NaNoWriMo 2019 In Review

Hey all, long time no talk. We all knew that was going to happen because I threw myself into NaNoWriMo. I had big dreams – two separate projects! – but it got rolled into both of them being under one account. This is no longer a rebel thing, as I believe they acknowledge that all words are words now, and I’m glad I did it. There were so many problems this month but I’m going to go first into mine and second into NaNo’s. I love the NaNoWriMo team and all but they had problems this year. But, first, me.

The first week of November went well. I did my first 10K day, hit targets, so on and so forth. Then it snowed. Not a light dusting but SNOW. I was not ready for it at all. It didn’t help that it also turned dangerous cold for anybody to be out walking in it for long periods of time. I was stuck in the house a good two months before that really happens. I basically wanted to do nothing but sleep and mope, so that’s what I did. I also had a computer problem that still needs to be worked on. I didn’t lose any files but my speakers are no longer working on my big laptop. Le sigh.

So, it was a combination of the weather being shitty, me wanting to sleep all the time, my own damn fault (there was tea involved with the computer), and getting behind on word count. So I combined my two projects, felt better, and started writing again. I hit 50,070 words on November 26th and this is where we go into part 2 of why November kinda sucked – the NaNoWriMo team.

This year was the 20th year of NaNoWriMo. I’m kind of shocked, but there it is. They decided to celebrate by completely changing the website and forums. It’s a really good idea when you hit 20 years of doing something that a ton of people love doing. However, they probably should have started doing a soft roll out in January or even whenever the first camp was, instead of during November. There were so many problems.

The site was slow. Forums were confusing. There was just a ton of dust but nobody died. We got over it. The site started going faster and things were hitting where they should. Until validation. The validation tool was not working for the new website. They thought they could get it up by the end of the month but it was no go. Which, you know, that’s life and all. However… I am surprised by how it effected my overall experience. I am used to, near the end of the month, uploading my document and being declared a Winner!

This year? Yeah, I put in my word count saying it but there’s nobody going “hey, found these extra words” or “you need x amount”. It did not feel official. It really didn’t. But, as I was talking this over with my longest ever friend (we met in 4th grade), she put forth the question “is this challenge even for you anymore?”.

It got me thinking. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m putting this all on NaNo when, in reality, I know I can write 50,000 words or more in a month. I’ve done it for 11 straight years (that’s including the 2019 win). I am a writer. I introduce myself as an unpublished author. Maybe I am just too experienced for NaNoWriMo and, next year, I should push my goal to be writing a complete first draft in a month. That usually takes me a month and a half to two months.

We’ll see. There’s 11 months to get my own shit together and for them to do so too. Until next time, take care.

#Preptober – #NaNoWriMo Eve-Eve

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Alright everybody! It is T-2 days until NaNoWriMo! Is your house clean? Is your writing space ready? Do we have all of the plotting done or are you going to wing it, you adorable pantser you? Today, I’ve just got some last minute advice before we dive into the adventure together.

If you are a planner – how’s it going? Do you have your outline done? Are you committing to be flexible and let the story take you on a journey? By now, the answers to these questions might be yes. Or they might be that you’re hiding under the covers or couch and that’s okay too. Deep breaths here. Writing 50,000 words in a month is scary but you got this. You have a plan. I would advise to make peace with being flexible now instead of when you’re possibly falling behind. Make sure that your writing space is ready and that you have everything ready with your family and pets.

If you are a pantser – how’s it going? Do you have some characters and an idea? I bet that you are peaceful with being flexible so I’m going to ask you to make peace with that you might have to bring order to chaos. You might have to stop and think to plan out how your characters or plot will survive. Or even your world. Make peace with it out – maybe even sketch out the bare bones of a plan B, C, or M. Maybe a character dies in plan M (kudos if you know what that’s a kinda quote from). Just sit a bit with the feeling that you might have to plan out something. It’ll be okay.

And, if you are completely done, kudos! Have some Halloween candy early. Or double check that everything is in place that you need to have in place. Do you have your supplies? How about coffee / tea / beverage of choice? I would recommend checking out the NaNoWriMo forums, perhaps deciding on some word crawls, and then relaxing. Perhaps some reading or TV time. Or sleep. Sleep is good.

No matter how prepared or over prepared you are, Happy Halloween and Happy NaNoWriMo. Until next time, take care and happy writing.

#Preptober – Characters and Exploiting Their Backgrounds

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Ok, so you have your world and, if you did it first, you have an outline. You might also have names if you decided to get a bank of names ready. Today we’re going to talk about characters and building them up. Now, if you decide to Google, there are a bunch of character builders or sheets out there. There are some that are Dungeons and Dragons style where you put attributes and build a character that way. There are some where you fill out a questionnaire about your characters birth and a lot of other things. That you can search for.

In this post, I’m going to give you the nuts and bolts about how I build my main characters and then build the secondary characters around them. I’ll be using Mystery of the Dark examples and take you through some of the very early version of these characters. Let’s start with Kate, who used to be called Jenna, and how I made her the first time that I tried to write Mystery of the Dark. In the first go around, she was a Chicago cop and there were weird deaths happening all around her. Her boyfriend, Mark, was a werewolf but she didn’t know it. She attracted the attention of a vampire who had a hand in those deaths, Justinian, and it went down a much darker path than what I have now. I didn’t have that she was a half vampire at the time because I wanted her to be a normal human.

The big reason why Kate and the rest are completely different is that the world, my plot, and my characters did not work into a cohesive novel. There is a possibility that you will have that, no matter how much you plan, and you need to make sure you’ve got a backup for it. For that, you’re going to want to make your character flexible. Keeping them at the extremes of good and evil, while fun, makes it a lot harder to write (at least for me). You might rock it at the extremes (teach me your secrets!) and want to keep it that way. But keep your character flexible. What does that mean? It means that you might have to go and research the job that you have given your character. In that job, what have they learned? Can they use that job to get out of the situations you’re going to place them in? Or do they need more training?

Also, you’re going to want to play up the limitations of their background as well. If your character is from a well to do family, they probably will not know how to change a tire for themselves. Or other simple situations that someone with your own background would know. That will help with words and creating your plot along with tension. Be mindful about the background so you’re not writing a Mary Sue knowitall who can get out of everything. Even Hermione couldn’t do everything and she’s about the closest character who could have done the Mary Sue Hulk Out. If you are running into problems writing, then you might also need to tweak your characters background in real time. Can that rich girl change a tire? Yep. Why? Who taught her and for what reason? Could be as simple as her dad wanted to make sure she didn’t have to rely on just money to solve all her problems. Could have been a past boyfriend taught her. So think of strengths and weaknesses but make sure they balance with your plot.

The last part of characters I’m going to talk about deals with the supporting characters. This can be anything from the other main character – for me, that’s Justinian – to the best friend to the mentor and so on. You want to make sure they are keeping to their roles with supporting the main but not making them so powerful that they overshadow. A really good example of a mentor character who was on the same level of the main but didn’t overshadow is Morpheus from the Matrix trilogy. Same with female main character in Trinity. They were awesome and I wanted to know more but I also wanted to follow Neo’s story too. That is around the balance that you want when you are creating your characters and writing the story. As always, if you feel that they’re overshadowing the main, go back and tweak or even sit a bit and wonder if you’re writing the right story.

Now, about that last point. That last point is scary, especially if you get to the middle of the month. However, with NaNoWriMo, never throw out your words. Restart but don’t throw out the words because you might want them. You might want that same dialogue but flipping it to the new main character. You might want to just make subtle differences here and there. So the point is to be flexible, don’t throw out your words, and make sure your characters fit your story.

As always, feel free to leave thoughts and your own tips and tricks down below. Until next time, take care.

#Preptober – Setting and World Building

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I don’t see how I could not use this gif, to be honest, but that’s not why we’re here. Well, it’s a bit why we’re here. We’re talking setting and world building! You’ve either got a place in mind to set your novel or a world where you think would be best to have your heroes grow. In doing so, we’re going to need to get some juices going about how to figure out the finer details of what you’re doing. Well, we’re doing because I’m doing this along with you all. We’re going to start with real world settings and then move into places where you can find some good world building questions. That is not to say that you cannot build a fictional city for your romance or use the real world for your fantasy. The possibilities are endless, but we won’t get there until we get started with some of the sites out there to help you with world building.

One of the big dive deep into world building sites out there is 30 Days of WorldBuilding. Every day you go through an exercise of questions related to a part of making your world. The first day is Climate and Variety so you can figure out what you want. Now, if you want to put aside time and blitz through them in a week, you can do that. Or even a couple of weeks. But this is one of the sites where you’re like “I have this idea but no clue to make a world”. I used it during my first NaNoWriMo win in 2008 for Power, even though I have no clue where those notes are, but I remember a ton of the exercises. It is very first fantasy or sci-fi novel friendly.

Now, let’s say that you need a small bit of world building help but you don’t need the deep dive. For you (and me, to be honest), there’s just one important question. Are we on Earth or not? Answer that and you can figure out more about the world. Say you’re on Earth… well, you can just jump to the next paragraph where I talk more about setting. However, if you’re not on Earth, you need to figure out what is most important to you. Is that physical features because your characters are on a journey and you need to show landmarks? Then you’re going to need to map out where those landmarks are and why they’re important along with if those are in different countries. Who are living in those different countries? And so on. You probably do not need to go deep in to the 30 Days of WorldBuilding, but you could take the little questions and give yourself room to grow.

Ok, now that we’ve talked about world building, what about those of us who aren’t going to create our own world? What about us who are staying here on Earth, either with SFF or just writing a different novel? This is where you get to have some fun. You get to play tourist and go on all those tourist sites. Make it like you’re going to go on a trip to that city and find all the ins and outs of it. Or, if you’re like me and close by to a city you want to use. Take a day trip and get lost in it while taking notes. Or check out a travel book at the library. But you’re going to want to make sure that it is a good fit for your characters. Taking Mystery of the Dark as an example, I centered the Agency in St Louis because I know the city. I put Justinian and Sophia in Chicago because that’s where their characters fit best, especially since Sophia used the mob in the past / present for things. So, while looking at cities, make sure they fit your characters personalities and their backgrounds.

Now, here’s something for all of you who are going “none of this fits me” because you want Earth but to create your own city. Well, to be honest, this is going to be a bit easy for you too. You’re going to want to model your fictional city off of somewhere that you visited or researched a bit. See what they have. Are they such a small town or city there’s no library? Or perhaps there’s only one school but three buildings for grade, middle, and high school. You can pick and choose what works best for you and your plot. Now, does this mean that you should know your plot? Yep. You should, at the very least, have a plot idea. If you don’t, please head back to #Preptember – Idea Formation to find one.

Ok, if you have gotten to the end and realized that you aren’t sure what you want to do because you write character driven plots? First of all, same, and second of all, come back to this post after you have your characters done. Perhaps you don’t know what you need because you want to make sure that you have your characters’ needs done first. If that is your process, then that’s awesome. Please come back next week when I’ll have some information on character building and we’ll go from there.

And, until next time, take care.

#Preptober – It Begins With Naming

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Hello and welcome back! We’ve got about three weeks to NaNoWriMo and we need to tackle what sometimes can be a big problem – naming. Now, I said naming, not titles, as titles are a scary problem thing and I mostly outsource that. And by outsource I go pester my writing group but that is going off on a tangent. We’re not here for tangents. We’re here for naming things and how to make it a bit easier on yourself.

The first and possibly the most trickiest / problematic way is to name places and characters off of people you know. Now, I have done this – there’s a character in Mystery of the Dark named after my aunt – but I have her permission to do so. That is one of the ways you can use this trick and have people be okay with it. You ask / tell the person that you’re going to use their name but then you have to follow it up. In my case, the character named after my aunt is a kickass IT / one of Kate’s mentors because I’m not making my aunt a bad guy. Now, if you’re doing it where you want to name the villain after your ex, then go for it. Just, you know, don’t tell them unless you run into them and you want to be weird. I always go for weird.

The second and somewhat easier way is to use the amazing website of Behind the Name. For this, you can go and look through all sorts of different languages and get the meaning behind names. It also has a random name function where you can go and say that you want a male name with a last name or even two to three names. Also, you can sound smart when you defend why you named your character what you did. No, I’m not joking. I swear that J.K. Rowling explaining why she named characters a certain way gave a deeper look into the Harry Potter characters. You could do the same for yours but, not going to lie, that I named Kate due to wanting the nickname alone and didn’t want Kathleen.

Ok, third way before we get more weird than we already are – name generators! There are some far and wide, but my favorite are over on Seventh Sanctum. That link will take you to the main site and then you can find either the naming or character section. It is a highly helpful website, especially if you need throwaway names and not getting bogged down in character names that have to mean a certain thing and act a certain way. Now, that doesn’t mean that you could go back and see what the names mean if you decide to go with normal names. However, if you need something quick and fantasy, you cannot go wrong.

Alright – so that’s it with naming. Next week, we’ll have setting / world building, followed by characters, and then plotting. We’ll wrap it up with a NaNo Eve-Eve where we make sure that everything is ready for the big day. I would recommend that you get the Halloween candy stash in now for the midnight bash. Until next time, take care!

#Preptober – Plot and Outlining

G’morning and welcome to where we’re going to turn that plot you formed back in September into something you can use to write a book. You should, when you are reading this post, have the bare bones of a plot forming. You might just have a quick summary or you might have several pages of what sort of plot you want to write in November. If you just have the bare bones, then you might want to skip this and come back after I talk about everything else. I am putting this first, before everything else, because I am a character driven writer. My plot and therefore, my outline, work around the characters and where they are in the story. I would also not worry about naming at the moment either – we will get into that next week – and just put down characters as MMC (male main character), FMC (female main character), and so on. You could write down Antagonist for that character and Villain for the other characters that make up the cast.

