31 October 2011

It's The Final Countdown

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
How is everybody doing this NaNoWriMo Eve? What sort of tricks are you planning so you can treat yourself later? ;-)

As for me, I had a lovely relaxing weekend away, during which I did some research and a little bit of plotting, but mainly just let my brain rest to prepare for the onslaught. I feel excited, listless, a little overwhelmed.

Today I need to assemble my thousands of words of notes and scene snippets into some kind of order, and finalise a structure to work to based on what I've learnt about plotting. I'm looking forward to further fleshing out the characters' families, motivations and conflicts as I write. Here's hoping the muse keeps up with the pace, filling in the plot holes with fantastic ideas as I go... wishful thinking? We shall see.

So the NaNo regime will require some discipline during my evening/weekend hours...

  • Very little or no reading blogs
  • Hardly any tweeting unrelated to NaNo
  • Blog posting probably only related to NaNo progress, unless something else spontaneously occurs to me
  • No perusing silly videos, daily deals, surveys, competitions, and other random stuff on the internet
  • No 'unscheduled' TV viewing
  • Reading time limited to train commute

What are you sacrificing for NaNo time? Do you feel ready?

P.S. Can you read that subject line without getting this song stuck in your head for hours?

26 October 2011

What's In A Name?

I'm continuing to shape the characters and their arcs for my historical romance, and I'm itching to get started on proper drafting on November 1. I still don't think I'll have a full outline by then, because I get a lot of my ideas as I write. I'm just going to have to take a leap of faith that I can generate enough ideas during the month to see me through.

One thing I do want to have sorted though, are the main characters names (at the very least). With some stories, the characters come to me with their names. Not so with this one. When I first started sketching out scenes, I did have a tentative name for the heroine, but her character has morphed so much since then the name no longer fits. I have toyed briefly with a couple of names for the hero, but nothing has stuck. So in my notes they are mainly just "hero" and "heroine"... which is, frankly, lame. I want the names to reflect who they are (to me, anyway), and for minor characters I'd love to be clever with symbolic names or sounds which illustrate their personalities.

I'd like to believe I'll know the protagonists' names when I see them, so the plan is to expose myself to as many period-appropriate names as possible, in the hope a first name-last name combo with magically stick. There are some helpful resources for first names and last names, and this site is a bit of fun. I've started to make lists, but I think it'll be a few more days before I have time to evaluate my favourites. I can't see myself plunging into the draft without them, so fingers crossed I work it out soon!

How far could you get through a MS without names for principal characters? At what point does the name become part of the character? What are some of your favourite names in literature?

19 October 2011

Planning Progress

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Planning for NaNoWriMo is progressing, somewhat. I have figured out a lot about the personalities of my two main characters, and I have a pretty good idea of how their relationship grows and changes throughout the story. My hero's motivations, stumbling blocks and growth are clear in my mind, my heroine's less so. I have a fair idea of the setting, though I've only just started researching beautiful English tourism websites and I'm going to enjoy finding out a lot more. I will also need to research a lot more around the little historical details that will add realism, and possibly spark plot ideas.

Speaking of plot, this is the main grey area at present. While I know where my characters need to get to, I'm a bit stuck in giving them things to do. I know this will come, but pushing it to come over 50,000 words in one month is a little daunting. I'm keen to have little (and a few large) secrets revealed, which surely do require some planning? The other main gaps right now are most of the minor characters. That, and names. But I think I'll write another post about that later.

However, I am pushing fear aside and gearing up mentally for NaNo. See the participant's logo in my sidebar? :-) I have the bare bones of several scenes written - those that just wouldn't leave me alone and I'm excited about. The challenge for me is the discipline to write all the scenes chronologically, without cheating and rushing through to the climactic scenes I love to write.

What will be the biggest challenge for you during NaNo? (apart from time constraints, obviously!)

13 October 2011

Considering NaNoWriMo

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Everyone is talking about NaNaWriMo. For once I'm at a place with an MS (i.e. in the very early stages) where I might benefit from taking part. As you can see by the little counter on the right, I'm nearly 5,000 words into my new historical novel, with those words being a mix of scenes and outlined chapters from throughout the book (though mainly the first half). I could use some motivation and support to get into the nitty-gritty and get the thing really going.

I'm a little worried about having to be quite so consistent though, as I'm really more of a pantser. Sometimes I'll write like a crazy woman as scenes roll through my brain uninterrupted, but other times I'll need a few days or a week to mull over particular plot arcs or characters. The time away is required for the next bolt of inspiration to strike.

