Making a Nanowrimo Playlist

Someone, probably on the OLL blog, once suggested that you make a playlist that corresponds to what you’re writing on a given day. You put a playlist on repeat and it just goes round and round until you’re done with the scene.

I think this is an awesome idea. I can prep my scene without overthinking it – if I want to capture a feeling of melancholy, I pick a few melancholy songs and I’m good to go. And once I’ve used my playlists one time, I can just go back to the ready made mood-setter. Also, it means that I won’t be able to procrastinate by searching for adequate songs from my music library. Of course, I’ll be able to procrastinate by making long and elaborate lists, but I’m going to try and put a few together on the weekend, before November actually starts.

I’m a big fan of grand, symphonic music. I have played classical piano for almost 20 years now, and the modern music I like usually involves a symphony. When I was eighteen, I was introduced to the genre of symphonic metal, which has fueled my writing ever since.

Here are some of the pieces that I find particularly inspiring, and will be listening to (a lot!) during November. As I wrote up the list, I realised – a lot of these pieces are pieces I discovered a long time ago. I think I need to have a little more inspiration in my musical life. If you have a favourite song to write to, help me expand my horizons and put it in the comments! My novel may take roads I would never have dreamed of.

Adventure music:

Theme from Pirates of the Caribbean – Klaus Badelt
Theme from The Lord of the Rings – Howard Shore
The Hazards of Love (album) – The Decemberists

Happy music:

The Game of All Fours – Kate Rusby
Almost anything by Owl City (I know it’s sappy electro-pop, but it’s just so darned cute!)

Sad music:

Gymopedie – Erik Satie
Gnossienne numbers 1-5 – Erik Satie
See Me in Shadow – Delain
The Crow, the Owl and the Dove – Nightwish

Epic music:

Ghost Love Score – Nightwish
The Bridge of Khazad-Dum (from the Fellowship of the Ring) – Howard Shore
Theme from Princess Mononoke – Joe Hisaichi

Thoughtful music:

Lappi (Lapland) – Nightwish
The Wheat (from Gladiator) – Hans Zimmer

Creepy music:

Theme from Pan’s Labyrinth – Javier Navarrete
The Rite of Spring – Igor Stravinsky
I am Stretched on Your Grave – Kate Rusby

Scary Music:

Serenade Schizophrana – Danny Elfman

 

Now it’s your turn!

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Look! A Nanowrimo Forum!

Let’s be honest, no one can resist a good nano cat.

The title of this blog is hopefully exciting for those of you who are doing Nanowrimo, but it also happens to be informational.

Back in September or the beginning of October, when the blogosphere was just becoming acquianted with Nanowrimo Venn diagrams, Nano cat memes and so on, I took a look around, thought, Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have a blog forum for all this? and wrote to a couple of other bloggers saying something to that effect. Their reply was, “Sure, get a forum going and we’ll all take a look.”

Well, someone more charming and clever than I has done exactly that. Meet Val and Ben, who are already near and dear to my heart as fellow foreigners in a Scandinavian country. They created a forum for Nano writers to get together here and blog about their experiences, tips, tools, and more. The blog is aptly named, “Look! A Nanowrimo Forum!!” and I was invited to participate there.

It is just the place to cogitate over character motivation, find a good writing programme, bitterly complain about word count or give (and receive) inspiration.

So come on by and take a look. If you’ve written something cool about Nanowrimo, link us to the blog post (here or there) or comment. We’re always looking for new resources.

A Typical Day in My November Life

Here is a breakdown of my morning during Nanowrimo last year:

  • 09.15: Arrive at coffee shop – late, of course. Put bike away, go stand in the coffee line.
  • 09.20: Juggle hot coffee glass from hand to hand. Why do they always have to serve it in a glass? Haven’t they heard of mugs? With handles? Find writing nook, with already-present writing buddy. Hug writing buddy, exchange pleasantries.
  • 09.30: Turn on computer during casual chatting with writing buddy. Gossip about work, university, bosses, and so on.
  • 09.35: Fellow wrimo has found picture of adorable cat. Awwww! See writing buddy’s pictures of her actual cats. Norwegian forest cats are the best! Watch video of cats playing.
  • 9.45: open Scrivener. Stare at empty slot.
  • 9.50: open previous Scrivener chapter for inspiration. Complain to fellow wrimo about the difficulties of finding inspiration. Agree to a 30-minute challenge.
  • 10.00: Finally settle on a good song to listen to on repeat.
  • 10.20: compare notes. Both of you have around 500 words. Compare more cat photos.
  • 10.30: with regrets, head down to university. Swear that more writing will be done tomorrow.