Now, you might not be such a person. You might be someone who likes to have everything else ready before you get into your outline. That’s fine! If you are such a person, then you might want to come back to this after the other Preptober posts. Or perhaps you need more of everything else first. Again, that’s fine. Come back to this post after you’re done. I’ll put links to everything in the following Preptober posts so you can have easy access to jump around. I am just showing you my process, which might or might not work for you, but I more want the information to be out there than not.

Ok, so back to plot and outlining. I mentioned about having an idea of your plot being a bit of writing down a quick summary or several pages of what you want to write. If you haven’t done that, then take about five to thirty minutes to work on this. Write or type your idea at the top of the page or document so you don’t have a blank page, set a timer, and just free write. Now, free writing could mean writing “I have no clue what I’m doing but” and finishing out the but. If you get to the end of the time and you don’t have anything, then go back and make sure the idea is one you want to write. If it is, then focus on one little segment from it. In the idea from Idea Formation, we had the person who is a marathon runner. Focus on answering the question of why are they running in a wedding dress. Or why they have to get to the castle. Or even the background and see if you can form a plot summary from that. Again, you don’t need much, just a few sentences, but we can turn that into an outline.

From what you have in your plot summary, take out what you think is going to be the main conflict. We’re going to divide it into three – the beginning of the conflict, the middle of the conflict (our mid-novel point), and the conclusion of the conflict (not the ending, but close). So, for our marathon runner, the beginning of the conflict would be either the bet to run or learning about the race or even hearing about the castle. The middle would possibly be the start of the race or even trying to get a dress. The end of the conflict would be getting to the castle and learning the prize. From those three points, you can build the rest of the plot around it by filling out the characters – main and supporting – and what other side conflicts out of the characters can add words to your novel.

As for the outline itself, I use a format that erin of Lazy Tequila Afternoons told me about. Take a few pages or just do a few returns in your document and do a number of 1 to 30. Put your plot points, starting with 1 as the beginning of the novel and 30 as your ending and put your plot points in. You’re going to want 15 to be the middle of your novel but it doesn’t have to be dead at 15. You can have it as late as 17 but I don’t recommend earlier than 13. If you want to do a secondary twist, that should be around 23 to 27, depending on where you put your midpoint. Your plot points can be as detailed or as sparse as you like. Sometimes I put bits of dialogue into mine. Make it as easy on yourself as you can for what is coming – the writing of the novel.

I hope that you found this interesting. What are some of the ways that you outline or form your plot? Leave it down below and, until next time, take care.

Bonus #Preptember – Set Up Your Schedule Now

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Okay, I can’t leave you guys hanging so here is one more Preptember before we dive into Preptober on Wednesday. That is to figure out your schedule over the next month before starting NaNoWriMo. You know your space is prepped or is pretty close to it and you’re just going to leave it alone for a month? Uhhh… yeah, no. We need to get in there and start working on a way to keep our butt in the seat now to be ready for go time.

You have the tips for breaking it down and I’m going to be giving you some exercises over the next month that you can use to help create your writing schedule. If you do not carve out the time now, you will be scrambling in November. Then the book doesn’t happen and you’re like “why did I even try?!”. It’s a set up for failure if you don’t start now. If that means today, that’s great. If that means tomorrow because your best time is 5 am and this is going live at 8 am? Then it’s tomorrow. But you need to start working on that schedule now.

Also, it’s best to start training your family now. That can be kids, your spouse, your parents, or even your pet. When you are in your space, with your butt in the seat, that time is yours. The only exception is an emergency – blood or in the case of a dog needing the bathroom – but they need to know that this time is yours. It is sacred. I find that the best way to say “go away, I’m writing” politely and with love is “honey, can it wait twenty minutes?”. Now, that might mean that your writing time is cut short if you want to go more. But you can come back. You really can. On a lunch break or after you deal with whatever the problem is, but you can come back. Now, if it’s a small child that needs help, it might be hours. But come back. Make that promise to yourself that you will come back and finish out your writing for the day. It will cement that you can do it, just like me, a random stranger on the internet, knows that you can.

So that is the bonus – start working on your schedule now. Start writing now – you have all of October to prep and know your world and your characters. Write those plot drabbles or that character outline. Write that backstory that you need that might never see the light of day. Use this time to build your schedule, to start your habit of writing, and you will be so ready once November gets here to kick ass.

Until next time, take care.