Thursday, October 30, 2008

Plot Crystals

I found an interesting website on plotting a novel. The process is called "The Snowflake Method", created by Randy Ingermanson. He proposed a "crystallization" process, in which the author begins with a one-sentence summary and builds upward from there. I really like the systematic nature of the approach. I don't think I have time to use the process for NaNoWriMo this year (which starts in exactly 24 hours... it being 12:00 AM the morning of October 31 at this moment), but I think it could be a valuable tool for rewriting my first novel, which has had me stymied since the spring of 2006.

It's interesting to note that Ingermanson is a Christian physicist who writes Biblically-inspired science fiction. That's an extremely small pond. Mind you, he is no longer a practicing superstring theorist, but he's still a scientist with a Ph.D. from Berkeley. It's been my experience that very very few physicists are able to bridge the cognitive distance between the Biblical and the scientific. For me nineteen years of religious education unraveled after only ten weeks of college education.


I have added the ability to subscribe to this blog via RSS. The URL you will want to use is here. The next task is learning how to "fold" my blog entries, so that only an excerpt appears on the front page. That requires mucking about inside the HTML.

Today's writing totals:
Journal:528 words
Blog: 236 words
DAILY TOTAL: 764 words


The Plot Thickens (but hasn't quite gelled)

I have a novel idea that seems to be going somewhere. We'll see. For me, it's all about finding the characters. If I get a few really interesting characters, and I can put them in an interesting situation, then the plot flows pretty naturally. That being said, I'm going to put more work into plotting this year. Last year I had a mathematical rule for the character interactions—that made for a really intriguing experiment, but the plot never quite happened.

So this year I have a heroine that I like, and I have a setting to explore with her. Now I need to develop a few plot points.

Incidentally, my method of fleshing out characters is taken from Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem!, which is a distillation of his experience on how to successfully make it through National Novel Writing Month.

The first bit of advice is to make a list of people that you would like to spend some time with... say one or two hours every day for a month. For me it's usually friends that I am out of touch with. To a lesser extent there's sometimes a celebrity or two on the list... usually a writer of some sort. Once I've got that list together, I start smashing the personalities together until I have some hybrids that intrigue me. I then start asking myself basic questions about their lives and personalities, until I have a pretty good notion of what they're like. Chris Baty's particular questions deal with gender, age, jobs, relationships, home, hobbies, recent past, and values. I find that as I start answering these questions, connections among the characters begin to form, and those start to lead to plot ideas. Like I said, this year I intend to put a bit more effort into plotting to see if I like where that takes me. Mind you, my good friend nerkymarg wrote her debut novel with no plot in mind at all, and you'd never know it, so there's something to be said for Chris Baty's approach: no plot really is no problem.

Today's writing totals:
Journal:1,220 words
Blog: 351 words
DAILY TOTAL: 1,771 words


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Panic on the NaNo-scale

I've been doing lots of doodling today, trying to figure out whether I have a novel in me for NaNoWriMo. I'm starting to feel that NaNoWriMo is actually a way of procrastinating from rewriting the novels I have already written (a task that has so far stymied me). Still, there's nothing quite like a writing death march of 1667 words per day.

While researching my story idea I stumbled across an amazing resource of classic literature. If you're a lit geek, you could spend the rest of your life at I actually ordered a DVD of the site, which contains all of the content as of September 2008. There's something about having 1500 obscure titles on my hard drive in searchable format that makes my blood tingle. Would it be pretentious to include them in my LibraryThing account (should I ever get around to cataloging my books)?

Today's writing totals:
Journal:652 words
Blog: 130 words
DAILY TOTAL: 782 words


Monday, October 27, 2008

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Every time I write a novel I start with Chris Baty's advice of creating a list of things that I love and hate about books I have read. I post those lists on my wall and use them to guide the book as I write. Every year the lists are a bit different. Here are this year's lists:

Things I LOVE in a Novel
  • re-interpretations of mythology
  • wit
  • humor
  • dark modern fantasy
  • well-researched details
  • descriptions that bring an environment to life
  • magical realism
  • “what-if” fiction that starts with a seemingly simple premise and reaches surprising conclusions
  • Stuff that makes me think
  • Stuff that rocks my perception of the world
  • Stuff that makes me uncomfortable
  • Books that seem disjointed, but in the end come together like a perfect puzzle
  • Books I can read over and over again
  • Beautiful language
  • Flawed characters
  • Books that make me feel clever
  • Pop culture references (Simpsons)
  • Short chapters
  • A fast-paced story that I hate to put down
  • Strong female characters
  • Natural “voice”
  • Sex
  • philosophical and spiritual themes
  • Hope
  • Richly detailed worlds
  • Really complicated plots that still feel natural

Things I HATE in a Novel
  • uninspired Tolkien knockoffs
  • bad fan fiction
  • poorly researched novels
  • unsatisfying endings
  • Too much beautiful writing
  • Utterly evil characters
  • vampire anti-heroes
  • heck, nowadays, I’m just sick of vampires
  • Books that insult the readers intelligence
  • A heavy-handed agenda
  • Logically flawed science fiction
  • Too many pop-culture references (Family Guy)
  • Boring plots
  • Most romances
  • Very technical science fiction
  • Forgettable characters
  • Anything with “Dan Brown” on the binding
  • Clumsy stories that drag the characters from plot point to plot point
I probably won't say too much about the novel as I'm writing it (if, indeed, I do write one), but here are some quotes that would go in the preface.

“I speke of many hundred yeres ago.
But now can no man see non elvès mo”
—The Wife of Bathes Tale, Chaucer

“Do you believe in fairies? Say quick that you believe! If you believe, clap your hands!”
—Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie (the play, not the book)

“Mary, it takes a fairy to make something pretty.”
—The Boys in the Band, M. Crowley

Today's writing totals:
Journal:785 words
Blog: 362 words
DAILY TOTAL: 1147 words



It's become a tradition for me to create a private blog when I'm working on a novel. I've got a handful of friends who are very supportive, and furthermore they seem to be genuinely interested in the whole messy process. Writing the blog is nominally more efficient than writing (or more generally complaining) to each person individually. When the first draft of the novel is done (none of my novels have survived a second draft yet), I have taken great pleasure in ritually closing out the blog.

This month I started a blog to track my day-to-day writing, even though I'm not writing a novel. It has been enjoyable to produce something for public view every day. Furthermore, because I post a running word count, I feel embarrassed if I skip writing, and humiliation does wonders for my motivation.

The problem with my previous blog is that, although it looks sharp, it's actually a pain to maintain because I can only post to it from my home computer. For that reason I am looking into moving my blog here, to Blogger. I'm not committing to it yet, but I'm going to give it a go.