Showing posts with label NaNo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NaNo. Show all posts

Saturday, October 25

How To Coax Story Ideas Out Of Hiding

How To Coax Story Ideas Out Of Hiding

Ever been stuck for a plot? You wanted to write something but all your ideas fled, leaving you with what seemed like an infinite white field of nothing? I have! 

Here’s my theory: I think ideas tend to flee when we’re anxious or tense or feeling stressed. So something—anything—that helps us relax and not take our writing quite so seriously can be a gift from the gods. I’ve found idea generators can help me get into a playful mood and fill the idea-void.

NaNoWriMo & Idea Generators

In the early part of last century the only idea generators in existence were plot wheels; these days we click buttons rather than twirl disks, but it’s the same idea. (see: NaNoWriMo, Erle Stanley Gardner, Perry Mason and Plot Wheels)

Personally, I think random idea generators have their place. Though I practically never use their suggestions, idea generators can help coax out our own ideas, ones that have been hiding in our unconscious mind.

The FIG Idea Generator

The FIG Idea Generator is based on William Wallace Cook’s book, Plotto. Published in 1928, Plotto was billed as “The master book of all plots.” (Unfortunately, FIG is only available through the Apple Store, but there is a site, Writing Exercises (, that has basically the same functions.)

FIG: An Example

Let’s take FIG for a twirl and see what kind of story skeleton we can create. FIG’s main screen presents one with a choice between selecting a random Masterplot, Plot, Character, Word, 1st Sentence, Emotion, Item or Location. Let’s go through most of these.


Here’s what I got for the masterplot: “A person influenced by the occult and the mysterious, seeking to demonstrate the powers of love by a test of courage, faces a guilty plotter and defeats a subtle plot.”

I like that! I see many different possibilities. Let’s see what we get for the rest. 


Tense: Present
Narrator: Alternating person
Period: During the Gulf War
Situation: Enemy of kin
Protagonist: A male dance teacher who is languid.
Supporting character: A male geophysicist who is mature.
Their relationship: Broken.

I’m less enthusiastic about these choices. While I’ve always wanted to try writing a short story using the present tense I’m less thrilled about having a dance teacher for a protagonist. Mostly because I know nothing about dance and even less about dance teachers!

I decided to roll until I found something I wanted to work with (after all, the object here is to have fun and get our creative juices flowing).

Here’s what I came up with in the end:

Tense: Present
Narrator: Alternating person
Period: Three days ago.
Situation: Enemy of kin/Disputed inheritance
Protagonist: A glamorous male movie director.
Supporting character: A hostile, male, occupational therapist.
Their relationship: Broken.

We’re not done! Now we move on to character.


I wasn’t sure how this fit into the other categories, or if it was supposed to, but here’s what I came up with:

“An enthusiastic, female, butcher who is Scottish and goes by the name of Kelsey Graham.”

I got this description on about the 5th try and love it! I can see her, my proper Scottish lass with a enormous cleaver in her hand and a bloody apron. She gives me a look that sends a chill through me and says, “Yea? Whad’ya want?”

But, what do do with her? We already have a protagonist and supporting character, so Kelsey could be our protagonist’s nemesis. Not a villain, simply someone working in opposition to the protagonist’s goal.

Which brings us to ...

The Goal

FIG doesn’t have a random goal generator, neither does Writing Exercises, so I went in search of a list of popular goals. I found this one, 100 popular goals, so all we have to do is head over to and pick a number between 1 and 100 (or think of one) and we’re set!

My choice is number 15: To save money.

The Location

What will our setting be? It took a few tries but I liked the idea of a cliff. I take this to mean that one of the significant locations in the story should involve a cliff.

The Item

I chose: A mirror.

Story Summary

So, putting it all together, our story skeleton is as follows:

Write about a glamorous male movie director who is influenced by the occult and who seeks to demonstrate the power of love by a test of courage. As he does so, our brave director will defeat a subtle plot (perhaps one set in motion by his nemesis the Scottish butcher).

 The situation (see above) was that of a disputed inheritance so perhaps the butcher is his sister. They are normally close, but they each want a certain something, the same certain something, from their father’s estate. (Perhaps a mirror?)

Since this is about the occult, let’s say the director thinks this something, this artifact, holds the key to unlocking a mystery that has fascinated him, driven him, his entire life.

His sister, though, is much more pragmatic. She is going through a bad patch financially and wants to sell the mirror. The brother is incensed by this suggestion. “If you would allow me to use the artifact we would be wealthy.”

You can see that the goal has shifted a bit, from saving money to acquiring money, but I think the important thing is to be willing to ignore random choices and make the story one’s own.

That’s it! That was an example, if anyone feels inspired and would like to write this story, please do! I’d love to know how it all turns out. Is the director simply insane or is the mirror a portal to something more? How far will each character go to get what they want?

Photo credit: "Early morning sunshine" by Caroline under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, October 22

NaNoWriMo Is For Everyone, Even Rebels!

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us!

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo (or NaNo for short) is a terrific way to help kickstart a creative project.

During the month of November many people don writing hats (mine is a well-worn dark blue baseball cap), sequester themselves within the lonely depths of their writer’s cave, and attempt to complete the first draft of a 50,000 word novel.

Is NaNo For Writers or Non-Writers?

NaNo is for everyone! 

Granted, many writers pen/type more than 1,600 words per day so NaNo wouldn’t be very much of a challenge for them, but even so I think there’s something to be said for joining thousands of other writers all over the digital world and sharing a common experience. 

And, let’s face it, if you publish your word count every day that’s one more reason to stick with one’s story and do one’s best. When I write, when I’m in the bowels of a project, sometimes I feel isolated, sometimes I feel that no one else cares what I’m doing. When those feelings seep in it’s a lot easier to slack off instead of keeping my nose to the grindstone—metaphorically speaking, of course. That would be a terribly uncomfortable position, like something one might see in the Tower of London!

NaNo Is For Rebels

I’ll talk about the official rules of NaNo in a moment, but I want to stress that NaNo really is for everyone, even if you’re not keen to follow the official rules. 

Instead of writing X number of words a day, would you like to create a picture? If so, you won’t officially be participating in NaNo, but the sites invites you to join with them in November and be a rebel.

NaNo can be used for editing as well as writing 

This November I’m going to be a rebel!

That’s right. Instead of writing 2,000 words a day (my usual NaNo goal) I’m going to edit 14 pages a day. Since I’ve come back from my (marvelous!) vacation it’s been difficult for me to get back into the swing of things and I’m a wee bit behind on my WIP. So! This is an excellent opportunity for me to benefit from some of the glorious momentum that NaNo creates and channel it into something I need (yet dislike) to do.

The Rules of NaNo

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

* “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). [NOTE:] While this is no longer a hard-and-fast rule, it is still very strongly recommended, ESPECIALLY for first timers. 

* “Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you're writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!

* “Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

* “Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.”

If you don’t want to upload the first draft of your novel to the official website you won’t be an official winner, but you will still have won. I’ve never uploaded the first draft of any of my novels simply because I hate the thought of anyone being able to see my first draft. (And yes, I know my NaNo account is password protected but I can think of far too many ways that could go wrong.)

I know some people, Stephen King for example, write first drafts (he includes an example in his book, “On Writing”) that are very close to the final draft. I don’t. One of the bloggers I follow once quipped that she didn’t write her first drafts, she vomited them. Yep. That’s me too. Not pretty. Not something I would ever willingly share. 

(Thinking about it now, it might be kind of fun to write a program which randomized the positions of all the words. That is, which kept the number of words in each sentence the same, which even kept the punctuation the same, but which swapped each word with another found elsewhere in the manuscript. Were I to do that the word count would stay the same but the text would be gibberish. Hmmm ...)

NaNo Resources

In the coming days I’m going to write more about how to prepare for NaNo, how to defeat writers block, how to pry oneself free from a dead end, and so on. For now, here are a few articles:

My previous articles on NaNo, what it is and tips on how to prepare:

Photo credit: "Don't drop the Ball..." by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, October 31

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
"November dreaming" by mpclemens under CC BY 2.0

A few months ago one of my friends recommended Jim C. Hines' blog, and I'm so very glad she did! Today, on the eve of NaNoWriMo, Jim gave us all a pep talk.

Before I get to that, though, let me wish you all the best of luck during NaNoWriMo. I'll be right there beside you, down in the trenches, scribbling away. At the end of this post I've compiled a list of links that I call my "survival pack". Now, back to Jim's pep talk.