Before November 1 I'm going to attempt to do a more thorough outline, so that I have some kind of roadmap. The problem is that most of the time I get my ideas for future scenes as I'm writing, or in the mulling time afterwards. Plus sometimes when I'm outlining I can't resist writing scenes, and then I have to go back afterwards and fill in the gaps. Being able to say what happens throughout the whole book before I do any proper sequential writing is unlikely. It would be nice if my process could work that way, but I can't really see it working.

So I don't think I'll get near the 50k, but maybe 30k will be a good goal for me. 30k for 3 months and I'll have a finished draft. 

Apparently the next step is to register at the official site... but I'm not sure if that will be counter-productive, as the forums may just turn out to be a distraction? And I might feel like an under-achiever when I don't crack the 50k. If you've done it before, would you recommend registering? Have you "won"? Did you end up finishing and/or submitting the novel?

09 October 2011

A Turning Point

I took a walk this afternoon at the far end of the neighbourhood and I took these shots.

It's funny, looking at them now, it almost seems like a totally different day - look at those heavy clouds as against the beautiful blue sky. But all I did was turn less than 180 degrees.

I'm at a turning point with my writing too. Totally I sent off the last query for my women's fiction MS. I am satisfied that I have queried widely enough, and I'm ready to move on.

So, what to move on to? I have a couple of dozen story ideas or scenes saved, which span many genres. There's about five that are clammering for my attention, and then one that's sticking in my head the most at the moment is the historical romance I was toying with over a year ago before I committed to the now-completed one. There are a couple of scenes I just loved, and I'd already outlined several chapters (but no way near enough to constitute a full novel). Moments between the hero and heroine keep overtaking my head. Like while I was walking, I had to keep stopping to jot down ideas on my phone.

I love this part. The dreaming and drafting. The "OMG I HAVE TO WRITE THIS SCENE DOWN NOW OR I WILL DIE!" feeling. While there's so much possibility, and I can take the story anywhere I want, and I don't have to worry about filling in the gaps. What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The other turn I'm making is (obviously) changing from contemporary to historical. Several years ago I would not have considered doing anything BUT historical. I was fully immersed in that world. Now I've been reading contemporary fiction, consuming author blogs, etc etc. It's going to be a major mind-shift to get back into historical (probably Georgian or Regency) mode. I've been sort of pushing all of that to the side, purely due to time constraints. And while it's daunting to consider catching up, I'm excited to get back to my first love.

Another thought as sort of a foot-note... stop to notice the world around you. As I was furiously taking notes on my iPhone while I strolled back along here...

... I almost missed the first ducklings of the season:

I do love me some ducklings... well any baby animals really! This was a lovely way to finish the afternoon.

02 October 2011

A Time to Grow

It's spring here in New Zealand. Well, on some days it feels like it might be. All of our spring bulbs are awash with colour, and as the winter rains have started to drain from the ground we've begun to actively garden again. Weeds have popped up, some plants need to be moved, and a general treatment of fertiliser is required to give all of our plants a head-start.

One section of our vege patch is already sequestered by strawberry plants - the babies of last year's crop. They've been tentatively producing flowers and rather deformed strawberries for a couple of months now. I was watching a gardening show the other day and was a little surprised by their advice: take off all of the flowers in the early season. This will allow the plant to grow bigger and produce bigger, better fruit.

I took myself out to the patch today, and got busy with weeding. I looked at the lovely white strawberry flowers, and all the developing fruit, and ignored them for a while. Then when I looked closer, I noticed that many of the strawberries were in a sorry state. Some were quite flat, while others had lots of little knobs of them - a bit like a rooster's comb! I realised these are not going to be good strawberries for eating anyway. So, rational thought overtaking my nurturing instincts, I plucked the flowers and fruits from the plants with increasing courage. There was probably a hundred or more. I do hope this act of sacrilege does indeed result in healthier plants (not deceased ones).

A strawberry flower (right) and a baby strawberry (left). Both had to go!
As I stripped the plants, it got me thinking about where I am with my writing at the moment. I have queried a number of agents with my current MS, and while I've had some interest there's been no offers. I have a few more agents to query, including some "dream" agents, and while the rejection (or lack of response) will sting, I'm more ready for it now than I was a few months ago. I have all but accepted that this is not the MS that will launch me into publication orbit. And on one hand it feels like Groundhog Day, but on the other I know I've learned so much this time. I feel much better equipped to start with a new idea, more confident that I have the tools I need (or at least more than I had before) to execute it well.

Like the strawberries, I am in a growing phase. I could try to put work out there, but it won't be as good as the work I'll produce in the future. I know that even if I do get published eventually, I'll continue to improve with each successive novel. It's all about timing (and luck, of course). I need to accept that right now, I'm supposed to be growing. Later when I bear fruit again, I believe it'll be that much better for it.

I'm sure everyone's seen this video, but it helps me every time I hear this advice.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.