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50,000 Words Does Not a Novel Make

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 30, 2012 in Posts

So this is it – tomorrow is the deadline.  Whether you reach it or not, kudos to you for attempting.  I sadly have fallen victim to the “attempted” category with less than 15,000 words as of this writing.  But, that is 15,000 more words than I had on November 1st, so I still come out ahead.  It’s all about thinking positively.  For those of you close or beyond the 50,000 mark, let’s talk numbers.

If you recall (or just click on) my last post, I had a link to word count guidelines (http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/07/word-count.html for those who don’t recall/don’t feel like clicking back to the last post).  As I said back then (the whole three days ago), 50,000 words does not a novel make.  Most novels start at 50,000 words – if it’s not 50,000 words does it mean it’s not a novella?  Well, if it only has 49,985 words, and is a complete story, it’s close enough.  And if you’re writing for middle grades, you’re novel is not going to be that mystic 50,000.  But in most cases the average middle grade story would be considered a novella.

Cassandra Marshall has listed guidelines for not only genres, but types of writing (micro to novel) on her blog here: http://www.camarshall.com/2011/09/word-count-guidelines.html.  She also gives her tips on word counts, number 1 being that these guidelines are good at being just that – guidelines.  She also notes that these guidelines are mainly set by “publishing standards” – and publishers are about selling books, not writing them (yes, I know – I’ve mentioned that before.  I’m not against the publishing industry, I’m just being honest).  You may write an amazing 150,000 YA novel that would set the world on its ear, but a publisher is probably going to say “too long” or “can we break it up into a series?” (Hopefully they say the second, because at least that means they didn’t toss it back in the slush pile after seeing your word count).  Agents and publishers alike will tell you one of the top reasons you get a rejection is word count.

Higher word count does not mean a better story.  As I said on Monday, in writing quality will always trump quantity.  And if it’s not 50,000 words – well, it’s a novella, a novel, a short story, or whatever you want to call it.  At least it’s a story (hopefully) worth reading.

Did you know there was an article written a couple years ago bashing NaNoWriMo, claiming that it made aspiring writers think they could turn out a polished manuscript in 30 days?  Did you also know that turning out a polished manuscript in 30 days is actually not the goal of NaNoWriMo?  No, the goal is to just write that story.  The number is arbitrary, based on the average baseline word count provided by publishers.  And it’s meant to be a draft – a zero draft even (zero draft=a jumping off point) – that one will polish after the 30 days is up.

Have I ever polished any of my NaNo projects?  No.  But I’m also not going to send them off with a query letter hoping they’ll get published.  I have a better chance of winning the Power Ball (FYI:  I didn’t).  Which brings me to the second part of this post:  editing.

You will have to edit.  I don’t care how perfect you think it is or how perfect your Aunt Irma believes it is – you need to edit.  Editing is more than grammatical and spelling checks, it’s about making sure your story flows, that the characters are believable and that your plot doesn’t have any holes.  My favorite two blogs that give you advice on editing: http://hollylisle.com/how-to-revise-a-novel/ and http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/how-to-edit-your-book-in-4-steps.

In the former, Holly outlines her process in a useful way that breaks it down to how it pertains to your story as a whole.  She recommends questions to ask yourself and points to look for in your novel.  In the latter, Mike Nappa shares some advice on how to know when you’re done editing and ready to send off.  Yes, these author’s opinions on how many times to re-write varies, but in the end, it’s up to you as to when you feel it’s done.  And maybe that’s word count be damned.

Good luck, I hope you had fun joining me in NaNo – and I hope you had a higher total word count than me.  And on December 1st, I hope you do something nice to treat yourself for enduring these past 30 days.  I know I am.

 
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It’s All in the Details!

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 26, 2012 in Posts

Today’s goal count is to be at 45,000 words – because we’re heading into the home stretch, only 3 days left until NaNoWriMo 2012 closes.  If you’re already finished – congrats!  Way to go!  Give yourself a pat on the back, validate that story and get some much needed rest – then hit that TGIO party like the winner you are.

But if you’re still treading through those last 5,000 (or more) words, keep at it.  Stay disciplined, listen to your characters and keep writing.  In a regular world with no impending deadline, you could enjoy the leisure of going back, reading and re-working your scenes in order to spark your muse into helping you finish, but not in NaNo.  No EDITING allowed!  So ignore the urge, take your finger off the backspace button and type away!

Having said that, my posts today and Thursday are going to seem completely redundant, as I’m going to share with you some tips for editing.  Feel free to read them now, and laugh out loud for me telling you do the complete opposite of what I just said earlier – or file this away for future information.

Remember last week when I said “quantity, not quality”?  I lied.  Okay, I kind of lied.  Right now, the goal is to write and to write whatever – so yes, quantity is your friend.  But next week or next month when you take that manuscript back out – most of those excess words are going to be completely un-necessary.  And overwhelming to your reader.

Now, keep in mind that most genres do have an average word count for novels, and a handy dandy little guideline can be found here (http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/07/word-count.html).  Yes, I know, YA is the only one where you might get away with 50,000 words – and right now you may be only at 25,000, but today is about balancing detail.  More on that word count thing Thursday.

