The Post Apocalyp . . . err, NaNoWriMo Wasteland

So, You finished up NaNoWriMo and now you have this heap of words. It doesn’t matter whether you “won” or not. 20K or 100K, you wrote it fast and Oh! My! What a mess!

So pat yourself on the back, brace yourself and look at what you’ve got.

It’s really easy, when you’re just writing and getting all those words out, to overlook some of these ultra basics. My usual problem s that I get carried away worldbuilding and getting to know the characters and forgetting there’s supposed to be a problem . . .

So, that Editor Brain you turned off? Turn it back on and take a dispassionate look at what you’ve got. Keep in mind that this is a work in progress. No, you cannot delete it. You are not looking for what you did wrong so you can pick on yourself. You are looking for what you haven’t done yet.

Analyze it.

I’ve never had a Creative Writing class in my life, but here are some tools that might be of use:

  • How about those characters? Do they feel like real people? Are they alive in your head?
  • And the story Problem. There is one, right? Right?
  • And the Characters had good reasons the problem mattered to them, right?
  • And they solved the problem. Well, OK, this is NaNo, so you may not have gotten that far yet.
  • And maybe you haven’t gotten to the wrap-up that shows what and how the characters are doing after they’ve manned up and beat whatever the problem was.

And having identified a problem, you can to do something about it.

Characters kinda flat? You may need to throwing in emotions and stage managing.  

Huh? Well, to give an example, if you had written: Jenny was an intelligent blue-eyed brunette teenager. . .

How about: Jenny swept her light brown hair out of the way and squinted her blue eyes. She gave up and pulled the hated glasses out of her backpack and put them on. Heaved a sigh of relief. The problems the teacher was writing on the board were dead easy.

Okay, hardly a brilliant example, but you get the idea. Have the character _do_ something that just happens to let you drop in description. And emotion is especially important in connecting to the reader. Doesn’t have to be grand emotions. Who doesn’t remember not wanting to wear glasses? Of being relieved when a class assignment was easy?

And while I’m here, a common situation is one of those things that you don’t have to describe further, unless there’s a plot purpose to it. Teacher. Writing on board. The reader has filled in the rest, no doubt a memory of a classroom of their own. Which gives the feeling that Jenny’s young without have to rattle off her actual age. If she’s in college, the teacher becomes the professor. Voilà!

Onward! What is the story problem? Whether it’s an invading horde of Orcs, or getting that cute guy to notice you, there really needs to be a problem. Could be more than one, but one needs to be the most important issue, and the other distractions, or turn out to be connected . . . whatever. You the Author, needs to figure out what it is, because the story isn’t over until they’ve solved it.

It needs to matter to the Main Character. The burned out cop may not care about the murder victim at first, it’s just another job . . . but he needs to start caring, which can be a bit of character development. Of course the traditional way of making the MC care is a family member killed. But it could be beating a rival to a prize or a position. Escaping something. True Luv is always good. Achieving something that really matters to the MC.

Then there’s how the MC solves the problem. Did you make it too easy? How many try-fail sequences did you put in?  None! They won on the first try? Umm, really, even a short story needs at least a slight bobble, and recovery. A novel? The tradition is three try fail sequences, a deep despairing/inventing/thinking bit then the character gets mad, gets determined and heads for the last desperate fight and wins.

Then the wrap-up. Has the Character succeeded without effort or change? How boring! Show things like a determination to return home, or a refusal to return home and take up the old job in the same mindset. Show the confidence of a person who has fought and won.

Me? I was trying to write a police procedural set in my SF/F multiverse. Over achieved with three disconnected problems. So I split it into a mini-series. Two novella length mysteries complete drafts, and a partial that trying to turn into a thriller/portal invasion.

But the first one is polished and published!

28 comments

  1. I seem to fall into long str watches of characters talking to each other, without actually describing what they are doing while they are talking.

    So that bit when they’re trying (and failing) to find anything useful inn the book stacks, I need to go back and actually add descriptions in of how they’ve pretty much emptied three stacks of books into one giant pile, such when they have to call on the local deity of wet dirt for a hand, the humor of the situation can be properly appreciated.

    1. “Nope. This one won’t do.” She put it aside. He nodded and set one beside it, reached for the next . . .
      The librarian will be wroth . . . wait, did you say “wet dirt” in conjunction with “library”?

      1. (And I’m doing it again…)

        The diminuative little god surveyed the carnage, then planted her hands on her hips. “Involving the God of muddy puddles in a library? I’d say there’re easier ways to make a mess, but looks like you two’ve got that down.” She flashed a toothy grin, “Ok, what have you gotten up to this time? Not pickin’ out names yet, eh?”

    2. I actually sea-sawed between writing the dialog, and then trying to see what they were DOING while they were talking.

      Had some basic traits like Jon is *very* touch-adverse (basic abused geek type response– touch means someone *IS* going to hurt you, you just haven’t figured out how, yet) and the Not As Expected gaming friend is from an incredibly affectionate family in a very demonstrative culture.

      If they were cartoon characters, you’d have a skittish, hyper cat and a big, affectionate dog. Both are aware of this, Jon is better about trying to adjust for it consciously, his buddy is better at adjusting for it by instinct. Neither method is 100% effective.

      (Yes, I know it’s supposed to be see. But it does feel like being on the sea….)

      1. Oh, the going back through after I got the conversation down, to add in the actions, also let me read over phrasing and such to figure out if it *sounded* like each character. If I couldn’t tell from tone OR context who it was that was speaking, I changed it!

      2. Interesting. I’ve never heard of the touch aversion that way.

        I’ve generally seen it come from a different source: basically for someone who has no real physical or emotional context for touch, it can be more like a surprise quantum physics exam, that if you get it wrong people get all upset.

        It’s not so much a “oh this is going to hurt” as it is “I’m at the piano recital and I don’t know how pants work.”

        Not necessarily less traumatic, but you feel more like an alien from outer space.

        1. Mine’s based off of watching other Weird Kids in school– most start out with something like good startle-reflexes, and then in cases when teaching authorities can’t be bothered to do their jobs, the kid gets taunted because making someone flinch is funny. (When there isn’t flat-out criminal abuse involved, and I do have a Theory that one of the target selection options is that flinch.)

          I don’t have a problem with Known Friendlies touching me (I see and recognize them, or I’m at home, etc) and after the first couple of times at school or work where I responded (with justified confidence in parental support) the ones that would’ve worked up to assault didn’t do it any more, but I do *not* deal well with being touched in Professional situations where it can’t be expected.
          Grocery store tap on the shoulder, fine– someone puts an arm around my shoulders when I don’t see them coming, they don’t value their ribs.
          I like the Surprise Quantum Physics exam example– that’s a memorable way to describe the out of context confusion I’ve been considering a startle-reflex.

          Then turned it up with this guy so that there *isn’t any* non-professional situation (except for in computer games) and his culture doesn’t allow effective reactions. They’re not actively evil, but it’s pretty hellish.

          1. Interesting. I think the difference is, we were huge, so people never really tried to get physically abusive with us. It’s just that my family was not physically affectionate, so i had no programming to start from.

            Even the idea of some random stranger getting grabby ranks up there with the moon showing up at my doorstep asking for tea.

            1. :empathy: Sorry on the family, but glad on the big-enough-people’s-sense-kicked-in front.

              The sudden displays of inappropriate affection are generally when someone wanted something and figured that acting like we were buddies would pressure me into doing it. Unlikely to be applied in that form to a big guy rather than a small, motherly, somewhat scattered seeming gal. 😀

              1. It’s all good. And its not like there was not affection, it just wasn’t expressed through touch.

                If one of us needed to storm the beaches at Normandy, they were there. Or if we had questions on anything, we would get real answers, even after hours of these questions. We knew they always had our backs.

                It’s just touch wasn’t a thing.

