The Map

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This month is going to be different from the ones before, which is especially good because I was already feeling the need to do something besides what I’ve been doing so far. As I’ve probably mentioned over five times now, Camp NaNoWrimo is in April and, like every year for the last four years, I plan on taking part in it. If I had any ounce of self-regard I’d probably skip at least the April edition, considering what this semester promises to provide me with. However, since I’m stubborn and think I can deal with superhuman amounts of work, and since I survived last year’s NaNoWrimo despite the disaster that was November, I think things aren’t going to be that bad and that I’m going to reach the goal I set during Camp– 25,000 words.

(Looking at my last Camp, it seems I didn’t even reach 11,000 words. Uhm…)

Anyway, the past is in the past. Right now, my goal is to plan to write 25,000 words during the month of April, no matter what. But how?

I never made extensive plans for my stories. At most, I have a beginning, an end, and a general idea of what I want to do in order to connect the two. And that’s how my mind works, really– I have a general idea of what I want, maybe some established checkpoints and events, and adapt my plan as I go. That’s why planning was never appealing to me, since I didn’t want to limit myself in case I encountered a better idea for what I wanted to do, or my established plan stopped being appealing, and because my stories tend to stray from the plan regardless.

Still, during these last two/three years, I tried planning. This mostly involved establishing the beginning and the end, and figuring out all the bits inbetween. I’ve seen planning stategies out there that outline every single scene (sometimes down to the number of words/pages), but honestly that is just not how I work. If I’m going to put every single scene in a spreadsheet, why not just write the story right away? (And don’t get me wrong, I actually like spreadsheets,  and have found that using Airtable to plan my last project was both fun and efficient.)

I think that, in a way, I’ve already found my method, though it needs improvement. I just don’t know how to do it. Establish the beginning and end, and the major events that lead one to the other. Do the same with characters, figure out how they evolve throughout the story, how their arcs relate to the plot, if their internal and external goals are achieved and how. Have at least some idea of the space where the characters move, and weave it with the rest. Plot, character, setting. That’s really it, isn’t it? Who, what, where, when, why. A story’s DNA.

I’ve decided that, this month, I’m going to try a method I’ve known about for a few years and that I’ve been meaning to try– the Snowflake Method. From what I’ve read, I think it might be the closest there is to my “ideal method”: start from the general and go into the specific. I fear it might go into the too specific, but I can always adapt it to how I work and, this way, find out how I can improve.

So that’s what I’m going to do this month: I’m going to plan my project, once I figure out what it is, of course, using the Snowflake Method and write about my experience. I’m probably also going to write some short stories with my characters, regardless of whether they’re set in the story’s plot or not, in order to provide me with some development and perspective (and, hopefully, something I can use later on).

That leaves me with one pertinent question: what am I going to write?

I don’t really feel like picking up an old project, nor do I have any ideas for a new one. Camp NaNo is that time of the year when I just write short stories during the month, instead of focusing my energies on a single project, but then again it’s still early. Right?

Maybe I’ll take one of the stories I wrote these past two months, most likely one from January, and flesh it out into something bigger. And I have been interested in writing some Noir…

I also ask myself whether this project would be something that I would like to publish here on the blog, or maybe another blog dedicated solely to my writing projects, or if I want to get it published properly. Definitely not in a “traditional publisher”, at least for now, but maybe as a self-published ebook? I don’t know, these questions will have an answer when I’m on my way to actually finishing it and I know what this project is, and if it’s even good enough in the first place.

In any case, I’m giving myself this week to think of something, and I’m announcing it in my weekly update. See you then!

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Week 4 Update + Reflections on the Month

As you may have noticed, by the lack of a Writing Craft Element post this week, that I didn’t manage to research Planning and write about it. This week was not as hectic as last week, and things are really starting to settle, there was still a lot of work (and procrastinating) to be done. In my defense, I was a bit sick yesterday. And, honestly… I just didn’t feel like it?

I’ve explained why Planning was going to be this month’s second Craft Element: Camp NaNo is coming up and I want to be prepared, and being prepared seems an imperative considering what my life is at this point. I’ve been in the process of finding my best planning process for at least a few years now, but nothing has really stuck so far. Even if I have a path for the middle of my novel, I just lose steam, though I have managed to persevere and reach the end, even if I’m below my desired wordcount. Not having a plan at all is not particularly great either, at least for something as NaNoWriMo, because of the same problem: even if I reach the end of my novel,  it has a severe lack of development (and plotholes everywhere). I have the bare bones, the action and development, but where are the other plot points? I’m not mentioning Description, since we’ve already established that I can add it in later, but I would at least like to have all of the plot down in an at least semi-coherent manner.

I have a plan, which I will present on the Map for March, which I will post later.

Week 4 Update

Prompts: This week’s prompts were:

  • One day, everyone wakes up with wings like an angel, soon after scientists found that the colour of the wings depend on your character. The better your character is, the cleaner (more close to snow white) the wings are. Yours are decently grey, but your family’s are dark as hell. [x]
  • Once upon a time far, far away, there was a tiny kingdom that floated high above the clouds. Create a fairytale that is set in this city. [x]

This week I wrote 3106 words, 1478 for the first prompt and 1628 for the second! In total, this month I wrote 12934 words, which is actually more than I wrote in January. It’s interesting to note that, in both months, I reached a peak on the second week, while the lowest point was on week three.

Craft Book: This week’s chapters focused on Point of View and Atmosphere. There are still chapters left in this book, but they refer to Creative Writing in general and some recommended works, so I’ll skip those.

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when writing your story is your Point of View–it affects the plot, the characterization, and the tone of the story. When deciding, you should consider:

  • Whether it will be first-person (I), third-person (he/she), or, more rarely, second-person (you)
    • First-person: Reader identifies better with this form, since it’s more intimate; the character doesn’t need to be a protagonist; limits what is known to what that character knows (can’t know other character’s thoughts, for instance); and more than one narrator can be used. If the writer is not careful, however, they can identify too much with a character and it will become a copy of the writer.
    • Second-person: Rarely used, it’s interesting but hard to pull off. It can pull the reader into the narrative, but can also throw them off if they can’t identify with the actor.
    • Third-person narrator: Most common type, it doesn’t create the intimacy of a first-person narrator, but has the advantage of accessing multiple perspectives.
  • How much the narrator knows
    • Omniscient Narrator: Knows everything about the characters and setting
    • Internal focus: Only knows what the characters know; intimate
    • External focus: Ignores characters’ state of mind; sometimes seen as cold due to its objectivity
  • If the narrator takes part in the story, and if it’s a main character or a background one
  • If the narrator can be trusted

There’s more to be said, like whether you want your narrator to be an opinionated and sarcastic little shit (I do have a bias for this type), but maybe I’ll make a more complete post in the future.

Choose what works best for the genre, theme and plot. A way to decide is to write the first pages in different Points of View and choosing the best for the story.

Atmosphere is what makes reader get involved in the story. It’s sometimes defined as the story’s time period, a place’s ambience, a genre’s feel, or even as images, impressions and events. In summary, atmosphere is what makes the reader believe in your story and submerge in it. It’s what makes the reader feel it.

In order to create Atmosphere, you can:

  • Visit the place you’re writing, to catch its spirit so you can better emulate it
  • Recreate it using your imagination, which calls back to a previous post
  • Describe it from the point of view of a character that is seeing it for the first time, make the strange feel familiar and vice-versa, and make the setting and character relate to each other
  • Use the five senses to add depth to description, never forgetting that details are better than broad generalizations, add colours, which have specific meanings tied to them, and music

This chapter also has a section on how to edit Description, but I’m keeping this for after Camp NaNo, when I write a post dedicated to Editing (hopefully).

Course: In its final week, the course dealt with Genre.

Genre is defined by the similarities in style, form or subject matter in literary works, and, as such, there are tropes and clichés  associated with each of them. There is nothing wrong with writing with a genre in mind, it will actually help you with ground work and define your work, but you should never limit yourself to it. Innovate, combine genres, subvert tropes and expectations and your story will stand out from the rest. I recommend checking out Eva Deverell’s Genre Mind Maps.

Reflections on the Month

Considering the changes this month, I think it went well. It’s still early to tell if things will keep on going this way, since my workload is bound to get worse, but I hope I won’t have to stop the blog, even temporarily.

I’m still bummed I didn’t get to research Planning, but I suppose I can do it at a later date, especially when I have a better idea of what my specific problems are. Right now, my focus is on next month.

I’ll also have to make changes to the schedule I established for myself when I began classes, since now I have a better idea of what classes will demand from me. I now know that Tuesdays will also be difficult days for me to squeeze writing into, due to a weekly time consuming assignment from one of my classes, not to mention everything my other classes will throw at me. The evaluation seasons will be fun.

