Monday, September 24, 2012

National Novel Writing Month #2: How to write a plot

The protagonist begins in their home; their world. Things might be a bit boring, but they're normal. One day, something odd occurs. It provides the protagonist with the opportunity to be different or to have their world changed. They'll refuse at first, but once they take it on, they'll be accompanied by a guide to show them the ropes of the new world. The protagonist follows the guide into this new world, where the limits and rules are not yet understood. This world will be dangerous or exciting, and shortly after crossing into it, the protagonist will have to farewell their old world, separating the self from it.

From here the protagonist undergoes a series of trials. Failure at one more more is common. During these trials the protagonist encounters some factor that will cause them to shift to non-dualistic thinking - they will align themselves with one cause or another, either for reasons of self or for another. They will be tempted to leave this path but ultimately will continue forward. From there they will be confirmed and initiated by the greatest power in the new world known. The power named will then either step down or be 'killed off', forcing the protagonist to assume the expectations given them. It is now that they realise what they are needed for and begin to strive to meet that cause. They achieve the beginnings of the cause and level up.

The protagonist is given the opportunity to return to their old world, and refuses; the new world has become their home. They will have to flee from the trials endured to gain the cause, often becoming incapacitated in the process. As a result, the protagonist is bailed out by allies and brought back to their home. They learn to pass back and forth from the old world and new, whilst keeping that cause or level up intact, and are granted the 'freedom to live'.

Quick - what story did I just tell you? Was is Star Wars (The original trilogy), The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia?

That chunk above is a brief overview of something called The Monomyth, which was a theory developed in the early 20th Century by a guy named Joseph Campbell. I agree with him on most things with relation to story (except for one big one). This theory is one thing we are in accord with though; the idea that all stories we write have basically the same makeup. And not just me and Campbell. All of those big name stories up there have basically the same plot when you start looking at how they function. Things might get interesting if you swapped Ben Kenobi for Hagrid, but hey; they're both guides. Same with Yoda and Morpheus; they mentor the main character until they step down; either because the hero has surpassed their abilities or because death is a bit of a stopper in teaching surferboy how to pick up things with his mind.

The relevance between this and NaNo, is that I am a big spoilerbug when it comes to how stories work. Even now, unless you manage to get the brain bleach out immediately, you know that this is true. It means that every time you watch something and we're all like 'is the hero dead?' and you can be all like 'nope. Can't be dead because then the story won't progress. Cheers, Brooke.'

To which I will reply; 'No worries'.

One of the things I find is a bit of a block in people's heads when it comes to writing a story is that they don't know what to do with regards to a plot. Well, if all plots follow the same formula, this should make things a bit easier, shouldn't it? You would still have to invent characters, but to a degree, their roles have already been determined. It makes things quite a bit easier in that respect.
And there are always twists and turns with all this. In last year's novel, the Time Traveller was my guide, but he's also the one who validates the protagonist's role. Which is different, because he's not the father figure for the protagonist at all.

Things are getting convoluted.

Oh yeah; so there's a bunch of different things that you could try with writing novels; using the Monomyth for a base is just one. I got to chat to a mate last week who wanted to write for NaNo this year, who'd had a couple of knots in terms of how he wanted the layout to be. We figured that it might be fun to write a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, because it's written in Second Person. (Like how I'm writing in second person to you now)

It means that he has to do some preplanning, so that the plot goes where it should, but at the same time, has probably made his job a little easier. It's more to do with planning sections of plot and writing them.

And a few more weeks than that back, I wondered what it would be like to buddy up with someone on a novel; write exactly the same story from perspectives of different characters. This in part was going to be done with the Twilight series, actually. (And let's just get this straight right now: Meyer isn't my cup of tea. I think her plot could have done with some work. A lot of work. But she knows how to write something that will sell.) Midnight Sun was supposed to recount the events of Twilight from Edward's perspective. Do I care about Twilight? Nope. But the concept; the idea has merits. It'd mean that you could co-ordinate with a mate on writing a story; decide the plot points together and then write from two different characters. And having two authors for two characters would give said characters much more individual voices. Could be fun.

I guess another way you could go entirely would be to lampshade the concept of the hero; deliberately play with the plot. Another friend of mine was talking about how she'd lose the plot while writing a story if she tried. So we invented a world called The Lost Plot Office. Like the Dead Letter Office, but for plots of different stories.

Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, does something similar to that; his Discworld series overtly plays with the tropes and archetypes and because you know how that part of the story is supposed to work, it's absolute gold. Its a story about a flat world supported on the back of four elephants standing on top of a turtle flying thorough space. And all the stories are true. That's in short the premise of his world, and it works something fierce.

