My 2015 NaNoNovel

“Too Many Irons in the Fire”

During the Midwest’s biggest annual historical reenactment, a local blade smith named Shawn Mallory disappears. Twenty-five-year-old Darcy Preston watches her dad worry over his missing friend. Darcy looks for clues about where Shawn may have gone, but the crowd and her own obligations to the event slow her down.

The more Darcy watches and talks to the many other blacksmiths attending the event, the more she begins to suspect that Shawn’s disappearance may have been orchestrated. By the end of the week, as the busiest day of the rendezvous approaches, Darcy is convinced that her own father is in danger.

Can she convince her dad of her suspicions in time to save him?

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I’ve never made a cover for a NaNoNovel before. Rather than make it official with words and such, I went simply with an image. It’s better than I’ve ever had before.

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Daily Challenge Check-in: October 22, 2015

Words/Time: 30 minutes working on prep for my 2015 NaNoNovel. This was spent mostly trying to boil the plot I have in mind down into a few paragraphs that I can share here and on the NaNo site. You wouldn’t think that would be so difficult, but it’s not easy trying to figure out what the main plot thread is in a story you haven’t written. (In my case, it’s not always easy figuring out the main plot thread in one I have written.) Also, trying to boil it down to a short, succinct synopsis with no extras, even when those extras maybe feel like they’re integral to the story, can take some thinking.

While I was working on that, I had to adjust my timeline a bit to clear up some events I’d muddied. I think I’m finally ready to start my outline.

Daily Challenge Check-in: October 21, 2015

Words/Time: 1 hour working on prep for my 2015 NaNoNovel. I’ve been brainstorming a subplot to fill out the middle of the novel and trying to figure out timelines. I added a bunch of events and notes to my file in Aeon, and wrote out clues other mystery-related notes down in a journal trying to visualize how the mystery part needed to play out. I’m getting more excited about the idea now that it’s starting to feel like a full story, not just an opening and climax. I think I can finally work on a full synopsis to post here and on my NaNo profile.

Daily Challenge Check-in: October 18, 2015

Words/Time: 27 minutes working on prep for my 2015 NaNoNovel. I’ve started laying out the sequence of events that I know, which is mostly the very beginning, and a few sporadic things that I don’t know when will happen, or even in what order. As I’ve started to look harder at this plot, I’ve realized I don’t have much of a plot. I have a feeling I’ll have a sketchier outline this year than I have the last few years. It worries me a bit, but if all else fails, I can just write about normal rendezvous life and events if I can’t pin down the mystery plot for a while. At least I’ll be getting words out.

Outlining for NaNoWriMo

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbIf you’re just coming across this now, at the beginning of October, there’s still plenty of time to plan a story from scratch. Here is a list of posts I’ve made about NaNo, which includes starting with story seeds and beginning to develop a plot. I’m not finished with that series of posts, as I wanted to give people time to work on the various steps. Personally, I’m still in the “take a nugget of a plot and see what you can flesh out of it” stage myself. However, I think this is a good time to talk about outlining, in case anyone is ready for that step.

The Great Debate

This isn’t a new topic. Even I have discussed the debate between panters and planners more than once before. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about others’ NaNo prep on WordPress in the last month, and have come to a few conclusions about pantsing and planning: Most pantsers actually do some planning, but not enough to consider themselves planners. Most planners leave room to pants along the way, but still find that they need to have a certain amount of stuff planned in advance.

So basically, there are extreme panters–all they know at the beginning of NaNo is a basic idea like, “It’s set on Mars and involves werewolves.” Or more of a plot point like, “Everywhere she goes, Sarah hears voices. She thinks she’s schizophrenic until the things the voices say start coming true.” With no more than that basic idea, they start writing on November 1st and just let the words flow out of them.

There are extreme planners–they have a 10,000-word outline, detailed character sheets for everyone down to the MC’s hairdresser, and a notebook full of notes about the world they’ve built.

Most of us fall somewhere in between these extremes–plan a little and wing most of it, or plan a lot but still let the story change itself. And I’ve noticed that many panters think that having an outline before starting to write the story means you’re locked into what is in that outline.

The Case for Outlining

Let me just say right now that most planners do give themselves room to follow the story or characters in unexpected directions. Sometimes, I write 2/3 of an outline, then start writing, knowing that I’ll veer off the outline before I get to the end anyway. Or I’ll change the outline to suit the new direction, or throw it out completely. Not too long ago I took a little offense at a blogger who implied that pantsing was creative, and writing from an outline wasn’t. Don’t take my tone to be too severe here, but I’d just like to state that writing fiction is creating, no matter what way you go about it. Simply because I do more of my creating before I start the actual writing by no means makes it less creative.

And let me just put this out there–the more you plan before you write, the more intricate your story can be. You can weave subplots together, work in foreshadowing more easily, and find plot holes before you’ve written them into the story. Outlining doesn’t make your story perfect, but I do believe it adds more potential for depth.

One more reason that I find planning to be important is that if I don’t write down ideas as I have them, and get them into place in the story, I will simply forget them. Even for this post, when I was falling asleep last night, I had an idea for a random plot point for the example up above. I really liked it, even if it was just an illustration. By this evening, I’d forgotten it completely.

Types of Outlines

1.) Perhaps the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the word “outline” is the formal outline. You know the kind–with the roman numerals and indentation and such. outlineThey provide some scene organization and truly, if this works for you, great! Though they always made writing research projects easier, I still disliked making these in school. And a few years ago, I tried to make one for my NaNo project anyway. About 1/4 of the way through the outline, I decided it was more difficult than it was worth and switched to my normal way of outlining.

outline2.) My outlines usually look like this. Actually, they’re normally handwritten, but this one I typed was easier to share. I simply write plot point after plot point, events as I want them to happen. Sometimes a single line in the outline is so broad that it takes several pages to write that plot point. Sometimes the story flows quickly through several pages of outline. The important thing is that I’m getting down, in order, what I want the story to look like. And sometimes the details don’t require much extra thought during the writing (which, by the way, can be really helpful during NaNo…less slowing down to think of what else should happen means I get the words out faster). But sometimes the outline only tells me that “MC grows up after the important thing happens at the beginning of the story,” and I end up spending several thousand words making up things that happened to him while he was growing up.

3.) I recently learned about worksheets and templates for outlining. I knew of them for characters, so it makes sense that they’d exist for outlining too. If you think you’d benefit from having a template, you may try doing a web search for one that works for you. From what I can tell, there are those that give you lines to fill in an introduction, several plot points with supporting material, a climax, and a conclusion. Or there are some that show the image of a story (sort of like a mountain) and tell you to fill in the points along the way. If you’re new to fiction writing or even just new to outlining, perhaps the structure would help.

4.) Another way of outlining or plotting I have heard of, but never tried, is making a plot board. Some sort of board on which you place individual cards, post-its, whatever, each one of which is a different plot point or detail. You can color code it (which to my thinking would come in handy to show different subplots), see it all at a glance, and move points around as you need to. Something like this can probably be done on different mediums, and there are probably online that you can find better information on this than I can provide.

I personally plan to try outlining in Scrivener this year. I still have the free trial, though it won’t last all through November. But I’m still testing out different aspects of the program to decide if it’s worth buying. Since you can create a new scene for each outline point and then write directly into the scene space, thus organizing your story as you write, it seems like a nice tool…I’m just not sure how it will work for me in practice.

During October

Wherever you may be in your NaNo prep, I strongly advise that you start gearing up for NaNo now (if you haven’t already been). It’s not that it’s impossible to dive right in on Nov. 1 and win, but there are certainly ways to make it easier. As I’ve mentioned before, making writing part of every day now will make needing to do that in November easier. Even if you only spend 15 minutes per day free writing or working on novel planning, you can start building the habit now.

Are you gearing up for NaNo too? Do you have a different style of outlining?

My NaNoWriMo

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I am going to do something a little different with this post than I normally do. Not that talking about my writing is all that different, but I’ve never done so to this extent. As I prepare for NaNoWriMo and do my best to help others prepare, I have been purposely vague on my own history. I try not to spend too much time talking about my own writing, because that’s not the point of these NaNo prep posts.

I do post daily about the writing work I’ve done for the day, because this blog was originally intended to keep myself accountable. I’ve since expanded it into a place to share writing tips, but I still post at the end of every day in which writing work of some kind happened, to check in. However, they’re usually short posts with not much detail (or a bit of detail with no context).

