NaNo Lesson #1

I have taken a number of classes and seminars, read articles and blogs in hopes of improving my writing. I’m reasonably satisfied after ten years of fanfic with: most mechanics, pacing, dialogue, characterization and plotting. including a very important lesson: how to do reasonable closure even for a series so readers are eager for continuation and not feeling cheated.

I’ve been looking at many ideas and approaches, as my usual produced some very poor skeletons for two previous novels.  I discovered in 2010 that I am a pantser, if I do character studies and outlines with any detail, my muse will not show up. I failed NaNo badly that year as my muse went on strike being totally unwilling to start filling in the outline.

Oshkosh Public Library NaNo logo

So I went back to pantsing with a paragraphs’ worth of summary to plan my stories. That works fine for shorter projects, or ongoing serials where you can meander until you get to your ending.  But it made for trainwrecks of NaNo original novels. Several teachers go on about plannign stories around scenes. And I spent the last week studying one method of designing scenes.

So for my first day of NaNo I’ve produced only about 600 words after hours. I have much of the section clear in intention but working about that framework I was so excited about yesterday had the ease of pulling your dog’s teeth.

I’ve been thinking about it for a little while (dinner’s in the oven) and the problen seems to be I think about my stories more like a piece of weaving. One scene may have several plot threads in play and include nudges on multiple character arcs. Focusing on only one conflict thread is like trying  to talk with a scold’s bridle. There may be a few scenes that can be that focussed, but it ain’t the first one for this novel.

(I am hitting a lot of the recommended things for a start. My primary lead is front and center, there will be a small bit of danger and action, my big bad is audience and doing background tactics, I’m introducing bits about the setting and situation, and my lead is havng a terrible day.)

But the writing feels lifeless and I have NO enthusiasm in working to the framework.

That is a bad sign. It usually takes until about  Nov 20 for me to start getting dissatisfied.  I do not want to chase pyrite and lose what speed and skill I have. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and all that. So I’m going to rip that scene method out and keep other parts that have helped. If I cannot pull out on my NaNo I may work on something else to break the logjam.

So the lesson is: don’t forget that classes are not a recipe that will work for everyone.  Sometimes you have to strike out on your own when your muse demands it. Good luck to all.

Advertisements

Cover Art

I finished a major revision of a novelette August. Can’t afford professional editing so I dawdled that month checking a couple sites for trade or betas, but nothing came of it. Then September was dedicated to a major illness and surgery of a close family member. Recovery is slower than I hoped, but I’m starting to have energy and time for my original writing again.

This story is very dark for me, and I believe Halloween is a better time for release. While betrayal and faith are themes, the ending has loss and can be taken as horror or slight hope.

demons by jeanieforever

demons by jeanieforever, creative commons attribution

My issue is that releasing it to Kindle/Createspace whatever they are today, will require cover art. I really am proud of cover art I made for some fanfic or NaNo placeholder, but I have no concept for this one. How will I try to visually represent false representation/slow change/demons/manipulation/svengali/demonseed/illusions/regaining agency? At points it looks like a romance, but through a warped mirror. (and that was a challenge to keep as I like happy endings usually)

Where is that thinking cap???

Organizing My Thoughts

I write. Sometimes I write a lot. When my inspiration is running high, like during a NaNo challenge, I run 2000 draft words a day. That is a respectable pace, so I’m happy with that.  I used to do more before health issues interfered, but that 2k a day is as much as I can physically manage on a steady basis.

Some things, like most fanfic, I only do light editing or fill in missing facts, like the name of a specific space station in the setting.  Some fanfic requires more work to check on continuity in the 100k project. Fun stuff and parodies like a Gilligan’s Island piece go up faster.  But original work, especially heavy world-building make for a whole other kettle of fish. I feel fairly confident in my core ideas, my lead characters, and my overall plot. It’s the rest that I’m kind of wobbly on. I know theme and secondary characters are weaker.

So it’s revision for original works are my problem area, especially as I can’t afford an editor. So I want to have something top notch before I send them out.  A second opinion and noting brain-farts is more important than spelling and grammar at this point. Finding that honest opinion without giving away the cow is an issue. I have two original novel drafts, and I’m reluctant to start another novel until I figure out a better way to revise and finish those novels. I still want a thumbs up or down before I decide whether to seek a real publisher.

globe clear light bulb

old style light bulb, from pxhere

I’m still looking after ten years for a method better for editing than flailing about and running through a piece until the thought of one more pass makes me want more to shoot myself than look at it one more time. I’ve read articles and done classes, and I’m actually happy with a major revision I did last month. That is the exception, and the longer the work, the lower the confidence.

Sadly, several instructors I’ve found who seem compatable, are still in the 20th century, where piles of dead tree pages and huddling over a dining room table chaos is part of the writing package. People today, are more mobile, moving from place to place, and in between meals don’t have that luxury of spreading out and static resources.  Why can’t I apply digital analysis and tools to my work? This is organization and analysis if my work, not the raw rush of creation.  (Yes, I looked at Scrivener and yWriter but the latter just got in the way)  I want a tool that I can drop my finished draft in and let me organize and note things easily. Maybe  notice oopsies like the best friend only has 20 lines but a minor villain was featured for twenty pages.

I think something that lets me tag sentences, paragraphs and scenes with characters/roles/themes with checkboxes, and like a good modular code inherits from the higher level.  I may have to design my own database. It’s been a long time since my last and I am not looking forward to the timesuck. But I really want a better way to revise and work without scattered piles of dead tree pages.

Your Focus is Your Reality

I’ve been writing since ’07. I probably could have started writing before that, especially if you considered the thousands of books in my household and the writers’ track panels I thought a hoot at SF conventions.  But I hadn’t.

I didn’t like writing even short fiction in high school. Family lore says there was an elementary mocking incident, but I don’t remember it. I do remember hating any kind of writing, and perpetually tardy at best for any assignment. I got reconciled a little by high school when I wrote a 30+ page paper on mass drivers as a potential replacement for rockets to orbit. They now are used as rail gun ans amusement rides. I wrote a couple short stories for a friend desperate for material for a college SF magazine… I really do not want to dig those copies out, even if  one was my first fanfic snippet. I enjoyed the griping and successes of writers, cover artists, and editors at SF cons. I highly recommend the ’98 Buccaneer Liar’s Panel audio if you can find it, I didn’t get at the time that a missed meal would have been better than missing the recording.

That snippet was the last non-academic, non business writing for over twenty years. I still had creative outlets in crafts and RPGs, along with a serious reading addiction. I’d sit at the breakfast and read the box. Sometimes I’d even read the fine print for OTC meds. I’d read during commercial breaks and while waiting in lines. Then came a weird skin infection or two, and new books dried up and gas to visit the library was tight too.

I missed new books by favorite authors and decided to boot a game that had been sitting on a shelf for a couple months. I reached the end, outraged that the writers cheated, for blatant meta reasons. Clearly they wanted to clear the deck to have a tabula rasa for a sequel.  There were no convincing reasons in-world for that obnoxious ending.

I could do better.

grains falling through hourglass

In Search of Lost Time by Alexander Boden on flickr, without changes, per Creative Commons.

So went my first fanfic plot, first chaptered story, first novel-length story, first NaNo attempt, and first time my characters grabbed control. (they rarely do anymore, and I’m not sure that’s good or bad)

But after a time creating new adventures with existing universes, I started wanting to do my own and maybe get a half cheese sandwich on occasion. So I’m coming at learning the craft very late and in a hit or miss manner. Some techniques for writing do not help, they strangle my muse. But I keep looking, as I have the most trouble with finishing the story, revisions to pull it all  together.

I backtracked into fanfic, due to RL reasons, but I’m not sure why I almost seem to have a block about writing original stuff again. I should work on two stuck novels, but I spent so much fiddling with them to the point of pain, that going back makes me nauseous. I still believe in the concepts, but… Flash stories dried up too. I do file new story ideas, but have no urge to type.

