Three Dirty Birds on Character

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|Master List|

Three Dirty Birds are still talking about Chuck Wendig’s Kick-Ass Writer. (There’s a lot of tips in this book!) Today, we’re learning all about character.

Kate: I really with Chuck on this one. If you don’t have a good character or characters, the rest of the story falls flat. Which is, I think, how some stories I’ve read recently have gotten published. The storytelling itself wasn’t terrific, but the characters were crack. And a crack-y character will earn you a lot of slack in other parts of the novel.

Zoe: I remember reading this one on his blog a while back, and loving it. I’d read books on characters before, but this really distills it into easy-to-understand language and concepts.

Ana: I liked his tip 5. Where he says: “It’s critical to know what a character wants from the start. She may not know what she wants, but the audience must have that information.” It’s a good distinction. One I hadn’t considered before.

Kate; I’m trying to figure out how to get that across in my NaNo novel, because it’s for darn sure that Kev doesn’t have a clue what he really wants. Neither does Mo, really, though he clues in a lot sooner.

Ana: Subtle hints in the narration or through a character’s behavior? Like a character who thinks he doesn’t want sex but keeps staring at guys?

Kate: And that’s probably how it’s going to come out. I think Kev’s stuff will hit the narrative later than Mo’s, just because he’s kind of got himself locked down in academic mode.

Zoe: I think that even gives you an opportunity to slip something subtle in—at the end of an exhausting study session, it’s three in the morning and he’s rubbing his eyes…and there’s a kind of emptiness there in the room with him.

Kate: Hah! Yes! Especially since he’s an RA, so he gets an apartment to himself.

Ana: I’ve used that in my current novella…. just a room being weirdly empty.

Zoe: I read a blog post just last night that was talking about leaving things out, and negative things in narration. It was really good. I’ll need to find it again. The example was during a church service for a funeral, and by what the author chose to mention the reader got the idea—without being told—that none of the people attending were actually close to the departed.

Kate: I think I might have read that one… It was good. I like subtle stuff like that. Best part about later drafts is that you have so much solidified, that you can go into the text and add and delete to make a lot of your info dumping subliminal.

Zoe: I actually thought of you when I read it. It’s here: http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/2009/09/words-not-spoken-steps-not-taken.html (“The Words Not Spoken, the Steps Not Taken” on edittorrent.)

Ana: *bookmarks to check later* I actually liked tip 6 too. It talks about likeability of characters, which is something that I often find is overrated in internet discussions. A character doesn’t have to be all that likable if he’s interesting enough that I want to read about him. I didn’t like the characters of Gone Girl, for example. I kind of liked to hate them, by the end.

Kate: I have to read that. Joe Abercrombie did that in his books, with Inquisitor Glokta. A broken, bitter man, resentful, cruel, but fascinating. I think part of the fascination was that you could see, in bits and pieces, where he’d come from, how far he’d fallen, and every once in a while you’d get a glimpse of who he used to be, and how the world had failed him. You didn’t like him any better by the end of the trilogy, but you kind of felt a sort of empathy for him.

Ana: I’m now thinking it might be a bit harder to have not-likable characters in romance, where the reader wants to fall in love with at least one character–by proxy.

Zoe: I think the recent author-behaving-badly articles by Katherine Hale and Morgan Howard prove that trainwrecks are as compelling to readers as stories with people we care for. But I agree…it can be a lot harder to pull off in romance, because the likeability of the characters to each other is key.

Kate: Yes. And if one is hateful, it kind of follows that the only kind of person who would fall in love with them is hateful, or unpleasant, in their own way.

Zoe: I did once have a story idea (undeveloped) involving a romance between a serial killer and a guy who had that disorder where you think someone (who’s never even freaking met you) is love with you. They meet because they’re both stalking the same person. But I don’t think, in the end, even if they (somehow!) live happily ever after, it would satisfy romance readers.

Ana: It sounds fun though.

Kate: You should write that Zoe. Really. It would be a fun challenge.

Zoe: You never know. It has a long waitlist ahead of it though.

