NaNoWriMo 2019 Prep: Put the Pencils Down

So here it is, the 31st October. Tomorrow, 1st November marks the commencement of NaNoWriMo 2019. So this is it, I’ve plotted and planned more than any other NaNoWriMo since I started joining in 11 years ago. I’ve done all I can.

Will it be enough? If I stick to it, then yes, it will be enough. Nice simple answer.

Except, I’m chaos personified. There’s still plenty of time for me to go in a completely random direction. So for this planning to have been worth it, I really need to practice some discipline. I rule my stories, I can’t let them rule me. This year more than ever.

I’ve got a chalk board up to mark milestones in NaNoWriMo, which I’m hoping to get through quickly on my way to the 50,000 word target, and then I’ll extend it out to my true target of 80,000.

Milestones

I’m going to add chapters to the right on this, just so I can check them off. Originally I was going to put dozens of post it notes that I could peel off as targets were met… but who doesn’t like working in chalk?

So, as of midnight tonight I’m stopping all plotting. I’m then going to copy my plotting spreadsheet, and work from the copy – I’m going to be updating it as I go, but I want to have the original to compare to when it’s all done.

I’m excited though, will be commencing writing at midnight, but I’ll limit myself to an hour, so can go to bed, and then get up fresh faced and ready on Saturday to smash a lot of those targets on the first day. I will be going to a write in though, so that will slow me down a bit.

So, yes exciting times. For all those of you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you good writing. For all those not taking part, but doing their own writing thing, I also wish you good writing.

Expect some updates from me along the way. Also check out my YouTube channel, as I’ll be Vlogging daily during NaNoWriMo.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcfdMOXMbTeHep0uzcI6k9A

NaNoWriMo Prep 2019: A Decision is Made (Plot Structures)

I’m developing my plot structure right now. I’m trying to find the right one that works for me. I’m plot structure agnostic; I find the one to fit what I’m writing at the time.

I do follow a general three-act structure, I like a clear beginning, middle and an end. However, that’s a fundamental structure, and the plot structure has a lot more elements that need to be placed and paced within it.

So one of the structures I’ve been looking at is Blake Snyder’s 15 beat structure from Save the Cat. It’s a screenplay structure but has been adapted to literature. The beats are:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Theme Stated
  3. Set-up
  4. Catalyst
  5. Debate
  6. Break into Two
  7. B Story
  8. Fun and Games
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad Guys Close In
  11. All Is Lost
  12. Dark Night of the Soul
  13. Break into Three
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

I’m not going to go into the details of which each of those beat means, there are great resources online that can do so, and there’s Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book I got as an ebook, but you can get as a book from wherever you prefer.

What I like about it is that idea of a starting and final image, and some elements can be reordered to some degree, and some cross over with other beats. You’ve got a nice bit of complexity, and it all seems pretty logical and straightforward.

Tension and peril rise from a low level to an apex point that stretches twice, you think this is as bad as it gets, and then it gets worse before you have your finale where your heroes overcome the bad guys.

This is what I’m leaning towards.

It is, however, pretty typical, and doesn’t feel particularly original, is it is used a lot. However, the structure is something in the background, yours, (or my), words will flesh this structure with feeling, passion, action and excitement.

I did consider going through several structures in this post, but I think I’ve committed to Blake Snyder’s 15 beats. Instead, once NaNoWriMo is out of the way I will play with some other structures, and utilise them in some short stories, to explore this topic.

Instead, I’m going to go back to my preparations, they’re coming on fantastically, I’m delighted to be at the point I can flesh out my plot.

NaNoWriMo Prep 2019: A Twist of Fate

My main character was wrong.

I’ve not gone into any details about my story for this year’s NaNoWriMo, except for my last post, about a mistake I nearly made. However, I’ve been doing a lot of work around characterisations in my preparations. So here it is, here are some details, and how it’s shown me some basic ideas I had about this story are wrong.

So this is meant to be a space adventure story. My main character is a thief who gets pulled into some pretty world-changing events, while also being chased by the villain of the piece.

Now I had assumed that duelling motivations of vengeance would be the central conflict to the story. My main character wanted revenge on the villain, and thus joined a crew and a mission that would bring him towards the villain. The villain of the piece meanwhile intends to punish the main character by re-imprisoning him, though their motive would change later on when the MacGuffin in the story puts her interests in danger.

It seems a perfectly workable idea. However, it just doesn’t fit with the character work I’ve done for my main character. The main character looks like an average person. He’s not known for being heroic, he’s a thief, albeit high-end thief that works mostly against corporations. There is a commitment to avoiding violence, that seems to come from a personal code, but it looks a lot like cowardice from some angles.

His personality is of a charming man, with a good sense of humour, approachable in society, though focused when on the job, he moves on from trouble he doesn’t chase it. His goals work-wise are to get and get out with the minimum fuss.

He isn’t the man that proclaims a blood oath and charges off to get vengeance.

So how would this character fit into a tale of revenge? They wouldn’t.
Motivations are important. If you ever want the reader to believe your characters have agency, have free will, their decisions in the story have to flow through their motivations. A miser doesn’t just give things, not unless they’ve been through a process the reader has seen and appreciates, (thinking of Scrooge there). A warrior who on multiple occasions, has fought off ten people at a time doesn’t surrender to four because she is outnumbered.

Doing things against your character’s motivations just to fit the plot will prevent readers from believing in your characters, believing in the stakes. You’ll break the suspension of disbelief, and leave your reader feeling like any investment in the role is wasted.

If your character is a hardass, make them a hardass.
Obviously, the story can weigh on the character’s decision; a hardass might stay their hand to protect someone they love. Your miser might give anything to reclaim something he secretly values even more than money. If you’ve established their motivations, and how they end up making a different decision that’s fine.

I can’t see a way to make this character I’ve created go on the blood fuelled vengeance. Short of murdering someone close to him, but he doesn’t have anyone close to him.

We’re still at the planning stages though; I’ve not written to, or committed to anything yet. I just needed to find the right motivation to get the character into the plot. It turns out, it was pretty simple, a character like that wants freedom, and to stay free. They might be willing to commit to this crazy space adventure if the reward at the end was freedom, and maybe riches.

All of this is important, I want the character to be able to speak naturally, I want a consistent tone. I want the main character to be quippy, brave in situations he is comfortable, but a little cowardly in things out of his element, say combat or leadership. This isn’t his day to day, yet ultimately he’s the one leading us through this plot, and we want to see him overcome his limitations naturally.

I must say, I’m really enjoying plotting this year. I genuinely think it’s going to lead to a great story while I’m having these conversations with myself.

NaNoWriMo Prep 2019: I’m Not Racist… But

My unconscious nearly put an entire alt-right wet dream in as a subplot on my upcoming NaNoWriMo project.

It was all innocent, just a chain of events in my planning that led to an unfortunate connection in my brain.

I’d decided my fighter pilot in my story was going to be an Israeli woman, and that all worked out great in the character bio. I then chose one of the twists and turns in the tale was going to be that she was working for a mysterious figure in my story. This mystery man is trying to control events to create an interstellar version of the UN. In her bio, I’d already mentioned she was brought up and trained by her an uncle, a war hero and clandestine operative. I then decided that he should be the aforementioned mysterious figure.

Nothing clicked at this point. It was all entirely innocent following through the story.

However several months ago, in my ongoing quest to learn as many random things as possible, I was learning the history of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. It is an insane subject, how a joke grew out of all control and ravaged racial, political and societal in the past 100 years.

You can’t study something like that without putting it in a broader context. So I learned a lot about the far-right and alt-right movements, that used this fake text to justify their beliefs.

And that’s where it clicks, I’ve accidentally written an alt-right wet dream with just the character bios.

I’m a free-thinking centre left-leaning liberal. I don’t have anything against Jews, and my problems with the Israeli state are strictly to do with Palestine and the West Bank, so political. I certainly don’t want my stories to contain a racist caricature of Jews or any race.

So planning and preparation have helped me. At this stage it’s an easy fix:

  • I could change the young pilot’s character
  • I could change her relationship to the mysterious figure,
  • I could even remove the shadowy puppet master, (it is somewhat of a cliché in science fiction and fantasy)

I’ve chosen to snip that particular story thread and remove any familial relationship between the pilot and the mystery man. It also means I’ve got next to nothing on this shadowy man; he’s a mystery even to me.

Now Jewishness of this pilot is essential to me. Which seems odd, but a while back I’d read a story in the news, about Jewish fighter pilots. At the time this got me thinking, you don’t often hear about female fighter pilots very often, even in popular culture that much, (though the Captain Marvel movie has done just that). Since these Israeli women fighter pilots were the inspiration, that’s the direction I wanted the character to go, to pay homage to that. I’m not sure if that’s silly, but that’s just something I wanted in there, sans any racist overtones.

It does concern me how easy it is to say something entirely different from what you meant when writing. Had I been pantsing it, I probably wouldn’t have realised that. So chalk that up to another benefit of planning, it helps avoid pitfalls and makes sure your authorial intent doesn’t get hijacked by silly mistakes.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Prep

So every year I discuss what I’m up to in terms of NaNoWriMo , and this year is no different… in fact you’re reading it right now, if the title of the post wasn’t obvious enough 😉

So, what I’m up to is a lot of plotting. Planning time lines, characters, and ultimately the plot. I’m trying to make it easy to identify where I need to introduce characters so they’re in place when I need them in the story, everything is built up logically, not conveniently… though there has to be some coincidence, otherwise it wouldn’t feel natural.

Character wise, I want to work a lot on describing my characters, ideally without interfering with the story, so at the right time, in the right way and to the right level. I’m trying to grab pictures of people I feel represent what I want my characters to look like.

Technology wise, this year I’ve got a new laptop, a Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, and yes it’s annoying weeks after I bought it the Surface Laptop 3 came out, but I don’t really mind as this laptop is exactly what I need and wanted. Once I’ve got money coming in regularly, I’ll consider upgrade options – I can live with two laptops, one for working one for writing, for now it’s all the same to me.

To aid with writing, I’ve picked up a second monitor, so I can have references on one screen, and my writing on another. I had a spare monitor, but it’s too big for my current working space, so have a little monitor just to hold documents for me.

My current writing setup, laptop with extra monitor, Google Nest Hub Max for watching videos and listening to music, with other paraphernalia I need, not seen but is in the video a shelf with pads and books, and my extensive booze collection

Speaking of preperations, I’m also doing a fairly terrible vlog of my NaNoWriMo journey this year, I think it’ll get better as I do it more often, it’s not my natural format – but I was bored, and that’s a terrifying place for me to be, I can do some pretty outlandish things while bored. Vlog is fairly tame.

El Camino, Breaking Bad, or how I learnt to hate criminals (a rant)

So I’ve recently watched El Camino, so with this post, there is a high risk of spoilers for El Camino, Better Call Saul, and Breaking Bad. If you’ve not watched them, skip this post.

Don’t feel guilty. It’s okay- your view has already been registered. The advertisers I don’t have, don’t want, and don’t care about would happy.

Okay, if you’re reading on, you don’t mind spoilers, and if it upsets you, it’s your problem, not mine.

Continue reading

You’re doing it wrong…

Yay I’m writing, and it feels great.

Unfortunately I’m doing it wrong. I wanted to write a short story that would act as a prequel to my NaNoWriMo project this year. However, what I’ve done so far is write 1,006 words that have seen a spacecraft land on a planet, and my protagonist go through customs, and ride a taxi to a hotel. It’s not even got him in the room yet.

It’s not a big deal, obviously – a lot can be cut out in the edit, but now I’ve realised the problem I need to write differently, or face having an extra difficult edit process to cut it down. Makes sense? Unfortunately, there’s now a cognitive dissonance between what I’ve written and what I will be writing, switching styles after you’ve started isn’t great.

Needs must though, I feel the need to write this because I’ve made the decision for my NaNoWriMo novel start in the middle of it’s B plot, while the A plot has a more traditional three act structure. So the short story I’m writing is the first part of that B plot, it’ll give me some reference points, without bogging down the main novel with what really isn’t necessary for the story.

Plus it allows me to achieve one of my favourite things in novels, having a world that exists beyond the novel itself. One of my most hated things is stories that take place in a bubble, you want indications of a rich back story that led up to the events of your novel, without directly featuring them.

I also want to do a second short story, this second featuring a bit more world building so being broader in context than my current short story featuring the back story to the protagonist.

In the meantime, I need to get less detailed and more action and intention orientated to make this short story work. I’d like to limit myself to four thousand words.

I’ll publish the short stories on here once they’re done.