NaNoWriMo abridged

While experiencing the busiest autumn in recent memory, I decided not to do NaNoWriMo.

It’s strange how guilty I felt about that decision. Though my reasoning was 100% based on health and sanity, I was still disappointed in myself. It’s ridiculous, because unless I gave up sleep and exercise altogether, I was not going to be successful in the first ten days of NaNoWriMo. I had three galas within a week (including one I helped plan) and the launch of several big projects at work.

But still… I like participating. I like carving out a more-than-average amount of time for writing. I like seeing what ungainly monster emerges in the rush and bustle of 1600 words per day. So now that the blaze of obligation has chilled in anticipation of winter, I’m committing to an abridged version.  On November 15, I’ll be having my own, half-sized NaNoWriMo journey. Same number of  words-per-day, just for half the time.

Happy November, friends.

Breakthroughs; or, the self-imposed task of building a unified fictional universe

Yo. Remember when I finished a first draft of that NaNoWriMo experiment-turned-serious project? That was a while ago. Maybe two whiles.

I put it away for a few months, and when I got around to reading it through with my editor hat on (man I wish I had an actual editor hat…) my biggest problem was pretty evident. The story is too complicated. Actually, to be accurate, the magical rules governing the universe are muddled and convoluted, and that informs the history, choices, and motivations of a number of my characters. Pretty much all of them.

So last week I set up camp in a local bookstore, drowned out the surrounding humanity with Songza’s “Acoustic versions of pop songs” playlist, opened up a brand-spanking new notebook, and set myself to the task of simplifying (or at the very least articulately defining) the key magical rules that govern the universe of my story.

Since I have a couple other faerie-based novels on the go, one of my supplemental goals was to create a universe that makes sense for all of these stories. I doubt they will ever overlap, but why not leave the option open?

I made a lot of progress on bookstore day (which basically meant I did some really dedicated staring off into the middle distance with some occasional scribbled pages of questions and all-caps major points), and since then I’ve been working to apply the “rules” to Mira’s story. By the way, Mira’s story is what I’m calling that NaNoWriMo-turned-first draft. I think I’ve called it Sea or The Nereid in other posts, but this feels more natural. I don’t want to give it a title until it has a title, if that makes sense.

Over the weekend I stewed on the issues that my new magical universe was causing (among them, the motivation of my main antagonist), and when I decided to have a wee brainstorming sesh over my lunch hour at work yesterday, the solutions were waiting for me. And I was right, fixing and defining the magical rules will improve everything else.

There are still some smaller issues to reason out, but I’m looking forward to re-writing for draft number two.

Well, I will look forward to it, after I finally decide if I’m going to change perspective of the story.

Dammit.

S.E. Lund

P.S. If I had an editor hat it would look like this:

Victorian riding hat

NaNoWriMo “fail,” Toronto inspiration, and other news

Hello dearest readers,

Hey, remember that time that it was November, and I committed to NaNoWriMo without a plot?

… apparently that doesn’t work for me. I didn’t “win” this, my second year of attempting, but I did learn that I shouldn’t try for NaNoWriMo on a whim.

This last month was not as productive as one would hope, writing wise. I wrote maybe 20,000 words on my NaNo project, but stalled due to 1) an awesome vacation to Florida and 2) the busiest work month I’ve ever had. I’m not using these things as excuses (especially not the vacation, on which I certainly could have written more), but working half again as many hours as I typically do certainly demanded that some part of my schedule be sacrificed. For my brain’s sake, I let it be the writing.

Why was I so busy at work? I was put on a national project  that was all kinds of neato. It centered on innovation,  and I was working with the kickassiest team imaginable. At the end of November I was even sent to Toronto to help out on the day of (and days leading up to) the big event. It was tremendous. Toronto and I have a much better relationship than before: I got to see one of my best girls in the world (and eat much Korean BBQ with her); I fell in love with the people with whom I got to work; I even enjoyed the Toronto vibe — after I had thoroughly mocked the lack of cold weather hardiness in the very non-Prairies people. Picture me, scampering down the street, jacket open, smiling up at the medium grey sky, breathing in the cool breezes. Now picture others, Canada Goose jackets zipped to the neck, scowls and shivers as adornment, squinting eyes braced against the buffeting winds. They thought I was peculiar, but I hope there was a charm to it.

I really enjoy going somewhere new. Though I’d been to Toronto before, it was never as an adult and never on my own. It’s a small kind of exploration, but I enjoyed finding my way down the city streets, trying to make up shortcuts through the downtown buildings (with limited success — my sense of direction is comically bad), absorbing the emotional atmosphere of the place.

I feel like I could write it now – the feel of downtown Toronto – much better than I would have with my teenaged, chaperoned memory of the place. But I will not. Instead, I want to write characters. ‘Cause boy did I meet some.

#SuperShortStory

Once a month, Dictionary.com challenges its followers to write a #SuperShortStory in less than 140 characters using its word of the day. I participated in the June 30 challenge and I WON! Free iPod for me and a wonderful surprise on Canada’s birthday.

The word of the day was rident, which means laughing, smiling, cheerful.

Here is my submission:

“You’ve puzzled out the greatest secret of our existence! Where is your joy, your rident expression?” “With my innocence.”

Okay… it’s a bit dramatic, but my triumph will not be contained.

Later, readers.

Organization, multi-level lists, and the numbers of editing

Hello dear readers.

Shall I express my sincere apologies for posting nothing but writing prompts for the last number of weeks? I shan’t, for I was deep within a story that demanded every moment of focus and creativity, and I happily neglected this blog. The Nereid is the story that emerged from the rough, disorganized, hopelessly bland mass of words I squished out of my mind from NaNoWriMo 2013. In all honesty, I had intended to pick it up again in January… but when I read it through I could not mentally traverse the leagues of work that remained to be done to salvage it.

Then, about a month ago, something clicked. And then something else clicked. Then things were clicking all over the place, like being surrounded by people cracking their knuckles (except, you know, in a pleasant and productive kind of way…), and I was able to move forward on the project.

The greatest issue I was having with my story was how it would be told through time. My draft was a hodge-podge of different techniques.

Inspired by my new job, which at times requires me to format hundred-page, multi-level documents, I did a timeline of my story – from the beginning of time until a generation past its “conclusion” – and assigned each level of the story a number.

For example (not actually the plot of The Nereid):

Part 1: Pre-history of the protagonist
Timeline: 2002-2027
Section 1.1: Protagonist has an accident-prone childhood
Chapter 1.1.1: Protagonist falls down the stairs
Chapter 1.1.2: Protagonist gets hit by a car
Chapter 1.1.3: Protagonist gets hit by a meteor
Section 1.2: Protagonist has a period of incredibly graceful teenage years
Chapter 1.2.1: Protagonist is forced to take dance lessons in high school gym class, and has natural talent
Chapter 1.2.2: Protagonist auditions for a reality dance show
Part 2:  Main body of the story
Timeline: 2027-2034

When I created a timeline for my story, I listed the general plot points that coordinated with each Part, Section, and Chapter in increasing detail. Then, where applicable, I pasted any corresponding parts of my NaNoWriMo draft in the appropriate chapter.

This was an incredibly useful process that I’ve never used before. This multi-level timeline allowed me to see the progression of events from the first moment to the last, assess where my plot was fuzzy or inconsistent, see the places in the story where I have opportunities for character and plot development, and – perhaps most importantly – get a good sense of how much work there still is to do. But my favourite thing about working in these numbered portions is how simple it is to manage my master file. Believe me. It’s a dream.

Until next time, readers.