Brant’s NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

Before delving into this post, I want to thank Kathryn for all the posts she wrote during the last month.  She put a lot of effort into picking music and posting about how her choices inspire her.  I for one found her posts and choices of music interesting and thought-provoking.  Great work Kathryn.

My Final NaNoWriMo  Status

  • My Cumulative Word Count: 57,580
  • Average Words per Day: 1920
  • I Passed 50,000 words On: Nov 22
  • Current Page Count of (Mostly) New Material: 211
  • Chapters finished (out of 13 planned): 7 

The short hand of these statistics is that I finished well ahead of schedule and went a long way towards having a (very rough) first draft of my second novel, …Demiurge, Unbound,….

And I get to proudly display the following:

nano_10_winner_120x240-4

And:

nano_10_winner_cert_thumbnail

Don’t bother trying to blow up the certificate.  I printed it out and still can’t read it.  The people at NaNoWriMo need to award a better JPG file.

Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo 2010

The goal of writing 1667, on average, every day is extraordinarily hard to do on a day-in-day-out basis.  I had a significant advantage in that I had been thinking about my story for a very, very, long time and had a great deal of material in my head. 

What slowed me down, kept me from writing well over 60,000 words in a month were the undefined areas where I had to stop and think about what I wanted or needed to write about. 

That is where I am right now in my story: How do I get from the start of chapter 8 to the end of the story?   I have some ideas, and know what I want in the last paragraph of the book, but in between is a mystery.

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days pushed me to write even when I had no idea what was about to pour out onto the page.  As a result, sometimes when I was struggling, plodding along writing what at first felt like drivel, I would have an burst of insight about what a chapter was really about.   Random and aimless text suddenly became focused and directed.  Meaningless sentences became subtle hints to what was coming. 

In those moments writing became effortless and I was unable to type as fast as the thoughts came to me. 

I am now in a quandary over how best to spend my time.   There is value in editing and refining my first book, and there is equal value in pushing on and finishing a first draft of the second book.  And if I finish a first draft of the second book, why not push on and write a draft of the third through seventh books? 

I think what I must do is create a schedule in which part of my time is spent editing and part of it is spent creating new material.  This is not my normal way of working, and transitioning to such a schedule will not be easy.  But I believe the benefits I will gain from such a shift in habits is far greater than continuing with my usual habits.  For this insight, I have NaNoWriMo to thank.

I also discovered I have way too many subplots.  I simply don’t have room for ideas and characters I thought I needed to fill out a book.  I am forced to seriously consider dropping not just planned scenes and characters, but entire plotlines that I just don’t have the space available to write about. 

This is quite an admission, considering I hade originally planned 7 books x 13 chapters/book x 3 section/chapter = 273 sections.   You would think that leaves an abundant amount of space to fill with all sorts of side trivia, but this is not the case.  Simply telling the core story efficiently is a challenge. 

In the seven chapters (twenty-one sections) I wrote so far, several major characters have gotten very little time and attention, and side characters little to none at all.

As a plotter I have come to understand the value of writing by the seat of your pants. I see know that the most carefully detailed plot misses details not thought of until you put words to the page. 

I watched as the wording of each sentence forced changes on me that compounded on each other until my carefully worked out plot was, to a certain extent, undone.  

In the process a better plot emerged, filled with twists and turns I didn’t really think about until the moment I was writing them down.  And because each sentence flowed (more or less) naturally from the one before it, the scenes I wrote are tighter and more focused than many I wrote while trying to conform to a ridged plot.

I think in the future I will stay focused on the central most story and most important characters for telling that story.  I will make certain that the most important events do happen when and where I need them too, but in-between I will let my words wander and carry me where they will.  The details of the plot I will leave for my (almost infinite) edits.

Dithering in Space and Time

I have been delaying writing my next post, not because of a lack of subjects but because a lack of time has intersected with my propensity to dither. 

Time is Not on My Side

I have previously written about a few of the distractions I am currently coping with.  There are others as well, various personal commitments that individually don’t require significant amounts of time, but which collectively drain away the minutes and hours of the day.

Even poor writing requires time and effort.  Lately I find that when free time bubbles to the surface of my schedule the idea of settling in front of computer to spend hours writing seems to require more effort than I can summon.  It is easy to say, “Not today, maybe tomorrow.”  And tomorrow becomes the day after, and the day after that, then next week, then next month.  Once I managed to let the days go by one at a time for so long that two years passed without me writing a word on my story. 