I think #9 is a common trap for newer writers: “Act Upon the World Rather Than Have the World Act Upon Him.” I think, for whatever reason, it’s intimidating to have characters act of their own volition when you’re first starting out—to have them make stupid decisions and act upon them and suffer the consequences. It’s easier to have bad things happen to them and have them just react.

Kate: The 7 Point Plot Structure actually kind of tells you to do this–have things change, and have the character deal with it. Though I think it means that your character has to be active in seeking a resolution to these changes, even if he isn’t being pro-active. Then, later in the book, he becomes pro-active as part of his growth and as his knowledge increases.

Zoe: I think when the things are external and out of his hands, it comes down to giving your character hard choices to make. The rock and the hard place.

Ana: I think the way the character reacts to the changes in his life should set other things into motion. I also recall hearing that the very first thing in a story that sets the ball rolling can be external or even coincidental but the rest shouldn’t be.

Kate: I think it has to. There’s not many choices in life that don’t set off some kind of consequence down the road. But he should actively make a choice to deal with things that happen and then spend the rest of the book dealing with the consequences of his choice, even if the connection isn’t always obvious.

Zoe: Yes, the passive character happens when he doesn’t make any choices; the character is just buffeted along by the things that happen to him. Bad thing 1 happens, character laments, bad thing 2 happens, character laments some more. It’s supposed to come across as tragic, but tragedy isn’t just “bad things happening.” It’s bad things happening, and no matter what the character tries to do to get out from under them, things just get worse.

Kate: I keep thinking about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The main character is so–I’m not sure if passive is the word for it, but the way the book is written, it feels like he’s being buffeted from event to event and is just going whichever way the wind blows. But, if you look at it, everything happens because of some choice he made.

Zoe: Yes—this is a man who lay down in front of a bulldozer in the opening chapter. Yet he does feel buffeted. I think it’s because he believes himself to be the sort of man who doesn’t make a fuss, doesn’t make decisions, etc., that he comes across that way while actually being active in his story.

Kate: It’s an interesting technique, and it’s done so smoothly you don’t even notice it. But it adds to the funny factor of the book. Everyone’s making choices, but no one seems to be making them.

Ana: Life sometimes feels that way to me.

Zoe: I think the hobbits come across like that as well. Ana’s a hobbit.

Ana: I’ll have you know my feet aren’t hairy.

Kate: Which reminds me, is it time for second breakfast yet?

Zoe: I still need first. 🙁

Kate: You wouldn’t be able to hear me over my stomach growling if I hadn’t had a piece of toast when I first got up.

Ana: I forget breakfast sometimes. We’re such different characters!

Kate: Lol. I like Tip #8 and Tip #10. The remarkability factor and having characters make bad decisions. I think every character has to have something special going for them, but it doesn’t mean they’re always going to be right. (actually, I like characters who are constantly deceiving themselves. Unreliable narrators for the win!)

Ana: Characters having something special going for them reminds me that I marked tip 15 “Boom Goes the Dynamite”, where Chuck tells us our MCs need a ‘kick-ass moment.’ It’s not something I thought about before.

Zoe: The remarkability tip made me think of Stephen King, who’s had a number of main characters who are just regular people. Which is to say that by “remarkable,” Chuck doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be larger than life. King’s characters become remarkable for 1) the situations they find themselves in and 2) how they deal with them. (Which we could say is how they get to their “kick-ass moment.” :D)

Kate: He has some good cautions, too, about making your character too dull or too perfect. You don’t want your character to be boring, and you don’t want him to win everything, all the time. And this applies to the side characters too, because in their minds, they’re the star, and it’s only because of all the things they did that the main character got the glory and the princess.

Ana: I liked number 20, everyone’s a little screwed up inside. I often find myself giving my characters problems before I give them anything else. I guess I just like writing about screwed up people.

Kate: I forget where I heard it, but someone said once, “What your character can’t do is more interesting than what he can.” I always thought that was a cool way to put it. And it’s true.

Zoe: I like that.

Kate: I DNF’d a book a while ago that should have been crack to me–gunporn, monsters, secret agency. But the main character was so perfect…bleh. And it’s a very popular series, which baffles me.

