NaNoWriMo 2019: I Drink From the Goblet of Victory!

Erm… so yes. I won. 5 days, I achieved the challenge I set myself. I’ve beaten my best over time by 5 days.

I win.

I’m a little giddy, and excitced, and over the moon. I don’t mean to be a dick, because I do realise how stupid a 5 day NaNoWriMo is, but I also needed this challenge.

And for the hard work I’ve earned this:

My gin goblet of victory, a healthy measure of Malfy’s Sicilian Blood Orange gin, and tonic, with ice. But please do drink responsibly.

I was going to look up some author’s cocktails, and celebrate that way – but There was nothing I fancied, so I did my own thing instead. Been saving this gin for a while, and it is lovely. If you are drinking, drink responsibly, and from my experience, writing drunk “to get through writer’s block”, or for “inspiration” rarely actually works.

So anyway, I’ve not been this happy and excited in a long long time, so I’m not going to say anything meaningful, other than thanks to the NaNoYorkshire goes, who’s regular sprints, kind and support words have brought me to where I am.

Official 2019 Winner’s Badge

I’ve just said I’ll never do this again… but four days is only 12,500 words, I could manage that, though NaNo does start on a Sunday next year , so that’d be three days off work. Will see – I’ll admit five days was a tough hall, and actually tiring.

So yes, I won. Yes I’m super happy. No I’m not done, the story itself needs finishing, there’s a couple of chapters missing that need filling in, and a lot of detailing work to get to a finished 1st draft. So plenty more words to add to that total yet.

And if you want to see someone that looks ridiculously happy, and exciting and barely able to string a thought together, (even forgetting to put an Hawaiian shirt on, even though that’s a thing he does for every video) – here’s my terrible but hugely happy Vlog for today:

And just because these are for social media and I have done 5 days in a row 😀

Happy writing everyone, no matter what time you do it in, or even if you don’t quite make it to the end of the month with 50k, be proud. You’re doing so much better than those that didn’t bother starting.

Tell your story your way.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Or How I Learned to Love the Plotting

So been a bit quiet on here for the past few days, that’s understandable I hope it is NaNoWriMo after all, most of my words have gone into the novel I’m writing.

And I really am writing. It’s thanks to two things the plotting I did, (which wasn’t that deep, but has kept me focused), and my regional community for NaNoWriMo with discussions and sprints.

Sprints are timed writing segments where at the end of the time, you compare how many words you all managed to write. Mostly it’s been fifteen minute sprints this year, and I’ve done 52 of them in the first four days of NaNo.

52? That’s a lot. It really is, in some I’ve hit as high as 1,000 words per sprint, though my average is about 634 words. Still, it’s carried me far this year.

A chart over time of my WPM’s (averaged by hour)

So I’ve not yet said how I’m doing word count wise. That’s because I wanted to say how I got here.

I’ve not one yet, don’t jump the gun please, let’s not count chickens – but please excuse me if I crow a little.

It’s the start of day 5, and I have less than 7,000 words left to write to have hit the 50,000 word target. So yes, I will be finishing that goal today. I’ve done four days of 10k+ words (give or take an argument with the new NaNo site about which day some of those words live).

My NaNo Word Count Stats

As mentioned, I’m crowing, I’m proud – hell I’m ecstatic, but I’ve not finished yet, and I really can’t take a lot of the credit, there’s been a community supporting, being there with relentless sprints, listening to me moan about being more tired than after a hard day’s work, and putting up with my inane attempts at a funny comment everytime we launch a sprint.

I’m posting this now, as the post after I do win, I’m actually going to be talking story, not stats, crowing, and generally have a laugh. Which is probably boring, but I’m really looking forward to some substance – but sometimes you’ve just got to go for the frosting first.

It’s also worth noting it doesn’t matter how many words you right in a day, it doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you write NaNoWriMo, the heart of this challenge, this competition, is that you write. I’m not going to stop, and no matter where you are in your journey, I hope you don’t stop either.

Happy writing everyone.

NaNoWriMo 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.

