NaNoWriMo – Failure, or Secret Success?

I did not write 55,000 words on one book in November.

I do not feel bad about this at all. In fact, I think NaNoWriMo ended up being a great success for me. Let me walk you through why, with no rationalization on my part (I hope).

The book, ScapeGoat (whose name must die) lasted until mid-November, until I discovered I was writing it from the wrong perspective. The character needed to be in a different place in his life for the story I had in mind to work. His relationship with the second lead (good names for describing the functions of characters are hard to find) had to begin in a different way to evolve how I wanted it to evolve. So 7300 words are thrown out. I start the book again, and as of today have 74 pages, nearly 18.000 words completed. These are better words than the previous 7300.

I do not regret (entirely) the false start. Without it, I would not have the book I’m currently working on, and will finish. And I’ve learned a few things about how I like to write, and how I don’t.

Outlines = Happier Writer

I begin this book just the way I said I did, back in late October – no idea other than a very basic theme and genre. What I’m working on now conforms to both of those early parameters, kinda, but not slavishly. From that perspective, it’s a little disappointing since I very much wanted to write a horror novel the way horror novels were written when I was growing up – there’s a premise, there’s people what get frightened and killed by stuff, there’s a terrible climax that makes no real logical sense and is only there because the writer wrote himself into a corner and forgets that magical happenings with no precedence or preparation for the audience feel like cop-outs. I wanted all of this.

Instead, I’m writing something a little weirder than I wanted to, a little more occult, and maybe something a little more like what I’ve written before, which is disappointing to late October Kent. December Kent is quite happy with it, though. It proceeds at a decent clip. Some other human beings might want to read it someday.

Had I proceeded to write it without a deadline, I would have outlined much more extensively. My outlining work would have involved drawing lots of circles, and filling out pads of paper with notes. I do not like long blocks of text in outlines (that’s what the actual book writing is for). My outlining sheets look superficially like screenplays, with little jots of description and blocks of conversation. I didn’t do any of that for ScapeGoat. And so, 7300 words in, it was trashed. It may be that more stringent ahead of time outlining would have saved me the trouble of those words.

But it doesn’t matter. NaNoWriMo was a tool that I used to force myself to generate a story idea. It turns out to not be ideal for my style of work. Good to know. I could have forced myself to write about 4000 words a day (16 pages, generally) and finish the book on time. While entertaining family for Thanksgiving, while finishing term papers, while still trying to outline while I wrote. So I didn’t. Like I said, NaNoWriMo was a tool, and one that no longer fit the task I was attempting to perform.

I did not succeed at NaNoWriMo, but for me, NaNoWriMo was a success.

Intent

You can find yourself in the middle of a dialogue scene, just staring. There was a reason you started it, you know that. After all, the characters are there, where you put them. They have to do something. If they’re not going to kill each other or sleep with each other or play video games, then they might as well talk.

And maybe the first line contains a trenchant insight about how one character sees another. That’s followed by a rejoinder, all so clever you giggle to yourself and upset the cat. After a few of these, you peter it out, only a few lines have been written and your chapter ain’t over. And that is when you realize you’re just filling space. Nothing is being gained. No new information is being transferred. You’re not writing, you’re typing.

What is missing from your scene is intent. You need to have a reason beyond the mere fact that you are sitting in that chair, typing at that word processor, for your scene to exist. You need an intent. A specific intent – this scene must impart this information. This scene must reveal this about the character. Something specific has to happen in a scene, or it should go.

Aimless conversation is not “fleshing out the characters”. Endless description is not “setting the mood”. Details on how characters get in and out of vehicles, how they mix their drinks or what music they put on the iPod or what book is on their nightstand, unless they are revealing something very specific and meaningful about the character and story are not “developing the world”.

This is important, because it is the easiest thing in writing to get to a scene with some vague idea (I want my characters to talk) and then stumble around trying to reveal whatever it is you haven’t worked hard enough to figure out beforehand. It is the easiest way to make your writing at once too vague (so the audience can get through a scene without knowing why) and too direct (because once you stumble into the purpose of the scene, you’ll probably point it out, too – since you feel clever for figuring it out, and want everyone to know.)

Consider two pieces of writing advice, one you’ll doubtless have heard, one you might have not. The standard: Show, don’t tell. The less standard: “Let your audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.” That’s from Ernst Lubitsch, and is another way of saying the first.

