Tag Archives: camp nanowrimo

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2017: I restarted my story

On Monday I decided I wasn’t happy with what I’d written so far this month and scrapped it to start again (though I’m still counting my earlier wordcount towards the month’s total).

The main problem with the story as I’d written it was that my protagonist, Fiarra, wasn’t making the decisions. Things were happening, and she was reacting to them. Not just reacting, but reacting in a passive manner – watching and waiting, not deciding to take action. It made the story boring. It made her boring. And it created a contradiction in her character, because my goal at this stage of the story is to have her at odds with others in the group, and she was just getting on with her work while being disdainful about gossip and small talk.

If I’m honest, it was obvious that the story wasn’t working several days before I decided to restart. I attempted to make it work by giving her more decisions, but I’d already put her on a path of passivity and it was hard to get her off that.

So I went back to the start and thought about how things might have reached the stage they need to be at the start of the story to get where I want to go. One of the important aspects of Fiarra in the Pact – a coalition of about a hundred people who have secured territory in the abandoned town of Royal Newport in the aftermath of the eruptions and evacuation – was that she felt that she didn’t fit in. But if that’s the case, why is she there at all? Why has she joined this group? The original version had her living in a former inn, along with several other members of the Pact, and a friendship with Pact leader Embry that dated to after the Pact had been formed.

I scrapped this background, and decided that the Pact had begun in Fiarra’s street, right outside her own house, and that she had met Embry during the crisis. With Fiarra living in her own home, there’s a stronger contrast between the familiarity of the house and the street she grew up in, and the strangers that have arrived there to join the Pact, who have now moved into the homes of Fiarra’s deceased neighbours.

Her role in the origin of the Pact also enables me to give her an independent, even anti-authoritarian streak – not taking part in communal tasks or adhering to curfews – that Embry allows her a certain amount of leeway on. And that in turn means that when she hears rumours about someone she used to know, she can act upon them instead of sitting alone thinking about the nature of loss in the context of a volcano having killed almost everyone she knew only a few months earlier.

I wonder if this is evidence I didn’t do enough planning in the first place. I certainly didn’t plan for Fiarra to be passive in the first two chapters, but that’s how it turned out. I think perhaps the process of writing it enabled me to identify what the problem was and how best to fix it; if I had done more planning work back in March perhaps I would have noticed that Fiarra was too passive, but I don’t think I would have come up with the same solution, and I may have ended up with other problems instead.

As I continue to attempt to refine and improve my process for writing, this is something that I will have to consider.

Plotting for Camp NaNoWriMo

This week has been all about plotting. Last year when I was working on Horrible Monster, I was rather hands-off with plotting: I had a general idea of where I wanted things to go, and a few key scenes, but the rest was left to be worked out as I was writing.

The problem with that was that I slowed down hugely when I didn’t know where things were going, and on several occasions struck out pages and pages – days’ worth of writing – when I decided I didn’t like what I’d written. And now I’m left with a first draft that needs a mountain of work doing to it before it’s even close to completion.

For the Volcano Island project I’m working on this April for Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided I need to do a lot more planning.

A few times over the last decade or so, I’ve attempted the Snowflake method. It’s a process of planning where you start with a very condensed summary of the story and the protagonist, and expand upon these summaries with every step, going from a sentence to a paragraph to a page by adding detail and nuance. In general, I’ve found it a bit rigid and stale when I’ve followed it exactly, but I think the general principle is sound.

With the Volcano Island project, I think I’ve got three stories there. Maybe more, but I can’t think that far in advance at the moment. I wrote very brief summaries of the three stories, and I have expanded upon the first by breaking the overall plot down into chapters and outlining those, as well as the protagonist’s personal journey, in about a paragraph each.

I have now started writing longer chapter summaries, one page each in my A5 notebook (so roughly 100-130 words per chapter), and I think this will be as far as I go for plot. For character, though, I might go to three or four A5 pages, at least for Fiarra, the protagonist, and Macky, the second most important character, plus a page each for another five or six characters.

Striking a balance with planning is important to me. I’ve done too little in the past; but when I do too much I soon tire of the project. I’m hoping this level of planning will be just right to give me the structure I need without sapping my passion for the project.

Attempting Camp NaNoWriMo

In April I will be attempting Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up, added my novel details and set my cabin preferences. My target is 30,000 words and the story I’ll be working on is a fresh attempt at the Penal Colony story I was working on way back in 2013.

There’s still a lot to do before April 1st, though. In the past I’ve tried to “pants” various NaNoWriMo challenges – to write with minimal preparation, flying by the seat of my pants (or trousers, since I’m British). It doesn’t work for me; I get so far and don’t know where to go next, and end up dithering around with long conversations between characters, or meaningless sequences of events that I later delete once I’ve made a decision about the direction I want to go. That was the downfall of Kell’s Adventures and Kell & Atoni: no direction and no plan.

But I’ve also not found much success with an outlining-heavy approach. I get bored of going over the minutiae of characters or the world, or I feel I’ve covered the plot in so much detail in the plan that I don’t need or want to write it anymore because there’s nothing more I can add. It becomes a chore. There’s no exploration, no discovery, no fun to it. And what’s the point if it’s not fun to write, at least some of the time?

With Horrible Monster, I took a middle ground. It was, perhaps, rather too much on the pantsing side of the scale – there were passages thousands of words long, covering multiple scenes, which I removed, and started again from a point I’d written a week or longer earlier. As for the ending, I hadn’t made a decision about that until literally a week before I finished the novel.

