When I set out to write The Wheel of Misfortune (Best Indie Speculative Fiction, Volume One), I asked myself what if one of the spirits of Japanese folklore who punish the wicked came after Dr. Harrington? How could the hero of my Kyoto Steampunk series possibly be wicked? This was a great opportunity to explore the early days of Dr. Harrington’s career as a member of the Royal College of Physicians. A serious error in judgment comes back to haunt Dr. Harrington ten years later in the form of the wanyudo, the Soul Eater.
Some people think plotting your story before writing it takes all the spontaneity and adventure out of the process. I disagree. I need at least some idea of where I want to go, if only for that day’s writing. I need a target to focus my aim and build momentum. There’s still a whole lot of adventure to be had just getting from one end to the other in a single scene.
When I began writing fiction, the how-to book that gave me the best advice suggested completing a first draft, then literally cutting apart and pasting together chunks of text. That seems ridiculous now in the age of Scrivener and Evernote. I’m a hands-on kind of person. Crafting provides me with much-needed occupational therapy. This tendency has led me to rely on scene cards for building plots for my longer projects.
Time This can be the century, the year, the season, the hour, whatever you need.
Place Where does this scene occur? You can be as general as galaxy or as specific as a patch of sand on the beach.
Point Of View (POV) Which character’s head is the reader inside? Change of time and/or place requires a scene break. The same is true for a change of POV.
Goal What does the POV want to accomplish during this scene? This can also be whatever the POV wants to avoid doing.
Opposition What prevents the POV from achieving the scene goal? Another character? A natural disaster?
Inciting Incident This is also referred to as the Problem Situation, the change in the POV’s life that sets the story in motion.
Resolution How does the scene end? Is the goal achieved?
Disaster This is one word for the end of scene hook, the twist that raises the stakes and heightens tension and suspense. This is what will keep your reader turning pages.
I find using 4 x 6 notecards gives me the most flexibility when it comes to lining up scenes in different ways. Wondering where to put that exposition? Trying to figure out where a flashback won’t ruin your pace? Scene cards are your friend. Scrivener provides something similar, but I can tolerate only so much screen time. Notecards don’t put you at risk for the dangers of digital eyestrain.
It’s OK if you can’t fill in all the info on every card right away. Story ideas evolve. That’s part of the fun, and another big advantage of scene cards. You can create several variations on the same scene card. Play around with the possibilities. Be sure to keep the cards you don’t use. You never know when those ideas might come in handy!
#NaNoWriMo2022 is coming. 50,000 words in just thirty days. I am an eight year veteran of NaNoWriMo, and I still find the prospect of writing 1,667 words a day quite intimidating. I have number of works-in-progress underway, but this year I choose to start a new novel project. Where do I start?
For me it’s all about the characters. I have written plot-driven stories. (As a matter of fact, I found out just yesterday my latest plot-driven short story has been accepted by an anthology!) When I start a story, I tend to start in the middle of an argument between one main character and the antagonist or a minor character who gets chewed up and spat out. Open with conflict. Show the reader why the main character’s life has just been drastically complicated by the problem situation.
“The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘DON’T THINK!’” Ray Bradbury
They key to writing from the heart of your character is to know what that character wants. Sometimes it’s more useful to know what the character does not want. People tend to make more of an effort to avoid something that will cause them pain, whether physical or emotional.
What’s ironic about this is how struggle makes a good story. The survival instinct might compel your main character to avoid what hurts. That’s sensible, but it makes boring reading. Throw your characters into the deep end and make them figure out how to swim. Characters have to learn something in the course of their character arcs. They have to change. If the main character is still the same person at the end of the story, that can be done to good effect, but most readers want to see that character fight hard, fight smart, risk everything, and win. That creates a satisfying reading experience.
Think of your character as a piece of iron hot from the forge. You put that red hot iron on the anvil and you beat on it until it takes on the shape of the tool you need. A wrought iron candle holder. A horseshoe. A sword. Beat on that character. Raise the stakes. Make it hurt. Heat and pressure will turn a lump of molten metal into a work of art.
