Lessons from NaNoWriMo Part Two: Do the Impossible Thing

Picture Sheldon Cooper leaning on the doorframe: “I’m baaaaaack!”

This is the second post on lessons I learned from doing NaNo this year, which was definitely the rip-roaring adventure I was hoping for. These lessons are not necessarily new or life-changing, but they’ve made a big difference for me already and hopefully there will be something here you can relate to as well.

Today we’re focusing on adding twists, turns, and layers- taking what seems like an impossible connection and making it probable. Technically, this is something you can add in during revisions, but I’m a big believer in writing a very fast but as complete as possible first draft, because for me at least the adding, subtracting, and polishing process is much more painstaking and slow than trying to get it close to right the first time.

It’s easy, usually, to figure out who is going to do what in the book. Many times it fits very naturally into specific character’s arcs and needs to occur at a certain point in order to move the story forward. I’m encouraging you not to stop there.

There are a number of questions I asked myself as I drafted and again as I revised, which really helped me incorporate new ideas into the book and make it a more interesting story.

Question One: Who is the most unlikely person to do this?

Just ask yourself and see what you come up with. Will it be more difficult to explain? Yep. Will you potentially have to add, delete, or completely change characters? Yep. But asking this question 1) makes your story much less predictable, and 2) can lead to fascinating discoveries about the history of your characters, their relationships with people you were dismissing as marginal players, and even whole subplots. It can also help resolve other issues, such as another piece of plot that needed shoring up and can be strengthened by incorporating the thread of motivation early on.

Question Two: What kind of stakes do I need here?

Few people act without reason. People are heroes of their stories. People desire. You need to know what is at stake, not just for your MC, but for the people who share the journey with them. If they’re mentioned in your story, they must have some role to play, and the fact that their lives intersect with your MC’s means they must have some kind of thoughts about what he or she is doing. What do they stand to gain or lose?

Question Three: What motivations are at play?

Motivation, in my mind, is not the same as stakes. Stakes can be as simple as winning or losing, but people will have any number of reasons why winning, or losing, matters to them. Some are in it for glory, some for power, some out of love, some out of hate, some because it’s the only way they know to be. What motivates a person can inform you about the stakes, but beyond that it can help you decide which of your unlikely people has the motivation to be involved in whatever the issue at hand is.

The kinds of questions that you ask yourself, both in drafting and in revisions, are keys to unlocking the depths of your story. The ones above will hopefully help you dive a little deeper and tug out threads you didn’t expect to find.

What kinds of questions help you challenge easy answers and add depth to your book?



Book Review: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

ncOh. You guys.

You must read this book.

Correction: This book won’t be for everyone. And it won’t be for every mood you’re in, but when you hit the right time, and the right mood, this book will knock you off your feet and sweep you up into a gloriously strange and powerful world.

The Night Circus is not strictly historical fiction, but it takes place at the turn of the 20th century.

The Night Circus is not strictly fantasy, but between it’s pages is an inexpressible magic, both in the words themselves and woven through the fabric of the circus, manipulated by people who once loved it and eventually want nothing more than to be free from it.

Celia and Marco have a beautiful romance. It is simple and sweet, without the hangups and complications that modern romances often have, and yet the consequences of their romance are far greater than a traditional romantic pairing. It goes beyond the Romeo and Juliet set up, so that their being together could destroy every one around them, and even the circus itself. The reader can’t imagine not being on their side against the people manipulating them.

And the circus itself. Think of all the worlds you love: maybe it’s Narnia, or Hogwarts, or another place that you have seen perfectly clearly as you read and have wished you could go to, even once. Le Cirque des Reves is this for me. The writing is glorious, the tents and displays and exhibitions described so that the reader feels the words coming to life and is afraid to look up lest it all melt away. Morgenstern is an excellent sensory writer, and brings the sights, sounds, and smells together to form the perfect, mysterious, beautiful place of dreams.

If you’re looking for action – guns and fights and raging speeds – or for steamy romance, or for something tangibly terrifying, you won’t find it here. What you will find is love that is determined to find a way, but not at the expense of everyone else. You’ll find characters each with a distinct history, powerful secrets, and unique passions. You’ll find the kind of fear that sits quietly with you, fear that demands you continue to hope for the best.

The Night Circus is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and possibly in many years. Normally I fly through books, but this one I savored for more than a week. It’s a fairytale for grownups, in the most powerful sense. Read it.



First things first. Yes, it is night time. *nods*

Yes, I did already post today. *nods*

HOWEVER, today is PitchWars! What is this madness, you ask? You can read all about it here AND you can read about other hopeful mentees here.

But this post is all about the fact that I am a terrible Internet-stalker-of-people-I-like, including the wonderful mentors of PitchWars, and so when another potential mentee came up with the idea of providing our own bios in the spirit of stalking reciprocity, I figured it was only right that I join in.

how to play

So, for my PitchWars friends/fellow competitors/possible mentors, HI!

For the rest of you, have a seat and take in the crazy. And don’t worry, Thursday there will be a bookish post as usual.