Ana: Which is why, in the end, what really makes you popular remains such a mystery.

Kate: Yep. All the more reason to write what you want to read, because there is no formula.

I liked the last two tips about taking your character out on a test drive and getting to know them inside and out. Not only does it flesh out more of your background, your setting and your character, but you can come back to those ‘outtakes’ later on when you start setting up blog tours to promote the work. What’s more fun than deleted scenes, or small one-off stories that don’t appear in the novel? So you get two birds with one stone when you do this.

Zoe: I’m not sure we should be talking about stoning birds here.

Kate: How about cookies then? Or…FUDGE!

Zoe: Yes, absolutely. Cookie, fudge, and Philly cheesesteak birds. Especially this bird. HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST FOODSHOT!

Ana: My mommy taught me not to throw food. *eats it instead*

Kate: There goes my ammo. 🙁

Zoe: There goes my breakfast.

Three Dirty Birds on the Horror of Chuck Wendig

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Three Dirty Birds talking about Zoe’s favourite thing is the world: Horror! Here’s 25 Things Chuck Wendig thinks you should know about the genre.

Zoe: Chuck knows nothing about horror—nothing! (I’m kidding. This was a good chapter.) As he points out with the first tip, all stories have some degree of horror in them. Just not usually as bloody and gutty as actual horror stories.

Ana: I guess it all comes back to how all stories need tension, and really good stories make you fear for the protagonists to some degee. Because ideally you care what happens to them.

Zoe: Or they’re written really badly, a whole other form of horror. 😉

Ana: The bad kind of horror.

Kate: Horrible horror.

Ana: You don’t read horror, do you, Kate?

Kate: No, not really. I can read just about anything, but Stephen King hit a big flashy red button I didn’t know I had with one book, and I’ve been headshy ever since. I’m going to try to read Suckers, though, when it arrives.

Ana: Maybe Zoe can cure you from your Stephen King trauma.

Zoe: That or I’ll be sued for the psychiatric expenses.

Ana: It’s a win-win situation. For me. *grabs popcorn*

Zoe: ~bills Ana for the popcorn~

Ana: I’m a starving writer, don’t bill me for my popcorn.

Kate: Maybe you can pay her in kind. Pop another bowl for Zoe. And me.

Zoe: I’m actually having a hard time finding anything to say about this chapter. It’s good, basic stuff. If you want to write horror, or just ramp up the tragic parts of your non-horror story, you can’t go wrong by spending ten minutes reading the chapter.

Ana: I like that he pointed out that a horror story doesn’t need to be bloody and gory. A lot of my favorites aren’t. I prefer being creeped out over being squicked out.

Zoe: I like that he pointed out that a horror story has to have a story. That you can have all the blood and gore in the world, but there still needs to be a story in there to carry the reader through.

Kate: I can’t remember if he made this point, or if it was something that occurred to me during this chapter, but people have to like your characters, then you have to do some atavistic thing to them, use some archetypal visceral terror to hook your reader.

Zoe: Yes, I think it’s very important in horror for readers to be able to relate to the main character, to be able to put themselves in his or her shoes. Otherwise you can dish out all the horror in the world, and it’s going to fall flat. (Mr. Rider the other night was telling me about a story idea he had for a horror novel, and I found myself saying, “Yes, but…why do I care?” a lot. “You’ve got this guy who’s a pervert and a killer and he’s the main character…why do I care?” You need an amazing voice to be able to overcome that.)

Ana: When you don’t care about the characters, horror often times becomes ridiculous. I’ve found myself laughing at a lot of bad horror movies.

Zoe: Bad horror movies are one of my favorite hobbies.

Ana: Right? There’s just something about them.

Kate: I dunno. I never quite recovered from The Evil Dead. I think I have an overactive imagination.

Zoe: Sometimes I feel bad because I review horror movies on my blog…and they’re all some degree of bad, and I’m just waiting for someone to say, “Why do you even watch horror movies? You hate them all!”

Kate: Hope. It’s hope that leads you on. Kind of why I keep reading bad spec fic and bad romance.

Zoe: Yes, it’s worth it for the occasional Deadgirl or Devil’s Rejects. (The latter of which is a good example of having main characters who are perverts and killers and making it work. At least for some people.)

Kate: I opted out of the Haunted House of Manlove Flash Fiction event, because I couldn’t come up with a horror idea. Not something that I could make work in 1200 words.

Zoe: I find it tough to do horror in really short form. It takes more cleverness than I possess.

Kate: It would have been a nice break from the silliness of the squirrel, though. Which is very silly.

Ana: But Chuck says Death and Sex play well together! (Especially when you’re a necrophiliac. My words, not his.) I had to smile at this though because I always seem to have dead people in my erotic romance…

Zoe: Ha.

Kate: Lol. Might be why all the romantic thrillers do so well.

Ana: I also liked this line in his last tip: “Horror needs to work on you, the author. You need to be troubled, a little unsettled, by your own material.” Mainly because I feel the same way about my WIPs even though they’re not horror. But if your work doesn’t affect you, it probably won’t affect anyone.

Zoe: Yes, I think that’s true for all stories: you need to be moved yourself in order to move others. (And if you’re not moved by what you’re writing…why are you bothering? What are you getting out of it? A novel requires an investment of a pretty big chunk of time.)

Kate: And that kind of comes back to something he said in the last chapter, about doing your own thing, and putting yourself on the page. If you’re writing to current trends, and not what really turns your crank, it’s going to be noticeable.

Zoe: It’s probably also going to be work.

Kate: I hate work.

Ana: Yeah, let’s not do that.

Dirty Birds on 25 Things You Should Know About Writing a Novel

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Three Dirty Birds are taking on the Kick-Ass Writer again. Today, we learn about the 25 Things Chuck Wendig thinks are important about writing a novel.

Zoe: I loved this chapter to bits.

Ana: I actually added a note to the first tip in this chapter. It basically reads: Is this the third time he’s telling us this? I don’t know if these sets of questions were originally published separately but it gets repetitive.

Zoe: Yeah, they were originally blog posts. But it is a big point for Chuck: finish what you start. You can’t fix it if you can’t finish it, so finish!

Kate: And you hear people talking all the time about all their unfinished novels, or stories that just petered out, so it seems to be a fairly widespread issue.

Ana: Haha, now I feel bad because I’m currently working on four books. Although three of them ‘only’ need fixing. They’re past the first draft stage. Or well, at least they have a finished draft.

Kate; I tend to work on several at a time–I don’t think it’s a problem. But when I get to the point where a book is really coming together, I find I tend to focus just on that one and let the others languish a bit.

Zoe: Momentum momentum momentum. I love when a book picks up momentum of its own…but a lot of days it’s more about coming to the keyboard and maintaining my own momentum through sheer sweat and determination.

Kate: I find, if I can get started, then the momentum carries itself. But, boy, getting through that first half hour is hard.

Zoe: Tips 3-5 are all about first drafts, and how shitty they are allowed to be. How wonderfully, gloriously, indulgently shitty they get to be. Because tip 6: Writing is Rewriting.

Ana: I know far too many people who don’t believe in rewriting. Their first drafts must be a lot different than mine.

Kate: I totally believe in it, but I can never wait until the end to fix sections. If I figure out a solution to a plot hole, then I have to go back and at least put the bare bones in where they belong, or I literally cannot move forward with the work. It’s the most frustrating idiosyncrasy I have.

Zoe: I wish more people believed in rewrites, either during or after their initial drafts—I don’t care when the rewriting gets done. I just care that I don’t wind up opening a book to find a “polished” first draft. YOU CAN TELL, PEOPLE. YOU CAN REALLY TELL.

Kate: For me, I think I need to reread some of his tips from the last chapter, where he reminds you that you have to find your own way. But so many people do the ‘rah-rah’ thing over getting the first draft finished first and not stopping to edit in the middle, that I get worried I’m doing this less efficiently than I could. And that I should be able to learn how to do it that way.

Ana: As long as your way works for you, you should stick with it. You can always try new things but you shouldn’t stress about it.

Zoe: Yes, do what works for you. You’re not going to get anything written if you’re forcing yourself into a process that doesn’t fit you. I’m more concerned about the “rah-rah never rewrite” meme that’s been going around.

Kate: I should put that on a sticky on my monitor. And, that you get as many kicks at the can as you want. Right up to proofreading, right, Editor in Question? And sometimes, if you distract your editor with pictures of Ben Wishaw, you can sneak in a few changes at that stage too. 🙂

Zoe: I need tip number 10 to pop up on my screen every 10,000 words to remind me that the love/hate whiplash is normal. MY NOVEL IS GOING SO WELL! My novel is going to kill me.

Kate: Me, too.

Ana: Right there with you. I’m thinking of doing something like #12 to a novel I trunked. Butcher it for its parts. There’s probably something there I can use for another story.

Zoe: The Frankenstory.

Ana: Haha, during rewriting and fusing two scenes I often tell myself I’m frankensteining them

Kate: They’re GMO’s!!!! Run!

Ana: Shhhh. Kate is spreading rumors and lies again. I also like #14: Say something. Where he’s saying that you shouldn’t just write, but you should write about something.

Kate: There needs to be a point you’re trying to make, is how I take that. Even if it’s as simple as: You can work through the hard stuff if you really want a life with the other person. (Kind of the basis for a lot of romance, come to think of it.)

Zoe: I love tip #19. I love tip #19 enough that I want to marry it and have it be my secret second spouse. Leave room for the readers to use their imagination! Don’t spell everything out. Trust the reader to be able to fill things in for themselves, make connections—let them experience the pure joy of participating.

Kate: Spelling everything out just slows down the story and keeps your reader from investing a little bit of themselves in it. I want to find my hero attractive–if you describe a guy so thoroughly I can’t picture anything but what you wrote, I’m going to be unhappy if he’s not in my ‘sexy zone’.

Ana: As romance writers, I guess we have to keep other people’s ‘turn offs’ in mind as much as the ‘turn ons’.

Zoe: Yes, and trust your characters to get across what they’re feeling, so that you don’t need to tell us everything going through their heads. Let your characters live and breathe.

Ana: Number 16 made me feel better about my lack of description (probably better than it should. I’m really not very good at it).

Kate: I don’t describe a lot either, but usually because there’s so much going on with the characters that there’s no room for it. And the characters always trump the environment, unless I’m going to drop a wall on them or something. That’s kind of my home-made guideline for description. I don’t know–what do you guys use to help you describe stuff?

Zoe: Um… Gosh, I have no idea.

Ana: I guess what I try to keep in mind is not to rely too heavily on visuals. And when you do a few points of description, like three, it’s good to have at least one thing that’s unexpected.

Kate: I really liked Tip #22, about the middle of stories. The idea of late beginnings and early endings, to keep the tension high and avoid the Soggy Middle Syndrome.

Ana: I haven’t suffered from SMS so far. There’s always something coming up that excites me.

Kate: Alpha Squirrel is having a slight problem with it. Which I think has more to do with Mushy Brain Syndrome, than any particular problem with the story.

Ana: The title of number 20 actually gave me a funny image. It’s “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor”.

Kate: If I remember correctly, that’s a Flight of the Conchords reference. You can Youtube it–there’s a video.

Ana: I have no idea, but I giggled.

Kate: He made a good point in the last tip: Writing a Novel Is easy, but writing a Publishable Novel Is Hard. He stresses that you have to put in your time, pay your dues, write your words and take your lumps in order to put out something a publisher might get all teary-eyed about.

Ana: Amen to that. If it weren’t I’d have six books out by now instead of one.

Three Dirty Birds on Chuck’s 25 Question To Ask As You Write

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Today the Dirty Birds are cawing about the second set of 25 tips Chuck Wendig’s The Kickass Writer: 25 Questions To Ask As You Write.

Zoe: I love/hate the questions in this chapter. They can be frustrating to work through when you’re writing—the answers seem so lame, so fleeting, so tenuous. It always feels like “What does Dan want? Dan wants a glass of water. What is the conflict? Dan wants a glass of water, but when he turns the faucet on, brown sludge comes out. What’s the purpose of this scene? The purpose of this scene is to thwart Dan’s quest to quench his thirst. What has to happen? Brown sludge has to come out of the faucet. How does the setting affect my story? It’s set in a kitchen with bad plumbing. It affects my story because the bad plumbing leads to the sludge that thwarts Dan’s quest to quench his thirst. What do I want the reader to feel? Thirsty. Am I enjoying this? I will once we get to the brown sludge part, I hope. Am I taunted by an endless parade of distractions? Actually, I’m kind of distracted by the thought of getting a nice, cool drink right now. Where are my pants? On my legs. Jesus, where else would my pants be?”

Kate: Pants?

Ana: In your closet, because you’re a writer and, as such, should not be wearing pants.

Kate: That was my thought. I was puzzled for a minute.

Zoe: I WEAR PANTS. I don’t care what the write of you so-called “writers” do.

Kate: I liked Tip #4. “Am I Ready?”  I do months of ‘in-head’ planning before I start a story.

Ana: I’m one of those impatient people who can’t wait that long to jump in.

Zoe: My follow-up question to “Am I ready?” is “Am I wearing pants?” I fall somewhere in between…I might plan for a while, I might start writing the opening right off…and if I start writing right off, then stop for a while to plan and pick it up again later.

Ana: I’m now trying to plan wip #2 while I’m writing #1 so I don’t jump in too early out of boredom.

Kate: I often create a file and write little snitches of a story, so I don’t forget it, but generally all the planning is going on in the back of my mind while I’m pounding away at all the lumps and odd bits of the one I’m working on.

Haha, Chuck has such turns of phrase: “Did they dose up a four-year-old on Nyquil and let him write this plot?” I’ll admit to combing through WIPs to identify Nyquil moments. I’ll be making changes to the manuscript right up to and including proofreading. (Which might explain why the proofs are starting to come as PDFs now…)

Ana: Tip number 17 kind of makes me feel bad for not always having a total potential word count in mind. On the other hand, word count is a bit less important in digital publishing than it used to be.

Kate: Wordcount is an arbitrary limit, a fence around your creativity. STOP STEALING MY CREATIVITY, MAN!

Zoe: I do more praying that I don’t end up with 100,000 words again than I do setting an actual goal. Lots of praying and offerings given at altars.

Kate: See, in fantasy and scifi, 90-100K is normal. It’s when you have to dovetail that with romance expectations that things get a little muddy.

Zoe: I should switch genres.

Kate: I’m surprised horror isn’t like that too. After all, you have a not-quite-normal setting as well.

Ana: I somehow managed to write a fantasy-romance that’s just scratching 70k. But I did it by being crap at world-building.

Zoe: Stephen King aside, horror novels tend to be more middling-length. Which I’m good with! I’d like to write short(er) zippy things. A lot of horror takes place in “the real world,” so world-building isn’t often a big part of it. That’s where the scare comes from: it’s a world you recognize and are comfortable in.

Kate: Yeah, Ana, you might want to revisit your world-building. Not too much scarier than a fantasy reader faced with a thin world. (Think Gremlins after midnight.)

Ana: Surprisingly I haven’t been burned at the stake thus far. Hope my luck will hold out.

Kate: Lol.

I think Chuck wrote #14 for me: Taunted by an Endless Parade of Distractions.

Ana: Sorry, can you repeat that? I was over on Facebook for a moment.

Kate: Haha. He’s right, though. I think the distractibility thing is just another way of not dealing with your fear of hitting the tough points in a WIP. And you can only get through those tough parts by turning off the distractions and making yourself write. It’s often not as bad as you think. What was that quote from Joe Abercrombie’s book? “Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

Ana: Yeah, it usually is. Still fear is often such an irrational thing that it can be hard to turn it off.

Kate: On a related note, he asks that you identify things in your real life that are interfering with your work. When you do realize something is getting in the way of your writing, you have to look at ways to either get rid of it, or work around it. I know I’m going through that stage right now, with house repairs and getting ready for winter, but the things I’m doing now, or will be doing in the next month, will leave me with more time to write during the winter. I suppose I could have hired someone to put in the window, or sort out the septic problems, but these are also experiences that may or may not make it into a book at some point. So I think there’s a balance to be struck between getting rid of all distractions and obstacles so you can write, and living your life so you have things to write about.

Ana: I love that as a writer, every bad experience you go through can be made a little more positive with the thought of ‘hey, maybe I can use this in a  book someday.’

Kate: And every person who you see being rude or mean can be sucked out a porthole during a massive decompression incident near Neptune.

Ana: Therapeutic writing.

Kate: Yes. Though those scenes never make it into an actual WIP, because that would be mean. If I ever do suck someone out into space, it will be a totally made up person. (Now that I think about it, I do have a number of ships to destroy in an asteroid belt…)

Ana: I’m not going to promise that every person I’ll ever kill in my books will be completely made up. (Although, if you ask me, all resemblances to real people are completely accidental)

Kate: #16 was written for me too. “Where are my pants?”  My answer? “Pants?”

Ana: They’ve probably been stolen by Zoe by now.

Kate: She’s the only one who seems to wear them.

#20 and #21–the Holy Grail of anyone who works on computers. “Have I saved recently? And is this all backed up somewhere?” I still remember that sinking feeling when I prepped the file for Knight to be subbed, and discovered that two of the chapters had completely corrupted at some point. ASCII print, it looked like, sprinkled in amongst about 40% normal characters. I had to recreate those chapters almost completely, because I didn’t have a backup from before the corruption. (I’d been saving over the backups in the interests of disk space. After this, I bought an external hard drive.)

Ana: You’re scaring me. I’ve never had a text file go corrupt. (I have also never worried about disk space with text files). I back up to drop box and an external hard drive. But I have become so used to Scrivener’s auto save that I have to remind myself to hit Save when working in Word.

Zoe: I think I command-S every five seconds in my sleep at this point. And my backup system is multi-level and stored on three devices and the cloud automatically. (We have a lot of power outages here, and power surges. So I don’t play around.)

Kate: I back up my LSB library after every session and store it on my hard drive and the cloud. The program itself runs from a USB drive.

Zoe: “What will I write tomorrow” may be the most useful tip in the book. If you leave your work knowing what you plan to do tomorrow, it’s so much easier to get started again. I do make a little note for myself at the end of today’s words.

Ana: I should probably start doing that.

Kate: I usually have a note–just one sentence–or a few keywords to remind myself where I planned to go. Because the hardest part about a writing session is getting into the mindset. If you’ve already got a few stepping stones in place, it’s much easier to keep walking.

Zoe: Yes, I just do a sentence or two too, and my note serves two purposes, because I use it as a story goal in lieu of word count goals.I still keep somewhat of an eye on wordcount, but overall I try to achieve a story goal each day; it keeps me from writing filler just to get “words” in. (It also means I don’t have the same dreaded transition looming day after day because I don’t piddle around trying to avoid it.)

Ana: I like that. I noticed during NaNo that it’s not good for me (or my writing) to focus on word count too much.

Zoe: That’s where I started the idea! I was spinning my wheels in the story just to get to those 1,667 words every day, instead of writing the story.

Ana: I actually recently saw a TED talk on youtube about ‘the puzzle of motivation’ that explained the mechanics behind this to me. Even though it wasn’t about writing, I could see the connection. (If I remember correctly it explained how being too focused on getting a reward for your work stifles the creativity that goes into completing that work. Something like that. It’s much better explained in the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y)

Kate: Creativity never does well when it’s hemmed in by rules and restrictions. Getting stuck on the numbers totally shoots down the whole point of NaNo, which is to get you writing.

Zoe: I’m just glad I’m not the only one who watches TED Talks. (I’m kind of addicted to the ones about outer space.)

Ana: I love TED Talks.

Kate: Me, too.

Zoe: They’re the perfect length! They always leave you wanting more, never bored.

Kate: Chuck ends the chapter with a good point–stop asking yourself so many questions! Yes, there are important questions, but they shouldn’t get in the way of writing. Let them sit at the back of your mind, come back to them at points while you’re writing, but don’t let them become the be-all and end-all of your story.