My self-imposed requirement that I maintain my blogging efforts has forced me to return to the keyboard.  To stare into the unforgiving white page and cover it with words.  It isn’t fiction writing, it doesn’t directly advance my efforts to tell the story that dominates so much of my mind.  But it is writing, and the effort alone counts for something.  Only so many days are allowed to go by before I must express a thought or emotion, describe an event, or simply write something and publish it to the world.

NaNoWriMo Is Not Something Mork Said

This is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.  (No, I have no idea why they went with that terrible abbreviation.) The idea is that you are suppose to dedicate yourself to writing 50,000 words in the month of November.  This equates to about 175 pages of prose.  Given my tendency to verbosity, that is a long chapter for me.  I exaggerate, though not as much as those unfamiliar with my writing might think.  One of my chapters qualifies as a self-contained novella.

The point of NaNoWriMo is to write as fast as you can.  To pour words onto the page with abandon.  To not worry about whether you use the right words or write characters consistently or believably or any of the other issues that can slow writing to a crawl.   To just type as fast as your fingers will allow.

To break my logjam, I decided to throw my hat into the NaNoWriMo ring and begin work on the second book in my Gods Among Men series, …Demiurge, Unbound,….  The first book, At the Lady’s Behest Comes…, is written, though much of it is still terrible.  (No, this is not false modesty, just an honest appraisal of the vast bulk of the novel that has not been properly edited.)

My reasoning when I started was that, while I have plenty of ideas and requirements  for …Demiurge, Unbound,…  precious little of it has actually been written down.  If I were to generate 50,000 words on that novel in a short period of time then at least I would have something that I could edit and improve on later.  Plus, I thought the effort would help me practice  pantzing character interactions, something I had been planning to do anyway.

So How’s That Working Out For You?

I think it is safe to say I will not achieve the stated goal of 175 pages by the end of the month.  Ignoring the fact that I started late, the truth of the matter is I have too little time.   My slow typing speed alone is enough to prevent me from putting 50,000 words on the page in the remaining time.  With dedication and effort I might reach 20,000 words, but even that seems unlikely to me.  Still, it is a goal worth trying for.

In the process of writing on …Demiurge, Unbound,…, I was struck by a thought.  It was a glancing blow which, no doubt, will heal in a few days, or perhaps a few weeks.  In the meantime, the aftereffects of this thought bothers me enough that I continue to pick at it in my mind.   If I am not careful it will leave a scar.

The thought was simple enough: Why limit myself to the end of the month?

I want to be clear here.  I am not trying to break the idea behind NaNoWriMo.  (Seriously, whoever came up with that abbreviation needs to avoid both writing and marketing as their chosen profession.)  I am seeking to expand the idea and incorporate it into my writing methodology. 

A Time to Edit, And A Time to Write

I have been struggling for some time to discover how best to tell my story.  To call it a “work of a lifetime” is is not quite correct.  At the rate I am currently churning out finished pages it will take considerably more years to finish writing Gods Among Men than I likely have left to live. 

I am faced with the clear fact that I must write faster or Gods Among Men will never be complete, meaning actually written down.  I don’t think it ever shall  be complete in the sense that I will be fully satisfied with my telling of the story, but it is possible for me to write the story arc in its entirety from beginning to end.  To construct a first draft that expresses the plot, describes the characters and their relationships to each other, and reveals the world that consumes so much of my waking thoughts.

I want to go beyond arbitrary deadlines (50,000 words by the end of the month, so many words each day, etc…)  and avoid the bog of infinite editing.  I want to bring the phase of endless planning to its long overdue end and find a structure that forces me to move the story forward at a steady pace.  A way to whittle down the mountain of complex plot and characters and construct a draft that has all the elements required to tell the story, even if it is not told particularly well.  I want a structure that forces me to write and removes the excuses that allow me to dither and delay putting words on paper.

Oops, There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant

To that end, I am going to perform an experiment pulling together several threads of thought that I have been toying with for some time now.

In essence, I am considering broadening my idea for writing character vignettes.  Instead of limiting myself to out of context scenes, which I was having great difficultly doing, I would instead spend time each week crafting a first draft of Gods Among Men.  To write as quickly as possible and tell my story from beginning to end.   I would not edit any of the new material at this time, just strictly focus on the flow of the story and the character interactions.

To keep myself honest, I would regularly post what I have written.  Perhaps not every word; I reserve the right to keep the worst tripe safely hidden until I can replace it with something better.  Still, if once or twice a week I am required to post something then by incremental steps I will make concrete what currently exists solely in my overactive imagination. 

