Cameron Chapman

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AH! NaNoWriMo Starts in 12 Hours and I have No Story Idea!

Maybe you’ve just heard about NaNoWriMo and you think it’s too late to join this year, since it starts in 12 hours. Or maybe you thought you had an idea and now you hate it and the thought of writing it makes you throw up just a little bit in your mouth.

Don’t let a little thing like not having a story idea prevent you from participating in NaNoWriMo. It’s just an excuse, not a real reason. So, just so that you can’t use it as an excuse, I’ve come up with a little guide to coming up with a story idea in the next 12 hours.

Side note: The first year I did NaNo, I didn’t start until November 3rd! And I still managed to get 90,000 words done during the month! So I don’t want to hear “it’s too late!”

1. Start With a Concept

This is kind of like a theme, but not quite. The concept for The Difference Between Flying and Falling was the idea that just because two people love each other with all their hearts doesn’t mean they won’t be shitty to each other and hurt each other. That gave me the basis for the rest of the story.

One way to come up with your concept is to start asking yourself “What if…?” questions. What if someone started leaving anonymous gifts on your front porch? What if dragons were real but only kids could see them? What if pigs could fly? What if someone hated ice cream?

2. Create a Mashup

This is kind of how I came up with the idea for my other NaNoWriMo project, Music for the End of the World. It’s a mashup of Firefly, Tank Girl, Mad Max, and The Road, with some steampunk elements thrown in for good measure. Think about some of your favorite stories, whether they’re books, TV shows, movies, or something else, and think of what might result if you combined them.

3. Retell an Old Story

Pick your favorite classic or fairy tale and retell it. Give it a modern twist, or set it in a different time period (Cinderella in the Great Depression, anyone?), change the gender of the main character, transform it into a different genre (sci-fi Pride & Prejudice, maybe?), or make any other changes you think could make it better/awesomer/wordier.

Related: Write fan fiction for a modern story. Just realize you won’t be able to publish it.

4. Visit the NaNoWriMo Adoption Society

The NaNoWriMo Adoption Society is the most wonderful part of the entire forums, as far as I’m concerned. There are adoption threads for everything you could possibly think of, including entire plots. This is where I got the titles for both of my projects this year.

5. Look at the News

This is particularly effective if you want to write a tragedy. Or something that’s completely unbelievable.

6. Give a Familiar Trope a New Spin

TV Tropes is a great place to get ideas. See what’s already been done and give it a new twist. Combine completely unrelated tropes and see what happens.

7. Check Out Your Friends’ Facebook Timelines for Juicy Ideas

Okay, this is potentially a great way to ruin some friendships if you don’t change a lot of details. But have you ever really looked at the drama that people broadcast on Facebook? From a writer’s perspective, it’s kinda awesome.

8. Brainstorm or Free Write for 15 Minutes

Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind, no matter how stupid or pointless it seems. See if any great ideas pop up.

Related: Go for a long walk or drive and let your mind wander. Go down roads you’ve never been on before.

9. Reverse an Expectation

Take a familiar character or situation, and look at it from the opposite perspective. Make an unlikely character your protagonist (or villain). Make something happen in an unlikely place. See where this takes you. Probably the most famous example of this kind of writing is Wicked (The Wizard of Oz told from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view).

Bonus: Create a Step Outline

Once you have your idea, you may want to create a very basic outline to help guide you throughout November. Here’s what to include:

Inciting Incident/Call to Action: This is what gets the story started.

End of Act I: A high-conflict story that falls about a quarter of the way through the story.

Midpoint: This should be another high-conflict scene.

End of Act II: A major, high-stakes test that propels the story toward the climax.

Climax: The last conflict scene, where the story’s outcome is decided.

This gives you points to aim for throughout the story. Just don’t be afraid to change it as you write, if you feel the need to.

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo 2012!

National Novel Writing Month 2012 (aka NaNoWriMo or just NaNo) starts in just over a week: November 1st! This will be my fifth year doing NaNo, and hopefully my fourth win. I’ve been slacking on my fiction writing this year, but am really getting back into things now. I’ve got the third book in The Steam and Steel Chronicles nearly done (I’ll be starting on revisions to the fourth likely after NaNo). And I’ve got two ideas I’ll be working on during NaNo.

I’m doing something a little different this year: I’m going to be a NaNo rebel! I’ll be starting the month working on a screenplay: The Difference Between Flying and Falling (hereafter known as TDBFAF). The title was actually taken from a NaNoWriMo “Adopt a Title” thread. TDBFAF is going to be about two people who deeply love each other. But just because they’re absolutely in love doesn’t mean that they have it easy, or that they don’t hurt each other. In fact, I think because they’re so in love, they maybe hurt each other more. It’s going to be a super-low-budget feature, with only a handful of characters and a couple of sets.

