Category Archives: Storyline

Game on! Making writing fun 

It’s NaNoWriMo time.

As I said last month, I’m not really a NaNoWriMo participant. I do watch from the sidelines though. It’s interesting to watch writers push themselves to achieve word count goals. I do believe that the hardest part of writing is finishing a story, and anything that gets people to complete a project is probably a good thing.

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But I do worry about people putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on themselves to complete a project. Creating an artificial pressure-packed environment can make writing a chore, and that can give writers a bad taste in their mouths which can lead to less motivation, not more.

So how do you keep writing fun when the pressure is on?

Honestly, that’s a very hard question to answer. Sometimes writing really can be a chore. And if you’re trying to make a living at it, then it’s a chore that you have to do, just as much as if you were a pastry chef getting up at 4am for the umpteenth time and dragging yourself into work.

Here are a few things that might take the drudgery out of your writing as you try to maintain that 1,500 words per day goal that will get you close to a NaNoWriMo success.

  • Remove a significant character, and replace them with a completely different one. You don’t have to go all George R. R. Martin here, you don’t have to kill them. Maybe they just had to move away. Maybe your protagonist got into an argument with them, and they decided it was time to move on. Whatever the cause, this will force you to think about your characters’ personalities and give you a chance to explore how your protagonist deals with adversity.
  • Introduce some weather into your narrative. I can’t even think of the number of books I’ve read where it apparently never even rains, much less storms. Let nature become an obstacle to your characters’ goals. This is a great opportunity to paint a memorable scene.
  • It is apparently very difficult in a novel to get sick. Nobody ever seems to. I’ve read eight book series and the main characters never even get the sniffles. Your macho he-man hero type may be able to stare down a raging fire-breathing dragon, but how well does he handle a migraine?
  • Throw a party. In real life people go to parties all the time. Unless a party is part of the plot, characters in novels never seem to be invited to do anything. I’m writing this the day after Halloween. Maybe your main characters get invited to a costume party. What would they dress as? What would that reveal about their personalities that might not come out otherwise?

These are all things that can reveal new and interesting things about your character, while giving you something interesting and new to write. That’s when your mind is open to new ideas, and when your story can take interesting twists and turns that you didn’t anticipate. And if you didn’t anticipate them, it’s a good bet that your readers won’t either.

Defense Against the Dark Arts – Writer’s Block Edition

Help! I’m Stuck at 10K Words!

First of all, don’t panic. Ten thousand words is nothing to sneeze at and you’re well on your way towards a complete novel. In fact, congratulations are in order.

Normally when my brain stops sending typing instructions to my fingertips it’s because there is something it’s still working on. Some piece of information is missing like what comes next or what should the main character do now that she’s up to her neck in quicksand.

Here are some techniques I use to get through “writer’s block”:

Time Travel

Pick a different chapter of your novel and start writing. If your protagonist is in quicksand now, you know she’ll get out somehow and get to the town of Quadloon because she has to confront Prince Evilson. Feel free to leave her hanging (don’t worry, she won’t mind) and just jump to where she walks into Quadloon. Continue the story from that point. Eventually your brain will come up with some fantastic bridge between the two points and you can go back and fill that section in.

Dimension Travel

Can’t figure out anything that is supposed to happen to your hapless characters without getting her out of that quicksand? Are you a dedicated pantser and have to let the characters dictate what happens next? That’s certainly one of the perils of not planning anything out at all.

There’s nothing in the rules that says you have to work on one novel at a time. If you had another idea for a novel in your head, go ahead and start writing that one. It would be best if it was a different genre, but work with what your brain hands you. Even if you get stuck at ten thousand words with the second novel, you can start three more and hit your 50K goal. Perfectly legal and valid to do so! The idea is to get you in the habit of writing.

Form Travel

You can always switch out to writing short stories during NaNoWriMo. Indeed, ending up with ten 5K stories should up your odds to getting one or more published after a bit of polish. Even getting half a novel and five or six short stories should add up to your goal.

If you’re a student and you’re going to have a research paper due in December, get to work on it now and kill two birds with one stone. Turn something in early and shock your instructor and have it count for your output. That’s a win-win!

 


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Pre-Writing and Screenwriting

Until 2012, I was a pantser. Truth be told, I still write short fiction without a plan sometimes, but I’ve been fully converted over to outlining. It’s a long story, but it’s worth the effort. The very first novel I wrote, RUNS IN THE FAMILY, took me 18 months to write. Without a roadmap, I would write all the little ideas and delete troves of words before latching onto another idea and doing the same thing over and over again. It was a slog and I hardly remember finishing it. When I had the idea that became my debut novel SLEEPER PROTOCOL, I vowed that I wouldn’t do that whole awful process again. I determined that I was going to figure out how to write a novel. I’ll cut off some of the story here, but a book on screenwriting changed the way that I write. That book was “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” by Jeffrey Alan Schecter. It’s a quick, easy read that gives you insights into character development, story pacing, and a structure that resonates with your reader.

Schecter’s book impressed the folks at Mariner Software enough that they built a screenwriting program called Contour that follows his method to the letter. When I found out about Contour, I quickly downloaded the free demo. From there, I ended up purchasing the program. It’s a part of my pre-writing process, which is the theme of the month, so let me break down how I get ready to write a novel.

Let’s say I have an idea already pretty formed in my head. Chances are that I’ve started gathering some notes on that idea in a notebook (yes, I have a notebook problem – there are never enough). I take that pretty formed idea in my head and start to make sure I can craft it into some of the key notions that Schecter teaches about character development. The takeaway here is that without good characters, your story doesn’t live to tell the tale. Forget to develop your protagonist and your book never reaches the end of Act One because there’s nothing to change them. Fail to develop a solid antagonist and your story dies in Act Two. By building the character development first, even before I start the plotting pieces and exercises, I have a solid idea of where the story is going to go based on the goals of my characters. From there, I go through Contour’s beats and guide sheets to develop a “straw” outline – that’s my first pass entirely through Contour. I come back and add more detail to the areas that need it – thanks to big text boxes and the like. Once I’ve done that, it’s time to open Scrivener, my writing software.

Once in Scrivener, I use what’s in Contour to help flesh out a basic structure. I create the building blocks in various ways – either folders and chapters for scenes, the cork board function for random thoughts or unplaced ideas, and any references I need to consult as I write. With the data from Contour about specific plot points, character goals, and what the characters need to discover/solve/act upon, by the time I’ve laid out my pre-writing, I have a serious amount of data already in the program ready for me to use. Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but for me it’s better than trying to handle those dozens of notebooks and pieces of scratch paper. If I take the time to enter the ideas in Contour, it asks the questions for me and my answers further flesh out the plot. From there, writing is relatively easy.

How easy? At this point, I’ve invested several hours in building out Contour and laying out Scrivener the way I want it to. For me, the end result is that I write faster. Remember RUNS IN THE FAMILY? Eighteen months from start to finish? With the method I laid out above, I wrote SLEEPER PROTOCOL in seven weeks. I wrote the recently published sequel VENDETTA PROTOCOL in about nine weeks. It’s a much faster process when I know the route that I’m going to take. By laying out the entire novel, if a character decides to do something differently that I want them to, I can let that play out a little and still have a clear ending in mind. I can adjust things as I go, which is much easier than stopping and starting all over. With a full outline, I know where I have to get back to, and it makes a difference.

No two methods are the same, though. You have to figure out what works for you. For me, that intense planning and note taking process leads to big changes with my speed and productivity, but it may not work for you. There are a million ways to write a novel, but they don’t all require any prewriting. They do require writing, so get to it.

 

Cause and Effect in Outlines

In the past year I reviewed story pitches for a small publishing house. Prospective writers were asked to provide an outline of their story, including protagonists, antagonist/conflict, and a brief summary of the plot.

Most writers were able to adequately describe their heroes and the challenges they would face, often from villains/enemy characters, sometimes from nature, circumstances, or their own old beliefs. But several writers didn’t show cause and effect in their outlines. Often, these were the same writers who ran into trouble while creating their stories.

“My hero is captured by the enemy king and put in prison, but she escapes…somehow.”

“My hero”s sidekick finds out…somehow…that his ex-boyfriend is in trouble and decides to go help him.”

You’re writing away, following your outline, and you’ve successfully gotten your hero thrown into prison…but now you’re stuck, because you don’t know any way to get her out without resorting to cliches (look! a loose brick in the back of the cell!) implausible coincidences (the guards all get the Spotted Pox and are too sick to pursue her) or power creep/god-moding (it’s fine because my hero is tough enough to beat up all 20 guards at once!)

Meanwhile, your hero’s sidekick is riding to his ex’s rescue, leaving your readers wondering why anyone would put their entire lives on hold to go haring off after a former lover, or how he even knew his ex was in trouble to start with. You’ll explain it later (like, perhaps, when your editor points it out?)

Getting stuck during the writing process, and weak spots in the story, can be avoided if cause and effect are worked into the outline.

“My hero’s sidekick finds out from his ex’s sister, a prison guard at the king’s palace, that his ex has signed on to a dangerous scouting mission. She begs the sidekick to go with him and keep him safe. He agrees, on one condition: his friend (our hero) has been thrown into the king’s dungeon for speaking out against government corruption. If the sister helps him break our hero out of prison, both of them will go to assist her brother.”

In summary, knowing what happens is only half of what you need….you also need to know why and how it happens. If you’ve pre-planned why and how, you’re less likely to get stuck during the writing process. You’re also less likely to feel tempted to resort to cliches, coincidences, and over-powering your characters just to keep the story moving forward. And your manuscript will have a lot fewer weak spots, where a character seems to psychically know some crucial bit of knowledge, or a glitching machine will suddenly start working properly again, or some other event occurs “because the author needed it to” rather than because of any in-story chain of cause and effect.

Fill your outlines with why and how. Show cause and effect–how one event leads into another. You’ll have an easier time writing and end up with a more satisfying story at the end.