NaNoWriMo 2019 Prep: Put the Pencils Down

So here it is, the 31st October. Tomorrow, 1st November marks the commencement of NaNoWriMo 2019. So this is it, I’ve plotted and planned more than any other NaNoWriMo since I started joining in 11 years ago. I’ve done all I can.

Will it be enough? If I stick to it, then yes, it will be enough. Nice simple answer.

Except, I’m chaos personified. There’s still plenty of time for me to go in a completely random direction. So for this planning to have been worth it, I really need to practice some discipline. I rule my stories, I can’t let them rule me. This year more than ever.

I’ve got a chalk board up to mark milestones in NaNoWriMo, which I’m hoping to get through quickly on my way to the 50,000 word target, and then I’ll extend it out to my true target of 80,000.

Milestones

I’m going to add chapters to the right on this, just so I can check them off. Originally I was going to put dozens of post it notes that I could peel off as targets were met… but who doesn’t like working in chalk?

So, as of midnight tonight I’m stopping all plotting. I’m then going to copy my plotting spreadsheet, and work from the copy – I’m going to be updating it as I go, but I want to have the original to compare to when it’s all done.

I’m excited though, will be commencing writing at midnight, but I’ll limit myself to an hour, so can go to bed, and then get up fresh faced and ready on Saturday to smash a lot of those targets on the first day. I will be going to a write in though, so that will slow me down a bit.

So, yes exciting times. For all those of you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you good writing. For all those not taking part, but doing their own writing thing, I also wish you good writing.

Expect some updates from me along the way. Also check out my YouTube channel, as I’ll be Vlogging daily during NaNoWriMo.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcfdMOXMbTeHep0uzcI6k9A

NaNoWriMo Prep 2019: A Decision is Made (Plot Structures)

I’m developing my plot structure right now. I’m trying to find the right one that works for me. I’m plot structure agnostic; I find the one to fit what I’m writing at the time.

I do follow a general three-act structure, I like a clear beginning, middle and an end. However, that’s a fundamental structure, and the plot structure has a lot more elements that need to be placed and paced within it.

So one of the structures I’ve been looking at is Blake Snyder’s 15 beat structure from Save the Cat. It’s a screenplay structure but has been adapted to literature. The beats are:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Theme Stated
  3. Set-up
  4. Catalyst
  5. Debate
  6. Break into Two
  7. B Story
  8. Fun and Games
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad Guys Close In
  11. All Is Lost
  12. Dark Night of the Soul
  13. Break into Three
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

I’m not going to go into the details of which each of those beat means, there are great resources online that can do so, and there’s Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book I got as an ebook, but you can get as a book from wherever you prefer.

What I like about it is that idea of a starting and final image, and some elements can be reordered to some degree, and some cross over with other beats. You’ve got a nice bit of complexity, and it all seems pretty logical and straightforward.

Tension and peril rise from a low level to an apex point that stretches twice, you think this is as bad as it gets, and then it gets worse before you have your finale where your heroes overcome the bad guys.

This is what I’m leaning towards.

It is, however, pretty typical, and doesn’t feel particularly original, is it is used a lot. However, the structure is something in the background, yours, (or my), words will flesh this structure with feeling, passion, action and excitement.

I did consider going through several structures in this post, but I think I’ve committed to Blake Snyder’s 15 beats. Instead, once NaNoWriMo is out of the way I will play with some other structures, and utilise them in some short stories, to explore this topic.

Instead, I’m going to go back to my preparations, they’re coming on fantastically, I’m delighted to be at the point I can flesh out my plot.

NaNoWriMo Prep 2019: A Twist of Fate

My main character was wrong.

I’ve not gone into any details about my story for this year’s NaNoWriMo, except for my last post, about a mistake I nearly made. However, I’ve been doing a lot of work around characterisations in my preparations. So here it is, here are some details, and how it’s shown me some basic ideas I had about this story are wrong.

So this is meant to be a space adventure story. My main character is a thief who gets pulled into some pretty world-changing events, while also being chased by the villain of the piece.

Now I had assumed that duelling motivations of vengeance would be the central conflict to the story. My main character wanted revenge on the villain, and thus joined a crew and a mission that would bring him towards the villain. The villain of the piece meanwhile intends to punish the main character by re-imprisoning him, though their motive would change later on when the MacGuffin in the story puts her interests in danger.

It seems a perfectly workable idea. However, it just doesn’t fit with the character work I’ve done for my main character. The main character looks like an average person. He’s not known for being heroic, he’s a thief, albeit high-end thief that works mostly against corporations. There is a commitment to avoiding violence, that seems to come from a personal code, but it looks a lot like cowardice from some angles.

His personality is of a charming man, with a good sense of humour, approachable in society, though focused when on the job, he moves on from trouble he doesn’t chase it. His goals work-wise are to get and get out with the minimum fuss.

He isn’t the man that proclaims a blood oath and charges off to get vengeance.

So how would this character fit into a tale of revenge? They wouldn’t.
Motivations are important. If you ever want the reader to believe your characters have agency, have free will, their decisions in the story have to flow through their motivations. A miser doesn’t just give things, not unless they’ve been through a process the reader has seen and appreciates, (thinking of Scrooge there). A warrior who on multiple occasions, has fought off ten people at a time doesn’t surrender to four because she is outnumbered.

Doing things against your character’s motivations just to fit the plot will prevent readers from believing in your characters, believing in the stakes. You’ll break the suspension of disbelief, and leave your reader feeling like any investment in the role is wasted.

If your character is a hardass, make them a hardass.
Obviously, the story can weigh on the character’s decision; a hardass might stay their hand to protect someone they love. Your miser might give anything to reclaim something he secretly values even more than money. If you’ve established their motivations, and how they end up making a different decision that’s fine.

I can’t see a way to make this character I’ve created go on the blood fuelled vengeance. Short of murdering someone close to him, but he doesn’t have anyone close to him.

We’re still at the planning stages though; I’ve not written to, or committed to anything yet. I just needed to find the right motivation to get the character into the plot. It turns out, it was pretty simple, a character like that wants freedom, and to stay free. They might be willing to commit to this crazy space adventure if the reward at the end was freedom, and maybe riches.

All of this is important, I want the character to be able to speak naturally, I want a consistent tone. I want the main character to be quippy, brave in situations he is comfortable, but a little cowardly in things out of his element, say combat or leadership. This isn’t his day to day, yet ultimately he’s the one leading us through this plot, and we want to see him overcome his limitations naturally.

I must say, I’m really enjoying plotting this year. I genuinely think it’s going to lead to a great story while I’m having these conversations with myself.

NaNoWriMo Prep 2019: I’m Not Racist… But

My unconscious nearly put an entire alt-right wet dream in as a subplot on my upcoming NaNoWriMo project.

It was all innocent, just a chain of events in my planning that led to an unfortunate connection in my brain.

I’d decided my fighter pilot in my story was going to be an Israeli woman, and that all worked out great in the character bio. I then chose one of the twists and turns in the tale was going to be that she was working for a mysterious figure in my story. This mystery man is trying to control events to create an interstellar version of the UN. In her bio, I’d already mentioned she was brought up and trained by her an uncle, a war hero and clandestine operative. I then decided that he should be the aforementioned mysterious figure.

Nothing clicked at this point. It was all entirely innocent following through the story.

However several months ago, in my ongoing quest to learn as many random things as possible, I was learning the history of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. It is an insane subject, how a joke grew out of all control and ravaged racial, political and societal in the past 100 years.

You can’t study something like that without putting it in a broader context. So I learned a lot about the far-right and alt-right movements, that used this fake text to justify their beliefs.

And that’s where it clicks, I’ve accidentally written an alt-right wet dream with just the character bios.

I’m a free-thinking centre left-leaning liberal. I don’t have anything against Jews, and my problems with the Israeli state are strictly to do with Palestine and the West Bank, so political. I certainly don’t want my stories to contain a racist caricature of Jews or any race.

So planning and preparation have helped me. At this stage it’s an easy fix:

  • I could change the young pilot’s character
  • I could change her relationship to the mysterious figure,
  • I could even remove the shadowy puppet master, (it is somewhat of a cliché in science fiction and fantasy)

I’ve chosen to snip that particular story thread and remove any familial relationship between the pilot and the mystery man. It also means I’ve got next to nothing on this shadowy man; he’s a mystery even to me.

Now Jewishness of this pilot is essential to me. Which seems odd, but a while back I’d read a story in the news, about Jewish fighter pilots. At the time this got me thinking, you don’t often hear about female fighter pilots very often, even in popular culture that much, (though the Captain Marvel movie has done just that). Since these Israeli women fighter pilots were the inspiration, that’s the direction I wanted the character to go, to pay homage to that. I’m not sure if that’s silly, but that’s just something I wanted in there, sans any racist overtones.

It does concern me how easy it is to say something entirely different from what you meant when writing. Had I been pantsing it, I probably wouldn’t have realised that. So chalk that up to another benefit of planning, it helps avoid pitfalls and makes sure your authorial intent doesn’t get hijacked by silly mistakes.

NaNoWriMo 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.

88 Days… Not all that long

So apparently NaNoWriMo 2018 is creeping up on me, it’s just 88 days away. I need to get plotting, planning, and researching. I won last year… first time in ages, and it came off the back of plotting, so that’s the way I’m going again.

Only, I’ve been so focused on Dune recently, that’s all that’s in my head. Think I need to go in another direction entirely, science fiction is out, maybe a fantasy story in a much smaller space. Shall see what inspiration strikes.

So, for those taking part in NaNoWriMo, what are you doing to prepare, or are you holding back until closer to the time?

NaNoWriMo 2012 – a long awaited update

Usually during November I post every few days about my NaNoWriMo progress, that is until I crash and burn and end up riding the fail train until the end of the month, (though I did win last year). This year has been different, oh yes, on both accounts.

First of all I’ve failed to get round to inane blog posts about my progress until now, (now into the final week). Secondly, for the second year running, I missed the connection to the fail train and gained my win early. In fact at ten days, I was on the success train four days earlier than last year. That’s right, choo choo, I’m a winner again!

Okay, a grown man putting “Choo choo” in that statement may not sound like a winner, but it felt good, and so did winning.

This of course isn’t about rubbing all your noses in my success, (not entirely anyway), it’s about how I succeeded, and what I’m currently up to, (and no its not running round city centre bollock naked going running up to people before going shouting “Choo choo” in their faces – that behaviour gets you sectioned, and NaNoWriMo does not qualify as mitigating circumstances).

So, my last NaNoWriMo post before this, that was actually published, (have a whole post on tools that I didn’t publish, which is good as I went a different way), was all about my final decision for project this year. I originally had decided on three possibilities, and had a whole scientifically inaccurate way for deciding which I would go with.

Then October hit, and the Road to NaNoWriMo was in full swing, and I decided I didn’t want to do it. All that planning won’t go to waste, but it’s not being used right now. Instead I had a grand plan for revolution, with a Tyrant in Downing Street. I’m sure you can see the appeal of this given the times we live, and are likely to be living in in the future.  It’s tough, it’s exciting, and it’s political. What more can a guy ask for in a novel?

So with the planning session for the West Yorkshire chapter of NaNoWriMo, I plotted out my novel, sorted out my main character and time a line leading up to the main events. Then November the 1st at 2:30am (I napped longer than I expected), I got to work on the ambitious story I had in mind.

Another reason for choosing this particular story was I did it as a history book, narrated by a single voice, but telling many of stories of the life and times of said tyrant.  It meant I didn’t necessarily have to care about continuity, writing in the right order and what not, it’s going to be easy to chop and change in editing. Whole sections can be lifted and moved, or indeed just removed without impacting everywhere. It was quite liberating, so much so with a big first day, and a huge Saturday I was well on my way. I was hoping for a Wednesday night finish, (50k in 7 days, epic), however NaNo crud hit early this year and it threw me off my game somewhat in the first Monday and Tuesday of the competition. It was a distraction I could ill afford for the 7 day 50k. So, I didn’t do it. That said, it didn’t stop me, I carried on when I was better, and won on day 10. 5k a day average? I can live with that.

So November 10th was a glorious day, since I won. Unfortunately for my 100k plans, the story lost its traction after that. I’ve stopped it at 52k, and moved onto a new novel, with the aim of doing a second novel in 10 days. So far I’m behind after losing two days to the curse of technology, (my laptop by loathsome ransom ware).  The second novel got me to 100k in eleven days, and I completed the 50k for that particular novel on fourteen days.

Below you can see a chart of my word counts, per day, up until today. I did my best, but I was no where near consistent. (click the image to see the chart in full size).

From Word Counts

Neither is finished, but both need a bit of extra planning to tie it all together and finish off. So I’m calling December finishing month. There’ll be three to do, as tomorrow I’m starting another story. This one will be short, about 25k, just to finish off the last week. I’m not worried if I don’t hit 25k, it’s just a bit of fun.

The plot is entirely driven by StoryCubes, (see below for the selection in question). No idea how it’ll work out, and I’ll probably need more StoryCubes at various points to pad out the plot.

From Story Preparation

I have a whole post in mind as to how much StoryCubes helped me, and how I used them, and the fun. So I won’t share my interpretations just yet. I think though I’m going to do a StoryCube story once a month, just for fun.

It’s early yet, but I’d hate to forget, so here are the obligatory thank you messages.

Thank you to:

  • NaNoWriMo for hosting and organisation the month.
  • The Yorkshire chapter of NaNoWriMo for being such a lovely encouraging forum
  • #NaNoYorks chat room for its many word counts, and encouragements, and putting up with my plot talks, and occasional boasting.

In particular, I’d like to thank (in no specific order):

  • Sparkie, for whom I was desperately trying to race, but out paces me for writing with worrying ease – even hundreds of miles away in her new home.
  • Kerantli, for secretly being the organised and responsible one, and prodding me when I needed to stuff.
  • Rokk, for talks about Bond and plots.
  • BoredRobots, for being the foil to my personal story

A further mention goes to:

  • My colleagues at work that have put up with me talking about things they have not a single care about.
  • My mum for encouraging me, and my dad for taking an interest in the plot.

So yeah, plenty of thanks, and I’ve missed a lot of people out. Some people don’t even realise they’re helping, but they have. I could never have made it through NaNoWriMo these past couple of years without the care and support of all the other WriMo’ers I’ve encountered.

I’m stood here on this podium in tears now… but no one’s handed me an award yet. Ah well.