This also allows me the opportunity to practice the various skills in which I am less than adequate at the moment, most notably character interactions.  Also, it would let me write my mythology out as part of the story in which it fits.  To weave the relevant details into the dialogue and descriptions in a way that hopefully would be both clear and natural.

I would continue to edit my existing chapters as well, polishing that text until it is of acceptable and perhaps even publishable quality.  But, while I am improving on what exists, I also need to create new material that completes the story arc the existing work begins.

I have Issues. Yeah, I Know, You’re Shocked 

There are two questions which I must resolve before I begin this effort. 

The first question is whether this blog is the proper place for this material, or should I start a separate blog dedicated to posting my fiction, à la Kathryn’s blog about her story, Moonlit

As originally constituted, this blog was about writing in general and the efforts of the Magic City Writers’ Group.  I am the most prolific of the posters on this blog, but I am not the only person contributing to it.  And, while I have often indulged myself by posting material relevant only to me and my story, the effort I am proposing may be inappropriate for this site.  Which raises the question that perhaps I should move all of my story specific material to my own private blog.   But doing so would require a fair amount of effort, and would mean that I would have to maintain two blogs instead of one.  In a word, yuck. 

The second question concerns the content of what I post.   Namely, should I also post completed or recently edited sections from the first book, or constrain myself to just new material as it it written.  My purpose is to create a complete first draft of the whole story, which would suggest posting only new material. 

But the new material would be confusing to those who have not read the earlier material, which includes everybody other than me.  (The writers’ group has read only the early chapters, and even Kathryn has not read the last several chapters.)  In addition, the blog (whether this one or a new one) shall over time become a reference source for me.  A place I can go to find scenes and other materials that I have stored with tags to make them easier to find.  These facts suggest that I should include the older material for the sake of completeness.

No doubt I shall dither and dally over this a bit more before making my final decisions.  I am interested in the opinions of others on these questions.

Until next time, have fun.

When Last We Met…

Yesterday’s writers group meeting may be our best to date.

We began with a review of the first chapter of Kathryn’s new story. For a first draft it was quite good. We didn’t get to finish our detailed comments, for reasons I will detail in just a bit. There were plenty of small problems; poor word choices, unclear sentences, off-key characterizations, and so forth. But the group did agree that she had no serious structural problems that would require a complete rewrite. The overall recommendation was that she should set aside our comments for now and forge ahead with writing the rest of the story.

We had two special guests at the meeting: William H. Drinkard, author of Elom; and Jeremy Lewis, author of Staked and ReVamped.

Their arrival kicked off a multi-hour rambling conversation. An abbreviated list of the subjects covered would include: writing and writing suggestions, pantzing versus plotting, editing, different types of editing, publishing, differences between publishing companies, conventions, grammar, corsets, how Jeremy is clueless with women, movies, television shows, favorite and least favorite books, religion, the roll of the Unitarian church in society, politics, food, allergies, the public school system, vouchers for private schools, children, having a movie night, and a few dozen other subjects.

It was a fun day and a great meeting. I hope Bill and Jeremy enjoyed the day as much as the rest of us. I have extended an open invite for either of them to come back anytime they want. I know I learned a lot, especially about what it’s like to be a working author and what is required of you by publishers and editors.

Thank you, Bill and Jeremy, for taking time out of your busy schedules to spend with us. It meant a lot to everyone in the group.

Continuity and Where it Forces You to Go

Last time I wrote about Pantzing Versus Plotting as contrasting styles of writing. Despite their multiple differences, both styles share one point: A need for continuity.

Pantzers often don’t worry much about continuity during their first draft. For example, I heard one pantzer tell how they began a story with their central character as man who by the end had become a woman. Not as a plot twist, the author just forgot they were man and began writing the character as a woman. Obviously, a fixed choice of gender must be made during the editing process.

As a point where pantzers and plotters agree, the both must maintain continuity from sentence to sentence.

For example, another pantzer told of when he wrote about his hero being hit over the head with a mace. He followed the logical train of events from that point and ended with his hero dead on the floor. This, in turn, fundamentally changed the direction of his story from that point forward.

For myself, I have written many sentences that had unintended consequences within my story, though none so serious as killing off a central character. As an example, in …Awakens the Outer Circle,…, the second chapter in my epic Gods Among Men, I wrote a sentence off the top of my head that went places I never expected. The sentence I wrote was:

“Artemis Arrowsmith woke from the dream reaching for her bow.”

Seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? But consider all the things implied by the sentence. I establish the character I want to write about, Artemis Arrowsmith. Then comes a key word: woke. She was asleep, unaware of what was happening around her, and something made her wake up. What was it that happened? I didn’t know for sure at that moment, but it fit with the word “Awakens” in the chapter title; and I knew it involved Damon Roth’s appearance in Guildtown, the event running through the next few chapters. I.e. Her waking up was related to the central plot.

Then comes the phase, “from the dream.” What dream? I had no idea when I wrote that sentence what the dream was. It just sounded like a cool way to open the paragraph. Plus it fit with waking up from a slumber. But now that I had mentioned a dream I had to come back to it in some meaningful manner. This need for continuity spawned a major, unplanned, subplot which I had to weave into my central plot.

The phrase “reaching for her bow” was originally a throw away line. I meant it only to identify her as an archer. Now however, it was linked to her waking up and the dream. The dream made her feel threatened, so she reached for her weapon. Why did she feel threatened? The content of the dream had to supply that emotion, so the throw away line became a driving force for the subject matter of an unplanned dream sequence that was mucking with my central plot.

I began to understand the appeal of pantzing: don’t worry, fix it in the edit. The problem with this: I had a plot I needed to get back to.

Also in this innocuous opening are a host of simple questions: If Artemis is waking up, where is she? Why is she there? Is she in a bed, or on the floor, or on the ground outside? Is she in jail, or at an inn, or in her own home, or in a forest? Is it morning or night time? Are lights, noises, or smells associated with what just woke her up?

Each of these questions deserves an answer, and each answer drove the story in one direction or another. Each question carried infinite possibilities, and each choice limited the possibilities available to answer the next question. The need for continuity with random sentences drove plot changes in my story, both major and minor.

I’m sure a pantzer would understand and have accepted it as a matter of course. For a plotter like me it was damn frustrating. It is part of what took me so long to get the story started properly. The beginning of the story shapes the middle which determines the end. Small changes magnify as they go along until they whole story changes in ways that are hard to predict or control. Fortunately, I had characters and events in my story powerful enough to bend the subplots back to main plot. The additional subplots added muscle, but the plot, for me, is the bones that provide structure.

Pantzer versus Plotter

There are two basic schools of writing: Pantzing and Plotting.

Most of the writers I’ve talked to have been pantzers, meaning they write from the seat of their pants. They have no idea where the story is going until they have written it. At best, they have a few general moments they know they want to work towards, often they know how they want begin and end the story, but little more than that.

Pantzer’s don’t know who is going to live or die in their story at the beginning, or even who the central characters are, until the words are on the page. They don’t know who will live and who will die. They often don’t know who the heroes or villains are, or what they are fighting over, or why they care. Pantzers write sentence after sentence to discover the story they want to tell, then edit what they wrote so it reads well.

This, to me, is a bizarre way to write.

I am a plotter. That is, I need an outline before I can write. I need to know who the central characters are, what their goals are, what they will do to achieve those goals, and what they won’t do. I need to know who lives and who dies, how they die, and who would be better off dead. I need to know what the conflict is over, how the characters break down into sides over the conflict, why it is important for each side to win, and what the result of any particular side’s victory means to them and others. I need all of this and much more information; not in a vaguely defined way, but hard specifics I can write towards.

Pantzers have the advantage of speed. A pantzer can crank out a good size story in a year or two. I spent decades fleshing out the story for my epic, Gods Among Men, before I felt like I could really write much of it. I wrote a lot in those decades, but whenever I ran into a question I didn’t already know the answer too I had to stop and spend days, weeks, and even months finding answers that satisfied me and worked with my central plot.

I think the result is worth the extra time it took. I can give detailed answers to almost any question about the world or the characters or the plot. More importantly; I like, really like, my plot, my characters, the story arc, the settings, and so on. I love the world I have created in my mind, with all of its flaws and including the parts of it that run against my personal ideology.

Currently, I am editing At The Lady’s Behest Comes…, the first book in Gods Among Men. I hope to have it up to submission quality by late this year, though I fear that is optimistic. Looking forward, I believe I can create first drafts for the remainder of the story as fast as any pantzer could, maybe faster. Editing each book to make them publishable will take longer, of course, but I know where I am going and I have an outline to get there. That’s a nice place for a plotter to be.