Sunday, November 16, 2014

3 Steps to Getting Unstuck in Your Novel (FIND THE GOLD)

Greetings! I'm writing to you from the middle of the vast swamp that is NaNoWriMo. I am, at the time of this writing, about 4,000 words "behind" because reasons. But I am still 22,000 gloriously bad words into the first draft of a book that is close to my heart, and it is time, not inspiration, that is keeping me from writing.

And so I am here to share with you the three-part system that is keeping me writing currently. It is just my little thing, not something important or big that will work for anyone. If you're stuck, maybe it will help you be inspired, too.

  1. Write Until You Get Stuck (The Writing by the seat of your pants part)
    This is the easy part. The fun part. The part that us baby writers think is supposed to last forever. The first step to writing is, surprisingly, just to write. Presumably something about this story has you excited enough to want to start putting words onto paper, otherwise, why bother? Ride that wave. Write until the words run out. Write past your bedtime and through meals. When you're supposed to be working, scribble jokes and plot twists and dialog onto post-it notes. If someone gives you a weird look mid-conversation because your eyes lose their focus, you're probably doing it right. You're writing right. Good job.
    Okay, so you wrote and wrote and wrote until you hit the wall. Good for you. That's normal That's what this article is about. Do me a favor right now:


    This is the time to stop and think about your story. This is the time to think about what happens next. Ask your characters to tell you the end of the story. Read a couple of plotting articles. Jot down twenty steps that will lead to the end of the story. Nothing fancy, nothing methodical, just all the steps that lead to the Big Finish. You can change them chapter by chapter. Just give yourself a general map. It's okay if this takes four hours or four days, because it's going to be your lifeline. For me, each chapter ends up being about a paragraph or two of thinking out loud, rather than a list of Roman Numeraled bullet points.
  3. Find The Gold

    This is the magic step that is making everything work for me. Look at your outline, look at the next two chapters that you are going to write. Just those two Now dive into them in your imagination. Look around.

    What excites you? What do you love about the scenes? Make a list. List at least ten things you want your readers to SEE and FEEL and TASTE and GET EXCITED ABOUT.
Now, for your reading pleasure, I am going to show you what mine looks like in action. It's very rough and ugly, but writing this down for the first chapter propelled me easily through a 4,000 word chapter and then ready to write the next one.

Someday when I am very famous and Lux is a household name, this stuff is going to be worth gold. I'll sign it for you because I love you.

The Seventh Judge 2014 NaNoWriMo

Chapter One 

Summer and Lux are walking into the Bronx Zoo. They are joined by Lux’s “man” El. They are getting ready to do a sparring show which is how Lux is making his money these days. El uses laser pointers and a fog machine to make an impressive light show which has the audience spell bound. Summer has seen it all and falls asleep. She’s awakened by El pulling her to her feet, trying to get her to run away because her father’s being taken. She runs from him and manages to get to the edge of the crowd, where she sees her father being cuffed by a quiet blond boy who’s explaining in pedantic language to the crowd that her father is being redeemed, not arrested. She wants to run up and pound him, but El pulls her away, throws her over his shoulder, and skillfully knocks her out.

Awesome things to describe: (Here's the gold, people)
the light show
Lux’s eyes
El’s grace
Summer’s drawing
Andrew’s mannerisms
The masculine beauty of Lux’s grace under fire
A look between him and Summer as he’s taken away.
Summer’s soundless grief
El’s skill in knocking her out

Cheesy, right? But each of the things I listed are things I want the reader to feel and love as much as I do, and they propelled me through this chapter. When I was done, I even had a guide for things to work on harder when I edit it.

Can I be honest for a second? Just reading that list again - and I've read it at least a dozen times - makes my breath a little harder. My heart beats a little strong because I'm in love with my story, and this helps me focus on what it is I love about it.

Not everybody needs this kind of thing. Other people will have their own ways of doing it. But this is what worked for me, and I hope it will help someone else find their way, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Unicorn Farts

The main reasons I read and write (and play tabletop/computer games, for that matter) are escapism, straight up. That’s probably one of the reasons I start with setting in my development process.

I start with this explanation to show that I totally understand wanting to make something near and dear to your heart a special experience or relating to it as such. That being said:

This is straight up horseshit.

Ideas do not come to any writers from some mystical plane filled with elves and spaceships (or rape and dick chopping, depending on what you're doing).  Sure, sometimes writers get inspired, everything comes together and the words come like conversation with an old friend.  There's nothing magical about that beyond being in the right state of mind.  You can have good days where you're really on the ball for a lot of things, but nobody is going to romanticize the source of your incredibly well-crafted and presented spreadsheet.

Ideas are spurred by something, even if we can't nail down what that something is immediately.  Apply a little introspection, trace back your thoughts and there's an excellent reason you had the idea you did.  We don't need to talk about it like we're traipsing about a world of dreams.  That kind of does a disservice to the hard work writers put in to what they put together.  It also discourages introspection that may allow a writer to dig down and understand themselves and use that understanding to improve their craft.

On the same vein, language like "I'm just listening to my characters talk to me" is, while a nice internal paradigm, unnecessarily mystifying the process when we talk to people.  I suppose my concern is primarily with those who wish to become writers or who are relatively new to the craft.  I can see where it would be disillusioning to conceptualize writing as a fairy tale adventure when really it's mostly just hard work.  When I'm creating a character, I'm imagining a person and, essentially, role playing them to myself.  I do not have a telepathic connection to some other person somewhere, as much as I would like to.  I make very conscious choices about how a character works, and saying "it just comes to me" isn't going to help somebody else who wants to write.

Basically I'm just angry that this wasn't a documentary.

As a closing note, though, I don't want to discourage these paradigms for internal consumption or among groups of writers that are well past the point where they might mistake Fairyland with the Word Mines.  If everyone's on the same page, great!  No harm no foul.  In talking about writing to wider audiences, though, one might want to consider the realities behind our fiction.