Thursday, 2 November 2017

NaNoWriMo diary 2017

I have sooooo much editing to do, and so many projects to finish... but it's hard to resist NaNoWriMo! The Swindon group do it so well! Look at all these lovely goodies they gave us in the planning meeting! :-)

Writing prompts, a "motivational monster", and a huge
cup of frothy coffee. Bring it on, NaNoWriMo!

This post is my NaNo diary for 2017. I'll be updating it throughout November 2017. It'll mostly consist of me moaning about my word count, so you've been warned!

If you're a NaNo-er and fancy a new writing buddy, click here to see my profile on the NaNoWriMo site. We all need more buddies! :-)

NaNoWriMo diary 2017

1st Nov 5,156
NaNo is off to a good start this year! Some lovely fellow-writer friends put on a Halloween party and then (at the very moment of midnight!) we all started typing like mad! 

Okay, we didn't really "type like mad". In true writer tradition, we all started moaning (like mad) about NaNoWriMo. Writing is a funny old game... it's horrible at the time, but lovely when you're done! A bit like running a marathon - it's just one of those things that's great to look back on and say "I did that". Doing it, however... ugh. 

Anyway, we type-type-typed and typed some more. I hit 500 words before yawns overtook us all. Once home from the party, I stayed up a few hours and managed to hit the daily NaNo target of 1,667 words. It was quite nice waking up on the 1st of November having already done my quota... I might try that again next year! I carried on and managed 5,156 words in total on the first day, which gives me a lovely head start.

I'm struggling though. So far all I've produced are weird little flash fictions, and it's been very much "blood from a stone" when getting ideas to fall out of my brain. Maybe it's about time I actually started to believe those people who tell me that NaNoWriMo is easier if you plan it first?

2nd Nov 11,443
Had a bit more luck today! Found some old half-finished novel attempts and added a few more chapters to each. I started a new novel as well: a fun one about God suddenly turning up in a guy's living room and telling him off for being too wimpy to ask someone on a date...

"I need you two to get together," says God, while drinking coffee and sitting on the guy's sofa. "Your great-grandkids are very important for the next stage of my plan." 

So far this new story's turning out to be good fun, so I might stick with it (rather than leaping around to various projects).

Last year's NaNo was frantic. Several of us raced, and that led me to finish the official NaNo word count in only three and half days. For some daft reason, I thought I'd try to race that record this year... but it's not working! However this insane plan did give me 6,287 words today, so the total is now 11,443. I definitely think this is a good way to do NaNoWriMo: getting ahead in the first few days really does take the pressure off.  

3rd Nov 16,494
I'm carrying on with my 'god on the sofa' story for now, because it feels like it has novel-length potential. It's shaping up to be quite a fun story! God's given up trying to get a nervous guy to meet his his soulmate, so is putting pressure on the guy to get him to actually talk to the girl. It's going well so far, but I definitely need to flesh out the protagonist a bit more on the rewrite.

Today's total was 5,051 words which gives me a NaNo total of 16,494.

4th Nov 20,317
Today was the first Saturday of November which means it was the first NaNo "write-in" day! A gang of local scribblers met in the local library to:

  1. write,
  2. motivate each other about writing, 
  3. moan about writing,
  4. and generally just try to force some words out of the head and into a manuscript. 
Unfortunately, even though these write-in sessions come with the best of intentions, I've got to say they really don't work when it comes to upping the word count! We all sit around chatting over coffee and cake, and very few words get typed. Oops.Maybe I'll get a bit more done if I remember to take my headphones next time.

I only managed to get 745 words done by the end of the two hour session, but was later able to push the day's total to 3,823, which has taken me over 20k! Official figure is now 20,317 words, and I'm hoping to hit the NaNo halfway point tomorrow.

5th Nov 23,339
It was a struggle to get started today, but a late push gave me 3,022 words. I'm still having trouble focusing on one project, but I tend to work that way anyway (not just in writing but in everything!).

It's nice to see each of the projects progressing a little further each day. I wrote a few pieces of weird flash fiction to get me warmed up, and then put the rest of the typing effort into an old novel attempt that had been put aside and forgotten about. 

This 'old novel' is a paranormal romance story... that's a long way from what I usually write, but I'd heard that genre is one that sells very well so I thought I'd give it a try! It's turning out quite corny, (but I think that fits reasonably well with the genre!) and I've thrown in a few vampires and a werewolf just for the hell of it. After all, it's not like a million other writers aren't writing paranormal fiction about vampires and werewolves, right?! 

Total NaNoWriMo word count is now 23,339. Nearly halfway!

6th Nov 26,472
I'm still struggling to force myself to write during the day... but I'm managing to get some done late at night. I've always had problems getting writing done during normal working hours!

