11.30.2008

I'm a novelist!

NaNoWriMo08 winnerI have officially finished one full novel and won NaNoWriMo08!

It's only a first draft, but I've planned out my edits and will get to work revising. I know, for instance, that I need to add scenes and descriptions, red herrings and clues, to get my novel up to the ~70,000 words expected of a cozy.

I've already put books on querying agents on hold at the library and will let you know how the process goes. I've been reading agent blogs to dip my toe in the water, and for once I don't feel like I'm just procrastinating from writing by doing that!

Right now I'm too excited to do much other than celebrate, but soon it will be time to work, work, work, and start writing the next in the series! For genre fiction like mysteries and romance, it's common to think in terms of series, and I am definitely on that train.

I highly recommend that you try out NaNoWriMo next year if you haven't done it already. Write 2,000 words a day, in little chunks if needed, and you'll have a whole fricking novel by the end of the month! What could be better?

11.28.2008

Getting your characters in trouble

T Rex growlingNaNoWriMo very kindly and wisely provides emailed pep talks each week, some from regional liaisons, and some from published authors. Here's an excerpt from Week Three's pep talk from Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black:

When in doubt, make trouble for your character. Don't let her stand on the edge of the pool, dipping her toe. Come up behind her and give her a good hard shove. ... In life we try to avoid trouble. We chew on our choices endlessly. We go to shrinks, we talk to our friends. In fiction, this is deadly. Protagonists need to screw up, act impulsively, have enemies, get into TROUBLE.

The difficulty is that we create protagonists we love. And we love them like our children. We want to protect them from harm, keep them safe, make sure they won't get hurt, or not so bad. Maybe a skinned knee. Certainly not a car wreck. But the essence of fiction writing is creating a character you love and, frankly, torturing him. You are both sadist and savior. Find the thing he loves most and take it away from him. Find the thing he fears and shove him shoulder deep into it. Find the person who is absolutely worst for him and have him delivered into that character's hands. Have him make a choice which is absolutely wrong.


When I started writing my romance novel, I knew I wanted my hero to suspect the heroine was lying, to manufacture plot trouble for them. But I was cheating the system. I wanted my heroine not to be a liar. I wanted her to remain pure and blameless.

And then I came to my senses. A perfect protagonist is boring (look at Fanny in Mansfield Park -- sorry, Jane!).

I had to throw my characters into trouble. I had to make them flawed so they had somewhere to progress to during the course of the novel. It's frustrating when the novel starts out with an ideal relationship and situation that has problems thrown at it. It's less frustrating and more suspenseful when there's just a vision of an ideal relationship and situation that the characters need to move toward.

NaNoWriMo 08In my current novel, I made sure to place my heroine in danger. She needs to have the possibility of failing and even dying to create tension, to create a story. Along the same lines, she has to take steps and try things out that I would never have the gumption to, because it would be really boring to read about me!

It's similar to being afraid to kill off characters, as in my other post. Sometimes being a writer feels like too much power, but we have to learn not to be afraid to use it.

How have you hesitated in creating trouble for your characters? How have you convinced yourself to throw them into danger and face the consequences?

Scary dinosaur courtesy of Rodolfo Clix from stock.xchng

11.26.2008

Pushing through to the finish line

NaNoWriMo 08It's coming down to the wire for NaNoWriMo08, and I'm on track with 41,561 words so far. If I write up to 42,000 before bed tonight, I can keep writing 2,000 a day and, assuming I get them in by midnight the last day, finish at exactly 50,000 on Nov. 30. I was feeling really discouraged a couple days ago, but I'm energized now and have a vision of the plot going forward to the end. Now it's just putting it on paper (or screen, in this case).

My husband, Sam, has been making remarks like, "It's ok if you go over by a few days. What's the difference?"

"No, because then you don't win," I told him.

"What do you win?" he asked, rightfully skeptical.

"A PDF certificate," I said sheepishly, "and a widget. And the satisfaction of knowing you're a winner."

Sam laughed at me. "So it doesn't matter," he said.

No! It does matter. Finishing a novel in a month, a specific month, is the whole point of NaNoWriMo. If you could write in anytime, you would. If you can go over by a few days, why not a few months, a few years?

