Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NaNo Q & A



For my last pre-NaNoWriMo post I drafted what I thought was a final, nifty list of NaNo No-Nos, or what everyone should not do during the month ahead of us. I was quite proud of my list, at least until the next day when I went to give it a final edit. By some weird personality transference I discovered that my mother had written most of it. I could even hear her in between the lines:

You can't be excused until you finish the rest of that chapter. I don't care if it's cold and you don't like it. Think about all the poor starving writers in China.

Fun is for rich writers who hire other people to write their books. Real writers have to work for a living.

Don't run with that story! You'll trip and fall and hurt yourself.

I don't know where any of that came from. Maybe I'm worried. My mom is the Sole Ruler of Planet Anxiety, and I automatically default to her on all matters of apprehension, unease and worry. I know a bit about how tough writing a novel can be, and I also want November to be a good experience for everyone who joins in.

I love my mom, but I'm not her. I can't be her. Like most of you, I want to have fun with this writing marathon. In fact, having fun with work and making work fun are two of my life missions. I believe taking a risk can be worth a painful fall. And even if the poor starving writers in China hate me, I can and will throw out a cold, unappetizing chapter without finishing it.

NaNoWriMo starts on Monday. For thirty days, writers around the world will go to work to have fun, take all kinds of risks, and run with story toward that fifty-thousand-word finish line. It's not about Publishing or book sales, who's a pro and who's not, or what anyone else thinks we should do. It's about us, the storytellers, and doing what we love. November belongs to us. Worry can't have it. Neither can the No-Nos.

Instead of a list, what I offer my fellow NaNo'ers today is my experience as a professional novelist and creative writing teacher, ala our old Friday 20 posts here at PBW. This means if you have a question about anything related to writing a novel, post it in comments and I'll do my best to answer it.

And please, do one thing for me in November with your NaNo novel: whatever you want.

Graphic credit: © Yellowj | Dreamstime.com

28 comments:

  1. This post made me smile. :) And Friday 20! On a Wednesday! YAY!

    I, for once, don't have a pertinent question.

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  2. Thank you for all the encouragement!!!

    Indeed, november does belong to us, although try telling that to school.

    But yes, I'm gonna do it and screw what everyone else thinks!!!

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  3. "And please, do one thing for me in November with your NaNo novel: whatever you want."

    Most awesome writing advice ever. Thanks. :)

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  4. Jess wrote: I, for once, don't have a pertinent question.

    Lol. No problem, I'll be here if you think of one later.

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  5. Great post. I love the mom-ism about finishing the chapter. Too funny. Thanks, Lynn. =o)

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  6. Peeling Orange wrote: Indeed, november does belong to us, although try telling that to school.

    I think all schools should give a month off to student writers who are participating in NaNoWriMo. Sadly they still don't let me run the educational system.

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  7. I love the idea of throwing out the "no no's" for Nov. and running with all the yesses. I can't think of any good questions but if more coffee stimulates one, I'll be back.

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  8. B.E. wrote: I love the mom-ism about finishing the chapter.

    Sometimes I think my internal editor is a clone of my mom, too. Especially when she inspects my scenes with her white gloves on, ha.

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  9. Charlene wrote: I love the idea of throwing out the "no no's" for Nov. and running with all the yesses.

    It's like running with the bulls, isn't it? Except you (probably) won't get gored.

    I can't think of any good questions but if more coffee stimulates one, I'll be back.

    Sounds good. I also need to e-mail you today (adding that to my to-do list) about a book.

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  10. DiDi wrote: Most awesome writing advice ever.

    You're welcome. I stole it from my grandmother, who thought rules should be treated like rabid weasels, only less humanely.

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  11. Too funny about turning into your mother. Odd how we can do that, isn't it..??

    The week before NaNo always gets my Worry-o-meter heading into the red zone. I start to take it all too seriously. Thanks for the reminder that it's really about having fun.

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  12. Yay Friday 20!! (I always loved those...)

    OK, here's my question. I have two (well, three) fully formed characters in my head, but I don't have any names for them. This has NEVER happened to me before. I usually have an easy time with names, but this time? Nada. It's driving me nuts.

    I have a great name for my villain, Lord Wren (inspired by some bird stuff I saw and noticed, and partly by you!) but for my protagonists, nothing. I'm stumped. It's a fantasy novel this time, so they need to be not Jake or Sam or whatever, but I'm flailing and panicking. I know some people can write novels with InsertNameHere and find/replace later, but that is Not My Way. Any help would be greatly appreciated!!

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  13. Thank you for all the pre-NaNo posts! This is year three for me but I still have the freshman jitters!

    This is the one blog I read every day - without fail - and recommend shamelessly. You've helped me learn to be comfortable in my Writer's Skin and I can't thank you enough for that!

    If I could pick your brain for the answer to one burning question, it would be: what do you do to assure yourself that your story arc and characters can go the distance in a series?

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  14. Sadly, I have no question at the moment. My head is too empty to think and it has me worried for my NaNo, but I will persevere this year and not let other things get in my way.

    If I think of any questions though, I'll be back.

    And really, thanks for the Wednesday NaNo posts. They've really been an encouragement in ways you might never even be aware of.

    :hugs:

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  15. terlee wrote: I start to take it all too seriously. Thanks for the reminder that it's really about having fun.

    I needed a kick in the pants, too, and there was an immediate benefit: right after I shoved aside all the NaNo No-No thoughts, I had a little fun and almost instantly found the title for my novel. :)

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  16. Vom Marlowe wrote: I have two (well, three) fully formed characters in my head, but I don't have any names for them. This has NEVER happened to me before.

    I want to be you. Seriously. I had one stubborn character who remained nameless right up until the day I had to turn the manuscript in to my editor (I used his fake name, Rushan, while I was writing, but only in a mad panic on the last day did I finally come up with Shon Valtas.)

    It's a fantasy novel this time, so they need to be not Jake or Sam or whatever, but I'm flailing and panicking. I know some people can write novels with InsertNameHere and find/replace later, but that is Not My Way.

    Can't blame you there; sometimes an unsuitable character name will stop me cold.

    Got a couple of ideas on how to help: first, you might try a reverse name-meaning search (you can do one at sites like BabyNameSearch.com where you can put in keywords that relate to the character's personality or backstory. When I typed in "Brave" at this site, for example, it brought up 125 names that have brave as part of their meaning, and ran the gamut from Adalard to Wilhard.

    Another trick I do is to coin a new name myself, usually from another name spelled backwards, an acronym or an anagram. Usually there's a personal metaphor involved, so play with some of your ideas about the character (i.e. if he's brave, try rearranging the letters and see if a name like Berav or Bvaer suits you.)

    Finally you might look to the past and mine some historical name sites. A lot of old English and German names sound fantasy-friendly, and of course you can always change the spelling to make it more unique.

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  17. Bullish wrote: If I could pick your brain for the answer to one burning question, it would be: what do you do to assure yourself that your story arc and characters can go the distance in a series?

    When I put together a series concept, I think about conflicts that are not easily resolved, protagonists I can build, grow, tear down, build back up again and otherwise eternally torment, and big, dazzling themes that can grow and branch out into other themes. All of these need to have multiple levels and layers that I can see upfront, too.

    When you're writing a series, it's not enough to have one good idea unless it's a hugely epic idea that is so stunning the books write themselves (fictionalizing the Book of Revelations from the Bible would be a good example of the single-idea series with enough fuel to sustain many novels.) Small ideas or ideas that only carry a certain amount of territory to explore should be limited to standalones or duologies; it'll save you a lot of headaches.

    Whenever I pitch a series idea, I write a detailed synopsis for the first book, and then I write one-page synopses for the books that will follow (which came in handy when I had to pitch my last trilogy idea; I was able to present the editor with a pitch for all three books.) If the series is going to work for me, I need to see its future. Usually I put together three one-pagers on future novels, but I've done as many as nine (StarDoc.) I also always outline the plot of the last book in a series now before I start writing it in case I need to end a series early.

    My methods take some practice, and not everyone can think in series versus single-novel plots, but even a rough outline of what you want to do, or a timeline of events can help you flesh out the idea and see if it has the power to go the distance.

    If you want to try something a little shorter, just start writing brief novel premises (descriptions of the books that are no more than two or three sentences long) and see how far you can think ahead. If your idea has the right amount of wattage, your imagination won't run out of good ideas of what to write for future books.

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  18. Theo wrote: If I think of any questions though, I'll be back.

    I'll be here. Hang in.

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  19. Thank you so much. I needed this. :) I truly believe that true writers write for themselves and for fun; they write because they enjoy it.

    This post reminded me of a quote I've heard before: "It's better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self."

    ~TRA

    http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

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  20. What research resources do you use, especially with your scifi elements? Do you dream up all the pseudoscience yourself or do you ask people who are more in tune with that?

    For example, I'm having trouble coming up with an excuse for no electronics to work on my world under 300 feet. Somehow, I don't think the world being made up mostly of magnetite is going to cut it.

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  21. The Red Angel wrote: "It's better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self."

    Amen to that. :)

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  22. Manda wrote: What research resources do you use, especially with your scifi elements?

    I depend most of the time on my science reference books and first-hand knowledge (which I translate into far-future possibilities), but I also interview experts, consult with various folks in the sciences and look to nature for ideas.

    Do you dream up all the pseudoscience yourself or do you ask people who are more in tune with that?

    I don't think it's as black and white as that with my SF books. Most of the medical science in them comes from my own experiences in the field, but I've also consulted with a geneticist on certain aspects of the series. You can always use what you know for your story elements, but when you run out of knowledge or get into something you have no experience with, then it's a good idea to look for someone who has more knowledge.

    For example, I'm having trouble coming up with an excuse for no electronics to work on my world under 300 feet. Somehow, I don't think the world being made up mostly of magnetite is going to cut it.

    Maybe a system of interlocking planetary aquifers might be the answer, if you put or invent something in the ground water that conducts electricity as well as causes fast/corrosive damage to any/all materials used to house the eletronic devices. If this world is not Earth, you can invent an indigenous mineral that possesses the properties you need to make your 300 foot barrier work.

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  23. Haha. Thanks for your advice. I think I will invent something then. Maybe a bug. :P Again, thanks so much. Have a nice night.

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  24. I do want to know something! :o)

    You're a definite plotter and I'm such a pantser. I sort of have an idea of what I want but it stays vague as I write (and this is all the time, not just NaNo.)

    But I'd like to know how deeply you plot for this. Is it as detailed as your contract books (for lack of a better word and I'm cringing at that one!) or do you let the story unwind as you go along? How much of the story do you know before you even start to type on November 1? All? Or do you let your imagination have free rein?

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  25. Manda wrote: Haha. Thanks for your advice. I think I will invent something then. Maybe a bug. :P

    I like it already. :) Good luck with it.

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  26. Theo wrote: I do want to know something!

    Hooray! Ha.

    You're a definite plotter and I'm such a pantser. I sort of have an idea of what I want but it stays vague as I write (and this is all the time, not just NaNo.)

    Nothing wrong with that. Your process has to work for you, and I know for pantsers too much planning = writer's block.

    But I'd like to know how deeply you plot for this.

    Truly, madly, deeply. :)

    Is it as detailed as your contract books (for lack of a better word and I'm cringing at that one!) or do you let the story unwind as you go along?

    Basically I follow the same prep routine I do for any novel: idea, rough outline, synopsis. I think the only thing I do differently for NaNo is that I don't worry about nailing down all the research ahead of time. Also, there isn't a lot involved in this particular story because the setting, conflict and characterizations are based on a lot of things I know firsthand from real life (all I really think I need is some specific boat and architectural data, which I'll gather as I go along.)

    How much of the story do you know before you even start to type on November 1? All? Or do you let your imagination have free rein?

    I think it depends on the story. Last year I went into NaNo with a great idea and a decent outline, but the story was set in a wholly invented world. I found my worldbuilding required me to do a bunch of additional detailing, particularly with characterizations, dialogue and various enviroments. I think that was what slowed me down the most while writing it.

    This year's book is more reality-based, and I'd say right now I know about 75% of the story in my head. I plan to work out the other 25% as I finish writing the synopsis this weekend. This world's setting is one in which I've actually resided for many years, so I'm much more confident heading into the writing. I won't plan as much this time because I've lived it, so to speak.

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  27. Oh thank you so much!

    I had been toying with trying some anagrams, but I had this idea that was cheating somehow. LOL. Isn't it funny the ideas we get about what is and isn't allowed as writers?

    I tried some ideas and have come up with a couple of great names. I haven't decided definitely yet, but now I'm well on my way. Hurray!!! Thank you again!

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  28. 'Whatever you want' is exactly what I'm going to do. :)

    I've played Nano a few times. The first was fun because everything was new and shiny and so it didn't matter that I only got 38K (which later turned out to be so bad that I didn't even bother to edit the crap). But the next two years I felt bad because I didn't *make* it and put myself under some pressure. If not most of the writers I'm virtually hanging out with were Nano addicts, I would have given up on the thing for good. But in 2006 I decided not to aim for 50K but for 10K, which I hoped might be doable. And look, I did make it and I had a lot of fun and got some scenes of a novel out of it that actually are worth editing. Same the following year.

    Though by then I had material for a series of novels about the Romans, plus that Fantasy monster I've been working on, and didn't really want to start something new. Yet I felt obliged to follow the rules and played with an idea that fizzled out halfway through. Thus I never joined last year, but this year I'll take it a step further to make Nano work for me and not the other way round. I'll go Rebel and aim for 10K on that Fantasy monster (after all, Nano has now officially acknowledged Rebels who prefer to work on an ongoing projects). I hope the fun will come back that way.

    The Fantasy monster has the working title of KINGS AND REBELS, so it's sorta fitting to become a Nano rebel. *grin* I've also limited my activity on the forums to a few select threads where I can interact with some Nano buddies from the previous years.

    My sig is: Proudly failing Nano since 2003

    (Though I admit the material for the Roman series, research, snips, the vague outlines I make - more of a pantster here - added some win even to the failed years of 2004/05. That series and the Monster will easily occupy me until 2025 or so, slow writer that I am, lol.)

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