Motivation Monday: Experimentation

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While #spookyromancenovel is off being dissected by my hard-working beta readers, I’ve been cooling my heels a little in terms of project writing. I’m writing a lot of blog posts and Tumblr bits and some journal entries, but until last week I hadn’t done much work on anything book-like.

Then, after years of ignoring it after my last failed attempt to Plan A Real Novel, I dug up an article on the Snowflake Method and dove into what could possibly become a sequel to #spookyromancenovel. I tried to use it to develop a plot bunny back in 2015, when What We Need to Survive didn’t look like it was going to get off the ground and I wanted to write about a photographer finding a new model at his local bakery and falling in love with her. I wrote the first scene, the meet-cute, as it were, and had no idea where to go from there, so I turned to the Snowflake. And it failed me miserably–either it’s not suited to me, or I wasn’t ready for something so intense.

But I’m revisiting it now, four years later, for the potential successor to #spookyromancenovel.

It’s a standalone currently, and it may remain a standalone. I have vague story ideas about romances involving some of its side characters, who turned out to be a such an interesting and vibrant bunch that I’d be sad not to give them their own books, their own shots at love.

But I pantsed the hell out of #spookryomancenovel with a month worth of prompts to guide me, then another month of “I think I know where this is going now, I have to finish it.” I planned nothing aside from the fact that, as a romance, there would be a happy ending.

So why am I trying to plan the next one? And why am I using one of the most effort-intensive planning methods out there?

Well, first of all, to be entirely fair, I’ve started planning. I haven’t finished. I’ve worked up the one-sentence summary, turned it into the five-sentence paragraph, extended that into a character-based overview of the plot. What I have not done is the bulk of the expansion process–a full synopsis, a scene breakdown, rough sketches of those scenes, etc. I’m still in the shallow end. I don’t know that I’ll finish–there’s still plenty of time to jump off the SS Snowflake and try to write based on the work I’ve already done.

But the desire to arm myself for this (possible) second book in the series comes out of the frustration of the rewriting process from #spookyromancenovel. I didn’t plan anything. It makes rewriting hell to find out you forgot entirely about a plot thread a third of the way through the story and never picked it up again, because you were barreling through your first draft like hell hounds were biting at your ankles. It stinks when you have a crappy timeline that doesn’t make any sense and is a complete pain to reconcile with actual linear time because you didn’t remember that fall turns into winter when you set your story in a place with seasons but neglect to allow time to pass physically even when your narrative says “Three weeks later…”

My second draft was put-together enough to get some initial feedback, sure, and I’m happy with a lot of the plot, a lot of the scenes, but not how rough it all still feels around the edges. It’s less of a mess than it was, but it’s not done. It’s not clean.

My turn toward Snowflake planning, with its progressively more detailed structure, its rigid guidelines, is reactionary. I understand that. I also understand it might not work for me, I might do as I’ve often done in the past and get frustrated by all the pre-writing work it involves. My stories are character-driven–their personalities dictate their actions, not some overarcing plot needs. Which is not always compatible with strong advance planning, when I go to write and I realize my character wouldn’t do the thing the plot needs her to do to move along the predetermined path.

This all might be for nothing, in terms of actually getting me to write this (proposed, possible) book.

But a writer that refuses to try new things is a writer who will stagnate. Having a routine isn’t a bad thing, and having a preferred method of planning (or not planning) isn’t a bad thing. But never trying anything else means being shut off to avenues of potential improvement. Maybe the Snowflake method won’t end up helping me as much as I hope, and I’ll abandon it. Or maybe I’ll finish the planning and then find myself less excited to actually write the story–a common complaint I hear from Plotters, whereas Pantsers often get the joy of character and/or story discovery as they write and things take unexpected turns.

Or maybe, just maybe, this will all go swimmingly and I’ll have a new tool in my arsenal to help me get my stories out of my head and into the hands of my readers. Maybe doing some of the work before writing the story will cut down on the amount of work I have to do after. It’s possible, or people wouldn’t be doing it.

