NaNoWriMo Wisdom to Soothe Your Soul

Depending on your viewpoint, either:

“Aargh! Behold, the Dark Day descendeth upon me apace! I am undone! The storm clouds gathereth into a mighty maeslstrom above my head, from under which I canst not dare hope to emergeth unscathed! All that I hold dear shall be wrested away(eth) from my grasp, I will face the Doors I Cannot Pass and smash myself upon them as powerlessly as a low tide does smasheth itself upon some really quite sturdy rocks”


“Hooray! It’s nearly here! I’ve been champing at the bit to start my novel! I can’t wait to enjoy the inspirational companionship of fellow writers all working towards the same marvellous goal !I’m brimming with ideas and scenes! My notebook is full of character sketches and I have the entire novel outlined chapter by chapter in my MyNovel/Scrivener/TheNewNovelist programme!  NaNoWriMo will let me get that first draft finished without fussing about perfection – then I can revise it and this time next year, I’m BOUND to have a book deal – and be writing my next novel in NaNoWriMo 2012!). Bounce, bounce, cheesy grin that makes you want to punch my lights out, BOUNCE!”

Which ever of these is closest to your current mindset – with just 36 hours to go (for those of us in the UK, anyway, who have just swapped back to GMT!), there might be a frisson of panic. What will you eat? How many days sick leave can you really take before your boss turns up at your door bearing an ominous sheaf of papers? What if you forget to feed your parrot (it’ll be like Beth and Pip in Little Women all over again…)?  Say you get stuck in the middle, realise your novel’s rubbish, get the flu, are called away to a remote part of Borneo…

What you need – apart from a few deep breaths, a frothy coffee/stiff drink/insert beverage of your choice, and another week to prepare – is a) an alternative challenge – see the last link below OR b)some tips. Not from me, because I’ve never done it before. It’s the blind leading the blind, down here in cliche canyon.
So instead feast your eyes (see? told you where we were) on the links below, which will lead you to the NaNoWriMo Wisdom of better women than me (although possibly not better at making cheese sauce. I make a wicked cheese sauce).

Jodi Cleghorn’s Tips for Keeping Your Sanity During NaNoWriMo

Writer’s Digest How To Prepare For National Novel Writing Month

Martha Alderson How To Plot Your Writing Time in the Month of November

Alison Wells NaNoWriMo: Write 50000 Words in 30 Days when you don’t have 5 minutes Part 1

or catch up on Larry Brooks NaNoWriMo October Planning Tips – a whole month’s worth of motivation and preparation

If you want to challenge yourself in November but don’t feel NaNoWriMo is for you, take a look here at some alternative challenges from the Harlequin community.

Right. I’m off to finish my mad-coursework-housework and-paperwork(for work)-athon. Tomorrow evening is reserved for the shop-then-cook-four-weeks-worth-of-meals-in-advance-athon. See you in’Mo Madness!

Every Picture Tells A Story (or a novel – or a poem…)

copyright Craig Sellars

The wonderfully evocative picture above is by the very talented Craig Sellars. A name I probably wouldn’t have come across but for the lucky circumstances that result, every so often, in a copy of ImagineFX magazine being abandoned on the dining table. (Lucky Circumstances being a pseudonym for Arty Daughter).  And of course I’m compelled to have a look while eating my breakfast because – well, I’m me and it’s reading material. On my last visual meander I saw this picture, amongst others, in a feature about Craig.

For the uninititated ImagineFX  is a monthly magazine on fantasy and sci-fi digital art, although the term fantasy is loosely interpreted. But then I suppose everything that is designed from the imagination and not copied directly from a real scene is fantasy, really; and all writing that’s truly fiction could be termed fantasy in the same way.

Craig works on commissions for all kinds of projects, but left to his own devices he favours futuristic images or characters juxtaposed with retro 40’s scenes. The scene above just screams to be written about – or it does to me, anyway.But on his website I discovered other beautiful scenes he’s created, like this one below.

copyright Craig Sellars

I challenge anyone with even the smallest creative bone in their body not to look at these and feel a story brewing.

In the first image, who is the man on the phone talking to? Why is there a monkey in the phone box – does he belong to either of these characters or neither? Obviously the figure with a gun is portrayed here as a fantasy/alien character, but of course in your story he could be a man. Or a woman. Or a child…hmm.Or another monkey!

The second picture suggests a certain era because of the clothes, horse-drawn vehicles etc. Perhaps you’re not into creating period pieces.

No matter. The carriage could be a car. The woman could be wearing jeans and holding an umbrella, not a parasol. Is she standing there waiting for someone to arrive, or waving goodbye? Who are they? Is she happy, wistful, shocked?  Has she just arrived – is that her luggage they’re unpacking? And who is the mysterious figure, coat pulled tight around him, hat down, striding away off-stage?

Do go and take a look at Craig’s work. And next time you look at a picture – of any kind – don’t just look; listen to the story that it’s telling you. There’s bound to be one – or more, if you’re lucky.

