NaNoWriMo 2019 – Back to Writing

That title is misleading, I’ve not stopped writing, but since Tuesday may word count took a tumble. Combination of hitting the winning word count, and the after effects of Tuesday nights unpleasantness where I live, plus some illnes over the weekend.

My daily word counts (had a break yesterday to do something else, hence why it’s such a lower number – see below)

However, things have progessed since then, had an amazing Sunday night writing, where from 4pm I was feeling fantastic and put in a 10k, to have a 12k day in total. Very much enjoyed that.

Yesterday went back to a low word count, but that’s because I decided I deserved a break for me – so I built this:

Lego Apollo 11 Lunar Lander – most glorious Lego I’ve ever built

Now, I’m back writing again, on a new novel. I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo twice this year, this one in 10 days, rather than 5. It’s something different for me, it’s a children’s novel, aimed at 9-11, so I’m trying to pick up the skills and knowledge to make that work.

This plot is one I’ve gotten from my Fantasia story cubes. I’ve only ever done short stories from Story Cubes before, but I decided to plot this one out, and run with it. I always like fresh challenges, and I’m more engaged when the challenge levels up.

Speaking of which, today I’m going for a 20k day, that will be the most words I’ve written in a single day. It’s possible doable, but I might not make it. Slow start, but I’m starting a novel anew, with very limited plotting.

I’m doing mini-vlogs throughout the day, which I’ll stitch together into one vlog this evening, charting my progress, and my difficulties.

After this 20k though, it’ll be a more relaxed run for the rest of the novel. Though with no plotting, I don’t truly know how long it will be. I know for the 9-11 age range it’s recommended to be somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 words long.

So quick update, six hours in and I’m at 8k. Not my best pace ever, but I shouldn’t be so harsh on myself, my best pace so for this NaNo has been 12k in a day, I can definitely still do this.

Not Directly NaNoWriMo related

So, no matter what you do, you cannot insulate yourself from the world. Life will get in the way of your writing.

I’d done well, just a medical appointment – hence the making it to the victory. The victory celebrations didn’t last long.

Here in the UK on the 5th November we celebrate Bonfire Night. I used to love it when I was a kid, have a bonfire in the back garden. Rarely we’d have fireworks, but mostly we watched other peoples. Other years we’d go to the big events that the council or others would put.

If you’re wondering what it is, in brief – in 1605, after years of Catholic persecutions by the state, here in England, a bunch of Catholic conspirators set about trying to blow up Parliament. It’s an event known as the Gunpowder Plot. It failed and after the perpetrators were sold out, and the conspirators, especially the nominal leader were tortured, and eventually sentenced to death, some by being hung, drawn and quartered. Check the Wikipedia article if you want to know more:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunpowder_Plot

Suffice to say, it’s kind of a weird tradition where we celebrate a plot that failed, and we celebrate the famed perpetrator of the plot Guy Fawke’s execution.

And all this is by the by, it’s exposition to what happened. I live in a area of Leeds called Harehills. Unfortunately last night, not that long after I’d posted on here, and done my Vlog, youths decided to stage a pitched battle with the police.

This happened in several place on Harehills Road, including at the top of my street. It was chaos, the police retreated at one point, after they were pelted with rocks, bricks, and fireworks. Left to their own devices there was anarchy, and lots of fireworks. Bins were stolen and burned. Eventually riot police came, and got control of the scene.

15 people were arrested, ages ranging from 11 to 23. There were people from outside of our area coming in and joining the violence and chaos.

Suffice to say for residents in the streets around the violence, it was terrifying. Witnessing the police retreat, and let the chaos roll, made me the most afraid I’ve ever been in the life. I was expecting that any moment the violence would spill down into the rest of the street. Lights off, doors locked, and hoping I’m not doing anything to make myself a target.

Just to be clear that didn’t happen, and ultimately I was safe.

I never thought I’d be so relieved to see a line of riot police across the top of my street. When they finally turned up, they dealt with the youths quickly.

So why am I telling you this? I don’t generally do personal stuff in my blog. Well it’s this, once the morning came around, and things returned to normal, it gave me a lot of room to think, and come to some realisations.

  1. I’ve seen riots on the news, but I don’t think I ever really understood just how terrifying they are, how much it impacts the people around it
  2. I don’t think I’ve done a good job when writing fear in the past. I’ve never been so terrified in my life, and my writing has never conveyed anywhere near to how it really feels. It’s not just me though, I don’t think a lot of writers do
  3. Random violence is it’s own motive. Sounds odd, but evil bad guys are something I can never wrap my head around, but there was no motive for the events last night, these youths just wanted to fight the police, and cause chaos. Some people just want to watch the world burn

So, in the cold light of day, this is what I’ve realised.