So with this story I’ll be doing more planning than I did for Horrible Monster, including working out the ending and writing chapter summaries. In order to distinguish this version from the 2013 version in my file system, I’ll be using a new working title – Volcano Island. A huge amount has changed, including most of the key characters (though I’ve kept the protagonist and a couple of other characters) and the plot. I see the original Penal Colony plot as being potentially the foundation for a sequel, if I get that far, but it’s not the story I want to tell right now, and the story I do want to tell needs to happen earlier in the chronology.

On my to-do list for the rest of this month, I have:

  • Draw maps showing the islands before and after the major eruptions – while the story takes place after most of the eruptions, I want an idea of where there used to be land, towns, ports and other features as my characters will encounter buried buildings and so on. I’m also considering having an eruption during the story, so I’d like to map out how that changes the islands too.
  • Create characters lists to draw upon when needing to use less developed/important characters – I’ve decided on the names and a few characteristics of my main cast, but there will be other characters involved too. I’ll need to sort them into groups, create short descriptions of them and have them ready to put into action when I need them so I don’t have to make this stuff up when I’m writing, and potentially lose flow.
  • Create a more detailed chapter-by-chapter summary. I’ve already got a very brief chapter outline, with about 2 lines of text per chapter describing the main events. I want to expand this into about 150-200 words per chapter, plus a list of the immediate goals and motives of the characters in the chapter to help me with interactions.

There’s plenty to be getting on with, but not so much it can’t be done by the end of March.

Camp NaNoWriMo: a brief update and some thoughts

I’m 9 days into Camp NaNoWriMo and so far I’m a bit behind. I haven’t topped 1,000 words once – and I need to average that many words to meet my 30,000 word goal for the month. So I’ve got a bit of catching up to do. But I think things are starting to move now. I have a good idea of where things will be going for at least the next two or three thousand words, which is always helpful. And after that there will be plenty of excitement too.

There is a different structure to Camp NaNo compared to the original November NaNoWriMo. In that one, you had access to busy forums that hundreds of other people were posting in every day. With the cabins, it’s quieter, more intimate.

I think I’ve got a pretty good cabin. Only about half of the cabinistas are active in the chat, so it’s mostly the same four or five people I’m talking to, but that works for me. Sometimes when there are too many people you can feel drowned out and insignificant. Especially when – like I often find myself – you’re in a different time zone than most people talking, so you miss the chance to get involved in discussions because they happen when you’re fast asleep. With this cabin, though, it’s quiet enough that I don’t feel the conversation all happens when I’m asleep, I feel involved, and that’s helpful. Even when the conversation isn’t about writing, it’s encouraging and self-confidence-building to simply feel part of something positive.

And I’m not just saying that because some of my cabinmates have started following my blog, I promise.

The chat format, though, can be restrictive. It’s a single feed, with a character limit. There’s a reply function which simply puts the name of the commenter who wrote the comment you’re replying to at the start of your comment, so you don’t get threads and digressions. The character limit forces conciseness (though I do sometimes post multiple comments in a row to say all I want to say; conciseness is not my greatest strength) and the single feed seems to have helped us keep on topic, for the most part.

But I do often find dedicated single-topic discussions helpful. The multiple-thread forum format from main NaNoWriMo and other writing boards allows more in-depth discussion, which the chat doesn’t really. It’s probably a good thing; talking about writing can be a massive time sink, a procrastination activity. Ruling that out is probably good for productivity (though of course it doesn’t stop me seeking it out elsewhere, so it’s not a silver bullet to procrastination).

I will say this: I am very glad I requested to be put in a cabin with people with similar goals and the same genre. It means we’ve got more in common, are more likely to be at a similar wordcount. In the past I’ve had writers around me – whether friends on main NaNoWriMo or cabinmates in the two previous Camp attempts – who have either soared ahead and churned out more words in a day than I can manage in a week, or who are taking a far more relaxed approach and only writing a hundred or two hundred words a day. Either one makes me feel discouraged. With the former, I feel inadequate; with the latter, unsupported. With similar goals I can look at what they’re doing and think “oh, she’s doing well, but if I push myself just a little more I can catch up”. Or “well, everyone’s having it tough right now so the fact that I only managed 700 words today doesn’t mean I can’t meet my goals in the end.”

It’s a lower pressure challenge than main NaNo, which I think is what I need right now. It’s less of a big deal. And yes that means my progress towards my million word challenge won’t be as rapid, but it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, to use an old cliche. This is helping. It’s motivating. It means I’m pushing just a little harder than I did in March and February. And that’s really what I need.

I’m feeling good about my writing so I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo

I’ve got some momentum with Horrible Monster right now. It’s going well and I’m feeling good about it. I’m getting into the meaty parts of the story now. So it’s just the right time for a writing challenge – and would you believe it, there’s one about to start!

Camp NaNoWriMo – a sister-challenge to National Novel Writing Month in November – sees writers setting their own goals and working on any writing project, not only novels but also screenplays, poetry, short stories and more. It takes place in April and July. Instead of big massive forums that every participant can access, writers are grouped into cabins of up to twelve. It’s like an online writing group, in which the cabinmates will cheer one another on.

I’ve set my goal as 30,000 words. That’s 1,000 a day – a little above my current average, but I did better than that in November so I should manage it. Two writing sessions a day will easily see it done.

It’s going to make it a busy April – I’ll also be picking up learning French again, in preparation for a holiday in September. I’ve also been thinking again about poetry. Specifically, I re-read one of my favourite poems yesterday – On Wenlock Edge the Wood’s In Trouble from A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman. It’s a great poem, very visual, and I’d like to draw it as a comic. I’ve not done much drawing for a while, but a small project like this – 5 pages, one for each stanza – would be a good first step, and good practice if I pick up other planned comics again.