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votes are in and names are up

Wow, thanks for everyone who voted on the NaNo novel! The numbers are in and it stands as this:

Option 1 (comic urban fantasy): III

Option 2 (children’s adventure): IIII

Option 3 (literary fiction): IIII I

So it looks as if I’ll be attempting some literary fiction. That’s a new one for me and I have to tell you, I’m a little intimidated by it, but in the end, challenges are good, aren’t they? Help us to rise above ourselves? Make us better and stronger people?

… alright, it did sound more convincing in my head…

Okay, I’ll be serious. Serious about planning, that is. Since it’s already the 18th (!!! gahhhhh! how did that happen?!?!?) and there is lots and lots to plot and plan. Some things I already know though. The names. I don’t how how you guys deal with names, but for me, it’s pretty much one of the first things I know about a character. Not always. Sometimes I know who he or she is and then find a name that fits them. But usually, the name and the character of the person come to me in a bundle. And then, once they have that name, that’s it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I might want to change it later on, because maybe the name has to sound different or maybe it conveys a ‘wrong’ cultural background or two names in one story sound too much alike, but in that case, it’s just bad luck. Nothing I can do about it.

I mean, just imagine if you took it into your head that you really didn’t like your own name that much and you decided to go by another. Maybe you have a second name, maybe you’ll change your surname to something else… but underneath, in your own head, wouldn’t you still think of yourself by your original name?

I can see how a change of name would help if you wanted to become a different person. Just like clothes, I guess: you put them on and you just feel different. They allow you to leave your personality and pretend, for a little while, that you are more fun or more quiet, more outspoken or more professional, more this or that or anything else that you can think of than you usually are. That’s one reason why people dress up for job interviews or for dates or for festive occasions – it’s an outward signal to themselves and it bucks them up to be professional or at their most charming or in their best festive mood. It helps. It’s certainly part of why I only really use make-up and fancy jewelry at certain times (like interviews and exams and parties and so on). In the end though, you’re still yourself when you take the clothes off.

A change of name, of course, is more permanent than clothes and I’m sure it would help you change, just by always reminding you to be different and act as a sort of guide to the new you. But that’s exactly my point with characters: once they have a name, that is them. I cannot change the name without changing the personality. And the other way round, if I think that that secondary character (or even, in one case, the main character herself) really has to be different to fit in the story, then I need to do them from scratch: new personality, new name, new character. The old ones gets put in a back corner of my head, where they sulks for a while, crossing their arms in front of their chests, huffing and kicking at the dusty furniture and pretending not to be hurt, until they snatch up a random particle of inspiration and hold it up above their heads, its light reflecting back on their faces and lighting it up with a wild hope and glee and they shout at me: “That’s my story, right there! All mine! My story! Do something about it! Move, come on!”

(I don’t know if your characters sulk or are hurt or angry at you or shout at you and order you about, but I fervently hope they do, because if they don’t, it might mean I’m crazy after all.)

So, yeah, names are IMPORTANT. They define people. They define characters in novels. And I have the names for my next book, and attached to that, the personalities of the characters. That’s a good start, right?

All the writers out there: do you find names as important as well? Are you able to change them in the middle of the story or is that utterly unthinkable for you?

please choose my NaNo novel!

As October is sprinting on, a new challenge is starting to loom on the horizon for all write-minded people.

Yep, NaNoWriMo is upon us once more.

I didn’t realize this until a got an official e-mail last week, reminding me of the fact. For some reason, it’s the same with NaNo as with Christmas – both happen so suddenly. Just – bam! – and there is November and the madness of writing a minimum of 50,000 words worth of story. And straight after receiving the mail, I also noticed that the writing-oriented blogosphere was buzzing with NaNo, with everybody writing about their preparations, their fears, their motivation and so I decided it was high time I did the same. Just so I don’t feel left out.

The first time I attempted NaNo was last year, and I crashed and burned quite soon into the proceedings. Then I attempted the June version of it, which calls itself Camp NaNo and managed to be a glorious winner! Alright, I haven’t even finished editing that draft yet, but since I made that experience of sprinting over the finishing line with my whole system buzzing from caffeine and five minutes to spare, I have been game to try it again, so November is coming just at the right time! (well, it usually does, which is, right after October, but I guess you know what I mean…)

So for preparation so far I have done the amazing amount of nothing. I haven’t even decided yet on which story I should use. And since I can’t decide, I’d thought I’d get your opinions. If anybody out there is interested in playing fate, feel free and tell me your choice. (Just keep in mind that I suck at titles and I haven’t really got the plots for any of these figured out beyond the basics!)

**********

OPTION 1

Working title: Demon School

Genre: Urban Fantasy with lots of comedy thrown in and a chick-lit-kinda romance

Story (very roughly): A young woman from a small town, with a healthy dose of curiosity and the ability to put her foot in it whatever the situtation, takes a job as secretary at a London school on the recommendation of an old neighbour and discovers that the school educates all kinds of magical and fantastical youngsters, from vampires to ghosts and to dwarves and to banshees. General mayhem is the natural state of affairs at this school, but when first things and then kids go missing, she decides to play sleuth and thereby crosses the path of some dangerous people who are less than pleased at her knack of finding things out…

**********

OPTION 2

Working title: The Treasure in the Dunes

Genre: Children’s novel, Adventure

Story (very roughly): When Dan and his older sister are shipped off to their aunt in the wilds of Norfolk for the summer holidays because their parents need “time to sort things out” between them, he’s sure that it can’t get much worse. That is, until he meets his cousins, who run wild in the dunes and the forests and who despise him because he has glasses and comes from the city and is a pampered baby. When Dan discovers an ancient document, however, all four kids need to work together to find the treasure that has been hidden for so long.

**********

OPTION 3

Working title: Four Couples [this is the lamest title ever, but it’s all I can do right now]

Genre: Literary Fiction (???)

Story (very roughly): Eight people, four couples: one in a long-standing relationship, one that has just fallen in love, one that develops a love-hate relationship at first sight and one where fear stands in the way of love. Each person defines love differently and each has different expectations. Over the course of [a certain time] their relationships as couples, as family, as friends develop and happy ends are not always what they seem.

**********

So, which one’s the story of your choice? (I’m depending on you guys!)

doodling

Today, I doodled. And I don’t mean pictures. I played around with a plot.

It’s an old idea. Actually, the original idea is about fifteen years old, I wrote the beginning of the story when I was still a teenager. Two or three years ago I re-discovered it, knocking around on my computer, and at the first time of reading it again, I laughed out loud.

In a good way.

So I started doodling with it, every time I thought of it. Because that’s what I do with stories. I think of them, I go all enthusiastic, start writing, find out that I have no structure whatsoever and then put it away in some folder on the computer. And every time I feel like it, I take it out and start playing around with it.

Somehow I seem to believe that stories finish themselves, if only I wait long enough and play around with them from time to time. Maybe they mate. Or they need time to hatch. I’m not sure. It doesn’t work anyway. They don’t grow.

So today I doodled on this idea. I wrote an interview with the main character, which I didn’t finish because he was way too talkative. He also kept hitting on me. So I ended it, but I learned a lot about him. Like, that his friends call him Dev. The name I gave him was Devlin, but he doesn’t like that. He thinks it’s too Celtic. Too grown-up. Too serious.

Then I went with my old and trusted method of just asking questions of myself and answering them. Mainly, I ask ‘why’. It sort of develops from there by itself until I have a pretty good idea of where it’s all going. It did work – as in I have some more ideas – but it also brought some new challenges that I hadn’t  thought of, and the most important one is that the stakes aren’t high enough. All the events and actions I’m putting on the line for Devlin (or rather Dev, as I now know) – he’d never in a million years do them! And the reasons I had before, that would make him do it, aren’t strong enough. I need to be much, much more mean towards him.

At that point, I thought that some really serious structure would help, and I brought out my little chart of what has to happen in which part of the story (first part: introduce character, establish setting, dump character into problem – second part: character tries to solve problem, fails, … and so on and so on). I tried to fill it in, but didn’t succeed much beyond the first part. Structure. I need some. Also, I need some more fiery hoops for Dev to jump through. And bigger rewards to make him jump in the first place.

*gottathinkitout*

I never used to do this much plotting, but I think that’s the main reason why my stories don’t mate. Or hatch. Or don’t grow in any way. I need structure.

What about you?

plotlove or: why it’s good to have a sister around

I *love* the word ‘plot’.

You can do so much with it.

You can plot a murder. You can loose it. You can use one to overthrow an evil dictator. If you’re not careful, you can miss it. You can employ it against someone or something. Best of all, they are messy and you can fling in whatever events, occurrences, mad inspiration or evil twists you want. It’s complete freedom. It’s the stage where you just happily imagine making your characters walk through fire. Or push them into boiling oil, as the amazing Holly Lisle expressed it.

Your main character (MC) needs to leave town, so that her car can break down, and she will be able to meet the guy, who will later ruin her life? Cue: the unexpected arrival of the  crazy spinster aunt, who embarrasses her so deeply that she is forced to leave.

You MC is mortally afraid of fish? Make him be the only one around when a child falls into a lake, forcing him to jump in and swim through all the fish to save the golden-haired infant from drowning, and coming out, he’s so empowered that he asks out the child’s mother, who wasn’t irresponsible at all, but instead was distracted from looking after the kid because the detective was asking her uncomfortable questions about the murder. Oh! OH! You could have the guy stub his toe on the murder weapon as he comes wading out of the fish-infested lake, glistening heroically in the sun. Or rather, dripping and blinking out from under the algae that cover him. And while the mother tearfully embraces the child and its rescuer, the detective realizes that it could of course only have been your main character, who found this ingenious way of suddenly ‘finding’ the murder weapon. Hm. Not sure I like where this is going…

Apart from my insane imagination going on the rampage here, the point is: plotting is FUN! It’s figuring out how to get from introducing your MC (or MCs) to having them either happily married to each other, or dead, or broken but wiser, or saving the world, or the murder, or … whatever ending fits in with the genre your write in.

This is what my plotting session last night looked like:

Me – lying in the middle of the living room floor.

My sister – lounging on the couch.

The floor – covered in my notebook, several pieces of paper with mind-maps, post-its, a pair of scissors, coloured pens, coloured paper, my computer for quick research, my sister’s computer for the music (the sound is better on hers!), several books to see how real authors do it, several used mugs half-full with tea, two half-eaten bowls of soup.

… and this bit of conversation is representative of about four hours of work:

Me: … but how does he [= the evil antagonist] try to force them [= my MC and her friends] to give up the shop?

Sis: Well, he could… well…. okay, he could spread evil rumours about them.

Me: Like what?

Sis: Like … *concentrated silence*

Me: Oh! Maybe he pretends to be a customer and says things like ‘I’ve seen this book a lot cheaper at this other bookshop!’ to customers? OOOOOOR, he could spread the rumour that the shop is infested with rats! Ha! That’s good, isn’t it?

Sis: Maybe. Maybe. Or he could kidnap N [= on of the side characters].

Me: I’m not sure he would do that.

Sis: Maybe not. But I think he should. It would be cool. Then the MC can rescue her.

Me: Okay, okay, let’s see. Maybe. I’ll keep it in mind. Back to the rumours. He could also pretend to be a building inspector and…

Sis: … and gain N’s trust and then kidnap her?!? *hopeful look*

Me: *banging my head slowly on the floor*

the perfect idea – take two

After bragging about finding the perfect idea last night, I got to thinking about what makes my idea so perfect? And I decided to have a look at what professional writers, or at any rate, writers with any experience at all, think makes an idea perfect. Here are the results of my research:

Alexandra Sokoloff, a very successful writer of thrillers and movie scripts who also runs an AWESOME blog, insists that you have to be “excited enough to spend a year (or most likely more) of your life completely immersed in it” and, if you want to be a professional writer, other people have to be excited enough about it to want to buy it. Which makes absolute sense to me. Read the full article to see how she suggests finding that perfect idea.

What author and writing instructor Larry Brooks has to say about it in his super-interesting storyfixer blog sounds similar: to fall in love with your idea. To make it one that matters to you and that “you’d read if someone else wrote about it”. The whole series about how to prepare for NaNo is chock-full of tips and ideas and encouragement. Definitely something I’ll go back to in the next days and weeks.

… I’m cutting this short. I’ve been patient enough, going through hundreds of tips. Now my head is pounding with new knowledge or reminders about things I should have known, and ah, what the heck. I’ll give you the short version:

The unanimous opinion seems to be to choose the idea you love, that excites you, that you feel like spending at least a month of your life with and maybe, if you’re interested in that, to choose one that others can be excited about as well.

For me, what makes my idea so perfect in my head, is the character, which I care deeply, deeply, deeply about and how is as alive as can be, as well as the setting, which I just adore and wish I lived right smack in the middle of. And seriously, the falling-in-love-bit is not the problem with me, I do it all the time with every new idea. But I think I must have a bit of a commitment problem, because usually I abandon my ideas as soon as the relationships starts getting a bit tougher. First fight and I’m off.

(Note to self:  *must*NOT*let*this*happen*with*NaNo*project*)

Off to start the *serious* planning while I still have all these tips fresh in my mind. I’m relying on this to help me stick with this perfect beginning through the rough times.

the perfect idea

I set out to find the perfect idea for my NaNo project. And secretly I didn’t think I would find it because, well… I’m really bad at being creative on command. Then suddenly, while I was jotting down the working titles for all my beginnings and vague plot ideas (often just called ‘Jack’s story’, ‘Macy’s story’, ‘Devlin’s story’, … you get the drift?), the perfect idea popped up and made me gasp and jump up and hit my forehead with my palm and generally behave like a madwoman.

I mean, it was so OBVIOUS! It’s actually an idea for which I started a fiction blog more than two years ago and then didn’t get past six or so posts because too many things suddenly started happening in the story to keep track of, and also, because I started is as a sort of running diary, without an overarching plot. But the setting in itself and the main characters are absolutely perfect. Of course, in accordance with the NaNo ‘law’ (or guidelines or rather, game rules), I will not use a single word of those blog posts! It’ll be all shiny and fresh. 🙂

So, you fought through these self-complimentary and triumphant ramblings because you want to know what the story will actually be about? Hm. Well. Okay. Just to please you, some hints: it will feature a bookshop where not everything is as it at first seems. It will have a leading lady that suffers from an over-exuberant family. There will probably be some romantic elements. There will be some laughs and lots of surprises. And I really cannot tell you more. Why? Truth be told, because I really don’t know anything more myself.

I think I have a lot of planning to do.

trashing misconceptions & have tos

I spent a lot of time yesterday on a) the new look – like it? and b) a list of favourite reads – see page link above. I also got myself a twitter account and started hanging out over there to get some gossip, tips, tricks, ideas, encouragement, laughs… Like I said yesterday, there is a HUGE writing community there, something that I really didn’t know before. I thought twitter was either people talking about revolutions (interesting and necessary and cool, but too tough to keep up with, plus temporary) or people whose friends were, for some strange reason, interested to know what they were doing every minute of the day (uninteresting beyond belief). Instead there are cool people sharing knowledge, cheering each other on and forming friendships.

When I signed up for NaNo, I did it mainly for the fun of taking part. Also, because I apparently need deadlines to work efficiently, as proven once again by my recent last-minute scramble over my MA dissertation. I had the vague idea of tackling that one story that I have been fighting with and obsessing over for years and that still refuses to budge past the one million beginnings I’ve written for it. Then I read this post by Lynn Viehl about whether to go with an old idea for NaNo or choose a fresh one. Strangely, I’d never even thought about doing something completely fresh. I have so many ideas in my head and in notes and snippets and on random bits of paper, that I just assumed I should use NaNo to pressure me into finishing one of them. It seemed more of a task, than anything that would bring me a lot of enjoyment.

But now – liberation! I can do whatever I want to do. The same as I can start using twitter and learning to appreciate it long after I’d made up my mind about it and dismissed it as anything I would be interested in using, I can shake off the misconception that I *have to* finish anything, just because I started it. Hey, those ideas are noted down! I can take them up again any time I want to. Or I can just leave them where they are.

For now I’m heading off into daydreaming land to find the perfect idea for my NaNo project… use some old element or not… find a completely new idea… go with an older one but mix it with another older one… complete freedom!