Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Planning July 2012 Writing Month/Wrapping up June

Planning things. Setting goals. Fulfilling those plans. Meeting those goals. Not what I am good at.

At the beginning of this month, having heard about Camp NaNoWriMo--- a version of the National Novel Writing Month which takes place in June and August--- I decided to participate with a novel idea I named Zombie Dawn. To keep me on goal, I designed a chart for the month where I had space to fill in my accomplishments for up to three writing sessions a day, as well as a running total and my daily word count goals.

Now the month is nearly over. I am 91% of the way to the goal. I think I will make 50k for the month with no great problem.

I've learned a few things about myself as a writer. I've found that I'm a pantser--- a seat-of-the-pants writer--- more than a planner/outliner. I've found I do best with a longer writing stint in the morning than other times of day. I've discovered that timed writing stints--- with timed 10 minute breaks--- work very well for me.

So--- moving forward to July. While my word goal for this month will be met, my novel's first draft will not be finished. Especially since I have three chapters of false start that I'll have to throw out at some point. So my main goal is to finish Zombie Dawn. I'll draw up a new monthly chart. My daily writing goal I'll keep at the same NaNo level of 1667 words a day. With timed writing, I don't have much trouble doing 3334 a day--- twice the NaNo minimum.

The last week of July, I'll also be preparing for my August writing project--- participating in the August Camp NaNoWriMo with a novel project called 'The Gumiho's Wife'. It will use the Asian mythological creature known as gumiho in Korean and kitsune in Japanese--- a shape-shifter which can exist as a man/woman or in fox form. I hope to get a few character sketches and plot ideas written out before August 1.

So--- what did you learn during your June writing month? Have you set new goals and met them? Have you surprised yourself? And what about July? Are you going to do JulNoWriMo? Do you have a project in progress? Have you set goals? Discovered ways to chart your progress to the goals that inspire you?

I know a lot of times when I read about goals other writers were setting for themselves, I felt I couldn't compete. I let it get me down. But don't get discouraged. When I started out this June, I had a hard time writing more than a thousand words in a session. A few days, I wrote less than that. I was behind on my word count goal most of the month. But then I discovered timed writing--- I blogged about doing a 3/30/10 writing day--- three sessions of 30 minutes, with ten minutes of break time between each session. I didn't have any luck doing a second 3/30/10 session in a day. So I tried a 5/30/10 morning writing session. Today when I did that, I totalled 3895 words.

You may start out having a hard time doing 500 words a day. You may find that the timed writing sessions that work for me don't work for you. But keep trying. You've got something to say, whether you know it or not, and if you don't give up, you will find better ways to get it out.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Starting your Novel out 'Too Catholic'

On today's episode of EWTN Bookmark, Catholic novelist Marcus Grodi suggested that the reason many Catholic novels don't have many non-Catholic readers is that they start out 'too Catholic'. That is, they throw out too many specifically Catholic things at the beginning, which can be off-putting or mystifying to the non-Catholic Christian reader.

It occurred to me that this idea has a more general writing application. I remember one time my sister-in-law, who was raised in an Assemblies of God church, told me about something they were doing that seemed a bit odd to me--- not like something I'd seen in churches I'd ever attended. I can't remember exactly what it was, so let's use the hypothetical example of speaking in tongues, which seems to be a routine part of the Assemblies of God Sunday worship service.

Imagine if a writer from an Assemblies of God background started off his novel with a typical example of someone speaking in tongues at Sunday worship. Many Christians, both Protestant/Evangelical and Catholic, would be put off by that scene. We don't do that at our Sunday service!

The same would go if an LDS writer started off a novel writing about temple ordinances, or a Catholic started off with Eucharistic adoration. It would put off readers from other faith backgrounds who don't do that sort of thing.

This doesn't mean that one has to write something bland and generic that doesn't touch anything that Christians don't agree on. Marcus Grodi's own novel, Pillar and Bulwark, is about a Congregational minister whose life is turned upside down when he begins to believe that the Catholic Church might have the truth on its side--- a story that is bound to have some Catholic content.

