Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My NaNoWriMo Experience: Meeting Your Deadlines

I DID IT! Ended my first NaNoWriMo off with 50,702 words. Boo-yeah. I'm a badass. I know.

Me. All day. Every day. I love my life.
If you partook, I hope NaNoWriMo went just as awesome for you, but if you didn't make the count, don't worry about it! You did something amazing by putting your skills to the test and making an attempt to better yourself as a writer. If nothing else, that is what I took away from this experience. But would I ever subject myself to this again? Wellll...I've always got big, innocent anime eyes on the bright and shiny future, so I'm going to put that one down as a solid maybe.

Let me explain! Like I said, NaNoWriMo was a great experience for me, and anyone who is in love with this craft, I damn well near demand you give it (or something like it) a go. And here comes the big ol' "However". By the end of the challenge, my story and I were at each other's throats. Back in my "Notes" vlog-blog, I mentioned the whole "slumber party" between you and your story, but do any of you remember what happened when you stayed over at your buddy's house for three nights straight? Well, for me anyway, they weren't so much my buddy by the end. We were sick of each other, which down right sucks, because we had been such good friends. This is what happened here. 

With what little time we had, my story and I started squabbling over details. "This should be like this." "No, you psycho! That should be like that!" I had that constant churning in my gut I talked about in "Writer's Block Pt. 1" that something wasn't right, but I didn't have time to go back and fix it. The story I wanted it to be wasn't the story it turned out as, and I have to admit, this is a scary ass first for me. Usually, I take time to work with my story until we create something awesome we both agree on, but this writing exercise got me thinking of something I hadn't in a long while. How do you deal with deadlines in the real world of writing?

My history as a writer is mostly in journalism, plus the crazy college days as a scriptwriter. These have always been simple for me, and I had no problem pumping them out on time. Looking back on it, I think it was because these projects weren't personal, and when I faced NaNo with that mentality of "Pfft, I can do this in my sleep!" I slammed into the ugly wall of reality. A novel isn't like a project you're working on with a team or for an assignment. It is personal. A story comes straight from the heart and soul, and strangling it out of you will only produced this maimed and ugly blob. So when we get into the publishing world for novels, how do we deal with deadlines? To be honest, I have no idea. I haven't published any novels to give you a bulletproof technique (if there were one to be had) But here comes another big ol' "However". This is what I learned from NaNoWriMo, and this, I think, might help me in the future, and if your writing style is anything like mine, hell, maybe it'll help you, too.

I spent a lot of time analyzing what went wrong with my NaNo project, and the biggest thing that popped out was, I didn't let myself get hit with that "Eureka!" moment before I got started. In the past, I knew it was go time while scribbling down my initial ideas and hitting a point where I actually shout out "That's it! That's where the story begins!" But I couldn't do that this time. I had to fire the gun and go, and I didn't consider this as a big, red, warning sign, until I smacked into my first hurdle. That hurdle was this: Where the hell am I going? A lot of writers suggest you begin with the end, or begin with the middle to understand where the story's taking you. That's not how it goes for me. I have to know, and I mean know, the beginning, or else the rest of the story is lost to me. Sure it can and will twist and turn and change, and I'm cool with that, but if I don't have a strong root, I can't see this thing going anywhere but six feet under. So how should I deal with that? Before pitching an idea, I should take some serious time to figure out what I'm getting into. I'm still anything but a plotter, so I have no intentions of ever going to the dark si-I mean, plotting, but now I know that, while taking it slow is available to me, I will be slowing it down.

But once the idea is pitched (and approved) there is no slowing down, is there? This is where my heart gets thumping and palms sweating, because now I have to reach those dreaded word counts and deadlines. Numbers have always scared me, whereas words were my warm little blanket I could snuggle up in, so why don't I think in words? Not word counts. Words! This goes back to immersing ones' self in the story. Instead of telling myself "I need to get to this count by the end of this week", I ought to think "I need my characters to reach this point." Because of my writing style, that point is just a cloudy image in the distance. I don't know what's actually going to happen when I get there, but I'm going to fight through the mist to see it, and that's what's going to drive me. Just like the reader, I have a hypothesis of what's going to happen, and I want to see whether it does or not. If it does, cool, going onto the next hazy image. If not, freakin' awesome. I want to see what happens next!