Sometimes I wonder how I managed to win last year. I’m going to have to be way more disciplined this year – not because I won’t win if I don’t follow a tight schedule, but because I’ll stop working on my thesis to finish Nanowrimo, And that will essentially doom my master’s degree.

The biggest reason I do Nanowrimo is because I get to hang out with other writers a lot. It helps me to hear their problems and look over and see that they’re being productive, and I should be too. If I didn’t have my writing group, I could pick any month to write a novel. March is looking pretty good – I’ll be out of a job, finished with university studies – why not write a book in March? Because it just wouldn’t be the same.

At the same time, seeing these people ends in less of a word count than I want. And probably need. I always end up with at least one day during Nanowrimo when I have to write at least 10,000 words. One memorable Thanksgiving with my American family, I got up at 6 AM, wrote 20,000 words before Thanksgiving dinner, and 10,000 after we rolled home. Kids, don’t try that at home. Seriously. I already did, and it was disastrous.

So. My biggest distraction, when I get down to it, is the presence of people who are supposed to be focused and writing, like me. Any other wrimos – are you meeting up with fellow wrimos in your region? What sorts of distractions do you dread during our great writing blitz? And for people not doing Nanowrimo this year, do you meet up regularly with writing groups? What distractions kill your word count most?

Nano cat distracts, yet simultaneously calls attention to the fact that we should probably be attempting to lessen our mediocrity.

 

Character Sketches pre-Nano

There are a lot of different motifs out there for a ‘good character.’ Some people want heroes, some people want anti-heroes; we can have regular men and women, struggling adolescents, brilliant assassins, bad-men-turned-good – you get the idea.

I want my Nanowrimo novel this year to be good. Good enough for me to work on it, revise it, and maybe even give to other people to see if they’ll like it. And with that in mind, I have dropped my previous pantsing approach, and am working full out on the planning.

I chose this idea for my novel because I liked the characters in it; I felt I could work with them. I’d like to maximise their potential and know where they’re going before I’m halfway through the novel and thinking, ‘so, what is this guy’s motivation, anyway?’

Here are some of the things I have been setting down for my characters. I’ve been writing them to fulfill my daily goal of 750 words, so they’re not super long, nor super thought-out. But they get the ball rolling:

  • Short Bio (emphasis on short)
  • One or two anecdotes from the character’s past that exemplify a trait or explain a development
  • Favourite colour
  • Favourite food
  • Pet peeve
  • Phobia
  • Deepest fear
  • Nervous habit
  • Outward relation to other main characters
  • Inward opinion of other main characters

This would probably be a good thing to write out for all my characters. However, even if I had the time, I don’t know that I’d have the patience to do it. It’s fun to write a lot of these things, but I’m starting to itch for story progression. There are so many scenes I want to put down! But taking the time to make these things up has helped me think of a couple great scenes in which that can be put to good use.

What else should we think about when we want to make a well-rounded character? As always, dazzle us with your brilliance in the comments.

The World is Not Enough: Worldbuilding in preparation for Nanowrimo

Alan Lee's rendition of Tolkien's land.

Everyone talks about the importance of ‘making your world believable.’ It’s a big issue in fantasy fiction, especially in the genre of high fantasy in which so much can be ripped off from other people. But while I have read a lot of posts saying, ‘be sure to make your world believable!’ I haven’t seen so many that say, ‘This is how you make your world believable.’

An example: a few years ago I was attending the fantastic Eastercon in London. Eastercon is a huge science fiction and fantasy convention which features famous novelists (George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman and China Mieville have all been guests of honour there), and consists of panels, workshops, endless games, book signings and all the things you’d expect at the con of your dreams. When I last attended, there was a late night panel on exactly this topic – how to make a believable fantasy world. So I went to check it out.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The panel consisted of four or five authors who, in reality, spoke about very little. One guy who wrote historical fantasy said, ‘make sure that your history is accurate.’ Gee, really? Another self-published woman spent most of the hour complaining that tween fans  didn’t think her vampires sparkled enough. Which is definitely a topic worth talking about, but a little off-subject. At the end of the hour, I didn’t have any new tips. The general consensus of the panel was, ‘historical writers, make sure your world is accurate. Everyone else…make it multidimensional.’ Okay, but again, how?

Since I’ll be working in a high fantasy setting for Nanowrimo, I want to make sure two things happen: firstly, that my fantasy world should not be a lesser copy of Tolkien, Martin or others. Secondly, my work should seem believable.

Here is a list of things I plan to keep in mind when creating my fantasy world:

  1. How does the government work? Who’s helping the king run things? Is there even a king? Or maybe a queen? Government gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, so this is important to think about.
  2. How does the class system work? What do the lower classes think of the higher, and the higher of the lower? Who’s in which class? This is particularly important for me since my main characters will face this issue often.
  3. What is considered normal? Customs differ from region to region in our world, so it goes without saying that they should be totally different in another.
  4. How does the economy work? This is one of those things with which you could go into great detail, or little. I’m no big economist and I don’t think that a lot of high fantasy writers. Putting in a banking or monetary system will make a world seem just a little more convincing.
  5. How does technology interact with the world? With the rise of steampunk this is becoming an increasingly important question.
  6. How do the other creatures of the world come into play? We’re all used to elves and dwarves and orc-like things. If we want them to stand out from the crowd, we’ll have to develop them.
  7. What do the cities look like? We can take inspiration from London, Dubai, Beijing, ancient Rome, Paris underground, the steppes of Mongolia – or all of them. City planning can give a unique feel to something.
  8. How’s the environment doing? Fun fact: the ancient Romans are still at the top of the chart in terms of polluters. Aside from that, what is the environment actually like? How is it different from the environment of all those other books?
  9. What are the fashions? Laugh if you want, but fashion dictates the look of a lot of things. Not just fashionable clothing, but fashionable architecture, fashionable music, fashionable art, and so on.

Naturally, one of the hardest parts is weaving this into a narrative without just setting it all down as an info dump.

This list is a bit slapdash, full of things I pulled off the top of my head. There are, of course, a lot more things to talk about. The list could go on and on, but I feel that this post should not. If you have something you think should be on the list, put it down in the comments. I’ll be thanking you profusely throughout November. Maybe we can get a nice set of questions together that help build that elusive, well-rounded, completely knockoff-free world that we’re all looking for.

I’ve Found My First Procrastination Tool

Okay, it’s not really my first procrastination tool. There was the rest of the internet, and other writers complaining about plot lines, and thesis, and about a thousand other things. But this is cooler than cat gifs, George Takei, and those horrible television shows that I hate to love (I’m looking at you, Once Upon a Time and Vampire Diaries).

A shout out to Graham Edwards, who wrote about something called Wordle on his blog. Thanks, Graham. Now I’ll never get anything done in November. After writing every fifty words, I’ll stop to see what my wordle looks like.

Wordle is an application that turns text into word cloud. You can put in as much or as little as you like (as far as I understand it) and see how often you use certain words in your writing. You can also play around with the font, color and orientation of your cloud.

To experiment, I took the prologue of a work in progress and put it in to Wordle. The piece is 3,695 words long. I was utterly convinced that it was going to be dominated by the word water.

Wordle: prologueOh, how wrong I was.

It took me a fair while to even find water on there. I figured goddess would play a prominent role. I was a bit surprised to see that Doge had taken the top slot, since that character was only in around half of the prologue.

This application is interesting to see what we think we are writing about, and what we are actually putting down. Of course, the words don’t mean a lot without some kind of order to them. But all the things I thought were major or minor themes didn’t seem that important when crunched via the Almighty Method of the Wordle. Perhaps if I were less tired, or smarter, I would be able to figure out how the themes I’ve tried to incorporate do manage to show up in the word cloud.

But alas, I have been giving tours all day and all I want to do is be a mindless zombie and drink my chai. And play around more with wordle.

If anyone else feels like making a word cloud, feel free to post the results up here. It will be fun and colorful!

Just for fun, I put this post into wordle, too.

The Artist

artist: cabecadaShe hadn’t known Stephen long; he’d come into their lives a few months ago. He had emerged from that mental twilight that always separates the us from the others and had joined their friend group with all the ease of a cat settling onto its perch. Even though he was the youngest of them – only seventeen – sometimes he seemed as though he were the most adult, the only one among them fully formed and ready to take on the world.

He had always been so comfortable with himself. It was what made the funeral so strange – the stiffness and awkwardness with which he lay in the coffin. He seemed ready to leap up at any moment, straighten his tux, and go play the part of best man for some older friend’s wedding.

Did he really look so solemn in life? she wondered as her hand skated across the page. Should she look just as solemn? Most others did. Anna was seated across the room, sobbing into a black lace handkerchief. Then again, that numb and callous part of her brain reminded her, Anna had a flair for drama. She was probably the only person in the city who even had a black lace handkerchief.

Anna had also been Stephen’s girlfriend.

She hated funerals. She hated the way that no one seemed comfortable in their grief, and that no one seemed to know what to say. And she was no better than anyone else. She only knew how to talk with her hands, and she did so now, sketching without really thinking. Because thinking would make her just as uncomfortable as the rest of them.

No one noticed her as she sat with her open pad. Or if they did, they pretended not to. They wanted their time alone with him to seem real, perhaps – as though they were in a little bubble around the sarcophagus, and only they could speak, and only he could listen. They murmured and they cried, and they said goodbye. And as they left the church, she heard many of them say, “why?”

As if the corpse would sit up and reply, or the church would split and some angel would emerge from the steeple to tell them. Maybe they wanted reassurance, that this death had some grand significance and the young, brilliant man had been taken for a reason. Whether the reason was there or not, it was an answer they would never get. And if they could, she wondered as she drew, would they have been able to handle the answer they got? Would they even have been able to understand it?

Drawing was the one thing she had really shared with Stephen. She was always a little too quiet, a little too off to the sidelines while he seemed caught in the spotlight on a regular basis. But they were in art class together, and it was the one place in which she seemed to outshine him. He wasn’t jealous of her talent, just admiring. He’d asked her once to make a portrait of him.

“If you don’t think it’s too weird,” he’d said with the half-smile that seemed to get him anything.

Well, she was making his portrait now.

She became aware, suddenly, of a presence just above and behind her. She picked up her pencil and half turned to see who it was, and found herself staring into the red-rimmed eyes of Anna. She still held that ridiculous lace handkerchief and she leaned over to scrutinize the sketch. Her eyes wandered over the shape of his head, his eyes, the bridge of his nose. Then she hissed with all the venom of a rattlesnake, “It looks nothing like him.”

Anna stalked up to the coffin, looked down for a moment on the last expression of her beloved, and burst into a loud wail, throwing herself down over the upper half of his body. The artist held up her sketch and compared it to the corpse that was now being given the extra burden of his former girlfriend, who didn’t seem inclined to let go or even muffle her shrieking.

Anna was right. It looked nothing like he did now.

It looked the way he used to, when they sat together in art class. Pensive, focused, iconic. And with a strength hidden in him that couldn’t be expressed through that stiff stillness.

The artist closed her sketch pad and stood. The others could mourn their dead comrade in his wooden box. She, at least, would leave with something living.

***

Thanks to cabecada for the inspirational piece of art, which was originally brought to my attention by bwthoughts. I wish I could have done it better justice but sometimes I guess you just have to put out what’s on your mind.

If you’re interested in getting some of your own art exhibited on this page, why not send it on over, or link me to its location? Visit the Call for Art page for more information. And, of course, comments and constructive criticisms are always welcome.