The idea, I think, is to start off with some common ground. If you are seeking a general Christian audience, start off your story with content that Christians in general can identify with, rather than with things that are denominationally specific. Later in the story, when the reader has gotten to know the characters involved, things specific to one denomination or Christian group can be introduced without as much risk of alienating the reader.

Of course, you can't always do that. The Left Behind series by Tim Lehaye and Jerry B. Jenkins has a plot specifically centered around a controversial doctrine--- the pre-tribulation Rapture--- that not all Christians share. Not even all Evangelical Christians share it. And since the story-action doesn't start until the Rapture hits, this non-universal doctrine has to be introduced very early in the novel. And it didn't work out all that badly for Lehaye and Jenkins. They won over a lot of readers who did not believe in the pre-tribulation Rapture. I became a loyal fan myself, even though I was a Norse Pagan at the time.

Another thing I might suggest, along the line of handling specific denominational doctrines in Christian fiction, is that the writer needs to trust in the Holy Spirit. You do not need to bore your reader with  a list of proof-texts or compelling arguments for every doctrine you mention in passing. You don't need to waste time defending against the doctrines you think are false. You can handle these things with a very light touch and let the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting in the reader's heart.

On an even broader level, the Christian writer with an ambition to evangelize non-believers would start out with things that are common to us all, whether we are religious or non-religious, Christian or pagan. And then, gently, as the story progresses, gently introduce a bit of Christian content.

Of course, there are some writers that do the exact opposite. They throw out the very specific parts of their denomination, religion, or world-view from page one. While this alienates many readers, it may be a way to gain an intense following among readers who share your views. If you, as a writer, realize that you are sacrificing readers by taking an intense Catholic/Baptist/Lutheran/Marxist-atheist approach from day one, and you are OK with that, go ahead and write for the audience you want to write for.

Question: when you read an author whose faith differs from your own, have you ever been put off by too much 'difference' too soon in the story? 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SYZYGY Book Trailer (Books have Trailers now, Who Knew?)

My writing friend Amanda Borenstadt has a book trailer out for her novel, Syzygy. I've read the book and it was worth every penny I paid for it. OK, Amanda gave me a free review copy, but it would have been worth every penny I paid for it if I'd paid for it.

To get to know Amanda better, you can visit her two blogs. One is called A Fortnight of Mustard and has won awards as one of the top condiment-related blogs in the galaxy. The other one is called something else, and is about the Catholic faith. (FYI, Catholics are Christians. If you don't believe me, you could look it up.)

Here is an official description of the plot of Syzygy which I stole from somewhere:
When the leader of Finn's clan orders him to kidnap Bea Jones, Finn falls crazy in love. He risks his life by betraying his clan to protect her. Finn Wilde is a computer-nerd trapped in a super strong body. He's one of the Fir Na Gealaí, whose strength and speed surpass those of ordinary men. The story is told by an alternately pensive then manic patient in a mental hospital. http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/21501
Note: the word 'syzygy' is a real word. If you use it playing hangman, you will probably win. Unless you are playing against Amanda Borenstadt.

Another Note: Amanda Borenstadt swears she is not Mr. Spock's mother.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Having a 3/30/10 Writing Day

Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), wrote a book called No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

In the chapter dealing with the third week of a writing month, he teaches the 3/30/10 technique--- he calls it 'the jet-pack under your seat.

This is how you do it:
  • Set a timer for 30 minutes. Write like mad.
  • Take a ten minute break for stretching, complaining, folding clothes... whatever you can get done in ten minutes.
  • Set the timer for another 30 minutes. Write. Take another ten minute break.
  • Do another 30 minutes, then do something fun.

Baty recommends doing the 3/30/10 3 times on a free day--- morning, noon and evening. This rapidly adds to your word count.