Now, consider an episode from the first season of Lost (I’m assuming some familiarity with the characters.) Sawyer’s stash of stuff is ransacked by a boar, who also steals his tarp. Sawyer hunts down this boar, who manages to target him, specifically and maliciously, again and again, even peeing on his shirt. Midway through his hunt, Locke tells Sawyer about a golden retriever who visited his mother and stayed with her after his sister died.

There’s a fairly obvious connection here, as animals become objective correlatives for psychological wounds in the characters. In Sawyer’s flashback, we see how he is rooked into killing a man, under the impression that the target is his mother-seducing namesake.

The symbolism isn’t subtle (if symbolism is subtle, it usually doesn’t work.) The boar is Sawyer’s guilt, attacking him for his mistake. But this is never out and out stated in the show. Sawyer’s decision not to kill the boar is never described in a speech by any character as Sawyer coming to terms with his guilt. That’s there for you to figure out. You get to do that bit of math, and in that little bit of work you’re drawn further into the story, closer to the characters.

Or it flies over your head, and you think the whole thing is pointless. Or it’s too obvious, and you thing the whole thing is insipid. That’s the reward and danger of showing instead of telling. But you don’t have anything to show if you do not have a specific intent for your scenes, for your chapters, for your acts, for you books.

When you’re writing, you’re always saying something, or you’re saying nothing. Know what it is.

Today’s NaNoWriMo

2962 words (10226 total)

Yesterday was a bust, due to the problem I describe above – I had a scene I knew had to happen, but wasn’t quite sure what the meaning of the scene was. I hadn’t determined the intent, and so I had no message to convey. So yesterday’s work involved more outlining and ideation than writing. Hopefully, I now have a road map to get me to the end of the NaNoWriMo rainbow.

Today’s NaNoWriMo Writing Music: John Field’s Complete Nocturnes, and Hypnotic Underworld by Ghost

Day 13: Sometimes, You Don’t Write

It’s been more than a week since I’ve posted on here and more than a week since I wrote seriously on NaNoWriMo. The good news is I wrote more than the “Words Per Day To Finish” marker for the first time since starting. The bad news is I will have to do so again, like, every day from now to the end of November to win. And that’s hard.

My absence was not a loss of interest or from getting stuck in the book. I’m hardly far enough into this to get stuck. Other things in my life took precedence, and I could either half-ass both or do one well, then refocus on the other. Jumping back in is also a decent opportunity to discuss what to do when (and it happens all the time) you screw up, lose your vaunted momentum, and need to get back on track.

Ever Seeking Distraction

External and internal forces conspire against you when you’re writing a book. The external is everyone else in your life, human and animal, and occasionally the spirits (as in, two mornings ago the spirits decided to break my coffee maker, just on a whim). Writing looks just like goofing off to everyone who isn’t currently doing it (even other writers), and they are always sure you can just get back to it whenever. Most non-writers do not understand pre-writing rituals must be performed. Writing is anxious work, and you need to allay the anxieties and force away the internal recriminations that crop up, constantly, telling you not to bother. To everyone else, writing looks like tossing off an e-mail. So they know you’re available whenever they need you.

They would not be as understanding if you were constantly calling them away from performing surgery/typing in pieces of data/wondering why all the other idiots in their office don’t realize how dumb they are. That’s real work. The business of imagining is too much like play, and they need us to know it isn’t real work like they do. (Of course, they’re kind of right, but DO NOT let them know that!)

Internally, there is the self-doubt that the rituals are meant to allay. There is the inner assurance that you’re writing it wrong. That today’s not the day. That inspiration hasn’t struck, and by forcing it you are making it shy to come at all. These internal forces that try and knock you off your game, you need to be able to tell them all to go to hell. Even if, on some days, they’re right and everything you’re writing gets tossed out in the first read-through. You still need today’s terrible words before you can get to tomorrow’s adequacy, or the day after’s brilliance.

But even as we recognize these fumbling factors, we also know they’ll work, and get in our way. Kids and pets and parents and spouses get sick. Roofs collapse, and sausage goes bad after a few days in the fridge and sometimes writing cannot occur. What do you do then?

Suck it up. Start again, and don’t think about whatever your old goals were. If you have a soft deadline, hey, it just got softer! A hard deadline, then you change how much you write each day. Reset your goals, and forget the missing days. However stupid wasting them away might have been, thinking about it later is far, far stupider.

