Nanu Nanu NaNoWriMo

Everybody always sounds so excited about NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month which starts today. I never really got it until I started writing my novel last month. I knew it was coming up, but didn’t want to wait a month to start.

Well, I looked at the rules, and I can still enter, participate on a work in progress.

Also, I am at a point in my novel where there is a major break, so it almost is as if I am beginning another book, even though I am not.

So I will attempt to write the 50,000 words this month and keep track of it on the NaNoWriMo site. I also will try to connect with other people who are doing this. I’d like to be a part of a like-minded writing group. Eventually.

The challenges are that I just started a new full-time, albeit temporary, job. And it requires a ton of mental energy. I also have some other freelance work requiring immediate attention that will have to be done after the other work. And so forth. Family. Church. That sort of thing.

So, we’ll see how much I can get done.

Also, this post has no image. I thought I might post more if I didn’t feel like I had to post an almost meaningless image every time.

Now to see how much I can write today…


Moving forward—What I’ve learned so far about writing a novel

I began writing the novel on October 7, 2014.

Let me tell you what I have learned so far. But first, here are the word-count numbers:

Oct. 7: 2,494 words
Oct. 8: 613
Oct. 13: 1,584
Oct. 14: 2,023
Oct. 15: 43
Oct. 16: 1,473
Oct. 20 2,764

So far, the novel has 11,092 words (the numbers above fall short if added because of revisions here and there). This means I have 58,908 words left to reach a typical YA length of 70,000 words.

How it is going so far

The first thing I noticed is how different writing fiction is than writing non-fiction. I always loved it when I could write a story for the newspaper where there were real scenes and, heaven, real dialogue between people—but that was rare.

I was surprised when I began writing the novel how easy it was to get into the flow. I love the creation of the paragraphs and the flow of scenes. I love the variation and pacing. The music of it.

At times, it is like watching a movie. I really love my characters and how they are coming alive. I love it when I look up and three hours have gone by and I’ve been in another world.

I really love when, suddenly, something happens that I didn’t expect and it is awesome.

What I don’t love is when I can’t get in a few hours a day. I feel like it is pulling at me all the time. Write me. Write me. Write me. But I have other responsibilities and writing projects (such as my non-fiction Visions of Freedom: Wilford Woodruff and the Signers of the Declaration of Independence book and freelance writing jobs). Nevertheless, I should still be able to push it along each day.

I’m amused that as I write, the needs of the story will require me to rewrite previous things. It doesn’t matter that I have the thing outlined. I need to go back and, for example, demonstrate that Verity has a trickster side to her. Another example, I need to change the role of Lady Diewell to be more involved earlier in the story for a payback later on.

I read the first four chapters to my 11-year-old (who is worried that it will have a romance. Sorry.) and she likes it. It was very helpful to see the parts that were not clear to her and needed more explanation.

I’m simultaneously pleased with what I have written and hate it completely. I gave myself permission to write, as the audio book version of Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, says, a “Crappy first draft.”

Shannon Hale describes it this way in a tweet: “Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

The difference between what I want it to be and what it is is so vast. But I’m laying down the words in the hope that magic will happen in the revision process. I remember James Dashner talking about his novel Maze Runner and how much it changed as he revised it and as agents and editors gave him specific advice.

One of the things I was worried about before I began writing, was that I would hurry too fast through the scenes and that I couldn’t sustain the story. As I am working on it, however, I am pleased that I am able to come up with details and action and dialogue as it is needed. I didn’t know if I could do it, but indeed I did. So far.

I don’ t know if this book will ever be published. But I am determined to learn how to write a good novel. Regardless of this first book’s success or failure, it is the first substantial step in the right direction.

So far my 11-year-old likes it. That is, by itself, some success.

And so it begins

Everything was in place.

I had my outlines. I had my maps. I was about to begin the actual real writing of the actual first draft.

The document was open. At 3:48 p.m., yesterday, Oct. 7, 2014, I typed my chapter title and first sentence: Verity ran.

Then the phone rang.

Since I am looking for work, I can’t afford to not take phone calls these days. It was, indeed, an important phone call.

Then, I sat down again.

The phone rang before I could write another word.

This was a phone call to arrange an interview with Michael McLean with my daughter for her Deseret News “Connect 123” column, Ellie’s Bookshelf. Also important.

Then it was dinner. Doorbells rang. Etc.

It wasn’t until 7:28 p.m. that I was able write the second sentence. I hated everything I wrote. But I pushed through. Eventually, I seemed to get into the rhythm of the writing. Although I write for a living, this was very different. I can see right away where I need to develop the craft of writing fiction better.

But, as I said, it got better as I went along.

Because this is my first novel, I completely expect the first draft to be nauseatingly bad. I also expect it to get better as write more. My hope is, after revising, it will not be nauseatingly bad, but merely bad. Then, with advice and help, I hope to punch it up to passable, then good, then fantastic.

Well, that is my hope.

By the time I finished last night at a little before 9 p.m., I wrote a full first chapter with 2,494 words. That includes the seven words (chapter title and first two-word sentence) I wrote at 3:48 p.m. That isn’t so bad for a start.

Now, only 67,506 more words to go. At this rate, assuming I am able to put in four hours a day instead of just an hour and a half, I should be able to finish this up in, oh, about 10 working days. If I unplug my phone…

…and don’t eat, or shower, or work on my non-fiction book, or anything else, and if my wife doesn’t have any projects–like painting that stair railing, etc., etc., etc.

Mapping my world

The last thing I wanted to have in place before I began writing the novel, was some sort of map. This is a tool for me to keep in mind the various distances involved in the story.

I went through various world building ideas and figured out possible times, etc.

I used graph paper to calculate possible distances and sizes and then sketched out a rough map. Then I filled it in with more stuff — adding mountains, rivers, forests, and plains. I dropped in various cities and villages. I scanned it and made some copies. One copy I colored and added some huge lakes. Another, I put in political divisions. The names of the map are abbreviations or just placeholders because I haven’t come up with an awesome name yet. I still haven’t named the capital city, for example.

These maps are tools for my writing process. The information on them will be changed as I go along. It is interesting how the geography is changing the story. It affects how nations deal with each other. It determines different paths to take. It influences destinations. It also gives ideas. I purposely left the northernmost part of the map ambiguous. There is a peninsula that may or may not stick up. How far does it go? I don’t know. What is there? I don’t know. Are there other continents? Probably not.

My daughter declared that Verity’s world looks like Australia:

This is my working map to help me write my novel. It will, no doubt, go through many changes.

This is my working map to help me write my novel. It will, no doubt, go through many changes.

One last thing I did was superimpose a map of the U.S. onto Verity’s world. I placed my town over where the story begins. The protagonists, apparently, are traveling from Salt Lake City to Denver, more or less.

I’ve tried to imagine weather patterns and the interaction of mountains, winds, seas, plains, etc. I’m afraid I’m not that good at that yet. So any differences between real weather physics and my book are entirely due to, um, … magic! Whew, that solves everything. 🙂

Invasion of the 3×5 cards — creating a scene map

I took the story bible I created on August 20, 2014, and began going through all of the different notes, ideas, and sketches I wrote on 3×5 cards.

My first 3×5 note was about a year ago. Every time I took a note, I wrote the date on the card. So for this part of the project I had 12 piles of notes, one for each month to go through.

I took the story bible’s synopsis and pasted it into a new document. I then broke the synopsis up into 22 sections. These sections are NOT chapters. Some are scenes. Some are sequences of scenes. I used Microsoft Word’s Document Map feature to make it easier to jump around in the document.

I also, using the Document Map feature, added sections for each character, locations, religion, sayings, culture, politics, props and so forth.

Then I began going through the 3×5 cards, starting with the October 2013 pile.  Whenever there were any cool ideas, snippets of dialogue, etc., I wrote that information into the outline/synopsis or under one of the other sections such as character.

For example, one 3×5 card had a note about “mossglow,” a moss that dimly glows in different colors.  I added this information to the Props section: “Glowing moss, different colors. Not very bright, but useful. In some climates, people grow it on their roofs, giving villages a pleasant patchwork glow.”

Two different 3×5 cards mentioned ancient wedding vows. I wrote both versions down in the Religion section along with a funeral song, creation story, a festival description, etc.

I moved through each month. It took a few days to accomplish this.

What this gives me isn’t a perfect outline, but a general outline with snippets of specifics that could impact various scenes, or be totally ignored. It is just enough to begin writing.

Non-fiction interlude

So much work had to be done to finish up editing my non-fiction book, Visions of Freedom, that I made very little progress on my novel for the last few weeks. It took forever to reformat my endnotes and bibliography. The book includes 56 biographies — one for each signer of the Declaration of Independence. Whew!

I did, however, continue reading Dave Wolverton/David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines. Boy oh boy does that make you think about what you are doing. Every part of the book has great questions and ways of looking at your book plan, plot, characters, and so forth. It is great for outlining, but, I imagine, also great for pantsers to use after the fact to revise better. Can’t recommend it enough.

My 11-year-old daughter* also interviewed Richard Paul Evans about his latest book, Michael Vey 4: Hunt for Jade Dragon and later got her photo taken with him before a book signing. He is a discovery writer, from what he told her. I’m more of an outliner — although I’ve pretty much had my fill with outlining.

Next step is to review my 3×5 card notes I’ve been taking for almost a year. Then I’m just going to write the thing. Yes, I think if I outlined more the first draft might be better. But I really need to get going on the actual writing. That way I’ll have something to work with and refine.

I’m really excited about the characters and want you to meet them and get to know them and the amazing world they live in. You will love them.

*Ellie writes monthly review columns for the Deseret News “Connect 123” section that also goes out to the elementary schools in Utah.

Thinking big: Creating a fantasy world

Although I haven’t written here for a bit, I have been busy creating a world for the novel.

It isn’t easy.

As I’ve been coming up with the story since last October, I have naturally learned more interesting things about the world in which it takes place. Some of the details about animals are pretty strange. Other details include a marsh that grows bamboo-like stalks that are perfect for using on a flying vehicle. But these are bits and pieces. I need to have a general understanding of continents and mountains, rivers and lakes, deserts and swamps. I don’t want to just slap things down nonsensically. There needs to be proper distances between rainforests and deserts, for instance. Temperatures (and so the types of crops and weather) are different near an ocean than in the interior. Mountains are different than plains.

All very complex. And I have trouble figuring out what to plant in my yard, let alone in a whole world.

I also wanted to pick a proper scale for the story. Back on August 25th, when I started this worldbuilding phase, I envisioned an area about the size of New Zealand (that was where they shot Lord of the Rings, after all). But New Zealand is just too small as a model of size for what I need to do. It isn’t even the right size for the Lord of the Rings either. 

Take a look at this “Time & distance travelled in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings” interactive graphic from Frodo travels about 1,800 miles in 185 days. New Zealand is from Invercargill in the south to Spirit Bay in the north a 1,279 mile trip (including a ferry). But it is only about 352 miles at its widest from New Plymouth to Gisborne. I need for the story’s world to be a little wider.

So I outlined the journey in the novel and approximated how much time I wanted to take. For example, I thought about how long I want a particular leg of the journey to last. Then all I had to do was calculate the distance using the type of traveling they were doing.

For this, I used several sources on the Internet (some listed below) to come up with this table:

Real speeds:

Walk 3.1 mph = 19.35 minutes per mile
Walk fast 4.5 mph = 13.33 minutes per mile
Jog 5.5 mph = 11 minutes per mile
Long Run 6.5 mph = 9.2 minutes per mile
Fast Long Run 7.5 mph = 8 minutes per mile
Sprint 25 mph = 2.4 minutes per mile
Bike 16 mph = 3.75 minutes per mile
Horse* walk 4 mph = 15 minutes per mile
Horse trot 8 mph = 7.5 minutes per mile
Horse canter 14 mph = 4.3 minutes per mile
Horse gallop 25 mph = 2.4 minutes per mile (1 to 2 miles tops)
Hot air airship 15 to 20 mph = 4 to 3 minutes per mile

For now, I’m calculating Conner’s flying vehicle (I’m temporarily calling it a skiff) with this speed variation:
16 mph = 3.75 minutes per mile (cruising speed — can be sustained for long distances)
30 mph = 2 minutes per mile (fast travel)
40 mph = 1.5 minutes per mile (chasing)
50 mph = 1.2 minutes per mile (short bursts)
60 mph = 1 minutes per mile (short burst)

So taking the time I want things to take, I use the above speeds, add in breaks and other interruptions, and come out with a journey of about 532 miles. This does not include one part of the book where there is a side journey of 100 or so miles.

I’ve used Google Maps, particularly the Street View, to see what areas look like and the real distances involved. “How far away is that mountain from here?” for example.

On one of my 3×5 cards I listed some of the different things I want to know more about the world I’m creating:

Kingdoms and matriarchies
Science and technology
Time telling

I’ve since found a few great resources. This Squidoo page on “Fantasy Worldbuilding Resources” has an amazing amount of websites dedicated to this purpose. One of the most often referred to resources is Patricia Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions.

All of these resources, however, could lead to a bad case of world-building disease — where the writer spends so much time creating her fantasy world that she never actually sits down to write it. It can also give a perpetual feeling of not being ready because there are so many unknowns. But it is a good idea to get started before you are ready.

I’m almost ready to start writing before I am ready.

*Horses, like people, can vary greatly in speed, endurance, etc.

Some of the websites I used to derive my distances and times for various forms of transportation were: