Genre vs. Literary Fiction: A Rebuttal

Taking a quick break from my Rules of Writing series to comment on an article on The Guardian’s website that appeared this morning (and that I found through the Absolute Write forums). The article, Are Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown a match for literary fiction?, written by Edward Docx, kinda pissed me off to put it bluntly. The basic premise of the article is that genre fiction, no matter how “good” it is, will still never be as good as “good” literary fiction. I can hear the hair on the backs of the necks of genre writers everywhere standing up on end from all the way over here in Vermont.  Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Day #29: I WON!

So, here it is on day #29 of NaNoWriMo and I just hit 50k words. It’s not all on the novel I originally started, though. I finished that at about 42k words and then started on another novel rather than add a bunch of crap into the first one that I’d just end up deleting in revisions. My original NaNo “novel” will be a novella in the end. I might even split it up into two novellas. The plan at this point is to finish up this other novel I started at the end of NaNo and then go back and edit the first one. Then I’ll release it as an ebook, since the market for novellas is so limited (especially steampunk novellas). I plan on developing a series based around these characters and in this world, probably a mix of novels and novellas.

The one thing I plan on continuing now that NaNo is over is writing fiction every day. I’ve been really bad about that in recent months, and I want to get back into the habit. I wrote nearly every day this month (I think there were three days total when I didn’t write and a few days where I only wrote a few hundred words). I want to keep writing every day. And on days when I’m not writing, I plan to edit. I want fiction writing to be a career eventually, and writing every day will bring me closer to that goal.

So, how did everyone else do? Are you still working toward 50k? Or have you won already? Given up? Anyone plan on calling in sick to work tomorrow and making a marathon effort to hit 50k? Let me know in the comments!

NaNoWriMo Day 18!

Here we are at day 18 of National Novel Writing Month and I’m proud to say that I’m still on track to reach 50k words by the end of November. So I’m upping the ante a bit: my new goal is that I want to have this novel complete by November 30th. I’m thinking it’s going to come in somewhere around 70k words, which means I’ve got to basically double my word count for the remaining twelve days.

But that’s okay. Yesterday, using Write or Die, I managed 1,000 words in 15 minutes. If I just do four sessions like that each day, I should have no problem completing this novel. The prose isn’t perfect, but I’m so into the story at this point that what I’m writing in those short bursts is actually pretty good. I just think about it for a few minutes before I start, so I have an idea of what I want to write in those 15 minutes, and then I write. It’s been working really well so far. And if I’m even more pressed for time, I’ll do 500-word sessions (which take me about 8-9 minutes).

I’m hoping that even after NaNoWriMo is over, I can keep writing 2-4k words each day with this method. I’ve been neglecting my fiction for too long. But if I can’t figure out a way to spare a few 15-minute blocks during the day, then I don’t really deserve to call myself a writer, do I?

NaNoWriMo Day 10! And an Excerpt!

Let me just say that I’m really, really psyched about NaNoWriMo this year. It’s ten days in (1/3 of the way), and so far everything is going brilliantly.

Despite a slow start (as of Day 2 I was only at 338 words), I’m now slightly ahead of schedule, with nearly 18,500 words (I’m hoping to get to 19,000 by the end of tonight). I love my story. Not just a little bit, like A LOT.

I finally went with a steampunk love story. It’s a rewrite of my third novel, though the only thing that’s been kept the same is the main love interest (mostly) and my main character’s name. I’ve also got plans for at least one sequel, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to turn this into a series.

Here’s an excerpt. Please remember that this is a first draft, written a break-neck speed, so don’t hold it against me that it’s not perfect!

He wasn’t lying when he said the bunk was small. Isabelle didn’t take her sweater or other clothes off, simply climbed into the top bunk where it would be warmer, and covered up with the heavy wool blanket she found there. She was glad the door there had a lock on it, though she assumed Stig had a key, but at least it made her feel a bit safer. It meant she only had to worry about one person, rather than dozens or hundreds like she would have in the city streets.

The wind howled outside and she wondered if the whole hangar was going to come down on top of them. No sense worrying about it, all she could do was hope the airship would hold up if it did.

She yawned but didn’t feel tired enough to sleep yet. Her belly was full, something it hadn’t been in weeks, and she wondered if it would make her sick. Rich food like that wasn’t the best thing to put on an empty stomach. On more than one occasion she’d seen other street kids eat something rich from a dumpster or stolen from a restaurant just to puke it all up ten minutes later.

Rustling noises came from the room on the other side of her locked door, and a minute later she saw the sliver of light shining under the door go out. It took every bit of will she had to relax enough to close her eyes, but soon she was on the verge of drifting off. It was a dreamless sleep that night, and when she woke up there was light filtering under the door again, but this time it had the cool grayness of daylight.

Again, it’s just a short excerpt, but it gives a taste of what I’ve been working on.

NaNoWriMo Countdown, T-8 Days: What About Plot?

Yesterday I covered character development, and talked about how it’s vital to any good novel, but especially to a winning NaNoWriMo novel. But that doesn’t mean you don’t also need a decent plot.

