Last Day of Camp

Potter Camping

Some camping trips are more fun than others.

This is the last day of April, and that means it’s the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, too.  Team Unicorn achieved yet another double victory.  I’ve got 136,064 words, far exceeding my goal of 50,000.  S’s goal was 40,000, and she passed that last night.

I finished my novel, too.  It’s called Black Eagle Rising, which sounds like one of those cheap WWII paperback thrillers that they sell in the airport, but it’s actually about how a civil war in the Myrciaverse gets started.  I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.  One of my goals was to make the average length of my chapters shorter this time around, and I achieved that.  In some of my recent novels, the average chapter was running over 3,000 words, so I was trying to keep it down around 2,000-2,500 or so.  My hope is that it’s going to make the book feel like it “reads quicker.”  We’ll see how it is when S and I read through it, which hopefully we’ll be doing soon.

We’re already looking forward to our next projects, though.  S is planning an epistolary novel set in the Myrciaverse, which is going to be very exciting.  Maybe at some point she’ll write about how that’s going.  I’m planning S’s birthday present, a shorter novel called Unspeakably Wooed, which will be a sequel to Black Eagle Rising.  I can’t say more than that, because it’s supposed to be a surprise.

In other news, I got to put a new keyboard into my main laptop, Ellard.  The space bar in the old one broke, so I’ve been using a portable Bluetooth keyboard.  That worked out fine, actually, but I’m glad to have everything working again and not have to carry around a separate keyboard anymore.

If you were doing Camp NaNo, I hope you met your goal.  And if you didn’t, just remember that there will be another Camp NaNo in July.  And it’s never too early to start planning what you’re going to do for it.

J

Happy Unicorn Day!

The_Lion_and_the_Unicorn_2

Starting the traditional Unicorn Day conga line.

Apparently today is National Unicorn Day!  As we have mentioned before, one of our writer friends dubbed me and S “a unicorn” because we are married, and yet can still collaborate on our writing successfully.  (Apparently this is quite rare among married couples.)  In celebration of our own holiday, we will be celebrating by working on our projects for Camp NaNoWriMo, rather than, for example, writing lengthy blog posts.

Camp NaNo is going well.  I hit my goal of 50,000 words yesterday, and I’m past the midpoint in my outline.  S is working on a Versailles fanfic currently, though she’s been switching back and forth between various projects.  Between them all, she’s past 15,000 words.

So enjoy all the sparkly magic of Unicorn Day, and we’ll be back soon with more substantive updates on our writing.

J

Howdy!

john wayne

The ultimate cowboy says “How do you do.”

Greetings from Camp NaNoWriMo. This is day 2 of Camp, and the fanfic I’m working on is going okay so far. I was having some issues with POV and forgetting vital information that I even wrote down on a note card so I wouldn’t forget it, but with the help of some fellow Campers, I think I’m back on track. But as I promised in my last post, I’m only writing what I want to this month, so I’ve got to run now and see what kind of trouble (read: sexy good fun times) I can get my characters into. 😉

~S

Castles in the Air

Moving Castle

Like this, only not.

Spring is here at Chez Unicorn, which means the trees are budding and the lilies are sprouting.  This is probably the last weekend we’ll have without the threat of yardwork until July, when it’ll be hot enough to stunt everything.  We’re celebrating by having pork roast and sauerkraut.  And we’ll probably do some writing later.

Earlier, we were out hunting for new glassware.  We’ve been pretty hard on our glasses lately, and we need new ones.  The problem is that everything we found was too small, too ugly, or came in massively large quantities, like 8 or 16.  I mean, we break glasses pretty often, but not that often.  Seriously, Walmart, just let me buy these tall ones in a set of four, for crying out loud.

This is also the last weekend in March, and that means that next time you hear from us, Camp NaNoWriMo will have started.  I’ve got my outline ready, and I’ve done my character profiles and prompts.  For the past few days, I’ve been making a floor plan of the castle where the majority of the action takes place.

Old Wealdan Castle

Behold the fruits of far, far too many hours’ labor.

Some people (well, actually most people) would probably say that this level of preparation is unnecessary.  But personally I’ve found it really helpful.  It’s easy, particularly for fantasy authors, to have a pleasantly vague idea of your setting in your head.  But when you have to sit down and start drawing it, you’re suddenly forced to make decisions.  And you see where certain ideas you had are actually impossible.

Part of the plot of my story, for instance, requires that there be servants’ corridors and secret stairways in this castle.  The moment I started making these floorplans, though, I realized the vague picture I had in my mind of these passageways was completely impossible.  There simply was no room for them.  So I had to spend time thinking about the problem and come up with a practical solution: interstitial servants’ floors with hidden staircases that go up and give access into the public areas through hidden doors.  Now, instead of just secret passages, I’ve got whole secret floors of dark, creepy rooms to play with.  It’s very exciting, actually.

This is all in keeping with one of the longest-running themes of this blog: why planning is better than pantsing.  S and I have found that the more you plan, the easier the actual writing becomes, and the less you have to dread revisions.  Obviously, not every setting requires a detailed map or floorplan, in the same way that not every character requires a lengthy character profile.  But whether it’s setting or character or plot, it’s all too easy to fool yourself and say, “Oh, I know what I’m doing here,” only to discover later that you didn’t really know at all.

So if it’s important to your plot to know, for instance, that Susan’s bedroom is over the garage, with a view over the garden in the back, and the stairway is halfway down the hall and leads to the kitchen, which is next to the den, then it might be worth doing a quick little sketch, just to make sure that’s possible.  You don’t even have to be able to draw well to do a floorplan—just make lines on a page.  It helps ensure your castles are grounded in reality and not, you know, floating on air.

J

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

young frank.

S is turning into a mad scientist, ala Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein.

This post is going to be short by design. You see, I have this theory that I often get in my own way, writing-wise. In November I started writing like crazy when I switched to a project I longed to be writing, and I’ve been very productive since working on the stories I want to tell. In fact, I’m making a formal vow to myself that for the next month and a half (through the end of Camp NaNoWriMo), I’m going to only write what I want to write.

After all, if I’m doing this writing thing because it’s fun, I should make certain I’m having fun, right? Yes, I want to be a good blogger and post something here regularly, and I think I can put in at least a half hour every two weeks so that I’m still providing content. But I sometimes (cough today cough) waste the better part of a day psyching myself up to write this blog or some story I’m “supposed” to be working on, but not writing anything at all, even though there’s something I want to be writing.

So, I’m going to spend as much time as I can writing where my heart is. It’s what I’ve been mostly doing since late November, but I’m going to do it with purpose through April 30th and see what happens. See if I’m more productive and happy. Who knows, maybe I’ll find I need some have-to/ought-to projects to keep me going, but until I try this experiment, I’ll never know.

Will report back in May!

~S

I’ll Fix It in Post

film-reel

“Fix it in post.” The most dreaded words on set?

Often when J and I are writing, we will borrow from the world of film the idea that we can fix what’s wrong in “post.” Of course, this is just our silly way of referring to revision, but I thought about the idea, and the trope, more seriously when I was working on my ill-fated NaNo novel. Granted, unlike a film, a novelist can always go back and “reshoot” (rewrite) a scene to get what she needs, but I think there’s something to be said for having the raw materials you need before you get to the revision process.

Now, I’ve never made an exact study of the numbers and percentages, but let’s say in a novel that has been properly outlined and researched ahead of time and is drafted thoughtfully, it will have 10-20% changed significantly in revision. When I start a novel knowing that eventuality is coming, that is something I can live with at this point, because I’ve written enough to appreciate that writing is rewriting. But then on a novel like The Queen’s Tower, my NaNo book from two years ago, I went in with a tenuous outline and characters I didn’t know especially well. I finished the first draft of that knowing I would be changing around 20-30% of what had been written, plus adding about 30% entirely new content. That’s pretty daunting, and probably why I still haven’t finished the novel.

And that brings us to this year’s NaNo novel, The Swift True Road. Not only did I not start with the level of detail to my outline I prefer, but I didn’t do as much character work as I would have liked, and being my first historical novel, I quickly realized I hadn’t done even close to enough research. Because it was NaNo, I kept plowing along, but around 35,000 words in, I realized I would be completely reworking at least 50% of what I had already written. Knowing I would be chucking half of what I was laboring so hard to write became discouraging to the point that I didn’t have the heart to continue writing the novel. It also seemed to be a supreme waste of time.

As J pointed out last week, I decided to set The Swift True Road aside, and I went to work on other projects to see me through the month of November, and make certain I still wrote 50,000 words for the month. At some point, I absolutely intend to return to The Swift True Road. I still think it’s a great idea for a book, a romance between two mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, but I’m not going to pick it back up again until I’m sure I can successfully draft a novel that will leave me with the pieces I need to polish a good story in post.

~S

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

chicken-dinner

Or at least “chicken flavored.”

Actually it was a chicken lunch.  Or chicken flavored ramen, to be exact.  (Those Maruchan Bowl noodles are awesome!)  It’s cold outside, and we’re trying to stay warm and not get sick.  But it’s December now, and that means it’s time for Team Unicorn to brag about yet another double NaNoWriMo win for us.

I finished the two novels I planned to write: A Tincture of Silver and When Uppance Comes.  The first one (after some revisions) is 76,837 words long.  The second one is 75,623 words.  Right now, S and I are reading through A Tincture of Silver, though we’ve got other things we need to get done today, so I don’t know how far we’ll get.  As we’ve mentioned before, reading our books aloud together is an important part of our revision process.

Once I was finished with those two, I decided to get started on a third novel, which will be S’s Christmas present.  Yes, we write each other things as presents—it’s the ultimate in unicorniness.  I can’t tell the title of that one, because it’s a bit of a spoiler for S, and she wants to be surprised on Christmas morning when she looks under the metaphorical tree and sees it waiting for her.  It’ll actually be in the shared folder of our OneDrive account, but that’s sort-of like finding it in your stocking, yes?  As of this morning, that third novel is sitting at 46,380 words.  If I subtract the words I’ve written in the last four days, but I include all the prep work, like character profiles and character prompts, that I wrote for it, you come to my grand total for the month of November, which was 225,182 words.  That’s the most I’ve ever done in a NaNo month, I think.

As for S, she decided to set aside her historical romance and go back to writing an ongoing fanfic project that she has, and she became much happier when she did.  Perhaps at some point she’ll blog about that.  Sometimes it’s just not the right time for a particular project, and this November apparently wasn’t the right time for historical romance.  It happens.

She also wrote a short story for my Christmas present, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it.  But I have no idea what it is, except that she’s admitted it’s set in the Myrciaverse, which is nice.  Other than that, I’m completely in the dark, and I haven’t tried to peek or metaphorically rattle the box to see what’s inside.  I want a surprise on Christmas morning, too.

J

Unicorning: an Update

domenichinounicornpalfarnese

Old-school Unicorning.

This is mid-November, so you can’t actually expect that we’re going to write anything lengthy or thoughtful for our blog, can you?  No, of course not.

I’ve finished my first novel, A Tincture of Silver, and I think it turned out pretty well.  It’s interesting how, no matter how much you prepare for a book, you still discover more when you actually go to write it.  For example, I thought I knew one of my characters pretty well, but at the end of Chapter 9, she had to write a farewell letter to someone she had tricked.  The tone of it started pretty pleasant, actually, but then, at the end, I had the idea to add a nasty little burn as a postscript.  And suddenly I found I understood her a lot better.  What sort of person is she?  Well, she’s the sort of person who would write something like that, just to rub it in.

For the past few days, I’ve been doing character prompts for my second novel, When Uppance Comes.  It’ll be more of a comedy than the first one, I’m hoping.  It’s a sequel of sorts to both A Meager Education and Joint Command.  Here’s the summary of it I just wrote for my novel page on the NaNoWriMo website:

Selfish, conniving, and beautiful, Lisette comes to the royal court, determined to take her rightful place in society.  She schemes to win a place accompanying the queen on a vital diplomatic mission, but she’ll have to win the trust of the army officer vetting the candidates, who unfortunately is her old school roommate, and who knows Lisette all too well.  Meanwhile, an enemy spy infiltrates the court, thanks to the wandering eye of Lisette’s wayward husband.  They can’t all get what they want, but they might get exactly what they deserve.

S is doing very well, too.  She came into this weekend thinking she was about 6,000 words behind, but she’s going to finish ahead.  That’s pretty impressive, I think.  So huzzah for S!

J

Time Management

dscn0708

Did you remember to set your clocks back? (The astronomical clock in Prague. Our picture.)

I was all excited when I started NaNoWriMo this year with how together I was. I used October to not only to do my outline and research, but I finished up a couple of other writing projects so they wouldn’t be looming over my head all month. Next year, though, could someone please remind me that I need to write a couple of blog posts in October as well? There’s nothing like being behind on your NaNo novel and waking up in a cold sweat because it’s also your day to blog.

But, I did get an extra hour this morning, because I forgot to set the clocks back, so I can ramble at you all for a few minutes about what’s currently bothering me with my NaNo novel, which I titled The Swift True Road. (It’s a line from Petrarch, which suits my well-read Renaissance characters.) The characters and some of the incidents are based on a fanfic I wrote, and I just hit one of the scenes that I figured I could use from my fanfic. Obviously, I always knew I would need to make some changes, because they aren’t the exact same characters, and I was changing the POV of the scene. But when I started to write it yesterday, I realized I had a problem.

I wrote the scene better the first time.

There was a reason I chose the POV I did in the fanfic. And the setup there was so much easier, because I didn’t have to explain who the characters were or why they would be interested in one another. A lovely friend on Twitter tried valiantly to talk me through my despair last night, as did J, and I think what they helped me see is that my instincts were right when I planned this chapter—this is the story I need to tell and this is the POV I need to tell it from. I need to figure out how to make it work.

So, today, I’m going to push my way through this chapter, no matter what. It may suck, but that’s a problem for December me.

~S

And Away We Go!

de_efteling_pegasus

Where we are now, metaphorically.

National Novel Writing Month starts on Tuesday, which means that we’ll be spending every available moment working on our novels. We’ll try to post updates as we go along, as always, but don’t be surprised if the entries are a little shorter than usual.

I’m finishing up my usual NaNo prep, so I spent last weekend and the first half of this week writing character prompts. I’ve blogged about these before—you write about the character in some random situation that has nothing to do with your plot. It’s a way of focusing on the character alone, free from the restraints of your outline or the necessities of your story. You can just think, “What would Susan do in this situation?” rather than thinking, “Well, Susan has to decide to do this, because otherwise the plot won’t go where I want it to.” I’m constantly changing the list of prompts that I use. These are the ones I’ve used this time around. (I’ve given credit where I can; some of these I can’t find online anymore except in older posts of mine.)

  1. Write a scene in which your protagonist is stressed due to a death in the family, a financial crisis, or an unraveling relationship. Place your protagonist in a grocery store at the express lane for customers with fewer than 10 items. Have a lady, pushing a cart full of groceries, jump in line just before your protagonist. “Sorry, but I’m in a hurry,” she explains.
    From here.

  2. Background and Family
    -Unearth your character’s roots. What is the character’s ancestry or cultural background? How does ancestry shape your character? Is the character at odds with family traditions?
    -Write a series of short paragraphical biographies of each of the character’s closest family members: spouse, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, close friends, etc.
    From here.

  3. Where Leaving Takes Us
    Sometimes we are emotionally imprisoned by the ones we love. Overbearing parents, paranoid spouses, and needy children can make us—and our characters—feel trapped in an intolerable life. Write a scene where a character in your writing leaves a loved one behind and begins life anew. Use details to express relief, guilt, and anger.
    From here.

  4. Write a brief summary of a critical moment in the character’s life. This is a pivotal moment, something that shows why the character is the way he or she is today.

  5. Motivations and Goals
    -What motivates your character? Money? Love? Truth? Power? Justice?
    -What does your character want more than anything else in the world? What is he or she searching for?
    -What other characters or events are interfering with your character’s goals? What obstacles are in the way?
    From here.

  6. Flaws and Fears
    -What is your character’s single greatest fear? How did your character acquire his or her fears?
    -What are your character’s flaws and weaknesses?
    -How does the character’s fears and flaws prevent them from reaching their goals?
    From here.

  7. Appearance
    -What does your character look like? Make a list and include the following: hair, eyes, height, weight, build, etc.
    -Now choose one aspect of the character’s appearance, a detail (bitten nails, frizzy hair, a scar) and elaborate on it.
    From here.

  8. Personality
    -How does your character feel on the inside? What kind of person is your character and what does the character’s internal landscape look like?
    -We don’t always present ourselves to others in a way that accurately reflects how we feel inside. We might be shy or insecure but come across as stuck-up and aloof. How do others perceive your character?
    -Write a scene with dialogue that reveals your character’s external and internal personalities. Good settings for this dialogue would be an interview, appointment with a therapist, or a conversation with a romantic interest or close friend. Write the scene in third-person omniscient so you can get inside your character’s head as well as the other character’s head; this will allow you explore how your character feels and how he or she is perceived.
    From here.

  9. Job Search
    Write a brief job description for your character. What is his or her job? How did the character get it? How long has he or she held it? What does he or she like and dislike about it? What kind of language would a person with this job use? What kind of equipment? Where would the office be located? Who would be the boss? What would the job title be?

  10. Synopsis
    Come up with a short synopsis of the novel.

And here’s the synopsis that I wrote for A Tincture of Silver, the first of the two novels I’m doing this time around:

Seeking to escape their families, two young ladies dress as men and sign up to fight as mercenaries in a distant war over vast new silver mines. When they are captured, one makes it her business to escape; the other isn’t quite so sure she wants to. But with the war reaching its inevitable climax, she might have to be rescued whether she likes it or not. The world’s greatest spymaster sends his lover and best agent to investigate, even as their relationship falls apart. Our heroes learn that sometimes running away actually can solve your problems, and that in war, there’s no silver for second place.

So now that I’m done with character prompts, I’m just reading through my outline yet again. I’ve probably read it five or six times in the last week, once I finished my character prompts. And I’ve been doing a little work on my maps for my story. I’ve got a general view of the region, a narrow view of the valleys and towns where the story takes place, and then a map of the castle where much of the story takes place (I based it on Himeji Castle in Japan).

Good luck in your own noveling, and if you haven’t gotten signed up for NaNoWriMo yet, go do so posthaste!

J