Tag Archives: outlining

NaNoWriMo is Here

That’s that time of the year, folks. NaNoWriMo time. November is a novel writing month, and as usual, it makes me excited. This time, though, I am busy with other things so I honestly don’t have idea how I’m going to accomplish the whole “write 50 000 words in 30 days”. On the other hand, I can’t help but wanting to participate, so… here I am.

I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2010, at a particularly weird moment in my life, when I desperately needed something to uplift me and take my mind off the harsh reality of being an university educated person who can’t find a job. It was just a slap in the face, you know? I needed something to look forward to, something to call my own, an accomplishment of some sorts, and NaNoWriMo provided a perfect outlet. My novel, “A Postcard from Hades” was born there, and it still holds a special place in my heart despite being imperfect and, well demanding more work.

This year, I’m writing in English (good luck to me about that). I figured it would fit the story and it will help me practice my English. I feel passionate about and really invested in psychology behind it, even though I am not completely sure how to build the plot or how dark it’s going to be. (I am not really into dark stories per se – I like to read some of them but I can’t write them well. No idea why).

The first thing I had with this story was a title, back in 2010 or so. The first plot idea revolved around a supernatural girl who can harm humans but wants to avoid it at all costs and her love interest who helps her. Somehow (no idea how) it evolved into a story about succubi and incubi and a complex method of their survival and reproduction. The core of the story, though, is identity and figuring out you are not who you thought you were. There are many things to explore here.

Things I Want to Improve About My Writing

WritingThere are some things I need to learn or improve about my writing:

Finding the right amount of outlining

I tend to over-outline. Having a solid outline is the only way for me to write, but too much IS too much. It can prevent you from sitting and actually writing the story, because the outline feels incomplete. Or it can make you too fixated on only one possible solution you fail to see what’s best for the story. That’s why I need to find the minimal amount of outline I need and just start writing.

Knowing where to start

One of the most important things about writing a good story is to know where to start and where to end it. I know when to end a novel. My endings are good. I have a trouble figuring out how to open a novel. My problem is that I grew up with 19th and early 20th century literature. Things take ages to start rolling in those books. I’m used to preparatory chapters and I’m used to having a first hint of a plot circa page 50. However, you can’t go like that anymore. It’s important to start when your story actually starts: not with introduction of the characters or setting, but with the first conflict in the story. I know all of this, and I can identify when it’s a good point to start, and yet I don’t know how to do it without any character or setting introduction.

Being able to cut and change

This is probably one of the most difficult things, because I tend to get emotionally attached to plots, characters and scenes. It’s worst when it’s something I’ve planned for a long time, even since the first idea for a novel. When plots and situations are linked with the story from the beginning, it makes it seem like they’re essential, like they’re integral for the story. So even if it turns out that they don’t fit, I try to force my plot around them. Because hey, I’ve always seen my characters running away from point A to point B using a  boat during a stormy night, so how come I can completely disregard this scene? This scene is been here forever, it’s one of the first things outlined for the story, it’s one of the first things I saw in my mind when I got inspired to write this story! How can I change it, how can I cut it? And yet, that’s the only right thing to do. If it doesn’t fit into the written story (or even outline), it needs to be changed. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been part of the story.

Knowing how to say things with the least amount of words

Unlike this subtitle, I need to make my writing as concise as possible. This is one of my most serious weaknesses. I tend to over explain. I use many words when few would do much better. I repeat myself. I throw too much description. I repeat myself. I never know how to control my word count.

Finding Beta Readers

I know the importance of quality Beta readers, but I still feel hesitant to share my work. This is a huge mistake. You can’t  write a good story without Beta readers. There’s a point for any writer where you need to learn how to share your work with others and how to accept criticism. Interestingly enough, the mere sharing (having someone read it) feels more terrifying to me than people criticizing it. In any case, it’s juvenile and it needs to stop.

Practicing my English

I don’t write in English, and at the same time, I know writing in English is the best way to go if I ever want to be published. However, whatever I write in English seems like pure crap to me, and I’m not even talking about bad grammar – bad grammar is possible to fix. I just don’t seem to have my voice in English, which is a shame. I can do ok when it comes to articles and essays, but not fiction. As usual, practice makes it perfect, but I guess I’m just too much of a coward to try.

Finding the best revision method

When I was younger, I didn’t do any revisions for my novels. I wrote ferociously as a teen, but  mostly to entertain myself and to put my daydreams into words. I lived through these stories, and once they were written, I’d move to the next one. I didn’t have any wish to publish them, and only a few selected people were allowed to read them.

It’s one of the reasons why my revision skills are seriously lacking. I am still trying to figure out the best way to do it: the best way to let it sit on the side, and the best way to identify all the problems in the writing and to find solutions. The best way to cut, and then cut some more. The best way to know when I should stop revising and move to another story.

Photo credit: Olivander via photopin cc

The 7 Pillars of Writing

Writing process is individual, and what works for one person might be completely useless for somebody else. Still, here are some essential things most writers need to learn how to do (in their unique ways):

Reading

You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read. Read a lot, read good books, read bad books, read books of the kind you want to write. It’s more than just having fun: reading makes you understand what works and what doesn’t work in a novel.

Inspiration

Learn to recognize a story idea when it presents itself to you. This is one of the rare effortless moments (everything else is hard work), so learn to embrace it. When something seems inspiring, or when you start thinking about a plot idea or a dialogue, make sure to write it down.

Outlining

Outlining is expanding your idea, and it’s all down to your unique writing method. No two writers do it in the same way. There are plotters and pantsers. Plotters like to have every single thing planned before they sit to write the first draft. Pantsers start without an outline, but that doesn’t mean they work without one. For these people, a first draft serves as an outline. Whatever you do, you need to find a way to expand your initial idea into a coherent story. Since there are many different ways to do it, you need to find the one that works for you. The only way to know is to try and see what suits you.

Writing

This is the actual process of putting words on paper. Never (ever, ever) mistake an outline or a story you have in your head for the actual writing. If you want to be a writer, you need to WRITE. You need to put those words on paper (a real or electronic one, doesn’t matter) to produce a first draft. It’s not easy. Most of it will seem like rubbish, and a lot of it will be rubbish. You’ll experience frustration, inspiration, confusion and a writer’s block. It’s important to keep writing. If you have to, set a strict regime. For example, write two hours a day. No exceptions. You’ll write even when it’s the last thing you want to do, even when your words seem like the worst crap ever written. This is the only way to get it done with the first draft and the only way to practice your craft.

Revising

This is another big step. You need to learn how to turn that mess of a first draft into something that makes sense. Again, the revising process is highly individual, so you need to learn what works best for you. Some people start with identifying problems with the story. Others revise line by line. Some include Beta readers right from the start. The only seemingly universal thing about the revision is that you shouldn’t start it right away. You need to put your story aside for a while and get back to it later. All stories will need at least one revision, probably more. However, you also need to know when to stop revising. There’s no need to do a 14th revision of a story. At one point, you just have to let it go and move to your next story.

Sharing

You can’t write a good story without some constructive criticism (emphasis on constructive). This is what Beta readers are for. In a way, this step is part of the revising process. Some people prefer to share their material with Beta readers right from the start, while others choose to make the story as good as possible. Some even share the material in the process of writing the first draft, or even before, when they’re outlining or thinking about good solutions. Whatever you do, understand the importance of Beta readers (and other people who can help you). You need this feedback; no book exists without readers.

Publishing

Not all writers want to publish their work, but unless you’re writing diary or a story for yourself, chances are you’ll want people to read your story. There are many ways to bring it to the readers, from sharing it among your friends or publishing it on your blog to seeking a commercial publisher. Each of these methods require a different approach, so you need to know what you want for your story and you need to understand the rules of the game. If you wish to be published traditionally (or even if you want to self-publish), you will need to deal with the business side of writing. Many writers refuse to think about writing in commercial terms, but you need to understand how things work in order to choose the best path for you and your work.

Writing About How to Write

I want to write about writing.

While this is, in essence, a personal blog, most of the time I don’t feel comfortable enough to write about my personal life or problems, so it was always more about the external things, such as movie review, social commentary or random rants. I also love to write about writing, not because I believe I’m an expert in the field (far from it), but because I like to have a space where I can share my thoughts and observations on fiction writing.

I also feel this theme might be inspiring enough to make me blog more often – at least twice a week, because this blog is in urgent need of some updating. While I was never popular – far from it – I’ve witnessed, over and over again, visitors leaving when there’s nothing new on the blog for weeks (you can’t blame them).

Stuff I want to blog about:

Writing tips

Again, I don’t want to pretend I’m an expert, so these will mostly be some observations I will, first and foremost, write as a reminder to myself. It might include points on characterization and plot, DOs and DON’Ts, common misconceptions, writing myths, etc.

Existing example of this kind of posts: How NOT to create Mary Sue

My writing process

These posts will cover my own way of outlining, writing and revising, writing schedule and stuff that works (or doesn’t work) for me.

Existing example: Choosing Character Names

Fiction I like & dislike

These will probably be made as reviews. Same goes for film reviews.

Existing example: The Power of Writing: Atonement

Things I probably won’t blog about:

Short stories, poems, essays, etc. The posts will focus on novel writing, because this is what I’m experienced with. Which is, by the way, a serious problem: a writer needs to know how to write in different formats. I suck at writing poems and I don’t know how to write short stories. It’s bad. So I might reconsider short story writing, but since there are so many things so be said about novel writing, I’m not sure about this. As for essays, I am good at them, but they’re completely different beasts.

Writing excerpts. I’m not confident enough in my English to share my writing online. I might reconsider this, because I know it’s impossible to practice your craft without beta readers and some critique.

This doesn’t mean I’ll turn this into a writing blog. However, expect to see more writing-related posts from now on.

I Finished My Novel

Yes. Finally. I finished my NaNoWriMo novel. And yes, it’s long overdue, because NaNo ended in November (more about that in a minute). But this is a very special moment because last time I finished a novel… It was more than 13 years ago.

Of course, it’s just a first draft. There’s a lot of editing to do. Currently, it stands at 102 000 words. Out of these, around 86 000 were written in November, during NaNo, and the rest (the last 6 chapters) in December. You could tell I really slowed down in December (be it because I’ve encountered a problem with the plot (yes), or because I lacked the motivation and the rush NaNo gives you). In any case, I managed to finish the first draft on December 30th. I still need to write one short scene in the middle and include a couple of pages between different sections of the book, and then I will have to start cutting. My goal is to make it around 80 000 words.

Additional details

The working title was “Hardin Hades” (in lack of a more inspirational one), but towards the end I’ve decided to change it to “A Postcard From Hades” (or something along those lines). The problem is, the title seems like something more appropriate for a horror story.

Also, I still don’t know what the novel is “about”. It’s obviously, more character than plot driven, but it’s not as heavy as some literary fiction is. Alternatively (and I cringe at this), it can be seen as romance, or young adult. The problem is, there’s way too much sex for YA.

Speaking of which, the sex in the story is not erotica, but very Judy Blume style. It’s the only way those scenes could be written. (The only way that makes sense).

What I learned

I learned that I still have “it”. I still have the urge and the need, and I still have the will needed to write, plot and outline.

I learned I still enjoy it, very much.

I learned I still can’t write short: in my mind, this was a small novel, and I wondered if I’d be able to make it 50 000 words long. But it turned out to be more than 100 000 words.

I also learned I am not as bad at writing dialogues as I thought I was. Some of it came naturally to me, and writing most of it was really easy. On the other hand, I learned I have a problem with so-called transitional scenes, in which I have to describe stuff that happened but not directly show it (and no, contrary to what writing advice says, you shouldn’t always stick to “show, don’t tell” rule. Some things you have to tell (and not show), or else your novel will be either very long or fragmented).

I learned I can write explicit rape scene, but not a regular sex scene from a male POV.

And, very importantly: I learned I’m able to write “on command”, meaning, whenever I find time, no matter how small it is. This is very important, because of the time management.

In any case, I am really excited about this, and, dare to say, proud I finished this novel. It’s not my first, it’s actually my 13th, but it’s been a while. NaNoWriMO came at a perfect moment, and it helped me a lot. It gave me hope and support in a moment I really needed it.

Of course, it also helped me with my writing. My style is still unpolished and not as sharp as I want it to be, but I feel like I’m making a progress. More importantly, I am enjoying it, and I am more and more inspired to write something new. Maybe I should really start working on a novel I’ve been outlining for 7 years now (a fantasy novel I still don’t feel ready to do… But I will have to start at one point because it just won’t be any easier to do it. When novels are in your head for so long, they grow to great proportions, great significance, and it just puts a lot of pressure on you to actually start and write it).

Also, I got an idea (well, updated an older idea) for a dystopian novel about cloning. This one might have a potential. And yes, I know we don’t really need more dystopian novels about cloning (and I’m certainly not as skillful as some writers to pull it off), but it’s ok, because it won’t really be about cloning but something else (as usual). A really intimate story, you could say.

I just wanted to share this with you. :)