There are a few ways to approach “plotting”, depending on your goals and aims. Stephen King has a great method. He doesn’t “plot”, he just puts characters in a situation and sees what happens. It’s the ultimate “What if?” approach. This kind of organic plotting obviously works brilliantly for him. There’s an element of it in a lot of the best novels out there. If you’re going to try this, make sure you know your characters inside and out so you know exactly how they’ll respond when different things happen.

Other people like to plot things out, beginning to end, knowing every step along the way. I do this sometimes. It’s what I’m doing for this year’s NaNo project. The first year I tackled this project, I started an outline, then quickly abandoned it and just went with whatever came to mind. It worked better than I expected, but still not as well as it could have.

Some people only have an idea of where they’re going to start and where they’re going to end up (hopefully). And others have no clue other than a basic idea.

I generally wouldn’t recommend that last one for NaNoWriMo (especially if it’s your first NaNo) unless you’ve written a novel before and know that it works for you. Having at least a general idea of where you’re going and where you’re starting serves as a guidepost so you know what needs to happen. It’s easy to get lost or boxed into a corner if you have no idea what needs to happen next.

At the same time, don’t stick rigidly to your outline if you choose to use one. Sometimes the best ideas occur to you while you’re writing, and require changing around some things. Go with it. Adjust your outline if you need to, or just toss it and go with the new idea. An outline is there to help you write. If it’s getting in the way, it’s not longer helping.

But again, how you plot is a very personal choice. What works for one novelist fails miserably for another. Here are a handful of plotting resources you might find helpful:

How to Write a Book in Three Days – And you’re complaining about having only 30 days? This method is incredibly detailed and has a lot of useful information about how to outline a novel and what you need to have handy to make sure you don’t get stuck. And it’s the method used by a published novelist.

Evil Overlord Devises a Plot – A fun plot generation tool. Not necessarily useful.

Novel Outlining 101 – A great outlining article, with examples.

How to Plot a Novel for Beginners in Writing – A short overview of the classic three-act structure.

StoryToolz Generators – Two useful plot generators: Story Ideas and Multiple Conflicts.

About Conflict

Conflict is the backbone of a good plot. Whether it’s internal or external, without conflict, you don’t really have a story. And you’ll bore your reader to death, even if your prose is beautiful.

Conflict is relatively simple, though: Your protagonist wants something. Something is in his way. There you go: conflict.

My favorite analogy for conflict within a novel is to chase your character up a tree. Then throw rocks at him. Then throw bigger rocks at him. Just when you (or your reader) think he can’t take any more, light the tree on fire. Whether he gets out is up to you.

As always, if you have more useful plotting tips or links, please share them in the comments!

NaNoWriMo Countdown, T-9 Days: It’s All About Character

I sort of jumped the gun on that T-10 days post, posting it a few hours early (when it was technically still T-11 days). Now we’re back on schedule.

Let’s talk about characters. As a one-time NaNo winner and one-time NaNo loser, I think what sets winning manuscripts apart is the strength of the characters. At least it does for me.

Good characters will carry the story. They’ll come to life and tell you what should happen next. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re crazy, but in either case, they keep the story moving. Momentum is absolutely vital when it comes to NaNo. Without it, you will fail. If you do somehow manage to keep going and “win”, you’ll find that what you’ve written is so flat that it isn’t worth revising.

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Countdown to NaNoWriMo: T-10 Days

I can’t believe it’s already almost November. (Where did summer go? And is Christmas really just over two months away? AH!) And of course, November means National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo.

I have a mixed history with NaNoWriMo. I did it first in 2008, right after I began writing seriously again. I finished my second novel in just over 33 days (hitting the 50,000 word mark around November 15th). Then I tried it in 2009, and I got about 14,000 words into it when I gave up. I just wasn’t feeling the story. I think it’s because I tried to take on something too serious and it took all the fun out of it. I’ll probably finish that novel at some point. If it doesn’t depress me too much.

This summer I finally went through my NaNo winner from 2008 (I was afraid to even look at it, for fear that it would be completely unintelligible) and decided it wasn’t that bad. Sure, there was head-hopping galore (though I was surprised that some of it almost worked…almost) and the plot went off on quite a few tangents, but there’s some real potential there, with the general world and the characters especially.

So this NaNo, I’m going to start over on that one, and rewrite it entirely. No cut-and-paste from the original, just a thorough outline and some really well-developed characters.

Now, there are a few things I have going against me this time that I didn’t have last time. First of all, I’m now working full time. Plus, I’m possibly taking on a couple of big (one of them really BIG) projects in the next month or so. Time will definitely not be on my side this year.

Of course, I also have a lot more writing experience. I’ve completed six novel first drafts at this point, and done edits on almost all of them. I’ve grown as a writer a LOT since 2008. I expect (hope?) to walk away from this year’s NaNo with a manuscript that only needs polishing and minor editing (since it will technically be a second draft, anyway).

In the next ten days, I need to finish up my outline (I have it mostly written out, I’m just putting it on index cards so I can properly combine all three points-of-view and make sure everything matches up). I need to make sure I really do know my characters inside and out. And I need to get all this information copied over into Scrivener so it’s all right at my fingertips when I’m writing. Scrivener’s full-screen mode is also helpful when I’m trying to write without getting distracted.

I’m also hoping to post some helpful tips and tricks over the next ten days to help out anyone else who’s thinking of participating this year. Whether I’ll be able to post here every day, plus get my regular work done, plus finish up my own NaNo prep work, plus get ready for my annual Halloween party is anyone’s guess. This might fall by the wayside. So if you have tips/resources/etc. that might be useful to others participating, please share them in the comments here!

And good luck to everyone!

3-Day Novel Contest Fail

So, the 3-Day Novel Contest was a complete failure for me. Mainly because I just didn’t bother putting much effort into it. Holiday weekends are just not the best time for be to try to tackle big projects like that. Mainly because there’s other stuff I’d rather be out doing on a holiday weekend.

On the plus side, I did manage to get a decent start to a novella. It’s something I’m definitely going to keep working on, though I’m not sure where I’m going with it.

I think I might give the 3-day novel thing another try, but on my own time, when I can actually take three days to write when I don’t have any other commitments. Winter is just around the corner in my neck of the woods, so I think I’ll be able to find a block of time to do it. I’ll just wait for a blizzard!

A Poll for Published and Agented Novelists

I’ve been reading Dean Wesley Smith’s Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing the past couple of days on his blog, and it’s brought up a lot of great points. I’m inclined to believe most of what he says because: a) he’s published over 90 novels and has a lot of experience in the industry, and b) he tends to back up everything he says either with hard data or very sound reasoning. One of the biggest things he talks about is the role of agents and how they’re important for things like negotiating contracts and such, but that you can sell your book to publishers better than they can. Which is completely counter to what any agent and most publishers will tell you.

So, being one for statistics and doing my own research, I’ve concocted the following poll. I’m posting this all over Twitter and Facebook, and hope you’ll all do the same. I’d like to collect as many answers as possible over the next ten days, and then I’ll publish the results and my take on them right here. Let’s see what the numbers say for themselves. Please also feel free to add your own take and your own story about finding an agent or getting published in the comments below. Thanks!

End of My Hiatus and the 3-Day Novel Contest

I’m ending my summer hiatus as of now. It’s a couple of hours before September 1st, and though “summer” isn’t technically over for another three weeks or so, I’ve always considered Labor Day Weekend to be the end of summer.

My hiatus was not as productive as I’d hoped. I’ve managed to get about half way through editing one of my novels, and that’s about it. I’ve been incredibly busy with other projects and just haven’t had the time to devote to fiction that I’d hoped for. But since fall is almost here, I think I’ll have more time, especially once October arrives.

Of course, my busy schedule isn’t going to keep me from participating in the annual 3-Day Novel Contest this weekend.

That’s right, a novel in 3 days. It puts NaNoWriMo to shame. The goal is to hole up and write an entire novel (okay, more of a novella—most entries run about 100 pages, or roughly 25,000 words) in 72 hours, starting at midnight on Saturday. Then, without any editing outside of what you can manage in that 72 hours, you package up your manuscript and mail it off to the contest judges. The winner gets a publishing contract. Second place gets $500 and third place gets $100.

I tried it last year. I didn’t officially enter because I didn’t want to pay the $50 entry fee, and ended up giving up after a couple of hours and a couple thousand words. I just wasn’t really into it.

But this year is going to be different. My husband offered the pay the entry fee for me. Before Friday I’ll go to the website and register.

I have a bit of a restricted schedule this weekend, and won’t be able to devote the entire 72 hours to the contest. On Saturday afternoon/evening we have a party for a good friend who moved across the country a couple of years ago but is back for a visit. Then on Sunday we have a barbecue with some family. I’m not too worried about it, though. I’ll bring my laptop and a pocket notebook with me on both occasions so I can jot notes as I think of them.

My goal is 30,000 words. It’s a solid novella, and something that could be expanded into a novel in all likelihood. Rather than come up with something entirely original, my plan is to adapt Sense & Sensibility, modernize it, and tell it from the male perspective. It’s something different and gives me a structure while still allowing plenty of room for creativity and experimentation. And if I get stuck, I can just refer back to the original.

I plan on watching both movie versions available streaming on Netflix between now and Saturday morning. I’m not working for the next three days, and I’m hoping I’ll be set to start writing on Saturday as soon as I wake up. I might even stay up late Friday night and get started as soon as the contest opens. Sometimes I write best late at night.

I’ll post an update on how the contest goes as soon as I’m done with it. Or as soon as I give up. I think I have the stamina for it, and I’m glad that the weather isn’t supposed to be particularly good this weekend, so I won’t be too tempted by fun things going on.

Anyone else crazy enough to tackle this contest? Let me know in the comments if you are!