A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stumbling Into Muddy Waters

I've written myself into a wall (metaphorically speaking, anyway). My NaNo project has hit a stumbling block, and I have no idea where I'm going to take it. I think I'm about 2/3 of the way through the story at this point, which is a good thing. I'm on the downhill side, but evidently there is a cliff I did not expect.

I've heard many different perspectives on this type of problem. Some people say when you're stuck, kill somebody. I had a hard enough time dealing with one death, not sure if I can do another one. Okay, I guess I am over Trevor's mother dying. But I don't know who else I would kill anyway. So I doubt that's going to be the option I take.

One problem is that the storyline has changed from my initial ideas. See, when I first began telling Trevor's story, I imagined him wanting to get out of town as soon as possible. He is physically different than everyone else around him(significantly so), and he hides (both figuratively and literally) inside a disguise. With the death of his mother (which he is directly responsible for) and discovery of his "differences" by the antagonist, he is on the run. His friend Brent helps him escape from the clutches of the antagonist, and their thoughts are to get him out of the city. They have no idea what is like outside the city (since nobody ever leaves the city), but it has to be better than what punishments await him otherwise.

Then the plot takes an abrupt turn and Trevor discovers this other sector of humanity hiding beneath the city. Trevor meets a woman (Mara) who declares she is his destined wife, and he starts to uncover the horrific truth about humanity's past. The need to know the entire truth drives him further underground towards a mysterious bunker from another era, with Mara becoming comfortably (and uncomfortably) close. The antagonist (not having given up on finding Trevor) breaks up the party again, capturing Brent and inadvertedly collapsing the tunnel end.

So now Mara and Trevor are trapped underground with no apparent escape, just as they are reaching what may be the truth he seeks. They have almost no supplies and no discernable way out. A search through the underground complex reveals some truth about man's past and eventually they find an alternate exit, climbing their way back up to emerge within the sewers beneath the city.

Here is where I am stuck. Trevor's need to escape has disappeared, transformed into a need to stay near this woman. He also has to try to find his friend Brent and free him, if he can. Finally, the chains that have enslaved humanity must be broken. He realizes this, and ...

Here's the crux of it. I have no idea how I get him to save humanity. HOLY FREAKIN' COW, BATMAN! Can I really have created a world so dependent on their own slavery that they cannot exist without it? And how do I get this one insignificant person to overthrow the existing order without causing the city to destroy itself in the resulting chaos?

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Okay. Virtual scream of frustration finished. I don't have any hair to pull out, so I had to talk through this here. I do have some inklings now that have emerged in my brain, so this wasn't a complete waste of time. Oh, and for those keeping track, I am about a day and a half behind (or so). Most of that is because of these plot issues. But word count wise, I'm a hair below 30K. So I'm not really too far behind. I will be catching up this weekend and hopefully getting ahead even.

So what do you think of the storyline so far? Intriguing enough to read the story? All comments are welcome.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We Done Good, Guys!

Yesterday I had a moment of nostalgia, wondering what had become of the Blogman award. In case you missed this post, this badge is a small (but really fun) achievement I was a big part of. Elana and Abby were my cohorts in this endeavor as well.

Anyway, I was distracting myself from NaNo for a bit and went on a hunt to see just how far this badge has gone. It's so awesome. People like BettieLee over at Far Seeing Fairy Tales, and Jade at Jade Hears Voices were lucky recipients who had fun with the award and passed it on. I began to follow the chain of awardees and was lost among blogs for way too much time. It was an enjoyable distraction though, especially since I know I helped get this started.

Yeah, it's a bit egotistical perhaps to be celebrating this event, but what the hell. Elana and Abby, celebrate with me. We spawned an award that has spread smiles throughout blogdom and made people feel better, even if for just a moment. Throw on some Joe Cool shades, crack open a Diet Coke (or Jack Daniels if that's your preference), and smile wide. We done good.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blog Chain - Where's Your Priorities?

Today's topic comes from the talented Amanda, who poses this question:

How do you prioritize? How do you balance paying attention to your writing, critiquing for friends, spending time with your family and earning a living?

This is a very timely topic for me, because (thanks to NaNo) I've been feeling the pressure lately. Let me give you an idea of how many things I'm working on so you can get a feel for my world. First off, I'm a Dad. My younger son has decided to start writing stories (ain't it awesome when they follow Dad's example?), so that means I have to be supportive and help him develop this interest. My older son is in high school wrestling, and since I got him started in it, I'm all about supporting him as well. That means back and forth to practice every day, wrestling meets every weekend (coming up soon anyway), fund raising events, working the concession stands at things, etc.

My wife has been ill for a while now, so she's not able to do as much as she used to. Just in case you're reading hon, I'm not complaining. I love her, and I firmly believe in the whole "in sickness and in health" part. But yeah, housework does have to get done so I do as much of it as I can.

I'm studying for the very last test I ever have to take in college. It doesn't help that it's one of the most difficult exams Microsoft ever devised for network admins. Yeah, plenty of brain damage going on there as I attempt to absorb it all.

Then I have my job. Yes, I list it last, because quite frankly it is last in my priorities. As far as I'm concerned, I will always do a good job at work, but the job comes in second to the rest of my life. I have a second job as an editor for a website, but I have taken a temporary break so I can concentrate on things like my test. Graduating is more important at this point.

Oh, and there's the fact that I am a gamer. Yep, almost 40 and still playing video games. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

"Hi, my name is Eric and I'm a gamer."

"Hi Eric"

Where does my writing fit in with all of this? Well, prior to doing NaNo, it really didn't. Oh, I would have a spurt here and there where I would write, but it definitely wasn't consistent. I also used to write alot more on here, and yes I'm aware I haven't been as active lately.

The good thing NaNo has done for me (aside from getting a rough draft done) is forcing me to set a writing time. I begin writing at 7 p.m. and I work until I get at least one chapter done. Have I broken that rule from time to time? Sure. But I have stuck to it more often than not. I won't go so far as to say writing has become primary in my life, but at least it is a part of it rather than a distraction from the "normal" aspects of my life. My wife is very understanding, and I'm sure it took a bit for her to become so. It's new, and it's time away from all of them. But she supports me in everything, a fact I'm very happy about.

So there ya go. That's how I manage things. If you haven't read my predecessor Sandra's take on the subject, you can check it out here. And Kat will be following me up tomorrow.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blog Chain - Where's The Drama

Okay, here we go. This is the type of question I've been dreading. And as I read through my fellow comrades' answers in this blog chain, the dread continues to build. So what is this grand question? Well, Christine started things out by asking the following:

How do you create a wonderfully dramatic story? Are there any questions you ask yourself, or specific things you keep in mind to ensure that you have the level of tension necessary to propell the story forward?

The first problem for me is the idea that I have any conscious control over my story. As my NaNo writing is progressing, the truth of this statement is becoming harder and harder to swallow. What started out as a story about one man escaping a society where he does not fit in has morphed into something entirely different. Every time I sit down and write, the story leaves the planned track I have for it and finds its own way.

So how can I answer this? The harsh truth is that I really have no idea. Since I am learning so much from everyone else around me, I would like to think that at some point my writing will be on purpose. I suppose there are a few things I do to maintain a level of drama however. I like to end each chapter with a cliffhanger. For example, in one of my chapters, the chapter ends with Mara telling my MC Trevor that she is his wife. He didn't know he had a wife before that moment, and to be honest neither did I prior to typing the words.

I also like to put my characters into danger, leaving the reader anxiously turning the page to find out what happened. I have a scene in NaNo where Trevor and his friend Brent jump into a taxi driven by someone they thought they could trust, only to have the man gas them into unconsciousness. There ya go - drama.

What I imagine is that when I go through editing this first draft (the fact that I can see myself completing an entire rough draft is amazing to begin with), I will be keeping questions such as this in mind the whole time. My NaNo WiP is supposed to be a thrill ride, so of course I'll have to make sure every word keeps the reader on the edge of their seats.

My basic answer to this question is that I don't honestly know how I do it. I just hear the words in my mind and put them down on paper. I don't have enough experience at this point to know whether this is the right way to do it or not, but it is how I get things done.

In case you haven't read them, Sandra answered this question before me and Kat is all set to do the same.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Taking A Moment To Celebrate Veterans

Today has special meaning for me. I am a US Army veteran and today is Veteran's Day. It is the day when we celebrate all of the US soldiers throughout time who stand up and serve, swearing an oath to do their duty at any cost - even their life.

In the history of this country, many soldiers have paid that price in service to the ideals we believe in. They have given their lives to defend these ideals, as well as to help others wherever possible. They are heroes in every sense of the word, and I am honored to count myself among these proud people. They are paid almost nothing for the amount of time they put in, and yet they serve anyway. They are taken from their families and loved ones, flown halfway around the world, and they offer no complaints. Instead, they merely pick up their weapon and stand a post, their backs straight and sure.

I have had the honor of meeting some truly exceptional people during my time serving in the Army. People who are in a class above the rest. I make it a point to thank my fellow soldiers anytime I see them on the street. Sure, I served my time, just as they are serving now. That service deserves my recognition and respect, and I make sure to give it always. I even have a rather large patch on the back of my jean jacket proclaiming my support of soldiers.

When people thank me for my service however, I don't know what to say. I was lucky in that I never had to be involved in a war, never had to shoot at anyone. Sometimes I feel like I really am not on the same level as so many of my brothers-in-arms who are dodging bullets as we speak, fighting to stay alive while doing their duty. But I did serve, so I guess that's something. I stumbled on a post by someone else that tells a true tale, and it has reinforced for me why I should be proud to be a veteran. It talks about the blank check all of us soldiers write when we choose to serve. I urge all of you to read this post. I like the imagery of this idea, and I'm proud that I was able to do my part.

Soldiers deserve our respect and thanks. At all times. If you know someone who is a soldier, thank them today for writing their own blank check. If you see a soldier on the street, thank them. Spend today with your families, and be thankful for all the freedoms our soldiers have bought us with their blank checks.

God bless all soldiers in the United States Military. May they all come safely home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What The *$%#@...er....Heck Is Going On?

Forgive my lapse in propriety with the title. I usually refrain from foul language in writing (though I've been known to let a few fly in person from time to time - sorry, I was a soldier). But the title really is appropriate. Allow me to explain.

This all started amidst my NaNo writing. I have a MC who experiences many situations where it might be appropriate to cuss a little bit. I have as of yet refrained from letting him "let go" so to speak, mostly because I didn't want my writing to disintegrate into mindless ramblings with an occasional cuss word thrown in here and there.

Today, I stumbled on Scott's interesting post over at The Literary Lab and it has caused me to question this behavior. Am I being untrue to myself (and the MC) by muzzling him? Don't get me wrong; I'm not a fan of profanity for profanity's sake. One of my favorite authors (Stephen King) seems to dive headlong into the cussin' pool more and more these days, which I find irritating. This is not the impression I would like to leave with my readers.

I just don't know whether putting in an occasional heck or darn (or their more provane equivalents) will damage my story. Or should I stay true to how I "really" envision my MC and let him fling a curse here or there?

I guess I should mention that I already know my book is not destined for the YA genre. This is not a question of what is "appropriate" for my audience as far as genre goes. I guess I'm just holding back because I've seen how easily this slippery slope can become a downward torrent, and I don't want that to happen. So I pose the question to you, my followers. How do I resolve this problem? I could really use some advice, so please feel free to fill my comment box up.

Oh, and yes I am still forging forward on NaNo. For those keeping track, I'm somewhere above 17K at this point.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Couple Reasons To Celebrate

I meant to put up a post yesterday, but of course by the time I got done writing on my NaNo, I was too tired to think straight. This post is going to be very short as well.

If you haven't stopped by The Literary Lab today, hustle on over. Scott (who is on vacation no less) posted a really awesome discussion concerning First Acts. This is in reference to the previous discussion revolving around writing with a beginning, middle, and ending act in mind for our writing projects. It's very well thought out, and I found some useful gold nuggets among his words.

So far, I've only missed one day in NaNo where I did not get a chance to write (Tuesday), but I made up for it the following day. Well, today is going to be another such occurrence. My wife and I are celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary today, so needless to say there will be no NaNo work this evening. Yes, she is understanding and says she wouldn't care if I did. But I'm not such a thickheaded knuckledragger that I'd truly believe that. It's a special day, and if that means I have to write twice as much tomorrow, so be it.

Lastly, I'm happy to say that as of last night, two things have happened - I passed 11K words, and I am just about ready to plunge headlong into the "middle section" of my story. Scott, wherever you are in vacationland, keep your fingers crossed for me. I may need all the inspiration and help I can get.

For all the rest of you out there slaving away on NaNo, on RevisMo (good luck Guppster and The Intern), or just on your regular ol' WiP's, good luck to you and may your pens drip eloquent words on the page like golden honey sparkling in the morning sun. Okay, maybe a little overdone, but it's my blog so there! :P

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh My God, She's Dead!

No, I'm not talking about my novel. That, thankfully is very much alive. What I am talking about however, is my MC's mother.

I've never killed off a character before. Of course, I am not as experienced as so many of you out there, nor do I have a vast library of successful and unsuccessful novels. But this experience is truly odd.

I suppose what makes it most odd is the fact that I had not intended for her to die (at least I don't think so). I was sitting there writing away on Chapter 3, the MC and the mother were in conflict (as they often are), and then some time later she's lying dead on the floor. As I finished typing the last sentence of that particular scene, it hit me. Holy cow. I just killed her.

Now don't get me wrong; the death of the mother actually does work well within the framework of the story. And as a catalyst to get the MC moving, it's perfect. It just surprised me, as if I really weren't the one typing the words but instead were strapped to a chair while my muse played havoc with my WiP.

I'm okay now. I've become accustomed to the idea of her demise, which is why I can relate it to you all now. There is a method to my muse's madness, despite the fact that sometimes I think he's the grand ol' Wiz working behind a curtain. I've been able to continue the story beyond this woman's death, and I am sure that with editing, the scene will be quite memorable. The shock of the moment however, will probably always linger in the back of my mind.

Oh, and on the positive side (not that this is negative really) I have already exceeded my daily goal of 1700 words per day. I am supposed to be at 8500 words by the end of tomorrow, and after today's work, I'm already at 8798. If I manage to keep up this pace all month, I figure I may even exceed the 50K goal by a good 10K margin. It's great to be ahead, but I'm not slowing down no matter what. This is so much fun, I can't really describe it. I don't think I've ever had so much fun "forcing" myself to write.

So back on to the topic I started with, have any of you ever killed off a character? How did it feel to take your first "virtual life"?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Still Slaving Away

Although I am working hard on NaNo, others have made it clear that this difficult challenge is not all there is to life. Cough...Surly Writer...Cough Yes yes, I get your point. We do not need to become silos of silence, only peeping our heads out long enough to yell out a word count as if the very numbers themselves will cause writers worldwide to proclaim our greatness.

Whew. That was a long sentence. Sorry.

Okay, now that I've had a moment to breathe, let's talk about other things. I stumbled on a couple of posts that were coincidentally useful for me right now. Rachelle Garner had a very interesting post about foreshadowing and telegraphing. And Scott Bailey over at The Literary Lab was talking about the middle of our stories. The reason I call them coincidental is because I am really progressing nicely with this WiP (even though my inner editor is screaming about how crappy the writing is in general), and very soon both of these concepts will be something I need to deal with.

Let's talk about foreshadowing. Prior to reading Rachelle's post, I had not thought about the fact that I could be telegraphing the future events instead of foreshadowing. I am probably guilty of writing hints all the time that are really more blatant than they should be. That after all, is the key. Foreshadowing should be very subtle, as Rachelle is so adept at pointing out.

For example, in my WiP the MC Trevor has a father that disappeared some time ago, with no notice, and leaving no trace. Trevor knows the father did something to alter Trevor's body, his genetic makeup (prior to birth). His father was a brilliant geneticist. Trevor is distinctly different than the rest of humanity and must hide beneath a sophisticated suit or risk all sorts of problems (both legal and social). Out of nowhere however, he is given information that may completely alter his perception of his father, as well as his future existence.

Now I have already crafted the passing of information, clumsily to be sure. That will need to be refined in the 2nd draft, but Rachelle's post helped me see how important it is that I not just drop it in Trevor's lap with a bow. So how do I hint that there is more to the story without it being obvious telegraphing? Honestly, I'm not sure and this may require a great deal of thought. For the first draft though, I'm leaving it at clumsy.

As for Scott's post, he divides stories up into three acts. He pays special attention to the fact that most writers have difficulty with the middle of the story, not the beginning or end. I usually only know the beginning, but surprisingly I have a good idea where this story has started and where it will end. Connecting the two is nebulous at best, and I'm hoping my quasi-planning/writing process will work it out. I'm also worried about pacing, because once this thrill ride gets moving (which is not too far from now in the storyline), I need it to stay at a very active, heart-clenching pace. How do I do this? I have no idea.

Using this WiP as an example again, let me explain. Trevor is significantly different from every other person in society. I won't spoil it by saying how, but suffice it to say that his physical makeup is actually illegal, not to mention socially unacceptable. His own mother considers him an abomination and a coward, since he is too scared to reveal himself to the world. Trevor has enemies however, even if he doesn't know it yet. Once they find out, he will be running (literally and figuratively) for his life. The pursuit will be hot on his heels at every turn, and I will have to be careful to not allow any significantly quiet moments. Only when he reaches a sanctuary of sorts can the story slow down, which by that time should mean I'm in the 3rd and final act.

How am I going to craft this? Only my muse knows. Any advice on either subject is very welcome, by the way. I am happy to be almost blindly stumbling through this process, but I wouldn't begrudge a lit candle now and then.

Oh, and incidentally I did manage a decent amount of words yesterday (2675 to be exact). It was more of a struggle than the first night, though I can't really say why. The story just wasn't flowing as well as I would have preferred. I still have to do my allotted time this evening, but I wanted to get a post up.

So there, Michelle. Take that ya dirty rat! You had to read through my entire post just to see my total, so nyah nyah! :P

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNo Opening Day

Well, although I didn't began at midnight like so many others may have, I did begin the challenge today. I also didn't do as much planning for this beginning as I had thought I would, but it didn't seem to slow me down much either. And despite the angry yelling of my internal editor, I kept him at bay throughout. So I bet everyone's wondering what my first day word count is? Hold on to your butts! I managed to crank out just a hair over 2900 words (2910 to be exact). Yeah, wow huh? I actually didn't stop until I had the first chapter complete. I already know I will have alot of editing to do when all is said and done, but I'm trying to keep that thought hidden for this month.

I am amazed that I was able to get that much done. I just kept on plodding along though, not allowing myself to think and instead just letting the tale flow out word by word. Astoundingly enough, the words kept on coming despite my internal editor screaming at me to go back and correct this passage or fix this sentence. Okay, to be honest I did do a few word corrections here and there. But I managed for the most part to just let things be what they are.

So day one is done, I've gotten the beginning going, and now I just have to sit down and plan out what Chapter Two is going to be about. I'm really excited about this though, and I hope I can keep up this momentum throughout the month. Can you imagine if I did? Wow.

On another positive note, I turned in my Capstone paper yesterday morning and I got the grade back after a few hours. The grading scale is from 1 - 4, with 3 being passing and 4 exceptional. For my 35+ page project detailing how to install a network in a hypothetical dentist office, I got a 4 out of 4! Woohooo, oh yeah! I have been on cloud nine ever since reading the results. Now I have only one more test to pass and I am done. Unfortunately it is one of the hardest certification exams Microsoft has for us network guys, but I am hoping I will be able to pass it successfully before the month is out.

Do I have too much on my plate this month? Probably. But I'm determined to both pass this test AND win NaNo. If this isn't the hardest month I'll ever have to do, I don't know what is. But hey, if I survive and achieve both things, imagine how much celebrating I'll have to do.

Okay all you other NaNo participants out there, let us all know how you did. Was it easy? Was it fun? How was your first day? Stay tuned tomorrow, where hopefully I'll be able to have another great day.