Last week I told you to add in descriptive words, use five words when one will do – and when you pull out your novel for editing, you’re going to remove 80% of those words.  Because that’s the problem with detail – sometimes too much is really too much.

What you want to do in your descriptions is give enough detail to get the reader involved, to make them feel like they are there.  What you don’t want to do is treat the reader as if they are a Martian and force feed them every little detail.  Not to offend anyone, but the world of publishing is not about writing books – it’s about selling books.  This means it’s more about the reader than it is the writer.  Keep that in mind while editing – the worst thing you can do to your reader is talk down to them.

So, how to describe your scenes with balance?  Dale Challener Roe compared it to a movie scene in his article about too much detail in 2012 (http://writeanything.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/what-is-too-much-detail/) :  “one character was teaching another how to construct dreams, he explained that she should only use enough detail to make the dream seem real, but not to detail everything…let the dreamer’s mind fill in the details themselves.”

Give your reader enough detail to get them started on their journey, but you don’t have to describe everything, every time.  I have read stories where the writer has gone into great detail about the setting, right down to the name of the person who painted the porcelain vases and the number of petals he preferred to paint.  And at first, it’s riveting, because you are immersed.  But after the third or fourth scene of this, I’m drowning in detail and trying hard to find the plot.

On the other hand, I’ve read stories where I get too little description, and cannot seem to feel any attachment to the characters and what they are experiencing.  “Alice stopped in the doorway.  Bernard moved her forward so he could introduce her to his mother. ”

Instead of telling me what the character is doing or looking at, help me to see it.  How does the character feel?  Is she hesitant in the room of expensive pottery because she has only seen works such as those in books?  Is she a klutz and is scared to go any further than the first chair for fear she’ll break something?  Does this make her sweat?  Can she smell the mustiness of the drapes or only her own sweat as it trickles down her neck?

It’s the little bit of extra detail, the sensory kind, that helps make a reader feel as if they are in the story with the characters.  That is what bonds your reader to your story.  Lisa Cron stated in her article on Sensory Details that when we’re “lost in a good story” brain imaging has shown that our minds react similar to if we were going through the actions ourselves.  (http://www.writingforward.com/news-announcements/guest-posts/the-myth-of-all-you-can-eat-sensory-details) But don’t use that as an excuse to overload.  In her post from June of this year, she gives four reasons you should include sensory details.

In today’s world of instant messaging, social media and demanding-to-know, too much information is provided everywhere.  But it should not be in your story.  We don’t need to know that Aunt Gertrude chain smoked and that’s what Alice hates the smell of smoke – unless it’s going to do something for your story.  But maybe we do need to know that Alice detests the smell of smoke because it invokes memories of her sad childhood – which is why she walks away whenever Bernard lights his pipe.

 
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Um, yeah, I’m so Far Behind, I think I’m on Pluto….

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 20, 2012 in Posts

We’re ten days away from the end of the month – how’s your word count? If you’re on track, you should be at about 33,400 words. If you’re behind, today’s blogs are some tips and hints that I’ve gathered from the interwebs to help you get back on track! Of course, some of these are based on the whole month, not just the last week and a half, but if you’re behind, you can still implement these to catch up.

The obvious tip that everyone gives is: Don’t give up! Okay, so it may seem impossible to hit goal in the next ten days – but it’s only impossible if you let it be. And even if you don’t hit 50,000 words, you’ll still have written more over the next ten days than you would have if you’d given up.

Which leads me to the next obvious tip: WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!! If you’re serious about hitting 50,000, it can still be done. You may have to keep the fingers moving during the big game, plot out storylines during the turkey, and mentally absorb the battles during black Friday – and not sleep between now and the end of the month, but it can be done! As long as you keep writing!

This takes me to tip number three: At this point it’s no longer about quality, it’s all about quantity. Whatever I said before, and whatever I say next week about editing, just write words. Take five words to say yes. Create big long soliloquies for your characters. Rambling conversations with majorly un-needed descriptors. Put it all in at this point – you can always edit it out later.

#4) Think back to your school days (for some of you, this isn’t that hard, you are probably still there) when you always procrastinated. This is that term paper that you waited until the weekend before the deadline to start writing – you made the word count on that, you can do it again. And if you never procrastinated? Now’s the time to feel the adrenal rush that one gets from waiting until the last moment! (And if you never procrastinated, why would you wait to start now?)

Numero Cinco (which I am paraphrasing from terribleminds blog here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2010/11/01/nanowhonow-nanowrimo-dos-and-donts/) is that remember this is just a draft – and more than a draft, it’s a starting point. In no way should you think this is a finished final draft of a full novel. Because it’s not. If you haven’t realized that by now, then I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but well….it’s not.

Sixth – GET INVOLVED! Tell people your challenge, join in the forums, find other writers who are in need of making up time and encourage each other – all of this helps to hold you responsible. I said get involved and tell people, which is the opposite of what Anna Spargo-Ryan tells you here (http://blog.annaspargoryan.com/2012/11/5-tips-for-winning-nanowrimo/), but I have to admit, her blog about Winning NaNo is pretty amusing. And if you need a laugh break – go check it out!

And finally, seventh (I feel like there should be ten, because we have ten days left, but seven is just a nice lucky number) HAVE FUN! It doesn’t matter if all you write on the last day is “I will never make it” over and over again – congratulate yourself on the dedication to achieving your goal. Then turn around on Dec 1st and worry about editing and making it make sense.

What if you don’t make it to 50,000 words? You can still pat yourself on the back for getting as many words as you did. Like I said earlier, its more words than you may have written without the challenge, and in the end, isn’t that what this is really all about? Just writing? And if writing isn’t fun, well, then you’re missing half the point.

So good luck, happy writing, and skip Aunt Irma’s fruitcake – it’s not really worth it and the two hour stomach ache will take away from your writing time. In fact, if you’re really anti-social and dreading the holidays, use NaNo as your excuse to skip out on all the family dinners. “Well, mom, I’d love to come home and hear about how fabulous everyone’s lives are and be forced to sit at the kids table with my niece and nephew again, but you see, I have a deadline. Thanks, love ya, bye!”

Now stop reading this and get back to writing – that deadline is only ten days away!!

 
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HELP! I’m Stuck! And it’s only the 15th!!!

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 15, 2012 in Posts

 

Well, my fellow NaNoer’s and other writers – we’re halfway there!  Today’s word count should be 25,000!!  If you’re there, pat yourself on the back.  If you’re not – then keep at it.  And don’t even listen if you’re done – I don’t want to hear it and you don’t need today’s blog anyways.  But, if you’re anything like me, you have probably hit a stalemate.  That dreaded “what now?” moment.

You have a beginning, middle and an end.  You know that there has to be more to the story, but you can’t think of what it is.  Do you just write the same word over and over again 25,000 times to hit the count?  Well ….. you could….  and kudos if you do it without cutting and pasting…but it’s not really a story is it?

Maybe it’s just the dreaded (don’t say it, don’t say it) “block” or maybe you’ve written out all you’ve thought of and you’re still short.  How do you get the story moving again?  Which is truly a very good question – and one I’ve asked many many times.  And I’ve gotten all sorts of good answers, including:

Blow something up
Shoot someone
Give someone a fatal illness
Introduce a new character
Throw in a dead hooker
Get them (your characters) stuck somewhere
Dial Writer’s Block 911:  http://www.webook.com/911writersblock
Switch Scenes
Switch stories
Write whatever
Walk away from it

Have a drink…

 

As you can tell, the majority of these will involve DOING something with the story you are working on – truly only the last three may NOT involve working on the actual story.  Remember those questions for you character I linked you to last week?  Now’s a good time to go back to them – find out something new about a character, add in a scene that may or may not stay, start a fight.

The point is to do something that will cause a reaction, so that you can write more about it.  It’s okay if it doesn’t stay in the final version – hey, we’ll be discussing editing at the end of the month, so until then, if you write it, it counts!

 

Go back and see where your character made a decision – what if they had made a different choice?  Write a scene where that happens.  Throw in a new character (dead or alive) – how do your characters react?  How do they get back to the plot line?

 

The point of any and all of these is to get you to stop thinking and just writing.  Sometimes when it comes to writing, the writer is their own worst enemy – overthinking, over plotting, over analyzing, even overwriting.  But it’s true, if you just keep the motion going – writing anything even if it’s “this is stupid, I have no idea what to write”, keeps you in the zone and gets your brain in the right gear.  (Or is that the “write” gear?)

 

So good luck, and if you’re really stuck, I only advise the last one if you are of legal age and shall not be driving anywhere.

 

P.S.  Nano is well aware of this syndrome, and they even have threads in their forums dedicated to it:

http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/forums/nanowrimo-ate-my-soul/threads/94272
And for fun, here’s some interesting tips and advice on how to blast past the block:
http://onewildword.com/2011/06/08/four-ways-to-stimulate-creativity-cure-the-writing-blahs-part-1/

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/07/19/25-ways-to-defeat-the-dreaded-writers-block/

 
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I’ve got a plot, I’ve got a character, now what???

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 13, 2012 in Posts

By now you should have hit the 20,000 words marker and have your story chugging along.  You’ve got characters (who have names, yay!) and a plot and you’ve been cranking out the ideas, but wait – is it making sense?  I know, I know, I didn’t say that in the beginning – I just said 50,000 words.  Now it has to make sense????  Well – maybe not right now, but, yes, eventually, it will have to make sense.

If you’re like me, when I first start writing out my NaNo novel, I just write and write until I basically just run out of words.  It doesn’t matter if I jump around or skip over dull parts in favor of more exciting parts that I’m just needing to get onto paper.  I look at it like a patchwork quilt.  I’m creating the pieces – and later I can go back and put them into a pattern and stitch them together.  Which sounds great, right?  Until you realize that your pieces need something to hold them together.  They need some structure.

All stories tend to have a basic structure, usually in a 3 or 4 part format.  If you think of the 3 part structure, it’s pretty simple:  Beginning, Middle, End.  Which is why it’s the most “basic” story structure.  In the beginning we meet the characters, then something happens to them (the catalyst) that then propels them onto their journey.  The middle is where our subplots can be found, it’s the part where we either cheer or boo the characters, where they struggle to set themselves up for the final showdown, which is of course the end.  The end is where the final climax occurs and all the loose strings get tied up.

