Twenty-Nine of Thirty

So, I’ve cracked the secret to winning NaNoWriMo.

Step one, invoke pagan deities, specifically the muses. I can’t guarantee results if you pray to other gods.

Step two, write an outline that doesn’t cover the first scene of your novel, so you still end up staring at a blank page for hours trying to figure out where to start. While you’re writing that outline, make sure that it’ll only last you for ten or twenty thousand words.

In step three, your cunning planning back in step two comes back into play, as you stare helplessly into the void that is your first page. So far, so good!

In step four, you go to a write-in to build up a good head of steam right at the beginning.

In step five, you squander that steam and spend the whole day playing Hornet Leader instead. I think other solitaire board games work, too, but video games don’t seem to do the trick. In fact, I’m getting ahead of myself a little here, but some games actually seem to produce more words, which isn’t going to help at all in the squandering phase of the month.

Step six is to spend a full day doing almost nothing but writing a new outline because you ran out of the old one. So, advance planning is again critical.

Now that you’re way behind, step seven is to attend a family member’s funeral in order to lag even further. You may have to arrange an accident for someone if nobody dies of natural causes – that wasn’t an issue for me this year.

You wanna follow the same basic theme over the next few days. Maybe write something completely unrelated to your actual project, or recycle the outline issues you faced earlier, or if you’re really out of ideas for ways to fall behind, just write no words the whole day for no reason at all. That last one might feel like cheating for the “floundering and falling behind” portion of the plan, but it’s not against the rules, so go for it.

On step nine, let go of your feelings and start writing random junk you can’t possibly publish because fuck it, words are words.

Now that you’re way the Hell behind, take the opportunity to reflect on your writing style, how you best work as a writer, and how squeezing the planning stages of a 50,000 word novel into two days because you decided to do NaNo at the last second was really dumb, and is also making you look kind of ridiculous for earlier saying that outline writers had an inherent advantage in the challenge.

Going into the home stretch, use up your final outline to get yourself back on target and with so little time left to spare that you can’t safely sink another day into outlining, then try to go back to your roots and write some absurd fantasy comedy like you did in high school. Realize quickly that you are a completely different and far less light-hearted person.

Right before you enter into your very home stretch, wrest superpowers from the unforgiving maw of Cuphead and use them to finish a day ahead of schedule. I think Dark Souls will also work for these purposes.

Now all that’s left to do is to write a dumb, sarcastic blog post that sounded like a good idea at the start but probably would’ve been better off as a more sincere recap of the month rather than a lame “fake advice” gag that overstays its welcome by like eight paragraphs. But look, the point here wasn’t to write good words, it was to overcome winter blues so strong they may actually be diagnosable by punching a keyboard until 50,000 words come out.

NaNo 2017 Winner banner

So. Got that all squared away.

Twenty-Eight of Thirty

So I definitely like my writing less without an outline, but it’s happening at all, and in November I’ll take that. I’m up to 47,516 out of 46,667 today, on target to be finished tomorrow (the 29th, so today by the time this actually goes live and anyone can read it). It was touch and go for a bit, but I think I’ve got this.

Also, today this happened:

Cuphead Fin

So I figure that basically makes me invincible.


Twenty-Seven of Thirty

The moral of today’s story is that even when you are in a new and unfamiliar city and have no idea who the good dentists are, you should not put off visiting one for two years, otherwise you will have all the cavities and have to have your teeth replaced with a stainless steel maw like you’re Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me.

I am, of course, exaggerating. You can only have half of your teeth replaced by villainous murder weapons in one day, so we’re going to have the rest installed next week.

Due to that dental appointment, I once again had my entire schedule shuffled around and my writing time pushed to the edge of midnight, which, y’know, isn’t that weird a place for it to be, so whatever. I reached 44,776 out of 45,000 before midnight and got up to 45,027 within fifteen minutes of midnight. Once again, the issue here is that I cannot use that trick for the November 30th words. I’m going to try and aim for 2.5k words a day for this home stretch so that come November 30th, I will already have succeeded. If I end up hitting that mark at 12:30 on November 30th instead of 11:30 on November 29th, it won’t make a big difference the way it would if that were 12:30 on December 1st versus 11:30 on November 30th.

Twenty-Six of Thirty

Today I wrapped up my latest outline and then started in discovery writing some nonsense about a D&D-esque lich with a corporate bent who needs to rebuild his business from the ground up after some adventurers wreck his latest venture and he gets fired by the evil overlord. I have hit 43,434 out of 43,334 words. That is a full one hundred words ahead of quota, and hopefully my dental appointment tomorrow won’t interfere with my ability to stay on top of that.

Between the clearly comedic nature of my current story and the short story potpourri that the project has turned into, it should be easy to wrap things up in an absurdist hurry if I hit 50,000 with no actual conclusion in sight, so I should be good on that front.

Twenty-Five of Thirty

The issues with bringing lone characters into fairy land for the first time are multiplying. On the other hand, I’m in fairy land now, and dealing primarily with a new type of creature, which has made things slightly easier. Back on that first hand, though: This character in on a completely different emotional journey than the reader is. The character is like “oh, fuck, fairy land is hella weird,” but the readers are getting used to fairy land by now, and to them these new wolf monsters are a new threat in a location that has otherwise begun to be familiar. Particularly, the viewpoint character of the last arc absolutely thrashed a large number of (small, weak, and cowardly, but still) hostile fairies. Fairy land can bleed. It can’t only be thwarted by exploiting specific magical weaknesses like in the first arc, you can also just walk up and stab it in the face if you’re badass enough.

If I had set this up properly, the characters would be in contact with one another between expeditions to fairy land, or else all traveling through fairy land together. Either way, they would know what other characters had been through by default, and would only be unaware of what other characters had learned about fairy land if they were still in danger and hadn’t had time to swap stories. This way, protagonist #3 might not have personally faced all the dangers of fairy land that 1 and 2 have, but just like the reader she knows what they are and will only be surprised to see the new threats.

Alternatively, I could’ve set things up so that each character had a noticeably different reaction to fairy land, but that was also more planning ahead than anything but the first arc got. Instead, protagonist #3’s reaction is mostly just a cross-section of protagonist #1 and protagonist #2’s reactions. #1 entered with trepidation but also determination, because she wanted what she’d came for even though the place frightened her, and intended to steal what she came for. #2 entered not just determined but Hellbent on achieving her goal. She didn’t just want to get the thing she came for, she wanted to prove she could go and get it by force. #1 takes in fairy land fearfully. #2 glosses over her journey and only starts focusing when she gets close to her destination and begins to plan her attack.

#3 is here for recon purposes because she’s trying to find #2, who was stranded in fairy land by injuries as the result of her bullrush on hostile redcaps and now no one back in mundane town knows what’s become of her. #1 presumes she is dead and refuses to help anyone else enter fairy land because she’s afraid they’ll end up dead too. That was real compelling for the one argument, but didn’t pan out long term. Now #3 has got into fairy land anyway, alone, and she’s an uninteresting middle ground between #1’s fear barely overcome by her greed and #2’s zealous pride.

By highlighting what few differences exist, this might all seem fairly interesting. The problem is, there’s too much in common to stretch these things out for a full paragraph or two, and yet the characters need that paragraph or two in order to have a reaction to fairy land. It makes perfect sense for protagonist 1 or 2 to be all “and then she walked back through the fairy forest again” because they’ve been there before and throwing out a one line scene transition is fine. Protagonist #3 has never been here before. She needs to react, but because I didn’t really plan these characters or the plot out past the first arc, her reaction comes across as kinda dull because dear God, it’s the third time someone’s been to fairy land and been like “whoa, the moon’s super bright and the animals talk.”

Now I’ve got past that, though, and I’ve got protags 2 and 3 talking to each other, there’s a timeskip there where 2 can plausibly inform 3 of everything she’s learned about fairy land (which encompasses most of what protag 1 learned about fairy land, even if we did have to watch protag 2 learn it again), and the story is now primarily dealing with a new threat. Getting into fairy land and the initial reaction to fairy land have been reruns and I don’t even know how to rewrite around that without completely rewriting the whole thing (which I may at some point do), but now I’m freed of the constraints of my own lore, I can focus on the things that actually make this character unique instead of being constrained to the things that she has in common with the people who’ve already done this.

Ultimate progress report for the day is 40,032 words out of 41,667. If I can keep up 3k words per day tomorrow, I will only be a few hundred words behind quota with four days left to make that up. I think I just might pull this off.

Twenty-Four of Thirty

So if I’m going to do this 3k per day thing, I’m clearly going to need to put more effort into it. I’ve gotten to 36,451 out of 40,000. I’m still putting today’s goal at 40,000, as I’m only a few hundred words behind on my 3k per day goal. I am facing a consistent problem: I tend to like things just fine once I’ve gotten my characters out of their mundane origin world and into the fantastic fairy world. I even like that they’re from a mundane origin world, since exploring and experimenting with the fantastic other world is part of what I’m writing and I like that. Unfortunately, my first arc was written with the assumption that bouncing back and forth between fairy land and the mundane world would be frequent, and thus I put no effort into positioning my characters to be pushed into fairy land and then stay there for a long period of time. Rather the opposite, I gave them mundane attachments to compel them to keep coming back.

The problem here is, I do not really care about the mundane world at all. There’s nothing to recommend it over fairy land. The story would be better if all my characters were dumped in fairy land and stayed there. I could spend more time exploring fairy land rather than being constantly nailed to the area immediately around the gateway. In all three arcs so far the characters’ initial goal is to find the same house, but each one is walking that path for the first time. It’s weird to gloss over it completely, but it’s also really dull to write three different very similar reactions to crossing over. Structurally, each arc was plotted out independent of the others and it shows.

The different characters have almost fully distinct adventures and rarely encounter one another, which means I cannot contrast someone’s second visit to fairy land with the new viewpoint character’s first. The cast of the complete story is growing, but the cast of individual arcs is going in circles. The first arc had six characters with major speaking roles: The protagonist, her friend, the guy who gets her into fairy land for his own purposes, the guy who obliges to her help that last guy out, her hobgoblin guide in fairy land, and the primary villain. Almost every scene had the protagonist interacting with one of these people. So far, so good. The second arc was from the viewpoint of the first protagonist’s friend and introduced a third friend, but then the new protagonist spent her time in fairy land completely alone with an entirely new fairy land guide, an alfar unrelated to the hobgoblin. Well and good that she has her own fairy friend, but the lack of interaction between herself and the original protagonist, the alfar and the hobgoblin, the alfar and the original protagonist, etc. etc. means that we’re still just watching one character walk around and interact with other people one by one. We get to see the new protagonist interact with the same villain as the old one did, and there’s even a nice contrast between how they handle the situation and how the villain reacts to them, but again, there is no interaction between the two protagonists to help sell this.

I knew about this problem in the second arc, but because I wasn’t thinking ahead when I wrapped it up, I left the second protagonist in the middle of fairy land and badly wounded. Consequences are great, but this means she isn’t going anywhere for days, and that’s if I give decide to give her super rapid healing on account of the fairy bandages she’s wrapped up her wounds with. In the meantime, my new third protagonist has to have her adventures completely alone again. We’ve been around fairy land. We know what it’s like. “Hey, look at fairy land” could sustain the first arc (barely, since there was hardly enough interesting detail there to go on), but it can’t sustain three when I’m constantly peeking into the same tiny section of it. It’s a forest with one house in it and juuuuust enough new wildlife to keep me from going mad with boredom.

Ultimately, I think the problem here is that it is well and truly November. It’s not just that I’m writing in November anymore, it’s that the outline I’m working from came from the thick of November, and the characters came from November. I’ve run out of scraps of better stories to recycle and am now running on fumes. My newest protagonist is a selfish jerk with few redeeming qualities (though I would be terribly unsurprised if she wound up being the favorite of the three if I end up posting these stories somewhere, just because her one talent is making excuses why things aren’t her fault and people are depressingly vulnerable to that), she’s going to meet some pretty uninspiring new monsters, and ultimately the only thing about the whole outline is that 1) it’s going to put protagonists 1 and 2 in a tight spot by the end and 2) it’s all I’ve got, and only complete stories count for NaNoWriMo, so if I don’t bring this arc to a close, I have to delete the whole thing. Current goal: Wrap this up fast and go back to writing with the targeting computer off, because clearly the Empire is jamming my systems. I might not have the slightest idea where that one scene was going, but it was easier to write.

Twenty-Three of Thirty

So through a combination of miscalculating the word goal yesterday and it being Thanksgiving and thus barely getting anything done, I am now extremely behind, 34,396 of 38,334, and will undoubtedly need more than 2k words per day to catch up. The good news is that producing 4k words in a day is something I’ve done before and can do again, and doing that twice in a row will have me caught up. Even writing just 3k per day will have me caught up in just three days, so 3k daily is now the goal. I have an outline all written out again so that should expedite things.

Twenty-Two of Thirty

My brief experiment with writing on impulse yesterday has mainly reassured me that what I thought earlier was true: I can sustain discovery writing for about 10,000 words and then it becomes so aimless as to be completely useless. Also, it tends to lead to entire scenes that probably don’t even need to exist. I wrote a thrilling escape scene, except if I were to expand that into an entire story, I would probably end up cutting that escape scene, since the entirety of its impact on what might eventually be the plot is to strand some characters in the middle of a jungle where the actual plot occurs. I did not really figure out what the central conflict of one of my characters was until near the end, have not figured out what the central conflict of the other is at all (though I have some ideas), and I’m not certain the character relations were actually very well thought through. I plotted them all out from scratch in just a few hours.

Whole thing got me to 33,827 out of 35,000, which is still badly behind but at least isn’t falling any more behind. I also think I have a proper outline just about sorted and still enough time left to catch up at 2k words a day (barely!), so we’ll see how this goes.

Twenty-One of Thirty

I spent most of today looking for a third arc and realized I’d written myself into a corner. I had two viewpoint characters, neither of whom I immediately wanted to give a second arc to, and then a few others who could only be promoted to viewpoint characters if I found some way to get them involved in the story. The problem was, the story’s actual plot was both secret and hard to access. I got through the first bit of the outline for my third arc revolving around a secondary character who was going to be promoted to viewpoint protagonist, and then realized that I was basically just copying my second arc with only some tiny tweaks. I tried promoting one of the only characters who already had full and regular access to the actual plot to viewpoint character, but it didn’t take long into the outline for that before I realized that he didn’t really have anything to do with all these characters.

And this is the point when I realized that I had written myself into a corner. Bringing new characters into the plot was too difficult. Old characters had already resolved an arc and didn’t have anywhere to go without further monumental upheaval. And I was constantly haunted by the fact that I’d really only created enough characters to serve the outline that lasted me only for my first 12,000-ish words, and that honestly I’m not super thrilled by any setting in which I cannot give my characters a submachine gun.

I wrestled with the idea of starting a completely new and different plot for a while, one that would be detached from the two biggest stumbling blocks of this one: Very few characters had a motivation to get involved with any kind of actual plot, and the plot was hard to reach which meant characters needed a powerful motivation to get there. Ultimately, with just a few hours left in the day, I took the characters I had sketched out, decided to forego finishing the actual plot outline (I really only had a very basic concept, and that selected largely on auto-pilot), stuck the characters on a hostile spaceship, and told them to get off of it before I killed them.

Luke You've Switched Off Your Targeting Computer

I’ve gotten to 32,473 out of 35,000 with this method. We’ll see if it pans out long term.

Twenty of Thirty

I keep slipping further behind. Word count for today is 31,016 of 33,334. I can still make this up, but it is more than one full day behind and I’m beginning to reach the limits of what I can make up by just writing 2k daily until November 30th. The good news is that I have been able to write more than 2k fairly reliably in the past. The bad news is that I’m still kind of fumbling around to figure out what my third arc is going to be.