Story Telling… I Admire: Babylon 5

I’ve already mentioned how much I admire Dune, and aspire to that level of writing, so since I’m crap at reviewing, we’ll talk about what I admire about my favourites. Another one my all time favourites series, this time  a TV one, is Babylon 5, created by J. Michael Straczynski back in the 90’s.

So let’s talk about that.

A Bit of History (for those don’t remember the 90’s… which is increasingly more and more adults – darn time!)

Back in the 90’s, and in decades before that, the majority of television shows (though not all by far), were episodic, with arcs focused on that episode, and you could probably air many episodes out of order with little to no effect on the stories being told. Most of Star Trek is like this, and it’s fine – it’s what we expected, nay what we thought we wanted.

However J. Michael Straczynski while in the shower, combined two story ideas he’d been playing with a big space opera and a story taking place aboard a dinky little space station. The big space opera would be too big, and too expensive to make in a TV show, while an episodic TV show set aboard a space station wouldn’t have much life, just a few seasons. His eureka moment in the shower was that in combining the two, you could have a five year story that saw a universe at war, and peace, have politics and a consequences play out, and punctuate some action and fallout on the station to contextualise the space opera, without having to invest too significant parts of the budget for space battles.

They were doing this in the early days of the CGI revolution, now everyone with a some 3d program, and a video editing suite can put together a fleet on fleet battle, in HD or even 4k, with some time and patience.

Side note: I actually wonder if they could make Babylon 5 these days, the restrictions of budget and technology helped to create something amazing, but there aren’t the same limiting factors, you can do whole series in front of blue screens without much need for a set, you don’t need expensive physical models, and people are already trying to make CGI people a thing, so you might not need pricey actors either.

So, what is Babylon 5?

So back to the idea – a small contained space, operating as a space UN of sorts. It ties together smaller character driven stories and a grand epic. The factions have unique motivations to them which drive them, hurt them, and so on, and actions for against a faction has consequences for those factions and the over arcing plot.

I’m trying not to get into spoilers, but you have plots involving a character or characters place and interaction with their own state, you have law and order plots, including local (on the station), internal (with the one of the nations of the galaxy), and international, (with multiple nations involved), you have siege and attack plots, Revolutions, enslavement, spies, survivor stories, medical dramas, but also a sense of magical plots, magical tests and quests, mystical items, after life stuff, and I’m not so be with this yet, then you have interpersonal plots with romance, buddy cops, noir detectives, comedies, arguments and misunderstandings. Basically it has everything.

“But!” I hear you shoot, Star Trek has all of that – and you’re right, but except on DS9, it didn’t add to anything it was just adventure of the week.

Now DS9 was doing something similar, but it didn’t feel as in depth, it was more focused, where as Babylon 5 went in a hundred, but coherent, didn’t directions but brought it back together. What DS9 did do though was better communicate the world was ending and the war stories were just more intense, that’s where the budget differences came in I think. Babylon 5 was more cohesive, and the building blocks all lead to how it ends (taking season 4, not 5 in fairness).

So What Is It I Admire, And Can Learn

So ultimately what I admire is the ability to balance personal and grander story telling. Now it is probably easier in hundreds of 45 minute episodes than writing a novel, but when you look at each series, (1 through 4 anyway), they are beautifully balanced.

Where I fail is I get lost in scenes, specifically dialogue ones, I get stuck in circles, the dialogue in Babylon 5 is what carries the story, and it’s not as punchy as a Sorkin series, but still all the important dialogue is focused, and delivers three things each time, the characters personal feelings and motivations, exposition to explain the current situation, and the plan – what actions do the characters intend to do.

I like that, and I think ultimately that’s what I want to learn, and it doesn’t matter if it’s on screen or on a page I think it’s a good way to do dialogue. It will definitely help to have three things before writing dialogue scenes:

  • History
  • Motivation
  • Plan

Doesn’t matter what the plan is, it’s not the plot of the story, it’s just what the characters intend – actually that’s not true, it does matter, because for the dialogue to be important, whatever the characters decide will drive the plot, it’s just a matter of whether they succeed in their intentions, or are denied by another factor.

Also just to mention, as with Dune, I could go through a lot more, but I wanted to pick an element that is of particular interest to me right now.

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.

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.