Month: November 2013

Official hiatus

Well, so much for keeping up with the blog during NaNoWriMo.

Staying on top of my word count goals for the new story has eaten all my writing time and more. I will probably do a NaNoWriMo update proper tomorrow, but for now I’m just going to call this blog otherwise on hiatus until December.

FWIW, the the story is actually going quite well, but more on that tomorrow.

Write well, my friends.

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A post about no post

No post today, in the end – I have a couple of likely subjects, but today has not been a day for words in any context so I am just not going to get anything written for here tonight.

Back on Monday, with any luck.

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NaNoWriMo Update – Day 13

nano-numbers-2013-day-13 It’s pretty apparent that staying on top of this blog while also trying to produce 3½ thousand words a day is not an easy thing. Given the unrelenting pace required to stay on top of the goal pace, it’s quite possible I may miss a post at one or the other end of the week. Certainly, I am going to try to get words first and blog second – that is why this post is coming so late in the day. On the plus side, you get Wednesday numbers today which you didn’t get last time.

As of Wednesday last week, I was half a day ahead of pace: about two thousand words in hand. That buffer was completely gone by the end of Friday, and with two more slow days since then I count myself lucky to be only a day behind pace – I should be at about 43k right about now to be on target for 100k by the end of the month, rather than 40k.

The reason? Well, as Harold Macmillan said: “Events, dear boy, events.” We’ve had some stuff going on requiring attention that could not be multi-tasked with writing. That is pretty much it, really – in those terms I am pleased that I am not more adrift than I am.

On the positive side, the story is proceeding more or less on course – I’ve done a much better job of scene length discipline than I often do, so in fact at 40% of word count I am more or less 40% through the story – this speaks to something about the improved accuracy of my outline, I suppose.

Even better is that the story I am telling is more interesting than the one outlined: an incidental character has become someone important, and the story has been much more about the MC than I had originally planned – she has agency, which is often something I have trouble with in early drafts.

Not killing off her entire village while she’s watching makes me feel a lot better about things, too.

How is your November writing going?

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Inventing Names

name-unknownCharacters need names.

Some people swear by lists of baby names, but that only works if you’re writing in a modern context – I usually write science fiction in a non-contemporary context, so contemporary names don’t often work that well except as a signifier.

The difficult thing with NaNoWriMo (or indeed any early drafting process for me) is to not get hung up on details, and names definitely fall into that category: momentum is key, so just inserting any name is often better than agonising over the precisely right name, especially for a secondary character.

With that, here are a few of the rules I follow when I’m inventing names:

  • keep them distinct. For example, use a different initial letter for each one, or varying metre. The number of people who complain about not being able to keep Saruman and Sauron straight is enormous – you don’t want to hit that problem when editing your own manuscript.
  • keep them distinct, part two: if you have a character whose name you invent but dislike almost immediately, make sure you use a distinctive enough name that it will be easy to find and replace the name usages later.
  • use different features of the name to signify different things. For example, all the orcs could be named with a “th” sound at the end, or there could be certain word endings that only female names employ.
  • use different naming styles for different cultures. For example, think about Hawaiian names with their narrow range of consonants – using those names alongside Slavic names with a plurality of Zs and Cs would keep them easily clear.
  • if all else fails, desk furniture will do. I’ve never named anyone Keyboard or Stapler, but it’s only a matter of time.
  • it’s worth spending time on important character names. You are going to be spending a lot of time with these characters, so having names that are easy to keep track of and easy to type will help enormously.
  • use nicknames. I only had to type Baxinalaltien-min-Halterkal once to realise I needed a shorter version of the name*

How do you choose names for your characters?

[*]  he usually goes by Baxin

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Down, down, down

scream-pumpkinDeep from the bowels of NaNoWriMo obsession, I want to file a report about varying emotional tone.

There are a lot of sects within the cult of NaNoWriMo, one of which is the Character Torturers*. These are the people who talk about throwing tacks and broken glass into the paths of their characters’ lives the way others talk about the weather.

My own story for this year has some pretty grim opening events, featuring the death of people the MC cares about and then gets to feel guilty about for the rest of the book. I was just starting to dig in on a sequence where the tides of war wash over the MC’s village, and then I thought: this is getting depressing.

The thing is that no matter how dark things might get in the course of the story, you have to give your protagonist some victories, some crumb of comfort to cling to, or you lose the reader. I know this from books I’ve read and abandoned (Thomas Covenant, I am looking at you) and books I’ve completed despite my deep dislike of them. The Road, for example, Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic story, is filled with the darkness of the human imagination but even that profoundly depressing book gives the characters some wins.

Going back to the post I put up about outlining for NaNo, that simple W outline has ups as well as downs.

So, I have been salting the stew of darkness and horror with some good things happening too. I think the story is going to be better for it. It’s certainly more fun to write.

[*] “Character Torturers” being the name of one sect, but verb/object agreement is not always easy.

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NaNoWriMo Update – Day 6

nano-numbers-2013-day-6My November writing so far has been pretty busy.

My goal for this month is to write 100,000 word novel. To do that, I need to maintain an average pace of 3,334 words a day.

At this point, I am tracking that pace – I had a slow start on Friday because of the game I was running that evening, and Saturday was heavy going too since I was very tired after the game, but the three days since then have been productive. As of last night, I had half a day’s writing in hand.

Rivalries help.

There are a couple of other NaNos in my region who write at roughly my pace – we’ve sparred before, and setting the goal at 100k is a stretch for all of us, but it’s a productive rivalry. Last night the gauntlet was thrown down to reach 20k. I had to stop writing for external reasons, but I got close and my particular nemesis broke through the 20,000 word barrier.

We’re also using each others’ names in our stories – I have a very bloody scene later in the book where lots of people will die, and I know I’ve been killed off at least once.

I’d better get back to it, now – 19k before breakfast?

How is your NaNoWriMo going?

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Making Mazes

a tiny maze

a tiny maze

I like to use a maze to record my NaNoWriMo word count progress. Here’s my 2013 maze, for example.

Making Mazes

I use a program to generate these mazes, one I wrote originally in Algol68 when I was doing my degree but this particular version is written in Lisp: maze.lisp

To use this tool, follow these steps:

  1. install a Lisp runtime. I use CLISP, but this is standard Common Lisp so SBCL or a commercial Lisp ought to work just as well.
    • on a Linux system, you should be able to install it from your package repository, eg apt-get install clisp
    • on a Mac, install a package manager such as Homebrew then install CLISP (“brew install clisp”)
    • on Windows, your best bet is to install Cygwin and then use its package manager to install CLISP
  2. start the Lisp interpreter (called a REPL) by typing “clisp”
  3. (load “maze”)
  4. (maze-file 10 10 :svg “<filename>”)

The “10 10” gives the x and y dimensions of the maze.

How To Use It

I just print this file out (having opened it in a browser) and stick it up on the fridge at home and on a wall at work. Then I fill in one square per thousand words written, following the shortest route to the end but keeping the last exit square open. Then I go back to fill in earlier squares, and fill in the last square on the last day of writing.

Since this is a standard SVG file, you could load it up into any graphics tool that understands that format. I use Inkscape for that kind of thing, but other tools are available.

I should also emphasise that this is meant mainly as a visual aid for the supporters rather than my primary tracking tool.

How do you communicate your progress to those supporting you?

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The NaNoWriMo Bell Rings

the bell of the call

the bell of the ball


Do you hear that? It is not a loud sound, but it is insistent – the tapping of keys, the drip of sweat and blood and molten ideas.

It is the first day of November, and the NaNoWriMo bell has rung.

Thirty days to write a roughly novel-shaped thing of at least 50,000 words.

50,000 words is a lot to write in one go, but NaNoWriMo makes it easy: you only need to write 1,667 words a day to reach 50k in a thirty day month like November. If you type fast you can have that done in an hour; you don’t have to type fast to have that done in two. You just need to sit in front of the keyboard and put words down.

What I’m Doing

This year I am writing a science fiction novel called Shapes of Chance, about a young woman who finds out she can see probability. My intention is to have a manuscript of publishable length, which for adult science fiction is at least 80,000 words – 100k would be preferred. So my goal is 100k this month, and I have the 100-square maze to match.

That’s about three hours of typing a day, every day. We’ll see if that works out or not. I’ve had enough 5K and 10k days in the past that it’s plausible, I think, if not exactly likely.

Where You Can Find Me

Here is my NaNoWriMo profile: Dunx – follow me there to see how my official word count is doing, and feel free to add me as a writing buddy.

I will be posting word count updates here, just as I did last year, with the addition of word count tweets via my Twitter account: @DunxIsWriting.

But now… to the word mines!

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