Monthly Archives: November 2011

And Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Blogging

Or, Final NaNoWriMo 2011 Attempt Stat’s

Ending document (story plus notes and scene sketches): 46,800 words (opening document was around 19,000 words, about 9K story and 10K notes)

Ending contiguous narrative: 33,652

Total words written in November: 27,402 words, with 17,284 of that written from November 19-28

Total forward progress: 25,011 words. 

I started the month with little more than my prologue and the opening scene from both heroine and hero’s perspectives.  Now I am about halfway through the project overall, with 2/5 of outline written from the beginning in a continous narrative flow. The outline percentage is deceptive because I’m considering the climax/denoument a full 1/5 even though the word count it requires will not be.  Thus my 2/5 of the outline is actually about 45% of my projected word count written straight through.  This, together with the pre-written sketches of most of the major scenes from here on out, means I’m at the halfway point overall.  It’s all downhill from here…at least on the draft.

I’m not even thinking about the editing yet…that will be a whole nother statistic, and one I can’t even try to guess at before I get the roughest draft back from my first readers (best friend and mom). 

I have come up with a tentative title, and I have a picture chosen for the cover if I can afford a license for it (one hopes, but does not expect…I’m not even emailing about it until the book is in revisions). I have ideas for two small stories that could come out of it…one might be integrated in as a subplot, the other definitely will not, but my thought right now is that they will both be separate stories, and either (or both) will be what I write while waiting to get feedback from first readers.  I also have a science fiction world I built ages ago–the first year out of college, in fact–that has been on my mind lately as a place to revisit, so I may jump tracks completely and go floating in the emptiness between the stars for a while after this instead.  Remains to be seen where my head is on the far side.

But in the meantime I remain enthusiastic about my story and my characters, and I’m looking forward to the second half of the story, which will be the fun part of bringing them together will they, nill they….

So how’d the rest of you fare during November?

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How To Lose Readers And Alienate Friends

Step 1: Participate in NaNoWriMo.

This entails spending all of your free time for a month writing, instead of just some of it.  You won’t go out with your friends for the duration, and they will all think you’re being a jerk–or if you go out with one of them, the rest will think you’re an even bigger jerk for not making the same time for them.

Step 2: Stop blogging with your usual verve and frequency.

Because, duh, you’re spending your writing time writing your novel, not blog posts.

Step 3: Make sure 90% of the people who read your blog are other writers.

That way, they’ll be doing NaNoWriMo, too. That way no one will bother to come and look at the few posts you do manage to get up that aren’t self-indulgent whinging about how far you still have to go, or self-congratulatory boastings of beating your goals.

Step 4: Get depressed watching your monthly reading statistics freefall to about 10% of what they used to be.

Really there is no other reaction to that. Except possibly the depression that happens the moment after you realize those 59 page views were really somebody’s spambot.

Step 5: Don’t finish NaNo so then you look like a jerk and a loser.

Because we all know the one thing worse than being DFL is being DNF.

Step 6: Vow to conquer NaNo next year so you have something to show for your loss.

Yes.  I do believe #6 is the key.

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Okay, so this was meant to be a joke. It sounded funnier in my head. Here it does just sort of look whiny and pathetic. I promise it’s not meant to be! I’m just being self-depracating, but I don’t mean you to infer that I regret attempting NaNoWriMo or that I think you, my lovely readers, won’t be trickling back in now that November is over!

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NaNoWriMo Is For Lovers (Update #4)

I am going to fail at my first serious NaNoWriMo attempt.  Although, it could be argued that I didn’t actually make a serious attempt given that I allotted no extra time than my previous schedule for writing for the first two and a half weeks of the challenge. 

There are still a few blocks of writing time between now and December first: tonight, the mornings before work Monday-Wednesday, lunch breaks Monday-Wednesday, and the evenings of Monday-Wednesday.  My goal is another 8000-10,000 words in that period, which will grant me victory for a half-NaNo (if defined as 25,000 words in two weeks). 

Right now I am close to 26,000 words beyond where I was October 31.  Another 10,000 (let’s be optimistic and round up, shall we?) should put me at the half-way point of my novel by outline and projected word count.  If that’s right, the extra words would also put me beyond halfway in real terms, since there are still a number of scenes pre-written in a skelatal form lessening the distance still to go in the second half of the writing.

Maybe I’ll keep the NaNo going and define mine as November 18-December 17.  Or maybe give it another go in December.  That should give me a complete rough draft, and a finished novel would be a lovely Christmas present for myself….

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Thank You for Reading

Or, The Ubiquitous Thanksgiving Post

I just wanted to take today to thank everyone who has downloaded one of my stories, or left comments on my posts, or liked my words here or on Twitter enough to follow me.  It matters.  There are days when I never want to do anything else, and days when I feel like I’m just whispering into the void. To have someone whisper back from the darkness on those latter types of days inspires me to stay on this road I’ve started down.

That is all. Carry on.

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In the End, NaNoWriMo Is Really Just a Number

I looked at numbers today, for the first time since Sunday. My document total is up to 42,000, which means I’ve put in about 20,000 new words this month (and actually probably more than that, since I’ve overwritten some of the original 22,000 that were notes or brief scene snippets, and somewhere along the line I just stopped keeping track of how many words I was deleting).  I might still be able to pull out a total of 50K new words this month, though at this point the odds of that are dropping exponentially with each passing day, a likelihood heightened by the demotivating realization that those 50,000 words are not going to be enough to finish the story at the current narrative pace…not nearly. My forward progress is up to 30,000, making this the longest story I’ve written yet*.  I am about 2/5 of the way through my outline, which means my original projection of a 60,000 word novel was short by about 15,000 words. 

This comparison of word count progress to actual outline progress is a little bit disheartening, because I would really like to “cross the finish line” as it were and actually be, you know, finished.  Instead the goal of 50K in a month has become an arbitrary number. An impressive statistic, sure, and inspiring in the sense that it is a huge leap forward and a proof of my ability to grind out words on a longer story than I have yet written*…but ultimately it will not represent finishing this story, only making a really good start on it.  And yes, yes, well begun is half-done and all that, but I’m a bit disappointed. And anxious, because I know so much of what I’ve written is not, well, good.  I mean, the words aren’t bad, and probably the stringing of them together isn’t bad, but…it’s not that good, either.  It’s not the best that I can do. I am going to have to revise the hell out of this book to get it into publishable shape. Basically, this time out, I’m having to write out the story in order to figure out what I even want to say for most of it.

Stop laughing.  All of you who normally write this way and are wondering “and this comes as a distressing surprise because…?” can just stop laughing, right now. This situation is a first for me. The other stories I’ve written have not required extensive revision. I don’t just think this is a difference between how I view my writing now versus how I viewed it six months ago, or in the case of some of my first short stories, a year ago. Because I recently re-read one of the shorts (for fun) and then a few scenes from my Twelfth Night novellas (for some quick fact-checking), and I did not find myself revising any of it as I went. So whatever changes my writer goggles have undergone in the last year have not been so significant that they have changed my perception of my own work.

I think it’s more that a novel is simply too big to hold in my mind.  My Twelfth Night novellas were both small stories–one night, and one story.  The only plot threads that could have been secondary to the main one all fed into the main plot of the other story. Those pieces were easy to keep track of, easy to sort of get a bird’s eye view on and keep everything paced evenly and full of emotional punch.

But with a full novel?  A story that has several different tensions running through it and influencing the characters’ perspectives and choices, a story that takes place over the course of a couple months and involves significantly more than simply the hero and heroine figuring out their own hearts?  If I back up far enough to get a bird’s eye view of the whole, I completely lose any sense of the details at all.  It’s just too much to hold in my head.  And so I have to get it down, have all of it laid out in front of me, to even begin to figure out how I need to relate the different elements to one another, and where I’m getting way too caught up in the trivial details and where those minutiae actually matter.  It’s just…hard, to realize that I’m going to have to raze entire scenes and possibly sections from the ground up…to take the words that I extracted on a forced death march across the wastelands of Uninspiredium and write over them with new words that say the same thing, only better.

I know in the end the revision will be worth it, because I will have not just a story I am happy with but rather a book that I am happy with. I know that in order to be able to rewrite any of it I have to first write all of it, even badly.  I know that I can do it, and I will do it, and I want to do it.

I’m just…feeling a little bit sorry for myself because realizing that even if I hit the one goal (NaNoWriMo completion) it will not be the MAIN goal (finishing the rough draft of the book), when there will be still so much work after I get that first big goal, is a tough pill to swallow.

Ah, well. As a kinky romance writer I should be good at swallowing things, amIright? (No! Bad Lily. Dirty jokes are not appropriate behavior for a lady!)

I know I’m being hard on myself. But I get to be hard on myself! I am writer, editor, art director, designer, publisher, publicist, and consumer, all rolled into one. Cutting slack is not an option, because any slack that I cut one of those roles is work one of the others has to pick up. I take a great deal of pride in doing work well, so this whole “fix it later” mentality of pounding out a first draft is hard enough for me to deal with. I get to be disappointed for one night this month that even finishing the goal isn’t actually going to be finishing. I get to feel exhausted by the thought of how much farther there is to go even after coming all this long way.

In a strange, perverse way, I think I’m actually even glad that this is hard for me. Too many things that I have tried to do in my life have come easily to me, and then I couldn’t really feel proud of myself for doing them (even when other people told me I should), because it was easy, so what was there to be proud about?  So, I’m glad this is hard. That way, when–and it is not in question that it will be when–I finish, I can feel an honest pride in accomplishing both what I set out to do and the work I created.

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*Barring a novel-length piece of fanfiction and all the abandoned drafts of my college summers and the tragically terrible semi-autobiographical novel I wrote when I was fifteen. For purposes of this post and my current myopic self-pity, the longest thing I’ve written that I have any intention of ever showing anyone.

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Also, this was hilarious. These were the key words WordPress pulled from this post as suggestions for additional tags: impressive statistic, forward progress, arbitrary number, finish line, and exponentially.

In light of what the post was actually about, all I can say is: bahahahahaha!

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The Power of Google: Waste Less Time Researching

Or, Why I Love the Internet;

Or, There Is No Excuse for Having an Inaccurate Historical Novel Nowadays;

Or, Damn You, Internet, for Taking Away My Excuses to Be a Lazy Historical Writer Who Cuts Corners and Just Makes Things Up

Because, yeah, all of the above.  I’ve blogged before about how much I love the proliferation of information on the internet…the fact that if somebody has bothered to compile some historical sources and statistics on a particular narrow aspect of history, then they have probably also devoted a website to it, so that in your time of need for just that particular niche information you can access it with a few targeted Google searches and a few hours (at most) of reading.  This in contrast to the tens to hundreds of hours of reading and cross-referencing that would be necessary to compile the research in the first place, which in the old days before the internet everyone who wanted the angle on history would have had to go piece together themselves.

Last night I spent time researching the London wharves and docks in the 1810s–along with the streets around them–as well as the anatomy of merchant ships and the ending of the East India Company’s governmentally chartered monopoly on trade with India. Doing the research has put a kink in my writing, especially as this is a part of London I’ve only encountered once or twice before in romance novels (which I am always hesitant to trust without corroborating the research) so I’m having to do both a lot of background reading and a bit of digging for the specific information that I require.

And it’s in a way crazy that I’m doing this much research, because this is not a large part of the story–it’s literally one scene, and the focus of the scene is absolutely on what is being imported and not what happens on the wharf itself.  Since I know about the relative prices of fabric, however, as well as what would have been coming from India and what it would have been used for (and thank God being a fashion history nerd has allowed me to cut SOME corner, somewhere, at last!), I knew I needed to get the scene of the riverside itself and the ship itself right. I mean, my philosophy on research is pretty much go big or go home. If I’ve got it half-right, then I should get it all right.  If it’s half wrong, I may as well be all wrong and save myself the trouble of researching even the half I got right. 

Clearly, I am choosing to at least attempt to be all right. I may not get there; I have also expressed before that much of researching is knowing what to even look for, and if you don’t know to ask and don’t happen to stumble onto the fact then you may end up getting something really blatant wrong. In which case…oops. (Actually in which case, yay self-publishing ebooks, because you can correct it for any purchases going forward the second you realize it’s wrong, AND the people who’ve already bought it should get the new version if they resync their device to that title, at least on Amazon….)  But I am at least putting in the legwork on the questions I do know to ask.

Honestly?  Quite a good thing I am doing this research, because the working Themes riverfront really was not how I sort of pictured things in my head.

But it decimated my writing stats for the day, which in turn hurt them for the week. 

Guess it’s time to harness my ole muse to the sled and starting cracking the whip. Mush! Mush! MUSHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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#AmWriting cross-post: Finding the Stories IS the Hard Part

Or, In which I take issue with the following quote:

“Finding the stories is not the hard part. Writing them down is.” ~Annie Proulx

Eh…I disagree. Coming up with stories that work, that are actual stories, is harder for me than writing them down. Everyone struggles with a different part of the process; finding the story is the one that gets me.  The post is about some of the strategies I use to build stories after I’ve got characters and a scenario.  The post:

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I have learned a lot about myself as a writer in the past year. One of my keenest insights was realizing I do not find stories particularly easily.

I find characters. I find opening scenarios. I find inciting incidents.

But figuring out what comes next and creating enough conflict and events to have an actual story? Ye gods, save me from that Herculean task, for my poor uncertain skills are unequal to it.

For me making an actual plotline out of my characters and their situations is much, much harder than writing down the story once I know it. So how do I take my characters and give them a story—how do I figure out what happens to them?

Let me take you through my current process.

I start by deciding where I think the characters will end up.

With romance it’s an easy answer—together—but with any genre and any story, you should be able to give yourself some idea of the end you want or expect the characters to reach, whether it’s solving the mystery or saving the world…or failing to.

After I decide the end, I look at what’s preventing the characters from reaching that end based on where they are in the opening scenario. Is it an emotional (or other internal) block or an external block? What do they have to work through or overcome in order to reach the end point? Is there more than one problem or block? Does something have to change in their circumstances to make that ending even a possibility?

Then I take what I know about the characters, their circumstances, and the problem(s), and figure out how those obstacles could be overcome in a way that is consistent with the characters and their world.

Sometimes the blocks cannot be overcome without an external pressure that changes the situation, and so I think of possible pressures that could force that kind of change.

From all of these pieces—the end, the problems, the pressures, the solutions—I can draw what the main events of the story are. The necessities encompass:

  • the inciting incident – what puts the story in motion; what takes the characters from the opening scenario and puts them on the path toward the ending scenario
  • the block – what is preventing the characters from getting to where they are going
  • the climax – how they overcome the block to reach their destination

At a minimum, then, you have three main events in every story, and in many (most?) stories, there will be more.

Some things I have learned about plotting out these events:

1. Coincidences are bad, mmkay? I don’t mean there cannot be some element of luck in the story, but there need to be pretty good odds—statistically significant odds—for serendipity to occur. For example, your Regency heroine is fleeing through the London streets an hour before dawn. If your hero is a rakehell, likely to be up all night drinking or whoring or gambling, then it’s not a giant coincidence for her to cross his path. A small one, but nothing too extraordinary, because he is often out at that hour. If, however, the hero is a virtuous man out at that hour for the first time in years, and he’s not connected to the people chasing the heroine…then it’s a giant coincidence, and (in my opinion) a problem.

2. Sometimes you can put more than one scenario together in order to create the story. For example, in my current WIP, I had the hero and heroine all set up to be in love and to ignore it because their social situations would not allow them to marry each other. There was no way for me to resolve that problem and stay true to their personalities without an external pressure that made marrying the best of their options instead of the worst. I didn’t want to use anything so trite as a pregnancy or a scandal, so I flipped through my file of “stories to write” for help. I found the perfect catalyst in an idea I had conceived as being the inciting incident of a separate story. Since I hadn’t done anything with it yet, I had no qualms about shifting the idea from being its own story to being a plot point in another story.

3. Digital publishing means you don’t have to conform to a predefined format. The days of adding (or subtracting) subplots or secondary complications to make your story conform to a pre-set word count are gone. You can let your story be what it naturally is, and there will be a place for it in digital publishing, be it self-publishing or with a digital-only/digital-first line from a publisher. I believe the story will be stronger for being the length it wanted to be rather than a distorted length you forced it into because of the arbitrary (print-based) word counts of agent or editor guidelines.

4. The events you cover in your story need to have a narrative purpose. Not every scene has to contain a substantive piece of the plot, but each of them does need to have a reason for being included, such as setting up later action or laying the groundwork for changing the character’s mind. Going back to point 3, you can cut the dead weight without harming your story because those extra 10,000 words don’t matter anymore. What matters is telling a tight story, Goldilocks style, where all that you have is exactly what needs to be there—no more, and no less.

5. Forget trying to “up the ante” of your conflict just for the sake of upping the ante. Some stories are going to be naturally dramatic, full of conflict and strife. Others are quieter stories, more in tune with what real life actually throws at most of us. The best rule of thumb I’ve seen is simply that if your characters can solve a problem on the first pass then it isn’t really a problem. But not every story needs to have world-changing stakes, and I think too many discussions of conflict imply that they do.

So there it is, in 1000 words, how I go about figuring out my stories and how I evaluate possible plot points. Anyone else who consciously constructs storylines have tips or tricks you swear by?

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