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.
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:
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’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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
It’s not too late, you can still join in NaNoWriMo, by signing up to nanowrimo.org
Not sure what it is? Not sure why you should do it? Are there good reasons to do your own thing? Read on:
What is NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo is a competition that’s been around for two decades now, it’s a drive to get people writing. It’s a competition not against the thousands that take part, but a challenge for you to try and complete, and celebrate with others that win.
The challenge is simple, a story of 50,000 words written in November. This equates to 1,667 words a day – that’s not so scary. Everyone has a good story in them, something they want to explore and this is an impetus to do just that.
I’m taking part in my 11th NaNoWriMo this year (2019), and I’ve got five wins and five losses under my belt. You are writing around your life, your job, your kids, and every other obstacle that comes up. Some people have a dozen or more victories under the belt, but it’s about trying. Yes there’s a lot of celebration for doing, but there’s a lot of community and heart in trying to get there.
So, NaNoWriMo is a communal challenge to try and see what the story inside is when it comes out on the page. It’s no more complicated than that.
Why should you do it?
If you’ve ever struggled to write, but know you had something to say, here’s your chance, your excuse, permission to leave the doubts behind. Just go and hope for the best, literary abandon awaits you – and who knows what you’ll have out the other side
It can help teach discipline, if you’re like me you have an on and off again relationship with writing, you can build a daily writing habit. There’s no reason to stop doing 1,667 words at the end of the month, you can keep going on the same story, on a new story. Maybe once you’ve found it fits, an hour or two is something you can spare
Already writing, but keep getting struck down by writer’s block? NaNoWriMo is the ultimate block buster. There are no marks for quality, there is no praise for prose – just write. Even when the ideas don’t come, just write. 1,667 words a day, 50,000 words in the month. At the end of the month you may have just unlocked the inspiration to finish that novel you were working on
Friends. The forums for NaNoWriMo are a fantastic place to make friends with other aspiring writers from all over, there are regional forums so you can get to know people in your region/city, there are write-ins (meet ups), where you can join fellow writers in a session, and word sprints can give you a fantastic competitive edge. People really do help each other there, whether it’s a plot idea, a name, or discussing the moral implications of X, Y, or Z
Do something entirely different. Always writing science fiction? Why not use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to try something new, you might turn out to have a good hand for period romances you had no idea about. Literary abandon means you can write whatever you want, in whatever style you want, be it something new, something old, something borrowed or something new
Break out of bad habits, I used to have an interminable time writing because I was in the habit of editing earlier passages, sometimes drastically, but NaNoWriMo gets you focused on writing the next words, not editing the old ones. Colour a section in purple and move on – you can always come back in the next draft and fix those problems
Do your own thing
Over the years I’ve known many people use NaNoWriMo as a frame work and community to work with while they do something other than a novel. A series of short stories or fan fics? No one’s judging. Want to do something non-fiction, I’ve known people do that too.
Don’t feel you need to restrict yourself. Just write.
What are you waiting for? Want to write, here’s the barrier being raised, inspiration descending.
And if it’s not for you, that’s fine too – there are other writing challenges around. There are also others out there that don’t want to do NaNoWriMo, so there’s also a counter-community to draw inspiration from.
Some people don’t like to the idea that thousands of new drafts are out there, pestering publishers that can’t keep up with supply. With self published books spiking, confusing sales. Some are worried it teaches the wrong things. However you learn from NaNoWriMo what you want to learn. My only hope is that people learn to take the opportunity to write.
There is never too much art in this world. There are never too many ideas. There’s never too much happiness, joy, and celebration.
So I embrace literary abandon every year, whether I get stuck at 10k, or blast right through and hit the 100k. If you love writing, you may just love NaNoWriMo.
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.
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.
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:
Break into Two
Fun and Games
Bad Guys Close In
All Is Lost
Dark Night of the Soul
Break into Three
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes – all that preparation, all the practice and warm up, and it didn’t add up to a win. A lot of stuff going on personally and professionally, plus I’ll admit there were more frivolous distractions like Red Dead Redemption 2, (great game), also listening to the Lord of the Rings novels, (great story, but so horribly written).
I made it to 28,469 words, and at the point where I stopped, I was still ahead of target. It wasn’t that I’d fallen behind, and just couldn’t catch up, I just disengaged and couldn’t get restarted after that.
In fairness it didn’t start great, struggled to get going until day 3, but with a sudden change in plot I flew off.
So, next up I’ve got to start writing again. No good dwelling on it, this post is to put a line under it. Going forwards I’m going to put the failed novel on the back burner – it was promising for a while, but it needs a good rewrite to fix some problems and let it flow again.
So, have some ideas for stories I’m going to explore with some plotting, and maybe the odd short story will come from those as a beta test. Also there’s an old story idea I want to revisit, if I’d written at the time it would have been very forward thinking, still is – but instead of being predictive, now it’s more stretching reality to it’s limit. Really have to strike while the iron is hot with an idea.
Anyway… went away to do NaNoWriMo, and should have come back earlier – I didn’t, but I’m back now. Let the writing commence.
And lastly – a sentiment just saw online – fail better. That’s definitely the goal for the next project.