I use word count targets rather than time for my writing sessions. This is largely because I am deeply forgiving and sympathetic to myself, and so when I write one or two sentences and feel it is “enough” for the day, I just want to give me a hug and some soup, and nod. That way leads to unfinished books, so a taskmaster Kent has to set up quotas. According to the NaNoWriMo web page, I need to write 2375 words per day to finish the book on time. That’s about 9 pages a day, which is not fun. But I can do it, and so I do not stop for the day until I reach my quota. This, as I discussed earlier, is infinitely preferable to trying to catch up to all my “missed” pages, writing 60 or so pages in a day. This might be possible. It will certainly be exhausting even to try, wear me out and make it almost certain I will take some more days off soon. That’s a bad cycle. A little extra work per day, less bad.

Today’s NaNoWriMo:

2395 words (7264 total.) My tendency is to sit down, and write straight through until I’m done. Today, I found myself stuck in the middle of a conversation, so went to the whiteboard to try and structure it. I’ve never done that before. It got me to the end of the conversation, but I can’t be sure if what I wrote resembled at all the structure I used. In Dan Harmon’s articles, he floats the notion that the circles are fractal, and that the larger structure can be broken down into similar smaller structures, to the point where every action and reaction can be similarly outlined. Sounds tedious, but it helped me today to break through a previously pointless conversation.

Music for Today’s NaNoWriMo: Drag Me To Hell Soundtrack by Christopher Young.

Day 4: Edgar Wright, for an hour

I had originally titled this post “Edgar is a Welshman…” but, doing my journalistic due diligence, looked him up and found out I was wrong. Edgar Wright grew up in Wells, not Wales. Not Wales at all.

But one thing I am right about Wright is that he’s a fantastic director, and screenwriter, and he talked for an hour about his fantasticness here at the Chris Jones blog on film making.

It’s a lovely discussion, particularly is you’re as big a fan of Edgar Wright’s work (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) as I am. At about 35 – 40 minutes into the talk, he discussed his writing process, and in particular the way he uses screenwriting methods and books, taking what lessons he can from them but not slavishly following any formula. I found it intelligent, and enlightening. Perhaps other adjectives. Only time will tell.

More in-depth writing blog posting will commence, probably on Monday, when a couple of none-NaNo obligations will be taken care of.

TODAY’S WRITING

1007 words (4131 total.) Other obligations took their toll, and probably will until the aforementioned Monday. Maybe even Tuesday. It’s a mystery!

Today’s Writing Music: Prince of Darkness soundtrack. John Carpenter gets kinda ambitious (or kinda rips off Ennio Morricone’s own stylish rip-off of Carpenter’s style in The Thing. Either way, it’s pretty great.)

Day 3: Momentum and Arbitrary Limitations

I’d hoped to talk about characters today, but an allergic attack (a really wicked case of the sniffles) along with the medication I took to relieve it incapacitated me for most of the day. Character work takes coherence, and I have that in short supply. I still got some writing in, and wanted to talk about the importance of that – of not giving up for one day.

Momentum

Every writer is different. I get that. For some, the entire idea of NaNoWriMo cannot fit with their writing style, since they write in infrequent, incredibly prolific bursts. Once you know that is how you get your books done, there isn’t any real reason for trying to change it up.

The problem there is that it is easy to assume that is how you write, when it has nothing to do with reality. I have succumbed, again and again, to the idea that, with just the right amount of outlining and thinking ahead, I could put my head down and write a novel in a week of 10 hour sessions, outputting 40 to 60 pages a day. In fact, my most productive day of writing probably did result in 50 pages, the end of a 500 page fantasy novel.

Problem is, the novel is terrible. No one will ever see it, and I can’t for the life of me understand why I don’t send that Word file into digital oblivion. I may have some fantasy of being an author of some literary esteem, and at some point the subject of academic study. Some intrepid young researcher, given access to my files finds this fantasy novel. This is all posthumous, understand, after I have succumbed to a debilitating case of Awesomitis at the age of 352. He reads it. And concludes, “Wow, Kent wasn’t very good when he was 20. I’ve wasted my life studying him” and drops dead of Disappointerosis.

Where was I? Oh, 50 pages in a day. It is a dream because I would prefer to have finished whatever book I am writing now post-haste. I am not one of those who says he prefers “having written” to “writing”. I like writing fine. I just am far more interested in the next book than the one I’m writing at the moment, since every word I’ve put down in my current book is separating it from the perfect Platonic text in my head, while that future book has not been sullied by the vulgarization of putting it into words.