Good luck! 🙂

K is for Kidnapping Characters

I was quite tempted to take up Sylvia Ney’s ‘k sound writing challenge’, which I urge you to take a stab at, but since I already had this blog post in mind I stuck with it. I was determined to bring you all over to the Dark Side. To make you walk the Path of Criminality. To make you Dabble in the Depths of Depravity. To-

Ok, that’s quite enough of that. Though I am here to encourage you to kidnap someone. But that someone has to be fictional.

Perhaps you already know a character you want to kidnap – a character who didn’t act in a convincing way (you could have written it better); a character who you wanted to see more of (you knew exactly what happened to them next – why didn’t the author?) or perhaps a character you love so much that you’re keen to give them some new adventures.

So go on – kidnap a character. And now give them either a challenge made up entirely by you, or a challenge from another character’s story. Perhaps even another character in the same book.

How would Lydia Bennet have handled Mr.Darcy?

How would Lyra (Northern Lights/Golden Compass) have dealt with Long John Silver?

The Pevensie children have gone through the back of the wardrobe and met some good-looking vampires…what happens next?

Artemis Fowl is Number Four. Lemony Snicket found the One Ring.

You get the idea. How would these characters react in these situations, or ones you can make up for them? How would that change the outcomes of the original plots?

How would Will Burrows (Tunnels) react if he was in an aeroplane about to crash?
What if the doctors in Sebastian Faulk’s Human Traces had been trapped underground?
How would these characters cope:

Hermione  – with her parents getting divorced
Ron – on discovering one of his brothers was gay
Harry – discovering he had a long lost sister
Miss Havisham – given the chance to travel backwards in time
Christopher Boone (Curious Incident) – breaking his leg? Trapped in a lift?
Robert Langdon – given the chance to travel forwards in time
Rincewind – given a super-power
Henry DeTamble (The TT’s Wife) – winning the lottery? Being trapped in a mine?

Hopefully by now your brain’s already working on one of these. Or one of your own. While I’m not suggesting you should steal a character wholesale (although consider the publicity surrounding Pride, Prejudice and Zombies – perhaps honesty might serve you well!), this kind of shake-up could give you ideas for a best-selling novel of your own.

I’m off to write about what happened to Jack Sparrow when, curious chappie that he is, he prodded open the door of a certain blue police box… 😀

The Creepy Way To Create A Character

I say Creepy, because it may seem slightly stalkerish to some of you. I am, however, just leading your metaphorical horse to water. You don’t have to let it take a drink… 🙂

In Louise Doughty’s excellent book A Novel In A Year (which may or may not help you write a novel in a year, but will definitely give you a lot of excellent advice, strategies and inspiration), she often presents her readers/writers with a situation to thrust a character into (even if it’s not one they envisage being in the completed novel), or to write about a time a particular situation happened to them, such as: having an accident, getting lost, feeling trapped (emotionally or physically), being of a different nationality from your own, being a character from the past, and being an inanimate object.

Of course, these exercises are designed to generate plots and characters, and she then helps you assemble this generated material into a novel. I found those chapters fascinating and incredibly useful (Big Respec’, Louise). And it’s sparked my own ideas on ways to create a character – or to get to know an existing one better.

My Writing Idea of the Day is:

Make your Character walk in your Shoes
(because actions speak louder than words)

Walk your character through your day (or even week). Lterally, if you want; think about your character wearing your shoes! Would they? Imagine your character living through your day. Would they be good at your job, more or less patient with your children/ mother/ dog/ boss? Would they have gone for coffee with that friend? Would they walk the children to school or drive? Bus or train to work? Would they remember to send that birthday card as you did, or are they forgetful/ lazy/ inconsiderate? Would they be a blogger or do they not know their Mac from their PC?

Or perhaps walk them through days in the lives of people you know. I have a female friend who is a bouncer. This wouldn’t be every woman’s cup of tea, but what kind of woman is prepared to do a job like that? (One who is also a black belt in Karate, if you must know!).

Look out your window – is your neighbour off to a club or their work? Would your character be there too? Karate or WI? Or both? And if you have no idea where your neighbour is going, use your imagination – where could they be going, why, and would your character be likely to be there too? Asda or Waitrose? Deskbound or a landscape gardener? Would they have waited patiently in that traffic jam or would road rage have taken over? What might have resulted if they had lost their rag?

Now prepare for boredom.

My uneventful day: Took son to school, spoke to Mum on phone, emptied & refilled the dishwasher, tweeted, revised opening of my novel, researched readability score/reading age of a few novels using MyNovel software, had text conversation with my boss and agreed to increase my hours, drank tea, coffee and a double chocha mocha, ate a chicken and coleslaw sandwich, picked up the post, did some more writing, emptied the bins, went to village shop to buy chicken, bread and fruit juice cartons, collected son from school (delivering two papers from my daughter’s round on the way), spoke to my black-belt friend and another who runs a natural beauty products company, filled in a school form to say yes, son & I would love to go to the Royal Wedding barbecue at school, emailed Techy Husband holiday dates, spoke to Arty daughter when she got in, spoke to Techy husband when he got in, deleted 4 spam comments awaiting moderation on this very blog, read a few other blogs, spent ages converting file type & reformatting text of the work newsletter so I can put it on the work website (which I run), dispatched my family to karate (yes, they go to classes run by black belt friend!), and then wrote this post.

