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Planning Problems

Some of you might be wondering if this blog is about running into problems while planning for my new book, or whether it is about planning the problems that my characters will be running into. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a difference.

First off, let me say that I am disappointed in all of you for not leaving a comment on last week’s post. I was looking for some feedback on my story outline because I am suffering from low self-esteem and kind of think that it might suck. I don’t want to write something that sucks. I want to write something special that people will appreciate and enjoy.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the story idea I had is fairly tenable, but I also believe that it could be better. Possibly a lot better. But I’m having trouble figuring out how to fill in the holes and kick it up a notch. So if any of you have any ideas you would like to share with me, please do so ASAP. Thanks.

All right, now that I have that off my chest, let’s get on to where I am in my plans.

I actually haven’t gotten much more done since last week. I tried plotting out the individual scenes that I want to include in the different parts of my book, using a three act structure, but my inspiration ran into a wall as I neared the midpoint and I couldn’t work out what happened next. I’ve got an idea of what is supposed to happen at the midpoint, as well as the ending, but I’m starting to think that that is where my plot falls apart and starts to suck, so I’m having trouble working out the scenes for it.

So instead of planning scenes for the last half of the book, I started writing the first scene. I figured that doing some actual writing might give me some inspiration for filling in the holes in the outline. I’m not sure if it worked, but I did manage to get some words on the page, which led me to working out some of the character details for some of the other people in the story.

The first scene was supposed to be similar to the scene in the Lethal Weapon movie, where Martin Riggs takes out his pistol and considers eating a bullet. I wanted that pain to be one of the first things you see about my hero. But I also wanted there to be some background to it, so I thought I would start with a nightmare that triggered those suicidal thoughts. The nightmare turned into my first scene, and the gun was the second scene. I also decided to watch the movie again to get a better idea of how to write a scene like that, as well as for inspiration about how the loss of a loved one could trigger that kind of death wish. Seeing the film again really helped, and I have a bit of editing to do to tighten up that scene and make it hit even harder. It also made me wonder whether or not I should cut out the nightmare sequence, or at least move it to later in the book. Maybe less is more, and would help make the readers more likely to keep reading so they can find out why he is thinking of killing himself.

As I mentioned, another thing that came out of writing those scenes was the need to fill in some more character details. For instance, I had to come up with a name for Alexander’s dead wife. Once I had that, I filled in some of her history and personality, to help define why he was so in love with her that he can barely manage to function now that she is gone. Once that was done, I also worked out some of the details of the young mother that is going to come into his life now. I decided that one of the reasons that he decides he has to help her is because she reminds him of his dead wife. Not necessarily physically, but in her personality and the way she confronts him. She is the daughter he could have had “if only….”

I expect I’ll keep writing and planning together for a while, filling in the holes and working out the details. But I’m probably not going to be writing every day. I broke my 227 day writing streak on Friday, and I didn’t write anything yesterday either. But this year isn’t going to be focused on how many words I write every day(Sorry, Magic Spreadsheet!), just at writing the best book I possibly can.

We’ll see how it goes, and you can keep up with the word count of my manuscript by following my word count meter here. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week for another update. See you then!

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New Year, New Novel

As promised, today I’m going to give you an update on how the planning for my new novel is going. I have to warn you though. I have been busy, so this post is going to be a long one.

The working title is The Reluctant Hero, as you can see by my new Word Meter on the right. I’ll probably leave the Dirty Little Freaks meter there for a while just because I am proud of having finished it. I did get that last story done before the end of the year, and it wasn’t too terrible. It was about a woman who was lost and stumbled across a secret laboratory. She was taken prisoner and injected with a serum that turned her into a superhero. That’s about it. There are a lot of unanswered questions in the story, like how did she get lost in the first place, who was running the secret lab, and where they all went while the serum was doing its work. If I ever figure out the answers to those questions I might revisit that story, but meanwhile at least it served its purpose as a writing exercise.

Now, back to what you are all waiting for. The new novel!

