Category Archives: resources for writers

NaNoWriMo Tips

Celestial Bear

National Novel Writing Month kicks off on November 1st, which is this Sunday!

Okay, for those panicking (much like me), remember that nice deep breaths are your buddy. NaNoWriMo is exciting for sure, but it can be a little overwhelming even if you’ve won challenges in the past. In the last couple of days, my brain’s been running over a series of tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years that will help make my NaNo easier. I thought I’d share a few.

  • Remember, writing is fun!

This can be a hard to remember in the middle of a draft. I get thinking about everything I’ve done, everything left to go, and I lose track of why I sat down at the keyboard in the first place: Because I like it. Because I have fun telling stories and getting words out to share with other people. Sometimes, I need…

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story trumps structure: a review

Story trumps structure: how to write unforgettable fiction by BREAKING THE RULES

by Steven James

This book’s title is telling. On one hand, yes, story trumps structure. A good story trumps all. I’m on board with that. But the rest reads like a gimmick.

What this book means by ‘break the rules’ is actually this: ignore all those other rules, but follow MY rules (and we’ll call them principles so it’s totally not the same thing hahaha aren’t I clever?) and write your novel without any ‘structure’ at all. Just use this other kind of structure which we will not call structure, we’ll call it more principles to guide you, see, still clever!

75% of this book you can find in other writing books. Full stop. The ideas might get different titles, but they’re there. This book rehashes concepts like tension, conflict, plot twists, escalation, and story promises–all of which are familiar territory to anyone reading other contemporary writing books.

The other 25%, if you’re a quote-endquote organic writer, might actually be useful. Most professional writers who have written writing books are the organized, plotting types, so this is the first place I’ve seen this kind of in-depth discussion of writing by the seat of your pants and making it work. However, I still have a couple of quibbles…

For one, the plotters are not at war with the pantsers. There is no war. Got it? Okay. I hate the dichotomy of you’re either this or this, especially when it comes from writing teachers. If you’re a student of writing (and we’re all students of writing) what works now might not work in ten books. And ten books from then, you’ll probably have new methods and prefer different techniques. And that’s how it should be. I pants a lot more than I did when I was writing my first book, but I still love my outlines.

I don’t buy into the attitude that if an outline didn’t work for you once, that must mean you’re not an outliner so just throw it away and be freeeeeee! No, no, no. I’ve had so many outlines that didn’t work because I wasn’t good at outlining yet. It’s a skill, one of many. There is no war between plotters and pantsers. We’ll get along just fine as long as I get that last cookie.

Some of the advice for organic writing is simply not sustainable–such as rereading large chunks of your novel before you sit down to write every day. I want to know how to to enter this mythical universe where hours of solitude and privacy are handed to me every day. I eek out my writing time a few minutes at a time. Being a plotter helps because with an outline or at least a clear idea of where I’m going, I spend a bit less time exploring. But where in the laws of the cosmos does it dictate that organic writers can’t be organized like their plotting peers? All writers, regardless of process, can benefit from tools such as lists, journals, and a side-document filled with ongoing questions, concerns, and ideas.

Like many others, this book is rife with casual sexism. Heroes are hes, unless they’re mothers or really want to get married, then they’re shes. If you want to hurt your protagonist, hurt his wife or some other woman that ‘belongs’ to him. And it seems a bit pointless to complain, because hey all the other writing books do it, too, right? But it doesn’t have to be this way. Considering that more than half of writers and readers are women, why do male authors assume that other men are the default of their audience? Using gender-neutral pronouns is so laughably simple and would include everyone–not just men and women.

This book doesn’t make it on my recommended list, for the obvious reasons. If you can snag a copy from your library, Part II (organic writing) is worth a read, but otherwise, the rest is a gimmick to make readers think they’re ditching the rules, when really they’re just learning the rules under different, flashier names.

Oh, and the troubleshooting chart in the back is downright insulting. I appreciate these kinds of charts for baking, but for writing, not so much, because they assume I’ve already figured out the problem. Do I need a chart to tell me that if my problem is ‘too many flashbacks’ (pg 286), the answer is to cut them? That isn’t helpful. How about a chart that makes me answer questions about how important each flashback is, so I can actually determine if it’s needed to tell the story? Obvious chart is obvious.

story prep workshop

I had a great time at yesterday’s workshop, WriMos!

In case you missed it, we talked about a lot of ways to plan and prep your story, because NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. Here are some links we shared, plus a few more, because I love arming you with resources:

Candy Bar Scenes — Holly Lisle’s website is a treasure trove of writing inspiration and information.
Snowflake Method — Advancedfictionwriting.com has novel design down to a science, or close to it as you can get. This method is great for plotters.
Scene and Sequel, MRUs — Advancedfictionwriting.com has another great article for how to structure scenes, both large- and small-scale.
Story Engineering Beat Sheet — Storyfix.com has some great resources for story planning as well as this beat sheet.
Jami Gold’s Website — all the fill-in spreadsheets and plotting devices you could dream of, and then some.

NaNoWrimo YWP Novelist Handbook — ignore the fact that these are for kids. No, really. There is some great advice in these pages, as well as some awesome printouts.
Scrivener NaNoWriMO 2014 Free Trial — Scrivener is offering a free trial of their writing software for this year’s NaNo, from now until December 7th. If you win, you get a coupon for 50% off.
Sacred Cow of Publishing: Writing is Hard — deanwesleysmith.com tackles the myth that writing is hard.
Sacred Cow of Publishing: Writing Fast is Bad — deanwesleysmith.com tackles the myth that writing speed = writing quality.

We’re about to get very busy, WriMos. November is coming–we are ready with write-ins, workshops, and a write-a-thon. Check our calendar at nanowrimo.org or on the calendar button at the top of this page. I can’t wait to see you there.

Happy Writing!

review: the storytelling animal

the storytelling animallink: The Storytelling Animal by Jonathon Gottschall

With a title like this, I couldn’t not read it. I love learning about the storytelling aspect of fiction most of all. This book delves into how fiction (the stories we tell ourselves) infiltrates many aspects of our lives.

This book is not a how-to or a writing guide, by any means.  Instead, the chapters discuss dreams and how we fictionalize our experiences into memories.

The good: it’s an easy read citing a lot of studies.  The chapter on dreams was entertaining, and the chapter on unreliable narrators struck a chord with what I’ve read in other psychology books. I agree with his premise of our need for stories, and how we’re evolving storytelling to satisfy those needs in emerging media.

The bad: it’s long for what it is. Casual sexism proliferates, with women only existing in examples for the purpose of belonging to men or procreating the human race, an object to be enraptured by the (of course male) storyteller.

I found his take on Vivian Paley’s book Boys and Girls to be particularly disturbing. He cites the study she did in her classroom as some sort of inflexible law of how the sexes will always behave–segregation of masculine/feminine (aggressive/domestic) play due to evolutionary tendencies.  But the reality is, gender roles are a construct, and changes made inside a classroom environment cannot have their full impact because the world outside the classroom doesn’t change–their home lives, their histories, and the media they consume.

All in all, this book could have used another edit to trim redundant concepts and sexist language.

nanowrimo goodies

In the past, Literature and Latte (creators of Scrivener) have offered NaNoWriMo winners a coupon code for 50% off.

This year, they’re doing the same, but if you want to try Scrivener during NaNoWriMo, they’re offering a free trial (larger than their regular trial) so you can Novel away until December 7th.

I really like this software. To be fair, it’s the only special noveling software I’ve ever tried, but I like it. So if you want to give it a try, now’s a great chance to check it out!

Link to Literature and Latte

prep your story

I am absolutely not going to panic that we have a month and 4 days left before NaNoWriMo. Nope, nope, nope, not gonna do it.

Instead of panicking, I’m going to talk story prep. We’re hosting a workshop on October 12th, but in the meantime, here’s a link I’ve found helpful in planning stories, from Storyfix.com: The Single Most Powerful Writing Tool (that fits on one page).

There’s a lot of balls for a planner to juggle. But one thing I’ve found is that if I can nail down the first plot point and set my character down the path of emotional growth and give them proper agency, then the rest of it comes together.

A few things to remember about the first plot point:

  • this is the moment your character commits to the story
  • there is no going back
  • it should be the protagonist’s choice, not coerced
  • it should show a shift in the protagonist’s emotions or thinking, for better or worse, a willingness to change or a realization that change must happen
  • the first plot point bridges the gap between part 1 and part 2 (of a 4-part story), in which the character goes from setup to response
  • plan this big moment between 20%-25% into your story

Don’t let first plot points scare you. They can be high-stakes or low-key, from betting the farm to admitting to yourself that yes, maybe the house is actually haunted. Both of these moments require a response–now the the farm is at stake, the wager (and work) begins. Once you admit the house is haunted, you have do something–either prove there are no ghosts, move out, call in a priest, or learn to play nice with your ethereal cohabitants.

In fact, your protagonist might have to do all those things, but first, they have to admit those strange sounds at night aren’t just mice in the wall boards. That’s the power of the first plot point.