It’s fun to be inside the world of a novel.

I haven’t been this far inside the creation of a new novel in a very long time. Around 2013 I started to focus on improving my prose which led to shorter works. At the time I had a novel in the works but I had difficulty with the ending so I put it aside. Last spring I picked it up and finished it, but finishing an old novel was a different experience than the creation process that I’m in now.

In 2015 I wrote a few chapters of a story that I felt had the potential to drive a novel. For NaNoWriMo 2022 I picked that up and wrote into it, meaning I wrote any scenes or internal narrative that I could think of to expand or to help define the character and her situation as I understood it (and in the process, I redefined my understanding). There was other unrelated NaNo writing too but I came out with 10,000 new words of character thoughts, interactions with other characters, background moments or scenes or information for the story. I felt as if I was throwing anything and everything against a wall to see what sticks.

Some have stuck, for now, and others have moved into a Scrivener folder I call “Not ready for prime time”; material where I’m no longer confident that the event or characters or voice is a good fit. Since then I’ve added another 10,000 words of potential story, I’ve made character and plot theories, and done new or additional research on coyotes, on grief recovery, histrionics, parentification, and myths. I’ve done Story Grid analysis and decided it’s primarily a morality story with horror elements which gives me some hints in terms of plot and character and character arc targets. I have a tentative skeleton of major actions.

And I have a list of more than twenty moments that I think I should write. Most of these are not ones that tie into the primary plot. Instead they are further defining her situation and key traits and secondary characters to be layered in before and during what I see as the call to action. I write these moments when I feel I have sufficient research or sense of the voice or ways to get at them.

The list makes it easy to see whether every aspect of her personality and situation is being represented and to keep track without doing the writing yet. Something like an outline, except I have no idea about the order. This makes it seem like the story is a character sketch, and it is. I’m writing as if I were sketching and organizing a memoir, which is, I think, the way a novel should be written. I suspect some of these will need to be pruned or merged once I’ve got a complete draft but if get them all down at least I have them available for consideration.

At the same time I’m plucking at these moments and at other things such as the themes, and at unclear elements like characters who have not appeared yet, or traits of existing characters that don’t feel right, and at my research notes, and at targets like the Story Grid elements, and at my hopes for what I want the reader to get from the story. I’m plucking at all these things to see if to see if they will provide more moments to write.

I’m inside the character, feeling around for memories and thoughts and experiences to show who she is and why. I’m doing the same with secondary characters and with my character’s situation and with the proposed plot and with themes too, searching around inside for consistencies and inconsistencies and weaknesses and logical outgrowths and trying to figure out how to show these. And trying to make connections, trying to choose pieces that will hold together, trying to make it all make sense.

I’m getting buried within the novel and it’s a lot of fun. A novel is a much bigger world than a short story so it takes longer, and the longer you live with it, the more it becomes an alternative reality that you also live in.

bookmark_borderGoldberg Variations as NaNoWriMo

I am now trying to identify elements of fiction that equate to harmonic progression as well as possibly key and form (matching the series of canons). Number of bars is likely not a big concern as it comes out of the repeated harmonic progression, meaning, retaining the chord progression requires the number and sequence of bars because you cannot extend or shorten one or more chords without destroying the balance and flow, and Bach is all about balance.

(The Goldberg post was going on and on through numerous revisions and additions over many days so I opted to split it into two posts. I started thinking about this in early October and am keen on working my way to the point of being able to execute it for this year’s NaNoWriMo project.)

The harmonic progression is not unlike the 12 bar blues that is the basis of many jazz, blues, and early rock and roll songs. Or the 32 bar A-A-B-A form of I Got Rhythm by George Gershwin, which is the other classic jazz form and chord progression. Like these, the Goldberg progression is strong, complete, malleable, and capable of supporting many melodic inventions.

But it is also subtle. In most theme and variations forms the theme is the melody and I’m not sure the individual variations are capable of standing on their own or being listened to sporadically the way the Goldberg variations are. A bus stop or particular table in a coffee shop might offer the variety of stories but would not be as subtle.

And might time of day be similar to key? There are only twelve keys and if you progress in a sequence (semi-tone or fourth) through all the keys you end up back at the beginning, just as moving through twenty four hours will take you back to the same time of day. The ancients did believe that each key had its own personality but that was before the development of well tempered tuning.

Bach was a proponent of the well tempered tuning system, so I suspect the stasis of key is more a function of technical ease for the performer and ease of adjustment for a dozing patron, and maybe to eliminate any idea of hierarchy or relationship between the variations that might otherwise be implied or interpreted. I think Bach might have liked to use more than one key but unless he did exactly one, two, or three in each of twelve keys there is the risk of implying a relationship between the variations that I think he did not want. And since he had already done all twelve keys twice (the two books of The Well Tempered Clavier) there was no need to go there again.

So for fiction, finding the equivalent of the key is less important than making sure there are no implied hierarchies or relationships between the stories. And maybe use some staid element to help negate such.

So what are elements of fiction that I could reuse? Plot; no. Plot is like melody, too identifiable. Characters? No, because then the reader will look for connection and development. Setting? Maybe, though that’s more identifiable than harmonic progression, meaning obvious. Unless there is a means of disguising it the way Bach uses different meters and composition techniques and textures. Emotion? Again, too strong and too easily identified and connected. I could use the ‘theme’ of grief, for example, but it would be too easy to see how each story is related and collectively it might be perceived to be some wider statement about it. The same applies to a concept, say ‘inequality’.

But maybe that’s not bad. I’m no Bach; I’m no master at the peak of his creative abilities, and really, what I’m after is material. A couple NaNoWriMos ago I ended up with two short stories and a character which I may still develop into a novel, as well as the start of what turned out to be a 22,000 word novella.

So I could use location or a concept, but location would have to be flexible for multiple stories and styles, and something that promotes action, else I risk constantly having to struggle with dialogue heavy talking heads. A gym is too limited in its action, a playground too limited in its users. An event location like an arena which might have sports, concerts, ceremonies or trade shows would have the flexibility. A large city park with sports areas, kids play areas, picnic tables, hiking trails, ponds might have enough variety, but then most stories would have to be set outdoors. Of course, something larger like a city or even small town is almost limitless.

Concept is probably automatically more flexible than location, but it would need to be 1) a concept with sufficient facets to allow multiple approaches, and 2) a concept I’d be happy living with for 30 days straight.

Another step removed from emotion -> concept might be an object; say, a cup, so every story has in it somewhere a cup. But that might be too subtle and artificial. However, because it could be subtle, then perhaps I could *add* it as well; every story uses the concept, *plus* has a cup. The cup becomes the key, (G major/minor) and the concept substitutes for the harmonic progression.

And what about time of day? That’s fairly plastic as well; all sorts of things can happen at the same time of day, or, I could cycle through different hours of the day. Or I could keep the time of day and change time zones.

Cycling time of day is interesting in that Bach specifically did *not* change key, but, I have 24 hours to work with and he only had 12 keys, plus he’d done 12 keys before. 24 is close to 30, and I don’t have to write them sequentially, I could be flexible, label the general time of day and figure out the specifics later. Especially if they are to be presented in sequence. And I probably need more help than Bach anyway. Time of day might be the equivalent of the series of canons, the only thing that connects the series.

And time of day is flexible; I don’t have to decide what specific time of day for most, and I don’t have to label them even in my own mind until I’m well into it and decide that it’s going to work for me.

So, we have:

  • concept,
  • and / or location,
  • object,
  • possibly time of day

Now, I need come up with potential concept, location, and object.

bookmark_borderNaNoWriMo 2015

I had some difficulty with NaNoWriMo this year.

I came up with a theme, imagined characters, devised a situation and started writing. Seven days later I had just over the 11,670 target words for the seventh day of November, but with the exception of two or three moments the story wasn’t moving me and I was not happy with the quality of the prose. Having completed three NaNoWriMo novels in six previous years I saw no value in repeating the experience of finishing a novel just to say I had done so, especially if I was unhappy with the result.

I decided to experiment.

I decided I would start a new story each day. I kept the NaNo target of 1,667 total words per day, but the word count could come from the new story or from additions to stories from the previous days. I often write to prompts— is a favorite source for ideas—so writing new each day was not unusual but most of that exercise writing is in the 100-400 word range, far short of NaNo requirments.

So that’s one thing I’ve had to experience; pushing myself past that single moment, the opening scene, and into a second and a third moment. It’s not easy. First, there is the creative block in generating material connected with the first moment. Then there is the internal editor that worries and rejects ideas for fear of going down a dead end or making a wrong turn that hurts the story worse than just stopping it in its tracks. On top of that are the distractions that come into play the longer you work at something; for a time you can ignore FaceBook, emails, texts, the cat, the dog, hunger, stiff muscles, but the longer you try to write, the louder these distractions cry for attention.

Those are typical NaNoWriMo issues, the same ones that face people working on a single novel, as well as fakers (rebels, they like to call themselves) like me. A couple of ideas lent themselves to larger portraiture; potential longer short stories or possible novels, so it was easier to envision more scenes. Still, it has been interesting trying to push myself past those first moments.


The other interesting experience was that I started stealing single sentences of prose. I have a subscription to The New Yorker so I scrolled back through old issues and pulled up stories, re-reading them slowly, looking for a nice sentence that I could steal, one that will allow me to build my own situation or character around it.

If I ever get to submitting these stories I’ll re-write the stolen sentence, but so far I’ve forced the sentence in exactly as created and it’s interesting what I’ve learned in the process. Looking at these sentences in detail and trying to build another story for them has made me aware how perfect this prose is for the story I’ve stolen it from and how each phrase, each adjective, each description contributes to the clarity of the character or setting or situation; the perfection of which I would not have been aware of had I not tried to force it into a different story.

But it’s hard work; reading the story slowly, finding a sentence, rotating the personality trait or situation or meaning along a different path that still completely tangents the given line. Now, after the end of the month, I stole only eight lines, finished only two as 2,500 and 4,000 word stories. Another four I have an idea the direction I want to go but for whatever reason I’m uncertain how worthwhile the idea is and whether I should bother pursuing it, one more is short but nice but I don’t know where it’s going, and the last has neither good prose or characters or plot; an all out failure.

From regular prompts I have another twelve; one finished short story, one interesting start for a short story, one intriguing character that might expand to a novel, and, I guess, nine other failures to launch. Pretty small sample size, but maybe stealing good lines from good writing generates a higher percentage of useful material?

Ultimately, I failed to meet the word count, ending up somewhere just over 38,000 for the month. But after 23 days I have 20 different writings (not including the original project), with three first draft stories, one interesting start and one potential novel to carry forward.

Toward the end I wore out and wrote very little. My brain began to get thick and muddled and I thought of myself like the old woman who lived in a shoe, with so many children that I could not keep them straight.



bookmark_borderPost-NaNoWriMo 2011, or, Begining the second version of the 3DayNovel

So I didn’t make the 20,000 words in eleven days to total 50,000 for my manufactured NaNoWriMo for this year, but I did manage to come up with close to 15,000, and have kept at it since then, though at a much slower pace.

But after spending two weeks since then trying to add scenes to my original 23,000 word 3DayNovel I became aware that most of the new material added new characters, something that I had a slight inclination to try to avoid at first because I felt that I had enough characters for the length of the story. I tried to add scenes using the existing characters but found that difficult to do because I was also trying to avoid writing the scenes that I had already identified as missing and needed; I was trying to focus on fresh material only and it was difficult to do so without adding characters.

Is there any point in having the MC have dinner with his friend again? If they go somewhere, do something, does that add anything to the story? These are some of the things that I tried, but came up with dead ends in most of the time.

Then I looked at pushing one of the secondary characters, taking the POV and seeing some of his story. The next two most important characters have to remain mysteries so any POV done from their perspective would have to be deliberately obtuse, and that might be difficult given their secrets; they have huge secrets that they’re hiding with almost everything they say or do. (But then there’s great conflict hiding there! ) And given that it’s a short novel, shifting of POV can’t be treated casually. It’s not ‘War and Peace’ where it makes total sense to spend some time seeing the world from Pierre’s eyes, from Natasha’s eyes, even from Petra’s eyes.

So I may do some POV shifting to tell more sidestory or backstory. But the important thing that I realized is that:

  • My MC is boring when he’s not doing something that he’s good at

He’s also not awful at anything, so I can’t show him screwing things up, which also might be entertaining. But trying to generate more scenes with him by adding scenes that do not have anything to do with the mystery that he will solve is really difficult, which is why I added characters as I tried to spin out more material. Imagine Jack Reacher going for a walk to kill time and not meeting thugs or Kinsey Milhone sitting in a movie theater for no plot reason. I did manage to show more about his history, his personality, and a lot about other perspectives and attitudes about the story that he’s researching so these additional characters add something to the story.

But this is where it ties back to the second charater’s POV for this particular story that I’m working on. There is a huge chunk of material that’s key to solving the mystery that the second character digs up and dumps on the lap of the MC. On one hand this is like material supplied by Garcia to the rest of the BAU in ‘Criminal Minds’ and you don’t want to sit there and watch her trying to hack into systems and then querying databases and then cross referencing her materials, but that’s where the a large part of the information to solve the mystery comes from. The result is that there’s a lot ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, or in this case ‘discovering’ this material, which is a fundamental fiction writer’s error.

How do you write about research and turn it into an activity? Especially when it’s all done from a wheelchair?

bookmark_borderNaNoWriMo 2011

ATM there’s one week left to complete NaNoWriMo 2011. This is Year Four for me; two wins, one abortion on Day Three in Year Two, plus this year. But this year I’m not really doing it according to the rules.

I started off following the rules. I did the same as I did in Years One and Two; coming up with an idea during last couple of days of October. By Day Nine I gave up. The idea for the structure for the novel was good but very difficult to do. I was way behind in the word count and it was taking a lot of time and effort, and rather than allow myself to spin out crap I decided I should shift and write something simpler, something easier to work with. So on Day Nine I started a new novel. By Day Seventeen or so I had 30+ pages, eleven characters, and still no plot and I started wondering what the point of doing NaNoWriMo is for me.

  1. The challenge which forces me to write is probably the most beneficial part.
  2. Finishing a novel is not so valuable; I’ve completed drafts of three novels now so to do one more doesn’t matter much.
  3. Writing lots and throttling my inner editor is somewhat useful.

But managing my inner editor and writing when the story and characters are disposable and not very interesting seems a waste of my writing time.

So on Day Nineteen I changed again. I figured if I’m going to spin out words it’s much better for me to do so with something that has potential value, unlike the new story that I started on Day Nine. So now I’ve returned to my 3DayNovel story, the one that ended with 23,500 words. That novel is very short, has a lot of potential as a story, and I’m kinda lost as to how to inflate it into the complete story that it needs to be. I’m forcing myself to write new scenes, telling myself that some of these are throwaways, starting and aborting various ideas, probing some new aspects. I’m trying, as much as possible, to *not* write the scenes that I’ve already identified as missing; I’m trying to generate new stuff. My goal is to generate 2,000 words per day for the rest of November.

So Day Twenty Four of NaNoWriMo 2011 looks like this so far for me:

  1. 9537 words, original NaNoWriMo
  2. 20042 words of crap for a plot-less meandering
  3. 8300 words so far after four days of spinning new material with old characters

With seven days left in the month I can almost double the word count of the original 3DayNovel, and hopefully still have the obvious missing scenes to write. If I can do that, I’ll consider NaNoWriMo 2011 a success. I dunno if I’ll try to claim the winner banner though, since I’m not following the rules exactly.


bookmark_borderNaNoWriMo reflections

I want to take a few moments to reflect on this year’s NaNoWriMo event before I put it to bed for a while. I plan to come back and revise and edit, but I want some distance before I try.

btw, the opening is published on Smashwords if you’re interested.

  1. This was much more difficult and time consuming than the first novel. I think that is a function of a complex plot and multiple primary characters that needed time to be introduced. In comparison for the previous novel I had three predefined primary characters and their connection to the main protagonist (who, oddly, had no specific predefined characteristics. She became just a blank canvas that the other characters interacted with). So, I just let the personalities interact, let then talk, let them have adventures. Character writing as opposed to plot writing.
  2. Again I wrote using WordPress and private blog posts. It works because it makes the writing available to me at any time and I can revise, reorder, and word count. Originally each chapter was a separate post, but toward the end I merged them into the three books that it naturally breaks down into.
  3. I had massive computer problems that I just ignored in an effort to get done. My new laptop decided that it was going to periodically freeze or just reboot, pretty much whenever it felt like it. I lost a lot of stuff this way and had to do a lot of quick rewrites before I forgot what I had just written. WordPress didn’t save often enough to help me here. Now that the novel is done I’ve flattened the new computer and have re-installed. My suspicion is that the new version of AVG anti-virus software was the culprit, but I’ll wait to see.
  4. It’s a good experience. Lots of battles with quality versus quantity. I held back from just writing to write ’cause I don’t want to write crap. If I fill with crap then the structure is weak and I can’t build on it in the future. Still, it’s good to push yourself.
  5. I go into another world when I’m focused on writing. It became the primary activity of my month.
  6. One of the reasons that the story is told at 45,000 words is because I saw this almost as a movie all the way through. That means that the scenes are limited in length and that the quantity of scenes is restricted. The story does not unfold on some grand scale but rather is painted in small tableaus.

I think that this novel is a lot stronger than the first one. The plot is more dynamic. The writing is better due to more practice plus the writing class that I took. It remains to be seen if I can turn it into into something worth publishing.

bookmark_borderNaNoWriMo novel, done

Well, it’s done. I only hit just over 45,000 words, but it’s done. I’ve hit the story targets; the characters had their representative scenes, the plot had its required scenes, the story is told.

There’s still 5 days left so the plan is to do some rewriting and editing and keep both the new and old versions as part of the word count. Other people have suggested writing additional scenes to fill out characters, add characters, kill characters, but that only applies when you are writing for the sake of writing. I’m writing for the sake of producing the novel that I had pictured.

It’s possible, even likely, that there are large sections of text missing. The problem is that I don’t want to add crap and spoil what I already have. These potential large sections, I think, are going to require some distance before I can see where they’re needed. Right now all that I can see are a few small spots that could use some fill, and I need distance to see any sizable plot revisions.

bookmark_borderEnd of writing class

As of last night I finished the beginner writing night course that I had been taking, and I feel a sense of relief.

Where does the relief come from? From aspects of the course that I didn’t enjoy, like

  • listening to, rather than reading things that other people in the class wrote and then trying to critique. I find that translation of hearing to imagined reading difficult and would much rather look at the writing that I’m critiquing.
  • the lack of non-positive comments from the rest of the class. A combination of people not being comfortable doing critiquing and a fear of saying something that hurts someone’s feelings.
  • the lack of depth and breadth of comments. Partly this is due to a fairly big class meaning less time for critiques, plus people rarely volunteered comments if the instructor didn’t select them for the mandatory critique.
  • lack of energy in the classroom in general. The instructor was an elderly person whose voice was on the soft side. She didn’t generate a lot of energy and neither did much of the rest of the class.
  • interference of the last 3 classes with NaNoWriMo for time. Each class plus travel time plus homework time took a good 4-5 hours out of each week.

But I think that I did get what I was looking for from the class.

  • review of basic fiction writing elements
  • learned about some common writing errors (ly words)
  • a review of some of my writing by people that I don’t know, including one person (the instructor) who has lots of experience
  • a more indepth review of one piece of writing. We submitted a 10 page work on the 3rd to last week and she reviewed it and returned it to us in the last class. I submitted the first 10 pages of my NaNoWriMo novel from two years ago that I still have hopes of cleaning up and submitting for publication.

And some things that I didn’t expect came out as the course progressed as well. For example, the fact that, when assigned a writing assignment, I don’t automatically write erotica. Or even mention sex. The reason that I find this odd is that everything that I voluntarily wrote between the forced NaNoWriMo of previous years and the forced assignments of this class has been erotica. You mean to say that there’s more to my writing that just sex?

And the fact that I had already done some writing before starting the class somehow seemed obvious? The instructor kept saying that I already know how to write, and asked why I was taking the class. I didn’t feel that my work was significantly better than anything anyone else submitted. It might have been in the top 3 each week out of 8 – 12 readings but I didn’t sense a big difference between what I wrote and what other people wrote.