Tag Archives: character

Using Dream Analysis to Develop Your Fictional Characters

Have you ever been chased by someone in your dreams? Been naked in public? Flown like a bird around a city? Or just felt utterly lost in a maze-like building? There are twelve basic dream patterns that all of us dream, regardless of who we are, what we do or where we live.

Olessia Kantor of EnigmaLife.com

Olessia Kantor of EnigmaLife.com

An in-depth knowledge of our characters enriches every story we write. Most writers begin with a detailed Character Traits worksheet. Whether you use every item on your worksheet in your story isn’t as important as getting to know the heart of your fictional characters. Once you have a firm connection with and understanding of WHO they are, it makes the labor or drafting your story easier: you know how they will react to event or obstacles, you’ll know what they might retort and what they’d never say. You know what they’ll eat in a restaurant, or why the color chartreuse makes them crimson with fury. Even better, when you’re stuck, looking for ways to add tension or motivation, looking deeply into your characters’  hearts and minds helps uncover possible plot turns, arcs, and revelations.

Dream interpretation guru Olessia Kantor, founder of EnigmaLife.com explains, “Universal dreams are shaped by local forces in your life.” Your character s dream could be influenced by four things:

  • His/her biological heritage
  • His/her general cultural heritage
  • His/her local subculture
  • His/her personal experience

There are 12 universal dream patterns that all of us dream:

1. Being chased and attacked/Being in love or embraced: Often these dreams occur when you are trying to understand circumstances that you cannot overcome.

2. Getting injured or dying/Getting healed or reborn: Reflect the dreamer passing from one stage of life to another.

3. Having vehicle trouble: These dreams indicate you may be overspending energy on a situation

4. Damaged or lost property or on fire/Property improvements: Reflections on personal changes

5. Poor performance/Outstanding performance: To pass or fail at something important to you

6. Being naked or inappropriately dressed/Looking great: You feel concerned about other people s judgment or opinions.

7. Missing transportation/Happily traveling: This dream denotes your life s journey

8. Machine malfunctions/No malfunctions: Points to a passive approach to life, giving others your power

9. Natural disasters/Natural beauty: Reflect an appreciation for the world and happiness

10. Being lost or trapped/Finding new places: Indicates you are struggling to find a sense of direction or are losing your internal compass

11. Haunted by the dead/Guided by the dead: There is unfinished business with a loved one

12. Falling or drowning/Flying or swimming: The dream is facing a major choice they must make that defines personal failure or success

Olessia provides free personalized dream analysis via her website, EnigmaLife.com. Former journalist Olessia Kantor went on to become an art historian, a gemologist, an entrepreneur, and always a storyteller. “I have a passion for the unknown, for mysteries, for the enigmas in our world.” Follow Olessia on Twitter @EnigmaLifeWorld, or email her at OK@enigmalife.com.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Guest posts, Writing Prompt, Your highest potential

Character Outline: Portraying Realistic Teenager Fears

7 Techniques for Building (ahem) Conquering Teen Fears – The Back-To-School Edition

School is often the mainstay milieu of YA and NA protagonists. Building story tension, we authors can freely add conflict upon conflict, but one emotional stake is shared among most every teen: Fear of what will happen at school. “Fear is natural when we’re about to go back to school or off to college, because we’re dipping into the unknown,” says Jude Bijou, MA MFT, and author of the multi-award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.

bewafa shayari

It’s helpful to remember that fear is a completely natural reaction.
In fact, don’t send your teen protagonist back to school without it.

Here are Jude Bijou’s seven highly effective techniques to help writers identify fear-causing triggers for students and aggravate those fears to cause serious anxiety before the final act–and how to help your protagonist let go of those fears, and arc into a realized theme goal.

1. Release the emotion.

Scientists understand that emotions are physical–pure energy that’s produced by our brain. When teens feel an emotion such as fear, they experience the following physical symptoms:
1) fast heartbeat
2) shortness of breath, and/or
3) stomach upset.
Be sure to illustrate tension with these physical cues.
“Fear can be released physically and constructively by shivering and quivering, like a dog at the vet,” Bijou explains. “To relieve tension, have your protagonist go into the bathroom or a safe place and allow her to tremble or shake in privacy. She might put on some music. Note feelings up the spine, out the arms and legs, in the hips.” This can be performed before a social event, before a difficult class, or anytime she feels those physical feelings (at the approach of her crush?) To increase tension, give her nowhere to go, make her tremble down to her toes, without letting up.