I have not done this 3 times a day--- or even two. But timed writing works for me. The first time, my three 30 minute sessions racked up the following word counts: 579-552-628. And the second time: 465-681-791. Each time I reached my daily word count goal by the end of the three 30 minute sessions.

Don't fail to meet your word count goal!
Before I tried this, I had a hard time meeting the writing goal in one session. This way works for me. It's a bit hard on the wrists, but I think I'm adapting.

I'm thinking of trying for another 3/30/10 session today. If I don't, I at least hope to have a mini-writing session where I dip back in to my session for at least 10 minutes.

I think one reason this works for me is that I have a thing about timers. I use a timer every time I brew a cup of tea. It's silly, but it sure makes the tea come out consistently. And I never wander off and forget the steeping tea until hours later. It may be just a part of my Asperger Syndrome weirdness, but timed writing sessions work for me.

How about you? Have you ever done the 3/30/10? Or have you tried some similar timed writing method? Does it work for you?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Stephen King uses the Head-Hopping Point of View

What is head-hopping? When I first began reading how-to-write books, there was no such thing. Or at least, nobody had a name for it.

But now it's the Worst Thing Ever that a writer can do. Head-hopping happens when you are writing in the third person point of view, and instead of limiting yourself to the thoughts and feelings of one character, you shift into the thoughts and feelings of another.

Recently I was reading a Stephen King novel, Under the Dome, which is pretty much like The Simpsons Movie without Spiderpig and the Boob Lady, and there it was. Head-hopping. Now, since Stephen King isn't an unpublishable amateur writer, I guess this means that head-hopping is indeed a tool we can use.

The scene was about a shooting rampage being carried out by a young man with a brain tumor. As the scene begins the young man is our viewpoint character. Now, inside this young man's head is not the most comfortable place to be. He kept looking at people he knew, thinking bad thoughts about them with swearwords in them, and then shooting them dead.

For one short paragraph of the scene, however, we experience the thoughts and feelings of one of the victims, from the point she sees the gun pointed at her to the time, after she is shot, that she fades off into the 'nothingness' of the non-afterlife. (Don't worry, folks, elsewhere in the book we learn that even though there is no afterlife, we do become ghosts that can communicate with dogs after we die. Yes, the godless are illogical.)

After this paragraph we are back in the shooter's head for the rest of the scene. The question is, why did Stephen King choose to use the head-hopping point of view here?

The young shooter had been the viewpoint character in a great many scenes and we got to witness him doing many horrible things, including other murders. Most readers, we would hope, were not too comfortable in this young man's head. Most knew they weren't supposed to be. But if you had gotten too comfortable vicariously whacking people along with this young man, Stephen King has a surprise for you.

The shift into the victim's head gives you another very different point of view on the action. You comfortable hanging out in the killer's head? Stephen King asks us. Step right over here, and I'll show you what it's like to be in the head of one of his victims! And we get to experience everything: seeing the gun, being shot, and fading off into nothingness.

If a reader had been getting complacent about the deaths--- of which there are a great many in the story, many of them children--- this is what restores the horror. We get to see what it's like to be one of the victims that didn't get away.

This, I believe, is a good use of head-hopping. First, the viewpoint character of the scene is a bad man victimizing others. If your mind had gotten dulled to the tragedy caused by any human death by the previous carnage in the book, hopping into the head of one of the random shooting victims wakes your sense that each death in the scene is an individual horror.

Now, this was a giant book in which King slaughters most of the population of a small town in Maine, and he frequently let readers inside the heads of characters about to be killed--- in fact, the first viewpoint character of the whole book is the first to die. I think by the end of the story most readers have become indifferent to the deaths just because there were so many (and the characters were weak, and some hard for normal folks to identify with, such as the lady Congregationalist minister who was an atheist, but somehow not guilty of fraud and hypocrisy for keeping her job.)

But head-hopping, done right, can be a tool that the ordinary writer can use in similar circumstance. In the book Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, head-hopping point of view is treated like any other point of view, as something a writer might choose.
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