Clever with the Word Count.

As previously mentioned in my last blog post, I had every intention of participating in the 2014 run of National Novel Writing Month, or as the I’ve been informed the kids are calling it these days, The NaNos.

And, uh, so I am participating in the 2014 run of National Novel Writing Month. Huh, that worked out nicely didn’t it? Look at me and my holding to a promised action! I’m like some kind of functioning human being! PRAISE ME.

Anyways. We’re at the mid-point of National Novel Writing Month and so far, so good-ish. I’m about four thousand words behind at the moment due to missing a few days because that whole Life thing insists on continuing even when I ask it nicely to pause for a month. But only a few thousand words isn’t that bad in my NaNoWriMo history! It’s practically on schedule except for the part it isn’t! This upcoming week is going to be my mad push to reach 40k before Thanksgiving so I can, for once, not have to worry about frantically pushing out twenty-three thousand or so words in the last four days of November.

So far this has been my most successful NaNoWriMo. Honest to gravy this is the first time I have actually and factually pinned down an ending to a story before working on anything else and woah dang howdy, I will never attempt another story without doing so. The fact that I have an end point to work towards, or at the very least an end conflict, makes it a lot easier to piece together the fiddly middle bits that have to connect the beginning with the end. I’ve got myself a main character, she’s got herself a little sister, there are class mates and magical abilities and categorical divisions that eventual fans will be able to identify with and buy merchandise based on them. It’s going to be brilliant, I tells ya, and I’m enjoying the process so far.

But let’s jump back a month, shall we? Travel back to October with me when everything was beautiful and I could fart around making sure a 500 word piece of flash fiction was just so for days on end. O, the halcyon days!

Back in October I bought a Humble Book Bundle [see note at the end of this post for a correction], which if you’re not aware of this being a thing that exists, OH MY GOODNESS LET ME TELL YOU A THING. The Humble E-Book Bundle offers you, go figure, a bundle of themed books for a price that you name. There is a base price (which is going to be stupidly cheap for the amount of books you get) that will net you a handful of e-books in various, DRM free, format or as the case is right now, a bunch of audio books. However, if you pay above the median price you unlock another handful of books that often include a big name author to help sweeten the pot. When you pay you can choose how much of your money goes towards the authors, towards the selected charity that has been connected to the bundle, and how much goes as a “tip” back to the Humble Bundle makers themselves. If you’re feeling flush with cash and make a big donation you even get your name on a leader board! Whee, recognition!

The first bundle I bought was a collection of what I think of as “Writer’s Self Help Books” and which for the love of all things adorable I cannot find right now on the Internet @#$%!!! I’ve perused these books and their promises to teach me to write a novel in 30 days/Three Weekends/Fifteen minutes but I’ve never taken them seriously.

Until now.

*cue dramatic music*

From now until I’ve read them all, I will be trying out each of these writing aid books and seeing what shakes out from following their direction. Some are more literal step-by-step guides to produce a manuscript while others are more tips, tricks, and viewpoints from an already successful author. I’ll have a review up each month to let you know my experience with each book.

First up is going to be No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. Technically this wasn’t part of the Humble Bundle, but hey, I wanted to be thematic for the whole National Novel Writing Month thing I’ve got going here.

(Yeesh, six hundred words to get to the review. It’s almost like I’m trying to pad some sort of word count or something…)

Chris Baty is the head-honcho of NaNoWriMo. He started the event among a close group of friends and developed it into an international event that invites all comers to bang out a fifty-thousand word novel just to prove that they can reach into themselves.  It gives people the excuse to dust off the story that they had always promised they would write “one day” but never thought they could really write, and lets them write it out in full. No Plot! No Problem? Gives readers the history and ideas behind what NaNoWriMo has become today as well as giving loads of guidance on how to accomplish a fifty-thousand word novel in a single month.

If it helps your personal journey, Baty is not totally beholden to the month of November. If that time frame doesn’t work for you then he would be delighted if you picked a more preferable month and held your own, personal NaNoWriMo.  The whole theme of the book is that all one needs to do for a successful NaNoWriMo experience is to simply sit down and write. Hit your daily word requirement with no excuses and to the exclusion of your normal daily life. Tell your inner editor to hush and get the story out.

No Plot? No Problem! Itself is a light-hearted collection of advice on how to NaNoWriMo including where to write, how to set a writing mood, how to prepare without burning yourself out, how to put aside any attempts at editing, and how to manage real life responsibilities whilst churning out 1,667 words a day. There are tips from former NaNoWriMo participants and a week by week guide to lead you through the month.

It’s a surprisingly funny book. I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud (or as the I’ve been informed the kids are calling it these days, lol) at a book about NaNoWriMo, but Baty has a sharp wit when relating his own writing experiences.

“Things went awry almost immediately. With nothing to do all day but write, I found myself doing everything but writing. Essential errands were run. Laundry was done. The bathroom was cleaned. Less essential errands were run. The bathroom was re-cleaned. A complex rooftop Habitrail system designed to make tree-to-tree transitioning easier for the neighborhood squirrels was built and nearly installed before the county’s animal services intervened. And so on.

The mounting guild I felt each evening over accomplishing so little writing during the day would then force me to cancel the plans I had made with friends that night. So I could stay in and get some writing done.

Night, of course, simply involved more work on the Habitrail.”

Per my own personal preferences, the advice offered in No Plot? No Problem! Neatly skirts the line between Solid, Practical Writing Advice and Tripping the Muse Fantastic nonsense. I have absolutely no patience with the idea of my character running away with the plot I have designed for them because oh goodness, don’t those characters have a mind of their own~! No. They don’t. They are mine, wholly and totally, and will serve the purposes I set out for them. Perhaps I am not a very whimsical person? Maybe I need to buy a prism or something. That being said, it’s very easy to heed the advice you want and skip over the advice that doesn’t apply to you. My eyes flitted over the small section about how to choose a Writing Totem but I lapped up every bit of the time management tips offered.

The week by week advice is my favorite portion of the book. It’s 75% carrot and 25% well-applied stick. Baty will cajole, encourage, and praise NaNoWriMo participants for making it this far and do his best to convince readers that if they just keep putting one foot ahead of another, they’ll make it through the month with their fifty thousand word count complete. He gives little booster exercises and both accepts writer’s frustrations while offering paths to move past them. This section is very similar to the weekly encouragement emails that NaNoWriMo participants receive and I’ve always found them to be a nice little life line. After your NaNoWriMo summit has been reached there is even a little bit of guidance in regard to editing that beast of a manuscript.

 Overall, I recommend No Plot? No Problem! As a read. If you’re a serial NaNoWriMo participant than buy it, and if you’re a writer just seeking overall advice then I super-duper-recommend you get it from the library at the very least.

OH HEY WAIT I FOUND THE BOOK BUNDLE! Okay, turns out it is a Story Bundle, which is different from a Humble Bundle even though they both work the exact same way with their you-name-it price levels and donations to charity. The National Novel Writing Month bundle is still available at the time of writing this entry (click here) if you wish to partake. I would keep an eye on the Story Bundles for sure because they are a super cheap way to beef up your e-book collection. Now that I’ve scanned over both it looks like Humble Bundles are more games and comic selections.

Buy both? Both. Both is good.

Scared Yet? A Study in Horror

Found a cool thing and I’mma share it with you! I’m like a golden retriever that brings back websites instead of sticks.

I highly recommend that you check out the video series “Scared Yet” by Kris Straub. Straub is the author/illustrator of the ongoing webcomic Broodhollow (excellent) and the notorious creepy-pasta “Candle Cove” (also excellent). In this serious Straub takes on the task of studying the more popular scary stories that have spread throughout the Internet, dissecting both their intent and construction to determine if the piece is a success or failure.

 

 

“Scared Yet” is a great resource for writers, regardless of how invested they are in the horror genre. It’s a great way to see how stories attempt to evoke a specific reaction from their audience and how it can go both wrong and right. Straub is respectful in his critiques as he seeks out weak stories not to shame their creator, but to show the flaws in its execution and where it might be improved. Pacing, believability, and what an author can and cannot expect of their audience are discussed in a broad sense that is not aimed towards authors but an author can certainly gleam some good information from each episode.

Go check it out!

Book Review: The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz

[Editor’s Note: a version of this review is also on my GoodReads page. It is my hope to begin reviewing more books in this blog, as I review podcasts, in an attempt to bring attention to the things I think others should check out.]

The Drowned Forest

The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz is a book that has stuck with me over the last few days. I highly enjoyed it and hope that many others will as well.

The story follows Jane, a teenage girl who is trying and failing to deal with the loss of her best friend, Holly. Jane is in the center of a very religious community and holds God in every aspect of her life. However, the faith that she so heavily relies on offers little comfort in light of the fact that Holly’s spirit remains trapped in the waters she drowned in.

I was following the story along willingly until I reached a scene that caused me to put the book down, ponder what the hell just happened, then immediately pick the book back up to see what would happen next. The story is quick-paced, spanning a week’s time, and as soon as the action kicks in it does not lag.

The characters are believable and feel real. The details of the world are engaging (damned if Reisz cannot convey the awful, sticky heat of an Alabama summer) and are woven into Jane’s thoughts. We are spared any spoon-fed explanations and are simply offered the world of The Drowned Forest as it is.

There folklore in this story is some of the best this side of the Mississippi. There are root workers, circles drawn to ward off spirits, and the power of mojo. Reisz brings a haunting, hungry force into Jane’s world through the history that surrounds the titular drowned forest and I am so sorry that people ditched on the incredible mythos he is laying down in this story.

The protagonist begins the story as a sheltered, heavily-religious teenager who is trapped in her grief over the loss of her friend Holly. The religious aspect of Jane’s life is intentionally suffocating. It reflects the way that, although perhaps Jane cannot yet see for herself, those around her see their own struggling or non-existent faith. But a protagonist is built to change, to alter their own perspective and see the world in a different way. Regardless of your own personal religious views (or lack thereof, that’s cool too), I hope that you give The Drowned Forest the chance it so richly deserves.

Bonus fact: As a role-playing nerd I can totally see this as a viable setting for a campaign.