Thirteen Reasons I Would be the Most Delightful Mentee Ever:


1) I really wish I was a geek – I desperately want to like Star Wars, or Doctor Who, or whatever else. I’m just not good at it because I’m too forgetful and can’t remember to like things. So, basically, I am an open soul for you to convert to your particular fandom.

2) The things I DO like, however, I go wild crazy fannish over: see The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Rec, Christmas, cupcakes, owls, Michael Buble, and of course BOOKS. Some people call it annoying, I call it passion.

3) On that note, I have been called many names: Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gables, irritating, and “a little too happy.” So basically, I will inundate you with joy about EVERYTHING. Almost everything.

4) I am excellent at things like getting lost, missing the parking space, stringing Christmas lights like the queen of kindergarten, and tripping over myself. You will look like the most graceful, wise, adult-ish person ever when you’re with me.

5) I’m dedicated. Right now I intern for a publishing company, work part-time, intern (supervised practice hours towards my degree)14 hours per week, attend classes for my Master’s for 6 hours on Saturdays, and volunteer. I am paying for my entire degree out of pocket via money I’ve saved, and by the time I graduate I anticipate having written six to seven books over the two years of graduate school.

6) I’m also careful. I have actually written nine books, but only the last two have reached the point where I am ready to start pursuing publication. I read the things I send approximately half a million times (though inevitably I still miss things, due to an undeniable state of humanity) and I plan for things far in advance.

7) I am a MASTER of dessert making in microwaves and crockpots. I live in sad little basement apartment with no kitchen, so just you ask me about my mug cakes. I dare you.

8) I talk about coffee all. the. time. I like to go out for coffee with people, I like to stick a mug of coffee in people’s faces when they come to visit, and I never start a day without it. However, my passion for hot chocolate and apple cider runs a very close second, so basically if you like warm beverages we’ll get along great.

9) I’m super open to conversations around ideas – I really value people’s opinions and expertise, and I love to just brainstorm ideas and see what could be. Collaboration is one of my favorite things in the world.

10) I can be intensely focused. Despite the crazy you see here, when I focus I can drown out every distraction known to man (trust me, I’m the oldest of six without counting numerous foster siblings) and can get work done quickly and well.

11) My love for freaking out about favorite books with people is only equaled by my love of finding new books. So basically, whether you’ve read the same things as me or not, I’m going to adore you because you are a Book Person and therefore my favorite.

12) I like odd numbers of things. This number right here bothers me. I like odd numbers because something stands out – I want to add that “just a little something more” and not be satisfied with good or even great, but find the wow and make it happen.

13) I love adventures. They frighten me, but I love them anyways. And most of all, I’d love for you to be the one going on it with me.

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Lessons From Nano: 1- The Story Bible

Hi friends!

Today is the first day of a new project – I’m sure you guessed from the title, but Nano this year was a really big experience from me and I learned a ton about myself as a writer and about what works and doesn’t, for me at least, in the drafting process, and I want to share some of these things with you on Mondays at least through December. Some of it will work for you and some of it won’t, because everyone creates differently, but hopefully you’ll find some useful tips and tricks. As always, feel free to share your own with me in the comments.

Today’s lesson is about the Book Bible.

Being not the best planner in the world (pantser all the way!) I did not make one of these. I have a whiteboard with all the main characters and a tidbit about each and a scrap of paper with some main plot points scribbled on it, and that was all I had to guide my 22 days of creative madness.

Don’t do this, guys.

There’s pantsing, and then there’s crazymaking. I think you can all guess which one the whiteboard and scrap of paper fall into.

What you should use, plotters and pantsers alike: A notebook with a page for each of the following things: character, locations, timeline, tidbits, and one or two pages with things relevant to your particular story.

What should these pages look like?

1) Character: Include first and last name, whatever physical appearance details you state at any point in the book, and any particular personality traits you list. You’ll be amazed how much these can chance from page 1 to page 325 if you don’t have the notes to help you. Always include a last name, even if you don’t use it when mentioning the character in the book, so  you can be sure you will stay consistent.

2) Locations: Write the name of the place, any markers you give about it’s proximity to other places, appearance, and any comments about how long it has been in existence and what it’s history is. In my last book, the hardware store was a magical traveling store that managed to be in three different locations by the end of the book. Don’t have one of these, unless you actually meant to have one.

3) Timeline: This is a huge one. When you’re drafting, you definitely don’t want to have to stop and calculate out how much time you can say this thing or that thing takes, but eventually you’ll have to make all those pieces add up. You don’t need to put a month or day, unless you specifically mention one in the book, but make sure to write down any transitional statements such as “the next day” or “two weeks later” so that eventually you can add them up to make sure your time is consistent. As I learned the hard way, be sure and put page numbers so you can adjust the timing more easily than hunting through the entire book for a particular phrase.

4) Tidbits: I put anything on this page from how many times I talk about people’s eyes or how cold it is to very minor characters referenced, which books my MC reads, things I want to come back and add in later, and whether or not the silo has a rail or a roof. I find this page most useful in the first readthrough following the first draft, for noting things that jump out at me as I go along that will strengthen the story or that are blatantly inconsistent and need to be figure out.

And there you have it – my simplified version of a Story Bible, complete with all the unfortunate lessons gathered in the course of a three-week first draft. Do you use a similar system? What do you include?