Post #49 – Characters

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11/29/18

The essence of any story is characters in conflict. To increase that conflict, or at least make it more interesting, some of those characters need depth.

Most of my writing has been limited to short stories. That form doesn’t provide room to dig much into a character’s background or motivations, at most a couple hints here and there. So when it came time to work on my novel this month, I didn’t have a lot of experience with developing characters. In prior months, I’d jotted down a few notes. This character’s parents died in an accident. This character’s brother saved him when they were kids and has suffered ill effects ever since. But I never fully developed them, probably because I didn’t know how.

I’ve attempted to read up on the subject. A Writer’s Path posted an interesting exercise titled Things I ask My Characters. By way of an interview, the author can get to know his/her character’s. The same blog then posted 3 Ways to Flesh Out Your Character’s Motivations as an additional exercise guide.

For a more classical view, Andrea Lundgren analyzed Victor Hugo’s techniques in Writing Lessons from Les Mis: Characterization.

ProWritingAid has had a series of blog posts this year examining Oscar Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint.  The most recent is How to Nail Third-Person Narrative. I found these lessons helpful. This is a book I wanted to read last year when first starting to seriously write, but the book is out of print. Coincidence or fate?

Since I’m new to the novel writing, and thus character development, thing, what I don’t know is what works better for me. Should I develop full backstories for my characters before starting the novel? I am a plotter after all. Or should I come up with a few key points for each character and see what else the story demands these character be? That seems to be more a pantser technique, though it provides the greatest flexibility when writing.

For my current WIP, I’m following the latter course by necessity. I may wind up determining that after the first draft, I need to think through each character again and fill in their stories as I conduct an initial edit.

Let me know in the comments how your develop your characters. Do you map out their entire lives first, or do you wait and let the story dictate who your characters really are?

Photo credit: aixklusiv via Pixabay

Post #48 – Writing Every Day

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11/22/18

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hopefully you are at home with family and friends either recovering from an early afternoon feast or about to dig in.  How’s that conversation with Uncle Ned going?  How many glasses deep are you into the cranberry prosecco?  (It’s available at my local Trader Joes’s, and it’s delicious.)  Has everyone fallen asleep watching the game?

If you at least answered “yes” to the last one, then this post is for you.  Now is the time to write.  Everything I read says to be a better writer you must write (and read, but who has time for both?).  I can’t recall the number of times I’ve read I should write every day.  There’s even recommendations on how to write every day.

I would like to write every day, but if I want to do anything else, that is not realistic.  For example, this month, for NaNoWriMo, I committed to writing every day.  So far I’ve succeeded but at a cost.  I’ve pretty much given up my morning work out.  I try to squeeze that in at lunch but am not always successful. I also usually don’t get enough sleep because I’m trying to get things done in the evening in order to wake and just write.

I’ve done the majority of my writing in the hour before my kids wake up. I usually complete about 400-500 words a day. It’s slow going but progress nonetheless. The problem is it’s progress at the expense of my health. While not working out and sleeping is fine for some, it’s not for me. Once NaNoWriMo is done, I plan to return to my usual routine.

So where does that leave me–going back to doing at least one writing related activity a night. Some nights that will be actual writing. Some nights that will be submitting stories to markets. Some nights it will be researching new markets for story submissions. Other nights it will be learning about the craft of writing. Oh and some nights I might read, as crazy as that sounds.

Current, the NaNoWriMo website says at my current pace I’ll complete 50,000 words by the first week of February. However, my goal is 80,000 to have a fighting chance at a marketable book. When I started this month, I thought I would finish all 80,000 words by February. Now I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if I finish by Summer 2019.

If I go back to my old routine, I no longer know what a manageable goal is. 11,000 words a month? That’d mean another six months. This year I’ve averaged a little more than that over each quarter, so 11,000 words a month may be aggressive. Plus I’d still like to work on new short stories and continue to submit those I’ve completed to various markets (and submit them elsewhere as the rejections roll in).

I still have over a month to figure out my 2019 writing goals. That’s plenty of time, right?

Let me know in the comments if you successfully write every day and what you give up to do so.

Photo credit: tigerlily713 via Pixabay

Post #47 – Novel Revising

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11/15/18

Since I finally started writing my novel, I thought I should research how to revise a novel. I’d saved a couple relevant links in the hope of one day needing them. Below are two.

How to revise a novel in 9 key stages

Then there is Casey Carlisle’s Editing Your Novel post.

Editing an entire novel seems daunting. It often takes me days (i.e. multiple sittings due to limited time) to edit a 6000 word short story. I do this the old fashion way by printing off the story and using a colored ink pen to mark it up. That process necessitates another day or two to insert my changes into the file.

I anticipate using the same process to edit my novel. How long will that take when applied to such a lengthy work? A long time.

First, I plan to let the novel sit for several weeks. Stephen King says he waits six weeks after finishing an initial draft before beginning the first edit. I don’t know if I can wait that long, but the goal is to gaining enough distance from the story and characters to be objective. That’s when I’ll do my first round of edits.

Then, I’ll send the novel to my beta readers. I anticipate they’ll have excellent suggestions requiring additional edits. I usually input those changes directly into the file, saving a little time. After that, I plan to revise the novel at least one more time, requiring the sacrifice of another tree and the spilling of additional ink.

At that point, I’m debating hiring a story editor. I want this to be the best work possible. After those changes comes the hiring of a copy editor, though they could be the same editor. I don’t plan to ask my wife to copy edit an entire novel. I like being married to her and want to stay that way.

My goal is to have the novel ready to send to the professional editors by next year’s NaNoWriMo. (I need to be free to write that next novel!) Maybe by Spring 2020, I’ll have a completed manuscript to shop to agents. It seems like a long time, but I suspect it will fly by.

(When NaNoWriMo is over, I also plan to read Dean Wesley Smith’s How to Write a Novel in Ten Days. At this point, that premise sounds ridiculous.)

Let me know in the comments if you’re editing process is similar to mine or if you take a different approach.

Photo credit: quinntheislander via Pixabay

Post #46 – NaNoWriMo 2018

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11/8/18

It’s here. Like a baby that takes 12 months rather than 9, it’s here. It’s National Novel Writing Month.

What have I done so far, and what do I plan to do the rest of the month? I’m so glad you asked. I initially debated whether to keep writing several work-in-progress short stories with the 50k word goal in mind or actually work on my yet-to-be-started novel. Then it dawned on me the name of this activity has “novel” in it. There’s my answer.

So I began. No more procrastinating. No more character development, though the characters need it. No more developing the various settings, though they need it too. I’m finally putting words on the screen for the novel.

Luckily, I already had mapped out the four settings and three of the four main characters in the novel, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. So far, I’ve written an introductory chapter for each of those three characters. I’m also pleased to report that while doing so, the fourth main character coalesced in my mind, and I’ve written her introductory chapter as well.  Now I’ll see how much further I get. The holes in the backstory for these character is coming to me as I write each chapter or as I do my plotting during a run. I’m making a real effort to avoid the info dump and sprinkle that history in as I go, not only in the introductory chapter but in later chapters as well.

I’m enjoying the process, but it’s still daunting. As of today, I’ve written 4395 words, essentially a short story. The small number is a reflection of my limited time to write rather than my commitment. I’ve managed to add to that total every day this month, and I hope to continue that streak to November 30. Even so, my biggest fear is I’ll end up with a novella length work rather than a novel. If that happens, I’ll have to decide whether to continue adding more conflict to get to novel length or polish the novella and submit that to willing markets. I should be so lucky to have to make such a decision.  I plan to have a follow-up blog post the first week of December to confirm how I did.

Let me know in the comments if you’re attempting NaNoWriMo this year and how’s it going.

Photo credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Post #45 – Award Winning Author

11/1/18

I received a call last month informing me I won third place in the Virginia Writers Club‘s Golden Nib contest. The club will officially announce the winners tomorrow night at its annual meeting, which I already planned to attend. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I spilled the beans early.

I’ve written about this contest before in Posts 8 & 29. Submitting a short story to last year’s contest was one of the reasons I joined the Northern Virginia chapter of the Club.

This year I skipped submitting a piece in the fiction category but submitted pieces in the nonfiction and poetry categories. The nonfiction work is the one that placed third.

I chose not to submit a fiction piece because I considered that a waste. For one, I didn’t want a story tied up for three months while I awaited the results. I also didn’t want to give up first publication rights to anything I have available. I’d rather retain those rights in the hope a pro or semi-pro market wants to buy the story. Lastly, I didn’t really have anything available to submit.

If I remember correctly, at the deadline, all of my fiction stories were out at other markets. I pretty much chose not to withhold anything earlier in the year in anticipation of submitting to the Golden Nib, and instead kept sending out stories to new markets immediately after each rejection.

But I didn’t feel the same way about my nonfiction and poetry. I’ve only written two in the former category and one in the latter. I didn’t have markets in mind for either the nonfiction piece or poem, so submitting them to the Golden Nib contest seemed appropriate.

Now I’m an award winning author! But is that a thing? Third place in the VWC Golden Nib contest isn’t quite on par with the Nebula, Hugo, or Locust. Win those and you truly are an award winning author.

I know other authors tout their award winning status, but I’m not sure I feel the need to do so in this context. I’m not sure it gets me anywhere. It doesn’t help me reach my goal of three pro sales for SFWA membership.

Maybe I’ll feel differently when I win first place next year. Or maybe when I win the Nebula, Hugo, or Locust.

Let me know in the comments when you think it’s worth trumpeting an award as an author.

Photo credit: 3dman_eu via Pixabay