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Countdown: 4 days till NaNoWriMo

I have never been this excited about NaNoWriMo before. The closest I got was 2003 (my first year!). I was a junior in high school and it was a murder mystery plot centered around a journalist named Ethan. Except that the murderers would turn out to be vampires.

Please note: 2003. This was pre-Twilight publication, The Vampire Diaries, and all that jazz. It was probably brought on by too many episodes of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and general vampire lore.

If you didn’t know, I love fairy tales, folk tales, mythology, monsters, legends, and anything that falls in between. I’m most knowledgeable about Indo-European folktales, some Norse myth, and some Brazilian folklore. It’s what I studied as a sort of side project during college. After writing, editing, and translating, I think I’d most like to study all of these things for the rest of my life. I’ll figure out a way to make them all work.

I used to love vampires (and fairies, but that’s an impossible to break, eternal love that started in childhood). Maybe it was their newfound pop culture and glitter, maybe I grew out of them, maybe I got sick of it and wanted to like something “different,” but they’re no longer my favorite. By that, I mean that I try to avoid writing vampire stories unless something in it makes it different than all the others–but that doesn’t keep me from watching and reading anything I can get my hands on that has a vampire in it.

Currently, I can’t kick my werewolf love (Hollywood-created versions, old-fashioned wolf belts, good old curses and all). I still want to find out more about La Llorona because she’s haunting and depressing all in one go. Saci-Perere draws me in like no other, and those pesky fairies are still crowding around my house.

So, anyway, I used to ride the vampire bandwagon as a producer (still do as a consumer! I’ll admit it). This 2004 NaNoNovel had at least two in it. I think the book got to 15,000 words. It might have gotten further if I’d actually planned it, rather than let Ethan wander from crime scene to crime scene, notepad in hand, boss yelling at him on the phone, and police accusing him for no good reason.

Aside from the plot flaws, it was written pretty well and could have been a half-decent story if I hadn’t abandoned it.

In 2007, I started to write the story of my grandmother’s life, loosely based on what I knew of family history and the rest based on speculation. I got maybe 4,000 words in when I decided I had nowhere to go, and that I would rather rewrite and edit the book she herself wrote 40 years ago but never published.

There are a few other attempts in the intervening years, halfhearted, lonely, and utter failures.

I think what will make this year different is the outline. I’m passionate about this book, have been for a few years in its slowly morphing forms. Its current form is maybe 2-4 months old, though it’s close to and ties in with the form before that, which is about 9-10 months old.

It started with the image of a witch burning in the middle of her suburban street without knowing why.

The current form doesn’t match that image at all in any manner, except that the main character is still a girl.

But I started an outline. It’s not nearly as in depth as a true phase outline, which is what I originally wanted it to be, but it should work. It gives me a general direction to go in for each chapter (at least, that’s how I am currently viewing each bullet point). I still have 5 more scenes or so to sketch out, but I already can see that the opening scene I currently have will be cut. But I want to write it because it’s nagging me.

I may phase it out more before Tuesday, but I don’t know. I just really hope November goes well. But that’s all up to me, isn’t it?

How do you get through writing your book, story, or poem? Do you have different methods for each? Outline, basic plan, or wing it?

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So, I’m still going for the gold by the end of October. I want to have most, if not all, of the stories written for a short story collection by the end of October. As of yet, I’m far off on that mark, but this Saturday should be a write-a-thon (flashathon). I’m hoping I’ll punch out another 10-15 stories then.

Until then, I’m working on the outline for my NaNo novel, which will be the first book in a trilogy. I’m pretty set on where the novel(s) are going, but I’m thinking on trying a new way of outlining. Previously, my outlining consisted of a one-liner on a post-it note, taped to the corkboard beside my desk at home, and maybe outlined in yellow highlighter. For short stories, I write a line or two in a journal, and go back when I need inspiration. Or sometimes I write a first paragraph and leap from there.

Novels… Novels are new to me, though I’ve always wanted to write one and have always tried. I think the furthest I got was 30,000 words, and that was in fanfiction. In original fiction–15,000 words that I’ve since scrapped. It was a supernatural murder mystery novel that was an utter mystery to me.

This novel I’ve been spending about 5 months thinking about, talking to friends about (your help is what’s making this possible!), and outlining. I have about 20+ pages of background and rough outline, a few pages of character sketches, and even a diagram on a piece of cardboard I tore from a delivery box.

But I don’t think that’s enough.

See, it’s not the writing I’m worried about. It’s not the destination or the background or the characters, though I worry about those things too.

It’s pacing.

I’m a short story writer. Flash fiction. On average, 3,000 words or less.

In case you didn’t know, a novel is much longer than 3,000 words.

While roaming around the new NaNoWriMo forums, and poking around the Writing 101 forum to contribute to and learn from, I saw what was the most useful thing in the world: a site about phase outlining.

I’ve never used the term “phase” outline before, but once I opened up the site, it was a concept I’m familiar with. You break down your novel piece by piece. Line by line, almost, but without fleshing it out.

1. Story begins in a garden. Luis is thinking of Henry. There is a rose.

2. They planted the rose together. She remembers the day. She thinks about when he’s coming home–it’s been months and the flowers are wilting for the next year.

Those are bad examples, but there you go. And the rest of the novel would build from there. You do it until you have as many “phases” as you need. Depending on how much text you expect the phases to provide you once you’ve fleshed them out, that’s roughly how many phases you’ll need. So if I expect each phase to provide at least 350 words, I’ll probably need about 200 phases.

The benefit of this is that there is a steady path to step on, and a lot of plot issues and uncertainties (is this too much action? too little? what about dialogue? are the characters connecting?) can happen upfront. I’ve always resisted this type of outline. Again, since I primarily write short stories and flash fiction, when I sit down to write something, I write almost the entire thing. Maybe I’ll only write a paragraph and come back to it later, but by then I have a clear “feel” for what that story will be, even if I return a month later.

Novels can’t really be written in one sitting. At least I know I can’t write one in a straight-faced 24-hour period.

So, until Saturday (gasp! 2 days away!) I’m going to be working on my phase outline for NaNo. While walking the dog this week, I came up with more character-based scenes, so I’ll be including those in there (these were missing from my bare-bones outline from earlier). I’ve been very worried about plot, and now I’m worried I’ve been leaving the characters behind in the process.

Hopefully this phase outline will take care of that.

Happy writing! Or, now, bedtime.

I feel like there’s so many things to do and not enough time to do them in. And yet, this is my first post in weeks, though I have tons of things I’d love to talk about (like my growing typewriter addiction–I now have four, though Dennis and The Unamed One (let’s call him Voldy) don’t type). I don’t do much other than go to work, maybe hang out with some friends, eat, maybe play with my dogs, and watch TV.

With what seems like such a quiet, unassuming, dull and unscheduled life, I don’t know how I feel like there are too many things to do than I have time for.

I already know, and it’s only two weeks into October (though I knew this before the year even started) that most of my resolutions for this year won’t come true. I won’t lose the amount of weight I wanted to, I won’t have saved up enough money to go to Brazil, I won’t be running a 15K, I won’t be doing lots of things. Thinking of that makes me physically ill–which is a bad cycle when I really should be standing up, going for a walk, running on the treadmill, writing a book, training with my dogs.

Not watching Terra Nova.

But, so, we’ve already established there’s lots of things I won’t be completing this year, some of which I may have even gone in reverse (I guess I’ll be kicking it into high gear for the rest of the year).

There’s still the things I can accomplish before the year is out, like undo any damage I may have started, and be sure to get on a kickass start at writing.

So let’s talk about the things I want to do by the end of the year:

  • Lose that weight. This isn’t relative to the blog, but I’ll undo the damage and still have time to write while I do it.
  • Fix Dennis. Dennis is the $3 typewriter that one of my friends so kindly bought for me. I want to see if I can crack that baby open and fix him.
  • Fix Voldy. He will be a he, though his personality has yet to surface. He is a pre-1940s Royal Standard No. 5. I can’t seem to find the serial number, so God only knows the year. This will take a bit of saving since I don’t want to break it unintentionally–Voldy will be taking a trip to the nice man who fixed Helen.
  • Read 50 books by the end of 2011. This is already a doable goal. At last count, I was at 46. I’m pretty much there. But, I’ll be damned if I don’t make it.
  • Write a fucking book. I’m going to do it. If I have to run on 1 hour of sleep very night, if I have to talk in my cellphone while I’m taking those walks and running on the treadmill, I’m going to do it. I have 2 books, in fact, that I want to finish by the end of the year. A book of short stories and a novel. I have, so far, 7 short stories to throw into that book, maybe 15000 words in total to be revised. I have put down one-liner notes for about 15 more pieces of flash fiction and stories. I have started a handful more. For the novel, well, I’m glad you wondered.
  • NaNoWriMo. I’m going to finish it this year. I swear to God, I will. I know I say this every year, but I have to. That’s my novel. I’ve started planning it, now it just has to get from my brain to paper.

Good luck, October resolutions. May you conquer the next 12 months and the rest of my life ahead.

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