Tag Archives: National Novel Writing Month

Fictionally historic

A week into National Novel Writing Month 2012, and I’m actually on task. This has to be a first for me, in my four years of experience.  Apparently the fifth time is the charm! It’s day eight, and I finished my writing session tonight unexpectedly when I realized I’d already passed today’s word goal to end at 13,398 words.

As I’ve been telling everyone who will listen, this year I’m writing a fantasy novel, but really I’m not.  There isn’t any magic in this story, and the only thing that makes it really count as fantasy is that, in the back story, dragons were something my characters’ ancestors had to contend with. Otherwise, this story of a princess whose kingdom is attacked by the enemy while she is away on a ritual tour of the allied kingdoms is nothing more than, what — historical fiction?  I’m not sure what to call a story that takes place in a fictional land in a medieval time setting that does not utilize fantastical elements. I feel like I should toss in a treacherous woodland creature simply for the simplicity of calling this fantasy.

At first, it was the mere presence of my main character, Elen, the middle princess, that caused my mind to scream “fantasy,” but later I realized how biased that is of me. In all ways other than that dragons once roamed the land of the princess’s continent, this world could be real (or maybe was once upon a time in Europe.) I researched authentic medieval-style names online to give my characters depth and christened them according to their strengths and weaknesses as adults, which is an author’s privilege. But other than that deviation from reality, my story is as real as I could make it while knowing as little as I do about medieval story lines.

So I guess my story is not really a fantasy novel — at least not yet — but if it isn’t, I am at a loss what to call it. I read online yesterday in a summary of “The Man in the Iron Mask,” that it was classified a historical epic, even though little to none of the story line has any basis in historical reality. The only truth seems to be that there once was a king of France named Louis XIV. That’s it. The rest is built upon a collection of fact and fiction all molded together into a story and assigned it the adjective “historical.” It might as well have taken place in Middle Earth.

So I have dragons in the back story of my novel. And Earth has dinosaurs in its past. Where does that leave my story?

An excerpt, just for fun:

“Halt,” said the tallest of the three.  “You there.”  Elen turned, frantic to close the few steps between her and the door, and reached it only half a breath later. Fitting through its opening proved to be more than impossible within the short amount of time she now had, and before she even could fit her head and right arm in through its access, a hand closed across her shoulder.

Yanked backwards off of her feet, she screamed, and the man who had seized her released her as, with a jerk, he spun her around to face him.  Trapped against the wooden wall of the building with the other two men closing in on her, she did all she could think to do in that instant, and she fell to the earth in a heap, wailing as she threw her arms across her face.

She had no idea if this would work.  It might sway a man of a kindly hearted nature to show concern for her, but after hearing what she had earlier, following the commander’s order to treat the people of the march with as much cruelty as the soldiers desired, she worried that her show would have little more effect than to excite three brutes who could not have cared less of her suffering.  Therefore, hers was not merely a show, but an actual illustration of her fears.  In her exhaustion and hunger, she could not have better painted a perfect match of her feelings if she had had all day to plan for it.

“There, there,” one man shocked her by saying, however removed is voice was from actual passion of speech.  “Get up, would you?  We mean you no harm.”

“Speak for yourself,” said another, Elen thought the one who earlier had misjudged girls of the Realm as weak.  He reached for her, jovially attempting to woo her toward falling for his advances, but she pulled away her arm and began rocking back and forth, praying for wisdom as the tears began matting her hair against her face.  Would her traveling cloak betray her?  Was it likely any other girl from the march or a nearby county would have had the wherewithal to throw on a cloak before attempting escape?

“Here now,” said the first man, who had spoken kindly following her collapse, “it’s all right.  I assure you no harm will come to you.”  He reached for her, ignoring her flinch as he adjusted his sword and placed both hands on her shoulders.  Before she could think how to stop him, he had pulled her to her feet and was running a finger across her forehead to clear it of hairs.  She continued to watch the ground, hoping to appear only fearful and humble than wishful of avoiding identification.  Perhaps he was used to women lowering their gaze in his presence, but he did not remark on her choice.  Instead, he ran the same finger down her face, past her ear, and secured it under her chin, which he raised until he could see her tear-streaked face.  She still refused eye contact.

“You’re a pretty one, are not you?” he said, with surprising gentility, considering his rude mates.  Coming from anyone else, the remark would have sounded to be spoken with a sneer, but instead it almost made her want to match his eyes—almost.  “What were you trying to do, sneaking past us like you did?”  His words were gentle yes, but laced with threats, and she dared not offer an answer that would enrage him.  She weighed the benefits of not answering at all but thought her continued silence might enrage him even more.

“I was hiding from the fire, sir.”

“Hiding,” he said, considering her a moment before continuing.  “Here, in this yard.”  She nodded infinitesimally, and he made a quick sweep of the area with his eyes.  “So you were listening to us talk and thought you would pass along what you had heard to your country men.”

“No, sir,” she said, thinking quickly.  “I only just awoke.  I must have….swooned.”  The other two men chuckled and backed away with clear indication that they no longer cared what she had to say.  “I had such hunger, you see.  I wanted only a bit of food.”

“I see,” said the man who now held her chin within the grip of two fingers and rested his other hand on her shoulder.  He swept his eyes over her clothing.  “You are dressed for flight.”

“When I heard the noise outside, I threw on my cloak; it was the first piece of clothing I could find.”  She was not helping her cause, she knew.  He did not believe her.  “My arms, you see; I am a leper.”  That did it.  He released her immediately and backed a good two feet away before glaring at her.

“Why didst not thee say something earlier?”

“I apologize, sir.”  She bowed her head, clutching the cloak more tightly around her.

“Be off with you,” he said.  She did not hesitate, turning back to the door and trying it a couple times before resigning herself to climbing inside.

“Revolting.”  The word followed her within, and she could not help but smile as she ran a hand over her brow to stall the formation of perspiration before her hand found her weary eyes.


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Novel writing month begins

There is both too much and not enough I can say about National Novel Writing Month. Considering this is my fifth year in a row, and I talk about NaNoWriMo often, it seems ironic that I now find it so difficult to write about it.

This is the first day of NaNoWriMo, and today I begin writing a novel in a month.

Last year I blogged about it every day of November; this year I vow not to do that. Writing a 50,000 word novel in a month is challenge enough without adding another 20,000 into the mix.

Instead I’ll offer weekly updates, and this being the first day, I will simply say that so far I’m on task. In my fifth year as a NaNoWriMo participant, I’m leaping into a fantasy novel for the first time ever. I’m not sure I prepared enough for this, but that’s what’s so great about NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t matter. Less preparation is encouraged. The point is just to write, and that is what I shall do.

If you’re reading this and wondering what crazy language I’m speaking when I talk about NaNoWriMo, and would like to learn more, please head on over to www.nanowrimo.org. It’s not too late to sign up to write your own novel in a month! It’s free, and writers of all ages are welcome.

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Week of edits

This week I have had what could be considered a taste of what it might be like to be a fulltime novelist. Instead of traveling, I used five of my vacation days from work to stay home. My intention was to get stuff done around the house and, silly me, finish editing my novel before National Novel Writing Month begins next Thursday and I will write a new one.

I wrote the one I’m editing now almost exactly three years ago, during my second NaNoWriMo. At this point, I’m close to finishing it, but until this week I thought I was much closer than I am. Faced with nine days off in a row I thought surely I could knock out the novel over only a couple. Other plans for this week originally included painting the living room, writing the four stories I’ve been planning as Christmas gifts for family members, plowing over the garden plot and replanting bulbs, shampooing the carpet, replanting the garden, exercising seven out of nine days, and reconfiguring my diet.

In Chris Baty’s book “No Plot? No Problem!” he wrote how several years ago he saved up to be able to put aside his freelance jobs and stay home for three months. But instead of writing during those ninety days, he did anything but.

I haven’t treated this week like a work week, but I did think that forty hours spent at home rather than at my office — plus the seven commuting hours — would have amounted to more than they did. What I have done is plan for my new novel, reorganize the kitchen cabinets, make lentil stew and quinoa for dinner tonight, walk five miles with Ryan one day, talk with two friends I haven’t seen since January and another since April, spend time with family, and catch up on sleep. I also had the battery in my car replaced when my car broke down at the post office Monday and upgraded to a smartphone.

Today I worked on my book; I printed out the first half and had read over the first three chapters before realizing that none of the edits I had made on the previous hard copy had made it into the new one. That’s because I’d never entered the edits from the hard copy into Word. It took two hours today just to enter the edits from a chapter and a half. My edits are not the spelling/grammar kind. They’re the paint the page red with ink kind. I also realized that, in this latest round, I haven’t edited past chapter eight…out of nineteen.

With three days left of my staycation, I know I’m not going to finish this book before NaNoWriMo 2012, which makes my plans for submitting it to the January contest I’d wanted to seem all the more unlikely. But I’m beginning to think that even if I were home all day every day from now until New Years, I might not have made that happen anyway. When you’re home all day, you spend more time making meals, you let the cats in and out about 80 times more than usual, and you visit with people you normally never get to see.

For now I’m still planning on writing a new novel next month. It just isn’t November anymore without NaNoWriMo. But I also might have a second goal this year: Finish editing a novel in a month.


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Make great strides

Rereading No Plot? No Problem!, the book that National Novel Writing Month founder Chris Baty wrote to help prepare unsuspecting readers for the seemingly impossible task of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, has had its own unexpected effects on me.

With National Novel Writing Month less than a month away, I am just beginning to feel the crunch of not enough time to plan for my upcoming novel writing adventure. I’ve done this four times before, but as I learned last year when I blogged about the experience every day during November, it never really gets any easier, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something (or is delusional). Still, I really didn’t need to reread No Plot? No Problem! I already know what I’m doing; I already feel confident I can complete the fantasy novel I’m planning for this year, but reading Baty’s book is just too much fun not to do it again.

I first read the book two years ago, and I was impressed then at his writing style. Considering that this is a man who started a writing revolution in 1999 based on the idea that writing a book requires more passion and intention than actual talent or ability, he certain has an ability for crafting words. But then again, maybe there’s a reason for that. In his book, Baty effectively argues that writing a book is the best way to learn to write a book, and, since conceiving NaNoWriMo in 1999, Baty has written thirteen rough drafts.

Over the course of October, I’ll write more about NaNoWriMo, but today it’s all about Baty’s instruction book.

For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s  30 days of exuberant novel-writing every November. What makes it so unique is not the 50,000 words or the time frame really. It’s that there’s a real chance of failure.

In his book, Baty points out that as adults we become so fearful of failure that we tend not to try new things. It was while reading this the other day that I realized how that fear of failure has affected how I treat others in the writing field.

I blame the writing books and articles I’ve read, which all — ALL — stress how nearly impossible it is to get published and how totally, perfect your book needs to be to attract any attention at all. With a roadblock like that barring our way to published authorship, it’s no wonder anyone who never has written a novel is terrified even to try. It’s also no wonder that in recent years I drew the conclusion that anyone who IS published must therefore be perfection incarnate.

Thus began the downward spiral into cynicism, when I began to notice that not all published books are all that good and that worse, not all published authors are all that good either. I became bitter. Mind you, I’ve never actually tried to publish a book. Until this past spring when I submitted a short story to a literary journal — and was accepted — I never tried submitting anything anywhere. I guess I assumed I wasn’t good enough yet. That didn’t stop me from berating — to whomever would listen — any writer I read whose work I considered imperfect. These weren’t the writers that the authors of writing instruction books mention, yet they’re still out there breaking into the all-but-impossible world of published fiction. So what are they doing right?

Maybe nothing. Maybe they’re just persistent. Or lucky. Or maybe all they really did was try something that most others are too afraid to try, because Heaven forbid trying and failing at something.

Says Baty, “The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy. Like most things associated with writing a novel in a month, this may not make a lot of sense on the surface. But there’s proven psychology behind it. Namely, the older we get, the more scared we are to try new things. Especially things that might make us look stupid in public.”

He goes on to explain that admittedly in our work lives we require competence, but during our free time, you’d think we would be more accepting of failure. Not so. “…what do we do when we have free time? The tried-and-true activities we’ve already perfected. Like talking on the phone. Or walking up and down stairs. Or getting drunk. The times we do actually make a point of stepping out of our normal routine, we tend to get flustered when we don’t get the hang of it right away.”

So get out there and try something, and if you fail? Well, there’s a reason for the old adage “try, try again.” Of course you’re going to fail. You’ll fail several times … until that time when you don’t fail. Until that time when you succeed. And until then, let us try to be easier on the novelists who did succeed, even if they aren’t perfect. Perfect writing doesn’t tell a great story. A great story tells a great story.

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