My wordcount chart for the month. It's not exactly a smooth climb.

My wordcount chart for the month. It’s not exactly a smooth climb.

November is over. With just under an hour to spare, I generated an amount of Lipsum the same length as the hand-written text in my notebook and validated, turning my bar a lovely shade of purple.

It’s been a monster of a month. I’ve never hand-written a full NaNo before. In fact, I’ve barely hand-written anything since my A level exams. I do a lot of notes, here and there, but nothing full length, nothing where I had committed to doing it old school. It got to the stage where I was preparing to hammer out a fast 1000 words on the computer to get me over the line, but I persevered.

Of course, it’s not good, doesn’t make sense, and is barely legible. It needs serous editing. And I’m happy to be able to return to the real world, do something else with my time than fill page after page with minute handwriting.

But I also want to drag the notebook out and add another scene, explore my character’s home and life some more.

I’ll be back tomorrow. Last time I saw him, he was crying in his mum’s arms. I can’t leave him like that now, can I?

Kit Post!

The prettiest thing in the world, a stack of soft-touch notebooks

The prettiest thing in the world, a stack of soft-touch notebooks

Once upon a time, I insisted that I had no brand loyalty. I bought whatever was most convenient, in everything.

Now, however, I go for Nexus phones, Punch Studios for my storage, and Eccolo for my notebooks. That stack there is all Eccolo. Three of the turquoise ones, actually, are completely identical, and I have duplicates in the office of the bottom one and the white and gold. Yep, that’s not even my complete collection. Continue reading

Singing the Praises of the Eight Point Arc

Teach Yourself: Write A Novel And Get It Published, by Nigel Watts

A useful tool for the writer’s arsenal

A couple of weeks ago I raided the library of all the books on creative writing they had. Well, that’s not quite true, because most of my pile was books on cricket, but there were many, many writing guides, too. Write a Novel and Get it Published¬†was one of them. It’s small and easy to carry around, and so I stuck it in my bag for a train journey. When I got home, I bought my own copy.

I’ve not even got that far through it. Planning for NaNo and just being on holiday distracted me. I didn’t need to, though, because it is from this book that the eight point arc of which I am so fond came. The arc, if you don’t know, goes something like:

Stasis : Trigger : Quest : Surprise : Critical Choice : Climax : Reversal : Resolution

I have a brilliant explanation of it in one of my notebooks, currently lost in the forgotten civilisation that I call a desk. It was witty and sarcastic, though, so you’ll just have to imagine it.

I’ve been using this structure since I found it floating around on the internet, but it still seems relatively unknown. Today, though, I got the best example of why it’s so good and why everyone should know it.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, pen in one hand, kitten fighting with the other, and breaking my summary down into key events. With each one down in black and white, I then turned to my eight point arc, one for each act of the story, and started plugging in the events. And in my second act, which seemed a bit long, it turned out that there were two surprised and two critical choices.

So I stared at them for a bit, and then I took my pen and crossed out a whole plotline, because it didn’t need to be there.

By layout out what I needed from the story, I was able to see that that whole plotline was not just irrelevant, but was downright unhelpful. If it had indeed been a driving force in the story, and had forced a critical choice, my story would have ended differently. Based on the choice he was forced to make there, it was only chance that kept him in England, rather than fleeing to the Antipodes. He shouldn’t have got the job that introduced him to his love interest, brought his best friend back to him, and ultimately (although this isn’t in the novel) gets him his childhood dream come true. And I couldn’t work out why he did. It shouldn’t have worked, but by some hand-waved arrangement it did.

Once I scratched that extra surprise and choice, though, the story clicked back into place. A to B to C, without anything that wasn’t driven by his choices, and his mistakes.

It also means that he gets less emotionally tortured, which is so nice for him. He’s almost forgiven me for what I do do to him.

#NaNoPrep 6: Meet Your Nemesis

Stories are made of two things:
The things that get in their way.

A good antagonist is both. Sometimes the conflict comes from the situation or the setting, but most of the time it’s a person. Some of the greatest characters of all time have been the antagonists – think of the Joker, the Master and Loki for some recent examples. The best antagonists are at least a little sympathetic. They’re not doing what they’re doing because they’re evil and it drives the plot forwards, they are driving the plot forwards because what they want conflicts with what the protagonist wants.

Admittedly, the Master and Loki want to rule the world, which conflicts with what all the other characters want, and there is a showdown I want to see.

Ideally, you should know your antagonist as well as you know your protagonist. You should be able to flip the story and tell it from their point of view and reverse the roles, because now it’s the protagonist who is preventing them from getting what they want.

So who is your antagonist, what do they want and why do they want it? How strong is their driving force, and what lengths are they going to be willing to go to? Because whatever they’re willing to do, that’s what your protagonist is going to have to overcome.

#NaNoPrep 5: Meet your protagonist

Stories are, at their heart, about people. Your story is about one person in particular, and I have no idea who that is. You may have no idea who that is, which I hope is fine because I have no idea who mine is either. It’s usually a he, who falls in love with another he, usually to his own annoyance. If I’m being honest, it’s usually Ianto Jones, because my fanfiction days are still well and truly here, and I miss him terribly.

But what if you haven’t just stolen your character from a work of fiction or someone you know? Where do you start? Well, stealing them is a very good start, in my opinion. They’ll mutate between first draft and final, and if they don’t just call yourself E.L. James. The best bit about stealing characters is that you get to spend thousands and thousands of words with someone you’re already fond of, getting to know them to a depth that you never can just by watching or reading.

For those who want to work from scratch, there’s plenty of options. Character generators on sites like Seventh Sanctum can give you everything from names up to personalities and species descriptions to start from. To get to know them better, you can use all sorts of memes and surveys that are scattered around the internet. Find out which Hogwarts house they’d be in, what type of monster they are in Doctor Who, or what colour they are. There’s also dozens of lists of questions, the ones that used to form the basis of MySpace profiles, that can help to fill in the gaps you never realised your characters had. Her favourite teacher might seem irrelevant to your character’s experiences, but you never know.

Truth be told, it probably is irrelevant, but you did it anyway. And now you have thousands of words of backstory that you can dump in when you feel yourself slowing down or stagnating. You also understand everything that could possibly motivate your character and influence their decision making. They are no longer two dimensional, but are fully fleshed out people who will not stop nagging you until you get their story out of your head.

You’re welcome.