NaNoWriMo Prep in October – Planning

I’ve been super busy this year producing work under a couple of different pen names, but I always find November’s NaNoWriMo to be a good writing exercise and time to produce something under my real name.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since 2010. Two of the books I completed and self-published under NaNoWriMo were highly praised. The third is currently being looked at by a publisher. We’ll ignore the year my cat and computer both died and I lost half the novel I was writing. I still haven’t quite recovered from that and can’t bring myself to re-write the lost novel.

downloadMy advice? BACK IT UP.

But anyhow, it’s October again and time to start my NaNo prep.

A few months ago I won a pre-made book cover in a giveaway, and I decided to build a story around the cover.

I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do for NaNo 2014, but I pretty soon managed to settle on a character, figure out her goal, throw some obstacles in the way and develop a plot.

I’m a planner. If I don’t know what’s going to happen in the novel I sit there staring at the screen.

Conversely, if I know how the story’s going to end, I normally don’t feel the urge to complete it.

(Which is probably why I have so many unfinished novels.)

I’m planning my new novel using the three act plot structure.

Act 1 ‘Exposition’:

  1. Setup
  2. Inciting incident
  3. First turning point – where the hero accepts their new calling

Act 2 ‘Rising Action’:

  1. Obstacles and progress
  2. Mid-way point – a major setback
  3. More obstacles and higher stakes.
  4. Second turning point – what I call ‘the point of no return’.

Act 3 ‘Resolution’:

  1. Stand up and fight – the final push.
  2. Climax
  3. Resolution

This is the structure I’ll be following in writing my novel. Let’s hope I can stick to it!

NaNoWriMo Day Two: Just Do It

I can think of a million different reasons why I didn’t want to do NaNoWriMo this year. Well, not a million. Three at most.

1. My cat had to be put down literally only a few days ago. Big whoop, I know, she’s just an animal, blah blah blah. Actually, she was a member of my family that has been my sister for twenty years. I’ve cried every day. I didn’t want to write, but it’s a very good distraction. When I get thinking about my cat I just want to do nothing, and that’s not very productive, is it?

2. I don’t have a municipal liaison. My former liaison was a kick-ass firebrand who got us all working and winning the North-West English word wars my very first time. I don’t have that kind of support this year because I’m in Australia: Elsewhere.

3. I’m starting a new, more demanding job halfway through NaNoWriMo. But hey, that’s just another challenge, right? If I can get 50K words down in a month while holding a more difficult, time-consuming job, that makes my achievement greater, right?

So yes. Yesterday I didn’t write anything. But today, as many intelligent people have stated, there’s nothing to it. Just sit down at your typewriter/notepad/keyboard and open up a vein.

I’ve written 1265 words today. I may write more later. I may not. I am not feeling the pressure this month to keep to the word count. I am in love with the process itself, gently re-discovering my love of words after an enforced hiatus.

Top 5 Tips for NaNoWriMo Preparation

Hi lovelies. I’f you’re like me, you can’t ‘pants’ a novel – that is, write one by the seat of your pants. I have to know where my novel is going so that I can actually see the end – I’m a ‘plotter’. With NaNoWriMo around the corner, I’m going to share some tips on how I get ready for the event.

1. Tell someone about the novel.

Tell someone. Anyone. Your mum. Your dog. The neighbour’s visiting cousin. When I start to verbalise something that is only an idea, parts that didn’t fit before seem to fall into place. The climax that has been eluding me, for example.

2. Write down every fleeting bit of inspiration.

I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go in case I think of something awesome. I need to write it down before I forget, and some time in the future wonder, ‘what was that awesome thing I thought of that solved several problem but now I can’t remember?’

3. Find a template that works for you.

By ‘template’ I mean a plan. I use a three-act plot of inciting incident, act one, act two (with a point of no return halfway through), act three, and climax. That’s what works for me – of course, there is room in there to be flexible. I don’t plan every single thing – sometimes my entire act is based on a single image. I’ve tried planning using a Hero’s Journey template, but so far that’s only worked for another WIP, not my current NaNoNovel.

4. Sort out inspiration beforehand.

I make a playlist for my NaNo time. I put my earplugs in, and then I can write straight for two hours to get my words done. Last year it consisted of only one song, because Nightwish released their single Storytime at the beginning of November and I’d been starved of new Nightwish music for a while. This year I’m turning to game scores – I like to use instrumental music because it’s less distracting, but it can’t be something I’m too familiar with or I’ll stop writing to listen and pretend I’m some amazing violin maestro. Game and film scores are really great for me because they’re not meant to be the focus of their media and are often understated yet beautiful.

5. Find someone to write with.

Competition can be healthy. Sometimes. Usually in the writing world it’s not. You don’t want to compare you cover or sales figures or the amount of words you write every day to someone else all the time. During November, it’s OK to be competitive with your wordcount. On the other hand, don’t let the fact that someone else is writing 50K a day (as I believe happened in my first NaNo) get you down. Their word count doesn’t matter: only yours does.

Interview with Olsen Jay Nelson

Last November I did an interview with Olsen Jay Nelson’s awesome sci-fi blog about my debut novel, The Edge of Darkness, what with it being a NaNo novel and all that (National Novel Writing Month – held annually in November).

Olsen’s decided to take his blog in a new direction and as such, has given me permission to re-post the interview here. He says

“The guest blogging was quite successful in a kind of way.  Over the months following publication, some of the posts started doing quite well and gaining traffic from around the web including Stumbleupon.  In fact, Stumbleupon became a growing referrer; this led to one post, the Cyborg/dystopian interview with Lissa, leading all the posts on the blog with over 1500 page views in May.”

So here it is, the cyborg/dystopian interview originally hosted by Olsen Jay Nelson:

OJN: I’d like to introduce, Lissa Bilyk, author of ‘The Edge of Darkness,’ a futuristic, dystopian scifi novel with subjugated cyborgs who find a means to revolt. I love the sound of this, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask Lissa some questions related to this and her continuing participation in NaNoWrimo since it’s November again. Thanks Lissa …

‘The Edge of Darkness’ is dystopian sci-fi, right – among other things? What’s your opinion about why dystopian realities have such appeal? Also, how did you make use of dystopian themes in the story, and what’s the effect you were looking for?

Lissa:I think that dystopians appeal to a lot of readers because they themselves feel disenfranchised with reality. In the 21st century, we should really be living in a better world than what it is. There’s still mass murder and civil war and millions of people starving while the 1% live fat and rich in first world countries. Three billion people on this planet can’t read or write. That’s almost half the population. I think that dystopian fiction help people think about the world we live in now: well, it’s not great, but it could always be worse. At least we have a degree of personal freedom and can make our own choices. In dystopian fiction, characters are limited in their choices and their lives and most end up fighting back against the system. I also think that is what appeals to people: the idea of rebelling because their lot in life just isn’t good enough.

In my book, the cyborgs on the travelling spaceship the Eden vastly outnumber the Authorities keeping them in line. If the cyborgs weren’t happy, they could rebel. So how do you keep people happy? Give them want they want: jobs, recreation time, structure. Keep them afraid of stepping out of line. The consequences for breaking the rules on the Eden are dire. The life should be simple and pleasant, and if Max hadn’t made the choices she did, she would never have discovered the life isn’t so great after all. That’s what dystopians are all about.

UtopiaBy the way, I’ve read ‘Utopia,’ the book that spawned dystopians. It’s actually a dystopian itself.

OJN: Cyborgs play an important role in the story. What’s your take on why cyborgism is such a compelling area for sci-fi? And, could you explain a bit about the type(s) of cyborgism you employed and how this fits into the reality you wanted to convey?

Lissa:I must admit, I’ve never read another book with a cyborg in it, certainly never a lead character. I was influenced a little by the film Bicentennial Man, which is based on Isaac Asimov’s book of the same name, and I was influenced a little by the Terminator films. But my cyborgs are a lot less human-looking; they are less fine and less evolved versions, clearly still half robot. In writing The Edge of Darkness, I wanted to explore what it would be like if a human really was plugged into a computer and made into a super-powered being.

But more than that, my cyborgs are a stand in for another social issue that is very dear to me: social equality. In my novel, cyborgs are viewed as semi-human with no civil rights: they can’t get married or raise babies or vote or even earn minimum wage. Despite all cyborgs being former humans and more than capable of doing such things, there is a huge prejudice against them because they are different and a threat to social norms. I am a passionate defender of marriage equality and I hope my readers make the same parallels I worked so hard to weave into the narrative.

OJN: You’ve written fantasy fiction as well. I’m just curious if you could explain how you manage writing in the different parent genres and particularly your sub-genres of these, and what influence your understanding of fantasy had on you when writing ‘The Edge of Darkness’?

Lissa:I grew up reading light sci-fi and anthropomorphic books. I didn’t get into fantasy fiction until I was a teenager. I never really thought about how the two of them are so different: I guess to me, one of them is based in the future and their magic is technology, and one of them is based in the past and their magic is sorcery. It’s all speculative fiction that uses imagination. I tried writing a novel once where everyone was a normal human and I failed tragically.

My novels are always character-driven and about the choices the characters make, and especially the consequences of what happens when they make the wrong choice for whatever reason. My characters are directly responsible for their plot: they are active engagers and never simply react to what’s going on around them. If there’s conflict, it’s more than likely they’ve been directly responsible for it through a choice they’ve made. I can’t stand these books where the characters are passive doormats simply reacting to events and taking on a victim mentality.

OJN: Finally, you wrote ‘The Edge of Darkness’ during the 2010 NaNoWriMo; you’re also participating again this year. Could you tell us a little about that process and why you find it valuable to your productivity and narrative construction? Also, are you writing scifi or fantasy this year?

Lissa:NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write a 50K word novel in a month – granted, unless it’s a middle grade novel, hardly any publishers will even think of accepting such a short book. That’s why I self-published The Edge of Darkness, because it was a complete story within itself at 52K words. This year I’m writing an urban fantasy. This urban fantasy isn’t titled yet, but it’s the first full-length novel starring the heroine of five short stories I’ve made available to readers on Smashwords, about a teenage demon hunter called Tina Storm. I find that high fantasy comes to me so easily that I like to challenge myself to write other genres in the NaNo season. Other genres I considered writing this year included chick lit, historical romance, paranormal romance, post-apocalyptic, and psychological thriller.

Because I write genres I’m not 100% comfortable with, to make sure I achieve the goal I plan ferociously: I lay the bare bones and bigger details of the novel out (this year the plan is two pages, which gives me plenty of wiggle room plot-wise), and I plot exactly where I need to be at the end of each day on a calendar that I stick on the wall behind my laptop. Then it’s a case of reaching the word count every day. I need this kind of planning otherwise I sit there wondering what happens next. Plotting the novel in a three-act structure also helps me envision the entire project.

As for why NaNoWriMo is valuable for my productivity and narrative construction: it’s completely psychological. There’s a deadline that I don’t get in the off-season. I find the idea of holding in my hands a complete book I’ve written to be an irresistible lure.