Monthly Archives: November 2016

The final days

I’m less than 1,000 words away from winning NaNoWriMo this year (writing 50,000 words).

I have two days left, not counting today (and I don’t because I have to leave for work in an hour).

And I still have to wrap up this chapter and wrap up the whole story.

Where I am at almost feels like a climax of its own, but it’s actually the story winding down. Whether it will be a series or just one of the ambiguously cyclical stories that annoy some people and refresh others, I haven’t really decided. That will be something to consider later on, after I’ve finished the story and read through it again. At that point, I’ll be able to see if there is enough new ideas to pursue a series. Or, perhaps, I’ll be dissatisfied, and I’ll write another chapter or an epilogue or something. But all of that will be December’s problem. (Ok, probably a problem for some time later on in life, I never seem to get around to earnestly editing any of my projects.)

When I hit 40,000 words, I felt like I was running out of steam. As I looked at my outline for the last two chapters, I was wondering how on earth I was going to write them at 5,000 words each (even though just last week I was bragging about how they were such dense chapters). When it came down to it, I thought I was going to come up short.

But this gave me a great opportunity to add in some “extra” content that showed different strengths of different characters, and I think will really make the last chapter of the story make sense. I was able to add in a little bit of the snapshot of life kind of scenes that make the character real, show time passing, and give just a short break from the hustle and bustle of the main storyline.

So now here I am, just a little over 49,000 words, and I’ve still got the entire final chapter to write. If I’m honest, I’ll probably put that off until December (I’ve got a book calling my name, and I need to finish it so I can blog about it on Friday!).

But I’ve learned a lot about my writing process since I’ve tried out some new things this year, the biggest being that even if I plan and give myself structure, I still have creative license and freedom. While in general my story is the same as when I started out, several characters turned out to be very different than I had expected. And by letting myself plan as I go, I was able to adjust the key events in later chapters to reflect the new strengths and weaknesses that I discovered in my characters.

And finally, I was able to simply enjoy the writing instead of stressing over what is supposed to come next or how to pass time before moving on to the scene that is supposed to happen next month. So, I’ve committed myself now to being a semi-planner. I know where I’m going, but I can take side roads to get there.

Onward now to those final words.

Of Irish Blood

I know I’ve said it before, but one of the best parts of working at a bookstore is being exposed to all kinds of new authors and new genres.

I snagged a copy of “Of Irish Blood” by Mary Pat Kelly. It follows Honora “Nora” Kelly’s life, beginning as a young 23-year-old Irish-American living in Chicago. Nora makes some less than stellar choices and gets caught up with a bad man. The only way out is to relocate, so Nora finds herself in Paris, wrapped up with Irish loyalists who dream of a free Ireland.

Nora’s story begins in 1903 and the book ends in 1923, so it covers a pretty large time span. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that, but having read it, I think the book wouldn’t have worked as well any other way.

The character voice in this story is very well defined. Written in first person, it’s really easy to get the feel of who Nora is. She’s very chatty, always with a story to tell or linking her family history with someone else’s (though, the way the other characters behave, we’re led to believe that is an Irish trait). She’s a true blue extrovert, that’s for sure. (Interestingly enough, Nora seems like the type of person that I wouldn’t be able to be around for more than a few hours at a time, but in a book, I guess I can handle it.)

But the style makes it a fast read–you read in the way you imagine Nora talking, fast paced, breezing right along. It took me a while to read it only because I had other things demanding more of my time. Otherwise, I know it would have been a few days to finish.

Nora’s story has a little bit of everything–romance, danger, adventure, intrigue. And it certainly makes you curious about Irish history (at least for me, so I guess I know what I’ll be adding to my list of subjects to read up on).

This book is a standalone, but it also is referred to as a sequel. This type of writing style I’ve always been impressed by–a continuing story, but one that makes perfect sense on its own, without constant references or explanations from the other book.

So whether you’re interested in history, Ireland, or just a good adventure saga, “Of Irish Blood” is worth a read.

The home stretch

I knew there was something I was forgetting to do this morning.

I skipped Friday’s blog because my current read has taken me longer to get through, due to my writing, than usual. I forgot to write this blog post last night, like I always do. And then I forgot to write it this morning at work, because I had other thoughts bouncing around in my mind.

I’m in the home stretch of Nano, and the home stretch of drafting my novel. I just hit 35,000 words (seriously, like five minutes ago), and I’m feeling like it won’t be hard for me to keep going on to the end. I have about six chapters left, which, with any luck, will be enough material for 15,000 more words, and I think it will be, because some of them are pretty dense chapters, and I haven’t killed off anyone important yet.

My writing has definitely slowed down this last week. And I feel like that is pretty normal, a part of my process. I fly through in the beginning chapters, and the further in I get, the slower the writing becomes. When I;m staring at a word count goal, I find myself wondering if I have the content to reach it. I spend time staring at a blank screen trying to think of relevant filler, interesting things to give me some extra words. And though it’s not like any story I write now will be ready to go without significant editing, I always prefer to have too much than not enough, even if it’s too much garbage.

So, I’m slowing down. The 30,000s usually do that. And once I hit 40,000 (shooting for Wednesday sometime), the last 10,000 usually go pretty quickly.

I’m not sure how much from my writing class I’m putting into practice, but I’m trying. Trying to make my dialogue mean something. Trying not to have my people stand around nodding or smiling too much. I like to think they sound like different people and not robots. But, I suppose all of that we will see later on.

For now, it’s all about getting it down on paper.

NaNo week 2

I’m almost halfway through NaNoWriMo at this point, both in time and in word count (goal is 50k words, at least).

I’ve been writing almost everyday, and getting myself a little bit ahead so that when I have those days (Thursdays) when I just don’t have time to write, I’m not getting behind.

I don’t even remember what I wrote about last week, but I’m sure this post will be almost identical.

Having a basic chapter-by-chapter outline is really helping. Of course there are still days when I stare at blank pages wondering what to write, but usually it’s an issue of getting started. I don’t get stuck in the middle of things so much anymore, which is great. It also frees up brain power to start thinking about life scenes to sprinkle through the chapters, instead of trying to figure out how to move my story on from point A to point B.

And thus, my ability to write those life scenes, little snapshots of everyday life for my character, is improved. Not necessarily that my writing is wonderful, but that I can think of such scenes that don’t feel utterly out of place. They don’t feel like Anime filler episodes.

I’ve now got my story outlined all the way, and I’ve found that what I thought would happen in the beginning, the characters I thought would play prominent roles, have changed quite a bit. The prince, who was supposed to help Theda get revenge, has turned out to be rather cowardly. But he’s ended up marrying a strong, confident woman who will help Theda.

And at least one person who was supposed to be dead has escaped with his life and will be making an appearance very soon. And he will play a significant role that I didn’t even know needed filled.

So, I’ve almost found a sort of middle ground between planning and winging it. It’s been really great to start with a plan, to have a road map and a general idea of where I’m going. But as the creativity flows and I get a little more into my story, I still have the freedom and flexibility to adjust as new ideas pop into my head, and I can allow my characters to follow their individual natures, instead of trying to find some dramatic reason for them to become someone entirely new (and unbelievable).

So here’s to week three. If I can make it to 30k or 35k, I think I’ll be solidly set to finish, or at least hit the word goal for the month (I can always write an ending in December). According to the website, and my current average words per day, I’m set to hit 50k words on November 28, which would give me two whole days to actually finish my novel during the month of November, not just hit the minimum word count.

Quiet

I don’t know how many times I have thought to myself, “the next person to tell me I’m ‘too quiet’ is getting a punch in the face.”

I’ve never done it, but I’m still young.

Telling me that being quiet, introverted, or shy is the quickest way to make yourself look, frankly, rude and stupid to me. Because I’m not like you, there must be something wrong with me. This is the message introverts receive, whether intentional or not. We’re raised to believe we’re flawed, that introversion means something is broken. Well, it’s not.

Susan Cain discusses this idea in psychological depth in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.”

The title alone sums up a large idea of the book.

Whether in school or the workplace, so many good ideas are passed over because one group of people won’t shut up, and the other can’t speak up. This is why group work isn’t always as wonderful as it’s proclaimed to be, and why some of the best discussions and brainstorming sessions can be found online, because as Cain points out, for introverts, it can be easier to open up and share an idea in the controlled environment of the Internet.

Cain also discusses several other ideas, such as whether introversion or extroversion is a result of nature or nurture (or something in between) and the idea of being highly reactive and sensitive.

But Cain’s main focus, in each discussion, is that our society (our being American) has made it nearly a sin to be anything other than an extrovert. And by pressuring people to fit the mold, we lose out on a massive power source.

The book isn’t 250 pages of anti-extrovert propaganda, though. Cain makes it clear that, even as extroverts have a lot they can learn from introverts, introverts can also push themselves and learn a lot from extroverts. The point is, neither group is perfect, and neither group is flawed. They are being psychologically and biologically who they are.

This book was so refreshing to me. I get so tired of people telling me that being quiet is wrong. There is something wrong with me because of it.

