Writing, writing vs writing

Posted: January 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

One of the purposes I had for creating this blog was to write more.  As such, I have certainly succeeded and failed.  That is, I haven’t written as much bloggedy stuff as I intended, but the amount of writing that I have done has exploded.

My typical writing revolves around the needs of gameplay.  Writing detailed character backgrounds for PCs that I play (rare) and writing exposition and background, plot arcs and dialogue snippets for RPGs that I’m currently running (often).  Occasionally, I get the bug to write down a series of plot points for some future project, and inevitably stash them away in my slush pile of ‘things I might use later’.

Writing in this style is awesome without being difficult. The creative process, i.e., brainstorming, made manifest without having to worry about grammar, narrative structure, or oxford commas. However, it is ultimately less than ultimately fulfilling, in that there is a satisfaction to be gained by rounding out a story, by finishing a story.

So, with the inspiration of close friends who are publishing their own novels, I have stopped resisting the urge to write. In November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and wrote over 50,000 words in one potential novel. I’ve also written and submitted two short stories for publication (one rejected, the other so far surviving rejection).

The failure can only be considered in relation to this blog, which has languished for 4 months or so. It is not my intention to abandon it.

In the writerly vein, I would like to discuss my process so far in attempting my first novel. Actually my second… my first was abandoned nearly 20 years ago, after succumbing to one of the first DO NOTs of writer advice – do no attempt to edit your work until you’ve finished the first draft. The danger is that you become engrossed in minor details that distract you and get you second guessing your design. I still have 65 pages somewhere, that I may return to one day.

Aware of this prior failure, I approached this project differently.

(EDITING NOTE: After publishing this, I noticed that WordPress has weak sub-bullet abilities, and automatically reformatted the sub-bullets to be whole numbers instead of simple bulletpoints. I’ll leave it as it is, but… weak.)

  1. Groundwork. Before attempting to write the story, I decided what I wanted from the story.
    • I wanted to write a story about why the greek myths stopped being written. Something must have happened to the gods.
    • I decided that there would be 4 main characters, and I spent some time planning their motivations, emotions, backgrounds, and responses to stimuli.
    • I reviewed Joseph Conrad’s Heroes Journey, and mapped a rough idea of how such applied to each of the main characters.
    • I decided on a theme for the novel, and jotted some notes on how to represent that theme.
    • I reviewed the setting in detail, Mycenaean Greece – culture, technology, political organization, the greek gods, etc.
    • I plotted the story in bullet point form, so I knew what had to happen for the ending to occur.
    • I wrote a scene involving two of the main characters, in order to organically explore what I wanted to write and how I wanted to portray them. This scene was not duplicated in the novel, it was merely an exercise, but the characters first came to life in that piece.
  2. NaNoWriMo. I wrote nearly everyday, writing as much as 6,000 words on some days, staying ahead of the goal the whole time. The goal with NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 in the 30 days of November, which is about 1,667 words per day. I wrote 5,000 the first day, and tried to average 2,000 for each successive day. However, as I neared the end, I had exhausted my plot and wrote an ending to the story that was very satisfying to my vision. This false sense of closure confused me, and I took nearly a week off, before realizing that I had another major plot that I could add in. The last 12,000 words happened very quickly, and I finished a couple of days early.
  3. Pre-editing. After NaNoWriMo ended, I quickly jotted down notes on what I would need to do next.
    • I decided that I needed to research the territory of Mycenae more completely, and then edit the place names used in the events to make sense.
    • I needed to research how I handled magic more completely, and then make an editing pass – magic has rules, make sure that they are followed. I spent a great deal of time on this, researching the magic system I had adopted and fleshing out the rules that I wished to employ.
    • Review tension between the characters – characters that get along are uninteresting. Make sure that the tensions between them remain present in each scene.
    • Edit for theme – make a pass through the novel for theme – the central theme should be peppered in each scene.
  4. Outlining book 2. It became clear to me that the tale would not be told fully in the first novel. A much grander story emerged during the planning process. So I outlined book 2 (cannibal horror). In fact, as my second attempt at outlining, I was much more pleased with the results of outline 2. I wrote the major notes in numbered bullets, and then I added sub-bullets to represent minor notes that would occur between the major story points. I then fleshed these out until I had every potential scene described briefly.
  5. This is where I am now. I have a few more things that I would like to do before I start editing the novel. These include:
    • outline book 3 (African steampunk)
    • outline book 4 (urban fantasy)
    • outline the last book (hard sci fi)
    • do a scene outline for book 1, like I described in 4. above. Then I would like to notate the scene outline for the character arcs (including parts of the heroes journey).
    • once I’ve finalized my scene order, then I will write any missing scenes, or edit scenes with an altered scope. Lastly, I will perform the editing passes that I need, first for continuity, then character tension, and finally for theme and tone.
  6. Then, I’m going to NaNoWriMo twice this year. I really want to write my first draft of my cannibal horror story (probably in April), and we’ll see if my outlining for book 3 generates a similar vision that I am compelled to execute in November.

So there you go. What else have I been doing writerly wise? I did begin to outline a story I’m tentatively calling Dragon Angels. I wrote in depth character explorations, plotted the story out, and then realized that what I had written would make an awesome RPG campaign. More to come on that, heh heh. What I’m undecided, is if a) I should write the story, and then see if the player characters make the same choices or if the story gets told to a different ending, or b) I should just outline the story, and use it as background for the campaign.

Because RPGs are about collective story telling, I’m hesitant to write this story in too much detailed – there is a fine line in RPGs where the game master is just telling a story to the players, versus allowing the story to organically evolve from the players choices and desires. Maybe that’s not a fine line at all, but it is an easy one to cross. All roads lead to Rome, you know.

So that’s where I’m at today. Still running 2 or 3 campaigns, playing in another. Writing has markedly increased, just not here. So I think that this blog has been a success (I am writing more) even if the success isn’t reflected in the blog itself. Writing is a habit, and a mantra I have been telling myself over the past few years as I contemplated whether or not I would ever call myself a writer is: “Writer’s write“. Right?


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