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 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.

Confession… I Failed NaNoWriMo

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.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Prep : Perspective

I tend not to like stories that are told from a single view point. It’s not universal by any means, there are great stories out there that solely follow a protagonist, and I’ve probably enjoyed many of them, but generally I don’t like it.

I hunger to see things from other points of view, including the villains and antagonists. You get more character depth, plans and plots are grander and more intriguing when you can see what goes into them, and the stakes are a little higher because the story doesn’t have to be reliant on one person to tell it, which means characters can die, no one is safe.

This is entirely a personal thing, it’s an authors choice, and audience considerations, etc…

And it can go wrong too, in A Song Of Ice and Fire, clearly the multiple perspectives gets out of control when you have to read the same scene three or four times from different characters perspectives across a couple of books. Yeah that becomes difficult for the reader.

It also leads to things like “There’s not enough Aardvark-man in this Aardvark-man story”, because you spend too long away from your protagonist setting up an exciting their act. Though in fairness, that could just be a sign of weak or stupid villains or plans, because maybe if Aardvark-man stepped in act at two, he should be able to sniff out the plan and fix it before it escalates, so you just had to keep him away.

Anyway, so going through the major events of my NaNoWriMo novel for this November, I’ve marked on what perspective each one will be from.

Not only that I’ve decided any that my protagonist will be in, it will always be from their perspective, almost like they’re powerful enough to take control whether they’re around. Other perspectives in the story will come from the companions of the perspective, the Hero, (not the protagonist, but the one they must find to save the day and all that jazz), the antagonists, (big bad and henchmen), and because I want my story to have impact and stakes I’d like a few scenes from ancillary character’s perspectives – you know voice of the local people, common soldiers – people who pay the price for grand big important people’s ambitions.

Not worked out where or what the ancillary characters scenes will be, but I can’t help feeling they’ll be important to the aesthetic I want. I also don’t want them taking over the story, they should still drive the plot, or provide very specific context, rather than being there for the sake of it.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Prep : Plotting

So I’ve redone the plot I was working on. It’s still on the same world, but I’ve made the story more focused, more character driven, hopefully with compelling characters in the heroes and villains. The over arcing plot of the series I’m anticipating is still the same, a multi world conquest story, but we’re starting off small, and building out.

Going through a standard three act set up, with a major point in the middle of the novel, and a climatic battle at the end, so everything builds becomes bigger from start to finish, as there’s a couple of smaller conflicts earlier on. Nothing really innovative there, but I’m not going for innovative, I’m going for character moments.

Five talkie bits are planned, which hopefully I can keep quite snappy and not exposition heavy, (something I’m quite prone to), outside of those moments dialogue will be functional “Go here,” “Go there,” “Phew! that was close”, with actions and behaviours used to tell those parts of the stories. By no means is this the best way to write, it’s more if I do it, I can avoid a lot of pitfalls I fall into, (like circular dialogue that fails to end at a natural point).

So character wise on the good guy side (nominally the overall plot blurs who’s good and bad, but for the first novel it’ll be quite clear), we have a young character, an innocent caught up in something greater, and destined for something massive, then there’s the wise mentor, and a roguish mentor and defender, alongside a cast of supporting roles like military leaders, politicians, traders, and general people. A goal will be to have more dynamic and engaging secondary and tertiary characters.

On the bad guys, there’ll be a couple of military leaders who have the same goal, but sit in opposition to each other on methods, with one aiming for a domination victory, and the other a very targeted crafty plot.  I want them to be compelling, and to sew the seeds that they are the villains of the piece, but there’s a broader ethics involved which would allow for that obfuscation of heroes and villains later in the over arcing plot.

So –  a lot of work to do to make all that a reality, but at least most of the planning I’d done to this point is still valid and very useful. The history of the world still applies, though I’ve realised if I want to rely less on exposition, I might struggle to get some of it in, there’s only really one point in my plot where I can, (and must), show the history of the world. So, some block breakers are going to be experiments in historical exposition, and exposition generally.

Block breakers are now definitely going to be part of my prep after the recent trouble of number three, I might also do an out right short story as world setup for the NaNoWriMo novel, focusing on one character’s earlier life before the planned story takes place.

Post NaNoWriMo Challenge Plans

So following NaNoWriMo this year, win or lose, I’ve decided on a challenge to continue writing and build on whatever momentum I have, (or lost during November if it doesn’t go well).

I’ve got dozens of stories in my drafts that I’ve never finished for one reason or another, I’m going to go through them and finish a couple a week during November. Some of them are years old, and the original ideas and goals have faded from my mind, so it will be interesting to see where I go with them.

So Completionist December is going to be a thing. Of course that will be followed by Editing January, where I take a run at a second draft of my NaNoWriMo story, (editing is soul crushing, so usually doesn’t happen, maybe I’ll change it up and redraft and edit last year’s NaNoWriMo instead, for similar reasons as completing all those short stories, it’ll be interesting to see where I take it). I’m not planning further than January, because while at the moment I’ve got the writing, (and blogging bug), who knows where I’ll be come February onwards.

So things to look forward to, in the meantime I’m concentrating on planning and preperations for NaNoWriMo, and Block Breakers (short stories) for practice.

The Tale of the Unreliable Narrator

Recently I’ve watched How I Met Your Mother, it wasn’t something that interested me before,  but I caught some clips on YouTube, and it looked fascinating. Turns out it was a lot more fascinating that I expected, for all it’s flaws, it told stories in a unique way for television, and it might be one of my favourite uses of an unreliable narrator.

Before we begin, let me explain what How I Met Your Mother is, in short it’s an American television sit-com about the lives and loves of a group of friends as they make their way in the world… well New York, it’s told in the style of the main character recounting the adventures from 2030 in a nostalgic fashion to his children.

The wonderful thing is, as he’s explaining it to his kids, there are very obvious obfuscations and biases at play, which telegraph clearly the unreliable nature of the narrator, things like smoking weed suddenly becomes having a sandwich, but because we know he’s editing the story for his audience as he tells it, it’s safe to assume there are less obvious revisions at work.

One of the main characters is Barney, played by Neil Patrick Harris, his a womaniser, a pick up artist, and the stories told like his sexual adventures are true and successful, I think in real life though, the success rate was probably less, and the more insane pick up strategies weren’t as extreme as presented, but it’s an exaggerated portrayal of a character. That’s just one example but you get the idea.

I’ve only once used a narrator in my stories, but it’s something I’d like to try my hand at again, see if I can get it right. Technically speaking every story written in the third person is in a sense narrated, but there’s a big difference between the writer telling the story, and the voice of the narrator character telling the story. It allows you to inject bias and passion into the story, you can paint characters in more extreme and clear lights, or obfuscate certain qualities of a character out of bias. Basically you aren’t trying to describes the facts of situations, you can be more subjective.

In essence the author is always the de facto narrator, but usually we aren’t involved in the story, we’re describing the events from a perspective of the all seeing, all knowing, our biases are choosing what we show, and what we hide for later in the plot. A narrator in essence is a character telling the story, either in the first or third person, they may or may not have been involved in the story being told themselves.

I think my favourite examples are probably noir thrillers, think of your stereotypical detective story with the hard boiled private eye or policeman telling you like it is… with lots of metaphors of course:

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