Writing is lonely work. We sit there and spend a big chunk of time with no company other than our imaginary friends. National Novel Writing Month is 30 solid days of writing, roughly 7 pages a day, all the way to 200 pages or 50,000 words.
That’s a long haul, even longer when you’re all by yourself.
I have written four novels during my years participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me when I tell you more than once my Writing Buddies were the reason I made it all the way to the daily quota. I know how hard this is. Nobody understands a writer as well as other writers do.
On the NaNoWriMo site you can have official Writing Buddies. This is a great way to make new friends, meet new writers, and expand your network or, if you prefer, your tribe. It’s a wonderful feeling to log on, update my word total and seeing messages from my Writing Buddies in my NaNo mail. I cheer them on, they cheer me on, and we all race together toward the finish line.
A key element of #nanoprep is finding yourself some Writing Buddies. Here’s why:
Accountability — Stern word, right? It’s been proven that we will work harder to live up to other people’s expectations than we will just for our own good. When I know my Writing Buddies are waiting to see me post my daily word count, I can push past the excuses and avoidance behavior and the other self-defeating behaviors. That’s because having Writing Buddies creates a strong sense of community.
Comfort — Knowing that we are not alone does a lot to improve morale and keep us going in stressful circumstances. During NaNoWriMo I encourage the participants in my region to remember we’re all here to lift each other up and keep our writing spirits strong. During NaNoWriMo we strive to achieve our own goals, challenging ourselves to stretch a little bit farther each day.
Feedback — Comments from our fellow writers don’t have to come in the form of a critique. Some days we might get stuck. Other days we might get overrun by a herd of plot bunnies. In the forums on the NaNoWriMo site, writers of like mind and similar genres can look for the help they need. We can reach out to our Writing Buddies for comments and support.
Play — Writing 50,000 words in just 30 days sounds like hard work. It most certainly is. It can also be a whole lot of fun. Go to the Kick-Off Party. Go to the write-ins. Go to the Thank God It’s Over Party. Being part of an online community is great. Meeting fellow writers brought together by the courage to take on NaNoWriMo is even better. The joy of shared laughter will do a lot to recharge your writing batteries.
When all else fails, remember, caffeine is always there for you.
I am one of two Municipal Liaisons for my region, which is Santa Cruz County in California. In the spirit of helping this year’s participants, both the new folks and those returning, allow me to offer some ideas based on how I get ready for the mad dash from one end of NaNoWriMo to the other.
National Novel Writing Month is all about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 200 pages. 1667 words each day. Half a novel. A full roughdraft, maybe. Whatever you want to write, in whatever way you want to write it. Everybody’s creative process is unique. Feel free to do whatever gets you to the 50k mark by November 30.
Last year I wrote Silk & Steam, the first novel in my Kyoto Steampunk universe. It took me some time after the end of NaNoWriMo to come up with an ending that was really strong. Now I’m rewriting to make the whole manuscript live up to that ending. I want that novel to be the only novel in my head right now, so for this year’s writing project, I need to go in a different direction.
For the 20th Anniversary of NaNoWriMo, I plan to write short stories. Six short stories, 1700 words each. That’s more than a story a week, so this is going to be a real challenge. My best time up to now has been total of three weeks for writing a short story start to finish with editing and polishing. During NaNoWriMo I’m going for six complete first drafts. This means I have to do a lot of planning before November 1.
Where do I start my planning for six brand new short stories?
I start with the monsters. The yokai, which more accurately translates as “bewitching apparition,” are the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. Each of the seven stories in the Kyoto Steampunk series features a particular yokai. So I need six new yokai, and I’m thinking about a location where Dr. Harrington and his family would be likely to find all six.
I already have subplots in motion given the seven other stories already published. A quick list of where all of my main characters are at the end of the novel provides a starting point for each of them. At the moment I’m considering the possibility of writing each story from a different character’s viewpoint. If I create one basic story and then provide each character’s personal stakes in those events, I might be able to create quite a mosaic that brings the world of Kyoto Steampunk to life.
