Tag Archives: writingcraft

Writing Every Day

NaNoWriMo is a great thing if you’re trying to get used to writing every day.

It can also be a bad thing for those people who have no desire to edit and instead publish exactly what they wrote two days after they win.

But let’s not go there.


If you completed NaNo, congrats to you!  You learned the importance of keeping to a schedule in writing, and how easy it can be to write a bit each day.  But upping the word count is never an easy thing, especially with a deadline looming. And it gets even harder when real life gets in the way.

This was the trouble that one author, Rachel Aaron, had when she started writing professionally. While struggling to find time with a new baby to write, she happened upon a few neat tricks that upped her word count from 2,000 a day (your basic NaNo goal) to around 10,000 a day (NaNo done in 5 days, anyone?).

The basics of it go something like this:

1: Do a basic outline of what you plan to write that day.  It can be anywhere from a few lines long to three pages of scribbled notes.  Get the basic ideas of how the scenes are going to flow, both in themselves, and together to create a cohesive whole. This ensures that you don’t spend time agonizing over where you are going next in your story, and that you can keep writing, as you already have most of it planned out.

2: Keep a record of what you are writing, Word Count-wise.  This lets you see where you are more productive, and gets you to sit your ass down in the chair to write. It may not be possible to dedicate an entire day to writing, but do it when you can.  Writing three hours at a time will boost your count by a lot, as you get more and more involved in your story to the point where the characters are telling it, you’re just the one writing it down.

-I have a personal experience with this one. I went to a Write-In three days before NaNo was ending and got into a word war with the local ML. We spent 20 minutes just typing, and the story came, because that was all we were concentrating on.  No internet to be a distraction, no TV in the background, just us, our computers, and our novels.  We both cleared close to 1000 words in those 20 minutes.

3: WANT to write your book!  Getting to scenes that you’ve had in your head since you started it is a great way to bump up your enthusiasm, and that bumps up your count. You want to tell this section of your tale, and the words often come pouring out.  But how can you get through the boring scenes? After all, if you’re getting bored writing them, we’ll get bored reading them!  The answer here, according to Rachel, lies in the first basic: your scene sketching. Find the one scene in what you sketched out that you can’t wait to get too.  Figure out teh plot hooks, and let in play in your head like a movie would.  You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll want to write what was once a “boring” scene.

-Personal Experience again, writing my novella during Camp NaNo (I used it as a time to finish projects rather than start new ones), there were some scenes that seems to drag on forever, and others that flowed out so perfectly and wonderfully that, when I look at them now, I’m still impressed that I was the one who wrote them. Make these moments become the norm. If you have to, skip around in your novel to write.  When you get bored with one scene, move onto the next. You can always come back and work on the first one later, when you get bored with the second!  It makes sure you are always writing, never wasting any of that precious writing time.

Rachel goes into some more details on her blog about this, and gives her own personal examples.  I highly suggest taking a look at it, as it’s something that we could all benefit from.  Even if you don’t hit 10,000 a day, you’ll at least help yourself figure out how you best write, making you a better author.



Gearing Up One Last Time

This is it. You have less than 24 hours in which to finish planning your novel.

There are a few things left to do if you haven’t already done them. First: make sure you are signed up for NaNoWriMo. It’s really simple to do. Just go to nanowrimo.com and click sign up. Then fill out your author profile and you’ll be on your way!

Two: set up your region on NaNo as well. It’ll make is possible to go to writing events that people will be having around your area. Writing with people is always more fun than writing alone.

Finally, don’t be afraid to change everything you have planned so far, or throw it out the window. Sometimes characters have their own ideas on what they want to happen, or you come up with a brilliant idea that just HAS TO BE TOLD NOW. November is your chance to do that. Leap on that chance and make it yours.

And remember: if you need to up your word count, always always ALWAYS remember that the Traveling Shovel of Death is ready and waiting to help you kill off everyone.

Gearing Up: Week Four

Plot? Check

Characters? Check

Setting? Check

Time to write? Uhhh….

This last one is going to be your most difficult as you start work on your National Novel Writing Month Novel. Things will distract you and you will get busy and you will think “I’ll just work on this tomorrow instead of today”.

Now, you can do this if you really want. But if your goal is to meet the 50,000 word “winner’s circle”, then the more days you postpone any writing at all is a day that you’re going to need to add more writing to at the end.

1667 words a day will get you to 50,000 in 30 days. Remember that. Those are your magic numbers.

So, what can you do to make sure you write?

First off, write every day. Force yourself to write if you have to, even if it’s just a few hundred words. Once the words get flowing though, don’t be surprised to find yourself writing more than what you had originally planned for in that time. It tends to happen that way a lot.

Another way is to work with other NaNoers. Word Wars is always my preferred method of getting writing done. Set a time limit and write as much as you can within that time and compare who has more at the end. It turns on our competitive streak as humans, and you would be surprised at the amount of times I have gotten something amazing from 15 minute Word Wars with Liz.

