Monthly Archives: November 2014

Finished at 40k? Oops.


Okay, NaNoWriMers should be passing the 40k mark, and hopefully most of you are on the home stretch. There is a peculiar problem I hope is isolated but I’ll bring up anyway: novellas are sometimes complete at less than 50,000 words.

Um, yeah. I got an email with just this problem. Her NaNoWriMo novel is done, finished, complete, and it’s falling about 10k short. Wow. This particular writer has done NaNoWriMo before and she knows some … tricks. She went in and replaced contractions with full words. You know, can’t became can not, won’t became will not, and so on. That’ll only get you so far. There’s actually a lot of contractions in English, so … but there is a limit. And she lengthened some names. That was an act of desperation.

There’s really no way around it, she simply needs to write more and I told her so. I suggested she add a scene or related short story and gave her some writing prompts. Some were outrageous because it was pretty late by that point, but some weren’t bad if I say so myself.

Then it occurred to me, it’s been a long time since I’d been given a writing prompt (and oddly that was during NaNo) but it might help someone out there. The ones I gave her probably wouldn’t, but sometimes a little something to get you going is helpful. If you need a kick start, there are some websites that offer prompts, but I’ll toss a few out there.

  • While two characters are sharing a meal, have one choke. Two options here: the other can debate whether to save their companion, or just immediately do it. Regardless, having your life saved changes people. Perhaps that person knows something of value, or confesses something that shouldn’t be said. A lot can happen when emotions are high.
  • If you have a character with any sort of super human abilities, have them lose those abilities for a short time while some moon crosses the orbit of the closest planet and aligns with the sun…whatever. The overall effect could be comedic or catastrophic.
  • In a world without magic, have a studious character find a book in an old bookshop that appears to be bound in a weird leather. It’s a book about dragons as far as he/she can tell, but it’s written in a language he/she can’t identify. “Look at these drawings of a dissection and dragons in flight. And I think this is supposed to show how they breath fire.” He just picked it up because it was cool. Weird that the owner let it go so cheap when it’s clearly old, but cool. “Probably a hoax. I wonder where I can get it tested…what were you saying?” (Maybe he/she sets it down while they have lunch at a restaurant and it’s left behind. He’d probably be mad about that.)
  • Have you written another book? Different genre is even better. While your characters are out and about, have a chance meeting and ‘guest appearance’ of a character from another book. A description, a few lines, nothing much. Nothing to detract from your current story, just an easter egg. King, Lee, and Tarantino make appearances in their movies…
  • Your character has a day where nothing happens. The boredom is killing him/her. And perhaps anticipation. Is he waiting for something? Is someone supposed to call? Dawn to dusk…nothing. He’s left to his own thoughts, how would those thoughts go?
  • A hang up call sparks paranoia.
  • A dead letter delivered/returned to sender twenty years later.
  • Someone makes a meal to apologize for an argument, but accidentally includes an allergen and the victim ends up in the hospital. Much more to apologize for now.

There are so many possibilities out there, most are probably less specific or twisted. Do a search in your browser for writing prompts and it’ll give you a list of websites for ideas. Pick those that suit your novel and style. Have fun, and get writing.

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How To Win NaNoWriMo Even If You’re Behind (Without Cheating)

Okay, for you NaNoWriMo participants out there, we’re halfway through the challenge, and I hope you’re about halfway through your novel. If you’re not quite there, it’s okay, there’s time.

That being said, Hubby threw me for a loop after the first week. I told him I was scheduled to finish about the 18th or so at the rate I was going (things have happened since) and he said “Wow, I never thought I’d be ahead of you.”


Hubby doesn’t write. He started a novel about seventeen years ago with a friend, they got fifty pages in and haven’t touched it since. I’ve encouraged him, but to no avail. It’s helpful though, he knows a little something about writing so he’s supportive when I lock myself away in a typing frenzy. He’s also unusually understanding about the whole “don’t talk to me in November” thing.

Whatever, I tried to suppress the shock and vowed to be supportive of Hubby taking up the writing challenge. A few days go by and I mentioned my plot has strayed shockingly far from my admittedly simple outline. I told him about what I wrote so far, and he offered to let me see what he had. Hubby was surprisingly vague about his plot, but said he’d show me. Okay. If he’s good with it.

We were out at the time, but when we got home, Hubby started his computer, hesitated, and turned it around to show me his masterpiece in progress.

Now I want it known that I had no intention of critiquing it. I am the supportive wife. I’ve finished twelve novels and several short stories, this is his first so I’m all about being supportive. Okay, that was my disclaimer.

I looked at Hubby’s first paragraph and it took a moment for what I was seeing to sink in.

Have you seen that text graphic circling the web about varying sentence length? That was the first thing that crossed my mind.

Although it really didn’t apply, not really. Yes, every sentence was the same length, but it was because they were all the same sentence! That’s right, he had typed, over and over “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

He had pages of it. Apparently he’d already hit 42,000 words. Yay? We had a little chat. This is not the way to win NaNoWriMo, although I have to tip my hat to Hubby for the prank.

Hubby’s distractions aside, let’s discuss how someone could win NaNoWriMo even if they were behind at this point. Some may even be critically behind.

The easiest thing to remember is Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. Seriously. Turn off the TV, close your internet browsers. Facebook and Twitter will live without you for two weeks. I promise the world will survive if you don’t +1 a picture of a cat or like some inspirational quote. Promise.

Next, once you type it, it’s set in stone. Don’t edit anything at this point. Typo? Deal with it on December 1st. Changing the name of a character? Do it on December 1st. Just realized your main character cannot possibly have been born the year you said because that would make her 982 and the story doesn’t allow for her to be a Time Lord? What did I say? That’s right, December 1st.

Now to be fair, some may not be in a predicament because of the inability to turn off their inner editor. This “Don’t edit anything” may seem a bit harsh. Correcting a simple typo doesn’t actually take that long. True, but “not that long” multiplied by a few times/page by over 100 pages adds up. (Those of us who’ve written 25,000 words, in theory have written 100 pages, with 100 to go. If you’re behind … you have over 100 to go. Get it?)

Big one here: outline as much as you can, as detailed as you can, as quickly as you can. Also preferably somewhere where you wouldn’t be writing anyway. I like to outline in the car when Hubby’s driving (until I threaten to get car-sick), or relaxing in a hot bath, or quietly while ‘watching’ a show with the kids when it would be too distracting to actually write. Outlining, for those who can do this, can dramatically increase your word count when you actually sit down to write in a couple of ways. First: you already know exactly what you’re going to write. There’s no ‘waiting for inspiration’ because it’s largely there on your notepad. Second: if you’re working with a basic outline and still need a little bit of inspiration, and just don’t have it on one scene, as long as you stay true to your outline, you can skip ahead to another scene and write that instead. There are no rules that say the book must be written in order. I frequently don’t write my novels from chapter one through twenty, one after the other. In fact, I’ve done it once. Outlines are wonderful, if you can use them effectively.

That being said, I recognize not everyone can. I try, I really do. I outlined this book, and I’ve deviated so far from that outline now that it was effectively a waste of time and effort. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve done this, and it probably won’t be the last. I recognize the value of outlines so I keep trying. Once I start writing, my characters get developed and take on a life of their own, and toss my carefully planned outline out the window. Without a safety harness. It’s cruel and painful.

Also, research later. Remember I mentioned in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo that I was doing my research in advance? It was because I didn’t want to take time to research while I could be writing. Plus I knew I did have to leave time for life to get in the way. Researching in advance didn’t help me. Did I do it? Yes. I researched what I would need based on the outline I constructed that ended up being tossed aside after the first week. So I’m in the same boat. No research allowed. If I come across something that I need to know, I mark it. (I use ‘@’ and a note so I can search for it later, a friend uses ** because it’s on her numberpad and she doesn’t have to shift.) Then, on December 1, you can go back, and fill in the blanks. If you absolutely need to know something for plot? Honestly? Take a guess and fix it later. Research is time consuming. I have written a chapter in less time than it’s taken to do enough research to decide on a location, or to look into the details of actual UV exposure and protection. It’s nuts.

Besides, the Internet is taboo. It’s not conducive to meeting your NaNoWriMo word count goals.

Sadly, you can’t control life. It happens. I spent the entire last week dealing with my daughter. She was sick, and we ended up taking her to the ER in the middle of the night. What’s wrong? Heaven only knows because the doctors sure don’t. The followup wasn’t any better. She’s feeling better, but it’s difficult to type when you’re holding the hand of a scared sixteen-year-old who’s hurting. (Although in truth, I will write on my phone, just not quickly.) While I’m glad she’s starting to feel better, I’m concerned they don’t know what’s wrong and she has a week’s worth of homework to make up. (She’s freaking out about missing her Latin II test and I’m wondering how I can incorporate that reaction into a novel, it’s great.) I’m happy to have my computer and Scrivener back, and tired of sitcoms. But I also went from being really ahead to behind. After a couple late-night sessions with grape Laffy Taffy, grape soda, and coffee (the latter doesn’t go with the former two if you’re wondering) I’m a shoulder-shrugging “Meh.” Sigh.

You can’t plan for these things. You can deal with it. How you deal with it says something about you as a writer. It says to the world how serious you are. At this point, there is time left. Focus, take a deep breath, and be a writer.

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‘Twas the Night Before NaNo…


Last night, at 11:55pm, I was torn. On one hand, it had been a long day. On the other, NaNoWriMo started officially in five minutes! So: go to bed or stay up and write? Choice number two: flip a coin or ask Hubby? I asked Hubby. (He was right there and I didn’t have any change.)

I explained my dilemma and he nodded, apparently giving the options the appropriate concern in his deliberation. Then he looked at the time.

“Well, it’s now 12:10, so you’re officially behind. I know how you hate that. We have enough chocolate that you could probably stay up half the night. Your grape Laffy-Taffy came too. I’ve been holding onto it for you. I forgot to get grape soda at the store, but I’m sure you could get by with Dr. Pepper, it’s how you survived in years past.”

“So you think I should stay up and write?”

“No. I’ll cut the power if you do. You’re already tired and you’ll be a ***** tomorrow if you stay up. Go to bed.”

So I went to bed and he stayed up for several more hours but still didn’t manage to get Darth Jingles to come back inside. Grrr. (Black cat outside rampaging on Halloween? Yeah, nothing to see there. Literally, she’s like a ninja.)

Then I got up this morning and knocked out 3,000 words before two things happened: First, I fell into a plot hole caused by not having finished the last book in the series before this one yet. Fine, I can fix that. Second, I discovered some research I had to do. Fine. Skip ahead. Grrr. So is this how it’s going to go? Really? Thirty days of banging my head against a wall?

I shouldn’t complain. Possible concussion aside, 3,000 words for the morning wasn’t bad. Granted I’d written all that in my head a few times this week waiting for today, but still. It should have been longer, except for that plot hole and research thing. Grrr. Thought I had that covered.

Anyway, I have the framework of a first chapter. It looks nothing like it will when I actually get around to publishing this, but every novel has to start somewhere. And because I have to skip ahead anyway, I may as well skip to something fun. I haven’t had much of an opportunity to write from Olive’s point of view before. An epilogue, that was it. Now I get to do a lot more with her. I get to be in a genie’s head instead of their master’s.


I wish I had a grape soda.

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