Well, not that simple, right? What about writer's block? What about life getting in the way? What if I plum just ain't feeling it, or have that churning going on that I'm not going the right way, and need to back it up? Now, this is all based on myself, so I can't speak for you, but this is the situation my engine really gets burning. If something sets me back, I almost always hit that eureka moment, and then I can power drive to the next point. It's going back to thinking in points, not counts. If I absolutely have to get 10,000 words in, I'll get them in, but I'll use those words more like notes than actual, hard story, then I'll let myself use that as a skeleton to build meat on and move to the next point (if you're an artist, you know what I'm talking about)

But whether I'm doing this professionally or not, it's important to remember that this is the first draft. It isn't going to be anywhere near publishing level, and that's okay. Meeting these deadlines is going to be tough the first time around, but in my experience with journalism, script-writing, and the novels I've written for my own enjoyment (and am now sending out into the world!) later drafts aren't half as tough. That's yet another point I'm looking towards. This is hard now, but if I can just make it to that next point, I'll be that much closer to done. So take it one at a time, and as always, trust yourself and trust your story.

As for Arbor Down, not all is lost. Actually, we're still pretty damn good buddies, and I can see this project getting done in the future. Man, oh, man, if I could just tell you some of the awesome things that happen that still make my heart swell with love...well, point is, we might be pissed at each other now, but we'll get over it. But how about you guys? How are you and your stories getting along? What did you learn from NaNoWriMo, and what are your methods for reaching deadlines? Comment, e-mail, pigeon mail me, and call my 1-800 number. Come on and preach it, boy (girl), for all the world to know! Or just me, really. But whateves.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Unofficial Blog: Fallout 4! - Using Your Down Time to Work

I swear this isn't one of the jerkwad blogs that spoils the end for you. That said...

November has to be the worst month to commit to writing a 50,000 word novel. You pretty much walk in from trick-or treating and sit down at your writing desk. You take a break to eat some turkey, fight the mob of Christmas shoppers, and every second in between, you're writing. To add insult to injury, your favorite freakin' video game of all time comes out the same month you sold your soul to NaNoWriMo. And by you, I mean me. But this isn't a bad thing! When taking on a huge workload, it's imperative we get some downtime or we'll drive ourselves into writer's block. But believe it or not, it is possible to work on our stories with our downtime.

For those of you who have no clue what Fallout is...well, first of all, you're lame and you need to go check it out right now (just kidding, you know I love you) Fallout is a post-apocalyptic adventure you fallow with a character you customize in every way. In conversations, the game provides you with several responses ranging from angel to asshole and everything in between. You pick your appearance, strengths, weaknesses, and if you're the kind of person who'd run into a den of super mutants with a mini nuke, or the kind who fires up your stealth boy and pray to God they don't see you. It's fun as hell, but it's also an amazing way to explore your characters. In my play through, I'm studying my character Annie. In every situation the game throws at her, I try to think "What would she do?" or "What would she say?" It's great actually seeing this stuff pan out on the screen, because it truly does help me reverse engineer it onto the page.

But while games like these are amazing tools, they're not the only way to unwind while simultaneously continuing your work. Another favorite technique of mine is to watch movies or read books that have the same feel, genre, or subject matter as what I'm working on. This can expand character, but it also does wonders for world, plot, and that overall feeling of your story that's practically a character itself. 

For me, it's easier to convince myself to take a break when I know I'm secretly still working, but the important thing is to give my brain a rest from the actual writing every now and then. Whether you're writing for NaNoWriMo, or working on a project any time of the year, go easy on yourself, or you're bound to fall out (shut up, H. that was the worst pun ever)

P.S. You have to help Liam Neeson take down Mr. House at the end.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For Those About to Write: I Salute You

Dear fellow NaNoWriMo'ers (is that a thing?)

In a few days, we will be off to battle. Some of us will not survive, but we will do our damnedest to taste victory. Join me in glorious battle, my friends, for three days from now, we dine in hell...or probably in front of our computers, living off junk food. Cooking burns precious time, and who needs to live a healthy life when there's writing to do?


I'll be taking off all of November to shed my blood, sweat, and tears into my NaNoWriMo project. Good luck to you and your endeavors, whether it's NaNoWriMo, being a bad ass, or all of the above.

Hugs and kisses!


Monday, October 26, 2015

Face Your Fears: You Can Do This!

Coming, this November, from the producers who brought you your worst nightmare, it's NaNoWriMo. Yeah, okay, National Novel Writing Month is only as big a deal as we make it. The race to 50,000 words is really against our own lazy butts. However, there is no adversary more terrible than that jackass little demon in the back of our heads telling us we can't do it. Even if we've written ten billion words in our lifetime, that jerk called Doubt makes those 50,000 seem like a novemdecillion (yes, that's a real number)

Unfortunately, Doubt doesn't only open shop in November. Before every piece I write—heck, even right now—Doubt's telling me I can't do it. Every time I sit my butt in front of this screen, I'm terrified that it's right, but fear is the path to the dark side. It leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to writer's block, know the deal. Like I said in my vlog-blog on writer's block, the number one way I combat apprehension is through motivation, and I'm not talking Zig Ziglar, or even this blog you're reading here. We need a living, breathing pep squad behind us—anyone who's willing to put up with our arrogance when we're on a roll, and our sobbing when were not. But in the case of NaNoWriMo (or any writing challenge) it's a good idea to surround ourselves with people who are putting themselves in the same hell we are. Writing groups, Facebook groups, twitter, even the NaNoWriMo site itself are great places to connect with your fellow mental patien-I mean, writers.

Of course, Doubt's such a jerk-wad, he doesn't stop with the confidence in ourselves. Once we're pumped and ready to go, that's when he ties his handkerchief around his neck and prepares to feast on our writing.

When we think of comfort zone, us introverts think of the closet we lock ourselves in so we don't have to deal with the world (I've got no idea what you weirdo extroverts think of, but you go girl...or boy) But comfort zone also goes for our writing. Personally, I have a hard time getting romance. I was the kid who cried "cooties!" whenever I saw kissy-kissy on the old mover reels (damn it, I grew up in the 90's, I'm not that old) To this day, my fingers tremble over the keyboard and my cheeks burn whenever I have to consider a kissing scene. A lot of times, I catch myself speeding through it, but all that does is make me have to go back and endure the torture again and again until I get it right. And this is something that's imperative to get right. Usually, when we're writing outside our comfort zone, it's a scene or concept that's important to the story. By speeding through it, or worse yet, abandoning it, our stories suffer. Like my crazy-brain says all of the time, our story will tell us what it needs to be told, and if we give into Doubt, we ain't going no where.

But we've gotten through it all! We kicked Doubt's ass when he made us doubt ourselves. We kicked his ass when he made us doubt our work. But the battle ain't over yet. For all of you bravehearts out there who are about to cast your work into the world, this may be the greatest bout with doubt you've ever faced (rhyming not intended, but appreciated)

In the case of NaNoWriMo, or anytime we're starting out, we shouldn't even consider publication. This is the part of our stories that is strictly for the story itself. If we go into it for the sake of publishing, our story isn't our partner anymore—it's our slave. I can't tell you how many of these poor stories actually have been published, but I can tell you, I never finished a single one of them. It was just too painful, because I could feel the struggle between the story and the writer.

But what about when you have written a story from the heart? The main problem I see is obsessing over perfection (which I mentioned in my writer's block blog!) As an artist, this is something I've experienced countless times, but my dad once told me something I carry with me to this day: "A painting is never done." The thing about any form of art is that it can always be "perfected". Now why did I put that in quotations? I've said this before, but art cannot be perfect. To attempt to do so is to strip it of its humanity. It's no different from writing for the sake of publication. You're afraid that your novel doesn't have a chance in hell to be picked up if it isn't written perfectly. The truth is, it isn't about the writing. Okay, it kind of is, but that's all through study. Honestly, though, I've read books I loved that would've been unbearable to read if not for how good the story was. Study up on the "rules" of writing, sure, but tell yourself it's okay to break them wherever need be (for example, I'm writing all of these articles with all sorts of bastardized grammar—"ain't" and "ya'll" and the like. Why? Because TEXAS, that's why!!!)

So whether you're reading this right before November rears its ugly head, or you're reading this, I don't, at the end of the world and you only have a few hours to finish your novel (no pressure) remember that confidence is the number one combatant to the demon, Doubt. Go get yourself a cheer squad, don't be afraid of what you think you can and can't write, and as always, trust your story. Together, you two are more bad ass than Constantine, and that's pretty bad ass.

Current Stats
Watching: Macross!
Listening: Pokemon Red/Blue - Lavender Town
Reading: Armada by Ernest Cline
Playing: Nothing :( (prepping for NaNoWriMo!)
^^^What are ya'll up to? Comment bellow^^^

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Show Don't Tell", You're a Jerk

I can't be the only one whose head goes whirling when I hear that stupid phrase. "Show don't tell"? What the hell does that mean? To the writers who have been studying this stuff for a while, we know it means to convey our ideas through the senses rather than outright saying "Miyoko clutched the throttles." But the phrase "Show don't tell" itself is telling, and doesn't teach us a damn thing. So here's the deal: instead of telling what is telling and what is showing and blahblahblah, I'm going to show you how to put the reader in the moment, and how we bring our writing to life.

The five senses: touch, taste, hear, smell, and sight. This is our arsenal for deeper writing, but know what? I'm adding a sixth. Emotion. Instead of focusing on what the character is doing, turn the reader's attention to why they're doing it. In my last vlog-blog, I gave the example of the ex-outlaw with the black hat. I could've very well have gone with something like this:

"So what do you say, Al? It ain't a big herd, and those cowpokes won't put up much of a fight. Most of them are as scrawny as that boy you got there." Gene flashed a yellow toothed grin at Tim, and that ticked him off enough to want hit him. Alan wasn't paying no attention. He got out of his rocking chair and grabbed his old, black hat off of the mantle, and said, "Let's ride!"

(For you folks just tuning in, here's the original: "So what do you say, Al? It ain't a big herd, and those cowpokes won't put up much of a fight. Most of them are as scrawny as that boy you've got there." Gene flashed his yellow toothed grin at Tim, and if he could, Tim would knock them teeth right out. But all that'd do would make Alan mad, except Alan wasn't paying no attention to him, or to Gene. His eyes were on the shelf atop the fireplace—on the black hat he set there long before Tim was born, when his outlaw days were done. 

Alan's rocking chair gave a tired groan as he got out of it. He stepped up to the fireplace, reached for the hat, and Tim knew it was a done deal. The moment he put that hat on, Alan was an outlaw again.)

So why didn't I write it short and sweet? It would've been great for keeping my word count down, and it got the point across. The thing is, readers don't read stories to be told a series of events (no matter how interesting those events are) They read stories to immerse themselves in worlds outside of their own. They want an emotional connection, which we express through telling the story, rather than stating what's going on in it. Just like I mentioned in my previous vlog-blogs, everything we have in our story—every prop, every scene, etc.—has to have meaning behind it. The reader wants to feel the same emotional impact to (whatever's going on) that the character is feeling.

Going back to that "Miyoko clutched the throttles" thing. If I were to state Miyoko getting into the cockpit, clutching the throttles, and so on, that'd be those series of events I was talking about. It's cool as hell that she's about to save Tokyo or whatever, but the problem is, I'm missing out on an enormous part of that cool factor. I neglected the strong emotional sense of anxiety, suspense, and/or excitement before going into battle. Instead, let's try this:

The hatch spun shut before she could buckle all of the way in. Was the air getting thinner? Her chest was so tight, she could barely swallow a breath. She might die today. They said she was ready, but she really might die.

"Ten seconds to lift off."

There was no going back now. Miyoko clutched the throttles. She could do this. She could win.

Wait. What? "Miyoko clutched the throttles." That is the exact line I used as the "telling" example. Except it's not. We know what's going on in Miyoko now. We know how nervous she is, how sure she is that she's done for. When she grabs the throttles, I'm no longer stating what she's doing for the sake of putting that picture in the reader's head. Now, I'm expressing her swallowing her fears and pressing onward. I'm showing the character's strong will, and I'm setting up the story to move forward. As an added bonus, I'm putting the image of the cockpit in the reader's head. I've knocked out all of the details I need to convey with one simple line, and I did it with context clues.

Okay, if you've read any of my other blogs, you know I bring up context clues all of the time. The reason for that is because a story isn't a visual thing. The reader has to build it in their mind, but it's hard to build a mental image if we don't know where the hell we are. However, stating "this is here, that is there," is boring. I want these things worked into the story with only as much detail as is needed. Above, I mentioned that Miyoko grabbed the throttles. Automatically, we can assume there are two throttles, she's using both of her hands, and because of the way cockpits are generally built, the throttles are on either side of her. We also know she's sitting down, because I mentioned her buckling in. If I had to bet a thousand bucks on it, I'd say you probably imagined what her seat looked like, too. In those passages, I didn't mention that she was in a cockpit, but if you've read the story up to that point, you know she pilots a giant robot. I never have to mention anything about a cockpit unless it's important to the story, because the reader can already assume it's there.

As a reader, the advantage of novels over movies is you can build and feel them. You can customize chairs and the sounds of chittering birds. You can feel the warmth of a fire, taste the the sweetness of chocolate, and breathe in the fragrant stench of a herd of cattle (didn't see that one coming, did you?) But to create those feelings, there has to be reason behind them, and you have to let the reader build these sensations for themselves. Focus on the story, not the details, or you're not showing your reader anything, and they hate that as much as I hate the stupid phrase, "show don't tell"...well, almost.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Building Blocks of Writing Part 3: Description

So here we are at last; the third and final element of storytelling (if you're just tuning in, check out action and dialogue) There's a reason why I put these three in this order. Action moves the story and the reader from A to B, whether through emotion, pacing, or the character's actual movements. Dialogue dives deeper into the human aspect of the story. It's what breathes life into it. But both are used to describe the story. A story is nothing but a series of events being described to the reader. It's a picture that we're painting with our words so vividly, the reader might as well be watching a movie.

But therein lies the problem. Too much paint makes for a big, brown, blob. So how much description is too much? We've discussed the power of suggestion in the action segment, how a little goes a long way, and the same goes here. But weren't we just talking about painting a vivid picture? Think of it like this: a story takes place 100% in the reader's mind. If we're going to tell them every detail about everything, we might as well gear them up with a helmet and squeaky shoes so they don't get into trouble (shout out to my little sister) It's demeaning, but more than that, it's boring. Instead of telling our readers about every grain of sand in the desert, weave it in with action and dialogue and create not just a description, but a scene. Check it:

Tim hacked up another wad of sandy spit and groaned as he wiped it on his sleeve. "Ain't this desert ever going to end? Dust's killing me, Alan, and I mean it!"

Alan raised an eyebrow back at him. "Still a long ways yet, boy. You best get used to it."

But he ain't going to get used to it. How the hell could anyone get used to three days worth of saddle rash, and waves of sand scratching out their eyeballs? Alan grinned like he could see how bad Tim was hating it. He clucked at his horse and clouds of sand puffed from its hooves, and Tim's eyes seemed to catch every grain of it. The ride to Elwood was going to be a hell lot longer than Alan said.

Here we've got setting, we've got plot and character, dialogue, action, description all in one small bundle. We might not know the whole story, but we know enough to build a world. We know we're dealing with two guys riding to Elwood through the desert, and we can guess Alan's older than Tim by the way he called him "boy". Notice I didn't put any physical appearance beyond that. As soon as a character is introduced, the reader's going to have a mental image of them. Whatever physical attributes that are important to the character must be mentioned as close as possible to the moment they take the stage. In this case, Tim's male, and he's young. If there were any other physical attributes that were important to the story, it should've been described before I moved on to Alan, or I'm only distracting the reader and sacrificing story in favor of useless details.

Every detail we write must have purpose behind it. Say I have a character who's so fat, he has a tough time pulling his pants on in the morning (FYI that right there would be how I describe he's fat—writing that epic battle between him and his pants) This detail might not be what the story revolves around, but it has to be consistently important. Maybe he's made fun of for it, and that causes him to have a jaded outlook on the world. Or maybe he's fine with the way he looks, but when running away from pirates, he can't keep up with his friends and ends up being caught. 

The same deal goes for clothing. Clothing can be tough because there's so much detail in what a person wears. It irritates the heck out of me when I have to wonder whether someone's in hot pants or skinny jeans, but this goes back to the context. What kind of person are they? Where are they and what's the climate like? Instead of spelling out the main character's dusty old cowboy hat, sprinkle in these details and let the reader assume what kind of clothing he's wearing. Unless, of course, that hat has a direct impact on the plot.

"So what do you say, Al? It ain't a big herd, and those cowpokes won't put up much of a fight. Most of them are as scrawny as that boy you've got there." Gene flashed his yellow toothed grin at Tim, and if he could, Tim would knock them teeth right out. But all that'd do would make Alan mad, except Alan wasn't paying no attention to him, or to Gene. His eyes were on the shelf atop the fireplace—on the black hat he set there long before Tim was born, when his outlaw days were done. 

Alan's rocking chair gave a tired groan as he got out of it. He stepped up to the fireplace, reached for the hat, and Tim knew it was a done deal. The moment he put that hat on, Alan was an outlaw again.

It's not just a hat anymore, is it? The hat represents Alan's days as an outlaw, and by putting it on, it sets up a conflict for the rest of the story. At some point, the story will have to round back to that hat. Maybe he loses it saving Tim, showing he chose Tim over the outlaw life. Or maybe he gets shot in the head, and that bloody bullet hole represents how that life got him killed. In the meantime, the reader is always going to picture that hat on him unless it's stated otherwise.

If I want my reader to know that Tim's also wearing a hat, that hat doesn't need to have metaphorical significance, but it does have to be a prop to move the story along. I might have him push up his hat and wipe his brow, killing two birds with one stone. I'm painting the setting (it's hot) and showing the reader Tim's hat without having to spell out either of them. 

It's all about keeping it simple, using only as many words as the story needs. For instance, I didn't need to say Alan got up slowly out of his rocking chair. I let the pacing and the context do it for me. I weaved the description in through action. See? All of the elements are connected. Just like DNA building all life of earth, binary creating everything you see on this screen, protons, neutrons, and electrons creating everything thing in the universe, these three, simple elements of writing are what create stories. Learn to weave them in the right way, and we can create worlds.

Current Stats
Watching: American Dragon (shut up :|)
Listening: Glitch Mob
Reading: Armada by Ernest Cline
Playing: Nothing :( Too busy preppy for NaNoWriMo!
^^^What are ya'll up to? Comment below!^^^

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Unofficial Blog: Mapping Out Your Story


I'm a pantser, big time. When it comes to mapping, I stop at the literal sense.

Mapping my story like this helps me map my story—way more than cork boards and note cards. I've tried every method in the book, but this is how it goes best for me: I'll go into free-writing, come up with a loose plot, then draw up a map to figure out the setting. From there, I'll go to Google maps and plan where I'm going. I'll also do a bunch of searches on the settings I want and stick them in my Pinterest

So next time you get a story rolling, consider mapping it out! Hah! Okay, shut up I'm sick and tired. Going back to writing now.