Today gave me another 3,133 words (spread over several different projects) which took me over the halfway point - woohoo! The NaNo total is now 26,472.

7th Nov 29,560
I was feeling stuck on my "god on the sofa" story, so spent most of the day working on random projects instead. 

The "random" stuff is all in one file. Earlier this year, I filled a single document with a ton of writing prompts, with the idea being that during NaNo I could avoid writers block entirely, because I'd just drop down to the next prompt once I'd run dry on the current one. There are over 500 prompts in the file, so there's plenty to keep me occupied. 

Unfortunately, this file's not working out quite as well as I'd hoped. I'm getting the words down but I'm not convinced any of them will be useful enough to be turned into finished stuff ready for publication. Also, I have to be quite awake to be able to write all these random pieces. Instead of being motivated by a new writing prompt, my sleepy brain is just saying "um, dunno" to most of them, which isn't the idea at all!

Anyway, words got done, so I guess that's all that really matters for NaNo. I'll inspect the damage in December to see what's salvageable! 

Today gave me 3,088 new words, which means the NaNo total is now 29,560. Looking forward to hitting 30k tomorrow!

8th-12th Nov 40,024
It's been a right old few days of madness! What with one thing and another (translation: "life getting in the way"), I've really been struggling to get the words done. Every night I've reached 10 or 11pm and had to rush to the keyboard for some panicky typing. It's a silly way to work and I really should have just given myself a break... but somehow I've got it in my head that I have to aim for at least 1,667 words every day.

Word counts for 8-12th Nov were 1,747, 2,004, 1,671, 1,908 and 3,134 which means I've hit 40k at last. Grand total is 40,024 and I'm currently having daft thoughts of forcing myself to 50k all in one day tomorrow, which is a terrible idea and will almost certainly be ignored.

13th Nov 41,775
I knew today was going to be a busy day, so attacked the word count early... and I have to say: WORD SPRINTS ARE AMAZING! Two 15-minute sprints (apparently my brain is capable of concentrating that long!) gave me 800-ish words apiece, so in just half an hour of work I had 1,751 sparkly new words!

Okay, full disclosure... they weren't particularly sparkly. In fact they're a horrible mess. But they are NEW WORDS! And, because I'm a masochist, I attacked a new scene today (one that I had no idea how to write - and have been worrying about for quite a while) and guess what... it worked! Typing super-fast forced my brain to give me ideas, so I've now written all the way through the tricky bit and have come out the other side with no injuries (apart from possibly dying of shock).

Current word count is now 41,775 and I still have the idea in my head that I could go crazy tomorrow and force myself to race to 50k. Shush, brain. Stop suggesting silly things please.

14th Nov [updating soon!]
[updating soon!]

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Bridport Prize 2017

I received some great news in September, but was sworn to silence!

However... the Bridport Prize shortlists are now out, so I'm allowed to say I managed to sneak onto the Poetry shortlist this year!

And I also managed to get not one but TWO flash fiction pieces onto the Flash fiction shortlist!

Naturally it's a bit disappointing that my work didn't get picked for one of the prizes, but it's great to be on the shortlists alongside some excellent writing talent. Fingers crossed for next year!

[The rest of this post involves maths, so you'd be advised to stop reading now!]

The Bridport Prize is one of those competitions that has a "sifting" stage... in that a first set of judges create the shortlist, and then there's a further judging process to pick the winners. When the "congrats, you're on the shortlist!" email arrives, it also tells you how many entries there were this year... and I couldn't resist playing around with the numbers!

This year there were 4,258 poetry entries and 1,343 flash fic entries. (This was possibly a quieter year for the Bridport, because I've heard the usual number of entries is closer to 7,000 for poetry and 2,500 for flash fic.) And from what I've heard (e.g. anthology comments from past judges), the poetry and flash fic shortlists are 200 and 50 respectively.

The poetry shortlist consists of 200 pieces, which means that 4.7% of the entries made it through the sifting stage (200/4258 = 0.04697 = 4.7%).

The flash fiction shortlist is 50 pieces, which means that 3.7% of the entries made it through the sifting stage (50/1343 = 0.03723 = 3.7%).

Obviously there's a quality aspect to getting picked, but I still find it interesting to see how tricky it is for a piece to sneak through that first stage of judging. I have no idea how many sifting stages there are, or if any of these numbers help us, but when I enter a competition, my twitchy little brain quite likes knowing the odds!

Best of luck to everyone for next year! The Bridport is a tough competition but definitely worth it :-)

Friday, 1 September 2017

Bite of the were-rabbit

New game! I'm writing a story driven by Twitter polls and a prompt taken from one of the daily writing events.

Chosen prompt word: alone. Here we go with the story... 

Sertundeth Park wasn't dangerous. Not normally, anyway. Callibor Nim had cut through the park every day on her way home from Wannabeahero School, and she'd never had a problem. Unfortunately, today someone had decided to turn out the lights.
     The lampposts in Sertundeth Park gave out infra-pantz light (which was designed to be used in areas so affected by dark magic that sunlight refuses to enter). To human eyes, the light was a dim purple but the park creatures had to wear paper bags on their heads to avoid being blinded. Today, however, something had gone wrong. Callibor was only halfway home when she was plunged into darkness. She immediately stopped dead, opened her school bag - ziiip! - and took out her knife.
     Callibor's parents had bought her the best knife they could afford. It had a golden handle and was a foot long. Callibor's headteacher, Commander Arnda, said it was more like a short sword than a knife. It had 17 special features, including stun, fire blast, death ray, and cat. Callibor hunted for the flare setting. By the time she'd found it and the blade had burst into silver flame, it was too late. A were-rabbit had spotted her.
     Were-rabbits were the most terrifying of all the were-creatures (although the were-rabbi - hybrid offspring of the autocorrect demon - was almost as scary). The were-rabbits bred like, well, rabbits and their murder burrows occupied every square inch of space beneath the surface of Sertundeth Park.
     Although Callibor was normally quick with her knife, this particular rabbit was too fast for her. Before she'd even managed to yell in surprise, it had jumped up and bitten a large chunk out of her forearm. Giggling to itself, the were-rabbit bounded merrily away, leaving Callibor to collapse in pain onto a park bench.

What happens next? You decide! 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Editing blues

'Unreliable narrator' by Mike Howland

2017 was a tough year for my poor fantasy novel! I had my heart set on editing my monster pile of notes/drafts/scribbles into a decent novel, but unfortunately it didn't work out.

My main problem has been that the novel started in "third person" form. Specifically, it was a third person narration about Calvin (a poor orphan boy who, as you might expect, is probably going to find treasure, beat the bad guy, get the girl, and just generally do quite well by the final page).

So that was the story I was originally trying to write...

But then I added a dragon.

Crimble is a tiny tree dragon with a personality bigger than the sky. She quite literally takes over my writing and it's damn hard work trying to get her to follow the plot.

I added her as a minor character at first. She was just going to be a friendly little dragon sitting on Calvin's shoulder.

It didn't work out that way.

Crimble, it turns out, has a mind of her own. In my story, she's still sitting on Calvin's shoulder, but she spends much of her time berating him with sarcasm, ear flicks, and the occasional whack from her tail on the back of the head. Often all these at once.

And Crimble, I discovered, wants to be written first person.

THAT was the big problem. Everything I'd written was "third person Calvin"... and suddenly I found myself with a stack of "first person Crimble" chapters.

I tried for ages (weeks, months, years... I don't know!) to merge my old "third person Calvin" story with the new "first person Crimble" chapters. Have you ever read a book that jumps between first and third person? Ugh. Some authors have done it... some have even done it well... but I still don't like it. In fact I've yet to read such a book without feeling a big jolt every time the author jumps from first to third. Try as I might, I couldn't rewrite my chapters well enough to remove that "jolt".

Do I want my readers to feel jolted from first to third person? NO I DO NOT!

So this year, I tried to edit my novel to remove this dreaded jolt. I've tried plenty of different ways before, and this year I decided to give up on my "first person Crimble" chapters, and just rewrite them in third person.

My internal voice kept shouting "THIS IS THE WRONG THING TO DO!" but I ignored it. After all, what writer doesn't have that internal voice shouting-shouting-shouting all the time? Isn't the normal writer life purely about having a voice in your head telling you that everything you write is bad? (Please reassure me that happens to you too!)

Anyway, six weeks later, after much misery and ignoring that infernal internal voice, I finished my new "purely third person" draft and re-read it.


I hated it.

But I'm a writer and I was reading my own writing. It was NATURAL that I hated it, right? So I put the whole thing aside and spent a month playing with smaller pieces. Hooray for flash fiction and poetry - the perfect way to procrastinate on novel writing! You're writing, so you're not procrastinating, right?!! :-)

Eventually I re-read the novel again. Yep, I still hated it. Rewriting Crimble in third person was a horrible idea. Wrong, wrong, wrong. For once, the doomsayer internal voice had been speaking the truth.

What was missing? I'm not sure I can be specific... but it was that elusive quality that turns a book from "just a book" into "something you actually want to read", or at least "something you actually want to write".

Energy - maybe that's the word? Crimble's "first person" voice has a definite energy to it. She has verve. Panache. Snark. And all of that had been stripped out when I rewrote her in third person.

It took me quite a few weeks before I had the heart to attempt another rewrite. Actually, it may have been months. I seem to have lost quite a large chunk of this year - quite possibly to moping around after realising my rewrite hadn't worked!

Anyway... I started rewriting everything in "first person Crimble" voice again. I knew that at the very least, I wanted a few chapters to be told in Crimble's voice. She's sassy and she's sarcastic and I have had GREAT feedback on her voice. (Adults have told me they love Crimble... but, more importantly, KIDS have said so too! And kids are the best critics in the world because if they don't like something they'll quite happily tell you, regardless of how it crushes your soul!)

Crimble's voice HAS to be part of my novel. This is one thing of which I'm certain.

So I rewrote Chapter 1. It went well, and Crimble was her usually sassy self as she chatted to the reader about a dragon called Puggle running in to wake her up. (Yes, I know what you're thinking... I do indeed start my novel with a character waking up... and I like it, so it's staying... for now!)

Then I started rewriting Chapter 2 (the first chapter focuses purely on Calvin). And something magical happened. It felt as if the back of my brain had been working on a new solution, without me being aware of it doing so, and suddenly it presented a new solution... I'd rewritten Chapter 1 (in which Crimble is woken up by Puggle) and then, suddenly, I wrote a line at the start of Chapter 2 (in which Calvin is digging his own grave) that opened up a whole new possibility...

Earlier that day, a few hours before Puggle had woken me, a boy called Calvin was digging his own grave.

Okay, I'm not saying this is a great line. For all I know, this line will be cut from the final draft. HOWEVER... this line has done something wonderful for my novel. It's allowed me to travel in time and space!

That might sound a bit far-fetched... but it's true! The first part of the line (Earlier that day, a few hours before Puggle had woken me) reminds the reader of the events of Chapter 1, and then ALSO manages to catapult them a few hours back in time. And it's done with such a tiny amount of effort that I can hardly believe it's so easy. Even better, there's NO JOLT! The whole of Chapter 1 is in Crimble's voice... and this new line is too... so the reader is simply continuing to listen to Crimble... it just so happens that Crimble is now talking about an event she wasn't involved in.

The second part of the line (a Mudville boy called Calvin was digging a grave) anchors the reader in the scene at the beginning of Chapter 2, and allows me to immediately start telling Calvin's story.

Even better, this line means that Crimble is my narrator. SHE is the one who will be telling Calvin's story. Rather than her narrating only her own chapters, she's now narrating everything. And you know what that means...

Unreliable narrator!

I love, love, love unreliable narrators. I love them because they're so true to life. EVERYONE you know is an unreliable narrator - you, me, everyone! Think of every time you've heard someone tell you a story... Did they stumble over their own words? Did they contradict themselves? If you pointed out inconsistencies within their story, did they just laugh them off? Did they get distracted while talking and go off on a tangent, talking about something else?

I'm guessing they probably did all those things. Because this is exactly how we tell stories every day. We get things wrong. We make up details that we can't quite remember. We go off on tangents. We contradict ourselves. We forget what we're talking about halfway through the tale.

Crimble won't be a totally unreliable narrator. She'll get things wrong, but for the most part she'll tell the story "as it happened". However, it'll be very much her version of events. Her own version of the truth. And Crimble has already proved to me that she enjoys talking herself up, so she's bound to show off throughout the whole story. I have a feeling this is going to be fun.

Ultimately what I'm saying is that Crimble can finally do what she's been wanting to do for YEARS. She can take control of the novel! She's been dying to tell Calvin's story ever since I first created her, and I'm finally ready to hand her the pen.

So that's my new plan.  I'm going to allow Crimble to write every chapter - even the ones that she isn't present for. It's the best possible solution I've come up with so far.

There's a tiny niggle/worry because I know people will tell me "if Crimble's alive to write the story then there'll never be a sense of danger, because we know she survives" but I reckon that argument was thrown out of the window the moment everyone was comfortable with American Beauty being narrated by a ghost and Black Beauty being narrated by a horse. Narrators can be anyone and anything - dead people, animals, or even a brain in a jar. Critics might not like it but readers don't mind... and it's only the readers who matter.

Admittedly I'm kind of annoyed I had to REWRITE THE ENTIRE NOVEL in order to reach this happy discovery. All that work just to write this one magic "Earlier that day" segue line! But writing is a journey, and it's a hard journey at that. Sometimes the only way to reach an epiphany is just to put your head down and power through. And that's what I did this year. It was horrible at the time but I kept going and I'm glad I did. Although I don't yet have a completed novel, I still feel like I'm hell of a lot closer to achieving that magic finished manuscript.

Unfortunately, what with the general shenanigans of life getting in the way, I've had to stop editing my fantasy novel at the moment... but as soon as I get back to it, CRIMBLE IS IN CHARGE!

Fingers crossed that this time I've finally found the perfect way to tell the tale.

A great summary of unreliable narrators by John Fox