Planning for Camp [the penultimate day]

I just love that word – penultimate. In case you’re unfamiliar, it just means the second to last, which is today!

I am so, so excited, but there is still a lot of work to do on our stories before we can take off on April 1. Today, we’re going to focus on closing those plot holes and working out the kinks. At the end, I will also discuss mystery-specific tips and tricks to help organize all that important information you’ve gathered about your characters.

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So, what exactly are plot holes? Simply, they’re anything that doesn’t make sense in your story. For example,

  • In a fantasy novel, the rules of physics can be bent to fit the created world, but the rules need to stay consistent for that world. It all has to add up.
  • Someone who died in a previous scene, and did not come back to haunt the other characters, inexplicably is in a later scene.
  • The layout of a town is changed – shops aren’t where they were, it takes two hours to walk a mile down the road, cities that were previously established to be next to each other aren’t anymore. [Travel is actually a big plot hole that gets overlooked. A simple map could help with this.]
  • Your character’s appearance changes.
  • Your character once had an accent – and it disappears randomly.
  • Backstory changes.
  • Character motivation changes.

Anything that randomly changes without an explanation can be considered a plot hole. It’s far easier to spot those changes now with an outline than having to comb through a 300-400 page manuscript to find them. Of course, in your editing process, you’re going to want to spot and change any you find, but, hopefully, if you’re using your outline as a guide you won’t make too many during the writing process.

Here are a few resources to help guide you to identify and fix plot holes in your outline and finished manuscript.

Finally, taking a look at your outline as an overview, check out this short article to make sure you have all your elements before beginning to write. The last one in particular, remembering to see your outline notes as flexible, is one of the most important reminders.

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Congratulations! By now, you probably have quite a lot of notes to give you a better idea of what your story is about, which will help sustain you during Camp NaNoWriMo and beyond. You’ve done a lot of work these past five days, so now it’s time to rest and wait for midnight to begin writing!

Come back tomorrow for an inspirational post about how to keep up your motivation all month.

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If you’re still here, you’re probably a mystery writer. I’ll give you some genre-specific tips on how to organize all your pertinent information like clues, alibis, red herrings, and conclusions. Like the character information, I gathered these notes several years ago without recording the source, so if you recognize where these came from please let me know!

Red herrings: Leads frequently come from other suspects and the forensic [and other physical] evidence. For example, if an object is misplaced, missing, or out-of-place. The sleuth sorts through the suspect information to determine what’s the truth, a lie, or unreliable information.

Clues: These are fun because they point to the suspects and their motives. Remember to be subtle and vary your type of clue. Make your clue work for you by implicating several suspects when interpreted in different ways. Here are a few types of clues:

  • Verbal: Clues contradict alibi or points to a motive (i.e. an argument)
  • Physical: Object necessary to solve a murder (i.e. a toll receipt)
  • Insights from the sleuth

The important thing to remember about clues is to wrap up all loose ends by the end of the story (or investigation of the murder). If you don’t, you’ll create a plot hole. If a clue is actually a red herring, remember to show why it’s not critical to the case. For example: The toll receipt that shows a suspect driving the the same town as the victim just before the murder was considered a clue until the sleuth discovers the original time of death was incorrect (thus confirming the suspect’s alibi). You don’t want to leave doubt in the readers’ minds as to who the killer is – unless that is your intention.

To keep everything organized, consider creating a murder wall. It’s exactly as it sounds, and you can make it as simple or as complicated as you desire. Remember to include: victim(s), suspects, killer(s), and witnesses (if any).

Keep in mind that unless you’re writing a cozy mystery, you’re going to want to include some forensics work in your story. It’s important that you’re accurate. For example, blow flies, which are commonly found on corpses only hatch under certain conditions. If you have blow flies without meeting those conditions, readers either may mistake it as a clue (body dump) or call you out on inconsistencies. Fortunately, there are several great resources online to help you sort out the science. (See here and here to get started.) I suggest that you open a new document (or turn to a new page in a notebook) and write out research topics to research all at the same time to minimize the chances of getting sucked into a research black hole.

Finally, here is a good guide to show how to write scenes for a mystery novel. It shows the breakdown of scenes and how to execute them.

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Do you have children (or students) who are curious about writing mysteries? Here are two guides you can give them so they can participate in Camp NaNoWriMo too. (See here and here for the guides.)

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Well, there you have it! Hopefully, you have a better idea of how to organize and integrate clues and red herrings in your story. Come back tomorrow for some motivation to help get you through the month ahead.

 

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Prepping for Camp NaNoWriMo [2 days left]

There are only two more days before Camp NaNo. [Technically, only a day and a half.] Can you feel the tension? All that nervous excitement waiting to spill on the page? Good. We’re going to harness that energy and focus on developing your characters today.

I love sketching characters, and it’s probably my favorite thing of novel planning, which is why I leave it for the end so it doesn’t eclipse all the other stuff I need to address. At the end of this post, I’ll also include genre-specific tips for creating characters for mystery writers since that’s one of the primary genres I write.

Over the past few years, I’ve been collecting tips and tricks from different places – books, blogs, podcasts – and creating a sort of personal checklist. Unfortunately, I committed a cardinal sin and didn’t write down where I acquired all this lovely information. So, all this came from different sources. If you see something either you’ve written or you recognize, let me know and I’ll properly source it. Thanks!

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I start with a basic list of things to think about. I fill out one of these for each main character, including protagonists, antagonists, mentors, and power players). I’ll also fill out one for those minor characters who have a larger role and more impact in the story [or series].

  1. Goals, motivation, conflict – both inner and outer.
  2. Strengths and how to balance and layer them.
  3. Weaknesses and character flaws.
  4. Physical appearance tips here, here, and here.
  5. Important relationships and how they affect the character.
  6. Education.
  7. Home environment.
  8. Preferred method of travel [car, bus, walk, motorcycle, space hopping?].
  9. Backstory as it relates to the story/situation.
  10. Things in their backpack, car, pockets, purse, wallet, or anything else they carry with them.
  11. Habits, mannerisms, quirks, catch phrases.
  12. Mental health, outlook of life, emotions.
  13. Everything else, including telling the story from the each character’s POV. Remember, everybody is the main character of their own lives.

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After  I have a basic framework, I can dive deeper. Since I write mystery, I’m going into more specific details on how to create characters for various roles.

The sleuth: The story revolves around this person, so it’s safe to say we need to know everything there is to know about him or her.

  • Who is the sleuth, and why are they getting involved in THIS PARTICULAR case? Are they a suspect? Is their best friend the victim? Why do they personally get involved?
  • How does the sleuth become privy to important crime details, such as who suspects are? Unless your sleuth is also a private investigator or cop, they’re going to get their hands dirty. In cozies, there’s less emphasis on the forensics.
  • What are the sleuth’s special talents? What makes them a good sleuth?
  • How will the sleuth interview suspects to glean information about and solve the mystery?
  • How do other characters, especially law enforcement, react to the sleuth?
  • Who’s the sleuth’s sidekick? Who do they talk to about the case?
  • What does the sleuth do when they’re not out solving crime?

 

The suspects. Some suspects are genuinely nice people, but remember, there’s a murderer in their midst. It’s equally as important to learn about your suspects.

  • How many suspects will there be? The sweet spot for a full novel is five. To spice it up, kill one in the course of the story, but make sure it isn’t the actual guilty person.
  • How will the suspects be introduced to the reader? What will alert the sleuth [and reader] that the characters are suspects?
  • How will they be interviewed by the sleuth?
  • What are the suspects’ motivations? Make them varied.
  • What are the suspects’ alibis? Throw in a few that aren’t air tight, but show how, later, their alibis check out. Except the murderer’s of course.

The victim. I said the story revolves around the sleuth, but, really, without the victim the sleuth wouldn’t need to go sleuthing, especially in the case of the amateur sleuth in cozies. Let’s find out why the victim is the victim.

  • Is the victim alive in the beginning of the story, or is the body found right away?
  • Who is the victim? What’s their story as it relates to this story?
  • How does the victim know the sleuth? [In cozies, it’s never random.]
  • How does the victim know each of the suspects? What’s their relationship to each other? What’s the victim’s side of the conflict with each of them?
  • What’s the victim’s personality? [Even though they will die, I still do a full character sketch using the questions above.]
  • How does the victim die? Where did the murder take place? Why is this significant? [It always is.]

The sidekick. Robin to Batman. Dr. Watson to Sherlock. Sidekicks are the unsung heroes of the literary world, so let your sleuth’s sidekick sing by giving them a purpose. Here are a few purposes for them. Choose one or many.

  • Foils sleuth. [Make things unintentionally difficult.]
  • Calls sleuth out on their BS.
  • Gives sleuth clarity – in life, in the case.
  • Creates secondary tension in the story.
  • Forces sleuth to face themselves and their fears.
  • Helps sleuth see past themselves and at a larger world.
  • Provides a secondary POV and subplot material.
  • Gives the sleuths a backstory.
  • Keep the sleuth likeable and relateable, especially a recluse sleuth.
  • Be the sleuth’s saving grace and rescuer.

 

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Now, you have an accurate portrayal of all the major players in the story. You know how they relate with each other and the roles they’ll play in the story. If you need to, go back and tweak your plot synopsis and summaries from previous days. Often, characters act in unexpected ways. They seem to take over, and we should let them. They drive the story; it’s theirs after all. If, when writing the plot synopsis, we expect a character to act in a certain way, but after interviewing them it’s clear they would never act in this manner, instead of forcing something and it coming off as fake, allow the character to be authentic to themselves and rework the plot.

You just might surprise yourself.

 

 

Camp NaNo prep [3 days left]

Well, kind of. I’m writing this post-midnight since I had to work all day, and I’m just now able to get to this. So, really, it’s more like two days left, but who’s counting?

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Today, let’s focus on what happens in your story. This isn’t so much of an outline [I hear your rebellion, pantsers] so much as it’s a general guide. It’s difficult to truly pants a story.

[And if you’re wondering what pantsing is it’s simply writing by the seat of your pants and foregoing an outline.]

With events such as NaNoWriMo [and similar ones] where there’s a hard deadline, it makes it easier for you to jot down some basic notes about your story, your world, and your character. How much you jot down – whether it’s a small bulleted list or a full outline complete with character synopses – is up to you. I tend to gravitate toward something in the middle, making myself a “plantser,” a plotter and pantser. [I never did fit in one box, anyway.]

Because this topic is huge in scope and there are literally thousands of blogs and articles written about how to plan for different genres, I’ll only touch on my own genres and some of the bigger ones. I stay within the mystery/thriller and literary fiction genres, though I do write some young adult and children’s books from time to time. I’ll also briefly discuss world building in the scifi/fantasy genres.

All you need for this is a notebook and writing implement or a computer. I like doing all my planning on paper because it activates different parts of the brain that aren’t activated while typing, and paper gives me the freedom to doodle and mind map. Of course, choose the method that works best for you or try them both.

If you want to get fancy, you can choose to have:

  • Index cards – for characters, setting, scenes, plot points, anything else you think is important for you to write the story
  • Various colors of markers and highlighters – useful especially if you’re working with multiple POVs
  • Mapping software – to draw a map of your characters’ environment, which is useful for any genre and not just fantasy

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First, let’s give your characters somewhere to live. Setting is important to every story, not just science fiction and fantasy. Whether your story takes place at 221B Baker Street in London, on a faraway planet in a different galaxy, the street you grew up on, or a random city, it’s important to map out where everything is. Ideally, your setting will complement your story. It will enhance your characters and their conflict.

For now, describe your setting as an outsider would see it. Play tourist in your own world and note big things [like the Space Needle in Seattle] and the small things [the hole-in-the-wall pub that serves the best fish and chips that only the locals know about]. What kind of things are in your city or on your planet? Right now, this is a general look at it. You can be as vague or as specific as you’d like to be. Do you write

If you’re writing a historical fiction novel, this is the time when you need to show off your research skills. You’ll need to research different topics, such as: political/social/cultural context, manner of speech, clothing, geography [which may have changed over the course of time], etc. Number one rule? Fact check everything. Here are tips to get you started.

Do you write scifi or fantasy? Check out this great guide.

I typically write 5-8 pages of setting notes that include grocery stores, parks, schools, population size, basic statistics [average socioeconomic class, average ages of residents, and ethnicity breakdown], tourist attractions, shops, town history [origin of the town, who founded it, why is it called that], overall “vibe” of the town, local lore [like ghost stories], and newsworthy events [like murders either well-publicized or covered up by the powers that be].

Keep this setting description and we will dig deeper in setting after we develop the main characters. I recommend every writer read this excellent article on inspirational settings.

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It’s time to populate your world. Make a list of your characters – main characters, supporting/minor characters, antagonists, mentors, and what some people call “power players.” For this part, we’re focusing on a general list – names, ages, their roles, their goals, and their conflicts. What motivates your character to continue? What barriers are in their way? [These can be external, internal, and/or both.] How do they interact with the other characters?

  •  Your main characters are just that – they’re the people the story revolves. Without the main characters, the story wouldn’t be told.
  • Your supporting or minor characters help [or hinder] the main characters. Either way, they’re there to help keep the forward momentum and drive the story to the end.
  • Your antagonists are in competition with your protagonist [and sometimes the minor characters]. They want something, and the protagonist is in the way. The key to creating a believable antagonist is remembering that everyone is the hero of their own story. The reasons behind their actions will make the antagonist realistic and sympathetic.
  • Mentors are those characters that guide the protagonist through their journey. Traditionally, it’s an older person in a high role, but molds were made to be broken. Mentors could include: a teacher, a parent, a friend, a boss, or a wizard. The options are unlimited. Mentors traditionally help the protagonist, but they could also offer well-intentioned advice that causes conflict for the protagonist.
  • Power players are characters that have the power to change the course of the story. Is there a murderer running loose in the city, picking off people randomly? Does your mentor character hold a secret that, if divulged to the protagonist, will help defeat the antagonist?

It’s important to note that your characters aren’t meant to stay in one box. Antagonists can be power players, as can mentors. [If you really want to get twisted, an antagonist can be a mentor and a power player.] Play around with the roles your characters will play in the story. Develop their relationships with each other. How do they interact with one another? How do they affect each other? Characters, just like people, don’t live in a vacuum.

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Now you’ve got a world and people, so next you need them to do stuff to get the plot rolling. Dust off your work from yesterday – the one paragraph that gives you an overview of the what happens during the story. This is your framework to build upon.

Reread what you’ve written then see if your story fits one of these plot templates. Knowing the root of the story will help understand which plot details and subplots to choose. [Note: Your story might fit more than one template, and that’s okay.]

Rarely will a plot, by itself, sustain a novel-length story. That’s where subplots come into play. Take a moment and think about your other characters. What’s going on in their lives? How does it relate to the protagonist and the main storyline? Is there a love interest? Is there a family feud? Revenge? Jealousy? Murder? How will a minor character’s story converge with a main character’s story? What other character’s (or characters’) story will enhance the protagonist’s story?

I tried to structure a section about plot and how to layer different elements to create a deeper story while adding subplots to the mix, but it would turn into a book in itself. Instead, I’m going to direct you to these fantastic references. I recommend reading them in order since they build upon one another, but, of course, like anything, do what works for you.

  • This short article talks about what exactly are plot, plot layers, and subplots. It goes into how exactly to set up an easy-to-reference chart for you to use as you’re writing to make sure you’re weaving each element seamlessly.
  • This denser article, which has several other links with worksheets and checklists embedded, goes into more detail than I could ever imagine about how to work in subplots. I’ve read it four times already, and I pick up on something new each time. Definitely something to print and have handy. I highly recommend clicking through other links referenced in the article and printing off the checklists.
  • Finally, this article shows the methods in which to practically weave in your subplots. It talks about the different ways to write them on the page – whether to start each thread as a new chapter, parallel writing, or something else entirely. There are seven methods explored in this article, and it contains examples of each.

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Now that you have your plot, plot layers, and subplots, think of different scenes that are a part of each of these elements. Scenes, at their heart, do one of two things. [Sometimes, they can do both at the same time, which is wildly efficient.]

  1. Reveal characters – their motivations, goals, personality, etc.
  2. Move the story forward – getting characters to point A to Z.

By keeping these two categories in mind, it’ll help to ward off those information dumps that are common, especially in the beginning when it’s tempting to want to explain everything all at once – the setting and its history, the main character and their life story, the problem or conflict without actually doing anything to solve it. Ideally, this information can be revealed on an as-needed basis and intertwined within the story to where it’s almost imperceptible that you’re doling out information at all.

Take the time now to jot down a few scenes for each element – plot, plot layer, and subplot – to get you started.

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That was a lot of work, and if you’re still here with me, thank you. By now, you have a good idea of what your story is and the layers that make it up. You’ll also probably see where you can improve your story – gaping plot holes or topics to research. Jot these concerns down. We’ll address them soon.

Tomorrow [later today during the next post], we will dive into your characters and explore their role in the story. Keep the work you’ve done today handy. When you learn who your characters are, some of these plot and subplot details may change. Don’t be afraid to alter anything if it strengthens your story.

 

Camp NaNoWriMo prep [4 days left]

It’s a good thing I’m not a math teacher because, apparently, I can’t do basic math – like subtracting five from anything. [I think I might have forgotten March has thirty-one days in it, which is nearly every year.] In any case, you got a break to really dive into the beginning tasks. If you’re just joining us, check out the first post of this series here.

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Today, we’re going to take your elevator pitch and transform that into a paragraph you can use to write a more detailed plot outline, if you so choose. This paragraph will give you a road map to follow so you don’t get off-track.

Things you’ll want to include:

  • Main characters, including your protagonist and villains/antagonists – even if you write literary fiction like I do and don’t have a human antagonist.
  • Goals. Your characters want something. Ideally, your protagonist and antagonist will want the same things but go about it in different ways.
  • Conflict. This is the stuff of stories. If you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story.
  • Disasters. With conflict comes snafus and twists for your characters. How will they handle not getting their way? What unexpected things happen because things didn’t go according to plan?
  • Resolution. Every story comes to an end [eventually]. How does yours end?

Several years ago, a new software hit the internet. It was called Snowflake Pro, and, without really knowing why, I purchased it for pennies. [Not literally, but compared to what it costs today, it feels like that.] I use it for every project, from short stories to mystery series. Since then, Randy Ingermanson has written several articles [and books] about how to implement the concepts of his Snowflake Method without actually purchasing the software. One of the steps in his method is this one paragraph summary. Here is what he suggests, and you can find the full article here.

Ideally, your paragraph will have about five sentences. One sentence to give me the backdrop and story setup. Then one sentence each for your three disasters. Then one more sentence to tell the ending. Don’t confuse this paragraph with the back-cover copy for your book. This paragraph summarizes the whole story. Your back-cover copy should summarize only about the first quarter of the story.

Keep this paragraph handy. We’ll reference it later – and you might find you’ll change it after we tinker with the backbone of your story.

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Next, we’re going to choose who gets to tell your story and how that story will be told. In other words, the voice of your story and its point of view. Let’s start with voice first.

Choosing a narrator: By definition, your narrator narrates the story and is not a character in the story. There is a degree of separation between the narrator and the characters in the story in which he narrates. Here’s a great article about how to approach each of these three narrator types with examples from well-known books.

  • The omniscient narrator

The omniscient narrator knows everything and can share anyone’s thoughts at any time. He can, and often does, make value judgments about the characters in the story.

  • The limited narrator

The limited narrator can share the thoughts of a selected few characters, usually only one per scene. He seldom makes value judgments. He can take a long view, or focus on a single character.

  • The objective narrator

The objective narrator is like a photojournalist. He reports the story events, but he doesn’t judge and doesn’t read minds.

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If you want a more personalized story that really gets into a character’s (or characters’) mind, you might want to choose allowing a character, or multiple characters, to tell the story instead. We’ll explore different ways you can approach point of view to see who best to hold the proverbial camera. Here is another great article that dives deeper into each of these and includes examples from well-known books.

  • First person and close third person [also called deep point of view]: In both of these points of view, the reader gets an up close and personal view of this character’s life and mind. Readers are more immersed rather than using a narrator to tell the story.

In Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint, Nancy Kress writes, “‘close third person’ and ‘first person’ are indistinguishable from one another except for their pronouns. When you transpose first person to third person by changing the pronouns, close third is what you get.”

  • Multiple points of view: You may choose to have several characters tell the story, either using first person or using deep point of view for each. This allows you, as the writer, to rely on the perspectives of multiple people, and you may choose to do this for several reasons: create the effect of the unreliable narrator, or to tell different characters’ stories and show how they intertwine. Be careful you don’t choose too many characters to tell the story, though. The more characters you use, readers will be unable to form strong attachments to any one of them, and it will appear fragmented.

Some writing books say if you are writing in “third person” you can reveal information not known to the viewpoint character. This is true only if you are using a narrator. You cannot reveal information unknown to the viewpoint character. The character with the camera can only show what they see. The instant you reveal something the protagonist cannot know, you have taken the viewpoint away from him and given it to a narrator.

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Now that you have your narrator and point of view chosen, you can go back to your one paragraph summary. Evaluate it to see if it’s consistent with who is telling the story and who the story is about. Rework it to reflect with your new understanding of your story.

Tomorrow, we’ll go more in-depth with your world and your story, so stay tuned!

Countdown to Camp (five days)

If you don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming back in April. What’s this elusive camp, you ask? It’s a virtual camp for writers where we’re placed in different virtual cabins – either randomly or by choice – and we work on our writing goals. Camp activities are optional but encouraged.

What do you need before going to camp? Well, not much, really. [You don’t even need an idea, outline, or plan.] You can dive right in and write what comes to mind, which is great. If that’s how your brain works, anyway. Mine? Not so much. Over the next five days, I’ll share with you my process I take to gear up for any NaNoWriMo event – the Camps in April and July, and the main event in November.

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Before you do anything else, make sure you’re actually registered for the event. (It’s free, so why not!) Signing up is simple. Go to the homepage here and register for a new account. If you’re already a member of the main NaNo event, use that login for this one. Easy peasy!

In order to be placed in a cabin, you have to have a project. You can choose anything – even “Untitled” in an “Other” genre. They’re flexible and don’t mind if you have no idea what you’re doing. [Most years, I don’t.] To add a writing project, under “My Camp NaNo,” click “My Writing Projects” and follow the instructions. For a writing goal, you can anything from 3o words to 1 million words, a wide margin of choice to say the least. This is the biggest difference between the Camp events and the traditional NaNo event in November: you can choose your own word count. Traditional word counts are 50,000 words, but don’t feel the need to conform. [My goal this year is 40,000 because that’s all I need my story to be as a novella. Also, I’m bucking tradition by working on something that’s currently in progress.]

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I forgot to draw the little arrow this time, but click “My Writing Projects.”

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Next, you’ll want to decide if you want to join a cabin or not. Cabins are a great way to stay motivated and accountable throughout the month. I’ve been in cabins where people aren’t chatty and nobody checked in, but the overwhelming majority of experiences are fun. There are challenges and rewards systems and check-ins. Writing can be a lonely experience, so it’s great to have a personalized group to chat with. Cabins are small-ish, with only twelve spots in each. You can swap cabins midway if you’re not feeling the vibe of your assigned cabin. Of course, you can always write solo as well. To set your cabin settings, something you’ll need to do if you want to be in a cabin or not, sign in and click “Cabin Settings” under the “Cabin” tab.

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Yes, my username is anonymouskitten, and yes, I have unopened NaNo mail from over three years ago. 🙂 

Next, you’ll want to choose your cabin preference. There are several options. [Of course, just as I was taking a snapshot of the screen, I was added to a cabin and the options are no longer visible.] You can choose to be randomly selected in a  cabin – with or without meeting certain criteria such as the same genre or goal as you – or you can create your own private cabin if you know other writers you’d like to pair up with. [There is always the lone wolf option as well.]

If, after you chat with your cabin cohorts, you decide you want to bail, you can always opt out. Go back to your cabin settings page, and click where it says to opt out.

 

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I used Paint instead of freehanding it. [It still sucks, but it works.]

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Now that you have your foundation, you’re probably itching to swap that “Untitled” title to something else, right? But if you don’t have an idea floating in your mind, what do you do?

This might be a huge letdown, but…you find an idea.

Inspiration comes from anywhere, seriously.

  1. My number one suggestion is simple: go for a walk. [Don’t listen to me, though. Here’s a study from Stanford.] Even if it’s crappy weather outside, walk around indoors. [If you have mobility issues, try using your mobility device, whether a walker or wheelchair or something else, to get moving and change scenery.] 
  2. Read, read, read. Pick up a book and read. Find something you’d change – the outcome, a character, a situation, anything – and make it your own.
  3. Get philosophical and ask “What if…” Frequently, my books start out this way. “What if a poor boy inherits a fortune?” [Great Expectations] or “What if a neglected boy discovers he has magical powers and is famous? [Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone] You can be as silly or serious with this as you’d like.
  4. Start a dream log. If your dreams are anything like mine, you’ll have some good material with which to work. Write down everything you remember upon waking up, even (especially) if it doesn’t make sense. Pick out a detail that sticks out to you and expand it to create a story.
  5. Go to the cemetery. Okay, this might be a little morbid for some people, but it works for me. When I go to a cemetery, which is quite often, I walk around headstones and jot down the names and ages of people. I come up with elaborate, fictional backstories for each of them. Sometimes they will turn into characters with their own stories.
  6. If you’re really on a tight deadline and can’t come with an idea, try a plot generator or the adoptables thread in the NaNoWriMo forums.
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Step 1: Click NaNoWriMo Forum

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Sign in, if you aren’t already, with your Camp NaNo username then go to the forum.

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Scroll down until you find the Adoption Society thread. Inside, you’ll see an index post as the first or second thread within. Click there since everything will be alphabetical. Go wild and explore.

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Okay, you’re finally inspired and you have an idea in mind. Great! Take out a piece of paper (or open a new document on your computer) and write everything that comes to mind when you think about your idea.

This can be anything, including a description of a character, a setting, a scene, a snippet of dialogue, a clue, a red herring, a murder weapon, a theme, anything. Anything goes. No filter, just write. Eventually, you will exhaust all your ideas about this project if you keep going long enough. And don’t worry if you only have one or two things written. There is no right or wrong way to do a mind dump. The goal is to get everything out of your head and onto paper (or screen), so you can decide what to do with it.

I tend to do my brainstorming on paper since it activates a different part of my brain than if I were to type the notes. My pages end up being very messy with scribbles and arrows drawn between ideas to show a connection. Somehow, I’m able to read it after I’m finished and can put it into some coherent order. The goal is to create something that works for you.

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You’ve done a lot of prep work already, but there’s one more thing to do before closing up shop today. It’s called your elevator pitch. [Check out this blog with a directory of information about this. I recommend starting with this post and moving down (or up) the list. This post by a different blogger has more concrete advice to get you started.]

Essentially, your elevator pitch boils down, in a sentence, just what exactly your story is about. [I think one of the most terrifying questions I’ve ever been asked is: “So, what’s your book about?” I get flustered and try to talk about all the nuances that I think make my story great, and I don’t actually get to the heart of it.]

This is your chance to find that golden nugget, that pearl, that Holy Grail of meaning within your story. Here are some questions to get you thinking: What is your story about? Why do you need to tell this particular story? Why does it compel you? What feelings do your story bring up within you? How do you want to convey those feelings to others? What actually happens in your story? What’s the conflict? [There’s always conflict.] Who tells your story and why? Who is the story about and why? [This isn’t always the same answer as the previous question. Take a look at The Great Gatsby. Nick Carroway narrated it, but it was really about Jay Gatz. There was a reason for this.] What themes do you want to explore? Who is your intended audience? What genre do you think your story fits best in?

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If you’d like to leave your elevator pitches in the comments, I’d love to take a look at them – if only to get excited about the story that will unfold this coming month. Also, you can choose to comment with your Camp goal to stay accountable.

Come back tomorrow for some more tips on how to prepare for Camp NaNoWriMo!

When plans fall through, march forth.

I came back to the world of blogging after taking a hiatus, and I read my last post. I haven’t made all the progress I’d have like to in January and February, but I’ve been focusing on other things. Here’s a recap.

  • I’ve managed to read at least one book a day to each child, which is huge. Some days, I read the same book five or more times, especially Llama Llama Red Pajama, which is a family favorite.
  • I’ve edited two novels for clients, one in each month, both of which are part of a series. I’m excited to read subsequent stories.
  • I’ve read 13 books so far, which means I’m ahead of schedule. (Not including books I’ve been asked to beta read or edit.)
  • I planned a short story for an anthology, missed the deadline, and expanded the story to a novella.
  • I haven’t kept up with writing, but I hope I can use Camp NaNo in April to play catch up.

I’m starting to see that simpler is better for me. When I create manageable goals, I’m less likely to freeze up. While I’d like to write 1,000 words a day every day all year, it’s not always reasonable for me to do so. I do try to write something each day, whether it’s a quick update on WriYe or planning a short story, though.

With that said, here are some goals for March.

 

  • Read three books (and write reviews).
  • Write 15,000 words of novella #1.
  • Hunt for great web hosting deals.
  • Continue to read one book a day to the kids.

 

I’m trying to read more indie authors. If you’re an indie author and want me to read (and review) your book, please let me know. While I prefer literary fiction and mystery/thrillers, I’m open to other genres. 🙂