It just remains to be seen if I will be one of them.

Keep experimenting, writers. It’s the way to grow.

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Dialogue Prompts: #spookyromancenovel Edition

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I am deep in the throes of rewriting #spookyromancenovel, and I am coming across some real gems, some honestly golden nuggets of dialogue in the midst of all the crap I’ve got to change, polish up, or cut completely.

Bonus: out of context, some of them are ridiculous! My favorite kind of writing prompt!

So have fun with these. Technically since they’re from my own work which I intend to publish, I should tell you to change them a little so as not to infringe on my copyright, yada yada, but a) you’re not stealing scenes or story ideas from me since they’re single lines, and b) I’m offering them for prompt purposes.

On top of that, the entire first half of the rough draft came entirely from writing prompts I was given during #fictober18. So it’s time I give some of that love back. Go nuts!

  1. “You know the rules. Prove it’s you.”
  2. “Your fault for being tailed, if that ever happens.”
  3. “My last hideout got taken over by wolves.”
  4. “Everything with you is blood lust and quick death.”
  5. “I’ll let you sleep again when I’m done.”
  6. “Why did you stay away so long this time?”
  7. “You’re the only person in the whole world who’s on my side.”
  8. “Will you be offended if I eat an entire pepperoni pizza by myself?”
  9. “I can’t tell if you’re kidding.”
  10. “I know I seemed calm, but I was panicking inside, you were dying.”
  11. “Scavengers do have their place in the food chain.”
  12. “How can you ask me not to pursue something that might save you?”
  13. “Maybe that will give me some inspiration.”
  14. “I can’t protect you if I can’t get to you.”
  15. “Don’t make this a habit, okay?”

#spookyromancenovel update!

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It took a little longer than I meant it to, but the draft reread is done, and I have pages upon pages of notes about what works, what doesn’t, and that time I gave Shannon a magical umbrella that could hit like a sledgehammer then completely forgot it existed.

Chekhov’s Umbrella, anyone?

So I’ve got some world-building to flesh out, for sure. I’ve got some pretty hideous plot holes that need paving, especially in the latter half, which I was racing through for NaNoWriMo. But overall? I’m feeling pretty good about it. For something I threw together in just over two months with zero planning beforehand, it’s actually a decent first draft.

The big rewrite will be soon. My rough plan is use the rest of January for the planning stuff–world-building, ironing the kinks out of the time line, brainstorming fixes to the plot holes, beefing up my subplots. Then I’m hoping to get the second draft cranked out by the end of March, another two-month window. It seems to be the right length of time for me.

Will you be hearing much about it in the mean time? I’m not sure. Whenever I do a rewrite I end up coming up with new editing tricks, which usually turn into Editing Notes posts. So quite possibly. But I’m also two weeks into the new reading year, and I’m swimming in books, I love my reading challenges, so there’s still going to be tons of reading content, too.

My goal, much like back when I started with What We Need to Survive, is to have this released sometime by the end of the year. I was disappointed not to put anything out in 2018 after three straight years of a book a year, but I didn’t have anything worth publishing. The rock star novel I was so excited about is still on my hard drive, and I may go back to it some day, but it’s definitely not ready for anyone else to see, and that’s the lesson 2018 taught me–not every story is going to work out like you want it to.

#spookyromancenovel, on the other hand, feels like it’s going to be great. After some more work, of course!

#spookyromancenovel is finished!

That is, the rough draft is finished.

I didn’t mean for it to take me a week to write the end after NaNoWriMo, but of course as soon as NaNo was over, I got really sick. Because of course.

So the draft clocks in at 96K.

  • Written during Fictober: 39K
  • Written during NaNo: 52K
  • Written this past week: 5K

This has been the most productive I’ve been with writing all year, and I’m going to strain my arm patting myself on the back and all, but I am REALLY FUCKING PROUD OF MYSELF. I hadn’t been able to stick to one project since I “won” NaNo last year but never finished the actual draft I started for it. Everything since then has been me, waffling about what to write while struggling with my depression.

But my mental health has been improving steadily since summer, and things in general are looking up, and it’s definitely got me back on track creatively.

My plan for #spookyromancenovel: Give myself the rest of the month off writing entirely (except for blog posts, I’ll use the time to get ahead on those!) Do a reread focused on assembling a world-building guide over my holiday vacation. Start the rewrite when I get home.

The great thing is, all those half-baked ideas I’ve been playing with since I published the final What We Need book will fit into this new universe I’m creating, with some tweaks here and there. My lesbian witches? Probably the next book in the hypothetical series. Werewolf courtship rituals? Absolutely would work if I move the setting from tiny rural town to big city, which might actually make it more interesting. Haunted library? Oh, hell yes, and I’ve even got a librarian side character ready for her own romance novel. Plus I made her come from a rich necromancer family and I’ve introduced two of her brothers, so they’re potential protagonists, too. And one of them is definitely gay.

So I sat down on the first day of Fictober thinking I was going to play around with a friends-to-lovers story with magic, and ended up spawning a place where all of my story ideas for the past year and a half have been inevitably heading, giving me enough plot fuel for a good five or six books, at least.

I’m so excited I’m bouncing in my damn chair.

NaNoWriMo ’18: What I’m Planning, and Also, Sorry I Haven’t Been Around

I got sick last week. Really sick. I had already fallen behind on my usual posting schedule to keep up with Fictober18, and throw an illness in the mix, I was done, I couldn’t keep up with writing, either.

I’m recovering, I’m writing, I’m catching up.

As of yesterday, I’ve written 31,657 words on #spookyromancenovel, my Fictober18 project. That’s far more forward momentum, more quickly, than any other project I’ve attempted in the year+ since I released What We Need to Decide–I guess finishing a novel trilogy can wipe you out a bit. I didn’t recognize that I needed more time to recharge, so I threw myself at a bunch of ideas that didn’t really inspire me, just to feel like I was still being productive.

Now, I’m inspired again. I said early on, because I hoped, that I would take #SPN successfully straight through into NaNo this year. And that’s definitely happening, because I can’t imagine stopping this train in the middle to start another new project three days from now. Nuh-uh, not happening.

So my ideal goal for NaNo is: 100K total, or finish the draft. A lesser and more reasonable goal: 50K just during November, finish the draft in December. I’d be thrilled with the former and happy with the latter.

Because of Fictober18 as well as my illness, I didn’t spend any time prepping (I’m already writing!) but I also didn’t make any prep posts, something I’ve always done before. So here’s various prep/advice posts from previous years:

2015: Learning to Love Word Vomit

2016: Staying Sane; The Care and Feeding of Plot Bunnies; The Post-NaNoWriMo Slump

2017Clean Your Desk; Mind-Mapping Goes Digital

As for posting #SPN scenes, which I’ve been doing for Fictober here on its WIP page, I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll continue during NaNo; I also haven’t decided if I’ll continue to use prompts (or what source I’ll use if I do) once I work through all the Fictober ones. I’ve still got a few days to think about that, and honestly, it could depend on where I leave off in the story on Halloween–if I need extra inspiration to get going on the 1st, prompts all the way!

Fictober18: I’m Actually Writing Again!

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My next novel (or at least, novel draft) is taking shape thanks to #fictober18 over on Tumblr. The event is a dialogue prompt every day, which we incorporate into a fic. (Aimed at fanfic writers, but there are plenty of people doing original fiction too.)

I’ve been using each prompt in a scene for my new project, currently going by #spookyromancenovel. It’s paranormal romance; I’ve got a rough idea of how it’s going to progress and eventually end; I’m aiming for 100K for the first draft, and whatever I don’t have done through Fictober will become my NaNoWriMo goal next month.

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll seek out an alternate source of prompts for November; but I may still be working on the ones I have, since (as of writing this post) I’m behind. There have been a few days where I simply couldn’t find time to write, which is a shame–but at least I’m motivated to write again, after months of waffling about which project to work on and feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

In order to wrangle thirty days’ worth of prompt responses, I made a WIP page for the project, which I want to stress is not complete (no worldbuilding or FAQ sections yet) but has all the scenes I’ve done as well as a blurb and some short character bios.

Below is the first scene, based on the prompt: “Can you feel this?” If you enjoy it, please visit the WIP page for links to the rest!


A ghoul was listlessly banging on the door to the shop. I’d lost track of time doing inventory, and darkness had fallen early because of the storm. I turned the lights out in front. If the thing lost interest and wandered away, I could still make it home tonight. If I was careful.

But if I were stuck in the shop overnight, I could finish the inventory and get a head start on next week’s orders. Ghouls and ghosts and other foul beasties weren’t the only reason I kept a cot, some canned food, and a clean set of clothing in my office.

An hour later, the darkness outside was near total, but the random door rattling was gone. I peered through the blinds, trying to check the street by the blinding brilliance of lightning flashes. Every inch of my shop was so intricately warded that it was a magical Switzerland, so staying put was by far the safest option. But I was craving the leftover Chinese in my fridge at home, and I was only halfway through binging the latest season of Real Housewitches of Miami. I’d never been to Florida, so I was watching as much for the beaches and bikinis as I was the catfights and petty hexes.

Something darker than shadow broke free from the brick wall of the bank across the street. I backed away from the window. Chinese food and reality TV were bad reasons to risk getting killed, no matter how much I longed for the comfort of my own bed.

I was halfway to my office when the door shook in its frame under a much heavier, more deliberate pounding. Definitely not a ghoul.

I turned back, like I could see through the door and make out who, or what, it was. I waited for a lightning flash, but all that got me was the vague outline of something tall and humanoid.

Nothing evil could walk into my shop unless I let it in. Sure, some of my customers probably used the components they bought here for less-than-trustworthy purposes, but they came by daylight, and they paid cash.

At night, the only way something could get in was if I opened that door.

Behind me, my phone rang. I’d left it on my desk, and I had to hurry to get to it before it went to voicemail. Noah Hargrove calling, the screen declared.

Noah. I hadn’t seen him for six months? Seven? As I answered, my eyes went straight to the shelf of random jars on the back wall, all different materials and sizes, some with metal lids and others with cork stoppers.

Hey.” Usually I sounded more cheerful when I spoke to old friends, but usually there wasn’t something unidentified standing outside my door.”

Can I come in?”

He asked with no lead-in and no hesitation. “You know the rules. Prove it’s you.”

Shannon…” His exasperation was obvious, but he was the one who’d helped me develop my system of safeguards, when I’d opened the shop.

I’m not budging.” I didn’t really think he’d been body-snatched by some unnameable power, or even by a garden-variety vampire. But with Noah, more than the others, I had to be careful.

It’s October, so that’s, what, biggest regrets?”

You know I can’t tell you that.” But he was right. Time to cough something up, something I could read.

Letting Larry Wilkinson take you to senior prom. He totally ruined the night for everyone.”

His choice surprised me, but I sensed the truth in his voice. The emotion didn’t have to be deep or secret, but it did have to be real. “Can’t get puke stains out of satin.” I stalked back to the door and starting the complicated process of undoing the night locks, both physical and magical. “This will just take a minute.”

What would you do if something were after me? Or whoever?”

He didn’t know who else I helped out, after-hours, but he knew he wasn’t the only one. I could never tell if there was jealousy there, either personal or professional. Noah was always the hardest to read.

I’d stand here working on the locks while you got shredded like overcooked chicken. Or whoever. This can’t be rushed, not if I don’t want the wards to snap.”

That’s harsh, Shannon.”

Hearing his voice through the phone and not through the door, even though only a few inches separated us, was odd. It shouldn’t have been, not with how heavily protected I was, but it made him feel unreal, or at least farther away. “Your fault for being tailed, if that ever happens.”

When the final lock released, a flare of blue sizzled across the door frame. I turned the knob and stepped back.

Noah came in, hanging up our call and pocketing his phone. “Thanks.”

I always forgot how big he was, when I hadn’t seen him. I backed up a step. “Thanks for taking me home early so I didn’t have to spend the rest of prom smelling like rum and stomach acid.”

He shook his head. “That kid was such a jerk. What did you see in him, anyway?”

Honestly, I don’t even remember. Maybe his smile. He had the best smile.” I started toward the back. “But you’re not here to catch up. What do you need?”

A flash from the window showed his shadow towering over me, and I hoped he couldn’t see me shudder. But his night vision was better than mine, so probably he did. I tried so hard not to let him know how much he frightened me. I never wanted him to feel unwelcome here.

More blackwort and bonemeal.” That was standard, they helped with his cravings, though seeing him casually nibbling on mushrooms poisonous enough to kill me five times over never got easy. What he said next, though, wasn’t. “And a place to hole up for a few days, if you know of one. My last hideout here gotten taken over by wolves.”

I sighed. “That turf war between the clans got messy before it was over.” And I’d spent half a night digging silver-laced shrapnel out of Sophia Summers, my old piano teacher from long-ago lessons in elementary school. Her husband had gotten turned in an attack, and she’d petitioned Clan Northriver for voluntary infection for her, and entrance for them both. She’d survived the war, but her clan had lost a third of their territory.

I can find something new over the next few nights, I have some ideas. But that storm has got the ghouls riled up something fierce, and I can take a few, but I don’t want to spend all night killing instead of apartment hunting.”

He followed me to my office, his large frame filling the doorway. The lights were on here, but I tried not to look at him too closely. I pointed at the cot. “Sit.”

Shannon…”

You’re such a baby about this.”

I hate needles, you know that.”

Because that was what I’d drawn from a kit I kept in my desk drawer. Made from gold, which soaked up enchantments like a sponge, and blessed in turn by every priest, witch, and healer I knew. “Give me your arm.”

He shrugged off his leather jacket, the same battered thing he’d had since high school, and rolled up the sleeve of his sweater. The veins stood out on his muscled forearm as I checked his pulse—strong, healthy, if you could ignore the fact it was a single beat when it should have been doubled. And the gray undertones of his skin, which was definitely more mottled than the last time he’d been to see me.

I dragged the point of the needle from the inside of his elbow to his wrist. He flinched, but I still asked, “Can you feel this?”

Yes,” he hissed. “Goddamn it, Shannon. You can’t know how much that hurts.”

No, I couldn’t, because I was still human. The needle didn’t do a thing to me. The first time I’d poked him with it, pricked the tip of one finger, he’d passed out the instant it touched his blood and didn’t wake up for five hours.

More or less than last time?”

He didn’t answer for a moment, trying to remember, maybe. “More,” he finally whispered. “A little more.”

Okay.” That wasn’t good, but it had been six months. Or seven. I should expect his condition to have progressed. “You’re not hungry, are you?”

No, I…I ate on the way. Why?” He looked up at me, and I couldn’t ignore the fear in his eyes, or the pleading.

Or the way his brown irises were speckled with black. Eventually there would be no color left. No humanity.

Because you’re staying with me for now. I wasn’t going to try to make it home tonight, but saddle up, because now you’ve got to get me there safely.”

He smiled, and I hated myself for the nervousness that shivered through my body and made my hands tingle with numbness. I had lied about Larry, of course. Noah had always had the best smile.