Five Things: To Pack for Camp NaNo

For our Twin Thursday post, both Rachel and I are getting hyped for the summertime run of Camp NaNoWriMo–or National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve been curious about what NaNo is but haven’t tried it out yet, Camp is a more laid-back version. Give it a try, and as always be sure to check out Undivinelight for Rachel’s list!

Now, while this is my list specifically for how to prepare for Camp, I find that a lot of the same advice also applies to making myself sit down at the keyboard at any time of year. The principles are the same: butt in chair; hands on keyboard; have your materials ready; so on. But I find having an actual list helps me focus, especially when I’m settling in for a long stretch of dedicated writing, such as Camp.

  1. Your worldbuilding notes, character sheets, research, and other references. Have all of these things well-organized and available at a glance. It’s very hard to do a wordsprint when the detail you needed is lost somewhere in the ether of your bookmarks list. If you think you even might have to know what kind of dog breeds your fantasy island nation has, jot it down before you start. You can always make up details as you go along to fill the gaps (especially if you’re a pantser or an organic-style writer), but if you already made that decision before or did an extensive research binge about Hawaiian poi dogs for exactly that reason, you’ll want to have easy access to that information.
  2. Snacks. Yes, it sounds silly, but believe me, your body will try to sabotage your writing time with its grumblings. Especially if you’re new to binge writing or making yourself do long stretches of word-work. Have snacks and drinks handy so that you don’t have an excuse to wander away from the screen.
  3. Music, a comfy pillow, and other atmosphere-setting implements. Whatever your writing ritual is, make sure it’s in place before you start. If you can only write while holed up at Starbucks with a caramel cappuccino, make sure you can get there regularly to do it. If you can’t, find a way to set up a comparable writing environment in your own home. Maybe you’ll find you work just as well with a cold glass of chocolate milk. Maybe you need your cat. (Caveat: Don’t let lack of ritual become a crutch. These things are tools to help you complete your goal, not an excuse to let yourself fall short.)
  4. Designated writing time. Set aside a period of time every day in which to do your word-work. Ask friends and family to respect that time and leave you to it. Hopefully they’ll be supportive when they see that it’s important to you.
  5. Permission to suck. Especially from yourself. Camp isn’t the time for highly-polished prose. The saying goes that, during NaNo, all words are good words. This is the time to dash it all out on the screen to get the bones of the story and then fix them later. The draft might not be pretty, and that’s okay. Just hork it all up!

Five Things: To Do with Weather

For today’s Twin Thursday with Rachel from Undivinelight, we’re looking at the use of weather and the natural world in your stories. As always, be sure to check hers out, too!

Weather and nature can bring a lot to your story: atmosphere; conflict; wonder. Below, I’m going to look at a few.

  1. Setting. Weather gives you a dynamic way to illustrate your world, which is especially important when you’re transporting the reader far away. Whether it’s the distant past or future or a world of your own imagining, describing the way the desert sun beats down or the glisten of winter sun on last night’s snowfall draws the reader in much more than just saying, “It was a sunny day.”
  2. Secondary conflict. Especially in a fantasy or historical setting, the natural world is fraught with dangers. A drought can devastate crops; a flood can ruin supply lines. The stress of dealing with these things can carry an otherwise-dry travelogue and put characters off their ease.
  3. Emotional atmosphere. Weather can affect the way your characters feel, either mirroring or contrasting their internal narrative. Now, it shouldn’t *always* be raining when the character is sad, and there shouldn’t *always* be a rainbow when they’re happy, but it can lift an okay scene up to a great one when used effectively.
  4. Verisimilitude. Changing weather or seasons gives your story a sense of being real. Even when it’s not doing anything to increase tension, drive the plot, or build character, it lets the world breathe. It makes your world feel more alive and not just a construction of ink or pixels.
  5. Antagonist. This is rare, but it can be beautiful if done well. Animal attacks, severe weather, and natural disasters fascinate us as humans. It’s one of the reasons that disaster movies like 2012 are so successful. Nature can be cruel, terrifying, unrelenting, all the things a good villain needs. Pit your heroes against it and watch the sparks fly, sometimes literally!

Characters Done Right: The Animal Companion

Sorry for the suuuuper late Twin Thursday! I meant to do this one last week, and then, well, life. Never fear, though, I’m back on schedule. Sort of. Still trying to finagle work and writing and the upcoming Camp NaNo. But that’s neither here nor there.

For this week’s Twin Thursday, Rachel and I are looking at animal companions. Be sure to head over to Undivinelight and check hers out!

For this one, I’m going to be looking at two animals in particular, both from Tamora Pierce books. The first is Peachblossom, Kel’s horse from the Protector of the Small series, and the other is the hound Achoo from the Beka Cooper books

The primary thing that makes both of these animals stand out to me among the dozens of other animal companions that I’ve read over the years is that they are both distinct characters. Neither of them speaks–even though talking animals are a thing that exists in Tortall–but they don’t need words to have personality on the page. Even without Kel or Beka extrapolating on what their animal may be thinking or feeling, the reader knows. It’s in the way Peachblossom stamped a hoof or clicked his teeth, or Achoo sneezing when she picks up the scent. They’re not just a utilitarian dog or horse, and it shows.

Growing from that, they’re not just a decorative part of the story. They have an effect on the plot and the way it unfolds. I never got the feeling that, well, Kel needs a horse, so here you go. Think Bill the pony from The Lord of the Rings. It makes sense that the hobbits would have a pack animal on their journey, so he’s thrown into the story for a hundred pages or so and then vanishes. Peachblossom and Achoo, on the other hand, are part of the experience of their stories. For example, when Kel is insulted, Peachblossom comes to her defense and attacks the boy bullying her. That scene is still one of my favorites in all of Tortall.

And the last thing that makes these two characters memorable to me–because, really, they are characters, not just props–is that I have an emotional investment in them. I care about their safety, and I worry for them when bad things happen around or to them. This is probably the biggest defining factor of a successful animal companion to me: do I care about them? Am I impacted in some way by them?


Tools of the Trade

I recently bit the bullet and got myself Scrivener to try. I’d heard good things about it from a few people on my Facebook feed, but I was hesitant. What more do I need to write my stories than just pen and paper?

And, on the surface, that’s true. All you really need to be a writer is an idea and a way to record it. Of course, a typewriter would speed the process exponentially. And obviously a word processing program makes the moving of pieces and editing of your work easier. But I really didn’t think I needed any more than that.

A lot of people enjoy using a cork board or a binder to keep track of their process or progress, but I didn’t need that! Just give me a blank screen and a keyboard and I’m ready to rock!

Oh, I was wrong. So very wrong. I had no idea how badly I needed those features until I had them.

See, the thing is that I really like multi-POV stories. I thought this was a one-time thing with me, just a quirk for my current work in progress, and I’d never return to it again. But as one book became two and two became more, I’m quickly learning that it’s a mechanic I really enjoy.

Scrivener makes it sooo easy to track whose head I’m in and what’s happening in what order as I’m skipping around. I can move entire scenes in seconds if I realize things are happening out of order. I can isolate one character’s arc and read just their sections without having to scroll through pages and pages of material. I can put notes on the synopsis card for the scene or in the margins if I come up with new ideas, and I don’t have to remove those notes before I print pages. I can read through just the scenes with a particular setting or subplot or theme. I can click over to a different scene without losing my place in my current project. How did I do an entire multi-POV novel without this?!

Now, there are a few drawbacks that I’m finding as I go. First and foremost, the import feature seems a little buggy. I’d done several hundred pages of work in my old word processor that I then had to move into Scrivener. Mostly, it worked fine, but the formatting has gotten a little screwy. I’ve spent days combing through and fixing areas where random question marks have appeared or punctuation has vanished. Which is, by and large, a small thing to have to deal with in exchange for the benefits.

The other small issue is that all these nifty features take some time to set up for each project and each scene within it. Yes, you can narrow down your view to just a particular character or subplot but only if you’ve been diligent about tagging each scene for it as you wrote it. Yes, it’s easy to see at a glimpse on your corkboard what the birds-eye view of your story is, but only if you’ve taken the time to put that information into the synopsis cards provided. It’s time-consuming, but I feel the end result is well worth the investment.

As always, be sure to check out the twin post by Rachel at Undivinelight!