems to have.
However, moving on to a second novel did present some problems. My characters were both going to be revisiting places they had already been, and going to new ones. There’s no plotting to fall back, I’m just writing. It would be easy to have things happen in the wrong place.
Solution, rough maps
So in lieu of sitting down and plotting this story carefully, I decided to draw up some quick and dirty maps – ala:
This possibly doesn’t make much sense – but dots are towns, the diaganol line is a portal, the octagon in the middle is a citadel, and the little square thing is meant to represent a dock.
Importantly a map should be something the audience of said map can ready easily. In this came, I’m my own audience, so how badly drawn it is, or how simplistic it is, I know the story.
There’s a little bit more going on with the next realm in the demon world, because both a chunk of my first and second novels take place there, with overlapping plots:
Here things are more chaotic, and my lack of art skills does hurt. However, we have another dock, and a single line leading away, that splits. The line going north are two the supporting characters from my second novel, who briefly travelled with the MC in the first novel.
They are heading somewhere, but a giant stops them, so they flee back, and make it to a valley in the second novel. Meanwhile my main character in the first novel goes to a tower atop a mountain (the volcano looking thing to the south) – now not represented here this is where the MC leaves in the first novel. However he comes back to this spot in the 2nd, then continues on to the valley and meets up the characters fleeing the giant. They then go east across some mountains, have an encounter with something, then escape through a portal.
So even though it’s bad, really bad – I know what’s going on and where (ignoring the fact of put an E to the West in the map).
That’s great, but what about somewhere new you’ll be spending time?
So those scribbled notes make sense because the story of them was mostly written, or coming up. The next part of my story goes back to the human realm of the story universe.
I’ve only seen two places in this universe, a village and a town. So now I’ve a whole world to design, (I’ve gone with continent, give myself room to grow for future books maybe).
I started off rough – at first I drew a diamond shape, I then started zones inside the diamond, and then broke them out. It helps me to start with a basic shape, then break it.
Then I added details, a wintery north, a desert like south, with a temperate zone in between, that temperate region is then split in to a forested West, and hilly east.
Then rivers, lakes, and finally markers for wear my existing or referenced places are. It didn’t look great, so I added colour:
Now so far in my story, only the places in the East have feature, and big city kingdom was referenced. I need more detail for a world to write in, destinations for my characters to travel through.
So, this map being the most important to me, I took the photo, and used paint.net to redevlop, adding more details, and more locations:
Its still very rough, but I know have details to incorporate into the story. When my characters return to the human world, they’re going to arrive at the castle to the West in the temperate zone, and eventually they’ll want to make it to the castle just to the East in the wintery North.
We have roads, we’ve got silly depictions of trees (temperate zone has round trees, near to the wintery north you have triangle trees.
It’s simplistic, but effective. I also now have two ways the story could go to get to its destination. North to a small village, then through the two types of woodland, and going East a long way through the wintery North, or we could go East to the centre of the continent, and travel North, visit the largest city in this world, and then after continue North and have a shorter trip through the wintery North.
If I wanted, I can force detours, have them go East from the big city to where there’s a village with some kind of tower. The world is open to story telling.
This was just my way to go about making some choices, and giving my story world a bit more depth as I come into a pretty unknown section. It was in lieu of plotting, I can still pants it, I just won’t end up running over my own tail, (or tale).
Just remember this was my way – online generators can make it easier, if you’re writing in our world, existing maps can be incredibly useful (from current to historic). If you want a futuristic city, I recommend taking inspiration from the Middle East, Dubai, Qatar and several others really do look like some sci-fi inspired dream of the future. If you’re writing in the past, there are great maps for medieval cities like York, London, and around the world, and of the world at various points in history
I Did All This in Real Time
So, this is a companion post to my Vlog, where I did all these maps (except the digital one where I went off, and came back later with it), to show my process.
It’s 18 minutes nearly – but someone may find it useful – and/or entertaining:
So the question was, can I write 20,000 words in one day?
The answer is, yes I can.
Addendum: I really shouldn’t.
Suffice to say aside from still being a little ill, and bizarrely really tired, I pushed on and did, starting at 8am in the morning, and finishing 11pm at night.
I was flagging pretty much from the middle day, just so tired. Think it’s the after affects of being ill. Obviously I didn’t do the sensible thing and stop, do the challenge another day. No, I pushed on. My WPM was getting less and less, but I did rally towards the end, had a couple of 1000+ 15 minute sprints, and the final sprint of the day managed 1002, which put me over the top.
I think if I ever aim for higher than that, it’ll be when I’m completely well, and I think I should do it sponsored or something, and it’d be a push for 30k. But not this year, this year I’m going to chill for the last 17 days, keep to around 5,000 words per day.
Now you might think I switched to writing nonsense to just to get words in… and I didn’t. I did slide away from a children’s book at one point had some hardcore violence that needs cutting and rewriting, but for the most part my moral tale of an ogre on a quest to save people written for children 9 to 11 came through.
So yes, it was a tough day writing, but I’m immensely proud to have achieved, despite some setbacks. And bonus no riot afterwards, unlike last Tuesday.