So between tweeting a lot, handling queries from the press, three interviews (none of them used… not surprised since except for some brief moments, I was looked inside hiding all night).

These are some of the images I took, the one with the police was a video took that has been round the internet a few times.

NaNoWriMo 2019: I Drink From the Goblet of Victory!

Erm… so yes. I won. 5 days, I achieved the challenge I set myself. I’ve beaten my best over time by 5 days.

I win.

I’m a little giddy, and excitced, and over the moon. I don’t mean to be a dick, because I do realise how stupid a 5 day NaNoWriMo is, but I also needed this challenge.

And for the hard work I’ve earned this:

My gin goblet of victory, a healthy measure of Malfy’s Sicilian Blood Orange gin, and tonic, with ice. But please do drink responsibly.

I was going to look up some author’s cocktails, and celebrate that way – but There was nothing I fancied, so I did my own thing instead. Been saving this gin for a while, and it is lovely. If you are drinking, drink responsibly, and from my experience, writing drunk “to get through writer’s block”, or for “inspiration” rarely actually works.

So anyway, I’ve not been this happy and excited in a long long time, so I’m not going to say anything meaningful, other than thanks to the NaNoYorkshire goes, who’s regular sprints, kind and support words have brought me to where I am.

Official 2019 Winner’s Badge

I’ve just said I’ll never do this again… but four days is only 12,500 words, I could manage that, though NaNo does start on a Sunday next year , so that’d be three days off work. Will see – I’ll admit five days was a tough hall, and actually tiring.

So yes, I won. Yes I’m super happy. No I’m not done, the story itself needs finishing, there’s a couple of chapters missing that need filling in, and a lot of detailing work to get to a finished 1st draft. So plenty more words to add to that total yet.

And if you want to see someone that looks ridiculously happy, and exciting and barely able to string a thought together, (even forgetting to put an Hawaiian shirt on, even though that’s a thing he does for every video) – here’s my terrible but hugely happy Vlog for today:

And just because these are for social media and I have done 5 days in a row 😀

Happy writing everyone, no matter what time you do it in, or even if you don’t quite make it to the end of the month with 50k, be proud. You’re doing so much better than those that didn’t bother starting.

Tell your story your way.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Or How I Learned to Love the Plotting

So been a bit quiet on here for the past few days, that’s understandable I hope it is NaNoWriMo after all, most of my words have gone into the novel I’m writing.

And I really am writing. It’s thanks to two things the plotting I did, (which wasn’t that deep, but has kept me focused), and my regional community for NaNoWriMo with discussions and sprints.

Sprints are timed writing segments where at the end of the time, you compare how many words you all managed to write. Mostly it’s been fifteen minute sprints this year, and I’ve done 52 of them in the first four days of NaNo.

52? That’s a lot. It really is, in some I’ve hit as high as 1,000 words per sprint, though my average is about 634 words. Still, it’s carried me far this year.

A chart over time of my WPM’s (averaged by hour)

So I’ve not yet said how I’m doing word count wise. That’s because I wanted to say how I got here.

I’ve not one yet, don’t jump the gun please, let’s not count chickens – but please excuse me if I crow a little.

It’s the start of day 5, and I have less than 7,000 words left to write to have hit the 50,000 word target. So yes, I will be finishing that goal today. I’ve done four days of 10k+ words (give or take an argument with the new NaNo site about which day some of those words live).

My NaNo Word Count Stats

As mentioned, I’m crowing, I’m proud – hell I’m ecstatic, but I’ve not finished yet, and I really can’t take a lot of the credit, there’s been a community supporting, being there with relentless sprints, listening to me moan about being more tired than after a hard day’s work, and putting up with my inane attempts at a funny comment everytime we launch a sprint.

I’m posting this now, as the post after I do win, I’m actually going to be talking story, not stats, crowing, and generally have a laugh. Which is probably boring, but I’m really looking forward to some substance – but sometimes you’ve just got to go for the frosting first.

It’s also worth noting it doesn’t matter how many words you right in a day, it doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you write NaNoWriMo, the heart of this challenge, this competition, is that you write. I’m not going to stop, and no matter where you are in your journey, I hope you don’t stop either.

Happy writing everyone.

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.