Inspiration and my Favorite NaNoWriMo Pep Talks!

Marie Lan Nguyen

If you’ve found this page in my blog then you’ve likely already made the decision to join NaNoWriMo and write a novel in November.  (Thank God!  I don’t want to be alone in this!) 

Seriously though, I really believe that everybody has a story to tell.  I’ve met so many people who tell wonderful stories but most have never bothered to put them down in writing, like my father, and it’s really hard to write someone else’s stories down for them.

How you tell that story is up to you. I also very firmly believe in NaNo Rebels – write poetry, a memoir, short stories, a script, whatever you fancy, just write those words down.

For some of us, writing is what we we felt we were always meant to do for the rest of our lives, but that isn’t necessary to NaNoWriMo.  It’s okay if you’re doing this because you want to get your memoir down or just want to give it a try. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, or a right or wrong reason for doing it.

It doesn’t matter whether the manuscript ever sees the light of day, just joining us on this endeavor is going to put you in touch with your creativity in a way you’ve never experienced before. 

There have been quite a few official NaNoWriMo “Pep Talks” over the last six years.  Sadly they are not all created equal.  Some ramble, some need editing, and some have really good advice.  The advice can be useful but when I want a pep talk, I want a PEP talk! I’ve been making a list of my personal favorites.

(2009 was a short list but the two I chose are some of the funniest I’ve read.)

Obviously, the best inspiration comes from reading material that directly relates to your novel in November. For me, I’ll be looking at articles and books, pro and con on GMOs, that inform my fiction. I’ll also be watching movies that are in the same genre I am writing. 

(Where will you glean inspiration from? Please take a minute to comment and share!)

Whether you’re getting ready for Nano and want to procrastinate a bit, are looking for some much needed encouragement or want to bookmark this page to pop back in when you’re two weeks under way and feel like you’re foundering, here they are – my favorite pep talks in all of Nano land.

2007

Author – Neil Gaiman

Favorite line –You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.” Sounds SO cheerful, doesn’t it?

Link –  http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/neil-gaiman

Author – Sue Grafton

Favorite line –Perhaps you’re suddenly uncertain your immediate family will appreciate your rendition of their annual drunken Christmas antics that result in all those accusations, renunciations, and slamming of doors. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/sue-grafton

Author – Sara Gruen 

Favorite line –But today, I am going to jump around and write only the fun bits! I’m going to write about food fights, and disastrous sex, and escaping in-laws, and apes with unlimited credit! “

Linkhttp://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/sara-gruen

2008

 Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line –November 16: The second half of NaNoWriMo dawns. Writerly confidence builds. Your book comes to life, and characters start doing interesting, unexpected things. Nice. Weird.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2008

Author – Meg Cabot

Favorite Line –But how long until some other story idea comes along and twitches its enticing little characters at you, and you decide to abandon this new one for it? How many words will you have then?”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/meg-cabot

Author – Janet Fitch

Favorite Line –When in doubt, make trouble for your character. Don’t let her stand on the edge of the pool, dipping her toe. Come up behind her and give her a good hard shove. “

Linkhttp://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/janet-fitch

Author – Jonathan Stroud

Favorite Line – “This wasn’t the moment for genteel self-editing. This was the time when the novel had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into existence, and that meant piling up the pages.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/jonathan-stroud

2009

Author – Maureen Johnson

Favorite Line – “What’s nice about NaNoWriMo is that you are traveling with a posse of thousands, all of you making your way over the mountains, through the valleys, across the creeks. You are fighting off the beasties.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/maureen-johnson

Author – Gail Carson Levine

Favorite Line – “My techy friend spent hours tinkering with my computer. She’s assured me that it will combust if I try to reestablish connections to the internet and email. The single thing I’m keeping is my cell phone in case I start to go into cardiac arrest, but the keys are smeared with battery acid, except the 9, the 1, and send. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/gail-carson-levine

2010

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “Incite change. If your story is losing momentum, juice it up by inflicting some major changes on your characters. Crash the spaceship. End the marriage. Buy the monkey. Change is scary because we have to figure out what comes next. But feeling afraid is ten times better than feeling bored, and your book will benefit from your risk-taking.”

Link – http://http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2010

Author – Lindsey Grant

Favorite Line – “All together, let’s laugh in exultation at our total domination!/ MuahaHAHA!/Now let’s go do some writing.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lindsey-grant-2010

Author – Holly Black

Favorite Line –There aren’t good books and bad books. There are finished books and books that still need more work. Please don’t let wondering if there’s a market for your book or wondering if the book you’re writing is genius or evidence that you should be heavily medicated get in the way of the writing. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/holly-black

Author – Lemony Snicket

Favorite Line – “Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lemony-snicket

2011

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “Sadly, the older we get, the harder it is to find time to visit these wild places within. Between school, work, and family, the days just get away from us. There might be an hour of writing here or a few minutes of dreaming there, but it’s usually sandwiched between tasks and errands. The roar of that creative ocean becomes a distant sound that occasionally drifts in through our windows at night, reminding us of a place we once loved, and keep meaning to get back to./ But you know what?/ This November, we’re going to the ocean.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2011

Author – Rachael Herron

Favorite Line – “Every day I white-knuckled it, and on November 30th, I wrote my 50,006th word. The words The and End were two of those. After a few months of lying in dark rooms recovering, I picked it back up and gave it a real ending. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/rachael-herron

Author – Erin Morgenstern

Favorite Line – “I want to mix you each the beverages of your choice, cocktails or sodas or tea or foam-topped espresso drinks that all magically maintain perfect drinking temperature. Bring you truffles or tira misu or chocolate-covered popcorn and give you wrist massages while whispering these encouraging, fortune-cookie bits of wisdom-esque whatnot garnered in my years of NaNo-ing”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/erin-morgenstern

Author – Lani Diane Rich

Favorite Line – “You’re not signing up for this challenge because you want to type a lot in November./ You’re doing it because you have a story to tell, and that’s a big deal.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lani-diane-rich

2012

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “…we’ve realized the whole “fair fight” thing was a dumb idea, and partly because we blew all of our harassment budget on yesterday’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to crash every word processor in Manitoba.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2012

Author – Grant Faulkner

Favorite Line – “It resembles a canvas that a gaggle of preschoolers are fingerpainting on together. Then, while the teacher isn’t looking, the ornery little devils find a box of feathers, glitter, Cheerios, pasta shells, and they toss it all into the mix.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/grant-faulkner

Author – Marissa Meyer

Favorite Line – “The trick to landing an excellently unexpected insertion is to not go with the first idea that pops into your head—too often, that is the domain of clichés and the all-too-expected. Rather, try making a list of at least twenty things you would enjoy writing about right now. It doesn’t matter if it has anything to do with what you’ve written so far (you can always drop in some nice foreshadowing during revisions), and the whole point is that you’re about to insert something fun, unique, and exciting into this draft.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/scott-westerfeld

Author – Scott Westerfeld

Favorite Line – “Make a list of all the varieties of aliens you can come up with. (And if it’s less than 3,000, then THE PEARS ARE LAUGHING AT YOU, MY FRIEND.)”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/scott-westerfeld

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Building a Better, Smarter, Faster NaNoWriMo

Biohazard_orange

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a number of times over the years, under a few different names.  For the past few I’ve done it under MeloraJohnson. (Feel free to add me as a friend!) My novel is Biomalware.

“In the near future a new line of disease and pest resistant genetically modified crops is being aggressively marketed, claiming to bring an end to world hunger.  As biodiversity dwindles, menacing secrets lurk beneath the perfectly red tomatoes and ultra-sweet corn. But for many, these crops aren’t food at all.  They are… Biomalware.

As I mentally prepared for this November, I started thinking about the past few attempts.  What have I learned from the numerous runs at NaNoWriMo?  A few things.

Four years ago I started writing a novel about a girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and NaNo got interrupted when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant around the seventh or so of the month.  (Yeah, one of these days I’m going to write a novel about a woman who wins a giant lottery jackpot.)

That time I learned that life can get in the way, if you let it.  There was really no reason for me to stop writing other than the fact that I was tired.  I could have kept writing, maybe not with a view to winning, but to get the most out of it that I could.  As Garrison Keillor says, “Nothing bad happens to a writer, it’s all material.” I let life get in the way. Now, I really wish I’d at least kept a journal of that time.

Last year I tried picking a different prompt every single day to see how far I could get on any particular day and if I could generate some solid short stories or story ideas.  I found myself focusing on one particular idea for about a quarter of the time.  What have I done with that idea since? Forgot about it, until this very paragraph. (It was actually a decent idea about time travel that I may have to dig out.  Strangely enough, our writer’s group prompt for this coming week is time travel.  Maybe I can turn it into a short story. Now, where did I put it?) I may do this again in the future, but with a plan, the prompts chosen and a filing system so I don’t just lose track of what I did.

Just over a year ago I wrote my first draft of Biomalware for Camp Nanowrimo in August of 2012.  I tried to edit it but I just felt like it wasn’t up to my usual strong vision of a story. It seemed more like a giant outline. I’ve resolved to plan ahead this time so I can really bring every scrap of talent and skill I have to bear on this project. I want this to be a book people will buy, enjoy and think about. (Not to mention talk about.)

Right now I’m trying to tie up a few loose ends before NaNoWriMo starts.  I have three short stories that I want to finish. The first is for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest and is on it’s very final edit before I send it off. The second is a rough draft for a Christmas competition that will benefit from being set aside for a while.  The third is a short story that I wrote as part of my writer’s group weekly challenge, which I’m editing to post here on Halloween.  This will all happen this weekend because, come Monday, I plan to delve into preparing for NaNoWriMo. 

I have job applications to fill out for all of my characters and the story arch to fill out for the overall plot. I want to spend the next couple weeks watching movies that tell their stories the way I want to tell this story and reading everything I can get my hands on, pro and con, for genetically modified organisms.  I’ve been doing this right along but now I’m going for an intensive preparation.  (Wish I’d started at the beginning of the month.)

It’s true, there’s no telling how real life may get in the way but, to my mind, the idea is to prepare and plan so that you can dive in and immerse yourself in the pure creative process for November.  Really have fun and enjoy it.  I think that’s what keeps me coming back to NaNoWriMo time after time.  It’s not really because I think I’m going to suddenly write the Great American Novel.  It’s because there’s nothing like being given a license to immerse yourself in the creative process. I love to write, not just to have written. 

If anyone gives you a hard time you can tell them that, well, it’s only for a month.

Charting Your Characters for NaNoWriMo

resumepicture

So, what do you really need to know in order to write a good character? There’s the basics –

  1. Height
  2. Build
  3. Hair color
  4. Eye color
  5. Temperament
  6. Job
  7. Hobbies
  8. Skills

Then there’s getting down to the nitty gritty.  I just picked up Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do by Meredith Maran and I’ve been enjoying the entries on the various authors tremendously. (I admit I’ve been skipping around instead of reading straight through.) Terry McMillan has an interesting way of creating characters. Years ago she picked up a job application for McDonald’s and fills it out for every single character in her books.  She goes further though. “I create a five-page profile for every one of my characters so I know everything about them: what size shoes they wear, if their hair is dyed, if they bounce checks, have allergies, what they hate about themselves, what they wish they could change, if they pay their bills on time.”

Now, maybe this isn’t completely necessary but I can sure see the benefit.  I’ve always been something of a “method” writer, getting inside the character and writing from the inside out.  I need to know whether my character would really do the things that I’m writing for them.  Will it ring true for the reader?  I figure if I know my character inside out, I can put them in a situation and I will know what they will do, how they think and how they will react.

I found a great job application out of Alaska at http://www.jobs.state.ak.us/forms/genapp.pdf  It asks the generic questions but in a way that gives you a broad idea of your character and lets you infer some interesting things.  For instance, if someone is willing, or even prefers, to work the graveyard shift – why?  Hmmm. Who would your character contact for references?  How about in an emergency?

4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone by Barbara Ann Kipfer offers some very specific questions that you could ask your character.  I think it’s a great book for a writer to have, but I don’t think I could possibly answer each one for all of my characters.  She does break it down into some good categories.  Some of these questions are hers and some are mine, but more are hers than mine.

Childhood & School

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. Where did you go to school?
  3. What is your saddest memory? (And a bow to Humans of New York)
  4. Do you have any siblings?  Did you get along with them?
  5. In what organizations and extracurricular activities did you participate?
  6. Did you have any serious accidents or illnesses as a child?

Family & Friends

  1. Did you have any pets as a child?
  2. As a child, were you closer to your mother or your father?
  3. What is your ancestry and ethnic background?
  4. What was your parents’ relationship like?
  5. Did you like school?
  6. Did you have a favorite teacher or subject?

Fun & Sport

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. Do you participate in any organized activity?
  3. What do you do for fun?
  4. What do you think is funny?
  5. What sports do you like to watch?
  6. Do you dance?

Habits

  1. Do you get up on the weekend or sleep in?
  2. Where do you eat dinner?
  3. Is your house neat and/or clean, or is it messy and/or dirty?
  4. What are your vices?
  5. Are you careful or careless with money?
  6. Which pant leg do you put on first?

Love & Sex

  1. Do you have a significant other?
  2. Do you believe in love at first sight?
  3. Do you believe in marriage?
  4. What sexual position do you favor?
  5. Who was your first love?
  6. Tell me about your first kiss?

Outlook

  1. Are you a pessimist, an optimist or a realist?
  2. Do you like or dislike change?
  3. What are five things you are grateful for?
  4. What worries you the most?
  5. Do you have goals for your future?
  6. What is “success” to you?

Politics

  1. What political party, if any, do you align yourself with?
  2. Are you pro-choice or pro-life?  Why?
  3. Do you believe in the death penalty?
  4. Do you think we should have national healthcare?
  5. What do you think of marriage equality?
  6. What does the term “feminism” mean to you?

Spirituality

  1. Were you brought up in a religious tradition?
  2. Do you identify with a particular religion now?
  3. Do you believe in ghosts?
  4. What does “evil” mean?
  5. Why do you think bad things happen to good people?
  6. Do you believe in destiny or choice?

Work

  1. What was your first real job?
  2. What do you do for a living?
  3. Do you like what you do?
  4. Do you think you’re a hard worker or lazy?  What would your boss say?
  5. If you had to change careers, what would you do?
  6. How many hours do you work each week?

How do you build your characters?

Organizing a NaNoWriMo Novel The Jim Butcher Way

Open_book_01.svg

Okay, first of all, do you know who Jim Butcher is? He writes this fantastic series of urban fantasy books based around a wizard named Harry Blackstone Dresden in modern day Chicago. If it sounds interesting, there’s already something like 12 books in the series. Check him out at your local library or on Amazon. Here’s Jim Butcher’s Amazon page.  

Okay, he also writes another series called Codex Alera and I’m sure the writing is just as fine but I haven’t read it so I can’t say I love it, like I can the Harry Dresden series. They are fun, fast-paced action but also really good writing and he always hits me with something deep somewhere along the way. Love it!

Anyway, he also wrote a a LiveJournal where he shared information on writing. I’ve been looking at distilling it down to steps I can use to plan my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.)

Here’s what I came up with. If it looks interesting, check out Butcher’s LiveJournal for more in-depth and better explanation. Be warned, it goes backward. You have to scroll to the bottom to the see the first entry then work up. 

Some of these were good reminders for me but some were new ideas that make good sense, like the Stimulus-Response Transactions.

  •  Conflict should exist in one form or another in every single scene. 
  • All of your characters need to have a goal
  • Use “Stimulus-Response Transactions.” Something happens to your character and he/she reacts. If you reverse that, it can confuse the reader so don’t do it unless you are very confident.
  • Write in either first or third person, especially if you’re just starting out. It keeps things much simpler.
  • Choose your point of view character based on who has the most to lose.

Write a Story Skeleton description of the main plot of your book in two sentences.

“*WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL*. But will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?”

Characters

What is (or what makes) an interesting character?

  • Exaggerate a feature – physical, mental or emotional.
  • Give them an interesting position, whether it is a social, geographic, intellectual or moral.
  • Introduce your character with a solid Characteristic Entry Action that is typical of who and what he is.
  • Make sure they act believably.
  • Make your character a whole, full person by showing his or her emotions, reactions and decisions.

I love the idea of Tags and Traits. It can help make your character unique if you pick the right combination and it helps solidify the character in the reader’s mind.

  • Tags are a few specific words you use to describe your character, and as much as possible, only your character.
  • Traits are unique items like a prop.

The Big Middle seems to be Butcher’s way of thinking of the climax. If it’s different, I’m not sure how. Maybe it just arrives earlier. (If somebody has a different understanding of this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.) Basically, Butcher recommends creating a great big dramatic event for the end of the middle of the book which will lead directly to the homestretch.

The organization of scenes the way he explained it makes a lot of sense to me and really helps in plotting and organizing a story. They have to include –

Scenes

  • Point of View Character
  • Goal
  • Conflict (scene question)
  • Setback (scene answer)
  • Possible scene answers include
  • Yes! (but that gets you no where so) –
  • Yes, but..
  • No, and furthermore!

Sequels

Sequels are what happens after a scene. A character reacts emotionally, then thinks about it logically, considers possible outcomes to actions he could take and makes a decision. It’s simple and this is how people react to events so it keeps the reader moving forward quickly.

A Story Climax is the answer to the story question. It should include –

  • Isolation – friends can’t help him now.
  • Confrontation – obviously, with the antagonist.
  • Dark Moment – Confrontation did not go well.
  • Choice – between something good and something really bad.
  • Dramatic Reversal – poetic justice.
  • Resolution – keep it short.

Organization – The Basics

  • Write down your protagonist, his tags and traits, and how you intend to introduce him.
  • Ditto, but for the main opposition.
  • Create a story arc on paper or somewhere and fill in the opening scene, the big middle at the top and the climax on the right.
  • Fill in any scenes that you have in mind.
  • Add in phrases describing scenes that lead your character from one to the next.
  • Do Story Arches for all of your subplots.
  • Profile every significant character on his own sheet,
  • Outline scenes and sequels.
  • Repeat until climax.

As I said, this is the basics, Butcher’s (very entertaining) LiveJournal is something like 47 pages long and remember, this is one way to do it. Maybe it looks good to you, or maybe parts of it do. Take what works and leave the rest.

Happy Novel Planning!