So I think of myself as a pantser, but the idea of pantsing for NaNo makes my knees shake in my fashionable knee-high boots. I like to discover the journey as the characters move along, but as far as I can tell, there are two problems with this for me:
Keeping up with the 2000 word/day target average.
Making sure I maintain the increase in tension from scene to scene.
Well, yesterday I downloaded Scrivener. It inspired me to spend quite a bit of time last night outlining chapter ideas, writing character sketches, and generally trying to organize myself. It all equals work I wouldn't have done otherwise (most likely) before Monday. I've got names for characters that I hadn't considered before, notes for the first 7 chapters, and backstory that I hadn't worked out earlier.
I'm so excited about NaNo. Can you tell?
How do you do your writing prep? How do you keep track of all of your notes and ideas?
I've signed up for email notifications from my local forums on NaNo's website. In addition to the usual write-in organizing messages and tips on how to get your word count completed while drunk college students yell outside your humble abode (*cough* my humble abode), there has also been a discussion as to what writing programs/software people intend to use to reach their 50K.
So, I thought, what the hell? Word only gets you so far, right? Maybe I'll try something different.
First, I downloaded yWriter5. Of course, I'm a dedicated Mac user, and this software is specifically designed for Windows. BUT there's a work-around. So I gave it a shot, downloaded the intermediary program to make it work, and tried it. I imported a couple hundred words from something else and then tried to edit it. DENIED! Apparently there will be no editing to imported text. Why? Don't know, but someone else on the forums had a similar issue. So, I thought, back to Word.
Then another message came through. The woman said she had tried Schrivener, but was going to stick to yWriter5. I thought, hmm, what is this Schrivener you speak of, and decided to check it out. Bonus one: there's a Mac-friendly program already--meaning, no work-around programs. *happy dance* Bonus two: it's a lot less DOS-like and a lot more user-friendly interface-y. Bonus three: even though the software isn't free, it has a trial period that goes through Dec 7 so NaNo users can try it out. Bonus four: if you don't win NaNo, you get a 20% discount at the end just for trying. If you DO win NaNo, you get a 50% discount. Bonus five: How many bonuses do y'all need!?!
So, I've set up my NaNo template and I'm going to start cork-boarding this weekend (I'm a little late in the game, I know, but I've always been more of a pantser). I'm also going to import the novel I've been working on (and just finished rewrites for last week *happy dance*), and get all of my info in one location, including my links and JPGs of characters, etc. I think this program seems entirely awesome, and I can't wait to really give it a spin.
Writing classes are amazing things. I have learned so much about myself and my writing in the past six weeks. It has been an invaluable experience, and I am beyond grateful to my instructor.
That being said, I've registered to take Beginning Welsh next semester, and not the next writing class.
Why? my husband asked me. And when he did, I didn't have an answer. So I've been reflecting on it, and while I'm not sure I've settled on a great answer, I have a couple mediocre ones.
First, the requirement for these classes--ones designed by MFA students or faculty who teach MFA students--is to write literary fiction. I don't write literary fiction, and I don't feel like I've done too well at it so far. I also really like the complications of dragons or witches or extraterrestrials, or the comfort of a cozy mystery. I'm not the kind of person who has theses on life all lined up in my back pocket ready to be fictionalized. Not all literary fiction is that, I know, but I feel a great deal of pressure to write something profound that's going to change the world, but I'm not a world-changing kind of gal.
Second, you have to apply to get into the next class. This scares the toe-socks right off my overly elongated toes. Seriously, you have to write a cover letter and send in your best short fiction piece. My short fiction has mainly been limited to this class, and it's not that great. Would this be a great way to prep myself for the rejection of agent queries? Maybe, but in my mind it's not the same. The prof/MFA student teaching the course may have the office across the hall from me (I haven't researched it yet, but it is possible since we share our hallway with the English department), and I might have the reminder daily that I didn't get in. They can't tell me no unless I apply, of course, but that brings me back to #1.
Honestly, I keep asking myself if I want to push myself toward literary fiction when that's not my forte, even if I'm learning valuable things about craft and style and structure, and I keep not having a good answer. So, as of right now, I've taken the wuss-way out. I'll take more writing classes in the future, of course, but for right now I think I'm gonna take a break and try to mold and tweak the skills I've gained from this course. There's never an end to the learning, but sometimes you need to just step back and take Welsh.
I decided to jump in feet first to my NaNoWriMo preparations, and threw together a synopsis. So many blogs and people suggest doing that first to get the juices flowing, so why not?
The Demon Inside
When she wakes up in a morgue freezer, Alexis doesn’t know who she is or how she got there. Her friends rescue her the night before the autopsy, and then spend weeks helping her rediscover her past and herself, except no one else knows the details of the evening in which Alexis was brought to the morgue. Born a demon slayer, she relearns how to control her power and continues her training as if nothing ever happened.
When she runs into Ridge, the vampire responsible for killing her boyfriend, conflict tears at Alexis. As the slayer, she wants to kill him, but he offers her information about her new life and about that night when everything changed. As the days and nights of her new life multiply, Alexis finds herself sniffing people’s necks and identifying their blood types, or wondering how her sister’s flesh would taste, or dreaming of the savory entrails of live victims, and she realizes what no one else has—she is no longer only human.
At first she tells no one, ashamed of what she has become while fighting demons harder than before. But needing to confide in someone, Alexis tells her sister and asks her the unthinkable: if Alexis becomes too dangerous, her sister needs to be ready to kill her.
Who's signed up for NaNo? I'm really excited about it. One of the features that thrills me the most is tracking my friends' progress and offering support with the buddy feature. However, the one thing I've noticed about it is that it's not like FB, or even Blogger. When you add someone to your list, that someone doesn't seem to get a notification.
So, what's your NaNo username? I want to follow you. If you don't want to list it in the comments, that's cool. You can always get me at rlconnolly01 [at] gmail [dot] com.
Oh, and I'm Rosie-C, if you'd like to follow back :)
This is about writing. Stick with me for a paragraph or two, kay?
Ever play SET? Give it a shot. Click on "Daily Puzzle" to the left. You have to find three cards that make a SET, which means the number, color, shape, and shading each individually all match or all mismatch. For example:
In this picture, even though the three red cards have 1-2-3, they do NOT make a set because 1) there's no squiggly shape and 2) there's no solid. The three purple cards also do no make a set, but they would if the single purple were an oval and not a diamond.
Sets here include the three singles in the bottom row. The numbers all match (they all only have 1 figure), but all the colors are different, the shapes are all different, and the shading is all different. Also the upper left three-squiggle-solid-green goes with the upper-almost-right two-oval-empty-red and the bottom-almost-left single-diamond-shaded-purple.
Okay, got it? Go play (when you're finished reading).
I hear you. What the hell does this have to do with writing, right? It does. I promise. It's about...
When you play this game online, you have to find six sets in the twelve cards. After a while, you keep seeing the same thing over and over because the cards don't go away (notice how, in my example above, the single-diamond-shaded-purple is used twice?). There are obvious sets, but you don't see them right away. If the stupid game didn't time you, I'd walk away, eat an apple, and come back. My time today was under 5 minutes, but I was about ready to pull my hair out, since I got the first five sets in a minute-twenty.
When we self-edit, we have to learn to find the things that we wouldn't otherwise see. These are faults that we can easily see in someone else's work, work that we haven't dedicated weeks/months/years/decades/lifetimes to, and so we're not emotionally invested. Pick up our own work, and it's really hard to see it. Is there too much backstory? Is this dialogue stilted? Is that character really necessary? The first few edits, you may see the first five problem-sets, but if you just keep staring at it, that last set of edits can elude you for months.
I try to get around my own blindness by walking away. For me, that's the biggest help. When it comes to spelling and punctuation, I read backwards (bottom to top, right to left), because then I can't become emotionally invested in my characters' lives on the page. Read it on paper or a computer screen (whichever way you don't write it first). Read it aloud. Print white words on black paper/background (color changes do amazing things, or so I've come to learn by accident over the past couple of months). And, when in doubt, ask a friend. I realize this goes beyond self-editing, sort of. If the friend is a comma-commando, then that's "typical" editing, but if the friend is reading for content, s/he can help me at least see the problem. It's still up to me to FIX it. Just remember that too many friends/readers can spoil the plot--something I forget ALLLLLL the time--so be selective.
What are some tactics you use to help you self-edit and see the faults you wouldn't otherwise?
Anyone out there ever watch SeaQuest DSV? It was one of those shows that piggy-backed on the popularity of StarTrek: Next Generation (along with other shows like StarTrek: Deep Space Nine and StarTrek: Voyager). Most TV shows at this time were simpler, more straight-forward with almost no plot complications and only one story line. This one was no different, with a slightly futuristic, military bent.
When this show originally aired, I watched it every week. It had nothing to do with the plot or the writing. It was all about Jonathan Brandis. Yup, I had a minor fascination (read: major obsession) with JB. For some reason I started thinking about him about a month ago, looked him up, found out some rather upsetting news about him (I'm glad I was never a child actor), and then started thinking about the show.
So, in tribute to JB and my interest *cough*obsession*cough*, I decided to watch it again. Yea, NetFlix and at-home streaming :)
Well, I'm sick, stuck on my couch, literally coughing and hacking and waiting for it to go away, so I decided to watch some good ol' DSV. Season 1, Episode 1, here we go.
And I can't tell you how pained I was to find out it was a two-hour premier. Now, this means I get a little more JB time, but it also means 1:30hr of really bad, 90s TV writing. The entire first episode is BACKSTORY! And poorly written backstory at that. Granted, a bit of the blame can be laid on the actors, though I'm pretty sure that's just the way TV actors performed back then: like they have a live audience; like they don't have a camera in their faces; like they don't have to speak like real people. *sigh*
But an hour and a half of backstory? Okay, sure, there's a little bit of action, but if this episode were sent to an agent, it would receive a form rejection.
The lesson? Don't overload the sick girl with backstory. She's bored out of her skull!
Do you have any favorite shows from the last few decades? And do you ever wonder why you loved them then when you watch them now? Can you watch them without analyzing the writing?
****Warning**** This is not a happy post. I will not be offended if you stop here.
Before I write anything else, I want to say that today is my friend Jim's birthday. Jim passed away two years ago from Leukemia just before he turned thirty. If you have a chance, drink a beer for Jim today.
The past few weeks have been particularly difficult for me.
First, my campus job is the managing editor of a linguistics journal. I used to love my job when I first got it, and nothing could have been better than the university (read: my boss/adviser) changing it from an hourly position into a GA position so that I didn't have to teach. Rock! And I'm still indebted to him for making it possible. I just don't love the job anymore.
Which meant that, even though I knew the deadline for the journal to go to print would be this coming Friday, I did nothing with it over the summer. So, September turned into super catch-up month in terms of publication preparation. That was the first reason for my falling into the bloggy black hole.
Second, the beginning of October is a rough time for me. Two years ago, my dad died on the first, and then my birthday is shortly afterward. The year my dad passed away, we actually had to put off the viewing and the funeral so that neither would fall on my birthday. It made for a rather awkward series of events. Since then, I haven't really wanted to celebrate my birthday. It's too clouded by shadowy memories of a false attempt at celebrating that first year, as well as issues with my dad.
I was so wrapped up my work in September that I almost forgot about the anniversary. Of course, that meant that I had two major things due on that date, one of which I had volunteered for. Dumb.
It's been a slow recovery for me this year, especially with Facebook and people wishing me a happy birthday when I just want to forget it. A friend of mine asked why I don't just take my birthday off of there. Honestly, I may have done that last year, but this year I completely forgot. I should just take it off permanently. The problem is that everyone else can separate the good from the bad—or simply don't know—but I can't.
Anyway, it's been slow, and I've been catching up with one thing at a time. First I caught up with the journal, then there's the continuous school-work catch-up, then my critique group, and now I'm getting back to blogging. I'm going to try and be more on top of visiting you all—in cycles, unfortunately—but I think I've dug myself out of wherever I have been for the past few weeks.
My sincerest apologies for my extended hiatus. September took my soul and hid it among my piles of unending work. The first weeks of October took my mind and made brownies for a bake-sale. I'm still in recovery mode, but I'm back, sort of, and I plan to be a more regular blogger.
Okay, on to the real meat.
Oh, wait, I recently returned to my vegetarian roots (root-vegetables?). Perhaps I should say, on to the real kale.
How do you know when to Show and when to Tell?
Okay, and now we all groan together and then get back to work, right?
No, I'm serious. A few months ago I entered a contest in which everyone who entered their first three chapters automatically got a three-chap critique from an agent. So, DUH! I entered. In looking back at my entry, I cringe slightly, as it has gone through numerous revisions since, but I gave her what I had. And, of course, it is my first novel, which I continue to beat into submission despite its own intentions. So, let's just say, it's not super. I'm still learning the craft. I'm rusty like that drink you make with Scotch... or how you feel after you drink it, anyway. So, yeah, I hadn't expected to win. No way.
What I had expected were slightly less-than-generic comments.
When I got them, I wigged out. Yeah, anger, etc. You name it, I felt it. The comments included the old stand-bys of "Show more" and "Remove clichés" and "Cut back on the wordiness", etc. And that was it. No specifics. So, in my wiggy-outtiness, I sent those three chapters and the general comments to a woman in my critique group who, I might add, is awesome in her straight-forwardness and won't beat around the bush.
If nothing else, she said that the clichés weren't my problem. *whew*
But that brings us back to show v. tell. She and I began a long discussion about it, when telling is too much, and—here's the kicker—when showing is too much.
I believe in showing. I do. Here's a great blog post that explains my understanding of it. And, yeah, I probably tell too much in my first three chapters. I'm considering rewriting them blind and changing the basic premise altogether, anyway. That aside, here's my question:
Can you show too much?
If you show EVERYTHING, does your reader get overwhelmed? By showing everything, are we not trying to tell our readers that every minor flip of hair or memory is of the utmost vital information? Sometimes events and actions occur to develop character, not necessarily to move the plot. Are these to be given equal weight?
Or am I, in wondering these things, making the age-old mistakes of the green writer?
In the blog post I linked to above, in the first scene example she gives, the last paragraph—the one that gives the punch to the dialogue—is technically showing. Am I wrong? Seriously, folks, am I? You can't show EVERYTHING! If you did, we'd be reading War and Peace every time we picked up a novel, but even Tolstoy tells us things!
Help me out, folks. I'm pretty sure I'm missing something here.