So, if you click here, you'll end up being able to read more about Joseph Campbell's Journey of the Hero.
If you click here, you'll head over to National Novel Writing Month's website, where you can check out more of the project.
If you click here, you can read my last blog post on NaNo.
And if you click here, I'll redirect it to something vaguely interesting. Hopefully.


November is still a little bit off; there's plenty of time for brainstorming. Get to it!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


In August, I went and posted an entry that I'd written way back at the start of the year. The post in question was ambiguous, and odd, and unfocused, but I thought that it might deserve a little bit of clarification/closure now that Animania has finished for this year. The post in question concerned the fictional monsters called Hollow from Manga and Anime series Bleach.

Because I've posted so many times about it, I don't see a need to explain the plot. Maybe a little bit about how the monsters work, but that's all.

The post I'd written was a reflection on how I had tried to cope with losing something valuable at the start of 2011 by giving up on trying to feel things. On having emotional responses and instead just doing things because instinct told me to.

This had upsides and downsides. It meant that I didn't really feel the fallout of the loss until a couple months after everything had gone down (which isn't to say it hurt less; it was only delaying the inevitable), and it meant that I was able to keep functioning at nearly the same level as before. Or at least, to a level where I wouldn't be a drag on other people.
The downside of not allowing yourself to think or feel, and instead to run on instinct, is that humans are inherently selfish and broken people. We're not perfect. We mess up and if I was to follow my instinct all of the time, it would have just spiraled into this out-of-control, self-serving mess and I would have hurt a lot of friends in the process.

So in short, allowing myself to be hollow for most of last year was something that was do-able, but ultimately wouldn't hold out. It was this big ball of lucid, angry emptiness and as enticing as it was, I'm kind of glad that I don't have to be there any more.

See? This is what happens when you put the wrong focus in your heart and it gets ripped out.
One big ol' hole and something you have to hide behind.

It's taken a while, but I'm getting better.

So, that's kind of a recap on that post. A little more focused, a little less ambiguous. I'm trying to leave it as ambiguous because when this blog got started, I didn't want it to turn into a 'Dear Diary' shermozzle. So it's a matter of figuring out what personal things are okay to talk about and which are not necessary, so you still get cool posts that have more than just cats in them.

Where are we going?

Oh yes. Animania is done, and now I'm trying to figure out how much it's okay to have my friends freak out over me dressing up as a monster on Saturday and having the photos turn up on social networking sites with my name attached to them.

Because my costume was kind of freaky. I did go as a Hollow.


Because it's how I face the things I get scared of. Infiltrate and disarm from the inside out. It's why I did Weeping Angels with my mates earlier in the year. Yes, those critters are hella scary. Yes, I have been scared of them. Yes, they still give me chills.

But I know what goes into them now. I don't have to be afraid of that anymore.

I suppose that this is where people would normally go "But Brooke, it's a fictional thing. You don't have to be afraid of it at all."

What, so you've never watched a scary movie and then left all the lights on in the house?

Most people get less scared of things by forgetting them. I'm not good at forgetting.

So when I've dressed as something scary, it's my way of coping. It's my way of disarming it. It's also how I remind myself that as a fallen being, I could actually become this if I don't watch myself. And not 'become' as in, dress up as one. I mean "put on a mask and be unable to take it off because you've assumed too many characteristics of the thing you're portraying".

And that can happen. It does happen. Maybe not with literally turning into a critter with big teeth, but socially? It's much easier to gossip when you are around other people who gossip. It's much easier to let your standards slip if you have mates who don't care about the occasional laspe.

Manifesting the scary into something that I can put on is one part of it. But being able to get to the end of the day and taking that mask off is probably the more important thing. You feel like a weight has been lifted.

(Both metaphorically and literally. Saturday's mask was heavy.)

So, my friends; to those who understand my cosplay and those who don't. Please don't freak out if or when you see me dressed up in the scariest mask you can think of. I'm just sabotaging the cool-looking things that I'm scared of.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

National Novel Writing Month 2012 (The first)

Hey folks.

Life has quickly turned into something terrifying and exhilarating as of late; Uni semester is heating up, I'm two weeks (barely) from a big Anime convention and three weeks from turning 21. (WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?). And People make life interesting along the way. But it's good, I think. According to the breakdown of Relativity, time slows down the faster you go. Maybe that's why I'm always so temporally confused.


September is screaming by, and October is only going to be louder. And then:

There is Novemeber.

And November will be best month, because it's the month where I get to be a big shut in and do NaNo.

What is NaNo, I hear you all ask?

National Novel Writing Month is a project that happens online, every November. The project is simple: write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.

And now I'm about to tell you why you should try it.

NaNo was something I had heard not a whimper of until a couple of days into November last year, where I had attended a birthday party for a friend. The theme for the birthday party was 'cool hats'.
So, with top hat attached to head, I attended. There was only one other top hat present at the party, and the owner and I engaged in light conversation until he mentioned NaNo.

And the rest was quite an interesting story.

Not a fifty-thousand word one. It was basically 'hey you should do this it's stacks of fun'

I had half an idea sitting in the back of my head from a dream earlier that year and started a week late.

It was only half an idea, but it was enough. Ideas are like fires. You get a small spark, and then feed it enough coffee, and suddenly you have this raging inferno of metaphor and concept bearing down on your keyboard like a truck with no brakes.

It's not that difficult to start a novel either.

Like I said, my novel from last year (Which ended up being called Shift) was about a guy with no memory and a time traveller. The time traveller sends the man with no memory to different points in time to stop events from taking place, in a bid to unmake the accident that destroyed the man's memory.

There was a lot more that unfolded from it, but the little thing got a lot bigger. I reached the goal of fifty thousand about half a week early, and then stopped writing, finishing the novel off later.

At this point in time, I've had people tell me that it's impossible; that they don't have time, or that they can't write.


I'll be posting up more exciting and helpful things on writing in a bit, as well as details on all the exciting things the Municipal Liasons in Newcastle are doing this year (That's me and my top hat-wearing mate Jo)


Why not at least consider it?

NaNo novels function differently to how a lot of people write. It's a self-driven project, and is about the word count. You don't have to write a Stephen King (And believe me, you won't unless you are Stephen King). The same would go for Dan Brown, James Patterson or Matthew Reilley.

By the way, most of the novels those authors churn out are enormous. 50,000 words is roughly the same length as, say, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Great Gatsby, Fight Club, The Notebook, The Invisible Man, Of Mice and Men and Brave New World. And odds are you have probably read one of these, for, like, school or something. They're not that big.

Comma explosion.

My point is, the word count is not that big. It's possible. It actually equates to 1,667 words a day in November. Which might sound scary initially until you realise that it's creative writing. It could be drivel. Doesn't have to be, but could be.

And because the MLs for Newcastle are going to be Wizzards this year, there will be a stack of things to do if you want to hang out with other people who are likewise tanked up on coffee. Or tea. Or chocolate.

Mmm. Chocolate.

Another thing that scares a lot of people is self editing. Coincedentally, it's the same reason why a lot of people I meet tell me they can't draw.

The conversation usually starts like that, and then goes "Oh, but you're an art student, of course you can draw".

hahaha. nah man.

I think I usually reply to that with, "It's more about not telling yourself that you suck"

See, when you write anything (or draw anything, for that matter), it's easy to immediately compare it to the other people you are interested in in that area (So, let's go back to Patterson for writing and, say, Rembrandt for drawing). Upon the immediate comparison that your work is not exactly like a Rembrandt, there is desk-flipping and walking away.

I think we tend to write ourselves off to quickly with regards to that.

The other thing about NaNo writing is that you simply don't have time to go back and edit everything; you could spend time making your grammar shiny and your sentances pretty, but in the end, it's too much time to go back and look at stuff. It's very easy to get self-critical, until the novel gets chucked out in frustration or anger.

Lemme tell you, I picked Time Travel last year. Didn't think through the mechanics of it. Had to decide halfway through the novel whether or not to kill someone because I couldn't remember whether or not time was linear or branching in nature.
(It's linear)
But at the time, I didn't think things through clearly enough. I could have spent ages going back and fixing things, but there simply wasn't time.

That's okay though, because the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the novel was great. It's the sensation of setting out to do something and achieveing it and getting to share that achievement with a whole bunch of people. Which is grand.

So. What do we have at the end of this post-with-no-pictures?

Try NaNoWriMo.
It's stacks of fun.
50,000 words in November.
You don't have to write a masterpiece.
Newcastle will have some really fun MLs this year.
It's achievable.
Lots of caffiene.
Stop telling yourself you suck.
Write like crazy and don't get caught up in re-reading or editing.
It's a big challenge with a proportionate amount of joy at completion.

Click here to check out the NaNo website. There's still plenty of time to consider giving it a whirl.

And I can promise you, if you do it, you'll never be scared of wordcounts again.