Today, I am going to share my personal NaNo history. If you don’t really care about my personal NaNo history, I won’t be offended if you simply don’t read on. (I probably won’t even know.)

nanowinner07I first heard about NaNoWriMo on a forum for Ragnarok Online fanfiction. The moderator mentioned it, and I ran to go check it out. I decided immediately to join, even though it was already October. At the time, I had written a good amount of fanfiction for the aforementioned game, and was stalled on the 5th (and last) in a series of novella-length stories. I also had a brand new fic I wanted to work on, but needed to finish the other first. NaNoWriMo gave me a brand new motivation to push past the blocks. I was so excited, I didn’t even want to wait until November. So I started on October 21st and wrote for 30 days. I finished the book I’d been stuck on in short order and spent most of the month writing “Outcast.”

There was no region near me, so I was stuck in the “Indiana: Elsewhere” category, and most of the people were from way north or south of me. There was no real hope for much social interaction, but that didn’t bother me. I’m pretty terrified of people anyway.

I ended the month with 50,288 words, and though “Outcast” wasn’t finished, I did finish it within the next year. It’s still one of my favorite stories ever, and I can’t wait until it gets its turn at being re-set in the world of Pithea.

“Outcast” is a story about sin and redemption, losing everything to gain much more, and the nature of true friendship. More information about the story can be found here.

I skipped 2008. Though I agonized over my decision all month (or at least the first few weeks, until I decided it would be too late to start anyway), I’m pretty sure this was the point when I was starting to transition away from writing fanfiction, but couldn’t really move on from those stories.

nano_09_blk_participant_100x100_1.png In 2009, though, I was raring to go again. I had worked for several months on building a world in which I could set my fanfics–original, but still accommodating the stories I’d already written. With that new world in mind, I wrote “Pursuit of Magic.”

I’m pretty sure I was still in the Indiana: Elsewhere region, though I think I may have been a little involved in the region of a town not far from me too.

I wrote 22 words over the goal, finishing one day early. This time, I did actually write the end of the story. However, I had a lot of gaps in the last third of the story. A lot of areas that I hadn’t fleshed out and didn’t want to slow down to decide what should happen. Still, I had a final scene that I really loved, so that was something.

In 2010 and 2011, a combination of not having much inspiration in the fiction area and having a young child, while also homeschooling an older one, gave me enough reason to sit NaNo out. I wish now that I’d at least tried those years, as well as 2008. I didn’t really know back then how to generate ideas, so without any readily available, I truly didn’t think I could do NaNo.

2012-participantFollowing on the heels of two years off, 2012 was a rough one. The world I had started creating back in 2009 hadn’t worked out, and I’d officially decided that my fanfictions–the characters, plots, and future ideas–needed to be laid to rest. It was difficult, but I did have an idea for a new story. It wasn’t much of an idea, but I went with it. I don’t even remember if I had an outline, but I know the plot I had in mind didn’t extend very far. And during the month, I kept playing with the setting and changing things.

Fort Wayne, a city near me, had gotten its own region in (I think) 2010, so I had a region closer to home to join. I considered going to some events, but in the end, I was still too shy. I did join in on discussions on my region’s forum though.

It was messy, but I ended the month with 51,288 words, crossing the finish line on the 27th. I had barely any semblance of a story, and certainly not a full novel. I haven’t touched that story since then, as I’m quite sure I was forcing the idea anyway. If anything good came of that month’s writing, it was the understanding that I really need to plan more before November.

The best part about 2012 was that on the main NaNo website, there was a link to NaNoToons, a daily webcomic that runs during November (sometimes starting partway through October). And the day before November started, the guy who made the webcomic posted a link to the first episode of a musical he and some others had made about NaNoWriMo. By the end of the month, I was hooked on Debs & Errol and involved in a whole new world of geekiness, and the rest is history.

2013 NaNo Participant FB ProfileIn 2013, NaNoWriMo took on a new excitement for me. I had hit on a new idea for a story world that would work for my fanfictions. Instead of trying to simply alter the game world they’d been created in to make it original, yet similar, I realized it would be better to build a new world from the ground up. I started with one basic element around which I, along with my husband, have crafted the world that I use now. I spent a lot of the year figuring out how things would work, and how to fix problems in my existing stories to make the basic plots still work in the vastly different world.

From my fanfiction days, I had a core group of 5 stories (the series I mentioned back during the 2007 section). Most of the other plans I had, and many of the characters, stemmed from that series. So it was the first thing that needed to be converted to this new world. Originally, I really thought I’d just be able to go through and edit it to fit and to be one novel instead of 5 shorter stories.

Somewhere along the way, I realized how ridiculous that notion was. Not only was there too much that needed changing, but I had grown so much as a writer in the 6ish years since I’d written them. It was much smarter to rewrite completely. So I picked out what I wanted to keep and started plotting a new story. I boiled five 20k-30k word stories into one story in 4 parts. And then I proceeded to have the best November I’d had so far, writing what has since been titled “Pithea.”

I went to my first local event in 2013–the kickoff party. My husband went with me, and I got to meet some of the other Wrimos from my area. I kept thinking I’d get to a write-in, but it’s hard to get out alone with kids and a husband who works full time. Going to the kickoff was a huge step for me anyway.

I hit 50k words on Nov 14 that year, and ended the month with 90,228 words total. I chalked the amazing numbers up to having a lot planned for the story. I’d been working with these characters for almost 10 years, after all, and the story itself was a rewrite. The story wasn’t finished, but I wrote the rest over the next few months. In February 2014, I finished my first ever novel draft.

“Pithea” is the story of two teenagers who find their places in life while growing up in a world filled with Power and Madness. More information about the story can be found here.

2014-Participant-Facebook-ProfileThis brings us to last year. I went into November with a well-developed outline. I was writing a story that runs somewhat parallel to “Pithea,” with some characters and even a few scenes that coincide. I planned out 2014’s novel earlier in the year, while revising “Pithea,” so I knew for sure what the characters were up to when they showed up in “Pithea.”

Also, my 2014 novel was a rewrite of my 2009 novel. However, it was set in a different world from the one I’d tried to craft in 2009. Some basic mechanics were different enough that a lot of the plot had to be gutted and rebuilt. So though it’s a rewrite of very broad plot points, it was a vastly different story. Even the final scene from 2009 ended up needing rewritten, thus losing the big moment that I’d loved. By the end of the month, I had a finished draft of “Pursuit of Power.”

There was so much different about last year. I went to the kick-off party again, with my whole family. I joined a Skype group with other people from my region, where we proceeded to have word wars most of the month (my first word wars). I blogged about my progress every day, which was kind of fun–recapping the day’s story progress and how I’d fit the writing time into my day.

I broke my single-day word count record (which was probably in the area of 6000) with 10,516 words on the 15th. I also tried a challenge set forth on the forums to write 3k in 1 hour. I wrote a little over 3000, but I didn’t enjoy the experience. I crossed the 50k mark on November 12. At the end of the month, I weighed in with 107,234 words. 2014 is the first year I ever finished NaNo with a completed manuscript. Unlike its predecessor, “Pursuit of Power” was truly finished, without huge gaps of story that I’d have to fill in later.

“Pursuit of Power” follows Alexander Surett, who is messing with forces he doesn’t understand in an attempt to find the truth behind his father’s death. More information about the story can be found here.

Print

I always say I learn something new every year during NaNoWriMo. Some of it is about what to do, some about what not do to. I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ll learn this year, though I suspect a lot of that is already happening right now, with the series of blog posts I’ve been making about preparing for NaNo, and my own work to that effect.

There’s no reason to think that the virtual strangers who stop by my blog care to read so much about my past experiences with NaNoWriMo. I’ll be honest–part of me wonders if typing all of this wasn’t just a subconscious attempt at an ego boost (plus it was a lot of fun to reminisce about those years). Maybe it will provide some insight, excitement, or simply entertainment for someone though.

What is your history with NaNoWriMo? Do you love it or hate it? Feel free to share your own thoughts on the matter.

Characters for NaNoWriMo

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbIf you’ve been planning your NaNoNovel, hopefully you have a solid bead on a plot by now. The big questions–who, what, where, why, and how?–have been answered, or maybe you’re working on that now. This could be a good time to focus in on the who? of it all.

(If you’re still stalled on the basic plot, don’t give up yet! I haven’t hit on the idea I’m hoping for either. Keep generating ideas by free writing. There are a lot of options out there for prompts. I have a few posts from earlier this year about ways to dream up new ideas for stories that you can find here. Or, if you haven’t already, go through the activities in my “Seeds for NaNo” posts from the last few weeks, which are listed on this page. Write down every nugget of something that you could turn into a plot, or that you think you’d like to use as part of a bigger story. Keep trying to tie those thoughts together, and always ask questions: “Why would someone jump in the sewer dressed in a ball gown?” Crazy things like that, worked backwards, can lead to places you’ll never expect to end up.)

A lot of times, my characters really come into their own while I’m writing the actual story. However, there are things that we can do during the planning stages to flesh out the characters.

1. List:
First, it would be helpful to see all of the characters you already have in mind, all spread out somewhere. Making a list of each character is a good starting point. You can add to the list things like, “Guy who beat MC out of the job she wanted and rubs it in her face,” “Person Joe goes to, to find answers when he’s suspicious,” or other roles that you know you need to fill, but don’t have any specifics in mind for yet.

Then, give each character their own page in a notebook, their own note card, their own document file, or their own section within a file (Scrivener and other writing programs work well for this kind of thing). List everything you already know about that character–age, physical descriptions, personality, background, role in the story, where they’ll end up by the end of the story, even how they may change by the end of the story.

Some people like to use character sheets/templates, and that’s okay too. I’ve already expressed my thoughts on character sheets in the past, so I’ll just say I don’t use them. They don’t work for me. However, that doesn’t mean they’re bad, and if you’ve never used one, it certainly can’t hurt to do so. I would at least suggest not using the first one you find, though. Read through the fields that are there for you to fill in and find one with categories that will actually give you insight into your characters.

2. Write:
To get to know my characters, give them their own voice, or discover why they are who they are, my favorite method is just writing. Write a scene unrelated to the plot, centered around the character in question, maybe even from the point-of-view of that character, even if the main story isn’t. Writing prompts can come in handy for something like this, if an idea doesn’t readily present itself. But the general idea is to write out a scene and let that character shine in their uniqueness, and it gives you a better feel for that character.
(Disclaimer: the above paragraph was copied right from a previous post I made about character creation. In fact, it’s the post I linked to in #1 above. Clearly I feel this point deeply.)

3. Ask:
This is an odd one for me to include. You know those people who say their characters are always talking in their head? Complaining about what the writer has done to them, or begging to be let out if they’re still pent-up? Yeah, I’m not one of those people. It seems like every other writer out there is, but I’m not.

However, I did something similar once–initiated by me, not a disembodied voice in my head. I was working at a menial task for several hours, and had forgotten my iPod. I was faced with a nice long time of silence and boredom. In those types of situations, I often do try to think of what areas of my current writing need attention, so I can be thinking through an issue while I’m doing something else. This time, I decided to have a conversation with one of my main characters. His name is Naolin, and he gets a pretty raw deal in “Pithea.”

I started by asking, “What do you think of the story?” And then I imagined what his response would be, based on his character and what happens to him in the story. After a few snarky answers on his part, I decided to start at the beginning by asking him about the motivations for some of his actions when he first appears in the story. Though all of the questions and answers came from me, when digging deeper into his psyche in relation to the scenes in the story, I actually did gain some insight into a few of the things that he’d done simply because I said he’d done them. There was more of a why than I otherwise would have had.

Later, I tried to start over when I had a notebook to write it in. It never quite went as well as that first time. From now on, I’ll record the conversation the first time, somehow–either by writing/typing it or by saying it all out loud while I’m, say, doing the dishes and recording myself talk (though that’s only if necessary…I hate listening to myself afterward).

4. Voice:
The last thing I suggest for working on your characters in advance is to work out their voices. I’ve found it to be a difficult task in the past, but making sure that every one of your characters doesn’t talk in exactly the same manner (and moreso, that they don’t all talk exactly like you) is important. Deciding how a character should talk can go hand-in-hand with figuring out who they are.

Where is he from? Different regions of the world, and even of the same country, have different dialects. (In the US, would they say soda, pop, or sodapop?)

What kind of education does she have? If she’s an English major, she should have pretty good grammar. If she didn’t finish high school, she may (not necessarily, but could) have poor grammar.

Perhaps someone rarely uses contractions, or someone uses ridiculous similes a lot, or someone only speaks in one-word sentences. All of these things can distinguish characters from each other. That doesn’t mean that every single character has to have a distinct way of talking. That could slow the story down too. But keep these things in mind and you can make your characters more memorable. Also, try to avoid outright stereotypes, but sometimes it can help to start with a stereotype and back off a bit, or change it to give that character more depth.

One final note: plan your characters now, but never be afraid to let them develop differently than you had planned while you’re writing your first draft. When they really start to come alive, they may tell us things we don’t realize until we actually see them in action.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on my ramblings, your own tips, or any questions you may have along the way.

Tools for NaNoWriMo: Scapple

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I always say I learn something new every year of doing NaNoWriMo–something about myself as a writer, something about writing in general, or new tips or strategies for NaNoWriMo. This year, I’m already learning, and November hasn’t even arrived.

If you’ve been following my steps for preparing a story for NaNoWriMo from scratch, you may be doing the same thing I’m doing right now–trying to pull a plot together. I’m still in the early stages of that, and to be honest, I’m not sure that what I’m working on is going to be for NaNoWriMo.

I have maybe 2/3 of a completed outline for a story I was planning to write this year. But when I posted the first list of story seeds, I started thinking about how long it’s been since I’ve started a story from scratch. There can be a lot of joy in the discovery, and that’s something I haven’t had much lately. My current writing projects are all stories I started crafting years ago. Of course they’ve changed shape along the way, and plenty of new elements have been added recently. But that’s not quite the same as starting from scratch. Also, because I have two novels already written in the aforementioned story world, and both are still in revision stages, I figured there was no need to add another story that will just sit on the shelf for years while I finish the first two.

So I decided to take my own advice and do the activities in my own story seed posts, free writing in the hopes that a new idea would spark. After a few days of doing a few of those activities during my writing time, I realized that it was difficult to use my imagination on certain pictures in which I knew what was happening or who the people were. I still did my best, but I’m not sure it was as effective as it could have been. However, because of this issue, I went such an odd direction with one of the pictures that it just may have turned into something for me.

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This is the picture in question…all because I was trying not to make it about the storm that actually caused that.

But where I had hoped to come up with ideas for a story that isn’t even in the same world as my others, this one really just ended up being an idea for events that would happen 1000ish years before my other stories. I really don’t seem to be able to get away from Pithea and its world (not that I mind too much).

So back to my original point, before I lose anyone, I discovered a new tool yesterday that has come in handy during this early stage. I have all sorts of ideas that have started to flow out of me since writing about the picture above. So I decided to give Scapple a try. It’s a free-form idea mapping program made by the same people behind Scrivener. I started putting my thoughts into it, and I really liked it.

So in my last NaNo post, I said that I thought the laying out of ideas and starting to form them into something coherent was best done on paper. Now, only a few days later, I’m suggesting that people download the free trial of Scapple and try it that way. It’s not that you can’t do everything on paper that you can do in Scapple, but…well, putting notes into the computer has its advantages too. (For one thing, I’ve already had to move notes around a lot and connect them differently after putting them in, so in that way, Scapple is better than doing it by hand.)

Here is a screenshot of Scapple in use:

Scapple example

This is a slightly altered version of what I’ve been working on, with some things removed or changed to avoid spoilers.

How about you? Have you ever used Scapple before? Do you have other programs you use for organizing notes? Tools and tips are always helpful for writing in general, and NaNo in particular. Feel free to share your own.

Plots for NaNoWriMo

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To sum up what I’ve been doing on my blog for the last two weeks: NaNoWriMo is coming, and I tend to get a little over-excited about it. In the past, I’ve talked to people who were interested in participating, but didn’t think they’d know what to write (amongst other problems, like lack of time). Since I’ve struggled with the worry of writing without an idea that came to me well in advance, I thought I might be able to help others with that issue.

To me, the best way to start is by generating various ideas using prompts of various fashions. I shared some of my own, but there are so many out there to be found online. Here are mine: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4

Now it’s time to begin to develop the plot. I will be up front with you right now and tell you that this is the area of story planning that I am weakest with. Most of my plots have developed slowly over time. I do not normally compress it this much, so this will be as new for me as it may be for some of you.

If you already have an plot in mind, great. You’re well ahead of me! If not, here are some ideas for how to proceed:

First, lay out before you any and every story idea you have. By “idea,” I don’t necessarily mean every bit of writing practice you’ve done, but anything that struck you from that. For example, if I had written a scene in which a guy got stuck on the road during a blizzard and walked to a nearby house, where he was invited inside during a family game night, and ended up having feelings for the oldest sister, I may not care for much of what I wrote, but maybe I like the idea of a guy and girl meeting when one of them was stuck on the road and sought refuge in the other’s home. These ideas can also include a character that has started to form in your mind, or a setting you’d like to include somewhere.

Whether you have ideas you’ve been mulling over for a while, ideas you’ve generated recently with prompts, or anything in between, take the time to jot down a note for any idea you have. For this, I would suggest using pencil and paper, because it’s easier to see and manipulate when it’s all laid out in front of you; however, this can be done on the computer too.

Now spend some time musing over these notes. Think of which ones you like most and which you may set aside for now. Figure out if any of them could work together. Remember: stories don’t have to have one single plot from beginning to end. Sub-plots are often at work too, so ideas don’t have to directly relate to be able to go into the same story.

My suggestion for the next step would be to come up with a short synopsis for a plot that you would like to write. One or two sentences if possible. Keep it broad, yet descriptive. A good format is, “A certain type of main character has to accomplish a certain goal, so that something important will happen.” Or for example, “A group of teenagers find a lockbox buried in the desert and try to access the secrets within.” You can then go on to include the main conflict, like, “But when they find that several different groups of people want the box, how will they decide which group they should give it to–or if they should keep the box themselves?”

Okay, so that synopsis I completely just made up, so it may seem ridiculous. But hopefully you get the idea. For now, you can start with literally a skeleton. You don’t have to know your characters (well, at least a few general points about a main character or two is rather necessary for even the previous example sentences), your setting, what the climax will be, or much more. If you do know those things, or start to figure them out along the way, be sure to take notes.

So to boil it down: the core of any story includes at least one main character, a starting goal, and a conflict. If you are starting from scratch in planning a story, that’s where you need to begin.

Over the next week, if you are starting to prepare for November, set aside writing time every day possible, and work toward your story. Start with the one or two sentence skeleton. Then go on to write a longer synopsis that includes more info on who, where, why, or how. Don’t stress about details yet–fleshing out characters and outlining a plot is still down the road. First you need to have a good handle on that core.

Along with working on the beginnings of your plot, continue doing free writing exercises. Or if you’re not sold on even a skeleton plot yet, and still need ideas, keep doing writing exercises. Do the ones I linked to above, or go in search of more. There are tons of them out there; all you really have to do is Google “story prompts,” “story seeds,” or other key words along those lines.

One final note: if you find yourself often passing on prompts you find because they’re not your style, they’re boring, or you don’t think you could think of anything for them, you may need to force yourself to stop doing that. Just remember that not everything you write has to be brilliant, compelling, or the inspiration for a novel. This is good practice for the overall art of writing fiction, and it’s good to push the limits or write something that feels unnatural now and then. You may discover something completely new about yourself or writing in general, but you’d never know it until you tried it.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on my ramblings, your own tips, or any questions you may have along the way.

Dream, plan, write…

dream plan write

This has been my motto for the last year. I have tried to make sure every day contains at least a little writing work. For me, this can take more than one form:

Dream – This is the part where you ask, “What if…?” and “Why?” What if space were filled with vampires? What if the guy was the one who needed rescuing? Why would a British royal guard be camping in the woods of Montana? How different would the world be without shrimp? There are ways to force these ideas out of your head, but just as often, they just come on their own. When you’re driving, washing dishes, showering, even sleeping.

Plan – This is where you take that idea, that seed, and run with it. Meet and flesh out the characters. Decide on the right time and place. Start plotting. Not everyone does this step; some skip right from dreaming to writing. That’s okay too. But for the rest of us, it’s important to spend some time in the planning stage.

Write – This is the most self-explanatory stage, but often the most difficult to do. It is helpful to set goals along the way. Also important is saving the editing for later.

Revise – This is my absolute least favorite stage, but it has to be done. The question, though, is how to do it and how much to revise. My own mindset on revising has changed a lot in the last year, and I think I’m hating it less than I used to.

These different stages are often mixed up. Currently, on any given day, I may be working on revising one of two books, plotting another one, writing for a shorter bit that has no real plans, or who knows what else. And I’m always dreaming.

I’ve come to realize recently that, though I am not a published author, I have a lot of experience as a writer. I’ve been writing with some seriousness for 10 years and have grown a lot in both knowledge and skill. I’ve finished the first draft of two novels, which I’m told is an accomplishment in itself. And just in the last two years, I have learned a lot about all of these stages of writing. This blog has always been focused on my writing progress, but I have decided it’s time to branch out. I want to start sharing some of what I’ve learned, even extending to areas outside of those I mentioned above (like finding the right writing atmosphere). Hopefully someone will find some usefulness in my words.

I won’t try to say when or how often these posts might come out, because my family life is too unpredictable. The first post, about the “Dream” stage, will be shortly following this introductory post though.