So… Post NaNo Struggles and a New Writing Competition

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

All of these things are important for other reasons – they’re good practice for the upcoming NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, which I’ve entered.

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:

One word of caution, the character is actually a teenage girl – and I think we would have all been insulted and ashamed if I’d tried to impersonate a teenage girl, as I’m very much not that

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.

NaNoWriMo 2019 – Back to Prep Work? Map Making

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.

The problem

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 is a map of one realm in the demon world

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:

Map of second realm in my demon world, also I did get East and West confused, for shame

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:

My first draft of the human world

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:

Second draft of my human world, now with much more detail – and a funky background, just because

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.

Conclusion

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:

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.