All right, so the first thing I had to do was decide what I wanted to write about. As I told you last week, my only real idea was to write a story using the old theme of the reluctant hero. Someone who was pulled into a dangerous situation and forced to step up in order to save not only himself, but the whole world. Or at least more of it than would normally fit in his pajamas. So the first thing I needed to do was figure out who this guy was.

I started with a character sketch. I don’t mean a picture, although that will probably come in at some point. No, I mean a description of the character, including name, age, general appearance, and most importantly, his history and personality.

My main character is named Alexander Lunde. I chose the first name because it actually means “defender of mankind” in some languages. Or, at least, that’s what my Scrivener name generator told me. The last name is pretty much just random, except that I thought he should be of Norwegian descent. Just because.

I won’t get into his height and weight, eye and hair color. The important details are that he is a widower. His wife died in “the disaster” and he blames himself, so he lives alone, cutting himself off as much as possible from everyone else. If you want to get into the psychobabble, I suppose that he has low self-esteem and doesn’t feel like he deserves to live among other people. Another reason for his life as a hermit could be that he can’t stand the thought of losing someone else close to him. So he pushes people away, and generally comes across as a grumpy old man.

So that’s where I started. Now, you might have noticed a couple words in quotes in the description above. That was my next step in figuring out where I was going with this story. What, exactly, is “the disaster”?

Well, I decided that I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic tale. That meant that there should be at least the remains of technology available in the ruins of civilization that were still left standing. However, I also like the ideas of magic and monsters. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are high on my reading lists. So what kind of disaster could I come up with that had both science AND magic?

And, if at all possible, dragons.

My brain struggled over this for a while, and finally, out of the storm came this little gem. A comet passed extremely close to Earth, and billions of people went outside to watch as it neared the closest point. Unfortunately, those were the people who died. The comet gave off a strange form of radiation that killed everyone that saw it. The radiation also triggered a reaction deep in the Earth’s core that rekindled a magical force that had been largely depleted over the centuries of humanity’s history. After all, the legends of gods and fairy tales had to come from somewhere, right?

So now I’ve got a man with a past. What about the world of the present?

My next step was to figure out what was going on right now. I had to determine what the world was like in order to figure out how my story would fit in to it. After all, if my reluctant hero was going to have to save humanity, I had to at least find out what he was saving them from.

I already knew it was going to be post-apocalyptic, so that gave me a start. Few people, primarily gathered into small communities, largely either living off the land or scavenging through the ruins. With the magic influence, I decided that along with the bandits that would undoubtedly threaten any travelers, as well as established communities, there would also be fantastical monsters. Goblins, ogres, creatures of both dreams and nightmares, and, most importantly, dragons.

Another thing I had to decide was where it was going to be set. Of course, like most of my books, I decided to set it close to home. Personally, I think that Madison, Wisconsin, would be a fine place to live if most of the people were gone. Especially the idiots in that fancy domed building downtown. There are also plenty of farms and wooded areas around the city that would be excellent places for the survivors to use to start over and support themselves. There are even a few state parks where my hero could live without being bothered.

And there is also the UW campus. Let’s face it, if magic came back into the world, can you think of anywhere better to set up a school of wizardry than the research facilities of a major metropolitan university? It was a perfect place for people to gather together to start researching how to use the new forces of magic that were now available to all.

And that gave me the idea for the plot. These new wizards, just figuring out the “science” of magic, could easily cross one of those lines that are better left uncrossed. In the fantasy books I have read, one of the biggest dangers of using magic is summoning a demon. When dealing with evil creatures from another plane, not only does your spell have to be perfect, but you also have to have an iron will in order to keep body and soul together. Otherwise, what you end up with as a monster terrorizing the neighborhood while bloody chunks drip down the walls of the summoning chamber. Not good.

So I have a hero, a setting, and a climax. Now, how was I going to get Alexander from being a hermit to saving the world from a demonic invasion? And where were the dragons going to come in?

The answer, of course, is to bring in other people. I had to force him to spend time with others in order to be in a position where he had no choice but to be a hero. And who better to transform a grumpy old man into a loving “grandfather” than a little boy (or girl)?

Here’s the rough outline of the plot that I came up with:

Alexander is out hunting and finds a small family en route to the campus that is being attacked by bandits. He saves the family, but the father is injured and the bandits got away with most of their supplies. He reluctantly takes them in while the father recovers, which gives them time to bond with him, despite his efforts to push them away.

After the father recovers, the two of them go into the local town to restock the family’s supplies so they can continue their journey. On the way, they find a dragon’s egg, which they pick up and bring into town. Unfortunately, the dragon tracks them there and attacks the town, killing the young father before it, too is killed.

Alexander goes back to his house and breaks the news to the young wife. She is upset, and Alexander feels really bad. After she calms down, she tells him that she still wants to continue her journey, and she makes him promise to take her. He still has the dragon egg, and decides to take it with them so the people there can study it.

This part needs a bit of work. They get to campus and he sticks around while the girl gets settled with her family. At some point he discovers that the wizards are experimenting with summoning spells. He goes to watch and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Demons start flooding through the portal, and Alexander is hurt badly while trying to fight them off.

The ghost of Alexander’s dead wife then appears to him and tells him that it isn’t his time to die and that he needs to keep fighting or the young mother and her children will die. Her spirit then takes over the unborn dragon egg, which then hatches and helps Alexander fight off the demons and close the portal.

In the end, Alexander, the baby dragon, and the little family go back to his cabin in the woods and live happily ever after.

It’s pretty rough, and as I mentioned, I know there are some problems with the plot, but at least it is a starting point. I welcome any comments, criticism, or suggestions that will help me make it better.

That’s it for today (whew!). I’ll see you next week with another update on my planning. I hope to be able to work out some of the weak spots in this outline and fill in some gaps with a list of the scenes I’ll need to use in order to make this a decent novel. Later!

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Running Out of Steam

I have to say that after a year of writing short stories I am finding it a little hard to find inspiration. I have covered so many different things over the last fifty weeks that finding something new to write is becoming an issue.

Or maybe the problem is just that I am getting tired of doing this over and over again.

Last week’s story was about a party hosted by social vampires. They enticed people into their lair and drained them dry, making them pay for food and drinks and subjecting them to all sorts of depravities, leaving them broke and broken and willing to do anything to get back in. It actually wasn’t much of a story, more of a lecture about how the party started and one man’s efforts to fight back by using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to warn people to stay away. But it could be an interesting premise to write an actual story about. All I would have to do is find the right characters to write about and put them in the thick of things.

I think that maybe this week I’ll take my inspiration from Twitter. I can read a bunch of posts and see if I can find something that inspires me with a “what if?” thought. Otherwise I have no idea what I will be writing this week.

As the year of the Dirty Little Freaks winds down, however, my mind is pushing ahead to next year. Although I hit 200 days on my chain on the Magic Spreadsheet, I think I’m going to stop using it next year. I’ve done what I needed to do and I really don’t have any more to prove. I just want to focus on writing a good novel next year, which means planning it out so that it will be the best story I can write. No more freestyle writing where I have no idea what is going to come out of my mind and onto the page. No more discovering the story as I write it. I want to know what the story is about ahead of time in order to decide whether or not it is worth writing in the first place.

I also want to get some reading done. I haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading this last year, and I have an awful lot of books on my shelves that are gathering dust, and I haven’t even cracked their covers yet. I’m talking physical books here, not e-books. Don’t even ask about how many unread books are on my Kindle. It’s obscene.

That’s about it for this week. As always, I’ll fill you in next Sunday on my latest story. And if I’m lucky I’ll have found the inspiration for next year’s novel. See you then!

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Another False Start

I did it again this week. The beginning of my story was one thing, while the story itself was something completely different. In my defense, however, if this story was a lot longer I might still be able to bring it back around to where I started.

When I begin writing a new story, I try really hard to make the first sentence “pop”. I want to grab your attention right out of the gate. A lot of good writers do this. If you can seize hold of your reader right away you have a better chance of keeping them involved when things slow down.

In this story, I set the scene as my hero lining up to take a shot at something. I didn’t say what it was, just that the fate of the world rested on his shoulders at that moment. And it was all because of something that had started just a few days ago. The rest of the story was told as a flashback, remembering how he had met the woman who had put him there, in that place, with that responsibility.

The problem was that it was supposed to be a short story, and what I wanted to tell was more like a James Bond blockbuster. There was no way I could fit all that into under 10,000 words. So what it ended up being was just a beginning scene. I kind of wrapped it up at the end, but there is so much more to tell in that story. Unfortunately, the rest of it will have to wait until I have more time to spend on it, along with all the other stories like it that I wrote this year.

Which brings me to my next question: What will I be writing next year?

This year of writing a story a week has definitely been interesting, as well as productive. But I’m getting tired of these quick and dirty tales, and would really like to dig into something with some more meat on it again. I want to write another novel.

However, this time I don’t want to just start writing and see where it takes me. I want to take some time and figure out what the story is before I start. I want to know who my characters are at the beginning and where I want them to be at the end. I want to decide what the story is trying to say about life, the universe, and everything before I put my fingers on the keyboard. And, perhaps most of all, I want it to be outstanding.

The stories I have written so far have been okay. I like my characters, even though I have been told that they are so similar it is hard to tell them apart. And even though I put them in danger, there can also be a bit of deus ex machina involved in getting them out of trouble. It makes the story less believable and makes disengages the reader.

I’m not sure what I’ll be writing yet. I could take one of the shorts that I have been telling you about this year and expand it. Or I could write something completely new. It could be horror, science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance. Or maybe I might try writing something a little more serious. An attempt at real literature. Something that you might see on Oprah’s book club.

Actually, probably not.

The first step is probably going to be the characters. I think they are the most important part of the story, even more important than the plot. The plot, of course, would be next, but it would fit the characters and the arc I want to take them through before the end. Those two things will help me decide what kind of genre I will be writing.

I guess that’s about all I have to say this week. Congratulations to all of you who participated in NaNoWriMo this year. I wasn’t one of them this year, but speaking as a winner for the last three years I know how hard it is. And even if you didn’t finish I still think you deserve recognition. Hooray for you!

See you next week, and keep on writing!

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How Did I Get Here?

This week my story started out with a boy running from some bullies. Then I turned it into a flashback and by the time I had finished it was essentially an origin story for a superhero like Batman. He found a secret hideout underneath an old, empty warehouse that was full of technology that was beyond what the rest of the world had available. He’s not quite sure if it is alien in origin or not, but he thinks that he can use it to make himself into a hero.

The story isn’t bad, but the first few paragraphs really don’t fit where the rest of the story ended up. They will probably all have to be rewritten or maybe cut altogether for the second draft. It’s kind of an intriguing premise though, and I might just have to explore it again some other day. In the meantime, though, I’m on to story number 48.

It’s hard to believe that we’re this close to the end of the year. It has been a long run, and I think writing all of these short stories has been good for me. They have certainly given me a chance to come up with some interesting ideas for the future. If you have followed my blog, you also know that they have also given me some reason to worry about my sanity. But then, most writers probably think that at one point or another in their careers. How often do you think Stephen King has written something and thought to himself, “What is wrong with me?”

Anyway, since I have spent most of this weekend watching Doctor Who in honor of the 50th anniversary special, I started this week’s story with my main character using some British idioms and references. I probably won’t be able to pull it off for the whole story, but it’s one of those writing exercises that I thought might be interesting. I’ll let you know next week how it went.

Speaking of the Doctor, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to come up with that kind of immortal character? There aren’t many fictional creations that have the worldwide attraction and recognition of Doctor Who. It’s also interesting that the ones that I can think of are British creations, like James Bond and Harry Potter.

Time for a challenge, kiddies! Name some other fictional characters in a long-running series that are widely recognized across the globe. Go ahead, I dare you!

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Oops

It seems that I forgot to post on Sunday. Sorry. I guess all I can say is better late than never.

Last week my story was about an auction. I was watching episodes of Storage Wars, so it seemed like the thing to do. In case you haven’t heard about it, Storage Wars follows several people as they bid on storage lockers that have been abandoned. Nobody knows why these little rooms full of people’s lives have wound up on the auction block, but it gives these entrepreneurs the chance to  pick up stuff for pennies on the dollar. They find the most unusual items, which they then take to experts to explain why they are special and what they are worth. At the end, the narrator recaps the profits that each one made from the locker.

So my story started simply, about a man getting ready for his bid. Then he spots an attractive woman who seems to be extremely interested in something in the locker. He decides that he is going to do something different for this auction. Instead of focusing on the value of the contents and cutting off his bid appropriately, he decides he is going to spend whatever it takes to win the locker. He is betting that he can then get the woman to sleep with him in exchange for whatever it is that she wants from the room.

The bidding goes higher and higher, to the amazement of the rest of the people at the auction, as they are convinced that it couldn’t possibly that much. The main character pushes it up to ten thousand dollars, probably ten times what it is worth, which wins him the locker. The rest of the auction then goes off to the next item up for bid, leaving him alone with the girl.

He starts digging into the boxes, purposefully ignoring the one she was interested in, while she hems and haws in the background. When she finally speaks, he dismisses her, but she refuses to leave. He ends up thinking that she is a born victim, unable to make up her mind and in desperate need of a strong man to take control. Which he then does.

She tells him that the locker was her sisters and she is looking for a family heirloom. He convinces her that the only way she is going to get it is if she takes off her clothes. She hesitates, but eventually does as he asks. While she strips, he finds her trinket, which is a locket with a crescent moon on the cover. He also finds some fur-lined handcuffs, because apparently her sister was into light bondage. He puts the cuffs on the girl, and then slips the necklace over her head before turning around to get another sex toy from the box. By the time he looks back, she has transformed into a werewolf which proceeds to tear him apart.

So the aggressor becomes the victim, and the world is possibly a better place. Depending, of course, on how you feel about werewolves.

My story this week is about a young boy who finds buried treasure. A huge golden egg buried in the woods. So far he has spent most of the day digging it out, and gave himself a hernia getting it out of the hole. I’m trying to show that he is unnaturally obsessed with this thing. I think it is going to turn out to be a dragon egg, but I haven’t figured out yet where the story is going next.

I’ll fill you in on the rest of the story next week. Hopefully on time. See you then!

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Be Careful What You Wish For

Last week’s story was supposed to be a Halloween horror story, but it didn’t turn out to be very scary. One more story that needs a lot of work to get to where I wanted it to be.

It started telling about an ordinary man. An insurance agent with nothing special about him. But then he met the woman of his dreams. A beautiful woman who could have been a supermodel or movie star. She told him she was there to buy insurance for her boss. And then, once their business was concluded, she asked him out on a date. Things went well, and eventually he asked her to marry him. She said yes, but on the eve of their wedding her boss called Thomas into his study and stole his body. It had all been a setup. Thomas had been a target from the start.

I think that one of my biggest problems was that I was on a deadline to finish it by Saturday. So instead of taking the time to craft the build up and suspense, I pushed it, especially at the end. Of course, this is something that can be fixed simply by taking the time during edits to fill in those holes.

I don’t know yet what I’ll be writing about this week. Tune in next Sunday to find out!

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Careful What You Wish For

Sorry for the late post. My Internet was out last night until this afternoon, and by the time it came back online I had to leave the house. My day has been pretty busy, and I have yet to do my writing for the day, so this will be a short post.

Last week, I promised you a breakdown of my weekly tale. This week I started my story talking about how a meteor storm gave the majority of the Earth’s population some form of super power. Except, of course, that most of them were actually pretty lame. There were a few lucky people who actually became super heroes, and there were some unlucky ones that didn’t get any powers at all.

That was how I started. It was mainly back story, and that’s how I filled most of my week. It wasn’t until late in the week that I decided that my hero was one of the people who didn’t have a power, and that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and saw a couple of bad guys kidnapping a local heroine in order to have their way with her. He followed them to their lair and decided that he wasn’t going to just sit idly by and wait for the police to arrive. He charged in and, as you might expect, almost got himself killed.

The end of the story is that his desperate struggle triggered a magnetic power, which he used to defeat the kidnappers. The problem was that afterwards, as he went to rescue the heroine, his new magnetism was almost the death of him.

You see, the kidnapped heroine was called Razorette for a reason. His power pulled him right to her, where he impaled himself on her razor-sharp spikes.

I wrote the ending so that he survived, but it could have gone either way. Maybe when I edit this mess I’ll kill him off. We’ll see.

That’s all I have the time for tonight. See again next week, hopefully a little earlier in the day.

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A Man and His Dog

Once again I started a story with no real idea where it was going. I began by describing an ugly dog. A mutt whose better days were all behind him. And then I decided that my hero was the human equivalent. A bum who lived out of trash cans, but still had a code of honor.

The story was nothing special at first. I just told how he rolled into town and found a meal in exchange for doing some odd jobs for a widow. But I couldn’t leave it there. Our hero got jumped by an overprotective neighbor and the dog protected him. Together they made their escape, and that was the start of their friendship.

Again, this is a story that will probably need a lot of editing before it becomes what it should be. I think I need to amp up the dog’s part in the story building up to the fight. I might want to bring in the attacker a little earlier in order to foreshadow the conflict and increase the tension.

But at least the bones of the story are there. And I practiced using description, which is something I have struggled with. My writing tends to be a little on the bland side, and I am trying to work on that.

In other news, my Magic Spreadsheet chain is still going strong, and I am still using DuoLingo on a daily basis. I’m not adding new words very quickly, but I’m getting a lot of practice with the ones I already know.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back next week to tell you about Story #32. I wonder what it will be?

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What Did I Just Do?

OMG.

Dirty Little Freaks #24 was way out of my ballpark. I’m not sure how I got there, but the story took me places I have never been before. Places that are impossible for me to reach. It was a struggle all the way, but I think I can be proud of what I did, even if it was a painful journey.

I started with something simple. A rude comment made by someone at a funeral. As I developed the story, the comment was made by a younger brother and the funeral was the main character’s father. Then things started to get really interesting when I decided that the comment that had been made was true, and that it was about our main character having an incestuous relationship with her father.

It was about pain and loss and love that broke the rules.  And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. I’m not looking forward to editing it, because I know that any changes I make to it will only have to make it better, and I’m not sure how I can. I was really stretching my boundaries on the first draft, so taking it to the next level is going to be rough.

I think that the direction my story took was at least partially influenced by the book I was reading. The Lake of Dreams, by Kim Edwards. It wasn’t about incest, but one of the themes was the death of the main character’s father, and how it affected the course of her life. I could actually see how the story I was writing changed to reflect the story I was reading. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often for me, so it was interesting seeing it happen now. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it was a bad thing, just that it was unexpected and a little frightening to go where I have never gone before.

In other news, that makes 19 days in my Magic Spreadsheet chain, for a total of over 8,000 words. Having the spreadsheet is really giving me that extra incentive to keep writing, even though I might not want to. In the last few months, I have only been worrying about getting the story done, and have skipped some days when I didn’t feel like writing. But now, the focus is on getting at least the minimum in every day, so I have been writing first thing in the morning and taking the rest of the day for myself. The stories have been longer, as I only have to make sure I reach the end by Saturday, but I think they have also been better. We’ll see how it goes in the coming months.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next Sunday with another update. See you then!

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