Wednesday, October 30

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure: Starting At The End

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure: Starting At The End


Last month, as I thought about the writing sprint that is NaNoWriMo, I thought about Dan Wells' seven point system for story creation.

Well, perhaps not creation.

Where ideas come from and how we choose them--or they choose us--is a mysterious process. What is less mysterious is what we need to do to spin an idea into a story concept and make sure we have enough material to make it stretch over 50,000 words.

(For part one of this mini-series, click here.)

1. Start At The End: The Resolution/Climax Of The Story


It sounds counterintuitive and perhaps a wee bit crazy, but I've found it to be fabulous advice: when you write a story, begin at the end.

Dan Wells uses J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as his example. BUT. It's been years since I read that book so I'm going to use Star Wars IV: A New Hope instead. (And, yes, I know that one's a book and the other's a movie, but those are just two different mediums, two different ways, of telling a story.)

So. What is the resolution?

Resolution: Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star and saves the Rebel Alliance from destruction. 

Of course Luke won! But resolutions really are as simple as this, answering "yes" or "no" to the story question. (For more on story questions, Jim Butcher has an excellent discussion of the subject.)

2. Write Your Hook: What Is Your Starting State?


We know how the story ends so now we have to figure out how it begins.

As you write the hero's starting state, keep in mind your hero needs to change, to go through some sort of arc.

For example, if you want your hero, your protagonist, your kick-ass dude or dudette, to end up wiping the floor with the antagonist they need to start out weak. Otherwise, there's no change and that wouldn't be interesting. Well. Not as interesting. A vividly rendered Big Bad getting their nether-regions handed to them by an uber-hero will never lose its appeal for me.

(That's not quite true. Your hero could start out strong, lose everything in the middle, and then claw his/her way back up just in time to pound the Big Bad back into oblivion at the end. Or something. The shape of the change, of the arc, is entirely up to you.)

Hook: Luke is an orphan--or so he believes--who lives with his aunt and uncle. He craves a life of excitement, of adventure. He wants to visit far off planets but lives a life of drudgery on a backwater planet far, far, away from anything he considers remotely interesting.

In the beginning of the story Luke isn't in charge of his destiny, others--his well-meaning aunt and uncle--decide what goals he pursues. At the end of the story Luke is a hero of the rebellion, he destroyed the Death Star and saved the Rebel Alliance. Further, he managed all this because he took charge of his life, trusted himself and his special ability.
Note: As we've seen, Dan Wells calls the hero's starting state "the hook". I want to mention that you'll occasionally come across another use of the phrase. Specifically, as that initial something that "hooks" the reader, the thing that keeps them reading, that generates narrative drive (/suspense). To read more about this other use of the term see: The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest.
Okay, back to talking about arc, change, movement. Looking at Luke, his character, at the beginning of his journey and comparing that with where he ended up, we can see this arc as taking him from weakness to strength. That said, it is also an arc, a journey, from inexperience to experience, from distrusting himself to trusting himself. From unbelief to belief.

That's it for today. Next time we'll look at the first plot turn and the Midpoint.

Photo credit: "new garden gnomes ..." by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, October 28

NaNoWriMo, Erle Stanley Gardner, Perry Mason and Plot Wheels

NaNoWriMo, Erle Stanley Gardner, Perry Mason and Plot Wheels


In this article I explore several plot wheels and examine how they can be used to generate ideas during NaNoWriMo (or anytime!). But, first, some background.

Stephen King on Plot Wheels


Stephen King in On Writing credits Edgar Wallace with creating plot wheels. King writes:
"An amusing sidelight: the century’s greatest supporter of Developing the Plot may have been Edgar Wallace, a bestselling potboiler novelist of the 1920s. Wallace invented—and patented—a device called the Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel. When you got stuck for the next Plot Development or needed an Amazing Turn of Events in a hurry, you simply spun the Plot Wheel and read what came up in the window: a fortuitous arrival, perhaps, or Heroine declares her love. These gadgets apparently sold like hotcakes."
I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking King approves of such plot-generating devises. Earlier in that same chapter he wrote:
"You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible."
Stephen King is a well-known pantser (or, if you prefer, a discovery writer). He doesn't plot. He crafts realistic characters and then sets them lose on an unsuspecting story world; or perhaps it's the other way around. He creates realistic characters, characters we identify with, and then places them in a world, one much like our own, but with sharper edges.

King writes:
"I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). (On Writing)"
I'm going to argue that, even if one holds the above view, there's still a place for plot wheels. Not for generating plot, but for generating ideas.

It's sort of like watching clouds on a warm summer day. You're lying in the grass, the warmth of the sun baking into your skin, the hard, cool, earth at your back. You're absently chewing a piece of grass and looking up at the clouds, watching them transform into all manner of things. A bear, a mountain, a heart, a rose. Anything.

My point: we get ideas in all sorts of ways. Why not plot wheels? During NaNoWriMo anything that can help you generate ideas is a good thing.

Erle Stanley Gardner, Perry Mason and Plot Wheels


Erle Stanley Gardner wrote 119 Perry Mason novels. In Lawyer Turned Detective, we find out at least part of the secret to his success:
"Key to Gardner's remarkable output was his use of the plot wheels invented and patented by another of his successors, a British crime novelist named Edgar Wallace. By using different combinations of possible twists and turns for both major and minor characters, Gardner was able to construct narratives that held his readers rapt for several decades."
I've taken the liberty of transcribing four of Edgar Wallace's plot wheels.

(Thanks to Kim Aippersbach for sending me the link and to Silvia Moreno-Garcia for originally passing along the information.)

Erle Stanley Gardner's Plot Wheels


Erle Stanley Gardner used four wheels to help him generate plots for his Perry Mason stories: the wheel of blind trials, the wheel of hostile minor characters, the wheel of solutions, and the wheel of complicating circumstances. (He may have used others, but those are the four I've seen.)

(Caveat: As you can see from the picture of the wheels some of the words are difficult to make out. I did my best. Also, Gardner used abbreviations and omitted certain words due to space constraints. I've expanded a few of them in an effort to make the meaning clearer.)

The Wheel Of Hostile Minor Characters Whose Function Is Making Complications For The Hero


These folks put obstacles in the hero's way, make it difficult for her to reach her goal.

1. Hick detective.
2. Attorney.
3. Newspaper reporter.
4. Detective.
5. Business rival.
6. Rival in love.
7. Father of heroine.
8. Blackmailer.
9. Gossip.
10. Meddlesome friend.
11. Suspicious servant.
12. Hostile dog.
13. Spy.
14. Incidental crook.
15. Hotel detective.
16. Thickheaded police.

