Making a scene

One thing I find helpful for NaNoWriMo is making an informal list of scenes. The key is to not get married to this list; just use it as a jumping point. I usually end up moving the order of the scenes around.

Here are some things to keep in mind when thinking of scenes:

  • Think of a scene in fiction like you would a scene in a movie.
  • Think of a scene as incident with a beginning, middle and ending.
  • Your list can be just one word per scene or several sentences. It’s up to you.
  • The writer can use one setting or several for a scene.
  • Conflict is the main ingredient for the scene.
  • From which character does the point-of-view for the scene need to be written?
  • Personally, I find it helpful to write the entire story in scenes for the first draft. I say “scenes” as opposed to “chapters.”
  • It might be helpful to ignore dividing up your first draft into chapters; write in scenes and then divide the draft up into chapters for the second draft.
  • Split a scene in half when something critical or surprising happens and make this a chapter break.
  • When writing, don’t feel like you have to write in chronological order; skip around. Maybe on a certain day you won’t feel like writing that steamy sex scene. Save it for later. Wink.
  • You can list your scenes in whatever way works for you: index cards; Excel spreadsheet; napkin from Charlie’s Diner; maybe you just want to keep it all in your head.
  • You might want to hold off on listing your scenes until you have at least your main characters thought out. As you make a list, you’ll probably keep coming up with more characters you’ll need to get the story done.

Now is the time to start making a list of scenes. I don’t know about you, but that’s when I start you get really excited about NaNoWriMo; the story begins to unfold right before you.


My first NaNoWriMo region meeting

When I walked into Mulligan’s Pub and Grill and went upstairs to meet other NaNoWriMo participants in my region, I thought,”Oh, crap, I’m the oldest one here.”

I sat down at one of the few seats available at the long tables that had been pushed together. Looking to my left, I saw six teenage girls sitting there. I was sure they were thinking, “Man, who’s the old guy?” They were, however, much more charitable than I, because they smiled and talked with me, sharing their story ideas with enthusiasm. I later found out that only half of them were teenagers; the other half of them were twenty-somethings who looked young for their age.

On my right sat Andrea with whom I worked with several years ago at the college I teach at in the evenings. We are Facebook friends, but really never really communicate via social networking. It was great to reconnect with her.

Coincidentally, the regional liaison for NaNoWriMo in the Louisville area where I live is a woman named Jessica who works on my floor at my day job. She and the other regional liaison did great job with the meeting.

Another person at the meeting was Allison, a published author. About four years ago, she was my server at Red Lobster. We talked about writing for a few minutes and she encouraged me to “friend” her on Facebook, so I did. Apparently she quit her job at Red Lobster and pursued her masters. She has also had two books published since then. Allison and I have actually had several conversations over the years–via instant messaging on Facebook–about topics like Aspergers and such. She even initiated some of the conversations. Still, I had a feeling that she didn’t really know who in the milky way I was, so i reintroduced myself to her at the meeting.  She wrote about it on her Facebook status:

“Ok how wild is this. So four years and a half years ago when I came to Kentucky I worked as a waitress at Red Lobster while writing Calico. I left when we moved to Bedford and my book was published. Fast forward to now, I meet this guy on Facebook who is part of the NaNoWriMo group in Louisville. We become friends and he asked me today if I was going to be at the party. I said yes. So while I’m there he comes up and introduces himself to me. He tells me I was his waitress at Red Lobster and he was glad we reconnected! Wild that he remembered me, huh?”

So she thinks we became Facebook friends through the Louisville NaNoWriMo page, but actually became Facebook friends independent of that. Not that it matters; sounds like she is incredibly busy.

Many of the other people in attendance were the Bohemian types that can be found in the Highlands of Louisville. Jessica asked everyone in the room to tell what they were going to write about. Lots of Science Fiction. Lots of historical fiction. Some fan fiction. I even met a few people. One woman is a full time student with a daughter.

So my first NaNoWriMo meeting had a lot of interesting people in attendance. I wish them all good luck.

What I’m doing to get ready for NaNoWriMo, part deux

I thought of a few more items aspiring NaNoWriMo participants can do to prepare for November:

  • Go to your local NaNoWriMo group get-togethers. Of course, writing is a solitary practice, but you can maybe sit in a coffee shop with others pounding away on their stories. Regions also have before and after parties.  Just go here to find your region.
  • Find an accountability partner. It could be someone else doing NaNoWriMo or even someone who isn’t, but their purpose is to check on you every few days and make you feel guilty if you get behind.
  • Writing exercises. Do short fiction writing exercises up until November 1st to whet your appetite. These sessions should have nothing to do with the actual story you will be writing. Just Google fiction writing prompts and see what you can find.
  • Don’t prepare at all. I like to have a sketchy outline of the story and at least a short personality description of each major character. Over-preparation works for some, but the act of discovery while writing is 95% of the fun. Or you may the the spontaneous type of person who wants to sit down on November 1st with zero preparation at all and make it up as you go along. Nothing wrong with that either.

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen are just two well-known published novels that started as NaNoWriMo endeavors. How’s that for inspiration?

