Category Archives: First Drafts

You’re Halfway There!

It’s the midpoint of NaNoWriMo. How are you doing so far? Are you way ahead of the curve? Have you fallen behind? Fear not, fellow writer, because there is plenty of time to get that 50,000-word first draft completed on time!

Remember to tie your editor muse up and stuff him into a cupboard under the stairs. Let your writing muse work her magic on you. Don’t worry about typos or if you want to change the name of a character from X’lat’on to Nhylat. There’s plenty of time and space after NaNoWriMo is over. Focus on getting words on the virtual page.

Make sure you enjoy yourself. Why not get a giant bucket of cappuccino, or maybe a delicious chai tea? If you work well with caffeine, keep a cup at your elbow filled with your favorite version. Light a nice scented candle. If you’re The Funky Werepig, light up one of your trademark underwear-scented candles. Put a drop of essential oil where you can breath it in.

In the end, no matter how many words you’ve written, you ARE a winner because you’re X number of words closer to your finished manuscript.

Are you stuck? Have a character do something unexpected. Have someone betray the fellowship. Set a python on your annoying cousin Dudley. Do that in real life, it’s fun and you can stream it to YouTube. No, wait, don’t do that in real life, it will take you away from writing.

Have someone important to the quest get lost and write a short separate arc that gives the reader more insight into the character’s character.

Keep at it, because in the end, this is what you may discover on your desk in the not-too-distant future:

 


 

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.

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.

Now, Go Forth and Write!

Welcome to the final hours of our pre-NaNoWriMo time! There are many people who are out there right now, anxiety ridden and dreading the toll of midnight. But y’all, dear readers, should be ready. You should be pumped. Our bloggers and guests have shared a plethora of advice and their own experiences. Hopefully you found their insights useful. You’ve done your prep work, imagined the impossible, and planned your way through to success. You’re ready to climb the mountain.

But what if you are still nervous? I mean, NaNoWriMo is a huge commitment, right? The answer is that you write anyways. You put your butt in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard and you give it everything you have to give. Though there are people who sprint up mountains for fun (crazy, right?) I prefer a hike. A slow and steady plod will get you there just the same, no matter how loud those voices in your head yell that you can’t make it.

What if you aren’t done with your prewriting? You have at least another 965,439.27 hours of prewriting left to do. You have to work through the complete 17th volume of your world’s history, and you don’t know how your protagonist kept their hair in the third grade, and there are at least 60 constellations you have yet to name and invent complete mythologies for… What do you do then? You put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard. At some point, prewriting time needs to be over. As one of my mentors, Kevin Anderson, said to a group of us at a seminar, “A book that doesn’t exist cannot be published.” The hard truth is that most books are never finished, they are abandoned. Start, work your hardest, and you’ll be surprised by what you can do.

But what if you miss a day? How could you possibly crest the 50,000 word peak if you lose your momentum… Step 1: You forgive yourself. Step 2: You put your but in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. Seeing a theme? I once saw a nutritionist who told all her clients that meaningful change was a process. You only failed when you stopped trying, success being one choice away. You just had to keep choosing to fight. And you know what? It works just as well for writing as it does for losing 40 pounds.

So, all of us here at the Fictorians wish you the best in this year’s NaNoWriMo. Surprise yourself, discover that you are far better than you give yourself credit for, and work your way up that mountain. Know that you aren’t alone in this. Know that what you are about to do is really hard, but you have everything you need to do it. The view from the top will be worth the climb, I promise. First drafts need not be perfect, but they do need to be finished. Now, go forth and write!

The Incredible Shrinking Outline

Asking an author about their pre-writing process, in some ways, is like asking them what color their underwear is. While it’s an interesting conversation starter, the answer is really personal. I know authors who do a full bio sheet for each character, and others who just keep it all in their head. Me, I write massive and slightly strange outlines.

The way I learned to write outlines back in grade school was the typical bulletpointed lists with headings and subheadings. That’s great for some people but it’s too vague for my needs. You see, because of a childhood illness I have a chemically rewired brain. All that rewiring made my memory a little wonky. I can remember the most trivial details of a conversation I had three years ago, or the exact placement of a particular book on my shelves. But remembering what I meant by “Morpheus starts a fight” isn’t quite enough to tell me what kind of fight I’d intended for that scene or even who he’s supposed to fight. If it’s an early chapter, yeah the chances are good that I’ll remember. However, when I’ve put 10,000 or more words down, too much time has passed for me to recall every little detail. Plus I found that putting all of those little details in subheadings is visually annoying to me. In addition to that, my theater experience taught me how powerful a few key words can be when I’ve forgotten what my next line is. With all of that in mind, what I do instead is this:

(If you haven’t read The Moonflower, there’s spoilers ahead)

Chapter 13

Ariana’s class goes on an outing to the Louvre. Mr. Talbott takes them through an unmarked side door and takes them down to the basement. One of the students asks how he got permission to come down here. While down there, Ariana finds an old carved stone frieze from ancient Greece laid out on a work table. It’s one of Sair’s. She recognizes it from his workroom. She decides that she needs to know more. She runs home and re-enters the Demos Oneiroi in order to find him and learn more.

 Chapter 14

Ariana enters the dream. She searches for him in the field first, then checks all of the landscapes that they’ve visited before, but doesn’t find him. She is frustrated and scared for him. She tries to think of how he would search for her and remembers that he pops in and out of places at will. She concentrates hard on Sair and tries to will herself to his location. When she opens her eyes she is in a white marble Greek temple. A blindfolded woman dressed in white walks up and asks if she can be of any assistance. Woman is Dikaiosyne, the spirit of justice. Ariana meets Phobetor and Phantasos. Zosime is thrilled to see Ariana again and brings her in to see Sair. She says that she’s looking for Sair and the attendant escorts her without any difficulty.

I’ve found that a paragraph style outline is a lot more helpful to me. I can fill it with as many details as I like and since I’m the only person who sees it I can use run on sentences, poor grammar, wrong punctuation, leave out punctuation, use colloquialisms and slang…pretty much whatever I feel will give me the right cues. Sometimes the outline paragraph is only three or four sentences, and sometimes it’s half a page. I just keep writing until I get the full scene mapped out. I’ve even been known to put things in my outline that usually have no business being in an outline. Things like character descriptions or a song with the right tempo and mood for the scene that I need to play in the background. That doesn’t stop me from adding them because it’s a cue that I’ll need later.

I also don’t outline the entire book. I outline all of the major/really important chapters, whatever minor chapters I can think of, and then put all of those events in linear order. If I know what chapter 9 and 11 need to be but not exactly what comes between I’ll leave empty chapter headings and fill it in later. All of this though usually only covers about 2/3 of the book. It never fails that once I get about a third of the way into a manuscript I think of another cool twist or two that adds more depth and/or character development or I finally figure out what is supposed to be in a hole I left so I purposely leave room for those additional chapters.

Yes, there’s nothing unusual about that. I realize that many writers outline this way or in a way that’s very similar to this. But this is only half of my outlining process. What I do with that outline is where it gets unusual.

I’m a disciple of Alton Brown in that I like tools that can multitask and that’s exactly what my outline does. You see, there’s a reason that my outline is in bold. When I’ve finished typing out my outline, the very last thing I do before I start writing the book is make a second copy. The first copy of the outline stays in a file, pristine and untouched so I can refer to it when I’m working on subsequent books. The second copy is what becomes my manuscript. You read that right. I write the book in the second copy of my outline, right under the outline paragraph. When I’ve completed one of the items in the outline I delete it. That way I don’t have to re-read what I wrote the previous day in order to figure out where I’m at. I can look at what’s left of the outline for that chapter and immediately know where I left off. Life is crazy and NaNoWriMo in particular is crazy. Some days I only have thirty minutes to write and I can’t spend that time re-reading. This makes it so much easier for me to jump right into it so I can make the most of the time that I have. (It’s another reason that having the right cues in my outline is so important to me.)

So many pre-writing tools are single purpose but if you’re an outliner there’s no reason why it can’t serve multiple purposes and be adapted — even Frankensteined — to be tailored to your exact needs. Besides, it’s just a tool. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It just needs to do the job efficiently.