The fantasy of finishing whatever I’m working on at the moment quickly and efficiently is a dangerous one, because it sets up a feeling of disappointment: I set an unrealistic goal for myself, miss it, get discouraged. Or, worse, try to make it up the next day, which makes the task of writing unpleasant. The only thing that has worked for me (and to date I have completed 9 novels and about as many screenplays) is steady, day in and day out, work. The momentum and regularity of sitting down every day and eking out some scribbles is the only thing that gets the books done.

You may have a different way of working. But until you have proven so, assume you have to work every day. And assume that any day you have not worked is a day of work completely lost that you will not make up. Don’t try to make it up. Don’t worry to much about it. Just grab your lunch pail, head to your place of writing, and do what you can that day. Every day. Until you are done.

Arbitrary Limitations

Working without a net, without an editor, without any input from anybody else creates a wonderful freedom, and complete freedom means unlimited ways to suck. One of my tricks for fighting this freedom (which means, ultimately, fighting the blank page) is arbitrary limitations.

Mostly this comes in the form of pre-meditated structural choices. Like, number of chapters. With my NaNoWriMo book, today I decided that I wanted it to be 40 chapters long. My preference is for one chapter to be roughly one scene, so that means I am writing 40 scenes. 40 locations, 40 conflicts (at least), 40 THINGS THAT HAPPEN. If I’m following a four act structure (set-up, incident and reaction, action, resolution, to put it in almost uselessly succinct terms) that means about 10 chapters per act.

You can make up other arbitrary story limitations. Each act will take place in one location. I will have no more than four important characters. My book will begin in the summer, and end at the end of the school year. I will explore exactly 24 hours of one man’s life. One week, seven murders.

The problem with this way of writing is that it can appear to arrest any organic story-growing. It can feel, just looking at it, as bloodless, formulaic, and enervating. And for some, it may be. For me, it’s a battle plan. The white screen, the blank page, they are my enemies. I want to fight them with wonders and interests and amusements. But to do so, I need a strategy. Just throwing crap out there means I will get lost, and so will my audience, and I will lose them. The arbitrary limitation gives me a box I can fit my head around, and from there I can fight with a chance of winning.

Today’s Writing

862 words (3142 total.) I wish I could say other artistic obligations took me away from my writing, but, seriously, it was the sniffles. According to the NaNoWriMo site, I am on track to finish my book somewhere in the middle of December, but I expect once I’ve really finished my structural work (hopefully by the middle of next week) I will be in a position to write less fitfully. And if the damned air and trees of California’s central coast stop trying to kill me. It’s like The Happening here, but instead of trees making me commit suicide, I use a lot of tissues. And instead of Zooey Deschanel, I have two cats who wake me up at 4 in the morning, just ’cause.

Though I hear Zooey Deschanel is free now. Maybe she’d like my cats. And I’m way better than Mark Wahlberg.

Not better than Donnie, though. Nor the funky bunch. My medication is making me fuzzy.

Today’s Writing Music: Electric Wizard, again. This time, Witchcult Today. Every song on the album sounds almost exactly the same. And they all sound awesome.

Day 2: Circle

One of the great struggles I have had in my writing has been coming to terms with structure. It may not be a universal indignation, but when my screenwriting partner first introduced me to some of the standard notions of screenplay structure, I rebelled. It was ridiculous, I thought. Like capturing lightning. Acts? Inciting Incidents? No, story flows free from the artist and takes whatever shape it wills.

Which can be true. Just not, generally, in stories that anybody likes.

Structure

So I’ve come around. Various screenwriting treatises, and my own experience, have showed me that structure isn’t a crutch for creating a story, but rather the natural condition by which a story is recognized. Put generally enough, a story is where something happens that matters. And to make something matter, it requires preconditions and consequences.

That’s a basic, if confusing, way of looking at it. One of the best explainers of the way story works is Dan Harmon, creator of Community (the greatest show currently on TV) and original proprietor of Channel 101, where funny things used to happen. Maybe they still do, I haven’t paid attention.

Dan Harmon wrote a series of articles to help people making TV shows for Channel 101 do something coherent: stories that would satisfy the definition of story, even if it only took 5 minutes to tell. His articles are currently on the Channel 101 Wiki:

101. Basic Structure

102. Boring Theory

103. Simplification

104. Details (read this, if nothing else)

In these articles, Dan Harmon elucidates his distilled theory of story. It is also covered, quite briefly, in this article in Wired. Basically, story consists of 8 elements, which can be somewhat reductively termed:

You.Need.Go.Seek.Find.Take.Return.Change.