So I want to finish one of two active fanfics, and use that time for original works. Post more here too, to remind me of that goal. Fanfic is seductive, as you get rapid and sometimes spirited feedback, and this new writer gets very few cheese sandwiches and no feedback. It does affect your motivations. I really need to focus on original stories more.

Coming up with new topics for this blog is another challenge. Today I found an essay collection by R L Stevenson on writing. Whether inspirational or neolithic, it may be useful… Coming Soon.

old metal gears

Sparkles and Fruit of Inspiration

Inspiration can be fickle. I frequently get ideas. I have files and files of ideas. Some are for original fiction, even more are for fan fiction. Even keeping the ideas grouped together becomes an exercise in organization. Some ideas cannot work in some story environments, an insight on FTL communication is irrelevant to a sword and sorcery mood.

So I squirrel them away, like nuts for the winter, awaiting a time when my muse wants to write a romantic horror or expand on a plot hole in a fannish-universe. I have files with additional ideas for my own series, ideas for specific universes, folders with images or links to an article that held the germ of a story. I even have alternate ideas for stories already written, but it starts getting recursive, like “Groundhog Day.”

But I already have too many stories unfinished. Most are just these seed ideas, as I have been recording them since I realized I have a problem. Some have been partly written or even partly posted. Some even have at least one fairly full draft, awaiting an editor/beta, or even a second opinion.

(That is one of the advantages of fanfic, it has a lower standard so you do not get blocked by editing issues like I do.  Sometimes shockingly lower… and errors appear in too many small press and even major imprints today. I get close to crying when I see yet another use of ‘loose’ when character are afraid if they will ‘lose’ a fight. But the lower standard means the writers get offended if their prose was confusing and should be tweaked. But that makes them and their story look worse than the idea deserves. It takes a cool down, but I have taken and updated for questions on my works, but few bother even if I wish to improve my writing. But for me, a softer standard means I can put out stories without too much angst for my lack of a beta or editor) Original works are a different kettle of fish.  Physical prints can’t be updated. And I believe updates make the author look bad.  Updates to fix important errors or missing sections make software companies look unprofessional and incompetent too, but that boat seems to have sailed too long ago. There’s no good reason to copy the software companies.

But the shortage of even second opinions or beta, make editing my NaNos into monoliths of grinding through issues until I hated my original novels. Intellectually, I’m sure they’re decent ideas, but even looking at them another time makes me want to scream.  I guess you could call it block, but the story is already there.  This makes shorter works, especially fanfic ideas more tempting.

And as fanfic ideas reach fruition, and I get feedback if not money, my muse is far more tempted by non-original universes. A description of episodes from a single-season show from the fifties holds story kernels starts the sparkles flowing, enough to feed a score of chapters or episodes.

But I can’t write that fast anymore, and I resist adding yet another writing project to the ten to twenty unfinished works I already have in various stages of block.  I have three active stories, and handful awaiting attention, and I am trying to not start new works    So the more than one idea today got a write-up in one of my idea files… maybe for Nano.

Despite my good intentions, I wrote a humor flashfic this morning and posted it, getting reviews right away.

 

It’s kind of Block…

I’m working on a little serial story, well actually I have several in different stages. But this one story is kind of stuck. I didn’t think much of it for a while, as I swap working on different stories depending on what interests my muse that day. And a slightly darker one was more interesting for a week or three.

The problem one was an epistolary coming if age, and its conclusion. I stopped writing midscene where the writing character is commenting in the letter that they should have been warned by the humor in the other character’s eyes.

I cannot remember what the joker was going to say.

Oh, I know roughly what the rest of the story is going to be: adventure embarrassing for the lead and then a happy thing they were not expecting.  But the joke was to tie into an issue from earlier chapters.  It ties what is about to happen into earlier events and the lead’s flaw. This bit of dialogue is important. It sets up the climax of the story.

But I just cannot remember the punchline for the dialogue.