And so the new stories begin to grow!
Is there such a thing as too much preparation? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. I identify as a plantser. I need a certain amount of planning to get the shape of the story. Then I set the timer and throw myself into the scene. On the days when the words won’t come out easily, a word sprint is your best friend.
What do you do to get ready? How do you decide what project you want to work on? I’d be delighted to hear about your process. We’re all here to help each other through the 30 day marathon that is NaNoWriMo.
by Lillian Csernica on Wednesday, September 4, 2019
November is coming. That means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo!
This year is the 20th anniversary of NaNoWriMo. Twenty years of hot ideas, hard work, and tanker trucks full of coffee! If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing a novel, or you really need group support to get you through that first draft, then NaNoWriMo is waiting for you.
“Where do I start?” That is the question I hear most often from people who really want to write but don’t know what to do first. The answer is simple: Find what gets you most excited about your project. Is it the main character? Is it the dialogue? Is it the glorious victory of the Good Guys stomping the Bad Guys into the dirt? Whatever gets you all fired up, that’s the key to Writing Every Single Day.
Pick an idea. For me this means choosing a genre, a time period, and the major location.
Write down a bunch of details about my main character.
Do the same for my villain.
Brainstorm a rough plot outline.
Keep making notes as the ideas start crossbreeding with every new detail I imagine. I try to keep organized from the very beginning. Index cards, Scrivener, a spiral notebook, whatever works. The important thing is to get all those details recorded hot and fresh without thinking too much.
If you’re starting from scratch with a new idea, you need to create a lot of the basic information about plot, character, and setting. I liken this part of the writing process to the way a sculptor begins a new piece. First you have to get your hands on some clay, right? Once you have the clay, then you can start shaping it into a story. Brainstorming all those details is how writers create the clay from which we shape our stories.
If you’re starting with a work-in-progress, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. I suggest you come up with a specific goal you want to achieve during NaNoWriMo. Some examples:
Finish your draft
Flesh out the relationship(s) between the main character and the sidekick, the love interest, the mentor, or the villain. Depending on the type of story you’re after, you can have the main character working on a better understanding of that person’s own mind and motivations. Do be careful to dramatize what happens. Pages of interior monologue are fine when you’re working out the details of an idea. Too much of that can kill your pace and leave your reader hungry for real action.
Familiarize yourself with your setting and test the dramatic possibilities of some key locations. If you’re using a well-known setting such as Paris or London, make sure you get the details right.
Remember, no first draft comes out letter perfect. The first draft is where you get to play around, chase ideas up blind allies, start a character off with one motivation and see where that takes you. This is where you get to find out which ideas fit together and which ones tend to muddle up the story.
Give yourself permission to write badly at first. That doesn’t mean your writing will be bad. It just means you take the pressure off of yourself so you can just enjoy the act of writing. All that really matters during NaNoWriMo is that you WRITE. Just do it. Just get the daily word quota out of your head and onto the paper, screen, bedroom wall, whatever. Just WRITE.
Watch for more tips on getting ready for National Novel Writing Month!
Oh my stars and garters. I’ve been going like a maniac for days now. Friday–Halloween party. Saturday–trip through a Haunted House. Sunday–groceries, laundry, pizza, as well as prepping for the Kick Off Party. Monday–the Kick Off party! Tuesday–taking John to tae kwon do. And of course Wednesday was Halloween!
People ask me how I get any writing done. It’s simple. I do it whenever I get the chance. On Tuesday I was sitting there with my notebook on my knee writing while John was out on the mat with his tae kwon do class. At this point I’m busy typing in everything I wrote during #nanoprep in October. Still, I must keep writing every day. That’s the deal.
We’re going to EuCon again this month. John is once again in charge of the Art Bus. This means five days on the road. It will be a real challenge making sure I hit the daily quota when my brain is fried from driving for hours or working the con. I’ve already proven I can write in my sleep, so I might need that skill again and soon!
Then there’s John’s birthday and Thanksgiving! The excitement never stops!
I’m going to write. Every day. A whole new book.
To all my fellow WriMos out there, I wish you all the best as you embark on your journeys of creativity.
This is one of the highlights of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. I have been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2014, but never yet have I had the pleasure of attending The Night of Writing Dangerously.
This is the year I go and spend the evening with my fellow writers at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, CA. We will eat and drink and write and revel in the knowledge that we are among people who share our passion for the written word.
NaNoWriMo HQ has announced that this will be the last year for this event. That makes me twice as grateful to the wonderful people who have made it possible for me to attend.
The Night of Writing Dangerously is right up there on my Bucket List. I am now serving as the Municipal Liaison for Santa Cruz County. When I volunteered, I committed to the goal of raising the donations necessary to attend this magnificent event. I hope my success will inspire other members of my Region to do the same. It would be so wonderful for a big group of us to travel to San Francisco together so we can share this amazing evening and all that it includes.
If you think you’d like to give it a go, there’s still time. NaNoWriMo begins on November 1st. The Night of Writing Dangerously will be held on November 18th. Attendance is limited to the first 225 people who raise the money and RSVP, so get started right away.
This is for all you Planners out there. The ones with the notebooks and the index cards and the color-coded little arrow Post-It notes. You know who you are. You can’t wait to plow through all those research books and make a gazillion notes. You love to chase down the other books on the bibliographies, hunting for the exact name of that one piece of clothing, or why on earth those people would be willing to eat that substance under those circumstances.
I share your addictions and I feel your pain.
I think of myself as a plantser because in October I’m in Planner Mode. Research, outlines, scene cards, character sketches, maps, coinage, ad infinitum. When I was little, everybody stressed the importance of learning how to color inside the lines. So when I start a new novel project, I have what amounts to a compulsion to create those “lines,” the clearly marked spaces that I will fill in with backstory and location data and a list of crazy potential plot twists.
Then, come November itself, I go nuts, writing all out like a true Pantser. Each day I throw myself at that word quota and write like hell, living in fear of midnight. If everything goes well, all that material I absorbed during October will mingle and blend in the depths of my imagination. The words will come gushing out into the pen or the keyboard, and the story will take shape!
What if all does NOT go well? What if all that research and all those notes and all the brainstorming uses up all the energy you had for doing the actual writing?
This is a very real danger. I’ve heard some writing teachers warn against talking too much about new ideas. All that wonderful pressure to get the story written can dissipate if you spend too much time talking and not enough writing.
The other danger is spending so much time and energy on your idea that when it comes time for the actual writing, you’re already bored. Over it. Burned out. That’s not a fun place to be when you’ve got 30 days and 50,000 words waiting on the horizon.
Prepping for NaNoWriMo is very important for all the obvious reasons. You need to have some idea of who you’re writing about, where the story happens, and what the stakes are. My advice is to do enough prepping so you can see the signposts but not every pothole along the way. Give your imagination enough room to consider the many different combinations of the ideas you’re mulling over.
Remember three essential guidelines:
Write everything down. EVERYTHING. A piece of dialog. One character’s opinion. What kind of horse the bad guy’s sidekick dreams of owning.
One day’s writing is not set in stone. You don’t like the way that scene came out? Do it again from another character’s point of view. You’re so frustrated you just want to burn down the whole super spy skyscraper? Do it! Let’s see how those fancypants S.H.I.E.L.D.–wannabes handle that scenario!
Keep everything. Sure, you’ll make choices. That’s good. Just keep all the other stuff. You never know what might come in handy around Day 15 or Day 26. And who knows? All those bits and pieces might help you figure out the sequel!
I'm a professional writer living in Northern California with my husband and two sons. Fantasy in various forms is my reading and writing pleasure. I'm a history buff, a Japanophile, and I love to learn about language(s). I enjoy making jewelry, using natural materials such as wood, bone, semiprecious stones, and seashells. I collect bookmarks and wind chimes.