Think of it like this:  Boy meets girl; Boy woos girl; Boy gets girl.  Beginning, Middle, End.  Now a whole lot can happen in that middle part, and it’s going to take up over half your story.  With the three part format, you’re gonna transitions – two of them to be precise.  First you need to do something to move the characters from beginning to middle, to keep them moving forward.

Going back to our simple scenerio, we have our Beginning (Boy meets Girl).  Now we have to get him to the “wooing” stage – he has to decide that he is going to pursue said girl.  That’s the transition.  It seems simple, but that’s all it is.  It’s what moves the story from Part A (meets) to Part B (woos).  If he decided he wasn’t going to, then the story would be over.  They meet, they talk, they go their separate ways.  Maybe they meet again, and again,  but at some point, one has to do something to move them from a holding pattern and into flight.

Your second transition is kind of like the boiling point – the story has gone as far as it will go before it hits the point of no return.  Now we have to get them from all the middle stuff into the ending.  In our simple scenerio, we have to move them from wooing to together.  Easiest transition for this concept would be an admission of love -whether it’s an “I love you” or a full out roses and candlelight proposal, it’s the point where they determine they will be together, the end, happily ever after.

And all that fun stuff from the middle you threw in – this is where you somehow have to wrap it up in a neat little bow.  The other person falls in love with someone else or storms off unhappily into the sunset.  The best friend catches the bouquet.  The meddling mother concedes to the power of love.

The other structure, the 4-part, is similar to the 3-part, except the middle is broken up into two pieces. Part 2 is where the hero reacts to the first transition.  In our example, let’s say that Boy decides to pursue the girl, trying to win her over by being overly friendly.  Then there’s the Midpoint, which is the transition between part 2 and 3 – or the part with a twist that changes what’s happening.  Let’s say our twist is that the girl is engaged to a horribly irritating man.  Part 3 is where the hero starts to fight back, and it leads up to the transition to the end.

Peregrina over on Squidoo outlines these two formats, plus a third (the Hero’s Journey – think Mythology) in her article here: http://www.squidoo.com/novel-structure

And Rockyourwriting.com has a great workbook where you can go in depth on your plot structure: http://rockyourwriting.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/ROCK-YOUR-PLOT-WORKBOOK.pdf

 
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I’m How Far Behind?? (Or, Making Time to Write)

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 10, 2012 in Posts

Last year I overloaded myself in November. Along with doing NaNoWriMo, I also hosted Thanksgiving for friends, attended a multi-day writing conference, and was editing one manuscript, while working in Disaster Relief Assistance – oh and just for fun, fate tossed in a nice little car accident that ended with my car being totaled. And I know people who did much more than that during the November time frame, all while doing NaNo (just check out the whole NaNo forum on this topic:  http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/forums/reaching-50-000/threads/72018).  You know what, despite all that, I hit my 50,000 word goal – and I did it all during write-ins.

This year is turning out to be much the same in hectic life schedules, and we’ve hit the 10th of November.   I’m about 10,000 words behind where we’re supposed to be.  Do you know how many write-ins I’ve been to this month?  Two – and it’s the only time I’ve been able to carve out for writing!  All my words (save maybe 10% that I’ve scribbled in here and there) came during those time periods.

For those who are still NaNo newbies, Write-ins are great little writing sessions that the ML (or random participants) set up for designated writing time. Here in WNC, we had two a week – with some extras tossed in the first and last week. I went to all but maybe two of the scheduled sessions, but I tried to make those up by going to additional ones in the outer areas (Thank you Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville!). I won’t say I’m perfect and dedicated during the whole 3-4 hours allocated, but I try to stay diligent for the majority. This just goes to show you that it really is about mindset.

A not so little known fact about me – I LOVE write-ins! I think they are wonderful, and I’m so glad that someone at some point said to our fearless NaNo WNC leader – why do these stop when NaNo is done? Can’t we keep having write-ins? And she did – bless her writing soul! So now we have two write-in’s a month during non-NaNo months. This means six hours of scheduled writing time for me during a month! I put them on my calendar, I treat them like appointments, and I attend them regularly. While I don’t always write for the whole sessions, I do get inspired, and it does give me time to plot/plan/work on other projects involving writing – and catch up with my writerly friends.

I realize that not everyone can get to write-ins or that there area even has these opportunities – but the principle is the same.  Schedule some time for you to write.  There’s a great quote that I love, and it applies perfectly to this situation.  If it’s important, you’ll find the time – If not, you’ll find excuses.  How many times have you said to yourself (or heard somebody say), “I’ve always wanted to write”?  I tend to reply with, “You should.”

That answer either gets me a strange look, or a laundry list of reasons why they can’t.  And it’s true – there is always something else that feels more important than sitting down and putting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard.  As long as you keep putting it off, and not giving your desire to write the attention it deserves, everything else will happen, but your story.  The goal is to carve out the time from somewhere.

I’m sure you’ve heard about John Grisham, and how he used to wake up every morning at 5am, get ready for the day, go to his office and have his first word of the day onto a legal pad by 5:30.  He would then write for two hours until his day job of being a lawyer started – where he regularly put in a 60-70 hour work week.  But those ten hours a week that he gave himself put his writing from a hobby to a very lucrative new career.  Which brings me to my next question….

What kind of writer do you want to be?

I don’t mean genre, and I don’t mean “good or bad” – I mean, is your writing a hobby or is it something you want to turn into a career.  If it’s a hobby, then you know what – write when you can.  But do write – schedule yourself an hour a week, break it up into small batches if  need be – wake up early, stay up a little later, carve time out of your lunch hour or while the laundry runs and the kids are at the park.  If you need to, leave the house.  Tell the spouse to watch the kids, or hire a baby-sitter.  Or take them to one of those indoor play parks and take your laptop or notebook with you.

If you want to make it into a part-time or full-time venture, then you owe it to yourself to make time to write.  You can’t sell what you haven’t created.  Well, you can sell a prospectus, but you better be ready to put the work in to show up with the finished project.

Most writing instructors will tell you to eliminate all distractions – television, people, radio, other work – so that you can focus solely on the writing.  I find the quiet distracting, and prefer to have a little noise around me.  Honestly, it’s all personal preference.  There are writers who create soundtracks for each project and that’s what they listen to while writing.  It helps to set a tone and gets them focused on their characters.  What you do need to “eliminate” is those distractions that will pull you away from the pages.  People asking you to do something/chatting with you, internet, ringing telephones, TV programs you can’t help but get engrossed in, etc. – those are the kinds of things that will pull you away from the pages.  I know it is not easy, and I’m guilty of getting distracted (or being a distraction).  No one is perfect – just do the best you can.

If you’re like me, sometimes you sit down during your allotted time frame and you stare at the blank page and you think – what now?  One trick I like to use is called “free writing.”  It’s usually recommended to do with a pen/pencil on paper for the feel of it, but you can do it with a keyboard just as easy.  Set a time limit, say five minutes, and just write.  The goal is to write for the whole five minutes.  It can be about the story, about a complaint, about not being able to write – as long as you are writing.  See?  Once you start getting into the “writing mode” things should start to loosen up, and once you see words on the page, you feel encouraged to keep going.

The point is, just write.  And while you’re at it, respect your writing.  Either find the time to write, or don’t do it.  You can keep dreaming of finding time, but until you make time, your story will never get told.

 
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Naming your Character – Does it really matter to a Fictional Character?

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 6, 2012 in Posts

I don’t know about you, but I have a name that’s becoming more common, yet is still pretty unique.  I also get to hear many variations of how people feel it should be pronounced or what they believe I said my name is.  Case in point, I just got off a phone call where I said my name and the caller decided my name was Amy.  Now, I’ve gotten Jeanie, Jane, Jennifer, Jeanette, Denise, and on a few occasions Rachel – but this was my first Amy.  I’ve gotten used to the variety of names, so it truly doesn’t faze me anymore.

Which brings me to the first part of today’s topic – character naming.  Sure, you may be thinking that the character’s name isn’t really that important, right?  But, oh, how it is.  Names are so much more than just something picked out of thin air (although, that is the easiest and quickest way to get a name).  Think of how much time parents-to-be spend trying to pick out names for their new bundles of joy.  And your own name that you were given, how do you feel about it?  Have you ever wanted to (or perhaps have) changed your name to something else?  Something that you feel more accurately reflects you?

Usually when I start character development, the name comes to me and I fill in the blank.  Sometimes I utilize name generators to find something that creates a spark in my head.  Or I just fall on the basic simple “Kate or Jane” and “Tom or John” until I feel like the name evolves.  (Can you tell that I’m very much a pantser style writer at heart?  I plot and outline, but when it comes to the don’t-sweat-it basics, I just go with the flow.) And usually it works.
As of late, I’m really getting into the deeper behind the scenes development of characters.  Especially because I’ve switched genres from contemporary romance to a more fantasy realm (see my NaNo novel description here) – so the names feel like they need to have more impact.  I want the names of my characters to reflect them, to evoke a sense of who they are, and make them more memorable.  And if you don’t think Name can have that kind of effect, keep reading.

Basic guidelines I like to follow when naming are:

  • How old is my character?
  • Does the name have a certain meaning, or do you want it to?
  • Is the name era appropriate?
  • Do they have a nickname they go by?  And why?
  • Is the name overused?  Does it have a certain connotation associated with it?

 

Let’s say I have two characters – A girl and a boy.  Let’s name the girl Paris and the boy Jack.  Now that I’ve given you the names, what concepts have you drawn about them based on just that information?  Paris tends to conjure up youth, maybe trendy and social (Paris Hilton) or studious and curt (Paris Geller).  Jack, as of late, is a popular pirate name (thank you Captain Jack Sparrow) or could be a slightly older man – a buddy kind of guy (Jack Tripper anyone?).  Paris represents the city, which is fashionable, expensive and (admit it, all Americans believe it) rude.  The meaning of Jack is “god is gracious” – I think of kind, generous, benevolent as possible traits based on the origin.

Are these two people that could be friends?  Fall in love?  What if I said the characters were mother/son?  Would the names still work?  What if it’s a historical romance set in the Victorian time period?  What if it’s set 1000 years in the future and in outer space?  Will the names still be relevant?

Or are they nicknames?  Maybe her last name is Paris, but people call her by that.  Maybe his real name is John, but he’s a junior, so everyone called him Jack.  Do they like these names?  What if she hates that people call her Paris?

And then, what does all of that say about their character?  How does that all go into defining them as a “person”?  Maybe Jack would rather be Roger, because he doesn’t like his father.  Or because there were a dozen Jack’s in his neighborhood.

Of course the way the character grows or develops in the story is central to the plot.  Maybe Jack is a space pirate, traveling through time and he has to go back and save the life of a Victorian Heiress whose dream is to live in Paris (and thus, he nicknames her).  But he knows when she moves to Paris, she gets violently murdered and therefore never discovers the cure for cancer.  How does he grow in his interactions with her?  Is he distant and gruff at the beginning because he’s been hurt before, or because he’s spent the past forty years traveling through space by himself?

Is she pampered and snobbish when they meet, calling him a cad?  But secretly she pines for the adventures he can bring her?  Maybe she read a lot as a child, but never left her own neighborhood.  Will the thought of space travel excite her or terrify her?

The main things you really need to ask yourself about your characters are:

  1. What do they want most out of the situation they are put in?
  2. What are their greatest fears?
  3. What do they love?
  4. What do they hate?
  5. What is their motivation to move forward through the plot?
  6. What is it that they want from each other?

And how do those items play into your storyline?

Create a biography for your character, the more you know about them, the more you know how they will act and react to whatever you toss at them during the writing process.  Create their backstory – no not all of it will be used IN your actual story, but knowing where they’re coming from will help you in determining where they are going.

Laura Cushing put together a great article with 100 other questions to ask your character: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474976908598.  All of these questions help transform your character from a two dimensional name on a page into someone the reader will either support, hate or dismiss.  What you want is to learn about your character so you know what motivates them.  What is their weakness, how are they flawed, or how are they not flawed?  (But please, remember, flaws are what make characters more realistic.  Unless you are writing a surreal comedy piece, where perfect is possible, your character needs at least one flaw.  We all have them, whether we like to admit it or not – and narcissism is a flaw!)

You don’t have to answer all 100, or even do them all at one time, but I think at least one or two from each category will give you a good jumping off point.  Personally, I always dread the “what’s your birthday” question – because I used to think that it was just a random piece of information unless it actually was present in the story itself.  Yet, when you think about it, there are all sorts of information you can draw from birthdates – Does it fall on a particular day of relevance?  What’s their zodiac sign or birth card (thank you http://www.53muses.com for more inspiration)?  Do they believe in zodiacs and birth cards?  Do they have a special fondness for their birthstone?  Are they called Rose because they were born in October, or because it was their mother’s favorite flower?

All this character development may just seem like excess writing, but it will help make your character more 3-dimensional and memorable to your reader.  Because who wants to read about a practically perfect person named Jack who never does anything wrong?

In case you’re stumped and need help in the naming game, they can be found everywhere.  Look in phone books, baby books, online name generators and baby name definers – even movie credits!  A site I recently stumbled across for their name definitions that go further than a basic definition:  http://www.kabalarians.com (I’m not endorsing any specific philosophical viewpoint; just that I found the name meaning reports to be really interesting).

By the way, today you should hit 10,000 words.  As of this writing, I’m nowhere near that – but I’m heading to a write-in tonight, and hope to catch up some!  What’s a write-in?  Check your NaNo region – but more on that Thursday!  See you then!

 
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It’s November – National Novel Writing Month!!

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on November 1, 2012 in Posts

It’s November 1st! Happy NaNoWriMo everyone! To stay on track, the daily word goal is 1,667 words. The goal of the first week is to just start (and keep!) writing!

Wait – what? – You don’t have a story idea?????

The number 2 question most writers get (after the infamous “Have you been published?”) is “Where do you get your ideas?” And every writer will give you a different response. The most blanket, boring, and yet, strangely truthful, response is (in some variation) “They just come to me.”

Even I have been guilty of that response. “So, I have this idea that just came to me….”

And yes, that is how it happens, but usually something prompts it. An idea has to come from somewhere, and rarely (if ever) do they just appear from thin air (though it may feel that way). My NaNo project was all set to be a cont. romance (my genre) that the idea was a combination of a dream I had and a situation I once had about real estate. The premise was that a woman purchases a house and inherits a tenant she didn’t really want in the above-garage apartment. Now, I never inherited a tenant, but when I was house shopping many years ago, I almost did.
In my dream, I was buying a house with a garage apartment and the agent was telling me about the apartment and that there was a tenant in place. In the dream, I did not want a tenant-in-place. When I woke up, that dream lingered in the back of my mind and started interacting with the usual thought of what if?  What if the tenant wouldn’t leave?  What if she was non-confrontational?  What if they were complete opposites?  What if they became friends?  What if he left?  And so on and so on…..

Then I was browsing Pinterest (Hi, My name is Jeannine and I am a Pinterest addict) last week and saw these picture of the most intricate, nature based tattoos. One in particular caught my attention, because you could almost see the flowers blowing in the wind. That got me thinking about moving tattoos (random thought) and how could I make that into a story. Within the next five minutes, just letting my mind wander wherever it went and jotting down the parts that appealed to me I had a basic premise: A group of fortune-seers who read their tattoos, which shift to predict the future.

From there I began to branch out – who is my lead, what is her challenge, what is the story behind the tattoos/seers, what is the conflict, why is she put in this situation, how does she feel about it, and so on – until I had a basic plot outline. Then I worked on it some more, fleshing out the characters and changing some concepts until I have the outline I’m working from today. Will things change? Most likely – as I said earlier, I may plan, but I’m really more of a pantser who goes with the flow. If my character decides she’s going to go a different direction, I’ll roll with it. Maybe I’ll change it back in edits, or write an alt version during NaNo, or maybe it will be even better than my original thought – that’s part of the fun of writing.

All it takes is one idea, one spark. I was out Halloween weekend, downtown Asheville, with a few of my writer friends, participating in a local ghost tour. No less than six times over a four hour evening did we look at each other and say “There’s a story in that!” So believe me, inspiration is everywhere!

Have you ever overheard a snippet of conversation and wonder what it was all about?  There’s a story there….  Have you ever people watched?  Pick out someone, there’s a story there….  Ever wished you were someplace else other than where you are at the moment?  There’s a story there…..  Are you starting to get the idea?

But what if you are just starting out, or you are in a time crunch (i.e. – It’s Nov. 1st and I have no NaNo idea! Quick, what should I write about so I don’t fall behind!)? First – don’t panic, as panicking is one of the quickest ways to psych yourself out.

Stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself: What do I want to write about?

If you are still stumped, here are a few ideas to help jumpstart your writing.

This is a fun and different way to create your story – I know a few people in my writing group who have started utilizing the Musemancing concept and they love it.  Ash Joie Lee has a wonderful site to help you learn about Musemancing – the cartomancy for creatives process. What is cartomancy? Well, cartomancy itself is about divining the future using playing cards. But Musemancing is about using the cartomancy system to help jumpstart your creative process. She has generated story ideas, characters, and plot twists with a regular deck of playing cards. Check out her site here:  www.53muses.com

Still nothing? How about a story prompt? Story prompts are wonderful writing tools to help get you started. They are used in writing workshops everywhere, and I know writers who use them frequently. And there are some great sites online that list ideas, or generate new ones. http://www.creative-writing-now.com/story-starters.html
http://www.archetypewriting.com/muse/idea_generators.htm
http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

Or, when in doubt, you can adopt a story plot (or a character, subplot, opening line, etc.). NaNoWriMo actually has a forum board dedicated to just this: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/forums/adoption-society and squidoo has created a list (and even answered the question of “why are they called plot bunnies?”) here http://www.squidoo.com/plot-bunny-adoption-centre. And I am positive there are many, many other sites where you can find adoptable plots/story ideas. (Try googling “adopt a plot”)

The point is, everyone has a story – whether it’s your life story, a story about someone you know (you may want to change names and certain details in those cases), something you overheard, an idea that you generated, or an adopted plot bunny – and the best time to start writing it is today!

 

 
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Happy Halloween!

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on October 31, 2012 in Posts

Happy Halloween to everyone! Can I just say how much I love this time of year? It’s truly a beautiful and enchanting time here in the mountains with the leaves changing, the air growing cooler and the holidays creeping up on us. October has flown by for me, and though I enjoyed all the chaos it brought, I feel like I lost time somewhere in there. One moment the leaves are just starting to turn and now they are blown off the trees thanks to Hurricane Sandy’s outer bands!  My heart and prayers go out to all who have been affected by the SuperStorm.

With all that has been going on, I’m a little shocked that November is arriving tomorrow!  And with that comes one of my favorite fall activities – NaNoWriMo! (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) If you’re like most of my non-writing friends (and a few of my writer friends), you may be asking yourself: What is this NaNoWriMo and why do all my writer friends geek out over it when it’s November???

NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, which is the month of November.

According to NaNo legend, at the end of the 20th century, 21 people gathered in the San Francisco Bay Area with the intent of writing a novel. This first NaNo occurred in July, but was moved the second year to November, as the weather turns dreary and what better way to cheer one’s self up when it starts getting cold and grey than to let your creativity run amuck? The guidelines were set out: 50,000 words in 30 days. And the rest, as they say, is history. From those first 21 people, NaNo has grown into a near-global phenomenon with 256,618 novelists participating last year.

I’m proud to say that not only was I one of the over 250 thousands participants last year, but I also completed my 50,000 words – my second victory year in a row! Was my “novel” complete? No. Have I done anything with it since then? Not really. So what’s the point? To write!

Has anyone ever seen success come out of NaNoWriMo? Of course! Anyone who has the goal to just get their story out of their head and onto paper (regular or electronic) has succeeded. Or do you think success=published? Which would also be a yes. Ever heard of a little tale called “Water for Elephants” (not to mention two of Sara Gruen’s other novels, “Flying Changes” and “Ape House”)? Or NYT Bestseller “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer? These are just a few of the nearly 100 books that may never have been written if it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo. Check out the rest here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/publishedwrimos.

I know there are a lot of people (including some very vocal writers) who think this event is bogus and just encourages the flooding of the self-publishing market of not particularly well written novels and novellas, but in my opinion the end goal is not necessarily to publish your work. It’s about challenging yourself, creating something, and (most of all) having fun!

Wait – you don’t have fun writing? Why not? I’m not saying there aren’t moments I look at my word count, yell at my characters, or get blocked right in the middle of a story, but in general, I have fun writing. And when I get blocked, I get to have more fun trying to get un-stuck. (But that’s for a future blog this month).

So, over the month of November, in conjunction with my un-official Municipal Leadership duties for NaNoWriMo, and the writing of my own 50,000 words, I will be posting (what I think are) helpful hints and tips to help you with your own writing. But first – go register! Become an official participant. Visit http://www.nanowrimo.org and sign up! If you need a writing buddy for encouragement, you can friend me (Ghee9 on the NaNo Forums) and check back here once or twice a week to get the latest updates on my progress and some (hopefully) helpful tips!

The goal is to post on Tuesdays and Thursdays – but then again, this post was supposed to be up yesterday.  As we know, I have good intentions – it’s my follow through that needs improvement.  But check back tomorrow – and if it’s not up by the evening, please feel free to start hounding me.  Believe it or not, that’s motivation!

Happy Writing!

 
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One Weekend in May….

Posted by Jeannine Wynne on May 21, 2012 in Posts

Okay, Okay, thank you Ash Joie (of the site http://www.53muses.com/) for pointing out that I have not updated anything on my page since the beginning of the year.  I admit, this has become an afterthought for me and not getting nearly the attention it should! 
 
I’m trying to think what I was doing that kept me so busy for the first third of the year, but I can’t pick out anything in particular.  I participated in Script Frenzy (a script writing opt sponsored by the Office of Letter and Lights – my wonderful friends who do NaNoWriMo), which ate up April – and spit out 100 pages of screenplay!  February and March – I know they were there, and I know they included lots of activities (or so my calendar says), but that’s all I can say….
 
That being said, May is almost over and then comes the summer and it’s travels and editing and writing opportunities.  And I can say where I was this past weekend – not just because it was only a few days ago, but because I was in Literary Geekdom.  Blue Ridge Bookfest was an amazing experience to attend – as a reader, a writer and a person in general.
 
If you do not know what Blue Ridge Bookfest is you either a) do not live in the Western Carolina/Eastern TN/Upstate SC area or b) Nope – that’s it, can’t think of a second reason. 
 
The actual “bookfest” portion was a one day FREE (yes, FREE – no fee paid at the door to get in) event where you could not only listen to readings and informational talks by authors, but you could mingle, purchase books, have said books signed, and chat with over 40 authors and/or publishing industry members.  And every author there was accessible, excited to be there, and eager to talk about their writing! 
 
By the end of the day, my wonderful friend Sojo had to drag me out of there before I purchased more books or tied up more of someone’s time as they were trying to not just close down – but tear down the tables and clean the main  hall!!  Suffice it to say, I now have a bag full of summer reading and lots of behind the scenes notes and information to think of while reading each and every one of them.
 
As I said – that was Saturday.  On Friday afternoon, the fest offered two workshops, also FREE, about writing and publishing topics.  Most of the people in attendance were – the authors scheduled for Saturday, the festival members and a smattering of educators and local writers (like myself).  My biggest shock of this event was how few attendees there were.  I would think for an area such as Hendersonville, that draws on a four state regional zone, more people would take advantage of the opportunity.
 
True – there are a lot of graduations going on this time of year.  True- the weather was beautiful outside, so maybe being inside listening to lectures was not an idea of fun after a rainy week.  True – Blue Ridge Community College is tucked back off the highway in a small town halfway between two small cities.  But really?  We need to get the word out!  I personally invite all of you who are reading this (all, hmmm…maybe 30 of you) to come visit the beautiful region of Upstate South Carolina/Western North Carolina/Northern Georgia/Eastern Tennessee (come on, you have to have always wanted to see at least ONE of these states, right?) next May.  Let’s say around the weekend of May 18th.  And come out to Blue Ridge Bookfest! 
 
You can sign up for newsletter/reminders at their website:  http://www.blueridgebookfest.org/

 

With that shameless plug being said, I also make a promise to you, my dear 2.5 dozen followers – that I will be updating the website on a more regular basis.  If you haven’t been following the Carly story on Facebook, please do so!  I will get the newest additions added to the Facebook Story page here in the near future (Ash, please hold me to that, okay?). 

In the meantime, have a happy Memorial Day Weekend!  Eat some BBQ, see some friends and family, and please, please – if you see a soldier, current or vet, tell them thank you.  You don’t have to support the wars or fighting, but please support the men and women who are willing to give up their lives for your freedom.

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