Archive for October, 2014

A Final Tip to Win the NaNoWriMo Challenge

Rise and ShineHere we are, the last few days of October. Soon you’ll see writers everywhere wandering around, mumbling to ourselves, as we try to work through a scene or come up with just the right word. Beginning at midnight Friday, hundreds of thousands of writers embark on their quest to write 50,000 words in thirty days.  So here is my final tip to win the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge in November.

Find your zone. Yep, that’s the tip.  Seems simple and obvious, no?  Yes.  But not everyone can figure that out.  To me it means find out what time(s) of the day your creative muse likes to appear.  She is a fickle little minx, isn’t she?  For me she pops by first thing in the morning and then intermittently throughout the day.  I try to write as early in the day as possible for this very reason.  If she pops in and lightning strikes while I’m doing something (often the case) I try to jot down a note in my notepad app or in the “real notebook” I usually carry with me. Because even though she pops in, it doesn’t mean she’ll stay long or that you’ll remember the visit!

Normally I write in the same location every day. I believe that is referred to as being locus dependent.  But if you find yourself stuck with a case of writer’s block, a change of venue can do wonders.  Hit the road and go write at the library, a coffee shop, on a bench at the mall…you get the point.  Sometimes that change of scenery brings about a creative change as well.  I know I always make up stories about the folks I see when I’m out people-watching.  Sometimes they may make it into a story or a character may take on a certain trait.  That’s the fun of writing.

So there you have it, the last of my five tips to help you win NaNoWriMo. Peek back through October if you missed the other four tips.  Hey, we all can use some help, right?  To my fellow writers, stock your desk stash, brush off those fuzzy slippers, bribe the Hub/kids to help with extra chores for a month, and write with feverish, reckless abandon.  See you on the other side!




The Importance of First-Readers

First Reader

If you’re competing for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days, this is my fourth tip to help you be a winner. Ready?  Okay.  Get a first-reader, or even better, get several.  I know, I know a lot of people don’t like to share their stories while they’re writing them.  I do, and with good reason.

Normally when people ask someone to do a reading of a first draft they’re looking for plot issues, typos, and more detailed things. This isn’t what your first-readers will do.  When you’re writing a novel in a month things are different.  You’re focused on not stressing over typos or grammatical errors.  There’s no going back a few chapters to check a detail.  That is NaNo suicide.  Don’t do it.  You can’t stop once you start correcting.  This is a “shitty first draft”, warts and all.  Deal with it.

The best way to use a willing NaNo reader is to send them your writing every day. Yes, every day.  The hope is that they look forward to it.  It also helps to hold you accountable for daily writing, which is crucial to win this challenge.  Most likely it will only be a thousand or two thousand words a day, so it’s not a huge time commitment.  After they read it you’ll want feedback like:

  • Is it believable?
  • Does it hold your interest?
  • What do you think will happen next?

The last question is very important. You definitely don’t want a boring or predictable story where there are no surprises.  In fact, one of the best ways to get over writer’s block is to kill someone unexpectedly in your story.  Seriously.  Trust me, it works.  This is also why I like to leave wiggle room in my outlines.

So where can you find first-readers? I posted something on Facebook and got three volunteers right away.  If you don’t want to do this, or maybe you want someone you’re not that close to, check some online groups or forums of local writing groups.  There are probably more willing people than you think.  After all, it’s only for thirty days.

I do have one caution about readers, though. It’s a good idea to be up front about the topic of your book.  You may not want your ultra-religious neighbor to read your …ahem… romance novel, or someone who doesn’t like your genre at all to read it and critique.  That surely would not be fun for either of you.


Outline and Structure for Your Novel

NaNo Notebook

This week’s tip to win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November is about outlining and structure. Since this challenge has an underlying goal of writing as fast as you can in thirty days, it will be very helpful if you know vaguely where you’re going.

Once you know what you want to write about, (look here for tips on where to find story ideas) start to break it down into sections.  The first section should be the longest.  This is where you’re introducing characters and leading up to the big climax of the story.  This is where you’ll use all that research and back story you worked so hard to come up with in October.  I would estimate this to be about half to two thirds of your book.

The middle section is the big bang, the climax of the book. This could be where a big cliff-hanger appears or maybe where a big “incident” occurs.  Whatever your story, this section is what you’ve been building up to, make sense?  But remember, it can’t be so revealing that the reader would be satisfied stopping there.  You want them to be excited to keep reading all the way to the end.

The last section is typically the shortest. It is here that questions are answered, mysteries revealed, loose ends tied up, etc.  The conclusion is where you will leave the reader either wishing for more or relieved it’s over, so wrap it up carefully.

Once you have the three main parts figured out, you can start a rough outline. Some people get very detailed, even crafting the first and last sentences for each chapter.  I like to leave a little more wiggle room.  After all, sometimes a twist will come to you out of nowhere in the middle of the night.  Or a particular opportunity for mischief may present itself, which leads off on a tangent.  Yes, good unexpected tangents are often hard to come by.  They cannot be easily dismissed.

I know some people don’t outline at all and use the seat-of-the-pants method. Unless you are an extremely imaginative person, I’d advise against this approach.  At least put some basics down on paper.  Really, you’ll thank me in November.

Research Tips for NaNoWriMo Success


NaNoWriMo Clock

This week’s tip to win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) focuses on research and background. I think this may be my favorite part.  Since I have a rough story idea, I know a few of the players I’ll need developed.  Now I get to start making them up.  Although, sometimes a character brings to mind a real person I know, and bits and pieces of that personality creep into my background for that player—which can be very fun for the writer!

When I’m naming a character, especially a protagonist/antagonist or another fairly key role, I like to give them a very meaningful name. You know, like a hard-nosed cop named Steel or an ultra feminine southern belle named Magnolia.  Okay, maybe those are a bit trite, but you get the idea.  It’s good to have those names personifying the traits you are trying to convey, even if it’s very subtle.

Don’t forget about locations. Will your story be in a real or fictitious town?  I like fictitious towns because you can really make up whatever you want and it’s a good way to use up some word count.  With a real town you may get bogged down in trying to be accurate—NaNo suicide.  Once you start worrying about making things precise you’ll start burning time.  Even if you think you’ll just go online and check “one thing—real quick”, the temptations are there.  Do all your research in October for character names and locations.

Another benefit of planning in October is learning some lingo. If your character is a cop, lawyer, doctor, etc., you are probably going to want to know some key words and phrases.  Also, things like background, schooling, schedules, whatever makes your story believable to those actually in that profession.  Or if they’re going to have a certain habit, disease, or even hobby you need to be knowledgeable enough to write accurately about it.

I write out very elaborate descriptions of my characters, right down to make of their vehicle. Not all the info makes it in, but it beats trying to come up with stuff during the writing process.  One tip I’ve come up with when a house pops up in the story; use a house with which you are familiar.  For example, in a story I wrote about a burglar, I needed to be able to really paint a picture of the interior of those houses as he crept through.  I used my home’s layout and some of my friend’s and neighbor’s homes so I had a clear picture in my mind as I was writing.  It made it easier for me and very descriptive for the reader.

I don’t like to use names of real (living) people in my stories if I can avoid it. If I look up a character and find someone with that name, I make a few changes.  I’ll run the search again after changing around a couple of letters or adding/dropping an “e” at the end.  Sometimes you can come up with a whole new name by spelling it phonetically.  I had to do that with one of my main characters for this year.

I have two words of caution about names. First, make sure the name you choose is accurate for the time period in your story.  You know, there were probably not a lot of women named Ashley in Medieval times, for example.  Second, if your readers have to stumble over the pronunciation of a name every time they read it, it makes the book less enjoyable.  Every time.  Happy writing!




Where to Look for Story Ideas

Ah October, when fall colors are blooming and a writer’s thoughts turn to November. Why November?  Because that is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo.  That is when those of us crazy enough to accept the challenge write 50,000 words in thirty days.  Yes, that is a lot of words.

As a previous winner of this challenge, I thought I’d take the month of October to pass on some tips and tricks I’ve picked up. After you poke around and sign up at the website, you may start to panic.  You’ll wonder where you could ever come up with an idea that you can actually expand into a whole book.  Relax, there’s time.

First, think of what kind of book you want to write. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “write what you know” before.  In this particular case I would agree.  Your goal is going to be to write as fast and furious as you can.  So the first thing to do is decide what type of book you are most comfortable reading.  That’s probably a good genre to write.

Next I suggest some deep thought. Either turn off all the electronics in the house and close your eyes or maybe go for a walk outside.  Think about previous experiences you, a friend, or a relative have had.  Think particularly about when that experience involved a difficult choice or situation.  Imagine what could’ve happened if a different choice had been made.

Still can’t think of anything good to peak your creativity? How about a tragedy that happened to you or someone you know.  You could change a few details, tell it from a different point of view, make a big change or don’t change it at all.  However, if nothing is coming to you, don’t fret.  Just turn on some social media, there’s plenty of bad news there.  Jump into someone’s shoes for a bit and let your mind wander.

Muse still not cooperating? Go online and look up writing prompts.  You’ve got a month, I’m sure she’ll pop up before long.  Muses are funny like that.