50,003

50,003 words, according to yWriter. 50,031 according to the NaNoWriMo word-counting hamsters. I’m going with yWriter since that’s what I was using to decide when to stop.

And yes, I am stopping now, and putting this away for at least a month.

50,000th word: “we”. Sentence that put me over the top: “A few last-minute items, before we march out tomorrow.”

And still, after 50,003 words — 37,861 of which were not bonus material — I have no plot. I think the story’s going to start pretty soon now. Maybe. I know how the last book in the series is going to end, but I still don’t have a clue how the first book is going to start. The hazards of embarking on an epic.

I don’t even feel like I have a first draft yet. Just something that sort of explores the outlines of an idea.

But dagnabbit, I’ve got 50,003 words of it!

I think it’s time to drink some celebratory chocolate milk and do some celebratory laundry.

NaNo: Home stretch – Saturday

Yesterday, when I sat down to write, I had 14,648 words to go in the ~3.25 days remaining in this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Today, right now, I have 5,800 words left to go. After just one and a quarter days of writing, I got well over halfway to the finish line. My goal was to write 5,000 words today; I actually managed 5,927, so one more day like today and I will hit fifty thou! And that was with frequent breaks today — I got four or five hours of DVRed TV watched, and ate my way through half a bag of potato chips (with chip dip) and more than half of a frozen pizza. And Coke. Lots of Coke. Ran the dishwasher so I would have clean glasses so I could have more Coke.

Yesterday I had my doubts, but today, this thing is looking totally doable. And I haven’t even busted open the Little Debbie cakes yet.

I’m trying not to think about my next weigh-in, though.

NaNo: just a bit behind

I started today with 22,787 words on my NaNoWriMo novel. Almost halfway to the goal — but way, way past halfway through the month.

After one marathon writing session this morning, I had broken 25,000. After another marathon this afternoon, I had just edged past 30,000! I wrote 7,234 words today (!!), over probably five or six hours of writing. Wow. My word count currently stands at 30,021.

But my target for today should be 36,667. I would need to double today’s performance to catch up. Eep.

And I’ve been cheating a bit. The last 12,142 words weren’t actually the novel at all — they were the bonus material. You know, the stuff you’d get on disc two of the extended DVD release. Interviews with the characters and so on. Actually, way over half of that was an interview with the narrator, i.e., me interviewing myself. I got the Q and A roles confused more than once.

It’s normal for me to spend a fair bit of time writing out brainstorms, just to sound out my ideas before I start writing, but usually I wouldn’t count any of that toward my wordcount — it would just go in a log that I could look back at later, separate from my actual wordcounted novel. But this year, with as far behind as I was, I figured, what the heck. Those special features ain’t gonna write themselves. (grin)

If I can crank out 2,500 words a day from now until the end of the month, I’ll finish in time. Should be doable in a couple hours a day if I just write, and don’t dwell on what to write. That’ll be tough, though, because I’m pretty much out of ideas for bonus material. I’ve come up with some great ideas for interactions between some of the main characters, but no idea what they’ll actually be doing for a plot. What is their quest? Beats me.

Yes, I’ve gotten to 30,000 words without even knowing what my story is. I’m finally experiencing NaNo as it’s meant to be experienced! No Plot? No Problem!

But now I’m going to spoil it by going to get some sleep.

NaNo: on track so far!

It’s November, so I’m writing another novel. National Novel Writing Month, you know.

I think this is the first year I’ve managed to (so far) consistently stay ahead of my word-count targets each day. It’s kind of weird — I’m so used to falling behind and then scrambling to catch back up. Today is the 4th, so I need to end the day with 6,667 words, and I’m already at 6,870. I even had youth group tonight — didn’t get home until about 8:45 — and I still beat my word-count for the day.

If anyone’s interested, here’s my one-sentence story summary. Before you accuse me of cheating, it is technically one sentence. But you do have to imagine Hal Douglas doing the voiceover.

In a time when Light overwhelms the Darkness, and sweeps lives in its path…

four chosen warriors set out to right the balance…

to rescue a love…

and destroy an empire.

Very Final Fantasy, don’t you think?

NaNo and “Book in a Month”

So I’m planning to do NaNoWriMo again this year, and I’ve actually been doing some preparing. You read right — preparing! Me! Ahead of time!

I’ve been trying to work on my story idea a little every day — fleshing out characters, world mechanics, trying to come up with an outline (I’ve already got a cool ending in mind, but it’s occurred to me that I might need a beginning and middle too).

So far, my mood has been going in about one-day cycles: one day I’ll be totally pumped about my idea, the next day I’ll be in a state of abject depression and totally convinced that my idea is hopeless and I don’t have the skill to pull it off and I’ll never, ever make it as a writer. So, about average for NaNo, I’d say. The real test will be whether I can keep dragging myself to the keyboard in November, even when I’m in Maximum Marvin Mode.

Jennie and I stopped by a bookstore last weekend, and one of the books I picked up — on an impulse — was called “Book in a Month“, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. It has some general advice, followed by a day-by-day plan for developing your plot, characters, etc. throughout the month as you write the story.

The short version: it looks like this is going to be well worth the price.

It’s not solid gold. A lot of the advice was old news, like the tired old “don’t write something just because you think there’s a market for it.” I’ve heard that advice so many times — and I can’t believe anybody even does that. Why would you write something you hated? How would you even come up with an idea that you felt capable of pulling off, if it wasn’t a genre that you loved to read?

There’s also a lot of yammering about “imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve written an entire novel”. Well, I’ve done that. Twice. Doesn’t feel that different, honestly. Now, if I had actually done any revising — or better yet, if I was depositing a hefty advance check — that’d be a different story…

But the book does have some real gems. I really like the advice to “write ‘as if'”: if you’re halfway through the month, and suddenly realize that you need to change something in an earlier chapter, then you just make a note, then keep writing as if you had already rewritten it that way. As she says, “You cannot write and rewrite at the same time if you want to finish a book in 30 days.” You’ll probably change your mind again before you’re done, so why waste time writing what’s likely to get cut or changed anyway? YAGNI as applied to novel writing — cool. And so very NaNo.

And then there’s Chapter 5, which all by itself is worth the cover price. The chapter title is a yawner (“Setting and Keeping Goals”), but what it’s really about is discovering what kind of books you want to write. I’ve found that I write best when I can put my own spin on something and make it my own — but what, exactly, is my spin? Could I explain it? Recognize it? Work consciously (instead of by luck) to apply it to a project? It turns out that maybe I can — and while my one-sentence self-pitch is still only on about its third draft (and needing a lot more), it already gives me a lot better insight into why I like the books and movies that I do, and what it would take for the book I’m writing to actually be the kind of book I’d want to read — and re-read — and re-read again. And that, really, is why I want to write in the first place.

The biggest downside to “Book in a Month” is that it’s spiral-bound. Pretty freakin’ chintzy — I expected better from Writer’s Digest Books, and I almost put it back on the shelf because of it. Heck, I almost didn’t pull it off the shelf in the first place. The spiral binding is easy to lay it flat, I guess (though far from the only choice, if that was their intent); but every time I open or close the book, or just turn a page, I’m deathly afraid that a page is going to tear out. I think they’re thinking of this as a disposable workbook (they come right out and say they expect you to buy another copy of the book for every novel you write), but if they really meant it as a workbook, they’d have left a lot more room to write in answers to the questions. (“What types of books do you enjoy? Movies? Music? Here’s a space half-an-inch high to write your answers.” I filled two pages of a spiral notebook before I got to where I could start seeing the patterns and making sense of them.)

But the book definitely got some sparks going in my head. I think it’s already earned its purchase price, and I’m only up to Day 1 — and it’ll probably earn more the first time I reread it. If you’re doing NaNo, I think this book is worth a look.

Writing: Generic character names

One of the excuses I use for not writing is names. I can easily spend so much time thinking of names for my characters that I lose interest in the story idea entirely.

In a quest to write more, and make fewer excuses (or at least write my excuses down so I can say I’m writing), I’ve devised a cunning plan. I’ve come up with a small set of pre-canned character names. Then I can just use and re-use those same names for daily writing exercises, scenes, vignettes, short stories, whatever I happen to be writing on a small scale. No more “I spent my whole writing timeslot thinking of a name for my throwaway character”. And for large-scale writing — well. Let’s focus on writing something first, and worry about large-scale later.

A few years ago, at work, we needed to sketch out some scenarios with multiple users using our software. We named our fictitious users “Bob”, “Ned”, and “Lloyd”. (Why those specific names? Well, Bob and Ned are short, and since we were using these as login names, we were typing them a lot. As for Lloyd, I guess it’s just a cool name.)

For fiction, those would be a good start — but I wanted to have female names on tap as well. I figured three names, each with a male and female variant, would be just right; that way I’d be able to deal with three characters, in any gender mix, while only having to memorize three names.

Well, I could come up with good female versions of “Bob” and “Ned”. No problem there. But what the heck is the female version of “Lloyd”?

Rather than doing actual research, I decided heck with Lloyd, I’d come up with another name instead, one that did have both male and female variants. I quickly settled on “Clyde”, since it’s as cool as “Lloyd”, but does have a readily recognizable female form.

I also threw in one catch-all pet name: “Spot”. (So of course, the first scene I decided to write involving a pet? A tiger.)

And to round it out, a couple of place names. I thought about familiar names like “Metropolis” and “Gotham”, but those are both recognizably the names of big cities, and won’t do any good for stuff that needs to happen in a small town, or in the country, or the desert, or the Antarctic, or the middle of a faerie forest, or an outpost on Mars. After some thought, I finally gave up and decided, once again, to keep it simple.

So here it is: my handy-dandy list of fiction-writing metasyntactic variables:

Role Male variant Female variant
Character #1 Bob Bobbi
Character #2 Ned Edna or Eddie
Character #3 Clyde Sue
Pet Spot
Place #1 Bobsville
Place #2 Nedsville

Feel free to steal these names for your own writing — or just the general idea. I’m all for fewer excuses for not writing.

An hour until NaNo…

I had a long week this afternoon.

And then had to go shopping for Halloween candy, since we had expected to be out of town this weekend, and it turns out we weren’t.

But the upshot is that I’ll be at home for the start of NaNoWriMo, so I can write on my computer instead of on paper. Which is cool. Plus, there’s a handful of Halloween candy left to fuel that first writing session.

An hour to go…

Ready… set… NaNo!

All right, I couldn’t come up with a better title than that. Sorry. It’s early.

People have been asking me what my NaNoWriMo novel will be about this year, and my answer has been, “I have no idea.” But I got Chinese food for lunch yesterday, and my fortune cookie said, “Tomorrow your creative side will shine forth with exceptional ideas.”

If that ain’t a good omen, I don’t know what is. So… I’m off to write a novel. Wish me luck!

After Harry Potter: interview with J. K. Rowling (no spoilers)

No spoilers in this post, but I link to a page that does have spoilers. FYI.

Today’s newspaper had an article that said J. K. Rowling had done “a recent 90-minute web chat” with readers, “her first public comment since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows debuted on July 21”, answering some of the over 120,000 questions that had been submitted. The article did not, however, mention anything about where this chat had taken place, or where transcripts could be had. Odd.

After a bit of searching, I’m doubting the bit about “her first public comment”, because Rowling got interviewed by Dateline, and that interview aired last Sunday. And most of the article’s tidbits from the chat could have been copied right out of the Dateline interview. Hmm.

Anyway, I didn’t know about the Dateline interview in time to catch it on the air, but NBC’s Web site has a transcript that covers a great deal (all?) of the interview. Lots of really good stuff, about what the characters are doing now, what it was like to kill characters off, fandom, and a fair bit else. It’s five fairly long pages, and worth the read (assuming you’ve already read Deathly Hallows, of course). I figured I’d blog the link to the transcript, partly to share, partly so I can find it again.

Transcript of J. K. Rowling’s interview with Dateline’s Meredith Vieira, July 29, 2007