After the frantic word count goal of November, for those of us who participated in National Novel Writing Month, December is a strangely quiet month. No longer are we racing home after work to write those elusive 1667 words for the day’s total, and hoping to exceed them. We miss the rush, the excitement, even the panic. Initially, we feel relief, then goalless and at odds with ourselves. Now, we are floating in an undisciplined mode, unable to feel comfortable – that impetuous has gone.
We all know a goal is a good thing to have. It aids our making a deadline for publisher demands, editing and revising or any self imposed goal, whether for our writing or something else. So, what is the answer? Well, we have options:
1. Continue with our NaNo project and complete the novel.
2. Leave the project to ‘rest’ or percolate until the ending, plot arc, story line etc. solidifies in your mind (if it hasn’t already.)
3. Edit and revise what you have written. We all know it will need this at some point.
4. Begin another project, or return to another unfinished one.
5. Take a break from writing. Delve into the season’s festivities.
No matter which course you take, do what is best for you. Struggling to complete a writing project, when the holidays are approaching and you have other commitments, is not the way to go. Your project will be there waiting for you.
As we all know the definition of a trope in literary terms is a plot device or character attribute that is used so commonly in a genre that it is commonplace or conventional. I’ve recently been intrigued by the bad boy-good girl trope of romance books and movies, especially trilogies. It may have something to do with a draft manuscript I have on the back burner, which has a bad girl – good boy (you know me I like to switch things up!) It is interesting to see this specific relationship scenario played out, and the complexities of the plots. (Some better and more believable than others!)
I have researched three such movie trilogies/series and have found the basic characters and their flaws and/or strengths to be the very similar in each. Obviously, the plots and character lives are different, but the basic character structures are easily identifiable.
The Kissing Booth
Each one has a damaged, aloof, unattainable male character and also an innocent, charming, loving female character. The love aspect of the relationships are played out with various obstacles, misunderstandings and heart break scenarios. The characters go through intense, fractured and profound changes. The females become stronger and more capable of ‘controlling’ and understanding their love interest, while the male character’s go through a realization process that this specific woman can, in fact, love them for who they are.
So, why go to these lengths, you may ask? Well, there is that draft manuscript languishing in the pile, but also I am working on a trilogy and it is the character development, I am most interested in. Readers want to ‘see’ a character develop and change, overcome obstacles and have some sort of resolution. With trilogies, or indeed, any series, this is the ‘draw’ for a reader. How will the character overcome, manage and ultimately succeed?
With Christian and Anastasia in Fifty Shades – he is emotionally and physically damaged from childhood trauma and he ‘copes’ with punishing his mother look-a-likes in the playroom. Ana shows him there is another way to love and forgive.
With Elle and Noah in The Kissing Booth she breaks the rule of having a relationship with her best friend, Lee’s brother. It is a forbidden love full of secrets, guilt and at times an unattainable relationship. Elle risks her life long friendship with Lee to pursue Noah. The trilogy follows the characters through high school to college.
With Edward and Bella, again there is the unattainable relationship, this time between a vampire and a human. This is the ultimate taboo. Bella is convinced she is destined to be a vampire, but Edward will do anything to protect her from such an existence. The third player is Jacob, a werewolf, which adds to the complexity of the relationship as he is also in love with Bella. The two male character’s have a instinctive, historical hatred for each other, but both will do anything to protect Bella.
As you can see the similarities are obvious with each story with conflicts between the two main characters and their connection to each other, no matter the obstacles.
Can you name another series with this bad boy – good girl scenario?
As writers we are used to juggling many writing projects at the same time or the complete opposite – nothing! (Although, I have to say my mind is crowded with ideas most of the time in MUSE central!)
These opposing states come with their own problems, each unique and as frustrating as each other. Firstly, ‘feast’ has us worrying which project to do first. Which one is the most strident in it’s demand to be written? Is it the right one to pursue? Will another story ‘vanish’ if we ignore it?
Secondly, ‘famine’ when ideas may be circling in our minds, but none of them ‘stick’ or have the ‘legs’ to form a longer narrative. Or there is a void. This is a frustrating feeling, leaving us grasping for elusive or fragments of ideas, or something to write!
So what can we do to organize the jumble or utilize a fragment?
Let’s look at the multiple ideas first. Write down as much as you can for each idea – lay them out on separate pieces of paper or word documents. Organize each idea into genre or categories and then plot, character or scene and any other components of each particular story you do have. Separating the stories in this way allows us to focus on them, if not objectively, as least with a clearer vision. Once you have them in an orderly list you will see which idea has the most content. Now, comes the difficult decision – which one do you pursue? It might not be the one with the most detail, but another that attracts you to it for whatever reason. Take some time to really dissect the new idea. Can you envisage the plot arc, the ending, the characters? If one starts to ‘grow’ within your minds eye, or the majority of the narrative reveals itself to you, then that is typically your direction.
Now comes the void. How do we spark our Muse? There are many reasons for this dearth of ideas, illness, relationship problems, work commitments etc. As a writer we know that the act of writing is not only satisfying, but a real need. Our creativity requires it. This is the time to look at those filed away short stories, or fragments of ideas. We always have inspirational quotes, sentences, even whole paragraphs, that have languished somewhere in journals, notebooks or electronic folders. Take time to read through these, after all we kept them for a reason. Utilize writing prompts – writing anything helps us get back on track. Fifteen minute bursts of writing from a word or picture prompt can refresh our minds, spark our creativity and set us on a new course. Your prompt response might only be short – a poem, a paragraph, even a word association list, or it can develop into something. I recently used an image of a dragon’s egg to spark my Muse. It was going to be a short story but grew and grew into a three thousand word story! You never know where an idea can lead, and that is the beauty of story writing.
How do you handle the sparse and dense periods of your writing life?
What obscure stimulus has sparked an idea for you?
How do you approach new ideas? Frantic notes? Plot arc? Character descriptions?
Have you experienced a story unwilling to stay quiet?
“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” Dee Hock
When creating a story the main element is the characters within the narrative. To ensure we, and our readers, can visualize and become empathic with these protagonists and antagonists, we need to take into account their personalities and backstory. We can begin by asking questions to enable us to create a fully formed character.
What is this character’s name?
Names are a vital first impression for your reader. It can denote an age, location or era. Research names for your story that will fit time and place. You may also chose a name that has a significant meaning.
2. How old are they?
You can state a character’s age, or allude to it with their reactions, preferences or actions.
3. What do they look like?
You can give subtle clues to your character’s looks through careful descriptions rather than listing their physical features. For example, the steamed up mirror gradually revealed her wet long black hair. He easily picked the box off the top shelf.
4. Who are they?
Utilize a character’s occupation, a prominent personality trait, or interaction to give your reader a glimpse at them.
5. Where are they?
Ensure the location of your scenes is ‘visible’ to your reader. A dark room, a summer day in the park or a sandy beach. Place your character within these locations and have them interact with their surroundings.
6. What era/season/day do they inhabit?
With historical fiction, or date/era sensitive stories this is important so your readers are orientated to where your characters live.
7. Who are your characters interacting with?
Name other characters within a scene, this is usually accomplished through dialogue, or interaction.
8. How do they relate to the other character(s)?
Create scenes that help your reader understand the relationships between your character’s. For example, Tom laid his hand on Cheryl’s shoulder as she typed up the letter. She shrugged her distaste at her boss’s physical touch. Tom positioned himself on one side of her desk and grinned.
9. What is your character accomplishing in each scene?
Each scene should relay what your character is trying to accomplish, with whom and how. Give your readers enough information, but also ask questions on what happens next.
10. Keep your character’s plight foremost.
Keep your reader engaged with curiosity, emotional investment, or sympathy for your character, this will keep them present in the story.
Remember to be true to your story but also your readers expectations within the specific genre.
Do you have certain questions you ask your characters? Care to share?
It feels good to be back in the writing saddle again after a break after National Novel Writing Month and the Christmas & New Year’s celebrations. Leaving a manuscript for a while helps refresh our brains (and Muse). Obviously, we do not need to return to the frantic writing style of November, thank goodness! With a sizable word count from the challenge, we can now relax back into the story.
There are a couple of options we can take. Firstly, to continue where we left off or to go back to read the text and make changes or plunge into editing. We all have a specific target for our NaNoWriMo manuscripts. Some will be filed way for another time, others completed before the editing process, while others may be subject to a full revision. Whichever, method you use, it is always a personal choice once we see the work of November.
My second book in my detective trilogy – The Tainted Search, took an unexpected twist during November, so I am keen to follow the story line to see where it takes me and my characters. I did know one of the characters was the cause of the procedural mistake, but until NaNoWriMo not the method of how he was found out and by whom. It has created an unlikely alliance.
What are you doing with your NaNoWriMo manuscript?