Monday, October 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo #3 - Things that help with the writing bit

NaNo on Gone Aerial Part 1
NaNo on Gone Aerial Part 2
NaNoWriMo website

Resolving to at least try and maintain some visible level of enthusiasm and punctuality, I decided to keep posting, once a week, about NaNo. I thought that maybe, it might help encourage people to get interested and get on board and try something big and different and exciting.

So I've been plugging away like there is no tomorrow. Sort of. About a month ago, I had so many big things coming up:

End of Semester
December (And visiting people in Victoria)

Now two of those things are down, and the end of Semester is beginning to register in my head. I have, like, four weeks of madness left, and an assessment due tomorrow, and have to remember how to write a catalogue essay for that. So, as an exercise to the fingers and the mind, was like yes, I should do the weekly NaNo post right now.

So, now you know where I am. And how I've already covered the basics of National Novel Writing Month, and how stories in general work a'la Joseph Campbell.

So this week, with my brain scrambling for a subject, I thought I'd share a few of the things that I did last year to make writing a fifty thousand word novel a little easier:

Start with a notebook.Last year, I grabbed a fresh notebook and started scribbling in it. I wrote most of Shift on the computer, but for days when I was out doing things and suddenly had an idea, that notebook was invaluable. I would jot down plot points, notes on names and some of the basic research that I would wiki when, for example, I realised that I had no idea how C4 actually worked. Sometimes I would feel the need to actually write old-timey style, so there's bits of the novel in there too. For those of us who do not carry Smart Phones or Tablets, a Notebook is fun. Plus, you can draw in it and stuff too. Feels good to work with your hands once in a while. Oh, this would bring us to the next bit:

Write down how the plot works before you start typing.

This can happen in your notebook, or your computer, or on your wall with lots of bits of paper and red thread everywhere. (I'm a spatial thinker, so that last suggestion doesn't seem nearly as far fetched as it sounds)
The point is, you don't start building a house by sticking bits of gyprock together before pouring a foundation. A human body can't function without bones to support the muscles, and in the same way, it's important to write down basic plot points before you get started. Things like these always begin with a basic idea, but creating a baseline plot allows you to create something that can function and be follow-able for reading later. You can be as specific or as vague as you like with those plot points, but the fine details are something that you get to fill in later. The fine details are your novel.
This is something designed to help you, the writer, first and foremost. It means you don't get lost, or hopelessly confused about the different roles of your characters. And speaking of characters:

Make sure you know who is who and what they all look like.

I'll go with Inception as a visual example for this.

(Trying to upload photos on dialup-speed internet is making me go insane. You can have photos later.)

The main character list goes something like,


If you watched the film with the sound down, and had the list of characters in front of you along with basic descriptions of appearace, you'd probably get at least four of the characters mixed up.
So is that guy with dark hair and blue eyes Dom, Eames or Fisher? Wait, Dom and Arthur are cohorts. So that scene with the brainstorming and the chair-tipping, are those guys Dom and Arthur?

Adding the roles to the character names in the list makes things a little easier. In the context of the movie,

Dom Cobb - The Extractor
Arthur - The Point ManEames - The ForgerAriadne - The ArchitectYusaf - The ChemistSaito - The TouristFisher - The MarkMal - The ShadeSo, the characters immediately have a bit more definition. They have roles now; you know what they're supposed to do and how they're supposed to behave. The person we've made watch the movie with the sound down has a little more information to work with.

Adding descriptions of the characters to their names and roles helps further that distinction between characters and how they function and interact. I draw, so drawing the characters helps for me.

Knowing that not everybody draws is something we as the MLs of NaNo for Newie have taken into account. We're sorting out a paper doll/avatar creating method currently, so you the writer can create visual aids/figure out what the character you are writing about looks like.

It's helpful because you don't end up accidentally creating a lot of characters that look the same.

Researching details, even a little, will make things kick butt better.

Do I know anything about firearms?
Not really. Most of my knowledge comes from pulling apart Nerf Guns and listening to people who know guns explain stuff. And Hollywood.

Hollywood has a bunch of things wrong about guns, but we'll leave that for later.

I got to write about guns last year. It was fun, but not really knowing model names or makes meant that I had to do a little research. I didn't do stacks, but I did do enough to be able to talk about them when I wrote. It adds a little extra to the novel on two different levels. The plebs can go 'oh, this person knows what they're talking about' and the pros can say likewise. Or at least, not throttle the writer for leaving out important things.

A few years back, I encountered a character in James Patterson's Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. They'd had Galapagos Tortoise DNA spliced into their own genes and claimed to be over a hundred years old with the appearance of someone less than forty-five.
Which is all very well.
Until you realise that this novel is set in the present day (2007, when it was published), and that Watson and Crick first found the chemical structure of DNA in 1953. (And that's just discovering it. Mapping the human genome took about ten years, and that was only finished in the early 2000s.)

I know it's not common knowledge, but for those of us who remember trivia, it's a little frustrating.
And that's probably the trick to it: You don't have to research the heck out of these things, but enough to cover the information given in the novel will help a lot. Jargon is impressive and fun to use, but needs to be grounded enough that the people who know what you are talking about won't facepalm to the stars above.

Am I getting pedantic? Apologies. Point 5:

Show, don't tell.

Mira climbed the water tower, set up the sniper rifle and waited.


Mira adjusted the weight of her weapon against her shoulders for the climb. She pulled her hood further over her face and huffed against the biting cold that came from being awake at this altitude and time. Carefully, she scaled the freezing tower, brushing off the ice on the steel rungs with her hands before putting her weight on them. She reached the top of the tower and slid her sniper rifle from her back, assembling it for active use while looking for the best vantage point. Selecting her position, she silently moved into place, double-checking the padded coat that she'd be lying on for the next few hours. The cold here could kill a person if they were careless or foolish. Mira was neither of those things. She settled down, put her eye to the scope and began her hunt.

When writing, I have the option of telling you what happens, or showing it to you. Telling condenses what is going on. It simplifies the situation and keeps details to a minimum. Showing allows the reader to experience what is going on; to share the happening with the character and understand what is going through their heads. It's a very basic example, but the first piece of writing had me tell you what was going on. The second piece showed you. It's more interactive and (this is important when you're aiming for a word count) takes up more words to say. So have fun with adjectives; plot specific action sequences before you write them and talk about how something works rather than just it working. So much more fun.

Which in part brings us to the next bit.

Don't be afraid to use big words.

The English Teacher I had for year 12 is a fan of Westerns, Ancient China, horrendously bad puns and big words. He would do the kind of announcements in assembly that would expand your vocabulary just by listening. And in spite of him making us study John Donne and Snow Falling on Cedars, I will still nod to the Mantle. He taught us the value of using bigger or alternate words in writing (both creatively and in essays). I mean, there is certainly a feeling of achievement at being able to pronounce tergiversation but there is also more to come from it when you are able to use it in a sentence.

And sometimes it's an odd combination of cheating at scrabble and just finding alternate words.
For example, said.
Said means 'someone has spoken. Has - therefore it's past tense'
But how many different ways can someone have said something?

I think Mum has a poster of that kind of thing up on her classroom wall. It has stuff like 'whispered', 'shouted', 'grated', 'yelled', 'whimpered', 'cried', 'laughed', 'giggled', 'roared', 'grunted', 'asked', 'mumbled', 'uttered' and half a dozen others.
Using any one of those immediately attaches emotion to whatever the person is saying. It adds an extra dimension and allows the reader to experience it more completely.

This can be added to more than just how someone speaks. You can describe how they walk, move and do things. Sometimes it's word padding, but it does add to the novel regardless. Using bigger words is exciting. Just make sure you know what they mean first. (So, Gambit sounds gnarly, but make sure it's in the right context or things get odd pretty quickly).

Have fun.

When I was small, I had dolls. I didn't have very many of them, and they all pretty much ended their lives in the same manner; covered in pen and dirt and food. I never had a doll house, although I did at one stage have a castle smothered in glitter (like every seven year old girl should). Point is, I wasn't really into tea parties or shoes or playing house. Adventures into caves and giant trees was more my thing, complete with actual trees, sand, and my mother yelling at me to get off the shed roof before it collapsed or I got tetanus or something.

Have fun when you write your novel. You're constructing a story; a whole world, with characters that you've made and scenarios that you get to enact. Immerse your mind in it and write about the feel of things rather than just the happenings. Get emotional. Ingest too much caffeine and write 5000 words in one day. Look over to the clock and be surprised at the time.

Because soon it will be November, and I will get to have adventures like the ones I had when I was seven. Minus the glitter.