Now, since screenplays usually only run 13,000 – 19,000 words, I’m obviously going to need to do more than just one project to reach 50,000 words before December 1st. That’s why I’ll be working on a novel after TDBFAF is complete. The novel will be titled Music For the End of the World (another title I lifted from the same “Adopt a Title” thread, hereafter known as MFEW), and will be post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy. I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s an idea that just came to me as I was reading through the adoption threads on the NaNo forums. It’s kind of a mix between Firefly, Mad Max, Tank Girl, and The Road. (more…)

My Take on One-Pass Manuscript Revision

I’m approaching the revision process for the last two books of The Steam and Steel Chronicles, and thought I might share my revision process, as it stands now. It’s based on Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Manuscript Revision process (I highly recommend reading that post before you finish this one—go ahead, I’ll wait), though I’ve made a number of tweaks to it that fit my own way of writing and revising.

A couple of points before I begin, though:

  1. One-pass revision is probably not going to work well for first-time novelists or first-time revisers. If you’ve never revised a novel or if this is your first novel, you’re almost certainly going to need to do more than one pass. That’s okay.
  2. You need to figure out what method works best for you. If you prefer to go over your manuscript ten times, then that’s fine. Personally, I don’t. My goal is to continue writing new things, and get the old things as perfect as is reasonable in as little time as is possible. That means 1-2 revision cycles, tops.

So, without further ado, here is my method: (more…)

Repeat After Me…

I spend a lot of time on writer’s forums (probably more than I should). Absolute Write is one of my favorites, as are the NaNoWriMo forums until they die out sometime around the holidays (they don’t actually die out, but they do become a lot less active). I’ve been active on various others at times, too.

I enjoy writing forums, and I enjoy interacting with other writers. Especially since I work at home and have very little interaction with the outside world on a daily basis. But there are some questions that get asked on a recurring basis, with slight variations each time, that kind of bug me (maybe it’s just because I’ve spent way too much time on these forums, and so it all seems a bit repetitive to me). (more…)

My Writing Routine

After reading this post over on John August’s blog, about what his writing routine is, I thought I might write the same kind of post to detail my own writing habits. I write for a living, both blog articles and copywriting, as well as do some blog editing. On the side, I write novels, novellas, and screenplays. I’ve also written two non-fiction books.

When and Where Do You Write?

I start my writing day sometime between 7:30 and 9:00 every morning. I’m most productive when I get to my desk before 8:00, but that doesn’t always happen. The bulk of my work writing is done at my desk. It’s a giant wooden desk I salvaged from the magazine where I used to work, and was used by my late editor. I like to think that it has good vibes left over from him.

I start with email and checking social media. Then I usually get down to researching whatever it is I need to write for the day. I usually start out with some kind of outline, even if it’s just a handful of bullet points, and then I get down to actually writing. Many posts I can finish in a single day, though some take longer. Books are a different story entirely.

I break for a quick lunch sometime between 11:00 and noon. I’m usually back at my desk within about 20 minutes, and sometimes I even eat at my desk. Then it’s usually back to work until 2:00 or 3:00 at least. At that time, I usually take a break. Sometimes I have errands to run, while other times I just watch a little TV or take a walk. Depends on the day. I’ll work for another hour or two before dinner (we usually eat between 4:00 and 5:00), and then, depending on whether I finished my work for the day or not, I’ll either go back to my office for a couple more hours or I’ll bring my laptop into the living room, and either do more work or spend time doing other things online.

My fiction writing is mostly done either first thing in the morning, on breaks during the day, or just before bed. (more…)

“Swearing is a Sign of a Small Vocabulary”

This is one of those things I keep hearing from writers, all over the internet. And I have to say that it drives me crazy. Fucking crazy.

There is a time and a place for swearing in writing (and in real life, I might add). Not every character you have is going to swear like a trucker. But some of them might. And if that’s what they would say in real life, then that’s what they should say in your book. Doesn’t matter if what they’d say is “fudge” or “motherfucker”. If they’d say it, it’s your responsibility as a writer to write it. (more…)

My Guide to Surviving NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo officially starts in less than three weeks! I’ll be participating again, this time hopefully finishing up the third and fourth books of The Steam and Steel Chronicles. I feel like I’ve finally got some plot issues tied up in my head, so I can move forward with it. The thing is, when I wrote the first two books last year (for NaNoWriMo), I didn’t really have an overall story arc in mind. I just sort of threw everything in there and waited to see what stuck.

So now I’ve got all these potential plot threads that need to be tied up in the third and fourth books (I’m thinking those will finish the story, though I’m also planning a short story or two that will take place between books one and two). I’m not one to just let things go unanswered, and I want to make sure that things people liked in the first two books are featured again in the third and fourth books, without being shoehorned in. I’ve got them all figured out now, though, so I’m eager to get writing again!

