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It's Almost That Time of Year, Again!

The leaves are starting to fall; it's finally starting to get a little nippy; the nights are getting a little longer and the days a little shorter; kids are back in school; there's a faint odor of wood fire in the air; traffic on I-85 is a living, breathing, fornicating thing...

Yep! It's almost time for NaNoWriMo!

For those not in the know (and who can't or don't want to hover over the word with the green dotted underline), NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. For the last 10+ years, every November, millions of people the world over put pen to paper, stylus to smartphone, or fingers to keyboard (or some combination of those) and attempt to produce a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30.

Why November? Well...why not? (Don't look at me, I didn't set the thing up.)

I've participated for four years. The first year (2006) I think I wrote about 1500 words and then forgot about it. :)

In 2007, I started The Surrogate, wrote 2221 words, and then had no idea where to take the story from there. (Later, this became a novella that I actually finished.) I didn't know where it went because...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In 2008, I "won" (i.e., I reached 50,000 words (51,115, to be exact)) of my novel The Third Prophecy the evening of the 11/30/2008. This was a story that had been rattling around in my head for more than 30 years, and I finally decided to just write what I could down and get it out of there. It was keeping me up at night. I wrote what I estimate to be about 1/4 of the total story, and I have not continued it because...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In 2009, I "won" (53,122 words) by completing my novel Death Scene on 11/30/2009. This was the second novel in what I hope will eventually be a series of urban fantasy novels set in present-day Atlanta, only where magic works. I already "knew" the characters and had a good bit of the story already coherent in my head before I started writing, so it went pretty effortlessly, really. I wrote about half of the estimated total story, but haven't continued it because...once again, I get ahead of myself.

This year, I've been casting about trying to figure out what I would write. Would I expand one of my short stories to novel form? Write the third book in the aforementioned series? (The first novel, called Perdition's Flames, is my current WIP, and I haven't finished it because...) Would I come up with something entirely new? Would I even bother?

Now it's time to finish those ellipses. When I started writing Perdition's Flames, it was because I was doing a First Sentence Exercise and wrote
The man Sean Marks had come to kill was already dead.
I read it and thought, "OOoooh! I like it. But that name has to go. Hmm. Nick. Nick...Damon!" I continued writing, spurred on by the chance overhearing of someone saying "Die in a fire!" and the rest is history (34,602 words to date, which is where I stalled). This is what I call "Seat of the Pants" writing, or what is more properly termed "discovery writing."

I haven't finished Perdition's Flames or Death Scene because even though I thought I knew my characters, I didn't. I got to chapter 9 of PF and realized I had no idea how my characters would react to what I'd just written. And that I needed more characters. And for that, I'd need to add those characters from the beginning. Even though I was telling the story I wanted to tell in both novels at a pretty good pace, the books were turning out to be 60,000 to 75,000 words, and that's not really enough to be commercially successful. (60,000 = ~240 pages; 75,000 = ~300 pages. 100,000 words, or 400 pages, is about what a novelist should aim for, according to multiple sources. (YMMV, and I'm not about to pretend to be even a novice at this, much less an expert.)) This meant that I needed more meat. Meat means plot. And what's meat without tasty side dishes? (Sub-plots.)

I took a writing workshop between August 2 and September 20 from local author David Fulmer. He taught us a lot of useful information about character development and setting and plot development. At the tail end of that, local author Haywood Smith came and talked to our Tuesday night writing group about character development.

And I noticed something.

In 2008, I took a writing workshop from author Ann C. Crispin. I've been hanging out on Second Life and getting a lot of advice from author Michael A. Stackpole.

What I noticed was that these four very different writers in four different genres and with vastly different styles...were all basically saying much of the same stuff, but worded differently.

Now, this is a good thing. It's not like those "diet gurus" who each tell you a completely different "secret" for eating what you want and still losing weight. These are four professional authors (who make a living from their writing) all agreeing.

And the #1 thing they all said—without exception—is that character is the most important thing in fiction. A lot of problems can be overlooked by readers (and agents and editors), but if you have bland, boring, flaccid characters, no one is going to read your books.

Ann didn't have any specific "methods" of making believable characters; it was more of an exhortation and the gestalt of what she said over two days, condensed. (Condensed Gestalt. Sounds like a product name on Futurama.)

Mike Stackpole has his "21 Days to a Novel," which lays out how to develop three strong characters for a novel using exercises you write over a 21-day period. Sometimes as little as five sentences per day.

David Fulmer had us do something very similar to that, only all at once. With both Mike and Dave, the exercises are aimed at defining the characters so that we would know what they would do in a given situation without having to think about it or go back and make changes (too often).

And Haywood Smith has a 13-page character sheet similar to something you'd see either in D&D or on eHarmony.com to map out every possible piece of information you'd want to know about a given character. ("Describe the character's orgasm face." No, I'm not kidding.) I know this because the last two items on the last page are
What else do I need to know about character to understand who he/she really is?

What questions should I have included that weren’t there?
So that kind of covers it. :)

ANYWAY...the point of this whole diatribe is that Monday night, as I was driving home from work, I was going over in my head all the stories I'd already written as well as some new ones I was mulling over, and one story leaped out at me.

I originally wrote it as a novella (~13,000 words) called Killing Time. It involves time travel and the role one man plays in saving—or dooming—Earth.

I've put it through both of my local critique groups, and it had mixed reception. Some thought it was overly expository; others that it lacked a unique enough ending to distinguish it from other, similar stories; and still others thought the motivations of the characters were questionable at best.

What I decided to do is rewrite the story from the ground up, but instead of making it a short story, turning it into a novel with more than just two characters. Giving both characters a background, motivations, goals, enemies, friends, hobbies, jobs, etc. In other words, turning my caricatures into characters. (Ooh, I like that line. I'mma keep that...)

Toward that end, I started Mike Stackpole's 21 Days to a Novel on Monday night, but did two nights' worth of material because Tuesday nights are busy for me, what with the critique group and all.

Tonight I'll be doing day 3, which involves coming up with the things that are thwarting or holding back or preventing my characters from being successful in their goal(s). "Bonus points" if you can arrange it so that one character achieving his or her goal prevents another character from achieving theirs, and vice versa. And it just so happens that my new third main character is the ex-lover and "business rival" of one of the two original characters, and their goals are diametrically opposed. And both of their goals affects the other character in a fundamental way; one positively, one negatively. Sort of like rock, paper, scissors. Only with THE FATE OF THE EARTH HANGING IN THE BALANCE. (Was that dramatic enough?)

I'll try to post my progress here. For NaNoWriMo, too, like I did the prior two years, only better. :) It'll look like this:

NaNoWriMo Progress: Killing Time
Daily Average01667
Remaining Req'd
Daily Avg
Expected Total5000050010

  • A note.

  • Another one.

  • A third one.

I can't wait to see if this will make the writing flow even easier than it did last year. I know the story I want to tell because I wrote it before as a short story, but I'm changing most of the internal details, and adding so much more. If I do the 21 Days to a Novel right, I should have a rough outline by the end and know all the places where the character arcs cross one another.

Atheists Are People, Too  Antispam  


( 2 hisses — Hiss at me! )
Oct. 6th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
I'm thinking I must have asked this before, but what do we mere mortals have to do to get to read your output?
Oct. 6th, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
Well, the problem is that most of it is unfinished, and having someone read it would be a bit like putting code into production before QA is done with it. I have put a couple of short stories up in the past and asked for feedback, but then only one or two people bothered to comment on them, so I assumed no one else actually read them. :)
( 2 hisses — Hiss at me! )

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