This year, unlike last, I did not “win” NaNoWriMo. On November 30, I ended up with a reported 29,170 words out of the 50,000 needed to complete the challenge successfully.
You know what, I’m perfectly fine with that.
Yes, I would’ve liked to win NaNoWriMo again, but even if I didn’t, I now have 30,000 words (I’ve kept writing) that I did not have at the start of November, and a story that I did not know I needed to tell a month ago. That is priceless right there.
Now is where the real work begins, where there’s no gimmicky challenge to get me to write each day but simply the need to tell this story completely, to finish this thing I started. Now is when the writers keep going.
And I’m still writing.
Pinterest is a fairly new social network where you can create virtual pinboards and collect images and videos. Though it is very popular with people into cooking and arts & crafts, the scope has continued to widen as greater number of members join. I have been a member for about a year and have grown to love the site for what it does, give me a place to collect visual inspiration for a number of different topics. When I started this year’s NaNoWriMo novel, I immediately created a Pinterest board for it, even though at the moment I did not know what I would pin to it. That uncertainty did not last long.
When creating a board for your novel, cast your net wide in terms of what you put into it. The general idea of such a board is to give you, the writer, a place to free-associate visual cues. You could put pictures of locations associated with your story, or images of actors/models that you would consider for an ideal casting, or perhaps music that resonates with the story or that characters listen to. The board is not meant to tell the story in your head, but it should help you call up ideas and concepts that are associated with what you’re writing. A board like this can serve as an interesting “backstage” look at the brainstorming process of writing, or as a bonus meta-look at the finished tale.
If you visit my NaNoWriMo 2012: Deirdre board (pictured here), you’ll find a variety of pictures showing locations in the novel, music videos for songs that have inspired the story in one way or another, as well as other images and videos that somehow relate to the tale of Deirdre Morrison. As I think of, or come across, things that tie to Deirdre’s story, I pin them there for easy reference. When I feel a bit at a loss about my story, whenever I feel I need to reconnect with my character as I write her story, I go to this board and remember why I pinned each item there. This in turns refreshes my mind and helps me get back to the tale of Deirdre.
Give it a try for your next work of fiction, and see how it can help you out.
I came across this remix of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” a song that I really like and about which I have written before. Take a look.
Watching the video, seeing the story of this couple play out, all I was thinking was, “What happened that brought them together, then apart?” Which then brought to mind what I consider to be one of my little quirks: as much as I like reading the whole gamut of speculative fiction, when it comes to writing fiction, I naturally gravitate towards relationship stories set in the real world.
I have tried my hand at fantasy and science fiction before, yes, but overwhelmingly, the stories that I prefer to imagine, develop and write are those where I am following the process of a relationship, whether it is the beginning, middle or end. Relationships interest me. It’s why I love romantic comedies, actually. The endless factors that feature into two distinct people coming together, staying together, and sometimes going apart, are simply fascinating. As the creator of these stories, it’s like I get to fall in and out of love over and over (which can actually be very draining when you consider what I wrote about being a method writer). Even better, it is a story that can be told across any milieu, whether real world, the far reaches of space, or lands ruled by magic and dragons (seriously, “The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm,” the Burning Wheel roleplaying game I’ve been playing with my friend Judd, for all the awesome fantasy stuff it has going on, can be summed up as the story of a love triangle, which is why I absolutely love it).
That’s why to me the greatest story will always be that of the process of love between two people. And I look forward to many years of exploring this story in my fiction.
There’s a very popular style of acting called Method Acting, in which the idea is that the actor embodies the character to be played, and draws on his or her own experiences to achieve a better portrayal. It is a style usually classified as immersive, and it can lead some actors to stay in role even after the performance has stopped.
I am not an actor, but I have discovered, and accepted, that I am a method writer. The definition found in Urban Dictionary nails it:
A writer or author who uses a technique of writing in which he/she identifies emotionally with a character in the story and assumes that character’s persona in the telling.
When I am writing a story, especially a longer one, I get into my protagonist’s head space so I can understand them better and thus achieve a better narrative.
The one problem with this approach? I get into my protagonist’s head space.
I’ve come to terms with the idea that I write stories in which I have a personal stake. While I am able to churn out a few pieces to specification for a freelance assignment or writing challenge, I mostly write stories that possess me and *must* be told. And more often than not, the way that these stories possess me is via a character, who becomes like an alternate personality until I am able to exorcise them onto the page.
This also means that I live with these characters, and that their lives affect me. When they are happy, I am happy; when they are sad and angry, I get sad and angry. My facial expressions change as I’m writing to match the mood of the scene and sometimes it gets to be too much, too draining, and I need to walk away, remind myself that *I* am the real person, not my character.
The novel I am writing now features a protagonist who was a supporting character in my first novel. She stayed with me long after the novel was done, daring me to find out her story so I could tell it. Her story isn’t necessarily a happy one, and it is taxing to get into the mind of a person with major depressive disorder. But I have to tell her story, so I, we, push through.
Method writing isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. I cannot fathom writing any other way, and if that means that my fiction output is greatly reduced, that’s fine as well, because I know the stories I will tell are those that *had* to be told by me and no one else.
The novel I am writing for this year’s NaNoWriMo features a female main character. What’s more, it’s written in first person, so not only am I writing a female character, I am writing her from inside her mind.
I bring this up for a reason. Because of the online social circles I frequent, because of the people I know, because of the classes I have taken and life I’ve lived, I’m sensitive to issues of gender, cultural appropriation, and privilege. These are lenses through which I filter life, especially things I create. So I’m sitting here writing a novel with a female character, it didn’t take long for a voice to erupt in my head saying, “You have no right to do this.”
I am a guy, after all. I might be a member of two minorities (Hispanic and Jewish), but I’m a guy. And I can already hear in my head comments about me putting words in women’s mouths, about me misrepresenting women, about me acting all patriarchal and stuff by controlling this female character. Mind you, no one has said any of this, but what if they do (with “they” being people I know, or people I don’t know)?
This paralyzed me somewhat as I started to write. It even shut me down completely one day. I briefly considered just scrapping the whole idea and moving on to something else. Then I thought better about it.
I hope no one feels that way after reading my story. I hope that I bring an honest voice to my female protagonist that sounds true regardless of her or my gender which will make any comment like the ones above superfluous and unnecessary. I am for nothing less.
Thing is, I can’t worry about the ‘What ifs’. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work, for whatever reason. It may be that reason is even a valid one. But I can’t let that stop me from writing. My protagonist (Deirdre in this case, but really, any protagonist) is a person, an individual, with hopes and dreams, skills and limitations, who makes good and bad choices. She isn’t meant to represent an entire gender any more than my actions represent my entire gender. So if Deirdre does X or says Y, it reflects only on Deirdre, not on all women.
I’m being slightly paranoid in even thinking that I need to state all this upfront, I know it. In truth, this post isn’t for anyone out there, it’s for myself. It’s so I can get this worry out of my head, where it is blocking the flow of ideas. If it happens to speak to someone else, even better.
If you’ll excuse me, now that I got that off my chest, I need to go back to writing.
I had one week off from school during which I had originally planned to do the first rewrite of my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel. It was naive of me to think I’d accomplish it, especially because half my week was taken up by taking care of house chores that had been pushed off over the last four months, not to mention I also had to study for an exam I have right upon my return to classes. That said, I did go ahead and transfer my novel from Word into Scrivener.
I’ve been using Scrivener as my writing tool since I got it earlier this year and I absolutely love it. I knew from the start that I wanted to import the novel into it for all subsequent drafts, as I love the organizational tools available, especially for a long project like a novel. Take a look at the screen-cap above to see what I mean.
In Word, the novel was one long text file. That was fine for the first 50-thousand-words-in-30-days draft, but for rewrites I knew it would be a bitch. Scrivener allowed me to break off the manuscript into Parts, Chapters and Scenes. A wonderful thing happened once I had taken the time to reformat the text for Scrivener: I was able to see patterns I simply would have missed in Word.
I’ve been intrigued by the Steampunk genre for a while now. I like the visuals of it, the gears and clockwork and pseudo-Victoriana, but it’s a curiosity that has been left at the periphery as other things have taken priority. My friend Mick Bradley is, however, quite into it (he does Steampunk-inspired crafts), so I always have some imagery coming through my social networks thanks to him, keeping it somewhat in my radar. I was happy to leave my interest vague, simply enjoying looking at pics, until last week.
This scene popped into my head some time ago, a scene featuring an airship battle inside a thundercloud, and it fermented there long enough to want to be written down. I didn’t know anything about the characters or story beyond that vague description. So I started writing, and behold, two characters emerged fairly well defined, along with the beginnings of the battle between two airships. In my mind airships are really closely associated with steampunk; along with some of the descriptions and dialogue that came out, it seemed that this is what I was writing right here. Great!
The issue then became, what is this I am writing? Not so much in terms of the story: that I actually have a pretty decent idea what it’ll be by now; but what about this genre I know nothing about?
Understand my approach to genre is very fluid. In general, I don’t care for genre; I always strive to write a good story first, and if it fits in some genre due to X or Y, then fantastic. But I’m also a firm believer of the adage “Know the rules before you can break them.” So I set out to learn at least some basics about Steampunk.
My professors like to say that being a nurse is really about being a compulsive observer, about catching little details that others would miss, and using that information to help treat the patient. Earlier this week, I was at the library at school and I saw a guy sitting at the table right in front of mine. I then notice that, when this young woman walked in, he perked up immediately and, almost imperceptibly, I saw him catch his breath. I noticed the way he looked at her as she approached his table, and how he simply swallowed it all up as soon as she sat down and went about pulling out books to study for their class.
That little scene stuck in my head; I felt there was a story there. I tried to tease out what it was over the next couple days but my mind wanted to run too rampant. I felt it needed to be a very short story for a very short moment. It was his breath catching that made it click for me. In order to get it out of my system, I set myself a one-man flash fiction challenge: write about the scene at the library in less than 1000 words. An hour and a half later, I had exactly 1000 words and a new short story entitled “Breath.”
I hope you enjoy it.
Music has always featured in one way or another in my fiction writing, though mostly it has been in an inspirational guise. I don’t play music while I’m writing, but songs that I’ve heard have, at times, fueled everything from scenes to entire stories. To this day there are a couple of songs that I can never listen without thinking of the story they inspired me to write years ago.
As I approach a much-needed break from nursing school in a couple of weeks, I find myself desperate to start the rewrite of my novel, which I started for NaNoWriMo and finished last December. When I say I’m desperate, I mean it. I need to get that story done with, get those characters out of my head and into the page once and for all. Why? Because they are living, breathing people caught in stasis and they take over my thoughts and my emotions. And it gets very tiring feeling other people’s emotions on top of your own.[ref]This is where non-writers look at me kinda funny and think I’m loosing my marbles, while writers nod in full understanding.[/ref]
Thing is, one of the key aspects I know I need to strengthen during my rewrite has been stymieing me for a while now. I know what the end result I want is, but I also know I need to better portray it in the novel for some of the emotional punches to really hurt. I’ve been struggling with the nature of the relationship at the center of this issue and I just couldn’t quite see how I’d work that problem out.
Enter a new song into my jukebox.
I heard this song by Gotye just last week for the first time, and today my classmate played it in her car while she gave me a ride. The words snuck into my head unknowingly. When I got home I found that I was humming it absentmindedly… And that something in the lyrics had suddenly made things click in regards to the problem I was having with my novel! I still don’t know what it was: the music, the melody, parts of the lyrics, the emotion conveyed. Something. Whatever it was, I have now taken notes that will help me during my rewrite and finally allow me to bring my novel to completion.
I absolutely love it when a song does this to me.
Back in late December, we finally published my wife’s debut novel, SONGBIRD. We did an initial promotional push when it went up for sale on the Amazon Kindle Store, and again when it became available for Nook and on paperback at Amazon.com. Since then, however, we have both been swamped with work and school and have not had time to promote the novel as a self-published book deserves and needs to be. I’d like to change that.
Here is the copy at the back of the novel:
How far will friendship stretch when put to the test?
Jacqueline Aguirre is a wallflower. Her best friend Sophie Martinez is anything but. Yet somehow the two became best friends, inseparable through thick and thin. That is, until charming Irishman Liam comes into the picture, throwing their perfect world into disarray and challenging Jackie to unfurl her wings and fly. Established patterns are broken, emotions taken for granted are challenged, and the friends’ lives are turned upside down. Now only one thing is for certain: things will never be the same.
SONGBIRD is a story of contemporary women that is not Chick Lit. Personally, I like to think of it as a coming-of-self story, where we see the events that propel the main character to finally come into her own as a person. I think it is a good novel (I am terribly biased, I know, but I stand by it) and I would like for more people to read it.
I will give away 5 copies of SONGBIRD in e-book format (Kindle and ePub) with the only request that, if you like and enjoy the novel, you leave a review at Amazon.com.
If you are interested, leave a comment below and I will get in touch with you.