But I wanted to put together a guide for surviving (and even winning) NaNoWriMo. I’m hoping it will be useful whether you’re a NaNo veteran or a first-timer. (more…)

Repeat After Me: There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block

New and old writers alike are often stopped in their tracks at the mention of The Demon Writer’s Block™. Every time they have a hard time writing, they fear it’s the beginning of The Demon Writer’s Block™ and that their writing career is effectively over.

I once claimed that I had The Demon Writer’s Block™ for six years. SIX YEARS! And it’s true that for roughly six years I didn’t really write anything. But that wasn’t The Demon Writer’s Block™. It was due to other factors, including that I just wasn’t putting in the effort. It’s that whole BIC (Butt In Chair) strategy that I just didn’t get at that time.

Now, just because there’s no such thing as The Demon Writer’s Block™ doesn’t mean that there aren’t reasons why you’re having a hard time writing (or why you can’t write at all). But we’ve built The Demon Writer’s Block™ up into this mythical being, a metaphorical demon binding our hands, preventing us from getting anything done at all. And that’s not the case. In fact, there are two relatively mundane things that contribute to so-called “writer’s block”. Both are, more or less, manageable once you’re aware that they exist.

So, what are these two all-powerful things that can control our writing productivity (if we let them)? (more…)

The Most Annoying Yet Common Writing Forum Answer Ever Given

I have to vent for a minute. I’m going to call it venting rather than ranting, because it’s not something I’m really upset about, just something that annoys me. Here goes:

I’m a somewhat-active member of a handful of writing forums. Most of these places are great sources of advice and encouragement. But there’s one piece of advice I see over and over again that just annoys the crap out of me. It annoys me because it’s no longer a valid answer. What is this incredibly-annoying bit of wisdom that is imparted so often as to reach the status of annoying, you might ask?

“Don’t worry, your agent/publisher will probably change it,” (or can advise you about changing it, or will do it for you) or even worse: “Don’t worry, your agent/publisher will fix it.”

Most often, these little gems are offered to people concerned with their book’s title. Or with pen names. Occasionally it’s said about other things relating to your book (often on the marketing end of things).

Ladies and gentlemen, that advice just doesn’t apply anymore. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The legacy publishing world is more and more competitive every day. That means if there’s anything that needs to be fixed or even changed in some cases, you’ve already lost the battle.
  2. NOT EVERYONE WANTS A LEGACY PUBLISHER OR AN AGENT.

Ten years ago, it would have been a pretty safe bet to say that 99% of people on writing forums and in writing groups were looking for a legacy publisher or a literary agent and wouldn’t consider self-publishing. Now, I’d say that number is a lot lower. I’d say 50% or more are considering both, and a smaller percentage don’t want anything to do with legacy publishing.

So please, when you’re giving advice to people on writing forums (or elsewhere), don’t offer that as real advice. Just because you’re looking for a legacy publisher doesn’t mean everyone else is. Consider that a lot of people are voluntarily striking out on their own, without the help or guidance of a publisher or agent, and that they’re happy about this (and often successful at it).

Okay, vent over. Hope everyone has a great 4th of July (in the US, or a great week if you’re not in the States)!

Quick Tip: Editing in a Different Format

So I’m finishing up the edits on The Smashing Idea Book this weekend. I’ve got two chapters left to finish, and I decided to do what I thought was going to be a major revision on part of one of those chapters, basically combining two sections and cutting part of each. It’s been intimidating just thinking about this bit of revision, because it felt like such a huge change. I’ve sat here in front of my MacBook for hours just staring at the chapter, trying to figure out how to combine these two parts and make it all make sense and sound like it was meant to be that way all along.

I was getting nowhere. My deadline is tomorrow. I do not miss deadlines unless there’s something horribly, horribly wrong. I’m not about to start now.

Finally, I copied and pasted the two offending sections into a new document and printed them out. It’s only about nine paragraphs total, and it fit on a single page.

It took me ten minutes to do the necessary edits on paper. Ten. Minutes. After I’d spent hours looking at a screen and feeling very, very discouraged. What felt like a HUGE edit turned out to be rephrasing five sentences, adding one sentence, and moving three paragraphs. That’s it. That’s all it took.

I couldn’t see that when it was on my screen. I couldn’t get a glimpse of the big picture, and instead kept trying to focus on each individual part. Once it was on paper, in front of me, it immediately became apparent that the content wasn’t as disjointed between the two sections as I’d feared.

The moral of all this is that if you’re stuck on something during the editing process, try changing formats. Print it out. Upload it to your e-reader. Change the font. It will give you a new perspective and sometimes make what seemed like a daunting challenge a whole lot easier.