I think that’s all, and it’s late. Good night for now (or not, depending on where you are/when you read this, in that case Good Whenever you are).

Week 3 Update + Plans for Week 4

Life has been hectic since I started classes again on Monday, which has led me to revise some of the plans I had, not only for the blog and writing but also life in general. I’ve decided to give up the volunteering I was taking part of in my faculty’s library, because, while four hours per week might not seem that much, I have a feeling that they will be important, especially when work starts to pile up during mid-semester. It doesn’t help that I joined my course’s student comission, though I don’t know how much work that will mean just yet. The worst might just be that I’ve found that having classes until 8 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday exhausted me more than I expected. Maybe it will get better as time passes and I adjust, but this means that, at least for now, on Mondays I will only be able to work during my two hour break, while on Wednesdays I won’t be able to get any work done at all.

As for my writing, I have been wondering about the plans I have for the upcoming months. Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up, and my idea was that, during March, I would blog about my planning for the event, which is why Planning is this month’s second Writing Craft Element. Then, during April, I would blog during Camp NaNo– my progress, thoughts, general notes, that sort of thing. Now, I’m still planning to do all of this. I don’t have any other alternatives, and I really wanted to do something different from what I’ve been doing so far. Only time will tell whether I’m going to be able to do this, and hopefully I will be prepared if it comes to the point when I decide that I just can’t deal with all the work.

That being said, here’s this week’s post!

Week 3 Update

Prompts: This week’s prompts were:

  • “Where is the baby!?” She screamed. [x]
  • The Reaper takes on a different form for everyone. You’re a notorious killer, but yours is a kindly grandma for some reason. [x]

This week I wrote a total of 2507 words, 1217 for the first prompt and 1290 for the second. I really am seeing a pattern in my writing flow: the amount of words I write decreases from the second to the third week. Last month was due to demotivation, this month, I believe, has to do with the start of the semester. I wonder what else I’ll see in the future!

Craft Book: This week’s chapters focused on Characters and Dialogue.

Characters are the heart of the story, and if your characters are unconvincing, then your story will be as well. Great characters make for memorable stories. Ideally, the characters and plot must influence themselves mutually, characters must be proactive and evolve throughout the story.

There are different ways to create characters:

  • Base characters on real people, mixing and modifying traits to make them unique. You can even use pictures of real people who look similar to your characters in order to visualize them better (people who can draw can sketch their characters, unfortunately not all of us are well rounded artists)
  • Interview your characters, noting down basic information and putting them in different situations to know how they react. There are thousands of lists online of questions to ask, these are the traits the author suggests if those lists seem too much:
    • Name, Age, Gender
    • Ethnicity and Nationality
    • Physical traits
    • Psychological traits (positive and negative traits, quirks, hobbies)
    • Illnesses, Disabilities
    • Family life (marital status, family relationships)
    • Social life (friends, clubs)
    • Love life, Sexual orientation
    • Religion and spiritual life
    • Political opinions
    • Inteligence
    • Culture, Education
    • Employment, professional ambitions
    • Discourse (formal, informal, coloquial, etc)

Something to consider when creating a character is the name. Was it common in the time and place the character was born, or will it stand out in a negative way? Does it point to attributes or weaknesses? Giving a character a nickname can also help point to different levels of intimacy with others, or even to important events of the character’s life. It is also important to not give similar sounding names to characters, or else you’ll confuse the reader.

When choosing traits, it’s important to give both positive and negative traits to every character. This produces three-dimensional, realistic characters, rather than carboard cutouts and clichés. Taking an object that is important to the character and defining them around it also helps to create depth and a deeper understanding of the character.

When it comes to dialogue, it’s important to know the roles it serves in a story. It can move the action forward, reveal the character’s state of mind, highlight a conflict and create suspence, and add to characterization. Dialogue must be natural, but shouldn’t be exactly like a real life conversation, it should be concise and relevant. It must be fluid, have short sentences, breaks, hesitations and interruptions; limit the use of references (said Alice) to only when it is relevant, and you can use gestures when you need to refer to a character. To make sure dialogue is fluid, read it out loud or act it out. Dialogue works best with characters in conflict, creating tension. Dialogue must show the character’s intentions without spelling it out. A good way to use Dialogue is through internal monologue, revealing the character’s thoughts to the reader.

Course: This week’s lesson dealt with Research.

Research in Creative Writing is needed to create the world of the story and make it realistic and persuasive, no matter what kind of story you’re writing. There are three kinds of research:

  • Functional, which not only involves researching in books, the internet and other sources, but also visiting the places and talking to the people you’re writing about.
  • Inspirational, in which you take inspiration from books, music and other sources for new ideas.
  • Imaginative, which is the act of planning and thinking of your story. It is no good if you have a lot of facts and ideas if you do not use your imagination to think of how they can fit in your story. It’s also important when you are writing about a place you cannot visit, or when developing a space you are imagining yourself.

It’s also important to know that, while research is important, it’s also important to not research too much. Know enough to visualize the setting and add details that will persuade readers to believe your story, but you don’t need to know everything.

Being familiar with the setting also helps to avoid stereotyping characters and cultures and clichés related to them.

Plans for Week 4

This week my focus will be on consiliating my writing, my academic responsibilities, and have enough free time to not exhaust myself. I still have to researh the Writing Craft Element, which I neglected this week due to my aforementioned problems, but I will definitely do it. Hopefully, this was all just the effect of the first week and I will be able to adjust myself.

Week 2 Update + Plans for Week 3

This week went smoother than the last, as I actually took notes from the Course and the Craft Book in order to write this post more eficiently, though I wish I had done the same with the Craft Element. Anyway, I’m happy with my improvements! This week is also the last one before me classes start, so I’ll need, more than ever, to organize myself to not only meet my goals but also balance them with my academic responsibilities.

Week 2 Update

Prompts: The prompts I use this week were:

  • You’re a knight travelling the far lands. The last people of a once great kingdom house themselves in a courtyard of rubble at the foot of their ruined castle [x]
  • You’ve been hired as a professional cleaner for the most powerful wizard in the world… but when you arrive at his house, you discover that he’s more of an old hook than people let on, and he hasn’t cleaned his house in DECADES [x]

I wrote 4403 words this week, 1998 words in the first prompt and 2045 words in the second! So far, this was the week I wrote most, and the first time I passed the 2000 words mark. I hope to continue working on writing longer stories.

Craft Book: Chapters 3 and 4 dealt with the creation of First Paragraphs and the art of Suspense, respectively.

The First Paragraphs are what lure readers to the story or novel and make them want to read it. They should establish the genre and tone of the story, present the author’s style, establish the main character, conflict and setting and, consequently, create expectations for the story. More importantly, though, as the author explains, the First Paragraphs must hook the reader into reading the story, creating the necessary interest for the reader to continue instead of abandoning ship. This is done by arousing the reader’s curiosity for a character, presenting an interesting setting, by shocking or surprising the reader, and/or by presenting a mystery.

Suspense, a feature of thrillers and mystery novels, and something that I absolutely want to learn to write, can be created in various ways:

  • presenting an imminent danger;
  • making fears come true;
  • generating conflict, either Internal (Alice vs Alice), Interpersonal (Alice vs Bob), and/or External (Alice vs Nature), and a type of conflict that can be created is the crucible, in which characters have a confrontation in a limited space or are put in a situation they can’t abandon;
  • having the characters make a critical choice;
  • through surprise, taking into account that good surprises help the character (though one should always be careful not to make them too convenient) and bad surprises generate conflict and tension, and that the surprise must always be foreshadowed, though not too obviously, so as to feel plausible and not like an asspull;
  • adding mystery (as a side note, the author explained the difference between suspense, in which the questions are answered in the future, and mystery, in which they are answered in the past).

The actual writing of suspense is done by switching between short sentences and quick dialog to speed up the story’s pace, and longer sentences to slow it down. You should also use action verbs, and avoid using too many exclamations and ellipsis. Ending chapters in cliffhangers and tense situations also help generate suspense, forcing the reader to immediately turn to the next chapter. If you want to turn up the tension even more, instead of solving that situation right away, have the following chapter deal with another plotline.

Course: This week’s theme was Details. Details in Description must be significant and specific, in order to present a mood and a clear meaning. Details are going to make people care about the story, even specific ones, because they help them visualize what you’re trying to tell them. It’s through the specific that you are able to reach a universal understanding.

Plans for Week 3

I hope to keep going like I did this week, and balance it with uni. For now, though, all I can do is go through the week and, in the end, see what I need to change during this sememster.

Character Description | Writing Craft Element

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This month’s first Craft Element is Character Description, which I decided to tackle separately from Setting Description, not only because I felt that the first Writing Craft Elements post was getting a bit long, but also because describing characters has specific characteristics. Still, all the things that were mentioned in that post apply here. While researching, it also occurred to me that maybe this would be approached more appropriately if I had spoken about Character Creation first, but since Planning is the next Writing Craft Element I figure it’s not going to be that bad.

My prefered way to describe characters is by describing them while they’re in motion or performing some sort of task, since it not only lets me ‘describe on the go’, but also reveal other characteristics that do not relate to physical appearance. Even if the character is just sitting, maybe waiting for something, there’s still a lot to be said in terms of body language and the character’s thoughts, not only of the current situation, but also of the surrounding space. Sometimes even have them looking at a mirror or other reflective surface to assess themselves, like I did in a character description for a writing course I did a while back, where a character adjusted a tag on her blazer that revealed not only her name but also her job.

As when describing space or actions, describing a character can’t be just a laundry list of characteristics, or else the reader will be left with a generic– and thus unremarkable– character, or even a bunch of meaningless traits. Be specific (‘blazer’ does provide a different mental image than simply ‘jacket’), choose important details that reveal character.

Even the spaces that a character inhabits and the objects they use can reveal traits, not needing for you to tell the readers directly. Let’s return to Alice’s room: if she has posters of her favourite rock bands on the wall, but still has stuffed animals on her bed, then that tells us something about her age and interests. And it’s never too much to stress how much a character’s thoughts and the way they look at the world are important to characterization.

In the end, we come back to Show, don’t Tell. Don’t tell us the character is nervous, show us through body language and their thoughts. Don’t say a character is kind hearted, show a situation that showcases it. Don’t say that a character is beautiful, describe them in a way that makes us fall in love.


Other Links

Now Novel, Describing characters: How to describe faces imaginatively, http://www.nownovel.com/blog/talking-character-face/

Body Language Cheat Sheet (couldn’t find the original source!), http://indulgy.com/post/THeGY1PhH2/body-language-cheat-sheet

Writers Write, Body Language Reference Sheet, http://writerswrite.co.za/body-language-reference-sheet

Week 1 Update + Plans for Week 2

A week has passed in this new month, and I’m still adapting to my new routine. Since I had to buy a new phone this weekend, I’ve been looking at productivity apps in order to better organize myself, since visualizing the tasks I need to do helps me (I just need to actually stick to them). I did achieve all the goals I set out, though I still need to work on taking notes on the Craft Book and the Writing Course I’m taking this month, so that writing this post takes less time and becomes easier.

Week 1 Update

Prompts: This week the prompts were:

This week, I wrote 2918 words, 1117 for the first prompt and 1801 for the second! Just now I was building some graphs to compare my wordcounts for January and February, both on a weekly and monthly basis, and realized that I wrote a bit less this week than on the first week of January. I did this more due to curiosity than anything else, but hopefully, as I keep adding to these graphs throughout the year, I’ll be able to draw some conclusions based on these comparisons, gain some hindsight on how much I write and when, and improve where I feel the need to do so.

Craft Book: Read two chapters of Introdução à Escrita Criativa [Introduction to Creative Writing]. The first chapter is an introduction to the book and focuses on Creative Writing itself, the way it’s taught, and common misconceptions about the craft of writing and Creative Writing workshops and classes. To me, the most crucial point that this chapter makes is that it’s always important to learn the craft, no matter how much talent you have. After all, what’s the use of talent if you don’t know how to use it? Creative Writing classes, workshops, and courses have existed for over a century, and some famous writers took part in them. The ones who didn’t would correspond with other writers, or meet in cafés and other social spaces in order to discuss literature.

The second chapter reinforces the idea that talent is not enough to be a writer– hard work, discipline, knowledge of the craft, the world and even self-knowledge are fundamental. Writers must be determined to research and know about the world and people that surround them, even traveling to the places where the story takes place. They must also be disciplined, create a writing routine and not be limited by the comings and goings of their muses. And it’s always important to remain humble, for being a writer is a life long process of learning that never ends, and that what we consider to be good now might not be in few years. We must learn with those who are greater than us, and from our own mistakes.

Creative Writing Course: The first week of Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description concerned itself with persuasiveness, or the need for the story to be convincing enough for the readers to suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy a story. After all, a story needs to convince us that it’s real, no matter how fantastical its plot is. This is possible if the story is told in an engaging way, by describing scenes vividly and having characters interacting with and being influenced by their setting.

Plans for Week 2

This week I will be looking into improving my plan with better organization, as I mentioned in the introduction. Week 2 will also be when I’m publishing my Writing Craft Element post dedicated to Character Description.

Have a nice day!