                1. When I was in school, I worked really hard on controlling my temper instead of going berzerk, such that I think people thought I could not fight. I also had two brothers and we squabbled a lot, as kids.

                  So the first time somebody tried to grope me in a hallway at school… Um. Word got around.

                  But yeah, a lot of times in elementary, I was only approached in order to have signs slapped on my back, to attempt giving my shoes a “flat tire,” to kick or punch me, to pinch me, etc. S

                  But also a lot of kids just entering puberty are touch-averse, because everything is embarrassing and horrible for several years.

            2. Also, *thank you*- now I’ve got another conversation for the guys to have at some point, from an angle that wouldn’t have occurred to me, and it gives me a good way to get the Space Quaker’s personality fleshed out.

      3. I’m fairly touch averse; I like to be the one to initiate contact and hugs are only for my most dearest loved ones … when I am willing to be hugged. I went full Ender Wiggin on my brother when he was being physically obnoxious. Oddly enough, I love cuddling with dogs and newborns. One brother in law is also not a hugger so I shake his hand or give the Vulcan “live long and prosper” salute.

  2. I had to go back and fill in names, then add a few bridging scenes and bits, and clean up a little continuity. Now I have to write the rest of the book. 😛

    I’d guess I’m about 5/8 of the way through the story, because this refuses to let me break it into two chunks. Spoilsport.

    1. Names can be fun. I’m pretty horrible with them myself, but characters have to have them, and it helps if they are right for the character.

      If I can, I try to find names that mean something in a language that’s relevant to the character. It’s amazing how many common names mean something, even if no-one remembers them.

      1. I have a list of Saxon and Burgundian [but I repeat myself . . .] names. The list was at home, while I was writing by hand during lunch at Day Job, or on a different computer. So I just put in {name1} sort of tags and powered ahead.

      2. We translated all the kids’ names, just to be sure. My husband’s full name is something like “Precious Little Gift of God” while mine is “Love-worthy exhaustion.” (Choosing the most amusing of the possible meanings.)

        Decided my scifi setting needed some realistic but amusing problems…so the universal translators are great, but they tend to be pretty literal. So I’ve got a seven foot tall pakor freak whose name it “helpfully” translates as “Giggles.” (It’s a made-up diminutive of “Isaac.”)

        This also lets me have Proud Warrior Culture’s names translated with minimum handwavium.

      3. And some cultures (such as Chinese) still don’t have “standard” names, but instead name their kids whatever the heck they like (like in old Testament times – look up the meaning of Jacob’s son’s names, it’s a hoot because his two wives picked the names).

        From the examples I know, Chinese naming most often reflects the parents’ desires (e.g. Victory Piano, Academic Excellence), but sometimes a desire to kiss butt (Cultural Revolution examples: Red Soldier (for a girl!), Every Generation A Farmer).

        1. Could be worse. I have it on expert advice that the most common girl’s middle name in Vietnamese is, literally “Girl”.

          What’s worse, because of the way names are structured, when they come over to the US, it’s very common to accidentally end up with that in the first name spot on the passport.

  3. Good afternoon. This is very OT and I hope you forgive me. I found the Wind of the Gods series a few weeks ago and binged it. It was GREAT. There was a scene in one book that was set in the tavern and oners were coming to “talk” and Nil wound up goating them all. I cannot remember which particular book that scene was in and I would like to re-read it. Can you please tell me which one it was in? Thank you so much.

  4. If kindle would have a way of organizing a library (or show me how!) I could locate that reference for you. Is making amess of your Kindle collection related to a mess in a library – although putting water in it might be a bit too much. ti is when Xen brings in the oners for a peace talk and an obnoxious One leader tries to show off by dropping the first one (NIL) through the door.

  5. I’ve got a story I may have to redraft… one of the antagonists is turning out very different than I expected. Then I’ll have to tell the story I WANTED to tell. (I have learned a long time ago there is no fix, by and large.)

  6. Always remember to work on a copy and preserve the original. Just in case.

    (Then back them both up.)

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