Friday, December 7, 2007

A few thoughts on Nano 2007

It was an incredible blast getting back to real writing again. I may continue to do some short fiction, but there's not enough markets yet to justify spending a lot of time doing it. Not that it's any easier to get a novel published, but a dozen short stories has a dozen times the submission wait times as a novel for roughly the same amount of words. That (and the fact that I just seem to prefer taking my time telling the story and enjoy having lots of room to tell it) makes me think novels are a more worthwhile direction for me now. Of course after saying that, I've got a little piece of flash fiction I'm probably going to start shopping around.

It did feel good just cutting loose with an act of creativity. Making sure to hit that 1667 words a day was quite the grind but it felt good shoving everything else aside and just writing.

Now I have to finish it.

My outline just barely covered the 50k words of the contest. Unfortunately it's only half the book I'd intended and while I have a general idea of the rest of the story, there are a lot of details regarding how I get from point A to point B to point C... that still need to be worked out. I'm determined, however to have it finished and the outline for the next book ready by next November.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's Over!

It's done! 51,172 words and I totally slacked off the last 3 days. I would have done more, but I caught up to my outline and I was suffering from some serious sleep deprivation. I rewarded myself for reaching 50k with a long nap.

The funny thing is that I set up the blog to document my experience as a first time wrimo-er, but I ended up not making a single post. What little non-novel writing I did during November was in the nano forums and even there I didn't put in much of an appearance.

I'm already planning on doing this next year and I already know what story I want to write. I'm just hoping I'll be a little bit better prepared so that it won't be quite the ordeal this time was and maybe I can get more involved in some of the social aspects of wrimo-ing. We'll see. I'll post more on this later.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

And they're off!

NaNoWriMo has officially begun! For us it included a countdown at Dragon's Lair Comics Games etc. of which yours truly was a few milliseconds late booting his laptop because he was yakking. I discovered two things last night:

1) After ten years of focusing on tightening up my writing (and spending a lot of time editing other people's stuff) it felt very good to force the internal editor off and just write. Several times I saw a phrase that could have been cut down or even replaced with a single word and I made myself leave it.

I keep reminding myself this isn't about creating a finished product, heck I may not use any of any particular scene I am writing at the moment, it's just about brainstorming and getting it all out and hopefully, during the mad dash to the deadline, discovering something new and cool lurking in the story that I might not have been able to discover with a slower and more deliberate process.

2) I also discovered that wrimos are cool people and really fun to hang out with. I regret that I probably won't be able to make many other write-ins as they're all on the opposite side of town from me and all seem to be on Sunday morning. Still, I was glad I made this one and look forward to at least seeing the others online.

Below are a few snaps of the event. Unfortunately some shot didn't come out that well, but hey, it was pretty crazy.

(click each to enlarge)




Our fearless leader





Mike thinking what the heck have I got myself into?


Knuckles aka Todd


Yours truly




Ok, I've wasted enough time on this post. Now I've got to get back to writing!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

5 Days to Go !!!

Well, I'm holding my breath and preparing to plunge in. I'm not as prepared as I'd like to be, but I have been working on my Snowflake. I wish I had had a chance to post more often. I was kind of hoping to use this blog to organize my thoughts as I prepared for November, but I guess I'll just have to be more spontaneous. Well, this is my first nanowrimo after all, I expect I'll be better prepared next year. The one good thing is that I've managed to collect a ton of writing music to keep me motivated for the next 30 days.

(EDIT--I've completed the first two steps of the snowflake process. I had previously jumped to the outline stage, so I'm actually a bit farther along, but I ran into problems because I hadn't done stage 3. If I can get that done and a good list of scenes, I think I'll be alright when November 1st starts...maybe.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Let the Contest Begin—Sort Of

Well I'm signed up and beating my brains out trying to come up with a more detailed outline. In fact I spent all last weekend reviewing notes I'd accumulated for years from other writers, trying to figure out what it actually takes to make a story. Why do some stories work and other not work? What elements have to be present to qualify as a story? You know--the big questions. I did mention I've been working on my plot with mixed success, right?

So what does it all boil down to?

Stories are about characters and/or their goals being transformed through conflict.

Usually this takes the form of a outer conflict producing an inner change. I say this because the character is usually spurred into action as a result of some outer force--some sort of change in their circumstances upsetting the status quo.

The basic structure goes something like this:
An inciting incident produces a need (your thematic subject) that motivates the protagonist to pursue a goal, but an obstacle (the antagonist) prevents this, causing conflict. The character struggles with a series of successes and failures until resolution (change occurs).

  1. The protagonist is transformed--because the type of person they were could not accomplish their goal and they must be changed into the type of person who could accomplish that goal.

  2. The protagonist’s motivation/goal is replaced with a more desirable motivation/goal.

  3. The protagonist is destroyed (unable to pursue any goal).

I should probably mention that protagonists often have more than one goal. Frequently they are torn between two desires, the one they think they want and the one they really want, but don't know until a conflict forces them to choose—clarifying their real desires in the process. This sort of inner conflict is particularly rewarding because the suffering is ultimately self-inflicted and active characters making choices is always better than passive characters that are simply being acted upon. So even if you have a transformational plot where the goal doesn't change but the character does, he needs to struggle with the cost of that change, producing that same inner struggle.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

NaNoWriMo signups are almost here!

Wow! September is almost over and I haven't blogged anything! I had started to blog something about a post I ran across on Exploded Fiction which caught my eye, but I got distracted and didn't finish.

I hope that's not a bad omen. I have to admit I'm feeling a little nervous about NaNoWriMo starting up soon. While I can't wait to sign up, I remember how difficult it was to write a novel at my own pace and I know doing 50k in 1 month, what with holidays and family and regular life on top of everything isn't going to be easy. If I were back in school and didn't have a wife and kids, things might be different.

It doesn't help that I tend to edit as I go. It's hard for me to just spew words down on page--especially since I've been writing this epic story in my head for years now. (I fully expect the final product to be at least 100k.) I need to make some serious progress on it, but I've also totally failed to finish my outline. I have a beginning that may or may not be the right beginning and I have an ending. I've got a number of scenes that I want to stick in, but I'm not sure exactly where. My problem, in large part, (besides second guessing myself) is that I don't have the protagonist's story arc fully figured out, which leads me to question whether or not I should change the focus to another character.

I guess I'll just have to step back and look at this as a massive brainstorming session. Write everyone's story and then go back and cut and prune. I'm sure once I start things will go better. It's just the waiting that's driving me crazy.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Man's First Science

I haven't blogged in a while, so I thought I'd blab, er, blog about an idea that has been floating around in my head for some time now about the nature of writing itself. I've long wondered at the power of stories to define how we see the world and the impact they have in shaping even whole societies and I've come to the conclusion, as strange as it may seem, that stories--telling narratives--is Man's first science.

Consider this, we currently use powerful computers to create sophisticated models of environmental factors which can, with a fair degree of accuracy, project the weather in a given area up to five days in advance. (Let's not talk about global warming right now.) These computer models can be used to test theories of how the weather works, how drugs work and other complicated systems.

However, we each carry around with us a computer far more sophisticated than the most advanced super computer, one specifically designed to model not just the physical world but also human social interaction. Of course I'm talking about the brain.

What got me thinking about this was (re)reading "The Art Of Creative Writing" by Lajos Egri and "How to Write a Damn Good Novel" (I & II) by James N. Frey. They give excellent advice on how to powerfully focus your story by determining its premise. In doing so, they express the premise in something like a scientific formula (i.e. "jealousy leads to the destruction of the beloved").

The story itself tests this theory. If the story works, if it "rings true", then you can say the model has accurately projected one outcome for a given set of inputs. If the writer cheats or the story fails to convince, the writer knows he needs to either change the outcome (abandon/replace the premise) or change the character and his starting conditions. Either way, the model has produced a result that give us insight into how people work and interact with each other and their environment.

We use stories to experiment on people, societies, even the laws of physics (or at least our ability to understand and use them) in ways we could not (or would be unethical to do) in real life. We learn a lot from stories and use them to teach our children.

They may seem like mere entertainment, but its also serious research...or at least it should be.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Flash Fiction

I remember, decades ago now, my brother writing these short little one-scene short short short stories. The word Flash Fiction hadn't even been invented yet. I don't know that I'd ever tried writing one as my interests were always more towards epic SF&F, but I've been reconsidering it of late and have, in fact, written 2 and 1/2 stories with another one in the back of my mind.

It's hard to call them proper stories as <500 words is barely enough room to establish a character, their situation, the conflict and some sort of resolution. Most just summarize the first two, only "showing" the conflict, while "telling" the rest. The resolution is often only hinted at.

The good ones read like poetry. I think the limited word count restricts the scope of the story to something like that of a poem's and that may be the reason that, unlike most stories, many of these are written in first person present tense. In fact one could argue that Flash Fiction rest firmly in the intersection of poetry and prose.

I've been meaning to post about 365 tomorrows for some time now. I stumbled across them a few weeks back, but with a bunch of home projects (like pulling everything out of my house to replace the carpet), work, advanced java classes, and activities for/with the kids, I haven't had a chance to write about it. 365 Tomorrows is the reason why I've had an interest in trying my hand at flash fiction--as much as an exercise as anything else.

Many of the stories there are quite interesting. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be edited and a number have simple typos that, after all the editing I've been doing on other people's works, have me reaching for my editor's pen. Part of me thinks I should try looking for paying markets first, but the current market for SF is so abysmal, I doubt the pay for one of these (If one could even find a paying market) would be worth the effort or expense of mailing the manuscripts in. Still, I think I'll submit a few to this site just to see what the response is.

Now if only someone would set up a 365yesterdays for fantasy stories...

Monday, June 25, 2007

And I thought I was an INTJ

I am a d4

Take the quiz at

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

I'm starting to get excited about NaNoWriMo, but I'm also a little anxious. I know it's several months away, but I want this to be a real attempt at a first draft and not merely a writing exercise. I've more or less completed (and either discarded or simply shelved) 2 novels (one of 60k words and one of 80k) so I have some idea of what's in store.

I've mostly done short stories of late which has been both more satisfying and more frustrating. Satisfying, because there's an easily attainable goal. Frustrating, because the market for short stories, particularly heroic fantasy short stores, is nearly nil. That, and most of the stories I want to write just require more space.

In both cases, the novels failed to achieve their goals because I didn't have a clear outline. The first, especially, was a muddled mess and I decided after that, that I would have some sort of outline before I tried again.

So I've been working on an outline. It just makes sense that I'll be more productive if I don't have to stop and think what the next scene will be. Unfortunately that is easier said than done. I have a general idea of where I want the plot to go and several key scenes to include, but stitching it all together and working out the details--a lot of that only comes together in the process of writing.

Still, if I can just come up with a list of name for all the characters, that alone will save me tons of time. For some reason having to come up with a character name on the spot just stops me cold as I sit and debate what it should be.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

dreaming with my eyes open

John Gardner, in his book The Art of Fiction, speaks of the “fictional dream” which is the experience readers enjoy when they are engrossed in a good story. Writers, before they can write such a story must, obviously, first dream it up. But they must do more than that.

It's not enough to just focus on interesting people doing interesting things in interesting places. A writer must also pay attention to voice, theme, tone, pacing and a host of more technical concerns—all while engaged in recording this fictional dream. In other words, a writer must dream with his eyes open.

This site then is a small space carved out to serve as my own literary playground as I record my adventures in this waking dreamland... .