Tuesday, November 12, 2019

NaNoWriMo Progress Check-In #4

I wrapped up my fifth writing session for the day just a few minutes ago. I've been doing 10 and 20 minute timed writings all day, and around 3:45 pm, I hit 35k. Now that I've reached that goal marker, I'm taking a break for a couple of hours. It will give me a chance to relax my brain, visit with family and go over notes. If I have any energy left in me later on tonight, I may try to hit another couple of timed sessions. We will see.

I haven't been able to hit a lot of the timed writings in the group I belong to because I'm in a different time zone. It seems like I'm always coming in an hour late over there, so this morning, I went to youtube and found some pre-recorded live writings, which is the next best thing to a live group writing, I guess. At any rate, I've been using those vids to get my word count up, and it's working nicely.

During this NaNoWriMo, I've been taking stock of what works for me and what doesn't. Shorter, more frequent timed writings work well for me. If I try to do a 1k 1h writing (1k words in 1hr), I get bogged down midway through it. Or, at the end of the session, I see that I have started to repeat myself in some areas. I much prefer a 10-20 minute session where I can focus on writing the nitty-gritty guts of a scene. In that amount of time, there isn't room for a lot of repeats or flowery writing. Adding the flowers, scene details, can come later in the second draft.

Also, sticking to my chosen theme, and writing deliberately in linear scenes and sequels, has helped keep me from getting bogged down in the story. Anything to help me with writer's block, I consider a priceless gem. When in doubt about what to write next, I choose a sequel based around my chosen theme and riff off that. So far that hasn't failed me, and it's a technique I will definitely be keeping for other writing projects outside of NaNo.

Lastly, in each scene, I try to add in a little discussion of the theme between my characters. It might be only a line or two of dialogue, or be shown by way of characters in action, but I try to put something in there to keep it consistent.

PS. By theme, I do not mean the characters engage in the discussion of a moral. The discussion shouldn't be preachy, but rather, focus an exchange of information that moves your story forward.

If your theme is about raising the best Maine Coon cat your character possibly can, then in each scene, try to put forward a line or two of information or show them engaged in some action that revolves around your theme. For example, in one scene, your character could groom their blue ribbon winning cat, and tell her how gorgeous her fur is. Or another character could walkin in and tell her, "Wow, that cat is enormous! What are you feeding him?" That sort of thing. The theme is not the same thing as a story's moral.

Okay, that's all for now. It's taco night, and I'm going to go supervise dinner. Hubz is cooking. Since he is a better cook than me, my supervision boils down to some (probably) unwanted input on what to mix in with the ground beef. Ha! Until next time, happy writing, y'all. Wishing you many blessings. xoxo

Sunday, November 10, 2019

NaNoWriMo Progress Check-In #3

I reached 30k on my NaNoWriMo story earlier today. Whew, I'm still chugging along with this thing. The planning/prep has helped muchly. After I hit the big 3-0, I took a break to do some household chores. I needed to step away from the screen (and my story) for a little while. I'm going to relax my mind for an hour or two then dive back in for a late-night writing session.

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day. I have to stop and give a shout out for our men and women who have served in the armed forces. Sending love and prayers to our troops, home and abroad, who have served with honor, and also to those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may be free.  Words can't properly express my gratitude. You have my support.

Due to it being a holiday tomorrow, McBeast will be home. Jay is off work, too, so there will be a houseful here while I'm writing this next portion of my story. It can get a bit distracting from time to time, but for the most part, it's no different than any other writing day.

My goal for the week ahead: add an additional 10k to my work in progress.

Some things I've learned from this year's NaNoWriMo:

  • It easiest for me to write in 500-word jags than to sit down for a full 1k session.
  • Those 500-word writing jags stack up quickly. 
  • There is a built-in timer on our NaNoWriMo user dashboard. Fancy. I'm not sure how long this has been a feature. This is the first year I have noticed it. 
    NaNoWriMo Timer Feature
  • Writing scenes linearly without hopping around throughout the story has helped my scenes fit together better.
  • Outlining and plotting with a theme in mind has helped me stay on track while writing. If I get stuck for a scene idea, I can resort to the theme as an idea generator to break through that block.  <---mega epiphany
  • Outlining is great, and I recommend it. However, if your details are vague and fuzzy in your outline, it will tell on you when you're writing. Those soft areas might lead to stuck points that leave you slog-writing through many scenes to figure out where your story is actually going in those sections. The moral in this: outline using concrete details even if you decide to change them later.
  • It is entirely possible to eat too much trail mix while hammering away at the keyboard. 😷
Alrighty then. That's all for now. I'm going to watch a movie before I get back to work. I hope you've had a great weekend, writerly or otherwise. Until next time, wishing you many blessings. 

