Monday, November 30, 2009

Wrap Up 2008 – NaNoWriMo

Well I was able to finish my novel. That means I get to write a nifty wrap up blog about my NaNoWriMo experience. I’ll try to keep this short, for those of you who aren’t too excited about my NaNoWriMo ramblings.

My biggest fear was not having enough time to write the entire novel, what with one less weekend this year. I knew that I was going to have to write at least one day ahead at some point to make it work out, and I did that in on the 21st and 22nd. I just added 1,500 words to my total needed on those two days and I was able to get that jump. It was a good thing too, because this month proved to be a bit tougher than I anticipated. There were surprise visits on my writing night, as well as work interfering with my schedule. I still finished a couple days early but it was a bit of a challenge to pull it off.

One of the things I noticed was that NaNo encourages you to meet and interact with other writers participating in the contest. But at the same time, writing is such a solitary act. There were several meetings with writers in my area, and while I did want to go, I wasn’t sure how much writing would actually get done (and that is even if I had a laptop with WiFi). Writing really requires me to go deep into this place inside and the less interruptions I have the better. I think that writing in a group just wouldn’t work for me. On the flip side I got to find a few other writers in my area, so maybe I can connect with them outside the contest and meet to talk about our work and techniques.

How do I feel about the first draft? The way I usually do about all my first drafts. I’m not entirely pleased with it. I feel that I was character heavy in the first half and plot heavy in the second half. I think that I ended up back loading a ton of exposition in the last two chapters (something that seems to happen a bit with these horror novels). I think the characters of Adrienne and Rachel are greatly improved compared to their old versions. I think that the inclusion of the mysterious older character was a big help to the story. I was able to write the ending as I envisioned it, but I’m curious to see if it actually works with the story as is. I think my description was much stronger in the first half than in the second half. I’m going to have to look up some synonyms for “frost”, “cold”, “ice” and “frozen”.

What’s next? After I finish a novel, I usually take a break from writing. I’ll read more, play videogames a bit, just take a week or two off from writing. Doesn’t mean I won’t research (something I’m planning on doing, dealing with the sci-fi novel I wrote over the summer). I think my next focus will be that sci-fi novel, give it another pass and see if I can tighten it up a bit, maybe work it into something solid. As for “Forever Cold”, I’m thinking of revisiting it over the summer for a second draft. This will include me reading it in one go, marking it up (and getting rid of my repetitions), seeing what works and what doesn’t, and re-fitting it around a bit. I think the core story is solid and will work out but, but I’m curious to see how long this turns out – story or novella?

Well that’s about all I’ve got for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It was exhilarating to participate in and I got a finished first draft out of it. Thanks to all of you who provided encouragement and good wishes. All writers need this, and I for one appreciate it.

How do you feel after completing a first draft? Do you usually take a break or do you dive into something new? Do you have any specific questions about NaNoWriMo that I can answer?

Monday, November 23, 2009

First Draft Blues – NaNoWriMo

Just wanted to post a quick blog this week. Things got a little tough last week with work intruding on my writing time and other interruptions. But I accomplished my goal of getting ahead of the scheduled word count (mostly because the week of Thanksgiving is going to be crazy). Still things haven’t gone all that smoothly.

I got the first draft blues, something that happens every time I work on long fiction. It usually hits after the halfway point and I attribute it to a couple things: story fatigue and self-doubt. Self-doubt is self explanatory, but story fatigue is a little stranger. Basically I get tired of telling the same story. I want it done so I can work on something else (usually some new-fangled idea that popped into my head while writing this one). Story fatigue is sign that the fire to write the story is growing dim – it also means I need to wrap this puppy up.

The self-doubt portion of the First Draft Blues is the whole “this story is crap, what was I thinking” mantra that pops up. It occurs after you run into a few hard patches in story – places that you found really difficult to write. You begin to wonder if you’ve written yourself into a hole. You begin to think back on what you’ve written and feel that it’s horrible. You question the need to even finish this turd.

I think this happens to most writers, and the only solution is to power forward and finish writing. In a way that’s what makes NaNoWriMo a great tool. You’ve got a self imposed deadline, you’ve got to meet it with a quota of words, so no matter what you end up writing it’s completed – and that’s the key. The first draft is supposed to be bad. The second draft is where you sit down, read the puppy and find all the great bits that are inside. You pick up the themes and tie them together. You weave the story tighter, cut out all the fat, and add muscle where it’s needed. The second draft is closer to the story the way it should be told.

Stephen King has a great analogy of writing. The first draft is just cracking off the huge piece of marble that will be the story. It’s lumpy and misshapen, but the basics are there. The next passes will reveal the statue underneath. And that is where the real story is made.

So the first draft, blues and all, is important because the completed idea is done. It’s the first step and you can’t have a completed version without the first draft. It just takes some additional will power to say “Hey this draft stinks. No worries, I’ll check it out in a month or two and see all the great stuff it does have. I don’t fear the red pen.”

So for now, I’ve got to forget the blues, forget the other “amazing” story idea I just got (or write an outline for it), stop whining in my blogs about hating the first draft – and just write it in time for the end date. I did it last year and I can do it again.

Ever get the first draft blues? Ever hit story fatigue? What do you do to fight these monsters? Do you never have any of the issues above?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Recycling is for everyone: even writers – NaNoWriMo

I mentioned in my last blog that I ended up using my old story “The Grey Man” as the basis of the story I’m working on for NaNoWriMo. Is this cheating? Doesn’t this mean that I can copy and paste the material that I did write into the contest and boost my word count. Well, I could, but I didn’t.

First off, that draft was written about four years ago, and my style and skills have improved since then (just reading some of my older work brings a shudder to my body even if I smile at some of the good stuff). The original version had a prologue that was very redundant. It was the first to go in the new version. I wrote an entirely new chapter to open the story. Initially I didn’t show you Adrienne’s revenge. I was more interested in her adjustment back into life. But looking at the story now, I felt that showing the reader what she had to do and how cold she became was an important base. It also gave me the opportunity to show a bit of foreshadowing, which is always fun.

Next, I removed all the police material. While Adrienne’s father was a detective, and knew people on the force, I kept them in the periphery. In fact I took the character of the detective from the first draft and turned him into the older mentor police chief in this new version. The original chief was pretty cookie cutter, while the detective was a more rounded character. So I took the more rounded character and put him in the key role. Sadly his partner Kasumi had her part cut considerably. She’ll show up as a side character, maybe have two scenes at the most.

Adrienne’s childhood friend Rachel also received a make over. In the original draft she was supposed to be a successful business woman, but behaved like a wet blanket and was a total pushover. Just reviewing her dialogue made me embarrassed. No way could this woman run her own business. My parents have run their own business for years and it takes assertiveness and guts. Rachel still needed to run the business, its part of her story with Adrienne. So she got a rewrite and I think she’s a much more interesting character. She’s tough but understanding. Hopefully the reader will get the strong connection between the women without all the fawning and pathetic dialogue from the original draft (shudder).

I also rethought the supernatural element of the story. I don’t want to say to much about it, but in the original draft it was actually pretty pedestrian in the execution. This time I added a new element that makes will make this a bit more complicated for Adrienne to resolve and hopefully more interesting to read about.

In addition I created a bit of a subplot involving another of my long existing characters. He’ll pop in to deliver some “Book of Thoth” type information, but with his usual deadly spin. That element just came to me last night and I think it will add to the tone of the book.

With all the changes there is no way I could cut and paste the puppy together. I’m re-writing from scratch. The only element I lifted was a poem and I even edited out a few lines from that (because they referred to the old version of the supernatural element). The poem was really a space saver. I’m not a poet, but I want to come up with something a bit more acceptable than what I have now. But the idea is there and I captured it well enough in the original to keep it without many changes.

So basically my recycling is just that, recycling. I’m taking an idea that I had, rethinking it, reworking it and rewriting it. The initial idea is solid. It just needed four years to find all the right parts and maybe four years of writing experience to improve it.

Have any of you writers ever read your older work and said, “Wow, what was I thinking?” Did you ever start writing something and had a neat side idea pop into your head? Were you able to work it into the story or did you take into a new story idea?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What to Write: Part 2 – NaNoWriMo

I already had something that was inspired by Lovecraft, a set of stories I came up with in the 90’s that I’ve been tooling with and refining for years. I came up with a great outline of the stories and world about three years ago and I’ve been writing novels and short stories in that world off and on for a while now. Now it was time to dive back in.

Last year my NaNo journey was more planned out. I knew I wanted to write a supernatural thriller and was actually plotting it out before I started writing. This time, all I had was a vague outline of stories that needed to be written out. Last year’s NaNo novel “Pierced” falls in there. As I looked over the outline one story popped out.

About four years ago I started a novel tentatively called “The Grey Man”. I was finally going to delve into a character I’d created back in the 90’s, named Adrienne West. Miss West has been bouncing around for years and some of you may have read a strange short story where she found herself in a bizarre dream world. Anyway, I’ve wanted to flesh out her story for a while and four years ago I gave it a try. The beginning was pretty solid, however I fell into one of my traps. I got obsessed with perfecting details as I wrote the first draft.

I had some police characters in the story, detectives assigned to solve a series of mysterious murders. These detectives would end up crossing paths with Adrienne and be torn between feeling she was a suspect or a witness. The problem was, whenever I got to these detectives I would obsess over police procedure in that type of situation. And since I’m not a detective, I had to make it up. And since I was making it up, I knew it was wrong. It really started to bug me, because they were becoming more and more a part of the plot and they were slowing me down more and more. I never finished writing the novel because the detectives stopped me cold.

Now I have a solution. Drop the whole subplot with the detectives. They didn’t really add anything, since the reader already knew how Adrienne was involved. There was no suspense really, just wondering when the detectives would piece it together. Instead of bouncing back and forth between the detectives and Adrienne I would stick with my main character. She was more interesting anyway. I might have the detectives appear in a scene or two, but they will no longer drive a parallel story.

The only issue now is that I feel like I’ve lopped off half the original story idea. Will that make this new version too short, a dreaded novella in length (not much market for that length of story)? Or will Adrienne be able to carry the full story to a complete length by herself. We’ll have to see , but that’s what I’m going with. I do have some additional details that I can add in, things that I hadn’t really considered four years ago, but now feel like they fit. And of course I can add that extra Lovecraftian touch.

So what is the story about? Here’s a back cover for you.

As desert winds howl like banshees around Adrienne West as she faces a deranged murderer. She’s hunted him for three years and today, she’s going to end the chase. Her revenge, which should have quenched the fury within her, only starts something new.
Adrienne returns to the city of Ten Bay hoping to start her life up where she left off. But everything’s moved on. Friends are gone or seem to find her too changed. Worse the visions that guided her hunt have not stopped. They continue to plague her with new terrors. One in particular, a brutal thing with icy breath and frozen fangs, seeks her out in her dreams. When the first frozen body is found, Adrienne begins to be very afraid of what she has become and whether she will remain Forever Cold.

For you writers out there, do you find yourself digging up your older stories and looking for ideas or inspiration? Ever let the details derail you on a first draft?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What to Write: Part 1 – NaNoWriMo

NaNo snuck up on me this year. Between the two large projects at work that were requiring overtime, and the crazy schedule that forced my wife and I to come into work at 4:30am, I didn’t really have time to consider writing a novel. It wasn’t until I got an automated e-mail from the NaNo site that I remembered. I saw the e-mail and said, “Oh yeah, that’s coming up. Well I should think about doing it again.” And then I forgot because work drove everything from my mind.

When I had some down time I did bring it up to my wife. While most of my projects would wind down in mid October, she would still be doing follow up and would end up working from home. I didn’t want to end up with both of us needing to work in the home office at the same time. Work has to come first, and if I had to do my own NaNoWriMo in December, I would. But she assured me that we wouldn’t really be in the office at the same time and it would be great if I got back to actually writing again.

Well with that figured out, it was now Halloween. Um, Ok, so NaNo starts tomorrow – what do I write… Hello? Anyone? Any brain cell wanna chime in there?

This wasn’t writers block. This was just my brain stunned for a few hours. I knew what I had wanted to write for NaNo this year. There’s a fantasy adventure story I’ve been kicking around for over a year. Now would be a great time to power down a first draft.

There was one slight problem with this. NaNo falls in November. What have I been doing all October? Reading H.P. Lovecraft and watching horror movies. This means that I’ve got horror and supernatural fiction on the brain and in blood. I didn’t feel like writing a fantasy story. And one thing I’ve learned, if I end up forcing the writing it almost always comes out poor. Strike while the iron’s hot. So horror fiction it is.

While reading Mr. Lovecraft’s work, I was surprised how much of it has been borrowed and influenced most modern horror – and yet there are very few successful adaptations of his stories. Of course Lovecraft’s writing offers several limitations for adaptation. His style is stilted and hard to get into. His world view is bleak and unforgiving. His heroes can be very passive, hardly heroes at all. And his horror is created by generating dread, something that is very hard to do in a movie or television show.

But with the right amount of tweaking and fleshing out, you could make a solid series based on Lovecraft’s fiction. This was the kind of thing I’d been thinking about this October, how would someone create a movie series or television series based on Lovecraft’s stories. I came up with all kinds of ideas and actually got a little pumped to work on them.

Then my logical brain stepped in and said, “Hold on. Why are you doing this? Are you seriously thinking that you can create a whole television show or movie franchise idea based on Lovecraft? Seriously? Think about that for a moment.”

I did and my logical brain was right. Unless Hollywood goes through a major shift in perspective, Lovecraftian fiction is going to remain in books. Most mainstream viewers don’t want dread. They want solid scares and blood. Can’t say I blame them.

Ok, novels then, I can write Lovecraftian novels that are…

Yeah Mr. Logic stepped in again. “There are already a whole bunch of Lovecraft novels and fan fics out there. Maybe you’ve heard of the Cthulu Mythos?”

“Yeah, but this would be…”

“Different because you did it? No. It would be more of the same. And you don’t really want to waste time on more the same do you?

Logic brain wins again. I’ve fallen into this trap before. I become enamored with something and the fanboy in me starts creating what is basically fan fiction. It’s fun to write, but it isn’t satisfying in the end. What is satisfying is taking the inspiration of these works and working it through my brain and fuse it with my style and create something new. Not necessarily original, but something less than a “inspired by the works of…” type deal.

What did I end up writing? Well I’ll post part two of this blog this weekend and you can find out. Or if you want t sneak peek, head over to this website and check out the “Novel Info” tab.

As of this writing 9,088 words, or 45 pages.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Time to Start that Novel – NaNoWriMo 2009

After much consideration I decided to attempt National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again this year. This means in the month of November I will write a novel. Sounds like a challenge, but I pulled it off last year with a solid first draft. Still haven’t gotten around to editing that puppy, but it did prove to me that power writing through a first draft is a great way to get things moving. And I need to get things moving.

Ever since I got the lovely little white box called the Wii, I’ve been slacking off. Now I can’t blame it all on that wonderful birthday present (thanks Chris!), it’s also the simple fact that I’ve been a lazy bastard. Sure I’ve done some short story polishing here and there, but nothing really came of it. The most writing I’ve been doing is this weekly blog and I’ve been slacking there a bit too.

So maybe NaNoWriMo is what I need. For those of you that are curious, I’ve got 30 days to write 50,000 words. That translates to roughly 175 pages. So really this is more of a novella sized work. Still this is a first draft and you can usually expect these kinds of things to change size after editing.

Last year I shot for 3,000 words each day I sat down and started working. 2008 had 5 weekends in it. This year I’ve only got 4. But I think the 3,000 word limit will work fine. This breaks down to me writing for four days a week till the end of the contest on the 30th which falls on a Monday.

I’ll be starting up tomorrow and I’ll also try and post some blogs with progress reports and some insight into what it’s like this time. I’ve already got a story idea and I’m eager to see where this one takes off too. I’ll go into a brief synopsis of the idea in my next blog.

Here’s the website if you wanna check it out:

Have you attempted NaNoWriMo before? How did you fare? Sound interesting to you or do you think this is a hopeless task?