2. Invite the fear in to stay awhile.

Allow repetitive, fear-based thoughts to scurry about in your protagonist’s head. She might write down or find a means of demonstrating her worst fears. Let well-meaning (but uninformed) parents or teachers comfort her without relieving the tension; “Everything will be okay,” “This feeling will pass,” etc. It’s up to your protagonist to come to the place where she can say, “I can handle this.”
Positive talk and reassurance really do change attitudes,” says Bijou.

Conversely, to increase fear, work backward. Begin with plenty of positive reasons to continue a quest, and strip them away one by one.

3. Look within for the right action.

To increase tension, embrace a teenager’s tendency to isolate, judge themselves poorly, and walk around in a fog. However, a protagonist can move the plot forward, and grow, by pausing and asking herself what action needs to be done.  To relieve your protagonist, let her find a quiet place so she can get in touch with what she really needs to do right now or in the immediate future. Maybe she has a secret place, or perhaps give her a divine meeting with someone barely knows but with whom she shares a similar or complementary goal. Keep in mind author Lisa’s Cron’s advice: Whatever remedy your character devises should, consequentially, make her struggle harder. Conflict, thou art story.

4. Make a list of what needs attention.

Fear is a sign that some things in your character’s life are out of control. It’s helpful to write down every specific thing that needs your protagonist’s attention. Divide big worries and obligations into little components so you can compound them, thus building tension.

When we get to see your protagonist solve problems, we find out what she’s made of, we learn about who she is, and hopefully share a hope of resolution for her goal. Small successes are very rewarding to the reader, but only if the protagonist must be creative, and willing to take risks in pursuit of whatever she holds most dear.

5. Snowball effect vs. being specific.

“Teens tend to feel worried about lots of things and lump all the scary things together,” explains Bijou. This is ideal in fiction (not so much in real life). If your protagonist can’t handle a particular conflict, escalate it until she succumbs to overwhelm, compounding it along with the myriad other troubles she has until she’s mired in the World’s Most Conflict-Ridden Clusterstorm (snowball effect.) When it’s time to wind down your story toward resolution, give her the strength to enter into the eye of the Clusterstorm to solve the specific problem that bears the theme of your story. If your character can stay specific and present, she’ll be bigger than her fear. (In real life, had she remained specific and present, she probably could have handled the scary things one by one. But that would make boring fiction, wouldn’t it?)

6. Give your protagonist encouragement.

You character may make dumb mistakes, she may not always be right, but she needs to have courage. She needs to step beyond status quo and rise up–regardless of her fears–on behalf of her quest. “This is what courage feels like,” says Bijou, “it feels like overcoming, being resilient, and pushing through what seems scary.” As your character’s confidence grows, she’ll feel more like the best version of herself–and your reader will too, having identified with her.

7. Find a support buddy.

To combat feelings of alienation and isolation, a well-crafted and possibly comedic sidekick keeps the emotion, actions and reality in check for the reader. We get a second point of view, an assurance that events transpiring are reliably narrated–or not. (Sometimes it pays to cause the reader to question reality. See How to Use an Unreliable Narrator in Your Story). This support may come in the form of email, text, phone, or in person.  The support buddy’s task is not to solve the protagonist’s problems but to present new information, question the protagonist’s actions, or inquire about what she might do next.

Do you have any tips for managing a fictional teenager’s fears? Share them in the comments below!

Jude Bijou MA MFT is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and longtime student of Eastern philosophy. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Learn more at www.attitudereconstruction.com.

Let’s connect on Twitter! @TheRJLacko

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August 18, 2014 · 7:20 am

How to Use an Unreliable Narrator in Your Story

The character who is an unreliable narrator can be one of the most powerful tools available to a writer, telling the readers a story that the reader cannot take at face value. In this post, Now Novel, an excellent resource for writers, explains: “The unreliability may be obvious to the reader throughout the novel, may be revealed gradually or may come as a single revelation that results in a major plot twist. This may be because the point of view character is insane, lying, deluded or for any number of other reasons.”

In my novel, Radio Head, protagonist Shelby has undiagnosed schizophrenia. From her point of view, everyone has a song inside–and she can hear it. The reader is drawn into what may prove to be magical realism, or possibly the delusions of a mentally ill young woman.

illusions

What does the writer stand to gain from using an unreliable narrator to tell a story?
What is the purpose of the unreliable narrator in fiction? How can the writer ensure that the reader understands that the narrator is unreliable?