What I’m doing to get ready for NaNoWriMo

Tell me if I’m wrong, but getting ready for National Novel Writing Month can include anything except the actual writing itself. I admit that I am itching to get started, so in the meantime, I am doing the following before November 1st:

  • Creating characters: I have an Excel spreadsheet with columns for their names, goals, hangups,age, physical descriptions and more. I even Googled the meaning of their names to match their purpose in the story.
  • Listing scenes: I always make a list of scenes. I know how the story begins and ends, but what about in between? As I think about my story while sitting in traffic or on the treadmill, I’ll daydream possible scenes. I make a list of them, but don’t worry too much about the exact order. I have discovered that I will move them around as I write. And when I actually start the writing, I can skip around. Who says I have to write in the chronological order of the scenes?
  • Reading: I’m reading a Jim Butcher book because his Dresden series is the kind of stuff I like to write. I may emulate his writing style at first, but I hope to develop into my own style as the story progresses. Reading one of his novels right before NaNoWriMo begins may or may not get his way with words into my subconscious.
  • Handwriting Scenes: Okay, if you’re really itching to write, but afraid to start writing anything else right before NaNoWriMo starts then here is an exercise to whet your appetite. Pick a favorite scene from the novel of your favorite author. Take a pen and notebook and write out the scene by hand. It sounds silly, but it’s a great way to get an author’s writing style into your subconscious. As you write, you’ll notice things: the author’s word choice; how he or she plays with sentence structure; the connotation of words.
  • Reading a book on writing fiction: There are so many, but Stephen King’s On Writing will motivate you.

Good luck with NaNoWriMo. If you want a copy of the Excel spreadsheet I use to plan my novels, email me and I’ll reply with an attachment.

The murdering of perfectionism in planning your novel

hand giving the okay signalAre you the kind of writer who just starts writing and sees where it goes? Or, are you the kind of writer who plans every detail in an outline before writing the first draft?

I use to fall into the latter category. I didn’t want to tumble into the trap where the more spontaneous writers find themselves: writing hundreds of pages on something going nowhere. While the journey may be fun and the practice is never a waste, just writing without a plan didn’t make sense to me.

But I’ve also learned that over-planning a novel can be just as much a waste of time.

At the Quitter Conference I attended this past weekend, Jon Acuff reminded us of a concept from his book: 90% perfect and published always changes more lives than 100% and stuck in your head.

What I usually do is write a one sentence summary of each scene in my novel. Then I start to write. I move the sentences around as needed as I write, but surprisingly so far, that has been a minimal exercise. This method works well for National Novel Writing Month, which is almost a month away!

To me, the method of one sentence per scene is the best of both worlds. Try it.

Not “I will” but “I am”

I just received an email from Jon Acuff containing a schedule for the Quitter Conference in September and I’m excited to see that Jeff Goins is one of the speakers. A few months ago I read a book by Goins called You Are a Writer, So Start Acting Like One. In a section of this book called “Finding the Dream”, a friend challenged Goins by asking him what his dream was. Goins said, “. . . I suppose I hope to maybe be a writer . . . some day.”

Simple Psychology

His friend replied:

“Jeff, you don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need to write.

Goins claims, “Those words struck a chord in me. The next day, I started writing. Without excuse or exception, I began.”

Sounds ridiculous. So someone just tells themselves they are something, and he becomes that thing? Yes, that’s it. Whatever a person wants to be–a teacher, a doctor, a more empathetic individual–he just believes it and he becomes it?

Yes. It’s that simple.

This is the exact principle of a class I teach called Strategies for Success, created by The Pacific Institute. It ‘s not so much that person automatically becomes whatever he wants to be, but he is taking that first step in becoming it: preparing the subconscious to accept this new identity. If a person does not believe deep down that he or she is that thing, then it will never unfold. By saying “I am,” the journey begins at that moment. Not, “I will” because that is telling the subconscious that the journey has not yet begun–and never will until he says, “I am.”

Goins says in his book: “Believe you already are what you want to be. And then start acting like it.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like many people would scoff at this. “It’s too simple.” I say it’s the turning of the key in the ignition of a trip to becoming what an individual wants to be. It’s the building of a foundation. Without the turning of the key, without the foundation nothing can be completed.

So, when my friend, Ken, and I go to the Quitters Conference later this month, I’m eager to hear what Goins has to say.

My point of view on point-of-view

When I wrote the first draft of my novel, I used the third person point-of-view (POV). I felt the story would be less convoluted if I retold it in the first person POV. Now, over a hundred and fifty pages into my second draft, I realize I miss telling my story from in third person. I left out many scenes, but I am thinking I’m going to go back.

Writing in first person creates an intimacy with the character that I’ve enjoyed. I’m a big fan of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresdon urban fantasy series, and I emulated Butcher’s first person narrative. It doesn’t work for me. My protagonist lives life much differently than Harry Dresdon. First person POV presents many challenges, mainly for me: what about action that takes place in scenes where the narrator isn’t present?

I believe the story I’m writing happens to be closer to another series also written by Butcher, the Codex Alera fantasy series. In this six book tale, Butcher uses the third person and dedicates each chapter to a specific character. That seems like a better fit for my story.

So, I’m seriously thinking of rewriting my first draft in the third person and abandon the first person POV, as fun as it was. I’m still going to simplify the plot like I did in my second draft, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Here’s some articles on POV that I’ve collected: