Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Plot, Character and Setting

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been gearing up for NaNoWriMo. Every year, I try and do something a little bit different, something to push me to try something new.

Last year, I wrote my first modern day novel with no fantasy, just actual family relations and dealing with the disease of Alzheimer’s. It was a learning experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. To see what I learned from that novel, check out the link here.

This year, when I started thinking about NaNoWriMo, back in April, I didn’t quite have a story in mind. I used Camp NaNoWriMo to create characters, hoping that at some point, one of them would jump out to me and ask me to write their story. Fortunately, even though it was a frustrating month (possibly because I don’t like spending a lot of time with strangers), I did have two characters whose stories started to meld together.

Last month, I started plotting out the story. It was exciting, the more I plotted, the more I learned about the story. It’s the closest I’ve come to pantsing. I’m not actually writing, but I’m letting the story flow out. The more I wrote, the more I learned about the world, about the situations the characters were in, about the setting. Unfortunately, I kept hitting walls. Moments when I didn’t know where the story was going.

This week, I put aside plotting and character development. I started working on the setting. Getting to know the world my characters were living in. I had to determine how different organizations work, both of my characters are deeply involved in their own systems, and apparently, the plot wouldn’t move forward unless I understood the setting.

Writing out the rules to the magic system

As I continued to build the setting, I suddenly understood my characters so much better. Once I understand their world, I was able to understand their thoughts, their reactions, and their motives. It’s amazing how plot, character, and setting are all so intertwined.

What preparations are you making for NaNoWriMo?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Best Advice to a Newbie Writer

Over the weekend, I was able to go visit family. My little sister is about to go on a mission for our church, and it’ll be a year and a half before we see her again. While we were there, my mom threw a huge open house, and I got to meet a whole bunch of my sister’s friends.

One of those said friends found me (with my sister’s help) and told me that he wants to be a writer. There’s nothing that gets me more excited than when I meet another person eager to start the writing journey. As we talked, I learned that as much as he wants to write, he hasn’t really done very much. He told me that he wants to write, but it’s a lot of work, and in the past few months, he’s written about ten pages.

In that kind of situation, I’m never quite sure what to say. I don’t know him very well, and I don’t know what motivates him. He’s got the desire, but without the effort, there’s not much that I can do. The best thing I could do was to direct him to the NaNoWriMo website and help him sign up.

NaNoWriMo is one of the best resources for starting because there’s a built in goal. Each day, you get the chance to gauge how well you did, know whether or not to increase the number of words you write. Plus, there’s a built in writing group, people who encourage you to actually do it. You’re not alone, and you’ve got someone to take the journey with you.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for NaNoWriMo. This year, we’re really pushing toward getting as many new writers as we can. We’re going to paper the town in the next few weeks, which will be awesome!

Who else is excited for NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Plot or Background?

My little NaNoWriMo group has been expanding lately. We’ve had a lot of new writers coming out of the woodwork, which isn’t too surprising, considering that we’re getting close to November.

I love the personal interactions we have. My Co-ML created a Facebook group a few years back, and we enjoy sharing writing tips, questions, and encouragement. Sometimes the advice is good, and sometimes, I need to bite my tongue to keep from getting into an argument.

Obviously, everyone has their own opinion on writing, and what makes a great book.

We had a person recently ask advice on how to expand her novel. She said that she has found that her story is usually too short for NaNoWriMo, and she doesn’t get to the 50,000 words before her story stops.

I told her to add some extra plot points. The characters have to get from A to B, but that doesn’t mean they get there in a straight line. There’s always something that could go wrong. More trials, misunderstandings, even added conflicts. I know that as a reader, I don’t mind how the author gets there, as long as the story is good and I’m taken along for the ride.

Unfortunately, someone else had a different idea. Her suggestion was that instead of building up the plot, to add a lot of detail about characters and their background.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with building your characters and background. It’s important, especially if you want your character to relate to them. But to have extra background stories so that your story’s word count goes up?

The thought makes me cringe. I’ve read books like that. Usually, I don’t finish them.

How about the rest of you? How do you make sure that your story has the length it needs?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Too Much Exposition

Since I’ve been trying to read more books than I usually do, I have the tendency to not really research very much before starting.

So this week, I started reading a book from an author whose books I’ve read and loved before. I started reading, and then kept reading, hoping that at some point, the story would make sense. I actually dreaded reading, because I felt like I saw the words on the page, but it really meant nothing to me. I wanted to care about the characters, but they did nothing. There was no growth. I got halfway through the book and still, nothing happened.

I was talking to one of my coworkers about this book, and he’d actually read the entire series. What he said actually floored me.

It gets better. Just wait until you get to the second book, that’s when the story really starts.
Really? An entire book just to introduce the characters and the setting? Apparently, that’s what the story was. No plot, no real advancement. Just… exposition in story format.

I stopped reading because I felt cheated. Whenever I start reading a story, I expect the author to meet certain expectations, and plot is definitely one of them. I’m a little more stubborn than most, I don’t toss them aside after a chapter or two. I keep hoping for it to get better.

Often, it does. This was one of the few times it didn’t.

Have any of you come across this? Were you start a book, and no matter how much you read, there’s still nothing that actually advances the story?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

2 Month Countdown!

Today is September 1st, which means 2 months until NaNoWriMo!

I am beyond excited. I love the comradery, the way that writers seem to pop out of the woodworks to participate. It’s so much fun to interact with writers of different stages and ages, get to see the whole spectrum from start to finish.

This year, in April, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo. I decided to try to write character bios, one a day, and see what happens. Even though it was a frustrating exercise, I found that I started to have characters with stories that intertwined.

Two of those characters were Gastian and Torina. As I continued to think about their story, it kept growing. The extent of this story started to overwhelm me. There were so many different plot points I wanted to hit, so many quests, and characters that needed to be introduced. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is a good chance that this won’t be just one book. This might be the first time I write a trilogy/series.

I’ve had this idea for several months now. I would add small pieces here and there, but the enormity of it overwhelmed me, and I was too afraid to try and plot it.

Finally, this week, after talking with my NaNoWriMo group, I decided to just get it done. As much as I love Scrivener, and the computer, I found that I couldn’t plan it out the way I wanted to. So back to pen and paper I went!

I labeled each of the main characters, and where they lived. Then I wrote out each of the ‘quests’ that they would need to complete. Brick wall again. I couldn’t figure out how to get them from one spot to the next. That’s when I drew a map.

It’s amazing how much can be accomplished with a map. Once I had it drawn, everything fell into place. I was able to draw out the plot points on the map, and all I had to do was figure out how they moved from one place to the next.

And when I got stuck, I worked on character development. I found that I was missing a very key character. I absolutely can’t wait to sink my teeth into him! He’s fantastic, and diabolical all at once. I also discovered some things about my main characters that hadn’t shown up in the 500 word character bio.

So far, I’ve only plotted about a third of the story, but the more I plot, the more excited I get. I’m having a hard time sleeping because these characters have taken over my brain.

How about the rest of you? Gearing up for NaNoWriMo? What are you plans for November?