People who don’t know me assume I’m a doormat and won’t stand up for myself or my opinions (people who know me would likely laugh at that idea, in certain contexts).

Some people who do know me (know being a relative term, I suppose) work themselves into hurt feelings because I don’t engage in meaningless small talk. I don’t like small talk.

This book is a great read for everyone. For extroverts, it helps them understand their introverted friends and loved ones (and I know a few people I wish would read this book and take it to heart). For introverts, it helps us understand ourselves a little better, put words and definitions to our feelings and characteristics, and understand how it can come across to others.

“Quiet” is a little bit of everything: a serving of self-help, a double portion of psychology, with a dash of teaching and parenting thrown in. And, it’s an interesting read.

If you take nothing away from this book, or this blog, take this one thing: imagine how it would feel if someone told you the thing that made you /you/ was wrong. Imagine how you would feel about yourself if everyone told you that a defining trait was a flaw, something you should “work on.” Because that is life for introverts. Is it really surprising, then, that so many of us say we don’t like other people?

NaNoWriMo: Week 1

I have successfully completed the first week of NaNoWriMo, and my word count is on track. I’ve only been behind one day.

My writing process is going smoothly, in large part because I have general plans and content for the chapters I’ve written so far (who knows what will happen after chapter 13. That’s where my planning had ended). And I’m making time to write. That is my downfall, during the other 11 months of the year, I don’t always make time to write.

There is just something about November that makes it easier. I think it is, in large part, because I know I am part of a group that is embarking on the journey to creativity. No one is really paying attention to my word count, no one will really know if I finish or not, but somehow being part of the group motivates me in a way that I’m lacking on my own. So, maybe I need to find myself a writing group. Also, being able to update my word count, and turn little bars from blue to green as I meet daily goals is satisfying. I wonder if stickers on the calendar would be as gratifying…

I’ve also been trying to be more conscientious about my writing. In my planning and outlining, I’ve been challenging myself to break up the action with slow life-picture scenes. Scenes that give more insight into the character, instead of just moving the storyline along. I’ve also been working on tie-ins. If I mention this early on, how can I make it relevant later? Or, conversely, if something happens, and I want to address it later on, what can I do now that will open the door then? This last part is something I really want to develop, because they are my favorite bits of stories, the subplots revolving around things that seem inconsequential, or that you almost forget about, until it comes back up in a completely natural and relevant way. I want to be able to write that seamlessly.

And I’m thinking about my characters, trying to develop individual tones and personalities that reflect in their words and actions. I don’t want cookie cutter characters. I want to write people.

So, that’s where I am, one week in. I’m following my outline, but veering off when it seems like the right thing to do. And I’m still outlining as I go, which allows me to recognize how things happening now can come back up later. And then I write it down so I don’t forget. And some of the things I thought were going to happen may not happen after all.

Onward, now, to week two.

The Diabolic

So, as we know, I don’t read a lot of teen fiction. It’s not really that I dislike it, but more that I got a little overwhelmed by the dystopian everything, and when I look at the covers of books, they all look like they could be the same story. I know they aren’t, but, they look like they could be.

So snagging The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid was abnormal for me, but one of the best book decisions I’ve made since snagging a copy of Yesternight by Cat Winters.

The Diabolic is a futuristic novel set in space. The universe is ruled by an emperor, and the grandiloquy, or nobles, have their own planets and/or fortresses to govern. Many of these noble families had Diabolics grown for their children–genetically engineered humans without emotion but created to bond with one person and protect that one person, no matter the cost. So The Diabolic is the story of Nemesis, a Diabolic sent in the stead of her person, an heir to the galactic senate. Nemesis must convince everyone that she is human, or the consequences will be dire.

This book was full of intrigue, leading to several plot twists that I wasn’t anticipating. That’s right, several. Not just one. And the intrigue was written well enough that even when I could guess at what would happen, I was right there with Nemesis, wondering whether A or B was true, because each had valid evidence to support it. And in the end, while Nemesis chooses to believe one truth, the choice is obvious in her resole to take action if she finds out later that it wasn’t ever true at all.

The story was also an interesting look at what it means to be human. Is it just looks? Is it emotion? Is it physical abilities? Kincaid focuses on the emotion aspect, allowing Nemesis to discover that what she was created to be doesn’t have to define what she wants to be, nor the path of her future.

This didn’t read necessarily like a teen book, except that the issues Nemesis face are ones that, by the time we reach “adulthood” (whatever or whenever that is) we’ve mostly either dealt with them, or suppressed them enough to function. It’s a story about finding and creating yourself, which, while it may be a little cliche, it’s never outdated.