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.

Reverse Engineering An Outline

I have long had a good idea about the plot of my story, Gods Among Men, and a high-level outline for the first half of the story.  Lately, as I have been working on my new website and planning to forge ahead with writing new material, I have come to realize that it would be useful to have a brief chapter-by-chapter outline of the whole story. 

This goes back to my natural inclination as a plotter, as opposed to a pantzer (someone who write “by the seat of their pants”).  My plot is convoluted enough to easily get lost in, so I need a road map to guide me. 

Having made that decision I was now faced with the prospect of actually writing the outline.

The Insights of A Child

As a child I loved to solve mazes, to trace a line from beginning to end through a convoluted collection of passages.  And as a child I discovered something that shaped my thoughts to this day: Most mazes are easier to solve if you start at the end and work backwards.

All mazes have a plethora of choices at their beginning, false paths and dead-ends design to confuse and confound those trying to solve them. 

But almost all mazes have only one route open to the end, a predefined choice essential to completing the puzzle.  And while the path back may be littered with choices, it is often easy to spot which ones dead end and which lead back to the beginning.

And so in life I have often found that if you want an end result, it is easier to plot your way back from that end result than to decipher how to move forward from where you are.

And This Relates To Outlining How Exactly?

As I tried to wrap my mind around the effort of creating a chapter-by-chapter outline, I came to think about the insights into my story I had some months ago.   Those insights focused upon my realization of what the ending must include, and what was required to get there. 

And that I discovered is the key to the outline I shall create. 

Starting at the beginning and going forward to the end is hard and treacherous.  It is easy to get lost in the details, to pursue sub-plots and minor character arcs that go nowhere. 

Starting at the end, however, and working backwards is much easier.

The finale is about Damon and Artemis, the end of their character arcs and the conclusion of the plot.  A known point I must reach. 

So what must happen immediately before to set up that scene?  I can answer that question, and in doing so write down the outline for the preceding chapter.

That preceding chapter will also include the ending of plot threads and arcs for lesser characters.  Those endings must be setup by chapters that come earlier in the story.  Now I know what to write down for those even earlier chapters. 

And so on and so forth, until I reach the parts of the story I have already written.  Back-tracing through my maze of a plot to my known beginning.

It may seem an odd technique, but it is one I have used often to solve difficult problems.  And when faced with a thorny plot is a useful way to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

The Moment Of Epiphany

I am late with the posts this week  for two reasons.  First because of issues with my back, but more importantly I had and epiphany about my story, Gods Among Men.

It was strange for a plotter like me to admit this, but I had until recently put precious little thought into the machinations at the end of the story.   Which is not to say I did not know the ending, merely I hadn’t figured out how to get there.  The distinction is important.  Knowing the endpoint is a matter of plot, getting there is a matter of character and story.

I had all the characters, I knew I needed all of them, but I was uncertain why I needed all of them.  I knew many things I needed Damon to do, but it was all tactical maneuvers; I was missing a strategy to  tie the details together.

When insight strikes, you notice.   It is like when a puzzle makes sense, or a math proof becomes obvious.  Archimedes may well have yelled, “Eureka” at such a moment.  I, on the other hand, whispered something a trace more vulgar and gaped at mid-air.

I now know why Damon is doing certain things.  And I can explain, simply, the importance of each action to his plan. I understand the twisted plot now in a way I could not before.

And so, for perhaps the first time, I shall jot down what my story is about in a way anyone can understand.

This story is about Damon Roth. 

Its tag line is: One man’s quest to change himself starts with his attempts to change the world. 

The plot is about the fall of one empire and the founding of the greater empire that shall follow it. 

Damon Roth sees a threat so far in the future that for him to even talk of it makes people think him insane.  He takes it upon himself to save the world, even if it means destroying whole civilizations to do so.   The price of failure is his soul.

Damon will destroy the old empire and create a new one dedicated to confronting the future threat.  He will not rest, nor falter, nor turn aside in his quest to become the god of a new age.  To become known as Demiurge, God Among Men. 

But first he must  defeat the old Demiurge and steal his power.   Then he must identify the enemies and traitors who might move against him or  Tara Rihtwis, the woman he has chosen to rule the new empire.  He will empower these enemies until he is ready to destroy them, and in the process slay the old empire.

Damon is the hero of the story.  And he may well be a power-hungry madman.

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.