Here are highlights from the post:

The narrator is unreliable by the very nature of who that character is. Some stories are related by narrators by who are such terrible people that they cannot tell their stories objectively. In general, even people who commit the worst crimes do not go around thinking of themselves as monsters; they justify their actions to themselves. In Lolita, Vladimir Nabakov signals Humbert Humbert’s unreliability to the reader in a number of ways such as his outrageous claims, his endless justifications for shocking acts and his contempt for others. Alex from A Clockwork Orange is another example of a reprehensible character sharing his unreliable narrative of violence and mayhem with the reader.

The unreliable narrator can also be used to great effect in stories of crime and mystery. Both Agatha Christie’s classic novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the recent Gillian Flynn best seller Gone Girl employ unreliable narrators whose lack of reliability is crucial to the construction of the mysteries at the hearts of both novels. In these types of books, the reader starts out trusting the narrator and it is only as the story goes on that something begins to seem amiss.

The unreliable narrator is not always deliberately deceptive. Sometimes, a narrator is unreliable due to youth or naïveté. The young autistic narrator of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon or the five-year-old narrator of Emma Donoghue’s Room are simply reporting the world as they understand it. These books rely on the readers to make inferences based on clues from the narrators and an assumption from the outset that due to the ages and circumstances of these characters, they are not always accurately interpreting what is happening around them.

The unreliable narrator can be of particular use to the writer of horror and supernatural fiction or fiction in which the writer wants the reader to question the line between fantasy and reality. A  recent example is Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi in which the reader may increasingly wonder about the reality of events as described by the narrator.

A narrator can be unreliable due to having incomplete or incorrect information although initially neither the narrator nor the readers is aware that this is the case. The narrator of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier initially misunderstands nearly everything she learns about her new husband’s dead wife, and therefore, the reader does as well.

Read the remainder of the post to learn how Lionel Shriver combined several of the above types in We Need to Talk About Kevin. The post also outlines the dangers of using an unreliable narrator and how to avoid them.

How have you used the unreliable narrator in your own writing?

Now Novel  is an organized, easy to use novel writing method. We help motivate and structure your writing process. Follow Now Novel on Twitter @nownovel.

Follow me on Twitter! @TheRJLacko

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Using Dirty Fighting To Escalate Tension In Your Story

Great books are filled with conflict, and great characters who learn important lessons.

Writer and all-around-funny Jenny Hansen’s clever tips for Dirty Fighting Techniques can be applied to your main character’s friend, family member or a significant other…whoever he or she is in conflict.
Hansen asserts, “Every entry on the Dirty Fighting List is guaranteed to make the other person see red.” If you’re writing fiction, anger and tension is a fantastic vehicle to move your story quickly and appropriately introduce backstory. The following are excerpts from her post.

One difficulty with reading about dialog is that every character is unique and, even though the examples may be excellent, your characters would not necessarily say those things. How do you think of creative things to say that would apply ONLY to your character?

One answer is to make him or her fight.

Since gratuitous fighting in a story is like gratuitous sex (kinda boring if there’s no real connection or reason for it), the author needs to find a great reason for the fight. The easiest way to pave the road is to discover what your characters really want. Then dig down for what they really, really want.

DON’T give it to them.
Or at least, don’t give it too soon.

Then flake away more layers to uncover what your character really fears. Then what they really, really fear. DO give it to them!

This is where things get interesting. You not only have characters who are upset, you’ve also found myriad ways to slide everybody deeper into your story. To do this, ask your character questions:

  1. What matters most to this character? (What is he or she most afraid to lose?)
  2. Who matters most? (This is usually the person they are most afraid to lose.)
  3. How did the character’s parents fight?
  4. How did the character’s parents interact with him or her?
  5. What does this character wish he or she had gotten in childhood?

All of these questions can provide you with cues about where your character is “broken” and give you ideas about fixing the broken part (i.e. Fix = Lesson).

Now it’s time to unleash that fight! BRING IT ON.

Below are Jenny Hansen’s top five Dirty Fighting Techniques for adding tension and plotting options to your story. (Get ready to flex your sarcasm muscle – which is always used in a dirty fight.)

#1 – Triangulating: Don’t leave the issue between you and your
conflict partner (could be a family member, friend or love interest), pull
everybody in. Quote well-known authorities who agree with you and list every family member whom you know has taken your side (and lie about the ones you haven’t spoken to, yet).

