Monthly Archives: November 2015

Write First, Polish Later


Last day for NaNoWriMo!

Those who aren’t participating but living with someone who is are getting ready to sigh in relief. Participants who are ahead are similarly relieved. On schedule: mildly apprehensive perhaps, but also relieved. Other participants may be frantic or even depressed. Don’t worry about it.

Congratulations to all of those who accepted the NaNo challenge, as they say (or will) on the official site – you’re all winners!

I’d like to add a qualifier to that statement. Winning NaNoWriMo isn’t about word count. Sure, it’s great if you achieved that goal, as arbitrary as it is, but as I mentioned before – NaNo is about breaking bad habits and learning. If you learned from the experience, you won. That win is much bigger than consistently writing 1667 words a day. I hope everyone learned to write consistently, either a little each day or a minimum number of days each week. Focus on the story, save the editing for later. Pick a story and commit to it – if you have an idea for a book, there’s no time like the present to write it and don’t let other ideas distract you from writing the last chapter. (Just make a note of the other ideas for later.) Use the right words the first time, but don’t worry about polishing your prose until revisions.

I imagine most people didn’t finish their book, 50,000 words isn’t a novel by most standards. December is a busy month, and don’t worry if finishing stretches into January, or even February. When you finish, there’s a choice to be made. The accepted practice is the let that book sit awhile before you come back to it for revisions. You need time to step away from the plot, the characters, the twists, and the climax so when you read it again, you’re actually reading what you wrote not reliving the writing process. I firmly believe in this policy, almost.

When I write, I find plot holes and inconsistencies as I go. I don’t usually fix them, I mark them in the text and make a notation in my notepad to check and fix something. Maybe it’s something small, like a secondary character’s eye color changed or I might be inconsistent with the spelling of something. I’ll check my book bible/style guide later and fix it, things like that aren’t worth interrupting my flow to deal with. Maybe it’s something bigger, like I have a character driving somewhere, but upon reflection they neither have a car nor a license and they’re 15 so it’s obvious. Or someone could have just used their cell phone to fix a problem but I didn’t realize the obvious solution. Whatever it is, I don’t consider the story finished until I address the list of notes I make while writing it. And I do one revision after all of that for spelling and obvious grammar issues.

Why do a revision before I shelf a book and get distracted with something else? Because when I come back to it, I want to be able to see that book clearly for what it is. I know I get distracted by some spelling and grammar issues, and I don’t want my minor hang-ups to interfere with the revision process when I come back to the book. I know what pulls me out of a story, and I don’t want that to happen when I read mine for the first time since finishing it. If I get pulled away from the plot, it needs to be for something big, something that needs to be addressed (plot-wise) not because I wrote too fast and used the wrong ‘there’ or used ‘an’ instead of ‘a’ or other simple things. Polishing comes later. Hopefully that’s something everyone learned this month. If nothing else, remember that. Write first, polish later.

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Adding Structure To A Story


Apparently I’m a grandmother now. But wait, some of you might be thinking, she only has two teenagers. That’s right, I do. The Girl is 17, The Boy is 15. And the cat is spayed, if you’re thinking that’s the problem. So the culprit? I should blame Hubby.

The Girl has been having panic attacks, and Jingles hasn’t been doing her part to calm her down and cheer her up. Among other things, a ‘comfort animal’ was discussed. In short, Hubby caved to The Girl wanting her own cat. Kitten. Even though she goes to college next fall. Maybe her own cat means she’ll stay closer to home. Or at home. Hmm.

As I mentioned, we have a cat. Jingles has reigned dominant in the house since she was tiny. With a couple of blips – when we tried introducing an adult Siamese that started a minor war, and a near constant irritation with the stray our cul-de-sac feeds – she hasn’t had to share anything. Now we bring home a kitten. We know better than to try to introduce an adult cat, Jingles has been clear she won’t share the throne. A kitten, however, isn’t a threat to her. She’s older, bigger, and can train up the new addition with the understanding she’s in charge. (Delicately reach out a paw, and whap!)

We introduced She-Who-Has-Not-Been-Named to Jingles. The kitten, safely snuggled in The Girl’s arms, failed to react. Jingles, after a vigorous petting and lovey session and still in my arms riding her “I’m a deity” high, didn’t initially respond either. I continued petting, waiting for Jingles to realize what she was seeing. She tentatively reached out to sniff the object in The Girl’s arms (no doubt hoping it’s a stuffed animal and this is all a joke). Sniff, ears back, hiss.

That hiss sounded like a King Cobra being shot with a squirt gun at short range.

Kitten still failed to register the situation.

We’re keeping them apart for now, only bringing them together for supervised meetings. Jingles tends to watch the intruder with wide eyes and tense muscles. Sort of like when she’s watching prey she know she can’t catch, like a hummingbird. Maybe The Girl should name the cat ‘Hummingbird.’

Anyway, that’s not what I promised for this week’s blog. Let’s talking about plot structure. I mean physical plot structure, not tropes/plot types.

The idea behind the three act structure is to plan your novel like the classic play in three acts (Beginning, Middle, End). Makes sense, right? Actually it works well for a lot of books and I think it’s good because it sets basic length guidelines for how to proportion your novel.

Act 1 is pretty straightforward: you introduce the characters, setting, conflict, and stakes. This starts at the beginning of the book (obviously) and ends when your main character passes the point of no return. This can be an action or the point where your character accepts they have to win to be happy or have a normal life, whatever your stakes are. This is about the first 20% of the book or less. This is a hint you do not need to accomplish all of this in the first scene/chapter/page.

Act 2 is the battle, literal or figurative. It’s a fight to the death although death might not be physical. It can be psychological or death of an idea – it’s a vague sort of thing. The battle could be a journey toward a goal, it doesn’t have to be a physical thing, but in that journey you’re building suspense and interest. This act ends with another crisis, discovery, some sort of game changer/surprise. This may vary in length.

Act 3 is the confrontation/battle, and resolution. Movies frequently balance this to be about as long as Act 1, with the bulk of the story sandwiched in the middle. The climax isn’t the end, there’s loose ends to tie up. Usually. This isn’t the time to introduce a new complication, only expose and quickly resolve things that were hinted at before (if you must do that sort of thing).

Now keep in mind this is one structure guideline, there are others. There are lists, like the seven or eight point structures where you have a sort of checklist (Write A then B then C sort of thing), or variants of the three act structure where act one and three comprise a quarter each of the novel and act two is half the book or the snowflake method that takes the simple three act concept and builds on it to create a sort of ‘how to write a novel’ example. There are suggested ‘formulas’ for some genres, and if you want to submit to a publisher for a specific line, you may need to follow their formula to be considered. The formula series that come to mind for me are the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and some romance lines.

Formulas can be rigid and may or may not be easy for all writers to adhere to. Depending on your genre, there are probably a hundred tips out there on when in your book something should happen or how you should structure this or that.

The most important thing to remember is if you spend all your time planning and worrying about balance, you won’t get anything written. That’s a bigger fail that getting your proportions off or putting a key scene too far forward or back. These things can usually be fixed in revisions. Remember structure is all about balance, and is only a set of guidelines to make the book feel more satisfying for the reader. Writing for your own sake is sometimes enough. If you plan to publish your work, you need to consider structure because you want readers to have a satisfying experience.

Keeping that in mind, there is more to giving a satisfactory experience for your readers than the structure of your book. Your plot could be perfectly balanced, but still be too long, have underdeveloped characters, plot holes, and such.

How do you know what structure to use? I recommend writing and revising a book first. Then see what that work seems to follow so you’re choosing one that already fits your writing style. At least in part. If you want to choose a structure before writing, possibly to assist in plotting your book, I suggest considering your favorite books or something similar to what you want to write. Outline a basic plot of the book, where the plot points fall relative to the book’s length, and compare to some structures to find what may work for you.

Whichever method you choose, having a guide will help make you a stronger writer in the end and hopefully eliminate a messy story filled with plot holes or bunnies.

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Apparently Not.

death windows

A friend read my last blog post and came by to have it out with me over NaNoWriMo.

“It’s national novel writing month, not national novel writing three weeks!”

Well, yeah, but … I flipped him off because I didn’t have a response for that. Yeah, I’m a wordsmith. Worse, in our chat he reminded me of something else that I have to accomplish in November that I didn’t have on the scales of writing already: Christmas. I’m behind. Really behind. Uncharacteristically and unforgivably behind, and I can’t pass my behind-ness off on Hubby because one of the things I’m behind on is nagging him to get his own list taken care of. Just lovely.

One of the things I wrote in my last post was:

Fine, 2500/day. Will I have inspiration to help me? Yes actually. I’ve had this novel seething in the back of my mind while I dealt with other things. My fingers are twitching to get it finished. Inspiration makes words flow. I’d feel better if I had a more solid ending in mind. Right now it’s a vague concept and I’m not comfortable with that. It won’t be a problem though.

I know how a write, even when I outline I’m a pantser. My characters look over the nice, neat outline I set forth and laugh. Then they go do their own thing. It’s incredibly frustrating. The ending will come into focus when my characters get closer to it. And I haven’t missed NaNoWriMo since I took up writing again. Yes, Christmas will be an issue, I have a lot to do this month, deadlines are looming, and starting this late just adds to the pressure.

Pressure? I can do this. There’s nothing like talking myself into ‘I can’t do this’ to make me need to do it.

Decision made on Saturday, I focused on getting as much done on Sunday as I could before my ‘deadline.’ Sounds logical, right? It’s suspiciously close to planning, and life chose Monday morning to remind me I’m a pantser, not a planner.

What happened? My own personal Drama Princess, again. Oddly, last year at this time we had almost exactly the same problem: sitting in the emergency room when obviously we’d rather she was in school. Then spending hours the next day visiting a doctor while he scratched his head and shrugged. The good news: she’ll be okay and able to throw a curve ball at me again next year. The bad news: I can anticipate her being whiny off and on for another week.

Darth Jingles is caught inside by ‘fluffy rain’ which others might know as ‘frozen mix’ so that should be a source of comfort for The Girl. And it is, off and on. Jingles gives her loves, then wanders off in search of somewhere she can sleep without having to listen to Adventure Time in the background. I totally empathize with her. I love my cat and won’t subject her to that nonsense even if it does sooth The Girl. Okay, I won’t subject her to it often of for very long. Not all day.

Needless to say, no NaNoWriMo this year. Last year I was ahead when disaster struck, and was able to bounce back from falling behind. This year I’m already behind by too much to make a ‘comeback’ anything less than determined misery. I’m not willing to do that to myself, I don’t have anything to prove.

I will cheer everyone else on, however. As of today, November 12th, you should be almost half-done. In word count that’s easy to quantify, but on your story? That’s quite a bit harder. And you may be nowhere near half done on your story, the total length may (probably will) exceed 50k. The target length depends on genre and your plans for the piece. That makes it difficult to gage your progress, and makes word count nearly useless (with the exception of NaNoWriMo.)

So how do you know if you’re doing well? Is your plot established by now? Not your resolution, but the conflict should be exposed and your characters should have goals. How far they’ve gone to achieve those goals will vary, but they should still be working on them. The end doesn’t need to be in sight yet, so don’t fret about that. In fact, the climax doesn’t even need to be in the near future. Maybe I need to have a chat about balancing your story. Hmm. Next time. For now, keep writing.

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To Write Or Not To Write


NaNoWriMo is a quarter over. Yay? I guess it depends on how you’re doing. I’m not sure how I’m doing, I still haven’t decided whether to participate.

That probably sounds strange to people who do participate. I have for years, but I have a lot on my plate this year and I’m not sure I can justify taking time to write with the devotion needed – at least not yet. I have a novel to finish, not that it will take 50,000 words to finish it. Then again, I have to rewrite the first chapter completely, so that would help. Keeping in mind I’d have to trim a lot in revisions, I could add 50k to the story. Now it’s just a matter of if I will.

It’s a hard decision sometimes, to write or not to write. I’m caught up in revising a book then handing back to the monsters who edit it and run the changes by the demons who said they don’t like this or that about the story. And I need to get this all done quickly because I need that book released. Then there are the teenagers and their issues and dramas. I don’t want to think about that right now.

But I like to write and I feel like I’ve been mucking about with teenage dramas too much lately. And book dramas. I need the escape that writing provides. I’ve been making do with reading, even going so far yesterday as to pick up an old go-to fantasy favorite – Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn. If you look it up, ignore the cover – it makes it look like a 600 page romance. Which it is. But it’s a fantasy romance and has a rich world and intrigue and it’s really more about the intrigue than the romance arc. Never mind, I’m babbling.

So to write or not to write. Not writing isn’t really an option, I will write this month and I’ll get a respectable word count (It’s November, I’m obligated to keep track) even if I don’t throw myself into NaNoWriMo. By today, writers should have at least 11,670 words. If I really throw myself into it, I can start on Monday or Tuesday and still make the 50k goal, but is it worth it? Starting off that far behind is stressful, but I’ve finished NaNo with over 60k almost every year and once I had 80k. It depends on inspiration. (I’m a pantser. If I had a plot outline, that would be a completely different story.) I know what I can do (word count wise) when I’m left alone to write and have inspiration on my side. And I know what I can do if my fickle muse is off partying and I’m left with brute determination. I can still do this. But I have a lot of other things to do, they’re time consuming, and they take priority over a challenge I’ve won several times. I don’t need to prove anything to myself or others, it’s just sort of a tradition.

I know this is coming far too late for some of you, the question of whether to accept the challenge or not, but it is a question some writers have to agonize over. Desire to follow your dreams and passion vs commitment.

I think commitment intruding on your time is the reason some people give for not meeting your goal by November 30th. Maybe. I’ve always been more inclined to believe it was a matter of being realistic with your time, at least in the people I’ve talked to over the years.

Last year I urged everyone to face harsh reality when making their schedule. Not their work schedule and commitments to family activities and such, your word count schedule. Yes, there are 30 days in November, so that equates to 1667 words/day. Not everyone will be able to write on all 30 days. Be realistic about it. Remove Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Recovery Saturday from your list. That leaves 27 writing days, so you have to write 1852 words/day. Do you always end up spending a day fussing over a sick child in November or get sick yourself? Subtract another day. Can’t write every day of the week? Subtract four more days, or five depending on the day. Redivide 50k by the realistic number of writing days and get a new daily goal. Then round up. Always round up. I round 1667 up to 2000, but 1700 might be easier to swallow. When I know I’m meeting my goal of 2000 words a day, and that will give me a safe padding of 10k at the end of the month (60k total instead of 50k) it makes it easier to accept little annoyances that keep me from writing with grace. I can make it up, and hey, I have 10k to absorb those issues.

If I start on Monday, November 9, I will be 15k behind. That sounds horrible! Another way to look at it is: I have 21 writing days left (yes, I write on Thanksgiving) so that’s 2381 words a day, round up to 2400. I’d actually round to 2500, rounding to 3000 is almost cruel given that I know the month will be busy in addition to writing sprees.

Fine, 2500/day. Will I have inspiration to help me? Yes actually. I’ve had this novel seething in the back of my mind while I dealt with other things. My fingers are twitching to get it finished. Inspiration makes words flow. I’d feel better if I had a more solid ending in mind. Right now it’s a vague concept and I’m not comfortable with that. It won’t be a problem though.

I suppose I need to work through the weekend and reassess on Monday. Will I be able to get everything done without things falling through the cracks? There’s little point in my mind about taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge if I don’t have a chance to win it. Maybe starting late will encourage me not to be so cavalier about it. Face it, it hasn’t been much of a challenge for me. Except that one year when hubby had a family emergency and I got really sick. That sucked.

This could be a good thing.*

*Always view NaNoWriMo as a challenge of opportunity. If it’s a source of stress so great in your life that you start downing entire bottles of Tums and going through a bottle of wine while you’re writing and another at dinner, then you’re doing it wrong. It’s not worth that.

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