Now your answer may be similar, or completely different – but ask yourself:

What did your character actually DO today?


A to Z Challenge: Come Hither To Feed Your Brain

Yes! It’s here! The challenge 800+ bloggers (many of them writers) – and their hangers-on (sorry, followers) have been waiting for. It’s….


DAY ONE. Brought to you by the letter – A.

Last night I was pondering my first post. I enjoy the quirky randomness Google can bring to the proceedings, and thought I’d see what the hits were for…a. All by itself. Excluding hits for the same/ very similar things, the first 5 were:

  1. A (Wikipedia article) – an article all about the letter A.
    “the first letter and vowel in the basic modern Latin alphabet. It is similar to the Ancient Greek letter Alpha, from which it derives.”  So now we know.
  2. Youtube – including ‘Noah takes a photo of himself every day-‘
    Well I had to look that one up, my writer’s curiousity was burning like, like… a chicken curry that’s being ‘kept an eye on’ by a 14 year old (bitter voice of experience). Now I suspect I may be late to the party here, but that intriguing sentence in full is: “Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 6 years. ”
    Yep, that’s right, it’s a 5 min 46 sec video of photos that Noah Kalina has taken of himself, every day, between January 11, 2000 and July 31, 2006. Noah is a photographer from Brooklyn. To see the photos individually (perhaps a good idea, the video is quite fast and makes you feel seasick!) go here. He is still taking a picture, every day, of just his head and shoulders – boy, there’s a book in there somewhere!
  3. A dictionary of slang
    The first entry in this fascinating dictionary is abdabs: noun Terror, the frights, nerves. Often heard as the screaming abdabs. Also very ocassionally ‘habdabs’ [1940s]. This site is well worth a visit – great stuff!
  4. HTML a tag
    a is an anchor tag in HTML. This is not interesting unless like me you like to walk on the wild side and play with your HTML. ‘Nuff said.
  5. The world’s rubbish dump: a tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan – An article from The Independent
    This is a genuinely interesting article from 3 years ago about ‘A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean’. Back in Feb 2008, it covered ‘an area twice the size of the continental United States’. I’ll be looking this up later to see what’s happened to it since.

I can only hope you find this randomness as  interesting as I do. Or perhaps, like Elizabeth Crieth, I’m just ‘interested in too many things’ – this is what her careers guidance person told her at school! Doread her excellent post on ‘composting’ your mind. This in particular is sterling advice: “I’d encourage every writer, or would-be writer, to cultivate a compost heap in her mind. Learn something new every day, even if it’s only a bit of trivia or some Believe-It-Or-Not oddity. Read widely. Talk to people. Ask questions.”

Hear hear, Elizabeth!

Unsensational Celebrities & Character Creation

 Today Plinky demands that I talk about my top celebrity sightings. Ok – haven’t had many of those, so it’s not diificult to recall them – and it occurs to me that there’s a writing lesson to be learnt here.
When our children were young we decided to spend the afternoon with a friend at Brogdale Farm, just south of Faversham in Kent. What’s so special about a farm, I hear you ask. You ignoramus! Do you not know that Brogdale Farm is home to the National Fruit Collection, and supplier of fruit to her Majesty? Tsk, tsk.
No, we didn’t see the Queen. Don’t get excited.
We had gone there on a whim qite late in the day, and found that we were just too late for a guided tour. Rather disappointed, we were just about to head off for a mooch around and a quick look in the gift shop, when there was…well, a commotion might be going too far – let’s call it a slight stir – over on the ticket desk. And then someone came over and told us that there would be another tour after all, if we would like to come.
We looked over. Who’d managed to wangle that then? What did they have that we didn’t? It looked like an ordinary family. Then the Dad turned round. It was Suggs from Madness.Mystery solved.

Suggs @ Wollaton Park, Nottingham

Did we have a good time? Yes. Did we ask him to autograph a pear for us? No. We played it very cool. Didn’t even hum ‘Our House’ as we wandered round learning about the Queen’s favourite apples.

Oh and Techie Husband and I have also sat opposite the lovely Patsy Byrne (y’know – Nursie from Blackadder) on the tube – many years ago now. We didn’t ask for an autograph then either. Why? Well she was very simply dressed and nobody else had noticed her. (She knew we had though and gave us a lovely smile). I thought she deserved to be left alone. And – I’m embarassed to admit I couldn’t remember her real name, and felt if couldn’t, I didn’t really deserve an autograph.

Oh! Almost forgot! Walked past Rory McGrath a couple of years ago during the Cambridge Science Festival.

On the whole, I’m quite pleased I saw these celebrities when they were just going about their daily lives. After all, they’re just normal human beings who have a talent. That talent is just one facet of who they are. And perhaps that’s a good reminder to those of us who write, when we develop our characters – we may have to show their strong and possibly controversial traits, but we shouldn’t forget to show them as rounded people – nobody is all about ambition, greed, revenge, adventure, love, research…whatever. So don’t forget – let them have a cuppa occasionally. They’re characters – not just the embodiment of a theme, or a plot device.

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