Carve out a chunk of your life to write if you have to. 5 minutes on lunch here, 10 minutes after dinner there. It doesn’t need to be all at one go and indeed, it can be even better if you don’t as it gives you time to figure out scenes in your novel.

The best think about NaNo is that is prepares you to become a writer if that is what you truly want to be. As far as I know, there will never be a deadline of 50,000 words in a month, but you might have “a novel in a year” as a deadline. And the tricks and habits picked up here of writing every day and thinking about your writing even when you are not will serve you well in years down the road.

I used last year’s NaNo as a test run for my undergraduate thesis. I knew that if I could do 50,000 in a month, I could do 20 pages in 3.

So write, write, write, whenever you can. You have a week left to plan. Best of luck!

Gearing Up: Week Three

You have characters.

You have setting.

….do you have a plot?

In creating your setting, I’m near positive all sorts of ideas occurred to you on what you could do with your characters in this world. Now is the time to gather up those thoughts and put them all on paper.

Perhaps you have a simple plot in which girl meets boy, they go out, they get married, the end. Or maybe there’s complexities involved, such as girl meets boy, girl kills boy, boy is now a zombie…and, well, you get the picture.

Here is where you can have fun and really begin to figure out what your story is.

There are four simple steps to creating a plot that you can follow during your NaNo month (or really, at any time).

One: Figure out your starting point. With a start point, you know how the characters meet, what is going to happen to get them together and what them getting together might entail. It’s an introduction of everyone involved and might take anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few chapters, depending on what you all have planned.

Two: What is your climax of the novel? This is your Point B if we look at step one as Point A. The characters must get here eventually. Will the climax be a nail biting magical duel or a fight between two lovers. Maybe it’s a gun fight and one of your main characters is currently in a hospital bed fighting for their life. (Aside: never be afraid to kill off your main characters if that is what the story calls for. Be a literary murderer!) This is what every one of your readers has been waiting for, so whatever it is, make sure it has been worth the build up to this moment.

Three: The Ending. I don’t mean writing the words “the end” when you have finally finished it all, but that is a fun thing to do, I’ll admit. Here is where you tie up loose ends and slowly wind your reader down from the high that they hopefully experienced during the climax. A great video explaining why this is so important in anything can be found at Penny Arcade and I highly suggest checking it out: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/episode-07-pacing

Four: Fill in the spaces.  You have three points now: A, B and C. This is now when the fun part of plotting can happen. Sub-plots, interactions, laying of clues, everything indirectly related to the climax is now put into place along your chart of points. Give a word or two of detail at each new point. Examples can be “meets Samantha” or “learns about dragons”. This will make sure your story is paced well and that you won’t forget anything that you had planned.

Of course, like all good plans, this will likely fall apart at the first sign on battle (in this case, the second day of NaNo), so don’t be worried! You can either us this roadmap you have created here to get you back on track or just go off and let the story take you where it will!

Gearing Up: Week Two

By this point, you should have your characters, or at least have thought about them enough that you think you know what kind of people they are going to be.  Chances are, this has also led you into thoughts on how they are going to fit into your story, and what type of world they are going to be living in.

Is there magic?

Are there dragons?

Does anyone ever leave the coffee shop that the two characters have met in?

These are just a few of the questions you’ll find yourself asking as you being to create your setting. I have gone over a bit about setting before during Dexter Week (Read it here), but this will be focused more on how you create one than how to decide where it’s going to be.

The first step is to decide if this is going to take place in a fantastical world of make-believe or in our real world, or some combination of the two. Each  of them has their own pros and cons.  A fantastical world frees you of limitations that our world has, such as gravity, or gaining faster-than-light space travel to go to other planets.  The problem comes when it starts getting too out there, and your reader will have a hard time getting into the book because they will constantly be reminded of just how far away they are from home they are unless you give them concrete things to hold onto.

A great example of these fantastical worlds are found in Lord of the Rings and Chasm CityIn these worlds, humans are the standards, an object of familiarity that we can hold onto. In Lord of the Rings, we are also slowly introduced to the more fantastical aspects, which makes them easier to swallow and gain understanding of before moving to the next.

Having a setting take place in our world means that you don’t need to worry about the audience connecting with it. They know our world, the rules therein, and how they would expect people to react within certain situations. The cons are appearing for that same reason: the world is known and you can not stray from it lest people stop to believe, or get angry about details that you forgot or are untrue.  It’s reasons like this that people who write historical fiction with years of research behind it are truly some of the best authors in my mind. They can keep track of so many different aspects at once.

The final choice, having a fantastical normal world, is one that more and more authors are going down.  Just look at the amount of books that are appearing in the “urban fiction” settings at the local bookstore.  The pros and cons here are mixed.  Yes, you can have a pre-made setting that you find out of the books on a city, but you also make it yours by twisting a few things around in it.  Care still needs to be cautioned though so that you don’t make it too fantastical and risk alienating your audience by taking it too far away from reality.

So, make your choice. What is your setting?

Once this has been decided, you can start to create your world: make cities, villages.  In gaming terms, create some NPCs to populate your world that your characters can interact with on their quest for something.  Maybe there’s some strange quirk about this world (man eating Fog is one quirk I’ve been kicking around for a while) that is a fact of life for everyone.  Perhaps the people of one city live their lives backwards, or can only speak in rhyme.

Whatever your setting is, flesh it out!  Build a world as if you were the god of it, create, create, create!  You can always edit things out later, but why limit yourself at the beginning!?  You never know what you might come up with that will fuel another story.


ETA: Featured on Writers Weekly on October 13th, 2011.  http://paper.li/paultlowe/1307471907

Gearing Up: Week One

It’s October, and now the planning for NaNo can being!

The best way to start gearing up for a large writing project is to tell other people that you are planning on partaking in a huge project.  You’ll get a lot of support then when you start writing, but also people asking you how it is going.  It forces you to write just a bit each day so that you can always report some progress and not feel bad about not making any.

Another great place to start is by beginning to create your characters, which is what I’ll be going over today.

One of the best ways I have found to create a character is to fill out a simple template with information about the character.

Occupation (if any):

These seven questions will give you a baseline for your character and how they will react in certain situations.  These sheet can constantly be evolving as well, as certain events might make their attitude towards others change, such as a murder of a loved one, or the birth of a child.

There are other questions that can be asked as well to give even more insight into a character, such as a basic history, a listing of their relationships, or what skill sets they have that make them particularly interesting.  A great example of these skills: flying a plane, hacking computers, even an ability as a writer.

A great question to ask yourself before you create a new character though is why you need to create them.  Is there a certain role they need to perform before they disappear forever, or will they be a re-occurring one that will challenge the main character for screen-time?  A fanfic writer I know creates hundreds on original characters for her fics, and has a bio on every one of them. Before creating another, she consults this list to find out if she can use one she has already created or if she needs to make a new one completely.

While this is harder for original fiction, the basic premise is still solid.  With a collection of bios, it’s easier to pick one for the position you need the character to play in the writing.

Here’s a great collection of links for help creating your characters:

Fake Name Generator: http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/gen-female-it-us.php  It also provides and entire backstory for them as if they actually existed.

Character Generator: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-char.php  There are a lot of generators here, including ones for plot and setting.  The character ones have a lot of variety though.

Character Names: behindthename.com  It tells the meaning behind the names, which is great if you want your names to have a certain meaning for the character.

http://www.lowchensaustralia.com/names/fantasylinks.htm has names that are more fantastical


Hope this all helps, and I hope to see what character creation ideas you have!

DEXTER WEEK DAY ONE: Know Your Setting

A good setting can be hard to build.  Some think the world of fantasy is easier to work in as you can make everything up. But such a fantastical world still needs to make sense, not to mention the fact that if there are books later, expect to go back through what you wrote earlier in order to make sure it is all the same (or pray that you haven’t lost your notes on it).

Writing in the “real world” is perhaps a bit easier.  Streets, landmarks, even the local gas station is already there, all you need to do is change names to “protect the innocent”.  There is no lee-way here though either.  If Avenue A has been under construction in the time period you are writing your story in, expect to have readers dive-bomb you if you make Avenue A easy to drive around on and wide open with four lanes of traffic.

This is where research is your friend.

Learn all that you can about a place before you start writing your story in it.  Have a map open on the background of your computer of the important streets and locations that you can refer to when your main character is chasing after the man who just robbed him (or is running away from the cops).  It’s a bonus if you have lived there for any length of time and have walked the streets.  The added realism truly helps to bring the reader closer to believing that what they are reading is real.

If you can’t live there, visit the city of your choice at least once to experience it.  And, if that’s not possible, build a network of people who live there that you can call and ask them “Hey, can you drive past here today and tell me what you see?”

The Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay are really wonderful examples of this.  The world is fleshed out, the setting of Miami remaining as close to possible to the “real world” during writing.  Current events are mentioned in the books, including the effects of the economic downturn, wars, crimes, even the daily flow of traffic from Miami to the Keys.  Boating marinas, islands, and, in the newest book Double Dexter, the local “color” as seen in the form of sharks and people, are all included.  This well-rounded environment is a world that is believable even in its fiction.

Look around you.  You have a setting that you know well right there.  Try writing a few hundred words describing that place to get a feel for setting creation.  And if it’s a fantasy world you want to write…well…  Go get out your D&D books and plan a “game”.  By the end of that, you’ll have a fully fleshed out setting that you can steal pieces and parts from to create something you and your readers will enjoy.

For more information on setting creation, check out these links: