Do you NaNoWriMo?

Who else has heard of NaNoWriMo? If you have yet to encounter it, this is your introduction to something that will take you nought to novel author in just 30 days.

NaNoWriMo, or the National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write a novel in just one month. Impossible you say, that’s what I thought and yet, all these years later, I have a growing collection of first drafts and an increased confidence that each one is better than the one from the year before.

NaNoWriMo is not just for amateurs. Many authors who stared in NaNoWriMo went on to be traditionally published. About 449 traditionally published books started in NaNoWriMo. And that’s just the ones they know about.

This year, participants will be inspired by weekly “pep talks” penned by published authors, including Roxane Gay, Kevin Kwan, Julie Murphy, and Grant Faulkner. NaNoWriMo will also provide participants access to mentorship from authors including Emily X. R. Pan, Mur Lafferty, and Jasmine Guillory.

A novel in a month?

A novel in a month. That does not seem possible. How do the NaNoWriMo folks do it?

The secret is not worrying and just getting stuff down on paper. The fact is that it is hundreds of times easier to fix an imperfect manuscript than it is to write a perfect one.

After that, it is just a case of doing a little math (or letting me do it for you). The target word count is 50,000 words. This is 1,667 words a day. Or about three to five typed pages. Which amounts to a page in the morning, one at lunch, another before tea and two more in the evening.

That’s not so hard right?

How to make NaNoWriMo even easier

There are many secrets, tips, and hacks to make NaNoWriMo even easier but here are three quick tips that will turn anyone into a novelist in just one month.

1. Tell everyone what you are doing

I cannot tell you how much more motivated I feel when I know that everyone is going to ask how my novel is going. That part of my brain that works very hard to avoid embarrassing me (the part that gets trumped by own idiot missteps) can work for you too. I find that I work very hard to keep on target when failure means everyone knowing about my failure.

As motivation hacks go, this one is huge.

2. Come up with a few ideas ahead of time

Nothing takes the pressure off like having a handle on the characters and settings for your story. You can find some tools to help build characters in our Facebook group. You can also get support in the forums, particularly the QnA for aspiring authors. There is a long-running thread with questions to ask in a mock interview with your main protagonist (lead character).

3. Break your story into 30 little chunks

Break your story up into 30 bite-sized chunks. Each of those, oh I don’t know but let’s call them chapters, can tell one part of the story.

This takes the pressure off because you will not need to ask yourself “what do I write today?” because you already have a plan.

Are you going to be doing NaNoWriMo?

Thanet Creative are planning to make Thanet much more NaNoWriMo freindly by holding write ins and supporting WriMos (participants) in our regular writing group events.

What’s stopping you becoming a novelist?

Why we need to write fewer white male protagonists

If you are looking for an audience for your stories you could do a lot better than targeting white able-bodied blokes. That market is already saturated.

There are a lot of people hoping to read about people like themselves. You are missing out on willing readers if you ignore them.

There is nothing wrong with white protagonists

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with white dudes (at least I hope not because I one) but if you are really interested in telling interesting and varied stories with interesting characters, then it is time to expand your character palate.

We writers have an amazing opportunity to create characters that can be role models that inspire people. That inspiration can be as simple as seeing someone like you achieving. So why do most of us choose to have straight white male dudes as our protagonists?

As a white dude, I have a huge array of super-heroes, action heroes, and all sorts of other heroes to aspire to. In marketing terms, I have too much choice. That choice means that I am pretty unlikely to get all that excited about your story. Of course, if it has cool spaceships in it you might be okay because I have a bit of an addiction to those but you are still going to have to compete with a lot of classics I still have on my reading list.

Choose a different market segment

While I have all the white male protagonists I could want to read about, I have none that are exactly like me. If your story were about a dyspraxic geek with ankylosing spondylitis and a problem with weight loss, well, you might just find me pre-ordering your book on principle. Even if there are not many cool spaceships to be seen.The reason for that is that I do not have a wide range of choices when it comes to fat semi-crippled geek role-models.

The same is pretty much true of the vast majority of the whole spectrum of humanity. The only reason we write male characters more than female and able bodies more than less able is that this is what we grew up reading.

Dylan Alcott told a TED conference in Sydney that what disabled kids need to see is disabled people achieving so they knew they can achieve too. As writers, we can make that happen.

The world is full of interesting people achieving

The real world is full of interesting people achieving so why not reflect that in our writing? Take this young record breaker, for example.

Isn’t it time to stop telling the one story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED conference talk on “The danger of the single story”. Her stories show us that the limited view of others reduces them from complex and interesting people to some single story.

We call these single stories “stereotypes”. They are unhelpful through being woefully incomplete.

 

Diversity must be natural, and sensitive

It is one thing to decide to broaden your appeal beyond young white males but quite another to deal with other cultures without sufficient understanding. Cliches and stereotypes are not enough. A badly written dyslexic hero is going to do more to put me off than inspire me. If you were thinking of doing that please stick tot he standard white protagonists.

Justine Larbalestier suggests, in an article called “how to write protagonists of colour when you’re white” that you should be calling on the services of a very sepcial branch of beta-readers – sensitivity readers. A sensitvity reader can help you make sure that you’re not being offensive unwittingly but they cannot do your research for you.

How to Write Protagonists of Colour When You’re White

The case against writing outside of your race

The blog, Read Diverse Books, makes a strong case for not just forcing people of colour into the protagonist role just because of some guilt about being white. That is not helpful at all. That much I can agree with.

The article suggests that white people should stick to white protagonists.  I’m not sure if I fully agree with their whole point but forced diversity n your story is cheap and should be avoided, that much should be clear.

White Authors – Fill Your Stories With People Of Color, But Don’t Make Them Your Protagonists

The case for writing outside of your race

Writers Unboxed have a guest article that I suggest you read. It makes a strong case for writing characters that do not just include your own race. By extension, this case would apply for writing outside of your own abledness (or lack thereof). The case for crossing cultures, ability, and gender. To tell stories about people. Stories that are rich and diverse.

White Writers Writing Non-White Characters: Why I Vote Yes, for Commercial Fiction

A rich diversity of characters is the path to success

Crafting a rich diversity of different characters with different skills, problems, races, genders, preferences, and the whole spectrum of humanity is key. It is, quite possibly, the key to commercial and cultural success as a writer. It might be a strange thing to talk about commercial success. The truth is that it is rare for a writer to be culturally influential and not also be commercially successful too.

Adventure stories do not have to be just about white dudes on motorbikes. Love stories do not have to be only about middle-class girls and handsome princes. Quite frankly these are both boring to me because (as a semi-able geek with average looks and a tendency to write blog posts) I cannot relate to them at all.

There is nothing wrong with writing strong white protagonists. There is nothing wrong with making them male and able-bodied. Just don’t write only that one character.

If you want to find success as a writer do this one thing. Find a group of people, learn all you can about them, and then write stories that contain characters that those people can relate to. Not only will literature be richer for such a contribution but your life will be too.

September’s Winner and Sunday’s challenge.

The Winner of the September story challenge is Jess Joy.

I thought I would get that out there right from the offset. This is a zero mystery post, today. On the other hand, there is a lot of really good mystery in the winning post. Don’t forget to read it next.

readingIn a few days, I will be posting the October Challenge. Were I to think about this stuff in advance I could have them posted on the first of each month. If I was that super organised I’d probably be all wrong for writing so…

Anyway, before that avenue of pleasure, I thought I would share the Sunday Writers challenge of the week. This should really be posted by Vicky but, well, that thing we said about being organised and writing… Yeah, that some more.

Right, the challenge. Are you ready?

The challenge is to write a story.

(Big surprise).

However, this story must be:

  1. In the second person
  2. In present tense
  3. Ready on Sunday

Here is a quick overview of writing in the second person. It is about the craziest type of story to try and write. Made crazier by being present tense.

If you come along on Sunday and fancy joining in, bring your attempt. If not post it as a submission here or on your blog (and ping us).

Let’s see what you got.

The prize, at Sunday Writers, is that the winner will be published on the site. Please don’t let me be the only one who brings something.

EditThe closing date will be the week of bonfire night (end of roughly). Vicky will explain properly soon. (I’ve made aright dog’s dinner of it).

Having fun at a writer’s group

Ball Pit

There is something magical about finding a fun writer’s group.

At last weekend’s Sunday Writers group we tried out a new activity – Word Bingo. Now, before you groan here me out – this was a far more fun than it had any right to be. That might be because I am hugely competitive and I happened to win. Who is to say. Winning the prize for that week certainly was nice. I can tell you that.

You play word bingo like normal bingo. You each have a sheet of writer-related words and the speaker says that word, you tick it off. The speaker, in our case, is whoever is presenting something or asking a question, or whatever – it depends on what we are doing at the time.

The benefits of a fun writer’s group

We noticed an unintended and beneficial side effect of the game. While we were playing, every one of us paid rapt attention to what was being said. Our listening skills were turned up to 11.

The point is that creativity and working together does not need to be boring or overly serious. A lot of studies show that if you can have fun doing something, your focus is greatly improved.

Which is why I spent a lot of the day, yesterday, writing a generator script to make Writer’s Group Word Bing cards. There is a post on the Author Buzz Dev blog explaining how it works under the hood. If you have a geeky side and want to take a look then check it out.

Writers’ Word Bingo

How do you have fun at your writer’s group?

This got me thinking. How do other writers groups make their weekly (or monthly) events maximally fun?

Let me know in the comments about the fun activities that take place at your local writers’ group. After all, everyone loves a fun writer’s group, right?

World Building: Alien Numbers

In this post, I am going to take a brief look at constructing the idea of Alien Numbers in your alien world.

World building your alien world is a topic I hope to visit a few times. Perhaps not to the same depth as mental illness or crafting authentic female characters but to a good degree.

We use base ten but why should they?

In our counting, in the West, we count using the numbers zero to nine – ten numbers. This is far from consistent across the globe. Some of the other counting systems on Earth may seem truly alien to us. If that’s the case on the same planet why should you assume that light years away things will be that similar?

This is a topic that Numberphile digs into (video below). The general point being is that you could be a lot more creative with your words and ideas about number systems. You aliens can use alien numbers, and they probably should.

10 is not a special number

There is nothing particularly special about 10. We simply use it because we have ten fingers (including thumbs) which makes it an easy number to count to.

The changes are that any intelligent alien beings in your world might develop a number system with a base of that matches the number of fingers or tentacles or whatever. Just because that was available to count with and made sense.

It is possible that the base system might seem mathematically pure, culturally important or religiously significant to them.  Any of those cases could create all sorts of diplomatic complexities. As a writer, things that make complexities between characters is good for driving the story. Embrace it.

Base 12 might be better

There is a good case to be made for counting in sets of 12. It divides more easily and would make the maths so much easier to work with.

It would translate back and forth from binary a lot more elegantly which is good for computer programming. Maybe your alien number system uses base 12.

It is not very complicated and you could probably make it work as your alien numbers with minimal effort. Here is an expert to explain this better.

We’re not even consistent

Just to confuse matters we don’t even always use base 10 numbers. For time, we count in units of 60. This counting in blocks of 60 comes from the ancient Babylonians. We have 60 minutes to the hour and sixty seconds to the minute. This 60 unit counting is also why we have the number of degrees in a circle that we have (360).

Sometimes we use base 12 – feet and inches. Although, that is largely the American’s just refusing to move with the times. As a result in 1999, a US$125 million Mars orbiter was lost when the two teams used different measuring systems and did not tell each other what they were working in. The navigation and gueince system was, as a result, way off, and the expensive kit was lost.

Maybe your alien race is more logical but maybe they too have these odd artefacts of numerical language.

My background is in computer science and we work in base 2 (binary) but only when we have to. We tend to flip to Octal (base 8) or Hex (base 16) for easier notation. If you have ever wondered by CSS colours are that odd combination of six numbers and letters – that is three pairs of hex numbers describing the colour.

Make gloriously complex alien cultures

There is nothing wrong with making your alien cultures as complex and as varied as we are (maybe more so) with their number systems. The only thing I would suggest, just be sure you can keep track of the conversions.

What strange number words do your aliens use?