B. Wheel Of Complicating Circumstances


1. Hero is betrayed to villain by spies.
2. Every move the hero makes takes him from the frying pan and puts him into the fire.
3. Heroine's maid is a spy.
4. Father of heroine is hostile to the hero.
5. Detective believes the hero is guilty and tries to arrest him/her at a critical time.
6. Hero commits an incidental crime. For example, he/she is caught speeding and is arrested.
7. Witness mistakes hero for villain.
8. Hero violates the law and is sought.
9. Heroine's mind is poisoned against the hero.
10. Some character is not as represented.
11. Rival in love tries to discredit the hero.
12. Zeal of hick cop upsets plans.

C. The Wheel of Blind Trials By Which The Hero Is Mislead or Confused


1. Witness lies.
2. A document is forged.
3. A witness is planted.
4. A client conceals something.
5. A client misrepresents something.
6. A friend pretends to betray the hero.
7. The villains assistant pretends to betray the hero.
8. A vital witness refuses to talk.
9. False confessions.
10. Genuine mistakes.
11. A witness takes flight.
12. A witness is kidnapped.
13. A witness commits suicide.
14. A witness sells out.
15. Planted clues.
16. Impossible statements.

D. Solution Wheel


How the hero surmounts the obstacles thrown in his way.

1. Gets villain to betray himself through greed.
2. Gets the villain to, of his own free will, plant additional evidence.
3. Plants fake evidence to confuse the villain.
4. Fakes circumstances so the villain will think he/she has been discovered.
5. Tricks the hero's accomplice into confessing.
6. Villain is hoist by his/her own petard.
7. Villain killed while he/she is trying to frame someone.
8. Gets villain to overreach himself/herself.
9. Meets trickery with horse-sense.
10. Squashes obstacles by sheer courage.
11. Turns villains against each other.

12. Traps [tricks?] villain into betraying a hiding place. Hero either a) creates a fake fire, or b) gives him/her something else to conceal, or c) makes it necessary for the villain to flee (and so must take something out of the hiding place).

This idea can be adapted to any area. I think I'm going to put together a list of professions as well as a list of things a character could plausibly lose.

I've had fun writing about plot wheels. I hope they'll provide an idea, or three, for you just when you need it whether or not you're going through NaNoWriMo.

Here's an app, The Brainstormer, that does something similar to a plot wheel. I haven't used it, but it looks interesting.

Note: My next post will be about Dan Wells' 7-Point System.

Photo credit: "Every holiday brings new bokeh" by kevin dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, October 25

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure

Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure
As I mentioned the other day, I'm putting a book together from posts I've written over the years. Yesterday I found one languishing in the purgatory of my drafting bin, it was about Dan Wells' 7-Point System for building a story. Here it is.

Dan Wells 7-Point System


Dan Wells is a bestselling horror writer, podcaster and gamer who developed a popular 7-point system for stories. Many have watched Dan Wells' videos on YouTube but he's also written a series of blog posts on the subject:


Additionally, Dan Wells generously shared the Powerpoint file he used in his talk. You can find it here: How to Build a Story (Now on Video!). (The link to the file is at the bottom of his post.)

Dan Wells' 7-Point Structure


This is the skeleton DW develops his stories around:

- Hook
- Plot Turn 1
- Pinch 1
- Midpoint
- Pinch 2
- Plot Turn 2
- Resolution

We'll go through each step in what follows, but first a few general remarks on story creation.

Pantsing vs Plotting


Writers come in many varieties. Some like to make things up as they go along, having the end of the story come as a surprise. These folks are called pantsers or, as Dan Wells says, discovery writers.

I have no end of admiration for pantsers. The idea of starting off on a story, of committing to it, before I know, say, how it ends, gives me the willies. People like me, folks who crave outlines like ... I don't know. Like humans crave oxygen? Like plants need water? Like your kids want the most expensive, least available, thingy-ma-bob for Christmas? Anyway, we're called plotters or, less awkwardly, outline writers.

Like any kind of structure, Dan's 7-Point Story Structure works whichever kind of writer you are, discovery or outline. If you're a discovery writer and like to find things out as you go along, your first draft becomes a zero draft and you comb through it, extracting an outline that helps as you through that valley of despair known as "revisions".

Getting Ready


Perhaps this part applies more to plotters than pantsers. It helps to figure out what your SETTING is going be (place, date, time, social environment, and so on), who your main CHARACTERS are, what your main character's GOAL is (i.e., how they can get that which they desire above all else) as well as the ANTAGONISTIC FORCE that's preventing him from reaching his goal.

I call the main character's goal, the goal she has for most of the story, the STORY GOAL. The story goal and the ANTAGONISTIC FORCE together provide the conflict needed to drive the story forward.

Keep in mind, though, that what initially goads the hero into action often isn't the story goal.  

For example, in the beginning of Shrek we learn that what the ogre values above all else is private time. Aloneness. This aloneness is ripped away from him when the peace of Shrek's swamp is shattered by an invasion of fairy tale creatures.

This invasion provides the impetus for Shrek to head off to meet Lord Farquaad. It gets the story going. I would argue, though, that seeking privacy, aloneness, is just Shrek's initial goal. The story goal is for Shrek to find his mate, to find connection with other critters, and to learn how to change so that such connection is possible. That's the goal Shrek takes up when he accepts Lord Farquaad's quest at the 25% mark. This is also the first plot turn. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, before you put pen to paper here are the sorts of things you should have an idea about:

- Who the main character is, his (or her) strengths and weaknesses, what he (or she) desires most.
- What the story is about, its dramatic premise.
- The setting (place, date, time, social environment, and so on).
- What the character wants, his or her goal.
- What is keeping the character from attaining that goal (the antagonistic force).
- Dan Wells didn't mention this, not that I recall, but I find it also helps to know what kind of story you want to tell. (see Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story)

Okay, enough prep! Next time we'll go through Dan Wells' system step by step.

Photo credit: "Bernini" by Daniele Zedda under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, October 20

How To Write A Murder Mystery, Part Two

How To Write A Murder Mystery, Part Two


Here is the second and final part of this two part micro-series on how to write a murder mystery. To read part one click here: How To Write A Murder Mystery.

11. There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics


Everyone lies.

At least, all your suspects should. The murderer will lie about being the murderer (of course) but the rest of your suspects were off doing various other things they feel disinclined to reveal. Your sleuth must either drag it out of them or do some old fashioned detection. Or both.

Susan Spann writes that "Figuring out what your suspects are hiding is just as important as figuring out 'who-done-it' … and sometimes, a lot more fun."

12. Outline the events of your novel the reader sees


Your outline "should include every major scene (and major clue) in the novel. It gives you a road map and helps you keep your sleuth on course when everyone starts lying."

13. Outline the events of your novel the reader DOESN'T see


This outline includes all the scandalous things your suspects were doing when the murder(s) took place.

This outline will tell you "which clues to plant, and where" and will keep "the lies from jamming up the story’s moving parts."

14. Write the reveal first


At the end of every mystery novel there is a reveal scene where the sleuth goes over each person's motive, or potential motive, for committing the crime. In so doing, all the clues are trotted out and the sleuth explains what kind of clue it is and how it relates (or not) to a murder. (See point 8 of yesterday's post for the three kinds of clues.)

At the end of the reveal the reader must not only know HOW each murder was committed but WHY it was committed and WHO committed it.

15. The first half of the story


Write this part fast. Much of what happens here will depend on how the story ends, so don't worry about it too much until you've written the second half. (Yes, it's a bit of a chicken and egg problem.)

- Introduce the sleuth
- Introduce the suspects

Remember to introduce characters in action and have that action tell the reader something important about what kind of character they are. What do they desire above all else? What is their ruling passion? What do they fear? What do they do better than anyone else?

16. The midpoint


By the time the midpoint comes around your sleuth should have sussed out who the murderer is.

The problem is: he's wrong.

Still, your sleuth doesn't know he's wrong so the investigation shifts at the midpoint from discovering how the crime was committed to discovering WHY the murderer committed the crime.

You've read this time and again, right? The sleuth is convinced they know who did it but they don't know why. They don't know the motive and they can't arrest the perp until they have that final piece of the puzzle.

17. All hope is lost


At some point—usually at around the three-quarter mark—the sleuth will experience a major setback and, shortly afterward, go through the "all hope is lost" point.

At this stage the sleuth realizes he was wrong. The killer isn't who he thought. Further, because of the sleuth's mistake not only is the murderer going to kill the sleuth, he is going to kill everyone the sleuth loves or even vaguely cares about and, after stealing the sleuth's new car, the murderer will ride off into the sunset to live a long, satisfied, life.

Or so it will seem.

In other words, this is where the detective hits bottom, the floor breaks and he falls through to the true oil slathered, garbage encrusted, foul depths of hopeless despair.

And then, as Susan Spann writes, he has to dig her way out with nothing but a broken chopstick.

(I think that sometimes it isn't the sleuth who makes the mistake at the midpoint, it's someone the that is heading up the investigation, either their rival or a helper.)

18. The sleuth's special something


Your sleuth has to extricate himself from this mess using that special something that makes him a hero.

With Indiana Jones, it was his common sense and his courage, with Luke Skywalker, it was his innate aptitude for the force and his faith/trust. With Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby he's usually wittier and smarter than everyone else. Tom Barnaby's cousin, John Barnaby, uses his understanding of human psychology (like Agatha Christie's character, Poirot).

Every hero needs a special something. This special something gives the hero the edge he needs when the chips are down. It allows him to extricate himself from the clutches of the murderer. Or fate. Or whatever.

19. Race to the finish


I think of the time between the All Hope is Lost point and the Climax as the Race To The Finish.

No new characters are introduced and the secondary plots have either been resolved or are on the backburner. The sleuth is focused and must use everything he has—plus a little more—if he is going to achieve his goal and bring the murderer to justice.

20. Finish the first draft BEFORE revising


As far as I'm concerned all this advice is optional. Experiment and do what works for you.

That said, I do believe there is one rule observed amongst most writers who finish more than one novel a year: finish your first draft; write it all the way through and type "The End" before you start to revise it.

Do this even if you're convinced your story sucks.

Do this even if your story does suck!

After you have the entire story laid out before you in all its dismal glory you can form an outline. THEN you can revise and tweak and adjust and rewrite to your hearts content.

21. Revise


After you've written the rough draft comes the revisions. Here are a few things to look at:

Pacing

This is a complex topic, but, briefly, look at your scenes and sequals. If the story is moving too fast, if you need readers to be more emotionally engaged, make the sequels longer. If the pace is too slow, make the sequels shorter. (Jim Butcher has written terrific articles on scenes and sequals.)

Plot is fundamentally about change.

Every story I have ever read had a beginning, middle and an ending. Beyond that there is a lot of variation.

Characters

- Is each character distinct? Do they each have a unique voice?
- Is each character fresh/new/original?
- Do your characters change? Each character should change over the course of the story as well as (in smaller ways) in each scene.

Clues

Are all the clues in the right places and do they make sense?

That's it! Now go write a murder mystery. (grin)

Good writing!

Photo credit: "focus" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, October 18

How To Write A Murder Mystery

How To Write A Murder Mystery


I've never written a murder mystery, but I've always wanted to.

I fell in love with detection and murder in grade nine when my English teacher assigned the class Agatha Christie's story, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We read a section in each class and had to try and guess who the murderer was, then defend our guess.

Best. Class. Ever!

One of my life goals is to write a mystery novel, one sprinkled with murders, false leads and scandalous secrets.

I've started a few murder mystery stories. Every two years or so, I decide to take another run at it but I always end up setting the manuscript aside after several angst-filled writing sessions.

Which is why I was utterly thrilled by Susan Spann's post, 25 Things You Need To Know About Writing Mysteries, over at Chuck Wendig's blog, Terribleminds.com.

SS's post set forth important, insightful and, above all, useful writing tips that could help even a murder mystery neophyte (like me!) actually finish writing one.

How To Write A Murder Mystery


1. Start with your sleuth


Everything begins with character.

Once you know something about your sleuth you can create a world around him, one designed to show readers what kind of a person he is and make them care about him and his quest for justice.

As is true for any story, your characters need to be both engaging and unique. Think about how your character looks, his physical appearance, and how he will stand out from your other characters. How about his behavior? Does he have any ticks? Phobias? Idiosyncrasies?

Something needs to set your sleuth apart. He needs to be interesting and memorable. Often this is accomplished through exaggeration—Mr. Monk is scared of everything, even milk!

Jim Butcher has a marvelous discussion about this over on his Livejournal blog.

2. Make your sleuth quirky and damaged


Break your sleuth in interesting ways.

Susan Spann writes:
"... take a hammer to your sleuth’s emotional kneecaps. Bust those suckers good—and be creative. Divorces, tragic accidents, and dead relatives are dime-a-dozen. You can do better. Make your detective allergic to coffee, or phobic of houseplants. Squash her beloved iguana beneath a Zamboni and then force her to solve a murder at an ice rink."
I love that last line. It's easy for me to forget that a character's weakness is only interesting if I exploit it.

We only care about Indiana Jones' fear of snakes (a big fearless adventurer with a fear of snakes) when he's forced to confront one (or, more likely, a dozen). And of course the snake is going to be poisonous.

That's what I mean about forming the fictional world around the hero. Indy's fear of snakes is part of his backstory, but it's something that's going to affect what sorts of obstacles you throw at him, so it'll help shape your story and your story world. That's why you need to know all about it before setting pen to paper.

3. Backstory


The reason why Indiana Jones is scared of snakes is part of Indy's backstory. Susan Spann reminds us that we need to work in backstory without using the following props:

- Internal monologues
- Flashbacks
- Dreams

That said, if your character is a seer, a visionary of some sort, I imagine using a dream to introduce bits of backstory might be okay.

It all depends. As Stephen King says in On Writing, it's all on the table, every trick, every tool. If it works, great, keep it. If it doesn't, throw it out.

Aaron Sorkin, in How To Write An Aaron Sorkin Script, writes that the key to introducing backstory is to make the audience—in our case, our readers—want/crave/demand the information. Sorkin writes:
"A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing— when words won't do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern."
Sorkin is talking specifically about how he sets up a character to give one of the monologues he's known for, but these monologues are basically info dumps. An excellent article.

4. Get a handle on your sleuth's motivation


As a general rule, humans prefer the easy to the hard, the simple to the complex, the happy to the sad.

If your hero is going to put herself in mortal danger, if she's going to risk not only her life but her retirement pension, we've got to give her a darn good reason.

For instance, when Neo goes to rescue Morpheus in The Matrix he doesn't believe he's going to survive the attempt but he's got a darn good reason for doing so. He believes that without Morpheus the human resistance is doomed to fail. By giving up his life in exchange for Morpheus' he's saving the world.

Not bad as far as motivation goes!

Make sure that your hero has a darn good, believable, reason for putting it all on the line.

5. Kill 'em


We're writing a murder mystery so there has to be a murder (at least one) and the sooner the better.

Bank heists, jewel robberies, kidnappings, and various other nefarious crimes will not suffice. This is a murder mystery, your readers demand a murder.

6. Kill 'em soon


Have the first murder occur in the beginning—in the first half of the first third--of the novel. Put another way, if your novel is 300 pages long, have it occur in the first 50 pages.

7. Kill 'em with style


Get creatively offbeat with the murder method.

Susan Spann writes: "Anything is fair game if you can explain it."

I went googling for unusual deaths and came up with these:

- Death by Egyptian curse
- Death by puffer fish poison
- Death by ricin
- Death by caffeine
- Death by puppets
- Death by robot
- Death by milk (In honor of Mr. Monk)

8. Kill 'em logically


For each murder the writer must figure out:

a. The killer's method.
b. The killer's opportunity.
c. The killer's motive(s).

9. Kinds of clues


There are three kinds of clues:

a. Genuine clues


These kind of clues point to the killer and can help the sleuth solve the crime. She just has to figure out they're genuine.

b. Red herrings


Fake clues point to someone other than the murderer. Red herrings distract the reader and (at times) the sleuth.

c. Pivotal clues


These are the clues the sleuth uses when she finally solves the crime.

You need to insert these clues into the story in such a way that your reader won't know which category (genuine, fake, pivotal) the clue falls into.

10. The unusual suspects


Susan Spann holds that you'll need at least three suspects, through her preference is for four.

Further, each suspect must fall into one of two categories.

a. People who wanted the victim dead.
b. People who had the opportunity to kill the victim.

Further, one of your suspects should be different, wacky, "out of the box," someone not like the others. This person should add a sense of the crazily unexpected. SS cautions, though, to be careful not to stretch a reader's belief to the breaking point.

I'm not finished, there are another 11 points to consider when writing a murder mystery, but I've put those into a post that's going out tomorrow. Stay tuned! (Update: Here's the link: How To Write A Murder Mystery: Part Two)

Good writing.

Photo credit: "Dawn of the Anna" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, October 15

Writing A Scene That Works

Writing A Scene That Works


Deborah Chester was one of Jim Butcher's writing teachers (she's still a professor over at the University of Oklahoma), one he credits with giving him the writing tools he needed to sell his first novel, Storm Front; a book which became the first novel in his popular (and kick-ass!) Dresden Files series.

I've recently begun reading DC's blog, Chronicles of the Scribe, and can't recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in the craft of writing.

For example, in a recent post DC wrote of logical conflict. As I read, I found myself taking notes--I have a notebook I set aside for these scribbles, I call it my "craft notebook"--and then I thought: Wait! This would make a fantastic blog post.

I hope Deborah Chester will forgive me for posting about the content of her blog. I find that in order to learn something it helps to say it again in another way, to associate new ideas with old.

Planning Out A Scene's Conflict


Step 1: Digging Up The Bones


Lately whenever I sit down to write I think of Stephen King's analogy of writing as archeology. The bones of the story are there within us, we just have to dig for them.

In this first step we try to uncover the following:

a. What is the protagonist's goal in this scene?
b. What is the antagonist's goal in this scene?

Note: The goals MUST clash. If the protagonist achieves his/her goal then the antagonist cannot and vice versa.

c. What is the protagonist's motivation?
d. What is the antagonist's motivation?
e. Outcome: how does the scene end? Does the protagonist achieve his/her goal? Does the antagonist? Do they both fail?

Step 2: Map out the key points of the scene


Generally a character will achieve some goal in a scene, even if it's not the goal they started off with. Write down this goal. What goal did the character start off with? Does the goal change partway through as a result of the action of the antagonistic force? How does the character defeat this new challenge? Plot out the key points of the scene.

Recall the scene in Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy tries to commandeer the plane after breaking out of the Well of Souls? Although parts of the scene were improvised most of the key elements had already been established in the script (which you can download here and a few pages of the shooting script are here).

Indie doesn't achieve his goal in that particular scene, he doesn't succeed in commandeering the plane; partway through his goal switches from, "commandeer the plane," to, "get out of here alive."

(I realize that my liking for that particular scene likely amounts to an unnatural geeky affection, but whatever. (grin))

You get the idea. List the ways your hero is going to defeat the obstacle(s) and either achieve his goal or figure out a third option--something achievable that brings him closer to what he seeks.

Step 3: Mind-meld with the antagonist


Deborah Chester put it this way, "Determine the key points in the antagonist’s strategy".

The antagonist, the villain, the Big Bad--whatever you want to call it--by definition is going to want to thwart your hero. Further, they might just be smart enough to anticipate that your hero will be able to defeat their first efforts in which case they might have a backup plan. Perhaps they're even going to try and trick your hero into doing something that makes him vulnerable.

Perhaps your antagonist will cheat. DC asks, "How far will she go?" Excellent question. Donald Maass once said that the difference between a hero and a villain is often not what they want but how far they'll go to get it.

I'm going to pick up the pace now.

Step 4: Who will shoot first?


(Certainly not Han Solo!) Who is going to make the first move? 

Step 5: Write out the conflict-setback or action-response pairs.


It would take too long to go into this here, but I talk about conflict-setback pairs in my article, Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive.

Step 6: Think linearly, logically.


Events take place in order and for reasons. (This seems to have quite a bit in comment with the Principle of Sufficient Reason.)

Step 7: As the conflict intensifies, slow down and zoom in.


Step 8: Don't lose track of the goals your characters walked into the scene with.


Step 9: Logic first, poetry second.


Step 10: Make your character's act one at a time.


Cause --> Effect
Deeds/Behavior --> Reward

If everyone is acting at the same time it's easy for readers to lose track of the cause-effect structure you're weaving.

That's it! Once again, Deborah Chester's blog, Chronicles of the Scribe, is well worth reading and this blog post was based around and inspired by her article, Logical Conflict.

Good writing!

Photo credit: I thought this photo would provide a visual counter-point to the discussion. "not everything has a reason" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, October 13

Techniques of the Selling Writer: How To Create A Story With An Interesting Hero & A Satisfying Ending

Techniques of the Selling Writer: How To Create A Story With An Interesting Hero & A Satisfying Ending




Today I'm going to talk about how to craft a story so that not only will the average reader find the ending satisfying but you'll also have created, in the process, a well-rounded, sympathetic, likeable hero.

What follows, the ideas, come from one of the best books on the craft of writing ever written: Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain. Though the ideas are Mr. Swain's I've put them in my own words. And, by the way, this is all from just one chapter of Mr. Swain's book, chapter 5: Fiction Strategy.

The Hero's Motivation


What do heroes seek? They seek what we all, on some level, seek: security, safety.

For example, take Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He doesn't seek his own safety, true, he seeks the safety of the world because if the Nazi's capture the ark they'll win the war and that would be, to put it mildly, bad.

What does a hero (what does anyone) need to feel safe and secure? Mr. Swain argued that the hero needs to feel he controls his destiny. That is, he needs to feel that his choices and actions are related to what happens in the (story) world in such a way that what he does matters.

To put this same idea another way: in a story world there needs to be a connection between what the character does (his DEEDS) and what happens (his REWARDS).

The question: Just how do we build this connection between deeds and rewards?


Let's go back a bit.

At the beginning of the story your hero isn't going to feel safe and secure. She isn't going to feel that there's a satisfying connection between her deeds and her rewards. The hero is going to have to fight for this, it's part of her quest.

For example, at the start of Star Wars IV: A New Hope Luke lives with his aunt and uncle on their farm on Tatooine. Does Luke feel he controls his destiny? No

If Luke had a choice, he'd be off to the Academy but his aunt and uncle won't let him go. By the end of the movie, as a direct result of the choices Luke has made, he is in charge of his own destiny. Case in point: he made the choice to ignore the targeting computer and, as Obi-Wan Kenobi instructed, use the force. The outcome of the entire movie (not to mention the known universe!) hangs on this choice and he is rewarded. Luke achieves his goal, the destruction of the Death Star.

Or take another terrific Harrison Ford movie, Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark. What does Dr. Belloq keep saying to Indy? At the end of the opening sequence he says: "Dr. Jones, again we see that there is nothing you possess which I cannot take away." Then, again, at the midpoint, just before he seals Jones inside the Well of Souls, he taunts him by saying, "So, once again, Jones, what was briefly yours is now mine."

What Belloq is saying here is: You don't control your destiny, I do

That's what the hero has to wrench control of by the end, that's his great task, to control his destiny through the choices he makes.

The Hero's Deeds Need To Be The Cause of His/Her Rewards


I've already mentioned that there has to be a certain kind of cause and effect relationship between DEEDS and REWARDS for a story's ending to be truly satisfying. (Remember, I'm talking about the kind of stories where the hero wins the day, stories like those behind all the Indiana Jones movies). Rewards must be meted out on the basis of deeds. Your hero's behavior--her choices--must determine her fate.

Specifically, Good Deeds Must Be Rewarded


As DVS says, having a causal relationship between a character's deeds and their rewards isn't enough. Good deeds must be rewarded.

The Hero Must Deserve To Win


Let's say we've built a story, a world, in which deeds are the cause of rewards and in which good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are (eventually) punished. It follows that your hero must demonstrate he's a good guy if we want him to achieve his goal in a plausible manner. (Which isn't to say that he can't make the occasional mistake in the beginning.)

How does the hero demonstrate what end of the moral/ethical compass he's on?

In this post I'm going over this material using broad strokes, but I'd like to slow down at this point and go over some specific examples DVS gives (this is all from chapter 5 of Techniques of the Selling Writer). These examples are designed to show ways, small ways, in which your hero can demonstrate to readers what kind of guy he is.

Also, although DVS couches this in terms of morality I think it could just as well be put in terms of that holy grail of character creation: likability.

Example 1: A clerk gives your hero too much change. It would be easy to keep the change and walk away. But that's not what a hero does. He gives the change back.

I'm going to get to this in a later post, but memorable characters--and memorability is a very good thing; after all, it's hard to like a character you can't remember!--are (in general) extreme characters. Giving back 25 cents because it would be wrong to take it is extreme, and in your story world that's a good thing.

Example 2: Your hero dings someone's fender in the parking lot but no one noticed. Does he leave a note taking responsibility or just drive away? 

I think many people would drive away, which gives you an opportunity to show that your hero isn't like other people.

The Hero Must Demonstrate, Through His Choices And Actions, That He Deserves To Win


Let's focus on the end of the story. At the end of the story the hero is presented with a choice. The specifics of this choice should come as a surprise to the reader ("Marion, don't look at the light!" "Trust the force, Luke") but the general dimensions of the choice--good against evil--are not new themes. You've been foreshadowing this climactic confrontation, this decision, since the opening lines.

What is this confrontation? 

The confrontation is, classically, between the hero and the villain, or--using different terminology--between the protagonist and the antagonist. Fundamentally, it's a moral dilemma. Right against wrong, good against evil, love against hate. There should be two paths before the hero, one leads to the dark side, the other to the light. The hero makes his decision and if (when) he decides to do the right thing, the two fight (either actually or metaphorically).

Everything must hang on what the hero chooses to do. And by everything I mean EVERYTHING. If we haven't made it so that the hero's life, his love's life, his travelling companions' lives, his friends lives, his village's existence and, possibly, the fate and happiness of everyone in the known universe, hangs on our hero's choice then we've taken a wrong turn somewhere. (I exaggerate, but only a little.)

The Hero's Choice: The Path of Darkness & The Path of Light


The paths are mutually exclusive. We've established that the hero's choice is going to be between two paths, the path of darkness and the path of light. Each path, each choice, has an outcome that is antithetical to the other. If the hero chooses the path of darkness then whatever the path of light would have brought about, resulted in, is irrevocably, irretrievably, gone. And vice versa.

The Hero's Choice Must Resolve The Dilemma


This seems obvious, but I thought I'd say it anyway. The general dimension of the problem, good against evil, will still be there but this PARTICULAR problem will be finally and absolutely resolved, one way or the other. If the problem isn't resolved then your readers aren't going to feel satisfied by the ending and that's what our goal is.

For instance, in A New Hope Luke must decide between safety and trust. On the one hand, Obi-Wan Kenobi is telling him to turn off his equipment and trust the Force. On the other hand, his inner critic is telling him not to be stupid--there is no such thing as 'the Force' and, even if there was, he couldn't harness it--just be smart and use the equipment. 

The safe course is the selfish course because then, if it fails, it wouldn't be Luke's fault. (Sure, they'd all be dead, but, still, not-his-fault.) He was just doing the sensible thing. 

The path of trust is the true course. And it's risky. It likely won't work. It's not the easy way. Or even the sane way. But there's something about Luke, about who he is: he's strong in the force, like his father. He's special. And when he trusts that, when he believes it enough to act on it, to go 'all in,' then he wins the day.

The Path of Light And The Path of Darkness: Selflessness vs Selfishness


I've been talking about good vs evil, the path of light vs the path of darkness which, really, has been a bunch of handwaving. So let's cash out these terms, how I've been using them. 

In our story universe good is defined by one simple thing, SELFLESSNESS, just as bad is defined by just one thing, it's opposite, SELFISHNESS.

In your story universe the path of light, the good/moral/right thing will always be the unselfish thing. Further, doing the unselfish thing will always bring the hero all kinds of pain and misery. Conversely, the path of darkness, the evil road, will always lead to the selfish choice. Doing what's best for the hero. Making life wonderful for him even though, because of his choice, countless people will suffer and die. 

At this point you might well wonder, "Why would anyone choose to do the selfless thing if the odds of winning are slim to none and you'll lose everything if your plan doesn't succeed?"

Mr. Swain has an answer: Because of EMOTION. Because of who the hero is, intrinsically. So, you see, it all comes back to CHARACTER. Even if it would be more intelligent (certainly more self-preserving) to follow the wrong road, the hero follows his feelings instead. Remember, the test the hero goes through is one of character, not logic or reason or even intelligence.

This has been a long post, but before I end it I'd like to briefly talk about other kinds of cause and effect structures.

Other Kinds of Cause-Effect Story Structures


So far, I've talked about a story universe in which a person's deeds determine how they are rewarded in the end. (It's like that scene from The Mummy where Evelyn 'Evy' Carnahan whispers to Beni, "You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance." Great line.)

But it's not always like this. We've all read and enjoyed stories where a person's deeds are completely uncoupled from their rewards. But, here, that's not the kind of world we've set out to build. We set out to build a world that is both just and fair. 

But you don't have to, you can set up any sort of cause-effect relationship you want, and they can all work, they just appeal to different sorts of audiences and require a different sort of structure. That said, in North America at least, you probably won't have as large an audience for those kinds of stories. 

Oh, and one more thing. If you want to see Dwight V. Swain's principles at work, read The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It's one of my favorite urban fantasy series and each book is better than the one before--and that's saying something. Highly recommended, not just for what you'll learn from them regarding technique but also for the pure pleasure of it.

This post is itself a kind of foreshadowing. This post, suitably tweaked and transformed, will appear as a chapter in my upcoming, as yet unnamed, book on the craft of writing.

by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, October 10

How To Write 50,000 Words In 30 Days: Write One Word After Another

How To Write 50,000 Words In 30 Days: Write One Word At A Time
Here's how to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days: write one word at a time, one after the other.

(Underwhelmed? Hang on, let me unpack it before you roll your eyes and exit stage left.)

That advice doesn't originate with me, the first time I heard it was from Neil Gaiman but since then I've heard gaggles of other talented writers say the same thing.

On one level the advice is so obvious as to be tautological. But what it means is that if you feel that your writing is off, that all your words are vying to be the most hideous ever written, then there's only one thing to do. Write the next word.

On the other hand, if you think your writing is awesome, if you feel that you're inspired and that the gods on Olympus smiled on you and gave you the gift of writing excellence ... Well, there's only one thing to do. You guessed it. Write the next word.

If you're feeling a bit off, if you haven't had enough coffee, if you didn't sleep well, if you've got mountains of work to do, if your head's fuzzy, if your cat woke you by drooling in your nose (happened to me, swear to God) then there's only one thing to do: go to your writing space, sit down, and write the next word.

The key to writing 2,000 words a day is simple. Whether you feel like doing it or not, put your butt in your writing chair and write the next word, and the one after that, and the one after that, until you've done your word count for the day. (At which point your miniature giant space hamster minions will feed you skinned grapes and chocolate, or whatever it is that you get your miniature giant space hamsters to do for you.)

Don't walk away from your computer, don't put it off till you're feeling more in the mood. Why? Because that's _self-doubt_ and (if you're anything like me) it will pop it's head up every single bloody time you sit down to write _anything_.

You might be thinking something along the lines of: that's easier said than done. If so, then you're right. So. Here are a few things I do that seem to help the process along.

First Drafts Don't Matter


That's what I tell myself and (* knock on wood*) it works. It takes the pressure off.

I love the idea of writing a zero draft. The name reinforces the notion that nothing remotely anxiety inducing is going on, you're not ripping your guts out and smearing them all over the page, you're just writing in your journal (or typing on your computer), nothing to be nervous about. No one will see this, no one will judge you.

A zero draft is a draft where, truly, anything goes. I write thoughts about my story--what I'm feeling about it, where I want to take it, possible endings, possible beginnings, character notes, possible tags and traits, I scribble out mind-maps, do Venn diagrams. Then, at some point, in the midst off all this messiness, this literary equivalent of a coughing up a hairball, I'll fall into the story.

I'm no longer sitting in my writing chair (or slumped on the couch or lying in bed or sipping coffee at my favorite caffeine dispensary). I'm in the story and I'll look around and see things, story things, and I write these down. I'll be with the characters in the scene, watching it play out around me. This might not last for long, perhaps I've just caught the tail of the story, or glimpsed an eyelash. Whatever. That's my 'in'. That's what I hold onto and follow, and see where it takes me.

Perhaps it'll take me to a dead end. It could. But that's okay. This is the planning processes. Zero draft. No pressure. I go back to writing down my thoughts and doodling and drawing connections and then, at some point, the characters will spring to life again and another scene will unfurl.

Usually this process lasts only a couple, maybe three, days. Long enough to do up an outline, a rough one, and write a few scenes.

Once I get an outline I've got my roadmap. I know where I'm going. (Kinda, sorta.) I'll still have to do character development and a lot of fleshing out, but I've got my starting point, my story.

I'm on my way.

Bootstrapping


I learnt this term in computer science eons ago but I think it also applies to writing.

Originally bootstrapping referred to an impossible task--pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps--but it has been adapted for various areas and undertakings.

The general idea is that one starts with a little something. Not much, but something. Then, through a process that's simple but not easy, you work your way through to a higher, more organized, more complex state.

Think of a lumberjack working his way up a tree. Lumberjacks can climb to dizzying heights by possessing the right tools (iron climbing hooks and rope) and following a certain process.

It's the same with writing. We can bootstrap our way into a finished novel, taking each step at a time, and steadfastly refusing to look down or dwell on how many words are still to be written or get discouraged at all the times we're going to have revise the draft. That's for later. Right now we're just writing this thing, this labour of love and sweat and fear, and we're doing it one word at a time.

In my next post I'll talk more about the process of bootstrapping. Specifically, how you break your novel into tiny, bite-sized, completely unintimidating, pieces.

Till then, good writing!

PS: Chuck Wendig has written a motivating blog post for NaNoWriMo bursting with advice that'll help you get ready for a writing marathon. He writes: "My oft-repeated refrain is that plot is Soylent Green — it’s made of people." True! The article is an educational and entertaining read.

Also, take a look at Chuck Wendig's article, 25 Ways To Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story, for a whirlwind overview of different ways to start writing and to organize what you've written.

Photo credit: "Raccoon Kids" by Ingrid Taylar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, October 8

I'm Writing A Book On Writing. Here's Why.



Writing and the Natural Born Storyteller


When I was young I had terrifying dreams, dreams in which witches chased me, hoping to stick their boney fingers into my back. I had nightmares every single night.

Being pursued by witches and ghouls may not seem terrifying to an adult, but as a child I was so scared I couldn't sleep. I would lie awake in bed for hours. Finally, my father would come into my bedroom at two or three in the morning to check on me. Finding me awake he'd sit on the edge of my bed and ask, "Would you like to hear a story?"

That was like asking a kid if they liked Christmas.

"Yes!" I'd say, and he would tell me a story. Since I was paying attention to the story rather than the parcel-load of monsters lying in wait for me in dreamland, I drifted off in minutes. Seconds.

That began a practice my father kept up until I became a teenager. Every night, after I brushed my teeth and climbed into bed, my father would tell me a story. Sometimes the story was about his life on his parents' farm, sometimes it was about the adventures he had when he travelled to the big city to find work. Sometimes he made up the story completely and we ventured into the lands of fairy. Whatever kind of story he told, I loved it and always asked for one thing: another story!

All of that, everything I've said, has been to mosey up to this point: my father was a natural-born storyteller. He never read a single book on how to tell a story but he was a master of the form.

When I was a kid, the love I had for my father bordered on hero worship. I loved Mom too but Dad had a certain charisma. He was a dreamer. Sometimes, before he told me a story, we would daydream together and try to devise a perpetual motion machine or talk about how, one day, each person would have their own jetpack. Because of this, I still get a special thrill whenever something crosses over from science fiction to science fact, though I don't suppose I'll ever have a jetpack. (But I do have something that looks very close to Captain Picard's tablet. I don't think the thrill of owning a tablet is ever going to wear off. At least, I hope not.)

Given all this, it should come as no surprise when I tell you that I wanted to be just like my father, and one of the ways in which I wanted to be like him the most was storytelling. I wanted to be able to tell stories too, but not just any old stories. I wanted to tell interesting stories, stories that amazed, stories that astounded. Stories that would take people's minds off their problems and make life--living--easier.

I soon learnt that storytelling isn't for the faint of heart. My first story was a complete disaster.


I'd been in kindergarten about a week. My father--tired from a long, hard, days work--had finished telling me my bedtime story and was looking forward to watching the news and, later, reading the newspaper. In the evening, after I'd been tucked into bed, he and my mother would sit at the kitchen table, sipping cups of sweet milky tea. Many a night I lay in bed and  wished I could contribute to the soft chatter of their conversation.

This night, as Dad got up from my bed, I reached out and grabbed his tanned hand and said, "Don't leave! Now I'm going to tell you a story!" In my mind, as I replay this scene, I'm in a flannel nightgown, buttoned up to the neck, grinning impishly.

Dad looked through my doorway, into the living room, at his comfy reading chair like a drowning man looks at a lifeboat just out of reach. Then he sighed and, slowly, sat back down on my bed and nodded for me to begin.

And I did. My story went something like this:
Mom walked me to school and then I saw Pam and Michelle and then we went inside and then our teacher ... that's Mrs. Drubs ... told us to draw our favorite animal and then we had recess and then I fell down and had to get a Band-Aid and then ...
You get the idea. 

At about that point in my 'story' my dad cut in with, "That's very nice dear," kissed me on top of the head, and made a beeline for his reading chair.

Even as a kid I knew my story sucked. Sure, it was my first story and I was four, but a desire was born in me that day. Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? But I'm being serious. From that day to this I've wanted to be able to tell an engaging tale.

If, one day, I'm able to write a bestseller ... well, that'd be great. But, being honest, that's not why I've read almost every book on writing I've been able to get my hands on. I read about what makes a great story because I want to be able to tell spellbinding stories, just like my Dad did.

That's my focus: storytelling. Evoking emotion. Producing narrative drive. Keeping people up past their bedtimes, not because they're scared of the monsters waiting for them on the other side, but because they have to read just one more page ...

Why I'm Writing A Book On Writing


I've told you all of this for a reason. I'm writing a book. A book on writing.

There are lots of books on writing, books written by people brighter than me, better writers than me. In fact, for the past few days, with my publishing deadlines looming ever closer, I've been asking myself: What does my book have to offer? There are so many wonderful books on how to write, why not just recommend those?

I've been thinking about something Neil Gaiman said:
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that - but you are the only you.

"Tarantino - you can criticize everything that Quentin does - but nobody writes Tarantino stuff like Tarantino. He is the best Tarantino writer there is, and that was actually the thing that people responded to - they’re going ‘this is an individual writing with his own point of view’.

"There are better writers than me out there, there are smarter writers, there are people who can plot better - there are all those kinds of things, but there’s nobody who can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.”
Here's what I took away from this: there's no one who can write a book on writing, one with my unique perspective on the subject, like I can. Why? Because each of us has our own voice. Our own story to tell. It's just that, in my case, that story is about stories.

From before I could read I loved stories and that grew into a desire to learn the craft of storytelling. And there IS a craft of storytelling; there are no hard-and-fast rules, but there are guidelines.

Finding these guidelines has been a journey, an adventure, and it's far from complete. That said, with this upcoming book, I'm going to share a little of what I've learnt in the hope it will help others who are on the same path I am, those who want to create stories that entertain.

Photo credit: "Crested Butte Biking" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, October 4

Getting Ready For NaNoWriMo

Getting Ready For NaNoWriMo


NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and I'm getting excited.

November is the national novel writing month (NaNoWriMo) when scads of odd folks (like me!) forgo human contact, regular meals, good hygiene and sleep to write a novel in 30 days.

Impossible?

Far from it!

In 2011, 256,618 writers participated in NaNo and 36,843 of them, a little over 14%, crossed the 50K finish line.  I'm boggled! 37 thousand people wrote a novel in a month last year. Sure, we're talking about first drafts and first drafts need a LOT of work: editing, feedback, professional editing, and so on, but when you've got the first draft done you've got it! You've caught the tale of the story-dragon. You're a winner!

NaNoWriMo: The Rules

Here's how NaNoWriMo works:

1. Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.

2. Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).

3. Write a novel. A novel is a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, the folks over at NaNoWriMo consider it a novel too!

4. Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.

5. Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

6. Upload your novel for word-count validation between November 25 and November 30. [1]

Daily Word Count


50,000 words sounds like a lot. And it is! But you've got 30 days to finish, so here's how the word count breaks down:

Write every day:
50,000/30 = 1,667 words per day

Take one day off a week:
50,000/26 = 1,923 words per day

Two days off a week:
50,000/22 = 2,273 words per day

I try to do a minimum of 2,000 words a day. That way I can have the odd day off if I need it.

Getting Signed Up For NaNoWriMo

It's easy, and free, to get involved. Just head on over to the official NaNoWriMo website and sign up. If you want to work on your own that's great, but the site can help put you in contact with NaNo-ers in your area.

Preparing For NaNoWriMo

You may think one or more of these suggestions are loopy, but they've helped me complete the challenge two years in a row.

1. Starting now, write 2,000 words a day.


No, I'm not crazy!

I think practically all writers find some form of writing easy, whether it's fiction, non-fiction, journalling, whatever. Pick the form that's easiest for you and increase your daily writing so that when the first of November comes along you're already writing 2,000 (or so) words a day.

One way to help yourself do this is by blogging. One of the benefits of having a blog is that you can practise writing regularly, writing faster, writing more.

But if you don't feel like blogging you don't have to. Write flash fiction, short stories, guest blog posts, articles, letters to the editor. Whatever strikes your fancy.

2. Work on the structure of your story


You're allowed to outline your story before November 1st and I think it's a fabulous idea. Here are a few links:

The structure of a story


Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story
Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
How Plotting Can Build A Better Story
How To Write A Story
Chuck Wendig On Story Structure
The Basics of Good Storycraft: 5 Tips
A Perfect Plot In 6 Easy Steps
Chuck Wendig on Plot, Complication, Conflict and Consequence

The structure of a scene within a story


Making A Scene: Using Conflicts and Setbacks to Create Narrative Drive

Outlining


Kim Harrison's Character Grid
4 Ways Outlining Can Give A Writer Confidence

3. Prepare meals in advance


Eating right and getting enough sleep are important. You, your health, are much more important than writing 50,000 words in a month. Prepare nutritious meals beforehand and freeze them so when you're in the writing trenches all you have to do is pop the meal in the microwave and give yourself a high-five for being awesome!

4. Find a place to write


Some writers like to be in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop, or embedded in the soft, cushioned, quiet of their home office, or reclining in a La-Z-Boy.

Some writers find they work best if they write in one and only one spot while others like to move around (one day at the coffee shop, one day in their office, one day sitting on the couch, and so forth).

Do whatever works for you and if you're not sure what does, experiment! This is another thing it's good to find out before November 1st.

5. Tell your friends and family you're going to write 50,000 words in 30 days.


It's important your friends and family know what you're doing and support you.

If you tell them what you're up to, they'll (hopefully) understand why you can't spend as much time with them. Also, you'll likely feel a bit more pressure to win so that, when Uncle Dan asks you at Christmas whether you finished, you'll be able to say, "Of course!" rather than trying to hide behind the mint jelly.

Your family will understand why you've turned into a zombie, someone who nips out from her writing cave to pop food in the microwave or use the facilities. They won't freak out when they see the black circles under your eyes or the way your clothes hang looser or the way you're mumbling to yourself about "plot".

Or something.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? If so, how are you preparing for it?

Notes
1. I wanted to give you a link for these rules, and tell you where to get your manuscript validated, but none of my previous links worked. Chris Baty, the one who started NaNoWriMo in 1999, stepped down as Executive Director in January last year to become a full-time writer. On top of that, the website is being redesigned and moved from Drupal to Ruby-on-Rails. I think that explains the missing links. (Wikipedia)

Photo credit: "Untitled" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, October 2

Tom Clancy's Writing Wisdom

Tom Clancy And His Perspective On Writing


As you've probably heard, Tom Clancy passed away yesterday. Although I don't generally read books about soldiers or war, I read a few of his and liked them a lot.

I've been reading quotations, things Tom Clancy said about writing, and found them curiously moving. The things he said were perceptive. Humane.

Tom Clancy thought of himself more as a storyteller than a writer. Though I haven't had anything remotely close to Mr. Clancy's success, that's how I think of myself as well.

When I sit down to write I imagine sitting by a campfire telling a story to people who want something interesting to listen to, to think about, before they go to sleep. If my story does that I consider it a success.

What follows are a few quotations that I found especially apt, especially moving. I think I'm going to read, or re-read, one of Tom Clancy's books. If anyone has a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.

Tom Clancy: Quotations


"You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. Writing isn’t divinely inspired – it’s hard work."

"What happened to me was pure dumb luck – I’m not the new Hemingway. Of course, fortune does favor the brave. In battle, you forgive a man anything except an unwillingness to take risks. Sometimes you have to put it on the line. What I did was take time away from how I earned my living. My wife gave me hell – ‘Why are you doing this?’ – but she doesn’t complain anymore. I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book. If your name is in the Library of Congress, you’re immortal."

And of course:

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

Here are more Tom Clancy quotes:
Goodreads
Buzzfead: Tom Clancy On Writing
WikiQuote

My next post is going to be either on Lester Dent's Master Fiction Plot or Georges Polti's 36 dramatic situations. I'm not going to do all 36, but I will unpack one of them.

Photo credit: The photograph is from Alan Duke's article (Author Tom Clancy, master of the modern-day thriller, dead at 66) over at cnn.com.