Monday, October 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo and Speed Chess

Jacques Congress Chess Clock  c.1905
Halloween is Wednesday, but my big trick will be NaNoWriMo this year.  If you are reading a writing blog, I'm sure you are familiar with the tradition of writing 50,000 words in the month of November.  I'm not a very prolific writer.  I eek out every sentence that goes onto the page.  Then I revise over and over and over.  Then I move on to the next sentence. 

In many ways, NaNoWriMo is a little like speed chess.  Skill and time are both parts of the strategy.  In speed chess you've got different amounts of time per turn, depending on the type of speed chess.  The most common is the 30-second round, but some rules have the rounds as quick as 5-seconds for Blitz Chess.

Basically there are two high level ways of making decisions; intuition and deep thought. Deep thought is all about thinking many moves ahead and forming your strategy.  Intuition is the snap decisions you make. 

In NaNoWriMo where you are writing 1500+ words a day and in Blitz Chess where you make your move in less than 5 seconds, you've obviously given less time for deep thought and much rely more and more on intuition. 

Studies have actually shown that professional level chess players do not benefit from longer rounds and actually perform just as well at fast rounds.  But, if the intuition hasn't developed yet in the case of beginner or intermediate player, the speed does cause them to suffer. The more advanced a player, the better the intuition and less need for deep thought.  Studies have suggested that this is because the players have internalized the strategy and sub-consciously notice patterns in the board.  It's not an ingrained intuition, but one honed from years of practice.

At the same time, prolonged practice of speed chess can negativity impact the game, training the player to not use deep thought and rely more on intuition.  And for those intermediate and beginner players, occasionally practicing at speed chess helps them not overt-think and trains them to react to the patterns.

So basically, advanced players don't need the long time to thing, but can get lazy if they only use short time.  Beginner and intermediate players do need the longer time to think, but practicing at a quick time can help their overall game.

To bring this back around to NaNoWriMo, these lightning rounds of tens of thousands of words per week can help us intermediate and beginner writers but would not be a good idea to do month over month.  For the advanced writers, it won't be as hard to pump out a novel in a month, but don't do it all the time.

Maybe NaNoWriMo isn't to produce a novel, but to get better at producing novels.  It's meant to teach you how to trust your intuition as a writer and to stretch the ways you work and the ways you make a novel.

Any thoughts out there about what NaNo helps with?  Is it just to say "yey, I did it" (which is a big thing by itself) or does it have more craft-honing implications?


Friday, October 5, 2012

Finding the Ordinary to be Thrilling

I stumbled across a blog earlier today, The High Heeled Physicist, and she had a great quote.
You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.  -Andy Warhol
I tried to decide if this would be a better prompt for my New Fashioned Housewife Blog or my writing blog and I decided this blog because finding something thrilling in the ordinary is what art is all about.  For those of us whose medium is the written word, it's even more important.  We dig into the relationships and nuances that define us as humans and expose it as a tangled, messed-up, beautiful reality. We take what might be boring or mundane and point out what's amazing about it.  We capture smells, touch, sounds.  We note and record what others have been trained to trample over.

I'm not talking just about the literary fiction genre or rambling on and on about the beauty in a blade of grass (although that might make for an interesting poem).  I'm talking about noticing the special but overlooked details.  I'm talking about looking through the eyes of someone else and seeing what they would see.  Noticing what they would notice.  Finding a hidden truth in something small.

The fantasy writer places these things in a made-up world.  This highlights even more what might be ordinary because everything is extra-ordinary.  The mystery writer shows us nuances in clues.  The horror writer really digs into our senses, finding those tiny details to place us in the middle of the terror.  The writer of history shows us an old world through new eyes.  In all writing, it's through exposing a few common details in thrilling new turns of phrases and perceptions that makes our writing come alive.

What is something that's ordinarily boring that thrills you?  What thrills your characters? 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why I Write

I read an interesting post on Purdie Writing about why she writes and it made me think a little about why I write.

Because I always have- Ever since I was a little kid I've been making up stories.  I remember crafting these complicated stories and then getting my friends to act it out.  It was basically long-form prompted dramatic improv.  There were a few primary story lines that we'd do again and again, some fully made up and others based on Grimms Brothers Tales.  I also invented two to three ghost stories around Halloween each year and had a story or two that I was telling to my sister.  I completed my first novel when I was fourteen.  I wrote various short stories and I have several journals full of writings.  I have to write.  It's just too integral a part of me.
Creative outlet- This is my primary reason for writing.  It's an outlet.  There is a zone that I get into when the words just seem to flow.  I like writing.  I'm very lucky that I am able to just spend time doing something that I like.  Maybe it's a little selfish, but it's fun :)

It's hard- I've got to worry about characterization, pacing, description, plot, themes... Sometimes I know an outcome that needs to happen and it's like a maze of emotions, actions and motivations to get my characters to the end point (or I learn that it's not an endpoint that my characters would or could get themselves into.)  Sometimes I delete weeks worth of work because it just won't fit.  Most of you are writers.  You know that it's not easy. 

I love books- I enjoy the novel as an art form.  Writing allows me to understand more about what I read and why I like what I like.  Also, I want to "give back" to the reading community.  I was one of those kids who always had a book in my hand.  I'd go through hundreds of books a year.  I even read the whole series of encyclopedias that my family had.

It's a legitimate way to play pretend and daydream- I get to be that little kid in the backyard again, coming up with stories and inventing characters.  It's active escapism.  I'm not Lauren anymore; I'm Hailey, I'm Altis, I'm Nazarie, I'm Lydia, I'm a thousand different people.  I get to play with dragons, dance with daggers, eat food that doesn't even exist.  And I'm writing so people don't call me crazy.

I want to get published- There is a reason this is last.  I would like to get published.  I want to go into a book store and see my book on the shelf.  Maybe that's only to justify the hours I spend on my writing, but I also think it's to validate my writing.

Why do you write? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Is This a Novel?

Last time I spoke about the excitement of getting started on the next bright idea.  But, how can you be so sure that idea is a novel?

First, what is the difference between a novel, a novella and a short story.  Most obviously, it's the word count.  A novel is around 75-110k (thousand words).  A novella is around 45k and a short story is around 3-8k.  Of course there are exceptions and different sub-genres have their target length.  The whole length thing is quite a big debate and stress point for a bunch of writers.  But, whatever, generally, this is what "they" are looking for.

So, is word count all that separates a short story from a full-length novel? 


But, it's not just any words, it's having good words.  You can't just type "the" 80,000 times and claim you turned a 3,000 word short story into a 83,000 word novel.  You can't add fluff.  You can't send your character on some random tangent for a few ten thousand words.  You've got to fully use and leverage each of those words to be part of a compelling story.

Easier said than done.

So, what CAN you do if your novel is too short?
Add a subplot.
Do your other characters have their own challenges that complement your main plot?  Maybe your character is dealing with a miscarriage.  Possibly her sister could be dealing with a child that got diagnosed with a learning disability.  This compliments the issues that your character is going through and can add an extra level of drama.  "Why are you so upset that your kid has Autistm?  Mine is dead!" 

Maybe it's not the end
I know that my next great idea will be in novel form.  But I'm not sure if it's long enough.  If it's not then, I'll just have my current end goal be an intermediary goal.  Worst case, I've got a happy middle with a nice act 1 or act 2 resolution and can introduce new and exciting complications.  So, ask yourself...what next?  But, the pacing does dictate that the "what next" be even bigger, more important and more difficult than the first part.  The reader has to want to keep reading.

Add plot layers
We all have tons of stuff going on in our lives.  So should our characters.  A romance is always a fun option for a plot layer.  In my WiP, my character is a widow who is still working through the loss of her husband so that isn't a good plot layer for me.  But, it might be a good subplot.  Maybe her son has a girlfriend.

Add complications
Your character has a goal, but what are some set backs he or she can face.  You can add some to the main plot or to one of the sub-plots.  Just make sure that your main plot stays main.  The complication must be directly impacting the main plot or one of the important sub-plots.

Admit that maybe its not a novel
Writing a novella or a short story might not be as marketable in today's market, but it's still something.  Enjoy what you've written and what you've achieved.  This might be the hardest of all my suggestions.  Each piece of work is special and took a ton of your creativity and energy.  Don't try to make it something that it is not.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Getting Started on the Next Bright Idea

I've gotten to the point in my current WiP that I'm ready to send it to agents.  I've revised and revised and revised again.  It's gone from useful, actual changes to a compulsion.

So, I've decided that it's time for a new WiP. 

I've not started a new project in years.  I'm really excited about this one.  I got the idea after speaking with a co-worker about his time in a refugee camp in Turkey when he was a teenager.  He was a refugee, not a volunteer.  That little nugget spun off in a totally different direction.  I do write fantasy.  But, I think it's a fresh premise.  I won't share the premise with you as the full plot is still percolating.  I will say that it's a steam-punk fantasy about a widowed mother who is trying to keep her family alive. 

Honestly, finding the idea was not the hard part.  Picking which idea to pursue was.  I'm not one of those writers who can work on several novels at the same time.  I've got to dig in and figure out what's going on with my characters.  What do the good guys want?  Why do the villains want to stop them?  What's their world like?  Why do the characters care?  I'm just driven to answer all these questions and more.

The new project isn't the fun idea, it's all the twists and turns inside it.  It's meeting all these new characters, pushing them to their limits, hearing their snappy dialog.  That's what has me all excited!

What gets you excited about your new projects?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Dreaded Query

So, I stopped blogging.  

That's pretty obvious when you look at this post's timestamp and the post before this one.  

I did not stop writing. 

Why did I stop blogging?  I felt that I kept making goals and not hitting them.  I felt like I was talking about being a writer, but had no finished novel.  I promised myself that I would not blog again until the whole submissions process was ready to go.  I started and then finished a new project.  I revised and revised and revised some more.  Then I found a nice friendly batch of beta readers who read my WiP and gave comments.  

Then I revised some more.

Now my manuscript is ready to go out to the world of agents...  But I have to take my 90,000 word masterpiece and condense it to a couple paragraph query letter.  God, this is scary.

Hailey Troubare had planned on being a Scholar, but when the Edge of the World begins to crumble she must swap books for daggers to battle political intrigue, her family, her lover and the gods themselves in order to save her planet.
Hailey’s mentor is murdered, but the authorities blame his death on old age.  Hailey investigates and uncovers a clandestine organization concealing a prophecy that could eradicate the Edge.  Unfortunately, the prophecy would also release a creature so evil that even the gods fear it.  Hailey believes that saving her world is worth risking the rest of the universe.  Others, including the father of her unborn child, disagree.  Civil war ensues.  Hailey fights against heartbreak, archaic prophecies and sword-wielding mages all while knowing that even if she succeeds, she'll likely lose her life.
I have been writing creatively for my own enjoyment since I could pick up a pencil. I have my BA in Mathematics from Roosevelt University and work in Chicago as a Director of Development in a web software company.
Complete at 90,000 words, PROPHECY’S PROMISE is a first-person fantasy.  The full manuscript is available upon request.

Two questions:
1) Any thoughts on the query?
2) For those of you who have published, how many agents did it take?

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