Monday, November 21, 2011

NaNoWriMo - Day 21

I wish I could say I'm wearing super Wrist Bands of Power, but, I'm not. I took a week off the computer - I had to. There was one day where I wrote nine-hundred words, but I couldn't sleep that night because of the resulting wrist pain. I couldn't even stand to use the keyboard long enough to check email, which gave me an unscheduled Internet holiday.  There was actual heat rising from my wrists.

What did I do instead of writing last week? I've done completed some longhand writing. I've read a couple of books. There's even been some research accomplished.

But, the sad truth, for NaNoWriMo anyway, is that I'm very behind in word count. I'm not too down about it. Really. In fact, the time off of the computer, sat on the sofa with a notebook and pen, has given me some time to think through the project. I've been playing with mind-mapping in my notebook - which I think I like.

I've also been thinking about writing more short stories. Several times on this blog I've mentioned wanting to participate in a little something called Write 1/Submit 1, and I'm almost sorry I didn't concentrate more on that as a first challenge rather than a second novel. Which led me to thinking about making a novella out of this year's NaNoWriMo. There are a few contests that take novella length fiction, and I can always make it into a novel later. I know novellas aren't the most popular of formats in modern publishing, but modern publishing is changing every day it seems. A novella just seems like an easier beast to wrangle while working on my first novel and other short story projects.

We'll see.

I'm grappling with whether or not to attempt a NaNo comeback this year. Do I try to accomplish an obscene number of words in the next nine days? Will my wrists fall off? Are these wrist bands actually magical? Will I, won't I?

How about you guys? Anyone having a NaNo meltdown? I know some of you are probably already finished - you bastards (I kid, I kid!). I read somewhere that only 1 in 5 people "win" NaNo. Don't know if that is true, but if you're one of those people, then congrats. It's a great feeling, isn't it? What about the rest of you who are still typing for NaNoWriMo glory? Anyone planning some epic all-nighters?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Double Clawed Writer- A NaNoWriMo Update

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Mental Game"

The last three days have been rough, and my body is following my mind in revolting against the challenge. It’s been a real test of my willpower to turn on the computer today.

First, my enthusiasm began to wane. Not my enthusiasm for my novel or the story - quite the opposite - but my enthusiasm for the NaNoWriMo challenge itself. I’m starting to get a feel for the story and the plot; ideas come to me faster than I can type, but I’m experiencing an inner rebellion about the time and word count constraints of NaNo. In short, I’m not feeling it. I don’t want to push through to the prescribed word count, paying no heed to the quality of the words, for the express purpose of arriving at the designated word count goal. I don’t want to prevent myself from going back to the first chapter and rewriting it because chapter four changed everything, simply because editing and rewriting are Na-NO's.

Then, there are my hands. Despite my finding and using these very helpful stretches for my arms and wrists - I’ve been in a considerable amount of pain the last few days.  Saturday I woke up and knew I couldn’t put hand to keyboard. I took some NSAID tablets, gave my forearms a massage and stayed off the computer all day long. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I couldn’t sleep Saturday night because my forearms and wrists ached so much that they kept me awake, tossing and turning.

Sunday I got out the wrist braces and took another day off from the keyboard. I took the computer-free time to do some mind-mapping, brainstorming and note-taking on my story…all with pen and my new notebook dedicated to this novel. I worked on editing my printed WiP1 manuscript. Writing with a pen didn’t feel bad at all…making me ponder the madness of writing out longhand some of my story.

Today, I’m braving the keyboard again. I’ve set a timer to go off every half hour for a stretching and walking break. These braces make typing difficult, but they do alleviate the strain and even the discomfort. Out went the horrible iMac mouse and in I plugged the bamboo tablet. The pen feels more natural in my hand, no pain.

I don’t know how this NaNoWriMo challenge will end this November. I don’t doubt that I’ll finish my draft, but I’m not sure of the time frame of 30 days. I’ll keep forging (I typed "foraging" at first, but that seems to fit, too) ahead. On the upside, some great ideas are coming to me, and the plot is developing. I’m getting the hang of fleshing out the scenes and connecting them to form my story. It isn’t something I can easily describe, other than to say that things are starting to click. I have hope for my WiP1, and I think WiP2 will turn out to be a pretty good first draft, at least, better than WiP1's first draft. Plot holes be damned, full speed ahead! Or, full turtle speed ahead.

How goes it for everyone else? Anyone doing the AW Novel Challenge along with NaNo? Anyone else feeling the heat rising off of their inflamed wrists and tendons?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

From the trenches: NaNoWriMo Day 9

Posted by Jennifer B at The Writing Cocoon.


You, hey you! *Peeks head up and looks from side-to-side*
*Whispering* I’ve been down here, keeping out of sight. When you are waist deep in plot bunnies, you really got to keep your head down. I mean…those things have teeth. I’m going to have to keep this short and sweet, can’t be caught out in the open when the novel is running amok, characters and ideas swarming, threatening to overwhelm our position, here.
I’m current on word count, but I'm not on track to finish the 70k word goal I set for myself. Not really worried about that now…just got to get out of this alive. I’m waffling between POVs, character names, and struggling with a desire to drop everything and go get some research ammunition. Plus, I’m leaving the beginning and entering the middle - the story world.
Holy shit. I had no idea what a mess this part of the battlefield was going to be. I’m taking advantage of this short cease fire on the storyline to go back and write out a synopsis of my novel…just feels like the thing to do to help me plot out the next few scenes. The middle is a vast wasteland, filled with mines. Got to be a bit more careful with mapping out a path if I’m going to get through in one coherent piece.
As for the WiP1, well, she’s been blown apart in the rewrite, and it’s a mess. I mean, guts and parts strewn all over the place. I’ve got no idea how to put this humpty dumpty back together again, so I’m also rewriting the synopsis of that novel. The only option after that is to wade in and start shooting plot bunnies, ask questions later. We’ll all get through this if we keep our heads down and fingers on the keyboard, well, at least the MC will. Don’t know about some of her friends…

*Rockets whistle through the air* Shit! Looks like another idea just hit me. I’m going to go lock it down, see if I can gather up some of these stray thoughts and use ‘em for ammo to get out of the middle of WiP 2.
*Still whispering, grabs helmet and rifle* And, yes, I’m getting a little stir-crazy over here. It’s been really dark, and I haven't talked to a living human today, and I’m still wearing my pj’s and my bathrobe. Damn the Rules, full speed ahead!

For some tips on blowing your synopsis out of the water, check out the awesome arsenal available over here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SF&F Writing Ingredients - Deus ex Machina

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.

I can't deny it, NaNoWriMo has taken over my writing life. What this means is that, unfortunately, WiP1 is languishing this week, and I promised to stop ignoring my firstborn.

But, I'm having a bit of a problem with the ending. I like it, but I'm the writer, so my liking it doesn't guarantee that it doesn't suck. What I'm afraid of is this: I think I may have a bit of a deus ex machina going on at the end, and it's bothering me.

What's a deus ex machina? So glad you asked, 'cause I've been doing some research to try and determine if I've got one, and I'd like to share it with someone, and get another opinion:

Deus ex Machina (literary term)

If someone reads your work and tells you that they've found a deus ex machina in your plot, they're not paying you a compliment, my friend.

Definition: A deus ex machina, literally "god out of the machine," is a plot device where an impossible situation or problem is suddenly resolved by the introduction or intervention of a new character, event, ability, etc., that departs in some way from the internal logic of your story.

Let me give you an example: You've written a story, and you've really put your character through their paces. It's the end and your MC (main character) is up the proverbial creek without a paddle. MC, after a long chase scene, is backed up against a one-thousand foot cliff, with man-eating crocodiles waiting at the bottom. The enemy is before them, MC has dropped his only weapon, and the Villain has given his Villain Speech. There is nothing left for MC to do but die. But wait! Even though you've written an adventure story set in the Outback, with zero fantastical elements, MC suddenly spots an object in the sky. Its a spaceship from Mars and your main character has just been caught in its tractor beam. Hooray, your character has been rescued from certain death!

The problem is, if you've written 250 pages of a typical western-type novel, and on page 251, you have your MC suddenly rescued by Martians before you wrap up the plot on page 252, your reader is going to use your novel as toilet paper on their next camping trip. (Props to the film, The Life of Brian for the spaceship as deus ex machina. Click here for a top ten list of film deus ex machina.)

Why it doesn't it work? Okay, this example was extreme, but in general, the deus ex machina is an unsatisfying solution because it rips the reader right out of the story and the world the writer built. The reader played along, bought into the writer's premise, and the writer repays them how? By using a cheap plot device instead of doing the hard work and writing a plausible solution that respects the internal logic of the story. So, if Martians are going to rescue the MC, they damned well better be part of the larger story.

In short, write a serious deus ex machina into your story, especially the ending, and you will get a lot of groans, contempt, and gnashing of teeth. I'm trying to avoid that. 

Avoiding the dreaded DEM: Going back to our example above, if MC is able to confront the Villain, mono e mono, at last, and disarm him, thus turning the tide of the fight and winning, that is much more satisfying as an ending. Perhaps MC (a disgraced former Marshall) has been practicing (and we've seen this throughout the novel) hand-to-hand combat. Maybe he boxes at night for cash. He's able to take on the Villain without his gun. Or, perhaps he notices that the Villain is about to back into an old mine shaft, (which we aren't surprised at the existence of because, earlier on, a character discovered that they were in abandoned mine territory when they nearly fall to their death through a shaft), and he uses his wits to maneuver the Villain towards the hole.

Back to my dilemma: I looked around on-line and came up with a movie ending that kind of has the type of deus ex machina that my ending has. Gloriously, the example is from the movie Star Wars, Episode IV.

This is one of those that some consider a deus ex machina (I've seen it argued), but I think that Lucas handles it well and avoids the DEM.  In case you don't have it memorized, at the end of our film, just as Luke is about to be blasted from the tunnel leading to the Death Star's exhaust port, Han Solo comes flying in at the last minute to blast Darth Vader's two wing men, one of which catapults into Darth Vader's ship, sending him careening off into space. Luke is then able to go ahead and make the shot into the port, which starts the chain reaction that...well, you know how it ends.

Now, Han does come in at the last minute, just when it looks like all hope is lost for our hero, but this situation doesn't feel like a true deus ex machina to me. Here's why: its been set up for us throughout the film, it is part of Han's character development. In fact, right before Luke sets off for his fateful flight, he has a confrontation with Han, who is packing up his reward and heading out of town instead of joining the attack on the Death Star. Luke takes a parting shot at Han's cowardice and we see Han flinch. The barb has found its mark and it starts to eat at Han. We, the viewer, can't believe our lovable scoundrel is about to turn and run from this fight. So, when Han DOES swoop in to help our character save the day, we are not thrown for a loop, but instead, we are relieved. Han's not a asshat after all. The scene makes sense in the greater context of the story. We're not really even all that surprised; we knew he would come through!

The problem, the reason that some consider it a deus ex machina (and the reason I'm waffling on my own ending), is that the hero himself did not solve the problem. You want the hero to be able to save his own arse and have the tools needed to do so.

In my novel, a second character is needed/used in my MC's final triumph in the Climax. In a nutshell, the MC is able, in an extreme situation, to transfer power from her dying mentor (the actual mechanism is too complicated to explain in this over-long post) and use that power to wipe out the bad guys and survive until morning. 

At first it seemed brilliant, but that's because it solved all my plot problems. Now I'm thinking: my MC spent the second half of the novel chasing down a way to realize her magical powers and in the second-to-last scene she (more-or-less) absorbs it from a dying mentor? You see my problem? Can I make this plausible by planting the seed for this outcome in the rewrite of the earlier chapters? I'm waffling between planting the seeds and keeping the current ending OR rewriting the ending. I may even write an alternate ending to test on different readers.

To sum up: A deus ex machina is usually a weakness in the plot. The character is unable to resolve his own problems, and the writer steps in and rescues him from the plot with some improbable and/or inconsistent plot device. In general, it is considered a sign of weakness in the writing, so it should be avoided.

Where do we get this term? The term, deus ex machina, comes to us from ancient Greece. In ancient Greek tragedies, men playing gods were lowered onto the stage by cranes. The god would be introduced to the play by machine (the crane), at a moment when all was lost or seemingly insurmountable, and resolve the plot.

Sources and Further Reading:
Deus ex machina entry, Wikipedia
Cartoon on LOTR deus ex machina
More examples from literature and cinema
TV Tropes

Friday, November 4, 2011

Are we having fun yet? Or, Where's the fun and other writerly spinning.

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "NaNoWriMo"

NaNoWriMo- if you've been following me in November, you know it's been a rough start for me. Today, I'm just creeping over one-thousand words, and it is well after noon. I've been in front of the computer for hours, since eight this morning.

And, it isn't even the word count that is bothering me. It's the tension, anxiety, and dread that plague me every time I put fingertips to keyboard. What gives? I thought writing was something I enjoyed.

I mean, I love this story, love my characters, especially my supporting cast - they're so lively and fun, I really want to spend time with them. I can't wait to see how it all plays out, then I sit down in front of the computer, and all this other junk washes over me. I think I have performance anxiety, and the blank page is my stage.

Let's face it, writing is frakking hard work, and lots of it. It's an endless pursuit, too, one for which it takes a lot of stamina. One story finishes, but then there's always someone else peeking around the corner, waving their fingers at me, beckoning me to come see what they're up to. But once I try to capture the images stalking my synapses, it gets all clumsy in my hands. The images fall apart and dialogue gets stiff and I'm wondering how the hell I'm going to make it through to the middle, much less the end of this novel. What happened to the fun? How can I keep myself going, continue to put forth all this effort, without any joy?

It reminds me of my decision, many years ago, to take on the cello. Ah yeah, it was going to be so cool to be able to play a musical instrument, but you know what, they stuck that hunk of wood and string into my arms and the only sounds I brought forth made my cats run and hide. There was a lot of work between picking up that instrument for the first time and being able to bring forth some decent music. Did I get this neurotic over the cello? I really can't remember.

I've got to hold on to the fun, the playfulness of my story, and to the love of telling a story, or I'm doomed. Yesterday I talked about my inability to let go of the inner critic, and I definitely think that is part of it, but today I'm realizing that I'm forgetting to enjoy my story and the process.

Enjoy the journey. Shit. I'm so bad at that...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 2 - Is this writing sh@t?

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "NaNoWriMo"

A slight infraction of one of my own NaNo rules occurred the night of Day 1, as I stayed up way too late catching up on the NaNo Internet chatter. I paid for it on Day 2, when I awoke at the crack of dawn from a nightmare where my husband was dead, and I was in LOVE with a young Charlie Sheen, not to mention, my father was alive, and I  was having a way-too-serious conversation with him.

It took me a minute, upon awakening, to determine that I was sitting next to my very-much-alive husband, and that my father and I had never had that particular talk. Not a great way to start the morning, lovesick over Charlie and trying to convince yourself that your father is, in fact, still dead.

But, that's a writing hangover for you...

Yesterday's writing happened at an even slower pace than Day 1. I still clocked in over 2k words, but I'm having a difficult time getting through the beginning.

The reason for this is three-fold: a) I can't find the off-switch to the inner editor,  b) I can't seem to beat-to-death the little writing demon that keeps telling me that my writing is crap, and c) the beginning is kind of boring me (not a good sign).

I know I shouldn't be hung up on this. Like I said on Day 1, the writing is better, there's no doubt in my mind that I've made some improvements in the last year. Many hours have been spent in studying writing blogs, websites, and books. I've edited my own first novel, noticing where I go sideways and backwards and diagonal, even. I've started to do a little critiquing for other writers on-line, and that has helped considerably. Plus, I just know, as I'm writing, that the structure and handling is simply...better.

Good news, right? But I think that this new knowledge and experience may be hindering me in achieving the aim of NaNo, which is pure word volume. I'm thinking too much instead of following the story and my plot diagram (Yes, I broke down and made a diagram. Yes, it's helping). I'm tightening up, restricting the flow, blocking the know, THINKING too much.

So, let's take a look at my goals for week 1, shall we?
  • Write a minimum of 2500 words each day; Close: 2600 Day 1 and 2100 Day 2.
  • Each night, sketch out the scenes to write the following day; I've actually been doing this - and thank the maker, 'cause it has been a life saver for productivity.
  • Get some fresh air and exercise, each day; I've actually practiced yoga and taken a walk outside, each day. It makes a big difference. Let's see if I keep it up.
  • Continue to edit my WIP1, finishing the edits by the end of week 1. Nope. I actually sat down to do it last night, but I was just too brain tired. Nightmares about Charlie Sheen and dead fathers will do that. 
Not too shabby for a start. I've not broken too many of my rules, yet, but the NaNo is young. Wait a minute. Damn. I'm breaking a rule right now: blogging when I should be NaNo'ing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jennifer's Rules for Surviving NaNo...

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "NaNoWriMo

My personal rules for surviving NaNoWriMo, gleaned from the experience of just one NaNo (Yeah, I catch on quick):
  1. Do not stay up all night writing. Once you've switched day and night, there's no coming back to sanity, my dear.
  2. Before you even think of spending hours on forums and blogs, write your damned word count.
  3. When you've had two pots of coffee, it's time to switch to decaf (and drink some water, for the love of Jupiter).
  4. Anything the cat "types" by running across the keyboard is fair game in NaNo word count.
  5. Save, then save again. Then email a copy to yourself. They put it on your USB drive. Then, and only then, are you safe from calamities such as cats who erase documents (see #4 above). Some things you have to learn the hard way.
  6. Drinking alcohol while writing is acceptable WriMo behaviour. 
  7. Try to change out of your pajamas, if not daily, then at least a few times per week. I keep a pair of sweats crumpled on the floor next to my bed for easy, pre-coffee dressing. 
  8. Taking a break for fresh air and exercise is not only a good idea, but it is an all-out necessity. This will prevent your poor spouse from finding you, sitting in a pink bathrobe in the middle of your office floor, crying and laughing while throwing index cards into the air. Plus I read somewhere, something about your brain needing oxygen and exercise increases oxygen, right? Really, take a break already.
  9. Eating ten bags of microwave popcorn is just asking for trouble. Similar advice could be given about overindulging in just about anything. Try not to snack your brains out.
  10. Do not stare at a blank screen/page for hours. This accomplishes nothing. Put fingers to keyboard and write, even if it is gibberish.
  11. At the end of the day/night/whatever, take ten minutes to sketch out the first two scenes you plan to write the next day/night/whatever. Even though you have two claws instead of hands and your eyes are angry red orbs of fire and your spine is bent and crooked making you resemble the old crone in your story...take ten more minutes to prepare. 'Cause tomorrow you'll still have claws and red eyeballs and a hump, but you won't have to think about what you need to write.
  12. For the love of all that is good, DON'T FALL BEHIND IN YOUR DAILY WORD COUNT. If you do, the likelihood of the above rules coming into play increases 10,000%. In fact, pad the word count whenever possible.

NaNo Day 1 Overload

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "NaNoWriMo

I think I may have overdone it today. I didn't even get to my Day 1 goal of five-thousand words, but I still feel spent. All of this anticipation and anxiety and planning for this day, and I'm at the end of it feeling a bit rough and wrung out.

Writing is hard work.

I thought I was better prepared for NaNoWriMo this year ("And, I am" says the voice in my head), but the beginning of this novel is just not coming to me. This shouldn't be a surprise as TLCS's (WIP #1) beginning didn't come together until after I'd written the whole damned thing. Still, despite having a story idea that I love, with characters I'm excited to get to know, I just feel very blah about the whole thing right now.

Is it the NaNoWriMo blues? Is there such a thing?

I'm having this sort of déjà vu feeling. I keep flashing on my university graduation and my wedding day, two days that were a long time in the making and then over-and-done in a flash. It's unsettling to the system when you've planned and plotted over weeks and months for One tiny day, then -poof- the day has past you by.

I don't know, I guess I'm just feeling melancholy today. I see my characters so vividly in my head, feel their hopes and fears, then I write it all out on paper and it seems so...trite, flat, monochrome. I want to hit delete and make the below-average words disappear.

Don't worry, I won't actually delete a single word. I can't - I've got a word count goal to hit.  And, NaNoWriMo is all about word count, which is the first hurdle to good writing. I've been down this road before; I know I can produce the word count.

Good writing is the next layer, it's about weaving hundreds of threads together to make a whole, and I'm still mastering the techniques. I have to keep telling myself that the technique will come with time and writing/word count.

Despite my bad attitude tonight, I can already see that my writing is better this year. I have learned things - techniques and skills - and they are influencing my writing. Maybe it still isn't great or even good writing, but there's progress.

On that note, time to step away from the keyboard and get some sleep. Good night, my fellow Writers and WriMo's!