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: 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 clichĂŠ 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.

Random Update on My Life

So, I’ve got some things to say on books and movies… been struggling for inspiration blog wise, and I don’t want to just have space fillers and time wasting posts just to maintain some level of frequency. Benefit of not trying to make money off of a blog with advertising and sponsorship’s, I’m not beholden to the stats. It’s just my place to put down thoughts, ideas and share things I’ve learnt along the way, when I feel like it, it’s my space no one else’s.

So I’m back again, there’s at least four posts I want to write, not including this one. This one is a general update, there’s a lot of stuff going on in my life, which eclipsed both writing and blogging for a little bit.

To be honest, not writing was a mistake, I could have probably done with the release, write some random stuff just to get things off my chest, or explore what it is I’m feeling.

I’ll stop burying the lead, I’m faced with a massive life change as I’m being made redundant from a company I’ve worked at for 12 years. It’s not a bad thing, I posted round about this time last year about the need to make a change in my life regarding work, but it actually happened is something else.

I’ve got a plan, it’s a pretty good plan, it will allow me to keep earning, and given time, effort and dedication, I can prosper. Not only that, if managed well I will have more spare time, so I can really focus on my writing journey. It’s change though, it’s a massive change – and obviously that’s scary.

What’s interesting is, incredibly frequently in stories the characters have to go through serious changes in their lives as part of the story, and even when it’s something you want or are ready for, I don’t think I’ve ever fully understand just how emotional that can be. In fact, I think it’s something a lot of writers don’t necessarily appreciate.

So, this is where I find myself now. Exciting, but scary times. I just wanted to say something about it.

There’ll be a few more posts in the next few weeks, but for now I’m going to enjoy the Leeds West Indian Carnival parade, it passes by my street. I’ll add a photo of it. It’s a great event, one of the best things about living where I am now.

Ah… the corners! Please not the corners!

So I’ve written myself into a corner. First of all, fantastic I’m doing a couple of pieces of writing just days apart, got the bug again, and it feels good, until it didn’t.

So, Block Breaker #3 I’m writing a short fantasy piece… or I’d intended it to be short, literally just a battle scene, actually pretty much one fight between siblings amidst a battle scene… and I spoilt it within a  few words by separating them, and then ending the battle, alluding to a greater conflict with sorcerers. That was fine, the story takes place over  a couple of battles then.

So the corner… that’s where I am now, I’ve written myself into a corner with a big dialogue piece that’s really spun the story out. Going to have to delete it and go back, shorter dialogue that just tells the essentials. Problem is, that goes against my self imposed no editing rules for Block Breakers.

So what are my options to leave the corner, and maintain my rules? Well I can have a slightly disjointed story, where in the first part I’ve gone dialogue and plan heavy, and have a time jump that skips all the stuff I’ve set up, and brings us closer to the main line of the story, think Thanos getting the power stone off screen in the Avenger’s film. Or I could play it out, go for a 15k story, rather than the 1 to 2k’s I’d originally anticipated, (really I just felt like practising writing a fight scene as a warm up for NaNoWriMo in a couple of months), and lastly I could just stop and start something else.

I think the time jump is my best option, may even try and lay the suggestions that it was an epic bit we jumped, I can always do what TV and movies do, and do a spin off story that follows that adventure later, when I need some more practice in the genre, I don’t often revisit characters. Of course, I often don’t finish stories I start, so sequels aren’t a thing for me.

The long and the short of it though, is this is why I’m going to be carefully plotting my NaNoWriMo entry this year, because writing yourself into a corner, or far from the plot is exactly why I don’t finish a lot of stories I start.  I finished NaNoWriMo last year because I had a plan, and even though I drifted from it, I had a path to guide it back to.

But I’m going to keep going with the Block Breakers, because I feel like writing. Probably helps that for the month of September I’m keeping off other Social Media platforms – if you’re interested visit the Royal Society for Public Health , I started on the 1st September, and we’re 9 days in, and I’ve been writing more. I’m choosing not to count my blog as Social Media, (even though it technically is).

So enough rambling, I’ve got a time jump to do, and a no editing policy on Block Breakers to maintain. Hope you’ll excuse some bad writing in the middle, for what will hopefully be an exciting ending.