Thursday, November 07, 2019

NaNoWriMo Progress Check-in #2

Is it Friday yet? This has been the longest week ever. Part of it is the wacky school schedule. Half-days, holidays, homecoming. All of that this week, and there's still more of it to come. On top of that, I haven't been feeling well for the past couple of days.

I slacked off my NaNo project from about Tuesday the 5th. I needed to rest. Nevertheless, each day I managed to write roughly 1200-1600 new words before I tossed in the towel for the evening. That translates to an estimated 2-3 scenes per day, which is how I prefer to break down my writing, going it scene by scene rather than by chapter. My overall word count is currently a little over 22k, which puts me around the 45% complete mark.

To be honest, that fast of an output has translated into a disorganized mess of scenes. Today I organized them chronologically in Vellum, looking over what is there and what is missing, then I jotted down a handful of notes for future writing sessions. That way I can pick up my project tomorrow and dive in with a better idea of where my story is going... and so I don't leave a gap or accidentally write an alternative version of a scene that's already existing. It sounds like a weird accident to have, but yeah, it happens.

At any rate, I have a couple of scenes set up for Thursday's writing session. The goal is to hit the midpoint by the afternoon. The story needs a little less than 3k for that, so I feel it's doable with a couple of timed writings.  Then, over the weekend, I'm aiming for at least one "10k in a Day" writing session to get a big word count boost. I'm also hoping that will make up for the time block I'll be missing on either Friday or Saturday because we have errands to tackle.

It's midnight, so I'm going to close up shop for a few hours and go to bed. Sending you lots of happy writing vibes and wishing you the best with your NaNoWriMo - or non-NaNo - writing project. Until next time... xoxo

Saturday, November 02, 2019

NaNoWriMo Progress Check-In #1

I just realized my office calendar was still set to October, so I had to change it. It's Novel Writing November, which I'm super excited about this year, because I'm kind of in love with my spooky supernatural project. 

This morning I started working on Act 2 of my novel. The first day, I wrote almost 5k total, but I didn't track it precisely, which was a mistake on my part. I have no one to blame but myself. I had too much going on, and I got distracted. 

During my first timed writing, my computer said it wanted to update, and that ended up being a two-hour download process. Immediately after I got that taken care of, my Grammarly extension wanted to update, and y'all... that was a royal pain in the ass to fix. I kept getting an error that the app was currently in use, so I went into processes and force stopped it, but it still wouldn't update. However, I kept getting prompted to update the darn thing. I ended up uninstalling the extension then reinstalling it. That stopped the prompts, but now some of the grammar suggestions given out by the extension are wrong. I'm talking obvious things like then versus than, and it's versus its. Well, we are in a Mercury Retrograde, so there's that. I've left the problem alone and have since gone back to writing. As long as popups aren't happening every hour on the hour, I'm good to go.  

Since it's the weekend, I stayed up writing last night til three in the morning. I get more work done when I focus on working in batches, such as focusing on Act One of a project, for example, then carving out a large time block to knock out that section in one writing blitz. My project is currently sitting at a little over 12k. I'll go back in and update my word count on the NaNoWriMo website this evening.

I went to bed at around 3:30 am and woke up at 10 am. I grabbed some coffee, tabbed up all my writing math from yesterday and logged it on a notepad, then settled in to get more writing done. I have a bit of writer's hangover from working that late, so I sat down and figured out how I want to proceed, and I've come up with a comfortable writing schedule for myself. 

Every day, until I finish this novel, I'm going to do six daily timed writings that last between 15-30 minutes. My goal for each timed session is to reach 500 words that move the action of my story forward. If I write 500 words over the course of six writing sessions daily, that will give me 3k words per day. By doing that, I should be able to finish my project, or tack in more words over the 50k mark, with several remaining NaNo days to spare. 

It may sound like a lot, but in truth, when broken down into six mini sessions, it's very doable. Also, I don't end up having to stay up until three in the morning to accomplish it. I know there are folks on Instagram who are logging 10k per day, but I know if I try to do that consistently, I will hit writer's burnout fast. That's exactly what I'm trying to avoid. 

Okay, that's it for now. I'm about to set out on another 15-minute writing session. I'm aiming for 14800 today on my overall word count. I have roughly 2k to go to reach my goal. Happy writing, everyone. Until next time, sending you many blessings. xoxo  

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Refusing the Call - Then what?

(c) Can Stock Photo / yellowj

Happy Halloween, everyone!  I'm spending the day tweaking my outline and going over character sketches in prep for the NaNoWriMo kick off tomorrow. 

I decided to write this post ahead of NaNo because it was on my mind last night, and because nailing those first three chapters, or the sum of Act One of your novel - however many chapters that may be, can make or break your story. If you are struggling to launch your story past the beginning setup/scenario, keep reading. This may help. 

I don't know how many stories I've started over the years that have fizzled out at the threshold to Act Two. Apparently, I'm not alone with this problem. We'll dig deeper into that in just a second.

There are two popular beat sheet "methods" that can help you outline your story, novel, or screenplay - Blake Snyder's Save the Cat, and the Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell. I use a blend of the two. You can google both of those methods to get a full rundown of the stages, or beats, involved. 

Both methods have an Act One that kicks off with a character (or a group of characters) that is either A.) on a mission to do something or B.) heading toward an unexpected date with destiny. That is the basis for the setup. 

A couple of setup examples: 

In the movie Predator, Dutch is briefed on a rescue mission he and his team of commandos will be undertaking. 

In contrast, the movie Halloween has Lori Strode heading to school, unaware that she has an unexpected date with destiny. (Michael Meyers has escaped the looney bin and is looking to kill her and her friends.) 

In the movie The Howling, the mission isn't discussed. It starts out in media res with Karen White, a news anchor, wearing a wiretap and going into a pr0n shop to help the police catch a serial murderer. (this is both a mission and a date with destiny)


When confronted with either the mission or the unexpected date with destiny, the character will then debate what is happening and then choose whether to go along with it (Dutch in Predator) or to believe that it's happening (Lori in Halloween). In The Howling, Karen's debate takes place between her boyfriend and the police, and Karen and the police through the wiretap, and it continues with whether or not she really saw Eddie, the serial killer, transform into a werewolf. 

DEBATE shows up as a story beat in the Save the Cat beat sheet method. In the Hero's Journey, it shows up as the CALL TO ADVENTURE. Typically, the characters refuse the call or debate the issue away at first. Then, for some reason relevant to their particular story, they end up accepting the call and going onward with this story.

Examples: 

In Predator, the debate/call to adventure takes place in the same scene where Dutch is being briefed. This is a unique debate scenario, which is why I'm mentioning this example specifically. In this call to adventure, Dutch's friend Dillion wants to go along on the mission. Dutch debates this, refusing his friend, aka "refusing the call." He tells Dillion this is not how he does things, and mentions it's not Dillon's style. However, being this is a CIA mission, Dillon has the final say. He goes with Dutch. 

In Halloween, the debate/call to adventure is a much less obvious scenario. For Lori, it takes place when she is in class, listening to her teacher drone on about fate. She looks out the window and sees Michael Meyers standing in the bushes. She looks away to answer a teacher's question, and when she looks outside again, Michael is gone. The debate is, did she really see that?  Will she choose to believe she did, or chalk it up to her imagination?  She will continue this Save the Cat style debate after school when she is talking with her (Hero's Journey mentors) friend, who thinks she's just being jumpy (refusal of the call) and her friend's dad, who happens to be a police officer. 

In The Howling, Karen's debate continues after the attack in the setup. She ends up refusing the call while on a psychiatrist's couch. In this case, she is mentally, traumatically blocked from remembering exactly what she saw happen in the booth with the murderer. She swears she can't remember.

Bonus Example: 

If you have trouble with understanding the call to adventure, the debate, and the refusal of the call, the very best example out there is from the movie Aliens. Not only is it the very best example, it also takes place in one short scene. It happens when Ripley gets a visit from Burke and Gorman at her apartment. The company she previously worked for has lost contact with the colonists living on LV426. Ripley knows the alien ship and alien eggs are there. Burke and Gorman were sent there to convince her to join a mission to LV426 to find out what happened to the colonists. Ripley says, "It's not my problem." She gets in a furious debate with the men and refuses the call. 


So, what comes next? 

For us writers, this is where a lot of stories stall out. Right after the debate and/or the call to adventure. In both beat sheet methods, the next stage after the call to adventure/debate discussion is where the characters cross the threshold into Act Two. 

When we're writing, why do so many stories stall out at this point?  Maybe it happens because this point in the story is a major transition, and because middles are darn hard to write. But mostly, I think it's because we haven't planned our story out far enough before we dive in and start writing. If you are stuck at this point in your story, don't give up. Let's think it through and get unstuck. 

After debating the issue away and refusing the call, the character then makes a decision about what to do next. They decide how to carry on after the debate. 

The key here is to make sure the character's decision is relevant to their unique situation. It isn't just something tossed in there to push them over the threshold into the next phase of the story. When it's poorly done, it can be a really clunky transition. Our writer's brains tend to sense that, and it can lead us into writer's block. 


Examples: 

In Aliens, Ripley initially refuses the call from Burke and Gorman. Then, in the next scene, she accepts the call after having yet another nightmare about being infected with a chest-burster alien. In the middle of the night, she calls Burke and accepts on the condition they are going out there to destroy the aliens. 

In The Haunting, Nell refuses the call from her sister to move in with her family and be a nanny to bratty Ritchie. At this point, she is about to lose her home and isn't sure what to. In the next scene, she receives a ghostly call from a stranger that tells her about an ad in the paper for a study on fear. She calls the number in the paper and applies for the job. 

In Predator, Dutch refuses Dillion's offer to let him go along. Dillion tells him he is going anyway since this is a CIA mission. Dutch has no choice but to agree with it. The decision is made for him. In the next scene, all of the men, including Dutch and Dillion are in a chopper heading off on the rescue mission. 

In Halloween, Lori has a babysitting job lined up after school. She is looking forward to carving pumpkins with Tommy, who is terrified of the boogeyman. She has to try to convince him there is no such thing. However, when she gets a weird phone call that afternoon, we are shown that she is still antsy/scared after seeing Michael in the bushes, even though her friend Annie has tried to reassure her everything is fine in the previous scene. Lori continues on with a caution that her friends don't share.

In The Howling, there is a "double bump" offer for the heroine. Karen is at the psychiatrist's office when she refuses the call to remember what she saw. The doctor then invites her to a therapeutic retreat, a colony in the woods where he gives clinical sessions to special patients. In the very next scene after the offer, we are shown that she has accepted the offer. She and her boyfriend are driving up the coast to join the retreat. 


A relevant decision

Okay, so here we are. What happens after the debate/the call to adventure?  

The character makes a relevant decision based on their story situation. 

It is a relevant decision that carries them across the threshold into the brand new territory of Act 2. Often it is literally a brand new setting that the characters are unfamiliar with. 

Here's another cool thing about that relevant decision your character will make. It's going to come back to haunt your character later. At the time your characters make their decision, everything is definitely not as it seems. If you keep that in mind, you can create some fun surprises for your characters (and your readers) later on in Acts 2 and 3. 

These next examples contain spoilers, so read forward at your own risk!
Or better, yet, go watch the movies first (or read the novelizations) and come back.

Examples:

In Aliens, Ripley calls Burke in the middle of the night to accept the call to adventure, unaware that he wants to do more than check on the colonists when he gets to LV426. Ripley's relevant decision also has an added bonus: it represents her deepest fear. One that she will face in horrific detail at the midpoint of the story, when a woman who looks like her dies from a chest-burster, and again at the ending when Newt is taken and she has to go back into the hive. 

In The Howling, Karen is unaware that her doctor has a terrible secret related to the serial killer, and that he is luring her into a deadly community.

In Predator, Dutch is unaware that Dillion knows more than he is telling. He is also unaware there is an alien waiting in the jungle to hunt him and his men. 

In Halloween, Lori is not aware that boogeyman Michael has returned to Haddonfield and that she is his primary target. 

In The Haunting, Nell is not aware that she was chosen by the ghosts to face the evil that haunts Hill House.  


Wrap Up

If you have trouble moving past the beginning of your story into the meat of the adventure, I hope this breakdown and vault of examples will come in handy to move your story out of Act One and across the threshold into Act Two. 

Defining your character's relevant decision will work to move your character forward out of the setup stage regardless of the genre. I mostly watch horror movies, so that's what I used here. However, I tried to come up with genre examples that have variations in the setup, debate, and call to adventure areas so you can see how they might apply to different types of story "missions". Lastly, I highly recommend watching any of the movies used here as examples because they are fairly easy to break down... the easiest being Aliens, and the most difficult being Halloween.

Okay, I hope this hasn't been too terribly confusing. 🤯 If you have any questions, I'm always happy to chat about this sort of thing, wherever you may find me.

Until next time, I send you lots of happy wishes and much luck with your NaNoWriMo project. xoxo 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Unwritten Monday - Characters and Groups in Fiction


I'm working on character sketches for my NaNoWriMo project today. My favorite guide for doing this is Susan May Warren's book The Story Equation. Her SEQ system helps me get to the core of my characters quickly. If that's something you struggle with, I highly recommend checking out her guide.

Note: I do not get any affiliate perks for recommending her book. This is simply my personal recommendation on the subject. It's 100% organic. (The link above goes to Amazon Smile. My charity of choice is St. Jude Children's Hospital.)

Anyway, yes, back to character sketches. That's on the agenda for today. I've done some research on the number of characters I'd probably need for a horror/suspense project in the 50-80k range, and I've determined I need between 6 to 8 characters. Those are the primary players.

When you think about movies like Alien, Predator, The Haunting, The House on Haunted Hill, and a lot of teen slasher movies, there are usually (not always, of course) 6-8 characters that get divided screen time.

The characters will then move about the story in groups of 2 - 4 people at any given time, which makes sense, being that novels are made up of scenes that form a series of events and a series of conversations. You need at least two people to have a decent conversation... unless of course, your character is having a conversation with himself/herself, ala Norman Bates Psycho style. Which even then, the voice in his head has taken on his mother's personality and voice, so it's like two people are talking. Therefore, at least 2 characters in a group.

Also, keeping the characters divided into smaller groups helps with clarity, both when writing and reading scenes. Too many people in a scene can make it confusing. So if you need to populate your story with a large cast, that's a good rule of thumb: pair them off into groups.

You can always switch out people in the groups during the story as needed - as long as the setting/distance between the character groups allows. For example, in the movie Alien, it starts out with Brett and Parker, the Nostromo's mechanic team paired off and working together. It's clear they have a friendly working relationship. However, by the end of Act 2, it's Parker and Lambert (the ship's navigator) working together to prepare the shuttle for a quick launch.

Okay, then. That's my little tip for the day. 🤷 I'm still happily prepping for NaNo, which starts this Friday, November 1st. There's still plenty of time to sign up and get some planning in if you're interested. www.nanowrimo.org  It's free to join and a fun way to pull the first draft of a new project together quickly.

Until next time, everyone. Wishing you many blessings. xoxo

Thursday, October 24, 2019

National Novel Writing Month


I've signed up for NaNoWriMo this year, and I'm currently prepping my outline for next week. I also cleaned out my account of old projects that I completed and published, or scrapped and didn't do anything with. The shoebox under the bed stories. Yeah, I ditched those. Then I wished I hadn't done it, because now it looks like I have only participated in one NaNo ever. Sigh. Closer to six or thereabouts is more like it, my favorite sessions being the Camp NaNo events. I love summer scribbling the best. Anyway, lesson learned I guess. I need to stop being so delete-happy. I can't seem to help myself, though.

If you want to join NaNo - it's 100% free. Also, you can add me as a writing buddy by doing a search for lastdimtwilight over there. I welcome writing buddies from all over the world, all genres. Just come on over, say hello, and have fun writing a fast first draft for your novel while we cheer each other on.

Right now I'm working on a ghost story, which is different for me, and (so far) a lot of fun. I need as much motivation and accountability pointed my way as possible to keep me on track, so the more writing buddies the merrier. If time allows, I'll be posting additional accountability updates here on the blog, and possibly on Instagram. Join me wherever you feel most comfortable. I'm all about that kind of flexibility.

Now, back to my outline. Until next time, I hope you have a blessed weekend! 💋