I am absolute shite when it comes of consistent blogging. Sorry. But at least this month I have an excuse! Because we all know what month it is!
Okay so yeah, I’m a little slow on the uptake but I am happy to say that for the first time ever competing in NaNo, I will be finished early. I clocked in at 42k this afternoon and I’ve been writing between 2k and 4k every day. HECK YES. Also, this will be the fourth year out of nine that I have actually finished. DOUBLE HECK YES. What is the secret to my success? I attribute it to three things:
- A fierce desire to avoid school work. (Copy editing is the equivalent of accounting for the written word)
- Trying to read WattPad stories and getting pissed off at the bad writing, which spurred a cynical short story that turned into something bigger
- Story Genius by Lisa Cron, a wonderful book on outlining and writing
It went like this.
I had fully planned on trying to continue my Faustus WIP and completing a zero draft on it so I could put it away for the year and work on something else. But then Copy Editing had to get involved so I decided to try and practice on Wattpad stories. I figured that it was a free source for me to edit in the privacy of my own failure and also try to absorb short story formatting, something I am not familiar with. Plus, I wanted to get into the book publishing industry so why not see what’s out there, right?
Let me tell you something about WattPad. IT IS NOT FOR ME. I clicked on a few stories and some of them I couldn’t even get passed the first chapter of. Some of them were interesting but only gave me a sample before asking me for money to continue. (Seriously? What the hell?) I could not subject myself to the bad writing. I’m sorry. You can call me a cynic or a bad person or whatever but I just couldn’t do it.
Naturally, this spawned a response story in which a copy editor is hired to fix one of these bad stories and an unexpected history started to unravel. This copy editor’s name was Juno Marsi, she had a roommate named Benny and this job was the cherry on top of a really crappy year for her. She fell from the ranks of editing stardom because of her misogynist boss and was then forced to take crap jobs and hand outs to make a living.
My brain matter bubbled with possibilities. Why did she fall? What happens next? And that’s where I turned to Story Genius. I had been reading it previously to try and figure out what the heck I was going to do about Faustus but stopped in the middle because that’s how I do. I am not an Outliner by nature but I was desperate to try and finish this damn thing.
Turns out that this Lisa lady knows what she’s talking about.
In the beginning she takes you through the trenches of your main character. Not just the height and hair color but the guts of what makes them tick. She starts you off by asking what truth or lesson you want your MC to learn. Why are you reading this book? What moral or teaching moment do you want your readers to enjoy?
Think about all those clichés out there: “Beauty is found on the inside”; “Love conquers all”; “Family isn’t always blood”. What journey does your character have to go on in this story to learn that lesson?
Now flip that lesson on it’s head. “Beauty is only skin deep”. “Love is pain”. “You can only rely on your family.” (Sounds like an Italian mafia story, haha.) This is the misbelief that your character will start out with at the beginning of the story and Lisa encourages you to write the scene that starts it all, usually something that happens in childhood. It could be something big like a death or something small, like the MC’s parents didn’t show up at the school play. Whatever it is, it has to cement in the character’s brain that THIS is what the real world is and the lesson will follow them throughout the story.
Lisa then has you expand that one scene into three other scenes in which your character’s misbelief is reinforced. Did she not become beauty queen because of an ugly birthmark? Did someone get left at the altar because their partner got cold feet before the wedding? Did a family member abandon the MC during a liquor store robbery and make them take the heat for it from the police? (This really is a mobster story!) Try to make the scenes a variety of big moments and private small ones. Take your time and don’t worry about perfect. You can always go back and edit or add different scenes but you can’t edit a blank page.
Now, having done that, you have to decide what the character wants above all else. What drives her to continue forward instead of staying in one place? What inner desire burns and festers inside them? Is it to stand up for herself against the mean girls? To live happily ever after with their best friend? To find peace with a criminal that murdered his mother? To join the Paralympics after a horrific accident?
Now pit these two ideas against each other. The character wants this thing, but this lesson learned keeps him or her from getting it. This is the struggle that will drive your story forward and keep readers invested. This is the heart string you tug to callously hurt your MC and make them move out of their comfort zone. Always keep the Misbelief and the Goal in mind as you write and it will add tension and meaning to all your scenes.
All it took was me to read that far into Story Genius (maybe 100 pages?) and my fingers were off. I felt like Zeus birthing Athena from his head. I would sit in my desk chair, trance-like, only my arms moving, for hours at a time. I wouldn’t even notice that my legs went numb and my butt had been complaining that it was over this sitting crap. I wouldn’t even notice that my coffee had gone cold and I hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was already past noon.
I did not expect to be writing this one off snarky little story. It is completely not my thing. It’s so…normal and literal. Not a whiff of magic or paranormal angst anywhere (unless you count the obnoxious but well-meaning Drag Queen and the eccentric Italian father).
My NaNo word count every day right now is 800 words to finish with 50k by the 30th. I can hand write that in under half an hour. I did it at work yesterday in fact, on my break. I am curating a playlist already for this little nothing story and it’s full of love songs and break up songs and girl power songs. I have to delete music off my ipod because of all the new additions! Madness! I am highly partial to “Good Things Fall Apart” by Illenium and Jon Bellion and “I’m never getting over you,” by Gone West, Colby Caillat’s new band. Also, I have discovered Lewis Capaldi ❤
I know, I said I was slow on the uptake already!
I am shocked this story got its hooks in me so fast. I’m calling it “Sand Paper Soul” at the moment but it will most definitely change. On my iPod it’s just “NaNo 2020” after I realized that I have a penchant for using double S’s in my story titles; “Silver Sun”, “Sidhe Seeker”, “Sand Paper Soul.”Maybe because of the double S in my name. Hmm….gotta psychoanalyze that later.
Point is, check out Story Genius if you want a thorough talking to about starting your story in the right place. It worked for me and I can only hope that at some point in your writing journey, it will work for you as well.
Take care and write on, friends ❤ Hulk Smash that word count!