Perfect Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance

Great title… and really hoping it’s true. Yes, this is another post about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, two months away.

So, it’s now 61 days until NaNoWriMo commences for 2018, and I’m trying for a smarter write, I really want this year to be effortless… it won’t be, but at least it could be a little less difficult.

So… anyway, at the moment I’m putting work into creating the whole world for my novel. Maps and everything. Actually it’s just one of several dimensions within my story, but the bulk of it will take place on one world, I’m kind of thinking this will be the start of a series. This first one is a mysterious stranger story.

And off he goes on a tangent…

Actually, there’s sword and sorcery film kind of like it, now that I think about it, The Sword and the Sorceress (starring David Carradine), I have it on DVD somewhere, weird film, like a Fistful of Dollars, it’s based on Yojimbo. This blog post has gone in a fairly random direction, I was sure my story was original… but there are similar stories out there. However, as I’ve started planning, I know it’s going in a different direction, yes it’s a mysterious stranger story, but it’s not a single town, or two gangs at war with each other, it’s a multi-nation world, with many competing agenda’s – more like Yojimbo meets Game of Thrones maybe.

I’m now trying not psyche myself out, which is something I’ve done in the past. I had a great idea for a sci fi story where people could switch out bodies, in a world that’s like Facebook made real, people earned points for necessary work that couldn’t be done by robots, and got to spend the rest of the time at play, and some of the bodies they used got weird and wacky. Then a while later I learned a film was coming out called Surrogates which had many similarities, and I failed to explore it. Even more annoying Ready Player One then came out a couple of years later, and that had many similarities with what I’d started. No one wants to write someone else’s story, and so you move on.

Here’s the kicker though, I was a moron – it was a perfectly good story, it had a great moral core to it, drama and tension, and the opportunity to have fun and present a dark future. Having seen Surrogates, and read Ready Player One (not got round to watching the film yet), mine would have been different.

So, the plan for my current novel stays, I won’t over-analyse, or deviate from my vision – I have resolution for NaNoWriMo this year… and a blog post that deviated quite a bit, so let’s bring it back.

Back to the point

I’ve been creating maps, and Wikipedia like entries for each of the worlds, countries, and cities (the one’s that are likely to feature in my story anyway), and histories for all these things. I’m aiming to have a deep and rich, feeling inspired by my re-reading of the Dune series. Next up, I’ll start compiling my character lists, and then flesh out their details and backstories. Lastly, I’ll start pulling together timelines, one the history of the main world of my story, a wider history of the dimensions, and then the timeline of my story, of course with plenty of toing and froing along the way as ideas develop. By the time the 1st November rolls around I’ll have a deep guide to lean on.

I wanted to call out some of the tools I’ve been using to pull this world together, primarily Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator which is rich and immensely customisable, with great exports, including spreadsheets (and JL loves himself a spreadsheet or two)

Also Watabou’s Medieval Fantasy City Generator which can generate really detailed random and customisable city views

There’s been a few random name generators on the way so far, but I’ve been using those two a lot and wanted to do a post calling them out, and give other people the opportunity to utilise them.

Pre-NaNoWriMo 2013 Update

So, NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us, just days to go.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to fit it in later in the month. There’s a lot going on in my life, in most aspects of my life in fact.

Problem is, I need to keep challenges tough. In fact they need to be borderline unbeatable. That pressure I’ve found is absolutely necessary for me to win. Once 50,000 words was too much, now 100,000 looks easy. 150,000 should be doable, and 200,000 falls into the possible if I try hard category. Now, I know, or at least suspect that the level of effort I can put in is curtailed as I mentioned. So, I’ve thought really hard about how to challenge myself. Tiered targets, one of which is definitely borderline achievable, then the others taper off allowing for the shifting sands of fate upon my writing time.
Challenge 1) the most daunting, and potentially silly. Partly because I’m doing it to see if can beat someone, partly because even I don’t think it’s possible. The challenge is a day one win. 50,000 before midnight on first.

To make it easier, I have however booked the day of work, I’ll be going to bed early, and rising just in time for the 1st of November to officially start in the UK. I’ll probably have a 9am nap. It’s all perfectly possible if you get a strong start, and I’m sure knowing where I need to take those first 50,000 words will help.

Challenge 2) nice and simple, with two weekend days, but work on all the others, another 50,000 words by the end of the following 7 days.

Challenge 3) a final 50,000 by the 30th November.

All challenges are exclusive, so challenge 2 is 50,000 regardless of how many I manage to achieve in challenge 1,and challenge 3 is always 50,000 regardless of what I achieve in previous two tasks.

These are just word count challenges, I’ll find and/or steal challenges along the way, to keep it interesting and fun.

So now I’m done bragging about the size of my target, I should probably discuss something practical. I want to cover off preparation separately, and then there’s technology (a favourite post of mine), and I’d like to discuss what I’m planning to write. No, a far more urgent, (well brief and unimportant), is what I’ll do with my blog during this time.

I won’t be posting everyday, because I need to write fiction, not blogs, and a post every day would basically amount to “Woohoo, x thousand words!” or, alternatively, “Boohoo! X hundred or less words, this sucks!” Neither of which are that much fun, daily. A post the day after the challenges are due sounds fine for word counts, and self aggrandising.

If I post at other times, I’d like to focus on challenges I’ve faced in trying to achieve those targets, lessons learned, funny story, excerpts from the #nanoyorks chat room, because the people there, (the rare troll aside), are so fabulous and great. (Yes, I’m sucking up, but I’m not around much this year so have to do something to keep them liking me).

Right I should get back to planning, have a lovely climate controlled hotel room, no distractions for a few hours, and lovely tea. What more can a writer want for?

To anyone, and everyone taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, I wish you all the best, and good luck.

The Road to NaNoWriMo 2013

It’s that time again, when many writers put their heads above the parapet of their day to day fertile scribblings, (or piles of blank paper, depending on how their proverbial muse has been treating them), because right around the corner is NaNoWriMo.

Sixty-six days until the madness begins again.

In case you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, it’s the National Novel Writing Month, (albeit it is now very much an international festival of writing). The goal through the thirty days of November is to write a fifty thousand word novel. How, and what are upto you.

I’ve done it several times, and I’m on a chain of wins, which I hope to maintain. Every year I set myself a bigger and bigger challenge. This year I’m doing the same one hundred and fifty thousand words – but the first fifty I’m going to aim to finish in three days. To put that in context, last year it was day ten when I hit 50k,the year before day 13. The harder a challenge I set myself the better I do – regardless of whether I ultimately complete the challenge, I will do more than enough to be proud of.

I’m not sure what I’ll write just yet, I have some great ideas I’ve previously mentioned, but I’ve either been working on them too much, or the idea turned out not to be as writable as I first imagined.

I may not have an idea for a story specifically, but I have some thoughts on style – basically I want to try my hand at a multi generational story, following three generations of the same family. If I go with science fiction then it will be based on a colony somewhere, and be quite western inspired, but I could go fantasy and set it in a world where a cataclysm is happening, has happened, or is fated to happen. I like both ideas to be honest – but I’ve not fleshed either of them out.

Cue mind mapping, and copious research. I may go with neither and do something else entirely, but that’s where I am right now. That’s the joy of the road to NaNoWriMo, getting ready for it… And potentially trashing all the plans and doing something else entirely come November the first when it begins.

Tools for NaNoWriMo 2012 (Writing)

As NaNoWriMo draws to a close I want to mention some of the tools I’ve used this year, and their pro’s and cons. I actually started this as a look ahead to what I would be using, but I got distracted by life and work, but I think it’s important.

This year I was hoping to not be caught in the Technology Trap™, (as happened last year). Now, as I can’t handwrite for toffee, I ended up caught right back in it. I decided that I wouldn’t do any writing on my phone this year, and concentrate purely on my computer. It meant fewer sync issues, and since I have a wonderfully touchable touchscreen laptop, I could use that for writing on the go, (space being limited on buses).

Unfortunately, last week I got hit by a lovely piece of Ransomware, that demanded money to unlock my desktop. Now me being hit by a virus is incredibly rare, despite not using virus scanners, other than Windows 7/8’s built in ones, I’ve not been afflicted by anything for a long long time. Worst I had was something that redirected my searches, and it was easily dealt with. I don’t even know how it got me, because I don’t do dodgy downloads any more, and the only sites I’d visited were for research this month, and the NaNo forums of course. Somewhere along the way, one of the pages I used for research must have gotten me. It doesn’t matter really, but it did rob me of two good days writing just when I needed them.

I fixed it, and it was time to carry on. I do want to use this story as a message though, back up often. If it had been something worse, and I lost my laptop for longer, or worst still it had done something to affect my files, (and I’m thinking of the documents my stories, and their preparation are kept in specifically), I would have been screwed. Back up often when you’re writing, whether it’s school/college/university work, or a story, or from your job. It doesn’t matter, it takes a few seconds to back something up occasionally  but it will save you pain and far more time later on, if something does go wrong.

Okay, back to the tools I’ve used this year, which has been a lovely mix of the digital, and the objects in the real world.

So, I’ll cover the digital orientated tools first:

  • Good old Netbook (currently the Dell Inspiron Duo, that transforms between a standard clamshell laptop and a tablet). Handy space saver, comfortable keyboard, with Windows 8, a nice big on screen keyboard, and it runs pretty fast.
  • Android Phone (currently the Samsung Galaxy S2, no physical keyboard sadly but on-screen keyboard solutions can empower word counts, plus camera and voice recording vital functions that can help a writer out)

I also have a tablet, however I choose to give that up this year. It’s filled with comics, and would have been easy to get distract by them.

Well that’s the electronic hardware for the software I’ve got another array of tools at my disposal that sit on my hardware:

  • Microsoft Word (PC) , hands down the best word processor by miles, for me anyway. It’s comfortable, and known, and stable – three absolutely vital features, I don’t want to be thinking about what I’m typing into when I’m trying to focus on writing.
  • Microsoft Excel (PC), I’m an Excel geek, I’ll openly admit that, I’m also terrible with numbers and mathematics ironically, so each year I use my Excel skills to track, analyse, and forecast as I go through NaNoWriMo. It works for me, so I’ll keep it going.
  • Microsoft OneNote (PC/Phone/Tablet), is handy tool for organising my research, all being well this year I’ll mostly just need to reference it, rather than spending a lot of time on research itself. Nice thing about Excel is that it’s available on all my devices.
  • QuickOffice (Phone/Tablet), is my home away from home. It gives me full word processing power on my phone, and limited spreadsheet functions. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best of what I’ve tried.
  • Box.com (PC/Phone/Tablet), has two purposes, it keeps me backed up, and allows me to access my writing from all my devices wherever I am. Plus it works directly with both Microsoft Word and QuickOffice so it’s convenient.
  • SimpleMinds Pro (Phone/tablet) – mind mapping software that has helped me organise my thoughts, and plot out new ideas.

Now, the electronic tools are great, and for obvious reasons they account for 100% of my word count, but not 100% of my creativity. Instead at least 20% of my creativity came from non-digital tools:

  • Pen and paper – the most obvious tools. I catch and store notes, write a couple of plans, experiment with an idea. Should I ever find myself completely destroyed by the Technology Trap™, I would drop to just this. I doubt I could do 100k of words in a month though.
  • Whiteboard and whiteboard pens (obviously) – I have two A4 white boards. I can scribble to my heart’s content, and nothing is permanent. Just wipe it off and do over. It’s also crazily invaluable when working with StoryCubes (see bellow).
  • StoryCubes – these deserve a post on their own. I love these little things, and if they’re something you think could help, I wholeheartedly recommend getting some. I want the other two packs. They help me break through parts where I’m stuck, and they help me develop entirely random plots.

Once upon a time, I would have just relied on writing, (whether pen and paper, or on a computer), and I never finished anything. I think I’ve gotten older, and five years of NaNoWriMo have helped me mature somewhat. I’m not a full planner, but the plans I do do, allow me to handle complex ideas, keep track of where I am, and where I’m going, and I don’t get stuck. I don’t get bored and wander off. Shiney things lose their lustre somewhat.

That’s technically not true, two of my NaNo novels are hanging this year, but they’ve not stopped, December will see a lot of work to plot out the specifics of their closing, and then actually writing it. I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time plotting in the middle of the month. They will be finished.

These tools of course are what work for me, everyone is different, and I hope you find the tools that work for you.