An individual (or group) needs to make a change in their environment (or is confronted with a change), reacts, confronts it, finds their old way of doing things or being is inadequate to this confrontation, so either they must change themselves, or die.

Luke Skywalker seeks out adventure, and after his Aunt and Uncle are killed goes questing with Obi Wan Kenobi, and can only blow up death stars after he trusts up the force*. Scott Pilgrim is happy with his no-touching high school girlfriend, until he sees Ramona, and likes her better. Then he has to fight all sorts of evil exes, and it isn’t until he’s really honest, and not a little puss, that he can deserve anyone. Bob Parr longs for the days when he was Mr. Incredible, and sneaks around on his family to relive past glory. This puts them in mortal danger, until he is ready to acknowledge he needs them just as much as he does his love for superheroing.

*It is almost de rigeur that Star Wars is used as the example for story structure in manuals and articles. It works, because it hits all the major points right on (except for having a prologue sequence, where we don’t meet our protagonist/main character for a pretty long time) but it is also a detriment, since it can create the mindset that these story structure ideas only apply to “Star Wars”-like stories, which isn’t the case at all. So, this is the last time I will use Star Wars as an example**. Promise.

 **Another note – this is NaNoWriMo. Shouldn’t I be using novels as my examples? No. Here’s why: Stephen King once noted, and I think he was right, that the least watched movie of his stories was probably seen by more people than read his most popular book. Now, this was before Night Flyer came out, but the point stands: the chance of you good people having seen a movie I mention is much greater than you having read a book that I have. Case in point: I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code. So, Da Vinci Code examples mean little to me. I’m sticking to celluloid. And story structure is generally constant, transcending medium.

Basic. The things that make them the stories they are. NONE OF IT IS ENOUGH. But without these bare parts, the stories don’t really exist.

So, today, before I did my writing, I slapped up a circle on the dry erase board, stood, and thought. I filled it out mostly in order, though there is no reason to think that that’s any better than jumping around. In fact, filling out the end is probably helpful to figuring out the beginning – where your main character (who, by the way, does not NEED to be your protagonist – more on that later) ends up can tell you where he came from.

Dan Harmon argues that the circle is not an imposition on story, but rather, without these bare elements, you have something else. Not a story. This is what you need to make something that will satisfy an audience. Narrative. Cause and effect.

There’s a million other places to read about story structure. Vogler. McKee. Story Engineering by Brooks, which I mentioned yesterday, has the lion’s share of its content applying the concepts of screenwriting structure to novels, and we’ll definitely be revisiting more of his ideas. Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat books also figure highly in my structure considerations, particularly with his mostly really useful (except when it isn’t) beat sheet. But the simplest, and perhaps most useful tool for creating story (and that’s the point of these tools – not analysis, but making something new) is the Harmon Circle.

Here’s how I use it.

First, I take the circle and fill it out piece by piece. In “You”, I do not just write my main character’s name, but who he is. I say “Scott Pilgrim”, you get nothing. I say, “Scott Pilgrim, unemployed bass player who just started dating a high schooler” and you know something about this guy. Not “Woody”, but “Woody, a wooden cowboy doll and Andy’s favorite toy.”

I move down the circle. Need = what does this character have to change, or react to? Scott Pilgrim gets infatuated with Ramona Flowers. Woody’s happy home is disturbed by the encroachment of Buzz Lightyear.

On the circle for my current book, my main character, Malcolm Weeks (name subject to change) was rescued from a cult in his youth and has grown up to be an exit counselor, helping other people extricate themselves from the same situation. In the “Need” section, he is working on rescuing a young woman from out of the clutches of a cult leader he only knows as Woodman. So I know what my first “act” will consist of in terms of conflict.

Move down the rest of the circle, and fit in brief concepts that coordinate to the elements represented. Just enough detail that it demonstrates movement in the story. Just like the premise, the completed circle should be filled with seeds from which the details of the story can grow.

Tomorrow, we’ll brief on characters, then continue discussing outlining, including beat sheets, inciting incidents, and whether outlines, once written, are best ignored.

Today’s Writing

1683 words (2262 total.) Finished the first chapter. I’ll be discussing chapter length later (sneak preview: James Patterson did not invent short chapters. How’s that for insight?) as well as how I’m titling my chapters. And titles. Gosh, a lot goes into the creation of a book.

What I’m still missing is a complete outline, though I have my circle, and know now how my story will end, more or less. Spoilers: a lot of the stuff I dismissed out of hand yesterday in my premise work has wormed its way back into my story. But I’m still short on characters (I made a list today, which I’ll be talking about in the next couple of days.) And I’ve made the decision my main character is not the story’s protagonist, which makes everything more complicated.

Today’s Writing Soundtrack: Electric Wizard, We Live. Sludgy, devilish sludginess. With a touch of sludge on the side.

Day 1: The Premise

A book has to have a premise*. There has to be a generalized, streamlined description of what the book is about in the writer’s own mind before they can really start writing with intent. This means that whatever wonderful nebulous idea you have at the start will be made concrete, and almost always disappointing compared to the feeling you had about it, when it was nascent and full of potential. This is normal.

*There will almost certainly be exceptions to every ‘rule’ I cite throughout this long and winding trip to the end of November. Let this be the one time I have to acknowledge this. We will be speaking largely in generalities about the novel writing process, or more accurately, my novel writing process. There are nine and sixty ways of doing anything, but pointing that out is not an argument, isn’t interesting.

Not only is this normal, but with every word you write, you are creating more and more limitations on your story, your world, your novel. For a commercial piece of fiction that is intended to have an internal logic, this means every choice you make narrows the field of subsequent choices in front of you. The trick is to work from a premise that offers enough choice to make these limitations interesting.

The Premise 

A premise is different from an idea. A precise explanation of premise that has helped to focus my own thinking is found in Larry Brooks’ http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/story-engineering. He also describes the difference between an idea, a concept and a premise here: http://storyfix.com/it%E2%80%99s-free-tip-sunday

I use some of these basic ideas when constructing the initial premise for my novels. I usually iterate, and end up with a log line, but that takes time, and I don’t have that today.  For all these steps, I use my dry erase board. First, I list my ideas:

If you cannot read my handwriting, that says “devil worshippers”, “cult”, “one man against.” You’d be forgiven if you assumed it doesn’t look like much. At this point, it isn’t. The next step takes these meager ingredients, and pulls their flavors out. Cooks them.

I do this by thinking about what the terms actually mean, apart from my initial reactions to them, and how they would work in a story. What does it mean to be a devil worshipper? Will this cult be my heroes, or villains? I turn the ideas around in my head, until I can form questions about them.

Usually I find multiple questions, that evolve until they become something moderately interesting. Here, after 30 minutes of stomping around my house and looking at my cats, is the question that occurred to me for this book:

What if one man were the perfect sacrifice for multiple cults?

Sounds like a decently crappy premise for a highly misguided Marx Brothers movie. This question says hijinks, not horrors. It should be erased from the board, and forgotten forever.

Except there’s something in it I like. Now, I could go on with this question (which, in Brooks’ terms, would be a “concept”) and completely change the kind of book I’m writing. Maybe a satire, where some guy is selling his sacrificeable qualities on eBay to the highest bidding cultist, but some do-gooders buy him and hold onto him to keep him from ending the world in blood and terror at all. Kill joys.

Somebody could, maybe, find something amusing in that premise. It seems kind of boring to me, so I want to modify my concept until it is more suitably horrific. Less overtly fun. But I like the idea of the perfect sacrifice. Maybe somebody bred to be killed, but who is rescued or escapes. That could be backstory, and my novel takes place 20 years later. So I take this part of a premise, and plug it into something more. I add a character to a concept:

Hero Everyman, raised to be the perfect sacrifice, must go back to the cult he escaped to find a twin sister he never knew he had.

This sentence contains enough catalysts to create something that could crystallize into an  actual, factual novel. There’s a character, with a backstory which would create an attitude, and a conflict with a goal. From these little seeds, all the aspects of a novel can grow. There are innumerable questions left to answer: why in the world would he care about finding some twin sister he never knew? Why wasn’t she just as perfect a sacrifice as he, and how did this cult survive this long, if they were a kid-killing crew? Answering these questions, you create your story.

It so happens I don’t find those questions, or this premise, particularly interesting. But they are the first major step in the premise I will eventually use…

Which isn’t done yet.

Today’s Writing

579 words, two pages, in which I introduce my main characters, and give them names that will almost certainly not survive to the end of the first draft. I’m flying semi-blind, without even a complete premise, with the barest of backstory. Which is why I could only do two pages, and those are probably going to be massively rewritten.

This first week will probably be the slowest, as I create the barebones outline that will serve as my blueprint, and determine the form I will use. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the first stages of the outlining process as I go through it, and how many different paradigms exist… which might all be pointing to the same thing.

Today’s Writing Soundtrack: Lord of Illusions soundtrack. (***NERD***)