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National Novel Writing Month

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  • April 17, 2014 8:44 am

    Writer Fuel: Of Cheese Sandwiches, Scraps, and Writing Well Enough

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    Every writer needs a little writer fuel, whether it’s fueling your body, or your mind. Every week, staffers at Camp NaNoWriMo HQ will be telling you about the food and the music that inspires them. Today, our office captain, Shelby Gibbs, shares why “good enough” can be perfect right now:

    In my second year of college, I hit several walls. The most startling of these were the sudden ruts of what to eat and, yes, what to write. My peanut butter and banana sandwiches lacked their normal salty-sweet satisfaction; my words had become decidedly lackluster. And me? I was at a loss. Cue a lot of empty take-out boxes, blank pages, and a barely begun John Dunne essay due on Friday.

    It was also around this time I discovered an apt, if misinterpreted, song called “Leftovers” by a British artist named Johnny Flynn. He croons:

    I’ve been drooling at some mangy scraps of bread/

    And these hungry voices make a lot of noise inside my head/

    Show me the way to the rubbish dump or the bins at closing time/

    I’d walk a mile just to catch a smile from a fish without its brine.

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  • April 16, 2014 8:19 am

    Ask An Author: “How do you write a convincing villain?”

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    Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Patricia C. Wrede, our third counselor, is the much-loved author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and has just published a book for aspiring authors called Wrede on Writing:

    How do you write a convincing villain? — Anonymous

    The same way you write any character convincingly—by making their dialogue, actions, reactions, and motivations realistic and convincing. The writer has to understand the villain just as thoroughly as he/she understands the main characters. If the writer doesn’t believe that any reasonable, rational person would do whatever evil thing the villain is doing, the villain will most likely come off as a cardboard evil stereotype, or else as insane.

    This works for some books, but in many cases, you have to start by asking “Why would a reasonable, rational person kick puppies?” (or whatever it is), and work until you figure out a believable reason.

    The next step is getting more of that into the story. This is often harder to do with villains than with other characters, because the villain usually spends less time “on stage” than your main characters. If it’s a multiple-viewpoint book and you can include the villain as a viewpoint character without spoiling a mystery or lessening suspense, that’s one possibility.

    In books where the villain can’t be a viewpoint character, you have to keep the villain’s ideas and motivations in mind during any scene the villain appears in (it can help to write the scene from the villain’s viewpoint first, and then rewrite it from the actual viewpoint character’s, though this is more work than some folks like to do).

    You also have to keep an eye out for opportunities to reveal to your heroes what the villain’s motives are. One of the most effective things, if you can swing it, is to have the hero make a discovery at some point that makes him seriously wonder if the villain is right, so that the hero has to consider the villain’s actions carefully and almost (but not quite) switch sides. This, too, is not suitable for every story. 

    Next week’s final Camp Counselor will be Michael David Lukas, author of historical novel The Oracle of Stamboul

    Ask him your questions here!

  • April 15, 2014 8:40 am

    Writer Fuel: Of Chili, Glenn Gould, and Reigniting the Creative Life

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    Every writer needs a little writer fuel, whether it’s fueling your body, or your mind. Every week, staffers at Camp NaNoWriMo HQ will be telling you about the food and the music that inspires them. Today, our deputy director Tavia Stewart-Streit shares how her recipe for the rejuvenation of a working mother:

    Anyone with a baby or toddler would agree (unless you have one of those easy children that I liken to unicorns) that being a parent and a creative person is really freaking hard. Add in a full-time job, and a husband who is only home three nights a week, and ‘really freaking hard’ becomes ‘it’s amazing that I had time to brush my hair this week’.

    But, as has been proven time and time again by members of this amazing, tenacious, creative community we call NaNoWriMo, being busy isn’t an excuse for giving up on artistic endeavors. There are people in our community writing from hospitals and war zones, and if they can do it, this momma knee-deep in the jungles of Mom-nom can also do it. Right? Right!

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  • April 14, 2014 9:00 am

    Ask An Author: “How do you write dialogue that drives the plot versus distracts from it?”