Here are the highlights:

"Nobody is born knowing how to write"

So true! Although I'm reminded of something Stephen King wrote in "On Writing":
[W]hile it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.
I'm sure that Mr. King meant to be encouraging, but after I read that paragraph, for a whole week, I lay awake at night terrified I was a Bad Writer and there was no hope for me. I suppose it goes without saying I had a raging case of writer's block!

As a kid I was told there was an Unforgivable Sin. If anyone committed this sin they could not be redeemed and were doomed to hell. That worried me. A lot! Then someone said, "Look, if you're worried about committing the unforgivable sin, you haven't committed it".

Back to Bad Writers. If you want to get better, then you can. The only people who can't get better are those who don't try. If someone isn't a good writer (and, as Jim Hines points out, none of us come into the world that way) but they think they're awesome ... well, that's a problem.

So, never give up! All it takes to be a good writer is honesty and practice. Lots and lots of practice. (At least that's what I believe. I'll let you know how it goes. ;)

"There's no one right way to write a book"

Jim Hines writes:
There’s a lot of advice out there. Try different things. Experiment. Figure out what works for you. Anyone who preaches the Gospel of the True Right Way to write (or sell) a book? Smile and back away as quickly as possible. All those readers out there don’t care how you wrote the book. They just care if the end result is worth reading.
What he said.

"Give yourself permission to write crap"

I've found that if, on my first draft, I don't give myself permission to let it all hang out I'll wind up with something lifeless--if I'm able to write at all. Apparently I'm not alone. This is what Stephen King has to say:
If you're a beginner ... let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts; the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open.

With the door shut, downloading what's in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. ... There's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly ... I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that's always waiting to settle in.

This first draft--the All-Story Draft--should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else. (Stephen King, On Writing)
Stephen King goes on to say that, after you write the first draft, you should put it in a drawer for a few weeks. Forget about it. Write something else. When you come back it's no longer your baby. At that point you put on your editors cap, open the study door and let the world in.

But the first draft is just for you. Write crap if that's what it takes. Just write.

"Do edit and rewrite"

I would add: Join a writer's circle/critique group.

A number of years ago I wrote my first full-length book. I hadn't intended to write a book, I started out writing a short story for my parents at Christmas. I was a university student and wanted to give them something from the heart. Well, that and I couldn't afford anything else!

The short story morphed into a book, my first, and--gleeful at my achievement--I wrapped it up and gave it to them.

I waited impatiently while my parents read it. (Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you ...) When they had both finished I asked what they thought (something writers should never do! If someone loved your book they'll tell you). They were polite but it was obvious they hadn't cared for it. I was crushed.

Well. A few months ago I re-read that story. It was truly awful.

I'm not sure if my story would have turned out better if I'd put it away for a few months and come back to it with a fresh perspective. I think, often, our first attempt at a novel is just not very good and we need folks, other pairs of eyes, to examine it and give us a fresh perspective. Especially in the beginning.

A great way to meet people willing to read your work and give you their honest opinion is to join a writer's circle/critique group. If there isn't one where you live there are many online. I can recommend I was a member of Critters for a number of years and benefited enormously.

Write Every Day

This tip comes from me and is about life after NaNoWriMo. If you have a day job and kids and a life it can be excruciatingly difficult to write every day. But you don't have to write thousands, or even hundreds, of words. Some days life is going to overwhelm you. That's okay. But try to do a little bit.

If you're working on a first draft, try to write a couple hundred words. If you're editing, try for half a page. 

I'm a great believer in Jerry Seinfeld's Chain Method (How To Write Every Day: Jerry Seinfeld And The Chain Method). Try for that unbroken chain of X's. It will keep you from walking away from your novel for a week or two and forgetting were you were; losing the mood of the piece.

Of course, during NaNoWriMo you're not going to have to worry about this. It's kind of like a month of Write or Die.

#  #  #

Best of luck to everyone on the cusp of NaNoWriMo, the caffeinated month!

I've put together links to a few articles that might be of use:

The NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready

Jim Butcher: The art and craft of writing:

- Jim Butcher On Writing
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How To Build A Villain By Jim Butcher

See also:
- 8 Ways To Become A Better Writer
- Writing Resources


- Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story
- Mary Robinette Kowal And The Mysteries Of Outlining


- 3 Ways To Create Incredible Characters

For when you're stressed and need a timeout:

- Helping Writers De-Stress: Meditation Apps

For those "butt in chair" moments when you just need to write:

- Write or Die: The App
- Aherk! Makes Writing App 'Write or Die' Look Tame

The postscript: Finding A Home For Your Book

- Query Tracker: Keep Track Of Your Stories
- 10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected

Friday, October 5

NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready

NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready

It's NaNoWriMo time! Well, almost. What's NaNoWriMo? It's an annual writing event in which participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November.

Here are the rules:
[T]o be an official NaNoWriMo winner, you must…

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. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we 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 to our site between November 25 and November 30.
50,000 words sounds like a lot. Here's how the word count breaks down:

Write every day: 1,667 words a day.
Write 6 days a week: 1,923 words a day.
Write 5 days a week: 2,273 words a day.

Most of the folks I've talked to say they shoot for 2,000 words a day so they can have a day off if they feel like it.

NaNoWriMo Links
If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, head on over to National Novel Writing Month and sign up. It's free!

What you want to do first is read about how NaNoWriMo works. If you'd like to meet up with other folks doing NaNo click here to see if there's a group doing NaNo near you. Also, don't forget to check out the discussion forms because half the fun of NaNo is that you're going through this with other people.

Preparing For NaNoWriMo
As Kristen Lamb says, "There is no sense in knocking out 50,000 words, if, at the end, we have an un-fixable mess" (Structure Part 4–Testing Your Idea–Is it Strong Enough to Make an Interesting Novel?). Not, that is, if you're a writer and your goal isn't simply to write 50,000 words in a month. That's all it is for some folks, and that's fine. But if you're a writer your goal is to create a (publishable) story.

Here are my suggestions on how to prepare for NaNoWriMo:

1) Start writing 2,000 words a day now
I imagine your first thought after reading that was: "Is she crazy?" Well, I might be, but not because of that!

Notice I didn't say: start writing 2,000 words of a novel. Yesterday I wrote about 1,600 words for my blog and probably at least another 400 words of fiction, so I wrote 2000 words. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but it's one thing to just write 2,000 words and quite another to write 2,000 of the first draft of a novel. The latter is much harder.

So, if you're not already writing 2,000 words a day, start doing it now. Take the time between now and the beginning of November to gradually ramp up your word count. That way when you start on your novel on November 1st it won't be such a shock to your system.

What should you write? Anything! Short stories, blog posts, whatever strikes your fancy. If you don't have a blog, and you don't feel like beginning one, you can always write guest posts.

Just in case you think my suggestion to write 2,000 words a day is outrageous, think about this. In a recent blog post I wrote about Kris Rusch's announcement that she had written a million words last year. A million!

That means, on average, Kris wrote 3,000 words a day with no days off. Okay, if you want to be picky, she wrote 2,858 per day, but that is way over what is required for NaNo. Since Kris writes about 86,000 words per month each month for her is NaNo!

2) Work on the structure of your novel
The rules state that:
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).
So it's perfectly appropriate to work on an outline of your novel before Nov 1st and I'd suggest that, if you're anything like me, it's a darn good idea.

3) Prepare your meals beforehand
Prepare as many meals as you can in advance and freeze them. Also, go shopping and fill your pantry with nutritious canned food (soup, etc); anything that's good for you and easy to heat up. Repeat after me: Pringles chips are (deliciously) evil.

4) Find a writing place
If you haven't already done so, find a place, or places, you can write. You'll want it to be quiet and comfortable.

5) Tell your friends and family you're participating in NaNoWriMo
You may have to step back from a couple of events in November and it helps if your friends and family know why. Also, if you tell everyone you'll have the first draft of a novel completed by the end of November that will help keep you on track. No one likes to admit they've failed, especially to their family. (Because, of course, you'd still be hearing about it 10 years from now!)

I'd love to hear from anyone who is doing NaNoWriMo or has done it in the past. How are you preparing? If you've gone through NaNoWriMo in the past, what did you think of it? Was it a good experience, one you would recommend to others?

Other articles you might like:
- Amazon's KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?
- Libraries Look To Indie Authors As The Future
- 12 Writing Tips: How To Be A Writer

Photo credit: Anthony Anaxagorou