Figments of My Imagination Running Amok!

As I browse the NaNoWriMo forums, I’m struck by the number of posts that ask for help because the poster’s characters won’t do something the author expected them to do (e.g., hook up, become friends, kill one another, run away, continue the plot in the fashion the author wanted). There’s one person who’s responded in roughly the same way to a couple of these posts. In short, the responder has said: they are your characters; they are not real; make them do whatever you need them to do.

On one hand, I completely agree with this concept. Isn’t it a little bit silly, if you step back and look at it, to think of figments of our imaginations behaving badly (assuming, that is, that we didn’t intend for them to behave badly)? It’s a bit like monkey mind run amok.

On the other hand, I have experienced this situation for myself. The chemistry wasn’t there in the scene in which I saw my characters moving in for a kiss. I visualized this scene in my story, and when I came up to it, the characters just didn’t… <shove> want.. <push>… to move <smack> in the direction I wanted them to.

It’s a strange situation. If I were to make them do what I wanted them to do, it’s not so much their lack of chemistry, but my perception of their lack of chemistry that would wreck that scene. Yes, it’s all up to me, but the problem is that it’s all up to me.

It’s too comfortable to think of this as a problem, though, when in fact, it could open up into something much more interesting. This problem situation has become the springboard for a much richer and whole storyline in my own work. As I’ve been writing this month, I had a vague idea of where it was going – it was something of a post-apocalyptic fantasy involving a girl transported from our here and now – but I found myself with too many questions. I tried to put my characters in a certain story arc, and it just wasn’t as big a problem for them as I’d thought it would be. Seeing as how this is NaNoWriMo, during which questions, editing, navel-gazing, or other nonsense is not allowed (in my rulebook, anyway), I pressed onward. The story got to this point and sort of fell on its face with nowhere to go.

I took a little time this evening and discussed my story holes with my husband. He gave me a set of “what if”s that have the power to transform the entire shape, tone, and possibly even genre of my story (but luckily, not the basic concept – see related content below!). I’m a little awestruck, a little scared, and little overwhelmed, but I’m choosing to see those as preferable to feeling done.

Do any of you have a similar situation? The my-characters-won’t-do-what-I-envisioned “problem”? Has it led to something bigger? Do you think it has made you look at your characters or storyline(s) in a different light?

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Planning to plan?

Three days in. I don’t think they’ve yet discovered that I have no idea what I’m doing. Think I’ll lie low and chalk it up to it being Sunday…

So – NaNoWriMo-ers, how’s it going? Did you start out as a planner or a pantser? Is that working out for you? Hmm.. yeah, me neither. I started out a pantser: in a romantic rush of this being my first time at this, I thought it best to jump in, avoid educating myself on how to write (that has always done me more harm than good: it’s perfectionism food), and just enjoy the ride.

For the most part, that’s still how it’s going. But I’m quickly learning that if I expect to have anything remotely cohesive by the end of this experiment, I’d better start planning. I’ve assembled a toolkit of sorts to help me do just that.

First tool: a mind map. I took this one from the Get-it-Done Guy podcasts (I love Stever!). I’m using FreeMind – it’s open source (read: free) mind mapping software. When you get down to it, the way I’m using mind mapping isn’t anything revolutionary. I could probably accomplish the same thing using a spreadsheet. I just want to see my connections laid out graphically and I want to do that quickly and easily. So FreeMind is perfect for me.

Second tool: inspiration. I’ve picked up a couple of books from my local library lately. On Writing, by Stephen King, and Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Both are personal works that also serve to deliver what these authors have learned about writing. Both are also fantastic; I highly recommend you read them, whether or not you are interested in learning more about writing (but all the more if you are!).

Third tool: a change in perception. No, not while I’m writing. That change in perception comes to me once my kiddos are safely in their beds and I’m ready to unwind. I may be Irish, but I doubt my current writing nest (my local library) would appreciate me taking Hemmingway’s advice during the creative phase of my work. The change in perception I’m referring to involves shutting my inner critic/editor away  in a dark room with a duct-taped mouth and threats to disembowel her favorite teddy bear should I hear her breathe a word while I’m working. Editing and critiquing have served only to stifle my writing, usually before I’ve even begun. I’m taking this NaNoWriMo task very seriously: if I have any hope of sticking to the word count (and I am determined to win this thing), I must change my perception of writing from “writing well” to simply “writing: no matter what.” Yes, the question came up today what the effects of long-term solitary confinement may have on a young adult (don’t ask) – but you know what? I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that if I look it up, I’ll lose my momentum and probably get distracted along the way. Insert a comment with that question and keep writing.

That’s my toolkit in a nutshell. It may not seem like much, but it’s working pretty wellso far. Aside from frequent use of Google Drive to keep all my work safely out of the blast radius of my computers failing, that’s about all I’ve got for tools. That’s about all I’m doing to plan, also. I’m curious to know what you’ve found. Are your plans working for you? Did you make any? Is this your first time doing NaNo? What are your favorite tools?

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I Was a NaNoWriMo Virgin

So, there I was: browsing through some forum, when I came across someone’s post mentioning she was going to try to win NaNoWriMo this November. “What on earth is NaNoWriMo,” I wondered, and promptly Googled it. “NaNoWriMo,” it turns out, is short for “National Novel Writing Month.” Cool, thought I, let’s do it. (But definitely *without* saying things like “thought I.”)

So I got the ol’ fire burning, imagined my six-figure advance for inspiration, did a little browsing on the NaNoWriMo website, and found out I am a “pantser.” No, I don’t run around pulling people’s pants down, as my husband was quick to ask when I told him this. A “pantser,” is someone who dives into the project that is NaNoWriMo and writes by the seat of their pants, as opposed to a “planner,” which is pretty self-explanatory. This is pretty unusual for me: I plan nearly everything. I get upset with my husband when he runs to the grocery store without a meal plan and a list. To be plan-less is inefficient!

Ahh.. but I can report, one day into NaNoWriMo, that being plan-less has been freeing. I took great care to *avoid* reading up on how to plot/outline my novel. (Also entirely unlike me to not try to educate myself on a process before diving in.) By George, I think I’m becoming a little more self-aware: I know quite well how an “education” serves me. I use it as a yardstick with which to alternately judge and beat myself.

Being a “pantser” has allowed me to do something crazy: when my ideas for a scene have run their course, I end the sentence, insert a line, and start a new, seemingly unrelated, scene. That happened a few times today, and I can honestly say I’m not worried about it. Without a plot or an outline, I don’t know where I’m going. I’ve got a few characters that popped into my mind when I started, some natural courses of events took place, I have absolutely no idea why certain things are happening, and I’m not worried at all!

The only “plan” I have is to stick to the recommended 1,667 words per day. That’s apparently how you “win” NaNoWriMo: by writing 50,000 words during the month of November. I have to say, my 1,762 came relatively easily today. I’m approaching this like I’ve read one should approach foot races: don’t go too fast out the gate or you’ll be hurting for it later. I wrote enough words today; I ended on something of a cliffhanger so I have something to pick up and run with tomorrow. I did write down the questions that have come to mind, though – such as whether a character I introduced today is male, female, or even human. I trust that character will let me know somewhere down the line, though.

How about you? Have you or are you doing NaNoWriMo? Let me know how it’s going in the comments!


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Tips for Writers

#1 – Write

#2 – Read

These are the tips I’ve found most helpful and frustrating when trying to find help in being a better writer. I know them to be true: how else am I going to become a writer unless I write? Kind of a dumb question. And reading goes along with that: unless I read what’s out there and see how it works (preferably by reading what good writers have written), how else will I learn?

What I’ve found frustrating, though, is that I cannot yet justify to myself that time spent reading isn’t simply time spent having fun. And time spent writing? Don’t get me started… Well, I got myself started – I’ll leave you out of it, dear reader… As of today, time spent writing is spent writing a sentence or two, if I’m lucky, then sitting and rooting out the words from my head for a few minutes. They do not flow. Not yet at least.

Yes, I know it takes practice. In fact, I have a very clear memory of my junior-year high school English class, in which the teacher required us to write for a period of time and read for a period of time every day without exception. My first entries were stream-of-consciousness: “I can’t think of anything to write about… I hate this… why do we need to write anyway… still can’t think of anything to write about… about which to write…” But by the end of the class, I’d written an actual story – one I was quite proud of really. I don’t have it anymore, but I recall it involved the two beer-swilling brothers from SCTV: they’d started a band and taken the US by storm. I think Canada had been planning to use their success as a way to overtake the US through propaganda. Or maybe it was aliens. Whatever – it was pretty funny and my teacher gave me an “A” and a heart-warming note about how it made her laugh.

So I know it can be done. It’s the practice part that I have to work on… Or, as I read all these sentences ending with prepositions, maybe it’s the grammar… then again, maybe not.

What I think this all boils down to is accepting that if I want to write for a living, I have to write. And in order to write, I have to read. My brain is just convoluted enough that if I put a task in the terms of “have to,” I won’t feel so guilty about doing it. “Do something for fun, are you daft?”

Mayhap I’ve come across the solution: write about something you enjoy. Screw you, ELance, I’m taking my credits-less talent elsewhere – you can keep your catalogue-description-writing jobs; I’m going to write about stuff I like. And then I’m going to sit on my butt and read a good book. ‘Cause it’s research.

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I’m a writer!

Well, a writer who’s needy nature has been fed. Nerdy Minds Magazine has just agreed to bring me on as a contributing writer! Hooray! Outside actualization feels sooo good.

First post: how the game Dark Tower fed my descent (ascent? – I prefer ascent.) into gamerhood. Kind of funny, too: while I was doing a little research to stoke the ol’ memory about the game, I came across this video of Wil Wheaton at GenCon talking about how he loved Dark Tower just as much as I did. Well, he doesn’t put it that way, but you get the idea. I’d always thought it was my own little secret game of awesomeness.

Subsequent posts: I have a list started… I won’t get into the specifics, but frequent topics include parenting little geeks, roleplaying games in general (tabletop and video), and character creation – one of my favorites. Is there anything in particular you’d like to see?

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Podcast Interrupted…

I’d been planning to announce the exciting news that The Arcology Podcast (“A Shadowrun Community Podcast” I run with my dear husband) Episode 1 is now available! However, after reading somewhere that and WordPress do not always play well together, and me being a complete an utter newbie to podcasting with little patience for frustration, we switched to for our podcast hosting. I followed a great video by Cliff Ravenscraft (a.k.a. The Podcast Answer Man), showing his workflow – from prep to posting. When I say “followed,” I mean set his video in a window side-by-side with my open window of and made frequent use of the pause button on his video while I did the next step.

Anyway, the episode apparently uploaded to the site without problem, but when it got to the “Publishing” portion, we just got a bar that never filled completely, along with a spinning icon labeled “Publishing.” It’s could be a little depressing: today was supposed to be launch day. Ah well, we have a support ticket in to Libsyn and with luck, all will be resolved by tomorrow.

Here’s hoping!

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