Uses: Triangulating is incredibly useful in fiction because you can expand the discussion to more characters and stir up some real drama. Let’s not keep this issue between just us, one character says to the other. Oh no, lets involve everybody.

If you have extreme Dirty Fighting Talent, you can stir the pot and then step back and play a new game called, “Let’s watch the other two people fight.” Good times.

#2 – Escalating: Quickly move from the main issue of the argument
to questioning your partner’s basic personality, and then move on to wondering whether the relationship is even worth it. Blame your partner for having a flawed personality so that a happy relationship will be impossible.

Uses: Excellent tool for keeping two love interests apart. But, the fight better be about something that really, really matters.

Escalating also allows for plausible use of Back Story. When you’re moving from the main issue to what the REAL issue is (often happens at the end of Act 2), escalating the argument will make someone lose control enough that they blurt out something juicy. Way to go, Author!

#3 – Leaving: No problem is so big or important that it can’t
be ignored or abandoned all together. Walk out of the room, leave the house, or just refuse to talk. Sometimes just threatening to leave can accomplish the same thing without all the inconvenience of following through.

Uses: My favorite use of this is employing it when the two characters really need each other. It completely ups the betrayal factor: I can’t depend on you, I don’t trust you, you’ve let me down.

You noticed how dirty those last three statements were, right? Not a clean fight to be found anywhere with “leaving,” which is fantastic for your story! The farther your character falls, the harder the journey is on the way back up, right?

#4 – Timing: Look for a time when your partner is least able
to respond or least expects an argument.

Uses: Think about this from a story point of view. A really great time to pick a fight is just before the main character embarks on a journey, has a new murder to solve, is called on to save the world. Anything
with high stakes. Be sure the character ambushing them is a likeable one so the reader REALLY gets drawn into the conflict.

#5 – Rejecting Compromise: Never back down.

Uses: This is a kickass Dirty Fighting trick to use on the main character. If there is only one winner, there is automatic conflict involved for the person who “loses.” The solutions are endless, but here’s some scenarios that come to my mind.

The main character could:

  • Realize the universal truth in fighting: the person who says “no” always has the power. Perhaps your MC will change their motivation so that the other character’s “no” doesn’t bother them so much.
  • Learn never to accept “no” from someone who doesn’t have the power to say “yes.” In other words, your MC could learn to stand up for they really want and find a way around their primary obstacle.
  • Find a way for there to be two winners. This a continuation of the point above

What do you think? What are some other ways you could use a good fight to help your character grow or advance your story? Do you use any of the five techniques in your own life…come on, you can tell! Let’s hear your fabulous Dirty (Fighting) Thoughts!

Jenny Hansen’s creative life is filled with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, and short stories. Find Jenny on Twitter @jhansenwrites, read her blog or look for her over on the Writers In The Storm blog.

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Critiquing Other People’s Writing: 7 Tips for Making Manuscripts Better

“Just shoot me now.”

A good critique may begin with this response, but soon the scolding red marks reveal overlooked obstacles to your work’s potential.

When you make friends with the red pen pointing out weak story points, redundancy or grammar errors, you give yourself the opportunity to grow as a writer and refine your final product. But is the job of the red pen wielder easier than that of the writer?

Mark Nichol of the Daily Writing Tips blog advises you make clear whether you’ve offered to evaluate a brief sample as a guide to help the person extrapolate what they should look for when they revise their draft. (If you’re asked to critique an entire book in-depth, Nichol says, you should do so only for pay or as part of a bartering arrangement, because you’re being asked to devote dozens of hours of your time.)

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear before we go any further: Critiquing is not the same as editing.  If your critique partner is “editing drastically,” the result is no longer a critique but a rewrite.

According to Nichol, the chief purpose of a fiction critique is to enable the writer to improve a manuscript by getting rid of:

  • unnecessary exposition
  • character inconsistencies
  • pointless dialogue

Thoughtful critiques from other writers can help the writer focus on essentials.

  • What exactly is the writer’s purpose?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • What does the protagonist want?
  • Does each chapter advance the plot?