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    Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Marivi Soliven, our second counselor, has taught writing workshops at the University of California, San Diego and at the University of the Philippines. Her most recent novel, The Mango Bride, is about two Filipina women, and the unexpected collision that reveals a life changing secret.

    How do you write dialogue that drives the plot versus distracts from it? — coffeeshoptuesdays

    I use dialogue as a way to fill out the personalities of my characters. In The Mango Bride, all the characters speak English; each one does so in different registers to better illustrate each one’s social class, which is a pivotal factor in the primary characters’ destiny.

    For example, Señora Concha’s speech is peppered with Spanish phrases and cuss words. The ability to speak Spanish is considered by some Filipinos as a sign of a good family, better education, and social prestige, all of which Señora Concha loves to flaunt.

    Using dialogue in this way moves the plot forward because readers begin to understand how a character thinks and sounds, and why she makes certain choices in the course of the story. Good dialogue brings a character alive in the reader’s mind.

    Dialogue also moves a plot forward if it reveals a new twist in the story, or implies that there is a secret waiting to be revealed. I use this quite a bit in the beginning of the novel, where Amparo keeps trying to find out what scandal estranged her Uncle Aldo from the Guerrero clan. The dialogue in those scenes sound like the two are circling each other in a verbal dance—the Uncle speaks in double entendre the entire time. The secret is revealed toward the end of the novel, during a violent fight… and in a crucial piece of dialogue.

    Next week’s Camp Counselor will be Patricia C. Wrede, author of fantasy novels such as the The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

  • April 12, 2014 8:00 am

    The NaNoWriMo Writing Marathon Is Here!

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    The NaNoWriMo Writing Marathon is here! We’ll be word-sprinting away from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM PDT, Saturday, April 12. It’s just like running a marathon if you subtract the running, add writing, and keep the fun (…and probably the sweat). 

    How can you participate? We’ve got your agenda right here:

    You can pledge your commitment to your novel.

    Pledge a $13.10 donation for every hour you plan to write with us and get your official marathoner badge! All pledges will also our nonprofit programs.

    The first 60 people who pledge for 3 hours or more will receive a vintage “NaNoWriMo Running Man” sticker. Plus, anyone who pledges at least $13.10 could win one of our three grand prizes:

    • An artfully rendered poster of your novel—with all 50,000 words—from Litographs.
    • NaNoWriMo VIP status that gets you all of our latest merchandise before it hits stores, access to all NaNoWriMo webinars, and a Viking helmet!
    • Your novel’s cover designed by a BiblioCrunch graphic designer of your choice.

    You can fuel up on inspiration with us on Twitter.

    Use the hashtag #NaNoThon to join our all-day tweet-a-thon to keep you and your novel motoring to the finish line!

    You can word-sprint during our live streams on YouTube.

    Get ready for eight sessions of live-streaming goodness during the eight-hour marathon. Last year, there were writing prompts, literary teas, puppet shows, songs, and very little sense:

    Training with daily word sprints, and taking this very good excuse to carb-load,

    Tim, Editorial Director

     

  • April 11, 2014 8:59 am

    Ask An Author: “How can you be sure that your plot is actually compelling, and not just a pile of stuff that happens?”

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    Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Marivi Soliven, our second counselor, has taught writing workshops at the University of California, San Diego and at the University of the Philippines. Her most recent novel, The Mango Bride, is about two Filipina women, and the unexpected collision that reveals a life changing secret:

    How can you be sure that your plot is actually compelling, and not just a pile of stuff that happens? — The Freelancer Society

    Novelist Drusilla Campbell answers this question by comparing a novel and its parts to weaving cloth on a loom. Imagine your plot is a red weft—the thread that runs crosswise through that cloth. The events are all the vertical threads, called the warp, that your weft runs across. A compelling plot is a weft that intersects all the warps from one end of that cloth to the other: from the inciting incident that gets your novel on its way, to the many detours and adventures your protagonists take, all the way to the very last scene.  

    If you build your plot correctly so that characters are reacting to events, even surprising scenes become logical.

