Time to Prep for NaNoWriMo ’17

Three weeks to NaNoWriMo. It’s time to get ready!

Getting Ready
I’ve already signed up on the NaNoWriMo site with my novel for this year. Have you? This year, I’m going somewhat down the middle between pantser and plotter. I want to have a very simple plot, so I am not floundering, but not so much I feel guilty if I want to go in a different direction. Now I need to start filling up my story notebook with ideas, plot points, and some character outlines. I’ll add to my notebook as I go.

Story Idea
This year I came up with my story idea without any real work. The basic plot and main character just sort of dropped into my lap one day and I made a few notes in my bits and pieces scrivener file. That folder is the first place I look for inspiration for NaNo novel ideas. If I hadn’t had an idea ready and waiting, I would have done some brainstorming work to find something to write about.

How many words per day?
I’m thinking about trying something a little different with my daily word goal this year. I’ve written before about how many words I like to write per day during November, but I came across something called the reverse NaNo, and I think I’ll try it this year. Basically with a reverse NaNo you write 3,346 words on Day 1, and then write a little less each day until on the 30th you only need 1 word to finish. Currently I’m sticking with a tradition word goal of 50,000, but who knows. If I’m having a good year, maybe I’ll up it.

Other NaNo Posts
I did my first NaNo in 2007. Since then I haven’t missed a November. With ten wins under my belt, NaNo is something I post about fairly frequently. In 2015 I even did a series of NaNo posts.

Are you doing NaNo this year? What are you doing to get ready?


Fun with Writing – Character Swap

When I start to lose motivation to write, or when writing has lost the spark that makes it enjoyable, I often look for a new writing exercise to get me going again. Lately, I haven’t been writing as much as I should. Life has been busy, I mean really busy, but I also just haven’t been interested in writing. Nothing has grabbed me to the point of needing to write. So, to get myself going again, I set up a new writing exercise with a friend.

With NaNoWriMo ’17 prep in full swing, it is the perfect time to shake things up a bit. I’ve had a concept and a main character for a few months. My friend, after some group brain storming, has a world and a basic concept. The main area we are both lacking … characters. Hence our Character Swap idea.

We each wrote out a very short paragraph about our story, and filled out a questionnaire about our main character. The usual stuff: name, age, what they look like, skills, job, family, weaknesses, annoying habits, etc. Then came the fun part. We each got to make a character for the other’s story.

I often find myself falling into the trap of fitting a character to a story, instead of letting the character be an individual who happens to be a part of this story. The joy of this swap was that I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have enough information on what she is writing about to tailor the character to the story. I did consider why this person and the main character would be friends, but also tried to think about my own friendships – why we fit, and how much do we really have in common? It was fun to make a character without worrying about the story they would be put into, or what they could give the main character. Maybe I need to focus on my characters earlier in my planning/plotting phases.

What are some writing exercises you have enjoyed? Have you started planning for NaNoWriMo?

Critique Group – Part One – Setup

I’ve been thinking about my critique group and how it fits into my writing lately. Before I post about some of that though, I thought it would be helpful to have some background on the group I’m a part of. Please keep in mind I am far from an expert in critiquing. A few things of note:

  • This is the only group I’ve been a part of, and the only one I’ve started.
  • Everyone in this group had met in real life prior to starting the group.
  • We meet in person, virtually, or a mix of both once per month.

Some background
Last January my friend Cate and I set out to start a critique group. We had both hit the point in our writing where we knew it was time to share, but we weren’t sure of the best way to do that. After reviewing our options, we decided starting our own critique group made the most sense. When we sent out the invitation for people to join our group, we were aiming for a group of four to six people including ourselves.

The group started with five people, but we currently have only three members. We’d love another member or two, but we are an acquired taste in some ways, and I think having now been working together for a while it’s harder to bring in another person.

When we started the group we were very deliberate in setting the tone, structure, and expectations. We talked about what people wanted to get out of the group, and how much time people had to devote to the group. We laid out the ground rules and expectations for members. This really helped when we were getting started and means that going forward we have a plan in place. A few things we discussed/laid out included:

  • How long will submissions be, and what is the max number of submissions the group can handle per month?
  • When will we submit, how often will we meet, and how will we meet (in person or virtual)?
  • What types of writing can be submitted (age and genre), and is there anything someone is not comfortable reviewing?
  • What are our guidelines when doing the critique, and how are we sharing our comments with the writer?
  • How will we handle people who ask to join, or asking people to join?

Are you part of a critique group? What are some of the ground rules your group follows?

Asian Dramas – Love Stories

I’ve been watching a lot of Asian romance dramas lately. The first one I watched was ‘Good Morning Call’ by netflix. Because I watched it, I started getting recommendations on netflix for other Asian dramas.

Since I’ve been enjoying them so much, and because I’m a writer, I started thinking about why I’m drawn to these stories. First for those who aren’t familiar with Asian Romance Dramas a few common themes:

  1. Kissing (even touching) between couples is kept to a minimum. For high schoolers and in most Korean Dramas a kiss is nothing more than a press of the lips (held for a silly length of time without moving). My understanding is this is in part because of censorship.
  2. The male half of the couple is almost always handsome, rich, very smart, and/or super talented.
  3. The female half of the couple pretty much always has more than one guy vying for her interest. Often for the first half this doesn’t include the male half of the couple.
  4. Fake dating, oops I tripped and my lips landed on your lips, one of the characters ends up in the hospital, rushing to the airport to catch your love before it’s too late, etc are all common occurrences.
  5. Many of the shows are based on manga.

There are a number of reasons I’m enjoying these shows, but I want to focus on why I’m enjoying the stories themselves.

1.)  Friends don’t try and steal each other’s boyfriends. Female friends seem to have more genuine friendships. This makes it easier for me to relate to the characters. They are supportive of each other and don’t tear each other down. They don’t scheme behind each others backs, unless it is to try and get the main couple together.

2.) I like the predictability and over the top story lines. It sometimes feels a bit like watching a fanfic. It is almost always obvious who the main love pair is from the credits of the show. So far I haven’t hit a show that didn’t get a happily ever after ending.

3.) Because every physical touch is a big deal you really pay attention to body language. I struggle with body language in my writing, and while I’m unlikely to write a romance with so little touch, it has made me more aware of other ways people show they like someone.

4.) They are short. They almost always wrap up in a single season of around thirty 45 mins-1 hour episodes.

There are common trends that bug me, but over I can ignore it in favour of the parts I enjoy.

What are your favourite kind of shows to watch? Have any recommendations for Asian Romances I should watch on Netflix?

Planning Ahead

I’m a planner and an organizer. I like to be prepared, and I like to think ahead. Of course I often don’t have time to plan ahead on everything, and sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. Maybe a better statement is that I try to plan ahead.

As I have begun completing my first quilts, I’ve been looking ahead to new ones. Currently I have two quilts that need to be moved through the next stage. The first is the Mystery Quilt that needs to be quilted and bound so it is ready before the baby it is intended for is here. The second is my son’s bed quilt that needs to be pieced into the completed top.

My lap quilt top is finished, but until I have time and space to quilt it, it will stay as is. What this all means is that very soon I’ll have space in my quilting to start a new quilt top. Making the blocks and putting them into a finished top is my favourite part of quilting. The quilt tops I’d love to make at some point are:

  1. Pow Wow type quilt for my Mother. She likes the look, and I like that it has a flying geese type piece that would be new to me.
  2. Carpenter’s Wheel big block quilt. I really want to try Y-seams. This one won’t come until after the first though.
  3. A Moonlight Starts quilt. This would be made as an upgrade to the lap quilt I made for my husband. I’ll probably end up making this one sometime after the pow-wow and before the Carpenter’s Wheel. He really wants a quilt made entirely by me.
  4. A wrapped in Red quilt. I wouldn’t do this with Christmas fabrics. It would probably be red and white though. Since this one would be for my bed and much bigger than anything else I’ve made. I would make the top, but I’ll pay someone to do the quilting on it. Who knows when I will get around to this one!

Most likely the lap quilt for mom will be the first I make. It will be fun to pick the fabrics with her, and then make the top. The quilting on it will be a little ways down the road, but she is always very understanding of how long projects take me.

Do you plan a few quilts in advance? What projects are you working on right now?

Trying to Develop a Novel Outline

Last night I was struck by how different my two main hobbies are when it comes to designing and creating the final product. In my case my two hobbies are making a quilt, and writing a novel.

When I’m designing a quilt it requires creativity, but is also very straight forward. The pieces need to fit together without any gaps. Since a quilt top is (usually) two dimensional, you can draw it out on a single piece of paper. Once you know what you want it to look like you break it down into pieces. With each piece you know how big the finished piece needs to be. With a bit of math you can easily figure out how big you need to cut a piece of fabric, so it is the size you need in the finished quilt. Deciding on the layout of a quilt might be tough, but once you have the layout the rest is math and time.

With a novel things aren’t so straight forward, and there is no simple math to get from an idea, to outline, to final written novel.

My idea for NaNo is beginning to take shape. I have the starting characters, the setting, the basic plot, and the technology of the world. I even know how the novel ends. The middle, on the other hand, is giving me a heck of a time. How can it be so hard to get from point A to point B?

One of my goals for this month was to have my NaNo plot set up and ready to go before November 1st. I wanted a detailed outline, so I could hit the ground running on my tenth NaNo. So far I’ve got character descriptions for two of my major characters. I know of at least 9 other characters. I think four of those are going to be minor characters instead of just background folks.

I have the outline ready for the first scene. Then I know how things are going to go until the big get things going twist. So maybe I have the first two chapters outlined? After that it is all tumbleweed and crickets until the big reveal at the end. My notes literally say “insert adventure here” right now.

How do you fill out the middle of your novel? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Brainstorming – Getting Story Ideas

Usually I have no problem coming up with story ideas. Sometimes they hit me while I’m in the shower, or while I’m grocery shopping. I’ll see something and think: what if? Lately though I haven’t been reading or writing as much, and the ideas weren’t flowing. With NaNoWriMo just around the corner (only 2.5 months to go) I needed to start planning what I was going to write.

Yesterday, I decided to try a more targeted approach to generating a Novel idea. I remembered a lecture by Brandon Sanderson on brainstorming and rewatched it. He comes up with random ideas for four different parts of a story and then combines then in strange and interesting ways to see what falls out. The four pieces he uses are setting, magic/technology, character, and plot.

Last night I met my good friend, Cate Reads, for coffee and we tested out his method. I wrote down our various ideas for each section. For me the plot section was the hardest. Trying to find an interesting twist on a classic plot sent my brain in circles. We managed though and then started putting together random things.

We had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and both came away with Novel ideas for November. The exercise of trying to figure out why a 87 year old drag queen (character) is at a medieval carnival that never ends (setting) got the ideas flowing in no time. It also helped to have another writer to bounce ideas off of as they popped into my head. In the end my idea uses a character and a setting from the lists. The technology and the plot are both related to ideas on the lists, but I’ve had to tweak them a little bit to make them fit with my writing style etc.

Are you doing NaNo this year? Do you have your idea ready to go? How do you come up with new ideas?

How to Develop Characters

Learning a new skill takes practice. For the last few years I have been focusing a lot of my writing practice on improving my grammar. It has improved to the point where I no longer think it is my weakest writing link. (I can’t believe I just wrote that!) Also I just need a break and working on something else will give that to me.

Last year, a few days before submitting my YA Portal Fantasy to a writing competition, I realized how flat my characters were. The main character was decently fleshed out but was bland. The two main male characters had somehow been blurred along the edges until they were difficult to tell apart. My characters were definitely not coming alive.

Having identified the weakness I set out to figure out how to fix it. Here are a few things I’ve learned for character development and resources I’ve used:

Get to know your character
There are a number of ways to do this. 1) Take online quizzes as your character to try and feel out how they would answer random questions. 2) Fill out one of the many character questionnaires or cheat sheets available on the web. 3) Pretend to interview your character or have a friend interview your character. 4) Write a few diary entries from your characters perspective. Write about an average day, and about some of the special events in their life (marriage, first day in a new town, the day they discovered they could fly).

Write about Dragons
This is a series of lectures taken from Brandon Sanderson‘s writing course. Lecture three is all about character development. I ended up watching some parts of this lecture twice just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. The concepts are simple but eye opening. I’m only halfway through the lectures, but I have learned a lot.

All characters need positive and negative traits
I sometimes forget to give my ‘good’ characters flaws. In the same way I will sometimes forget to give my villains any redeeming qualities. No one is 100% good or 100% evil. A good rule of thumb is to aim for something closer to a 40-60 ratio, with the 60 being the piece that determines if a character is ‘good’ or ‘evil’. There are plenty of character trait lists online to help pick traits from both side. A ‘bad’ character trait doesn’t have to be extreme. Your character could procrastinate or be lazy.

Go out people watching
If you are on a bus, or in a coffee shop, watch the people around you. See how people act on their own, in small groups, or in large groups.. Think about if you are an introvert or an extrovert and how you react in different situations. Consider your friends and family members and why they sometimes do the things they do. The more you understand people, the better you will understand why your characters do or don’t feel alive to you.

Do you find it easy to develop a realistic character, or is it something you struggle with? What writing skills are you working on right now?

Thinking Outside the Box

Watching my son play yesterday afternoon I was reminded of how easy it was to think outside the box as a kid. He currently has an interest in aircraft carriers. He doesn’t have a toy aircraft carrier, but he has a garage with three levels, an elevator, and a nice flat spot on the top level. When he placed the garage in the middle of our grey couch it suddenly became an aircraft carrier in the middle of an ocean. For almost two hours planes took off and landed on the top deck, while people went up and down the ramp and elevator to get below deck. Captain Hook and Mr. Smee even had a lovely little board book row boat chasing after the aircraft carrier for a while.

Usually I don’t have much trouble thinking outside the box. It’s a skill that can be particularly useful when trying to figure out my next writing idea. That is until the last year when I’ve had a bit of a dry spell for new ideas. I went over eight months without a single new idea popping up. I wrote 65k during NaNo without a single new idea. Usually I can’t get more than halfway before the next novel is pounding on the door of the small room I’ve locked it away in so I can concentrate on the current project. It was frustrating, but I knew I had to be patient. I know from experience ideas can come from anywhere or anything. I see a glimpse of something on the bus, I have a dream, or I read a news article and suddenly my mind is whirling with ways to spin a single image or thought into a story.

This time my dry spell was broken by a dream about a girl carrying a heart in a box. The idea had enough form I immediately added it to my ‘come back to later’ folder. So many questions came about because of that little box. Why was she carrying it? Who’s heart was it? Why would a girl with a heart in a box be getting on a train? Why were her parents standing beside her beaming with pleasure? It turned out I knew the answer to all of those questions. Once I had that first niggling image the wall holding me back was smashed to bits and the ideas couldn’t be stopped.

The thing about that first idea breaking down the wall is that it didn’t just let out that idea, it dragged a whole flood of ideas with it. Within the following month I had an idea for a short story I might post on Wattpad later this year, and another that could be short story or a novel depending on how I work it. While the ideas are flowing I’m stock piling them away in my ‘come back to later’ folder then if I have another dry spell at least I’ll still have something to write.

How do you get your writing ideas? What is your favourite way to think outside the box?