Like all the other times. Like with all the other half-manuscripts in drawers and hastily typed ideas in forgotten files, languishing. Like all the other projects and passions and ambitions you've set aside till the perfect moment, only you never quite find it.

pole gameBack during the first season of Survivor, there was an endurance test toward the end where the remaining contestants had to keep their hand on a pole. That was the only rule. One of the contestants, good old Rudy, absentmindedly removed his hand from the pole to scracth his nose or something, and then tried to play it off, but was deservedly disqualified.

As The Daily Show mocked when replaying the clip, "What's the first rule of Keep Your Hand on the Pole Game?"

What's the first rule of NaNoWriMo? Write a novel in a month.

Anything else isn't NaNoWriMo.

Keep your hand on the pole.

See you at the finish line in just a few days!

11.23.2008

Dashing off a draft

speed typingI've learned a lot from NaNoWriMo. The main thing I've learned is to be quick and dirty.

Anything to get that first draft in.

I think what's held me up in the past is an obsession with perfecting as I write. For a short story or poem, this can sometimes work. For a novel, it was bogging me down and hurting my brain.

I would decided to change one thing, say, the year the story takes place, or the color of my main character's eyes (no, really! I did this), and I would feel compelled to go back through what I'd written so far, making all those changes before I could move on.

Now I've come to realize that it's more important just to tell the story.

Get it out there, and then go back and polish. I've been using the "Comments" function in Microsoft Word to help me out there. A text-file list or a sticky note on your desk would work just as well.

Whenever I decide that I screwed something up that happened earlier, or that I should shoehorn another event into the narrative, I make a comment to myself, such as: "Change character's name to sound less like main character's."

Voila! No time wasted pondering names. I can continue to use my rough-draft name throughout this first go, and after I'm done with the important part -- the story -- I can start flipping through phone books and baby-name books and getting bogged down in the editing side of things. If I do all that now, it will derail my train of thought, and the story will never get told.

This works for small things like characters' names and eye colors, and for big things like "Make Ann be a blackmailer" or "Add tension between Joe and Betty" or (true story) "Change it to first person." In that last case, I just kept going with the first person from there on out, resolving to edit my first pages to match at the end.

I also, when stuck at a particular word or phrase, instead of wasting time haring off through the thesaurus, just bracket it and, if necesary, add descriptors that make it into one long word indicating "Fix this later." For instance, I have brackets around such things as [LastNameHere] and [DifferentWordForSaid] and [SomethingLikeSmelly] and [HospitalName]. (I didn't want to unfairly inflate my word count by making those into separate words.)

It doesn't matter if it's messy and ugly. This is not my final draft. No one has to see this draft. It is not going out for immediate publishing. I have time to edit...but later!

NaNoWriMo 08I'm not promising to continue to write at the breakneck pace of 50,000 words a month, but I will take this little tidbit of oh-duh advice with me when I return to my first novel.

I will write, I will tell the story, and I will finish a first draft! Be it purely awful or pure gold (or purest green, which is maybe somewhere in between), I will finally have a complete story arc, and something to edit.

P.S. I think I need to think of first drafts of novels more like blog posts... Sorry to all my blog readers who now know what quality I put into my blog posts!

Perfect illustration of speed-typing hands courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski from stock.xchng

11.22.2008

New love vs. true love

Senior Couple Holding HandsI hope no one thinks I'm being disloyal for writing a murder mystery for NaNoWriMo08. I'm working on a romance novel in non-NaNoWriMo life, and those are my two favorite genres.

As a palliative to those of you who prefer romance over murder, let me tell you that I've included a married couple as my protagonist detecting team. The main character is Christine, a church praise team leader in her late 20s. She narrates the story. Her husband is Rob, a graphic designer by day and newborn sleuthing partner at night.

NaNoWriMo 08I love love. I love marriage. That's why I love romance novels so much. I adore the giddiness of finding true love, that first spark of interest, the rapturous wondering of "is s/he interested back?", the relief of finding out "yes!". and, of course, in novels, all the interesting barriers in between and/or after those steps.

But, having been married ten years now myself (sooo long, I know!), I will play the old wise woman and say that a committed marriage is just as fascinating, just as satisfying. It's a different emotional kick, but it appeals to me just as much. Obviously, or I wouldn't believe so strongly in marriage!

What I think is missing from most novels, movies, TV shows, and so on is portrayals of real, positive marriages. There's plenty of cat-and-mouse flirtatious bickering of an odd pairing, plenty of tingly first-kiss experiences, and, sadly, more than enough of sour and negative relationships, whether continuing or ending. Many popular sitcoms have made their married couple characters barely tolerant of each other, constantly sniping and undermining, rather than true partners on the same team.

Have you ever read Kate Wilhelm's Constance and Charlie series? There's a wonderful example for me to live up to: a middle-aged married couple who like and respect each other. The tension is in catching the murderer, not in whether or not they'll stay together. Their commitment to each other is a given.

Nick & NoraOr look at the delightful Nick and Nora!

I like to think I'm doing my part to promote the naturalness -- the unostentatious joy -- of a good marriage, both in real life and now in fiction.

ETA: I forgot, and we're even watching them on DVD right now! There's also Hetty Wainthropp! I think my characters are a young, newlywed version of Hetty and her husband -- very grounded and very committed.

Photograph of beautiful hands courtesy of Julia Freeman-Woolpert from stock.xchng

11.21.2008

Writing exhaustion

NaNoWriMo 08Is it just me, or is it hard to keep writing all day long?

I'm a little behind in my NaNoWriMo word count. I've been trying to write 2,000 words a day, and I ended up skipping a day to catch up on sleep, so today's assignment was to write 4,000. Well, I've gotten 2,500 done so far, but that still leaves a normal-amount 1,500 to finish up tonight.

And I'm feeling spent.

I took a year off a few years ago just to work on my first novel. I wrote every day, but I could never manage to write all day every day. Does anyone do that? Can anyone write for eight hours straight?

Maybe in the throes of a passionate Muse, but on a daily basis, I find it fatiguing to write even four hours in a row, at least in one medium and on one topic. Even switching to, say, a blog post, affords me and my poor brain a little break.

Just wondering if I'm alone in that.

I'll take a rest now and come back to finish up my words tonight. Carry on, all you NaNoWriMos and other fellow novelists!

11.15.2008

The uneasiness of killing off characters

Leaf on grave


I'm halfway through the timeframe of NaNoWriMo, though not halfway through my word count since I started late. I have daily writing goals of 2,000 words that if followed (or caught up on...) will get me to 50,000 words on exactly the last day.

Now it's just down to two things: 1. that I have the story told by 50,000 words, and 2. that I remember to verify my word count by midnight! (I tend to fudge my "days" a little.)

As for #1, I'm trying to be bare bones about this writing assignment and make sure I get the plot told. I figure I can fill in all that fancifying description and character development later!

NaNoWriMoHere's something I didn't expect, though. As a huge fan of reading murder mystery novels and watching American and British versions of same, I thought of myself as hardened and jaded in terms of committing fictional murder. But in my first chapter, I had to kill off a character (otherwise it's not, you know, a murder mystery), and I felt guilty! She seemed kind of nice, and I'd barely gotten to know her before she was dead. In a horribly agonizing way, although not overly gory. (This is a cozy, so I'm going with things like poison and booby traps.)

I accept with no qualms the deaths of characters in mystery fiction I read or view, but somehow being the perpetrator of the death made me feel bad. I could see it being even more wrenching if I'd really "known" the character and become attached.

How have you experienced the death of a character? Has it felt necessary and acceptable, or has it upset you as much as it did the other characters?

Photograph courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski from stock.xchng

11.06.2008

NaNoWriMo time!

NaNoWriMoNovember is National Novel Writing Month. You can visit the NaNoWriMo site to learn more about it.

The crazy goal is to write 50,000 words of continuous fiction in 30 days. Words and speed count; quality doesn't.

As you can see, I'm a little slow off the blocks. I had heard about it back in April when I was doing the Poem-a-Day challenge, and I resolved to file it away in my memory bank for November.

Apparently, I didn't too so well with retrieving the file, because I forgot about it this month until happening upon a fellow writer friend's Facebook page.

But I am not discouraged. Words per day aren't the requirement, as long as I get to the 175-page target by the end of the month. And I'm a pretty fast typist!

So...what to write? I was thinking a mystery novel, specifically a cozy, because that would be the kind of light-hearted thing that would fit a flurry of writing and a short novel length. I had thought about one set in Northwest Indiana, where I used to live, so I could dust off that idea.

Another path would be a romance novella, because it seems like publishers enjoy putting collections of those together, and I could see it as a good way to get some exposure and new readers. Hmmm...I'd better decide tonight. Maybe I'll just start typing and see where it leads me!

Want to join me? Let me know what you're writing, and post your word count at the NaNoWriMo site.
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