    At the end of the novel, you should be able to tug on that red thread and see each of the preceding scenes “pull” along with it. If that happens, chances are you’ve composed a compelling plot. If you pull and nothing happens, you’ll probably need to tighten or delete the irrelevant scenes. 

    Additionally, I like to construct an “internal logic” which defines the way your imagined world functions. Your characters move according to the  rules you create so that their actions become logical or plausible to someone reading your story. When your story’s internal logic is strong, it enables readers to suspend their belief and go along for the ride, because what happens makes sense. Thus Bram Stoker’s vampire perishes in the sunlight, because that’s how his novel’s internal logic works. On the other hand, according to Stephanie Meyer’s internal logic, it makes it possible for her Twilight vampires to survive in the watery sunlight of the Pacific Northwest.

    Next week’s Camp Counselor will be Patricia C. Wrede, author of fantasy novels such as the The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

  • April 10, 2014 8:54 am
    "Listen beyond the rustling leaves of the tree shading you, and the chirps of birds outside your cabin. Hear your novel calling you from the woods. Follow the sound of its voice. It wants you to trudge on, exploring uncharted territory. Listen, follow, and push."
Alicia Audrey Wallace, on creating a relationship with your writing. 
Photo by Flickr user GabPRR.

    "Listen beyond the rustling leaves of the tree shading you, and the chirps of birds outside your cabin. Hear your novel calling you from the woods. Follow the sound of its voice. It wants you to trudge on, exploring uncharted territory. Listen, follow, and push."

    Alicia Audrey Wallace, on creating a relationship with your writing.

    Photo by Flickr user GabPRR.

  • April 9, 2014 8:33 am

    Ask An Author: “How do you create realistic-feeling characters?”

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    Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Marivi Soliven, our second counselor, has taught writing workshops at the University of California, San Diego and at the University of the Philippines. Her most recent novel, The Mango Bride, is about two Filipina women, and the unexpected collision that reveals a life changing secret.

    How do you create realistic-feeling characters? — Jennifer M.

    I watch people all the time for odd mannerisms and unique gestures. I file those away in memory until a likely character comes along who can use it. Following the same logic, I sometimes imagine an actor playing the characters in my novel. Many of the female protagonists were drawn from images of my mother and her sisters in the ‘60s, with their Jackie Kennedy bouffants, shift dresses and chain-smoking, hard-drinking ways.

    Anytime I couldn’t move forward in a scene I would ask, “Well, what would the actor do? How would my mom respond to that argument?”

    Revealing physical details via physical gestures or through the eyes of another character also helps make a character more three-dimensional. In one scene, my character Lydell scratches his hairy nape; when he grins at Beverly she notices that his teeth are the color of weak tea.

    Use all your senses in the description of your characters, too. Señora Concha is a chain smoker who loves exported perfume so she’s described as smelling like a smokestack in the Garden of Eden. When Beverly first touches Josiah’s forearm, she marvels at the amount of hair covering his freckled skin. 

    Finally, add some softness or vulnerability to your villains because that makes them more like folks you come across in real life. In The Mango Bride, Josiah is cruel to his wife, but he is exceptionally tender around their young daughter. When you think of your characters as actual people you know and can converse with rather than images in your head, they really do come alive in the story.

    Next week’s Camp Counselor will be the great Patricia C. Wrede, author of fantasy novels such as the The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

    Ask her your questions here!

  • April 8, 2014 9:00 am

    "I’m not going to tell you how I write a plot because everyone does it differently, and your own way is best for you.

    But I will say something about the ending of a novel. I find that very often, at the ending of a novel, the writer (me, or you) will use a verb like ‘realized’, or ‘understood’, or ‘knew’, or ‘found’. It’s the job of the protagonist to accomplish all of those things.

    And it’s the job of the writer to show the reader how it happened, by choosing just the right words."

    — Lois Lowry, on writing towards an ending.

  • April 7, 2014 9:00 am

    Ask An Author: “Could you share your query letter that caught your literary agent’s attention? And any other query pointers/tips, do’s or don’ts?”

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    Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Andrea Hannah lives in the Midwest, where there are plenty of dark nights and creepy cornfields to use as fodder for her next thriller. Her debut YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust, will be published in the fall.

    Could you share your query letter that caught your literary agent’s attention? And any other query pointers/tips, do’s or don’ts? — Anonymous

    I’ve written quite a bit about my query, so the whole letter and the story that goes with it on the blog I share with several other YA authors, The Secret Life of Writers. You can check that out here

    My biggest query tip is to research, research, research. When you send out a bunch of query letters to people who may be kind of “meh” about your style of writing, there’s a greater chance that if one of those queries does stick, and an agent decides to take you on as a client, they may only like the book you’ve queried them with. I encourage you to dream bigger than that. What about your next book, or the book after that? What do you want for the span of your writing career?

    One of the best things you can do for yourself is to really dig deep and do a thorough search of the agents you’re particularly interested in. What are their likes? What do they tweet about? Are they on Instagram? If so, what are they taking pictures of? It sounds a little stalker-ish, but research needs to be your BFF.

    I knew my agent Victoria and I would get along wonderfully when I saw her tweet about Coraline, one of my favorite books ever. I also saw her tweet about various things she likes to read about and manuscripts she’d love to represent: stories about computer hackers, criminals, disappearances, and phobias. I also love all of these things and have written about many of them, so I trusted that she’d be into my next book, too (and she was!).

    Our next Camp Counselor will be Marivi Soliven, author of literary fiction novel The Mango Bride.

    Ask her your questions here!

  • April 4, 2014 9:00 am

    Ask An Author: “Do you ever feel like you’re too close to your material to edit it properly?”

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    Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Andrea Hannah, our first counselor, lives in the Midwest, where there are plenty of dark nights and creepy cornfields to use as fodder for her next thriller. Her debut YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust, will be published in the fall.

    Do you ever feel like you’re too close to your material to edit it properly? Maybe like you’ve been reading it and thinking about it too long to realize if something’s off? If so, how do you deal with that? — peetapearl

    Late in 2012, I drafted the first novel in a sci-fi thriller trilogy. Then I spent every single moment of 2013 working on that book, rewriting that book, and putting that draft through the wringer after a copious amount of feedback from my critique partners and beta readers. After each draft, I was certain it was ready. I’d send it to my agent, and it was not ready. Every. Single. Time.

    Here’s what I know now: Time and space are your two best friends as a writer. After I put two months time between that book and me, and started drafting and thinking about something else entirely, I went back and re-read it. And that’s when I could look at it with fresh eyes, and be honest with myself about what needed to be changed. It was only then that I could begin to fix what had been broken all along, and get some perspective from new beta readers. 

    If you’re struggling with revising your draft, my very best suggestion is to walk away from it. No, run. Get as far away as you can from it. Start a love affair with a new piece during Camp NaNoWriMo, or take a break from writing all together and live; go to movies, visit friends, go bungee jumping, whatever. I promise, it’ll be waiting for you when you come back, and this time you’ll be ready. 

    Next week’s Camp Counselor will be Marivi Soliven, author of literary fiction novel The Mango Bride.

    Ask her your questions here!

  • April 3, 2014 9:30 am

    Writer Fuel: Of Pasta, Gifs, and a Balanced Writer’s Life

    Every writer needs a little writer fuel, whether it’s fueling your body, or your mind. Every week, staffers at Camp NaNoWriMo HQ will be telling you about the food and the music that inspires them. Today, our program director Chris Angotti shares the secret to a balanced internet diet:

    There’s a song by this band Dogbreth. It’s called “Appetite for Distraction” and it starts like this:

    Like how it’s harder to work on what I need / To work on
    When there’s internet / When there’s internet in my room

    The vocalist, Tristan Jemsek, plaintively sings the intro over a simple guitar lead. His hanging lyrical phrase (“To work on”) and false start to the second line suggest an uncertain narrator, and “in my room” implies insularity—a bunch of potential backstory in a small amount of time.

    But I want to focus on what he’s saying, and how I’ll bet every single person reading this can relate:

    It is really, really  freaking difficult to get anything productive done when there’s this wide world of temporarily amazing stuff available at a swipe.

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