Here are seven tips for a positive, productive critiquing experience:

1. Tolerate the Task
When you write, you don’t have to be an aficionado or expert to produce an article or a story on a given topic. Editors don’t need these qualifications, either, and they don’t have to be enamored of the writer’s voice or technique. The same goes for someone conducting a critique: Don’t turn down a request for feedback just because you’re not interested in the subject or you don’t like the writing style. Help the writer succeed in reaching the audience they are writing for. (But don’t hesitate to express your opinion if you think the approach is flawed.)

2. General House-keeping
The manuscript sample you receive should appear exactly as it would look when it’s ready for submission to a publishing professional. Hard copy should be double spaced and must be free of handwritten annotations or emendations. An electronic document should be professionally formatted and at least mostly devoid of the writer’s notes to self.

  • If you’re reviewing an electronic copy, activate change tracking and edit it. Insert notes using the comment feature or by entering them in brackets, highlighted in boldface or with colored type or background, so they are easily located and distinguished from the content.
  •  If you’re working on hard copy, use a pen or a colored pencil for brief notes, and write or type your detailed queries and comments on a separate sheet of paper or in a computer document.

3. Evaluate the Writing, Not the Writer
Compliments and complaints alike should focus on the product, not the producer. Refer to the sentence or the section, the character or their actions, the narrative flow or the exchange of dialogue rather than to the person who requested your help.

4. Start — and Stop — with the Positive
Begin by lauding the strengths of the sample, and reiterate your positive feedback when you summarize your critique. Refer to strengths, not weaknesses, and use positive language: “stronger,” “more interesting,” “a better approach.” Be frank but diplomatic: Even people who can take criticism need to hear that they’re doing something right, and that’s what you should start (and end) with.

5. Craft Your Critiques
Be specific, not vague. Be active, not passive. Point out problems, but suggest solutions. Your goal is to clearly communicate to the writer about how they can more clearly communicate to their readers.

6. Invite Questions
Set up a time to go over your critique after the writer has had a chance to review it. Welcome the writer’s requests for clarification and discussion. If the writer becomes defensive, mention that you have offered your perspective, and that they are free to act on your critique as they see fit.

7. Know Your Limits
It’s reasonable for a writer to ask you for a second light look at the piece after they have made changes in response to your comments, or to request that you provide a general impression about a revision based on your in-depth critique. But establish boundaries about how much time and effort you intend to offer on the writer’s work.

Check in with the writer. No matter how careful you are about being diplomatic, the writer may feel a bit battered, and part of your unwritten contract should include a clause requiring you to keep in touch about the project.

Want to read more? Check out this article  at DailyWritingTips.com: “Critiquing” is not “Editing”. Mark Nichol is a freelance editor and writer and a former editing instructor for UC Berkeley’s Extension program, edits trade and academic books for various publishers and publishes occasional articles about the Golden Age of Hollywood at Yahoo!’s Associated Content.

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Feel the Heat: Sex and Fiction. 8 Tips for Building Tension

Will your fictional characters, at some point, hit the sheets?

As most of us creative types enjoy a delicious romp in the sack in real life, it shouldn’t be too difficult to apply our trusty, book-enhancing observational skills to break down, scene by scene, moment by smokin’-hot moment, the escalating tension between our first horny thought and the ultimate coupling of bodies. Right?

Wait, should we depend on our own experiences, and are we willing
to “expose” our own life experiences on the page for everyone (hi mom) to see?

Dallas romance writer (and bewitching twitterati) Roni Loren  posted some effective advice for amping the sexual tension on her blog, fictiongroupie.blogspot.com. “From YA all the way to the steamiest of romances, this is a vital ingredient if you have any kind of romance thread whatsoever,” says Loren. “Even if a kiss never happens, you can have your reader sweating through a scintillating ‘will they/won’t they’ tension so that even if the characters grab one other’s hands, your reader will hold her breath.”

So how do we create this tension so that when you finally give your reader the big payoff–the kiss, the “I love you,” the boom-chicka-wah-wah?

Author Roni Loren’s advice for building sexual tension:

1. Make the attraction that each feels for the other obvious to the reader.

The characters are hyper-aware of all the little details of the person when he/she is around. Use all the senses not just sight. (Note: this is an
opportunity to illustrate aspects of your characters, whether those  are physical traits, or emotional: her Daddy issues, his preference for redheads thanks to an unexpected overture by a cherry-haired vixen in his youth, her need to learn to trust again, his tendency to rescue, etc. -RL)

2. No conflict = no tension

Make sure there are good reasons why these two can’t be together–internal and external.

3. Use internal dialogue

The hero may be clenching his hands at his sides, but tell us why: the urge to reach out and touch the heroine’s hair is overwhelming him.

4. Always on each other’s mind

If your hero and heroine aren’t together in a scene, then have their thoughts go to the other so that we know he/she can’t get the other off his/her mind.

5. Patience, grasshopper

Don’t relieve the tension too quickly. Frustration must build and build. There’s a reason why the first love scene doesn’t usually happen until 2/3 the way through a book. (Note: be true to your characters. Maybe it
has been a pattern of your character to hop into bed right out of the gate, but the reader must walk the long road with them as they uncover feelings of real love. -RL)

6. Here we go, wait, not so fast

Give you characters a taste of what they could have, then make them stop. This is the famous device on sitcoms where they start to kiss, but then someone bursts in to interrupt. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. One of the characters could be the one to stop (usually for some internal reason related to the conflict between them.)

7. It’s addictive

Once you do let the two get together the first time (be that a kiss or full-out lovin’), leave them wanting more. Instead of satisfying their need/curiosity/etc., they want each other even more. Now they know what they could have if not for all that pesky conflict. Damn those mean authors who put so much in their way.

8. When all looks like it’s going to work out, pull them apart again.

Romantic comedy movies do this all the time: The characters seem to resolve some conflict and get together. Oh but wait, there’s more! Some conflict wedges between them again.

Don’t resolve the relationship until very near the end. Otherwise, the reader will lose interest.

So how about you? Does your novel have a romance or undercurrent of one?

What author do you read that is a master at creating sexual tension?

Roni Loren’s debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat in January 2012! Represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @RoniLoren or visit her website at RoniLoren.com.

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14 Rocking Good NaNoWriMo Tips

With an entirely out-of-control outline tipping the scales at over 12,000 words, I dove headfirst this fine November 1st on a journey to make a messy manuscript my own personal heaven. Yes,  I wrote fast and furiously, throwing editing, self-censorship and occasionally good taste out the window.

I loved every minute of it.

I wish I could remember who tweeted it this morning, but a fellow Tweep/WriMo commented that NaNoWriMo feels “like Christmas.” I heartily agree. The process of opening an unbridled vein of creativity (even armed with a well-thought-out outline like mine) is a.) the ultimate gift to yourself; b.) an awe-inspiring opportunity to uncover moments of genius you didn’t even see coming; and c.) an universal gathering of all creation called to do what we  are created to do: create.

(Follow me on Twitter @RebeccaLacko. Buddy up with me on NaNoWriMo.org–my username is RJL.)

Ready? Get ready to rock National Novel Writing Month with these tips from saucy (and often profane–you’ve  been warned) author Chuck Wendig at the terribly fabulous Terrible Minds:

Do Make Discipline Your Takeaway

You want to know how most writers fuck up? Seriously, here it is — the fatal flaw of the writer: we are lazy no-goodniks, forever hopping from project to project. We’re like meth addicts, our dopamine centers blown to ragged tatters, forever in search of the next high. Except, writing can’t be about the high. It can’t be about that one great day of word count. It also has to be about all the shitty ones. What NaNoWriMo will give you is discipline: the ability to staple-gun your shit-can to a chair every single day and pound the keyboard the same way a beat cop pounds pavement. It can’t get done unless it gets done.

Do Not Believe That Haste Is A Critical Ingredient To Your Word Soup

And yet, NaNoWriMo sets a very arbitrary pace: 50k in 30 days, or ~1,667 words per day. It’s certainly doable — I tend to write 2-3k a day. But I was only able to do that steadily after years of freelancing, and that’s when I have a deadline (and money) waiting at the end. Writing a novel can be a different creature, and it isn’t so easily boxed into the same schedule. Most novels I’ve written took me about three months to write from start to finish — still not a bad stretch of time, but certainly not 30 days. So, if you find that NaNoWriMo’s pace doesn’t fit your own — then stop caring about NaNoWriMo, and start caring only about the novel. Your goal is the novel. Your goal is not to “win” an Internet experiment-slash-experience. If you need three months, take ‘em. If you need six, take ‘em. If you need eight… well, let’s try for six, okay?

Do Take Time To Smell The Word Count (And Do A Little Planning)

Writing isn’t about writing. It’s a misnomer — a myth. The actual writing, meaning the pen-to-paper fingers-to-keyboard part, actually comprises a very small portion of the writer’s life. So much else exists between those spaces: planning, marketing, selling, rewriting, editing, researching, and so forth. Assuming that NaNoWriMo is very much about a taste of the job and the life, then for yourself and for the novel I’d recommend taking time in your day away from the writing to concentrate on some other elements. Hit your word count mark for the day, then attend to other matters your novel may require. Put your back into a little planning for tomorrow’s word count. Start writing up a sample query letter and treatment to keep yourself on task. Do up some character notes. Think in beats, scenes, sequences, acts. Then, when all that is said and done? Sit back, relax, and enjoy what you have accomplished so far. Take pride. Eat candy.

Don’t Stop Writing, Neither For Hell Nor High Water

And yet, despite this side prep, don’t stop writing. Writers can easily get lost in the prep. Lift your head from the murk! Clear your brain of the crazy bees. And always, forever anon, sit your ass down and write. This novel isn’t going to write itself. Unless it is? And if it is, then you need to tell me where you bought that awesome novel-writing robot. I seek to purchase a clone of NovelBot for a hefty sum. And if NovelBot one day goes nuclear and attacks the United States, I reserve the right to scowl at you. I’d sue you, but it won’t matter, because the entire infrastructure of our country — the legal system included — will be surely defunct thanks to the cruel reign of the word-crunching NovelBot. Damn you, robot.

Do The Work, And Realize That It Is, Indeed, Work

Surrounding NaNoWriMo is an existing giddiness, an airy and intrepid spirit — and that’s a good thing. Yes. Have fun with it. Smile now, you poor bastards because you may not be so giggly and gassy after two weeks have gone by. The reality is, writing is work. Like, work-work. It can at times be as exacting and punishing as dentistry, and sometimes you might feel like you’re a Chilean miner trapped in the deepest, darkest earth. This is, contrary to how it feels, a really good revelation. If you go into this thinking that writing a novel will be fun from day one until day 30, you’re fucked right in the ear. This isn’t a log flume ride, pal. This is a mountain climb. And climbing a mountain is a hard slog. And you might fall. Or encounter mountain lions. Or even cyborg bears. Point is, be excited for the thrill, but be ready for rectal misery.

Don’t Believe That 50,000 Words Is A Proper Novel

Writing a novel is work, and writing 50k of a novel is a lot of work — but it isn’t a complete work unless we’re talking middle-grade or young adult. For the most part, a novel is going to need to be somewhere around 70-90,000 words. Which means, uh-oh, you’ve got a lot more work to do. Now, this means one of three things — a) you create a complete 50,000 word “novel” now, then go back in and flesh it out and beef it up; b) you write 50,000 words now and realize that you’re going to, in the subsequent month, hammer out another 20-40k; or c) try to write a 70-90k novel in 30 days, which is all well and good until you pull a mental hammy and shit your brain-diapers and end up having to eat mushed-up peas and bananas for the next six months. Again, do what needs doing for the novel, not for the “contest.”

Do Consider This A Zero Draft

I consider a first draft a proper draft. It is your first completed draft, a draft that doesn’t need to be good, but needs to be utterly whole. Let this NaNoWriMo draft escape the pressures of that. Let it be a “zero draft.” It’s allowed to exist a little bit unbaked — soft in the middle, uncertain, still finding its feet like a goo-slick calf. That’s okay. Take the pressure off. You have time. Unless you’re dying from some terrible disease. And if you are, then, uhhh. Sorry? Good luck? Here, have a Hallmark card!

In Fact, Do Think Of This As A Very Powerful Outline Or Story Bible

Write this draft like it’s a very deep, intensive outline, story treatment, or story bible. Yes, yes, it’s still a novel, and it’s still a technical draft of your novel — but with the kind of haste and waste you’re going to make churning through this work, you might find yourself better served looking at the end result as a clumsy “first go.” This means it makes a truly excellent and highly-detailed preparatory tool. You take this draft, you finish it, you find the mistakes and mis-steps, then you rewrite the whole damn thing with a deeper devotion toward all those fiddly bits that make a novel truly great — character, dialogue, action, theme, mood. Oh, yeah, and plot. If one thing is going to get its head lopped off on the altar of haste, it’s plot. So, for now? Fuck plot. Just write. This is your outline, after all. A really big, really robust outline.

(Which Means You Don’t Need To Work So Hard This Month)

You say, “I’m writing a novel,” and (for me) that’s a lot of pressure. But you say, “I’m writing a novel that’s really just an outline for an even awesomer and ass-kickier novel,” then — ahhh. Woooo. The shoulders unclench. Your sphincter loosens (but not so much you make a mess on that most critical of implements, your writing chair). You let slip a few drops of happy pee. Now? The pressure’s lessened. This is just a plan. This is just really exacting prep. You’re not foolishly rushing onto the battlefield. This is a battlefield simulation! This is your own X-Men Danger Room. Breathe easy. And learn how to bring down Juggernaut.

Don’t Stop With Your Zero Draft

All that being said, don’t stop with this draft, whether you think of it as a first draft, a zero draft, or a really plump outline. NaNoWriMo is one month, but your novel cannot and should not be contained to a single month. It needs more time. Trust me, it needs more time. You’ve got more drafts to write. Possibly one, two, even ten. You don’t write until November 30th. You write until it’s good. (Or, put differently: drink until she’s pretty.) To continue the alcohol metaphor, it’s like a wine. You uncork it too early, it’s going to taste like piss and vinegar.

Do Embrace The Community

NaNoWriMo’s shining awesomeness comes in the form of being connected to something greater. You’re all embarking on a really weird journey together. Use that. Enjoy the camaraderie. Listen, a writer’s career isn’t formed just on what she can write — it’s formed on who she knows. It’s build in part on the backs of relationships. Make those relationships. Both professional and personal. It will not only give you the morale to keep on kicking, and it won’t only let you boost the spirits of others — but it’ll hopefully create lasting relationships that go well beyond November, 2010.

Don’t Rely On It, However

And yet! The writer’s life is a lonely one. Online relationships are only so real, after all, and your devotion is not to other people. Your priority isn’t social. It’s mental. Your job lurks in the words, not the words you write to encourage others but the words you write on the pages of this beast you call a novel. It can be easy to get caught up in other people’s drama, and the last thing you want to do is duct tape your novel’s fortunes to those who aren’t helping you — so, be a part of the community but know its limits. Know that the only thing that gets the book written is you writing the goddamn book.

Do Take Yourself And Your Work Seriously

Once again I’ll point out that the motif of NaNoWriMo, the prevailing mood, is one of fun — it’s a challenge! It’s a game! Hoot! Gibber! Eeeee! Well, okay, that’s very nice. But my assumption is that you’re serious about wanting to be a write. Otherwise — why do it? If you’re doing it “just to see if you can,” well, hoo-hah for you. Except, I’m not talking to you. You can go now. Shoo. Go on, skedaddle. You, glib dilettante, will soon learn that writing is a devotion, a discipline, a craft (and to some, an art), but it is not a throwaway piece of cake left on the counter for the ants. It’s serious business. And so those engaging in NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to take this seriously and more importantly, take yourself seriously. You are an ass-kicking, neck-throttling word jockey. You command the powers of the verbal elements. You make characters dance, fight, fuck, eat, love and kill. You can set the mood of the room the way most people set the temperature in their house. You are a god here. Accept that mission for what it is: a responsibility.

Do Not Take It So Seriously That You Start Sending It Out To Agents And Editors Immediately, Because That Makes Word Jesus Turn Evil And Doom The World

The one flaw in NaNoWriMo (and why it sometimes earns the ire of professional writers) is that it kind of floods the marketplace a little bit. November 30th rolls around and suddenly you have a world with thousands of new novels birthed screaming into an unkind world, and while that remains a truly sublime act of creation, it also means that you have a lot of writers who don’t have the sense of a tree grub, and these writers decide to abdicate their own sense of work and responsibility by throwing their unformed fetal drafts into the world. They choke the inboxes of agents and editors with their protoplasmic snot-waffle novels and they think, “Gee golly gosh, I’m a real writer now!” Except, they’re not. They’re rosy-cheeked, empty-eyed shitheads. Don’t be that shithead. Don’t just loose your garbage onto an unsuspecting world (which creates more work for agents and editors who already have a hard time finding diamonds in a sewage tank). Take time. Polish your work. Give it six months. Give it a year. Give the novel the air it needs to breathe. Give yourself, as a self-serious novelist, time to realize when this book is ready to roll or (a bigger and more mature revelation) that this book just isn’t “the one” — and that it’s time to write another better book, a book that doesn’t beg to be written only from November 1st to November 30th, a book that can be written whenever your fluttering wordmonkey heart so desires.

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