Weekly camp check-in

Here we are! It’s a week into Camp NaNoWriMo, [Has it really been a week already?!] so here’s my check-in. The first three days of Camp, I resisted the urge to dive into my story, and I spent quality time creating an outline. Or, at least, some notes I can use that’ll help keep everything organized. I’m writing a murder mystery, which means I need to know everything from suspects’ alibis and motives to those tiny clues that might end up being red herrings in the end. I needed a way to track all that stuff, so I created some charts to keep handy.

I also created a map for my city! I hand drew it, so I’ll be honest and say it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s functional for now. It also allows room to grow as the series gets longer, which, hopefully, it will. How I created my fictional town was I searched for a real city about the same size as my fictional town. I pulled it up on Google Maps, and I scoped it out – how many restaurants did it have, how many stores, how many houses versus apartments, schools, parks, bus stops? Anything I could think of to research about it, I did. I then manipulated the real city, and in this case I drew a mirror image of it. I filled in what I needed for the first book – the theater that it takes place in, the police department, my main character’s home, and the school at which she works. I didn’t need all of those things, but I wanted to get a baseline so I didn’t have to do these basic things later. [Plus, I had to know how long it’d take the cops to get to the theater, and to do that I needed to calculate the distance to extrapolate the time.] And they said being a writer was easy. [Actually, nobody says that.]

After I had those things, I started to write. [It was the next logical step.] Somewhere in there, I realized my suspects only had a one-word motive without any backstory. I stopped writing again, and I went back to develop that just a little more. I filled nearly five pages of my notebook with their backstories, even though most, if not all, of these characters are making an appearance in this story only. It kind of felt like overkill, honestly, but it’s been helping me a lot while I write.

So I basically saved my entire manuscript by managing to fill those plot holes. Great. I start writing again, and at this point in the story, the ever-inquisitive sleuth has deduced that something isn’t right with the theater actors and she needs to get backstage to investigate. In my original outline, I had her pretend to be a doctor and her convincing the security guard that an actor appeared to be having a heart attack. [Lame, I know. It was probably 3am, though.] As I was writing it, it just felt all wrong, so I stopped writing again to figure out a good reason why she needs to be the one the guard lets through the doors. [I ended up creating a character…and another suspect.] Saved it again! Now, I’m somewhere in between the sleuth gathering information and piecing together the puzzle, which is pretty exciting. [What mystery writer or reader doesn’t like a good puzzle?]

My goal for this story is to turn it into a novella of around 40,000 words. [I’d like to finish all 40,000 words this month, but I’d also like to be realistic.] I’m not sure the story will be stretched out to 40,000 words, though. It’s sounding like it’ll be a shorter story, possibly a novelette, but I’m also recognizing that this is a first draft. My first drafts tend to be shorter, and I add in the details – and subplots – in subsequent drafts when the skeleton of the story has already been written. [I’m really not sure why I write this way.]

So, for now, I have 4,242 words out of a reasonable goal of 25,000 words. I haven’t written today yet, so I’m hopeful I can catch up to par for the day. [I have a home inspection with the rental company on Wednesday and I also have to repair some damages my three-year-old created – as well as messes we’ve all created – so my free time is being eaten by housework, which, let’s be honest, is the worst.]

I did, however, literally double my word count [actually, I more-than-doubled it] in one coffee-infused night at IHOP this past week, so I know it’s possible to catch up.

Current word count: 4,242
Weekly total word count goal: 12,000 [par is 11,666]
Weekly focus goal: 7,800 [actual goal is 7,753, but I wanted to round up and not down]

 

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Welcome Camp!

Welcome! Take a seat and get cozy. We’ll be here all month. By now, Camp NaNoWriMo has surely started in your time zone, and it’s off to the races. Well, word races…uh…sprints. Anyway, I wanted to take a minute to offer some inspiration and reassurance.

Whatever happens this month – whether you reach and surpass your word goal, you don’t write down a word, or you write something in between – know that you did well this month. You had the courage to try something new, and if all you did was sign up for the challenge, that took guts. You should be acknowledged for taking that leap.

Writing a book is hard work. Well, it’s work. Novels don’t just appear on the computer without mixing in equal amounts of tears, laughter, and perspiration. You signed up for this challenge because, I assume, you want to write a book. But the thing is – most people want to have written a book. It’s a slight word different, but it’s a huge distinction. Most people don’t want to have to go through to come up with an idea and follow it to “The End” then tear it apart only to stitch it back together. It’s a process, and if sometime during this month you decide that process isn’t for you, that’s okay. The big thing is that you tried. You chased after a dream. And somethings the thing about dreams is that they aren’t always how we imagined them. That’s okay. Keep dreaming, keep trying, keep doing.

Sometime in the middle of the month, you’ll look at your word processor (or notebook) and think you’re the worst writer ever to have written, and everything is shit. [Truly, I think it’s inevitable.] Don’t delete your words! When you find yourself in a mental rut like this – or a bout of writer’s block – take a minute away from the screen. Get up, move around, go for a walk, listen to music, do anything that gets you back in your happy place. Think about why you want to be a writer and why you want to write this particular story. Remind yourself of why you’re embarking on this wild journey called Camp NaNoWriMo.

There’s a great book [I’m somewhere in the middle of it as it’s one of those books I’ll take the entire year to read because I want to take my time] called Word by Word by Anne Lamott. It’s kind of a mashup of a writing tutorial and self-help book. I won’t go into the contents here, but I want to bring your attention to the title: Word by Word. That’s how this thing is done. Don’t look at your entire goal as an entity. Don’t even focus on your daily word count goal right now. Focus on that first word. When you’ve written down that word, move onto the next. Eventually, you’ll have a sentence, which will turn into a paragraph, a scene, a chapter, and, finally, a story. But it all starts with that first word, and, that, you can manage.

If you don’t know how your story will go, that’s okay too. Pantsers, plotters, or plantsers are all welcome. And if your story changes midway because your characters take the reins, enjoy the ride. First drafts are used to explore your story, your world, and your characters. Don’t be afraid of dead ends, and don’t be afraid of straying off course to try something else. This is your time to try new things.

Most of all, just have fun and enjoy the experience. If you don’t end up reaching your goal, there will always be another Camp with another goal. Chin up and continue onward.

For now, though, keep writing, keep exploring, and keep growing.

 

 

 

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.