Category Archives: Learning to Lie

A “series” of problems

When I hear the word “dystopia,” my mind immediately jumps to the novels I loved in high school: Brave New World. 1984. Animal Farm. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve been so critical of the YA dystopias that are so popular today – I’m always comparing them to what I consider the classics, and they never stack up. I want novels that critique society, not stories about girls who are trying to decide which guy she most wants to date. That’s not to say that there can’t be romance also, but I don’t want that to be the main focus (at least not without a good reason).

I would consider my current WIP a New Adult dystopian series. It does have romance, but the romance is necessary for the plot to work. It’s definitely more social commentary than romance. I’m not saying it’s as good as the classics, as it’s definitely not, but those are the novels that I’m using for inspiration. And there’s where we start to run into a problem. The classic dystopian novels all ended in a particular way. They weren’t happy. They weren’t even hopeful. Yet they were appropriate for the novel.

When I first came up with the idea for ALONE, it was a short story, and it had a very unhappy ending, the sort of ending I was used to reading about in high school. This was actually the short story I wrote for my final project in college. It went through so many drafts before I finally settled one, and I still can’t quite remember if it had a happy, sad, or hopeful ending.

Now that I’m writing it as a novel, I’ve had to reconsider the entire plot. I made the main character younger, and I’m focusing a lot more on other aspects of the world, not just the way women are treated (which was what sparked the idea for this novel). Suddenly, I realized that this story would work best as a trilogy, as there was much more to the story than I originally though. My original ending was a cop-out so I didn’t have to worry about what would happen after a particular series of events transpired.

So now I’m trying to figure out what will happen next, and I’m running into a problem. The classic novels all had pretty realistic yet grim endings. The current novels all feature an eventual overthrow of the oppressive government. The latter idea is so much more fun, but it requires the characters to stand up and act in a way that I don’t think would ever really happen.

I guess I’m just a pessimist at heart. I think humankind in general (or at least in America) is pretty horrible. I think corporations are taking over the country, and I don’t think regular people will ever win, partly because they’re not powerful enough but largely because I just don’t think people care about anything, at least not enough to really do anything about it.

This is the same problem I had when I was trying to plan my “fantasy” (read: medieval-ish setting without magic or any other fantasy elements) series. The government was evil and needed to be stopped, but I couldn’t imagine a realistic scenario when that would actually happen.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that a lot. Maybe I need to have more faith in my imaginary people. After all, if you push people far enough, they’ll eventually break and fight back. Right?

What about you? Ever had conflicting emotions about the believability of your work?

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A Brief History of NaNo

I’ve seen a few posts about people’s NaNo histories, and it’s inspired me to write my own. Besides, I really have nothing to do for the next few hours. I have a meeting with my adviser at 4:15 (she forgot about our last appointment on Monday). After that, the plan is to come home and nap for a few hours so that I’m well rested for when NaNo starts at midnight. Somewhere in the next three hours I should also make chili so that I have something to eat tomorrow while I’m supposed to be writing. I can’t afford to waste any time cooking tomorrow. But more on that later.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo October 31, 2007. I had heard about NaNo several months before. I read a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction at the time, and many of my favorite authors were warning their readers that they weren’t going to be updating for a while because they were going to be busy with this strange thing called National Novel Writing Month. I looked it up to see what they were talking about, and I thought it sounded stupid. You didn’t get anything for it if you won, and it seemed like a huge waste of time. I rolled my eyes and moved on to other things. (For the record, I thought Harry Potter sounded stupid when I first heard about it, too. Then I read the first book and became obsessed for the next ten years. So you can probably see where this is going.)

Flash forward a few months to Halloween 2007. It was my first Halloween in college. I was coming back from the dining hall when I saw a huge poster on the wall near the elevators advertising NaNoWriMo. I had seen it before but never really given it much thought, as I remembered thinking it was stupid the last time I looked at it. I’m not sure what made this time different. Perhaps I was feeling board and lonely. After all, it was Halloween, and I was preparing to spend the rest of my night alone in my room. Perhaps I just needed something to do.

Whatever the reason, I decided to check out the NaNo site again. This time, it sounded like something that would be a lot of fun. I registered that night and then came up with something to write. I had been reading a lot of personal essay collections at the time, and it seemed like fun. (Apparently I hadn’t read the rules closely enough to know that it was supposed to be fiction, but that’s okay.) That’s the only reason I was able to finish my first year, I think – whenever I got bored with one topic, I could move on to another. I ended up finishing my 50k a few days early, and it was a lot of fun. I absolutely hated the novel I wrote, but that’s okay. I learned a lot. For instance, I learned that I should never try to write a humor book again. Exclamation marks should be used very sparsely. Parenthetical asides are not as entertaining when I write them (although I obviously haven’t gotten over using them completely).

The next year, my roommate and our friend who lived next door all tried to do NaNo. I was going to try to pants that novel. I wanted to start with several characters but not plot. I somehow ended up with an overarching plot before I started writing. I had three characters in college who were going to learn things about themselves and each other. I got 10,000 words in and then stopped. This is the same novel that I started writing during the August Camp NaNo. I’m also going to try to finish it this year, but we’ll see how that goes.

In 2009, I got about 5,000 words in before I stopped. I was writing a fictional account of me and my boyfriend. A horrible idea in hindsight, but that’s what I was going to write. It was going to be a gift for my boyfriend. And then I realized that he wasn’t going to read it, and I lost interest. Lesson learned that year: you have to write the novel for yourself, first and foremost. If you don’t want to read it, you probably shouldn’t be writing it.

By NaNo 2010, I had graduated college and moved back home to Georgia. That’s when I joined the NanoLanta region and started attending write-ins and hanging out in the chat room. I found a novel idea that I really liked (Learning to Lie), and I wrote 68k that year. I still don’t have that novel where I want it, even after two drafts (it’s part of a trilogy, and it’s hard to write the first if you have absolutely no idea what will happen in books 2 and 3, or at least it is for me).

Last year was my first year joining the Overachievers thread. My goal was to finish an entire novel in a month. At first I was aiming for 75k. Then I upped it to 100k. Then 150k. I ended up writing 222,545 words. I finished Tilt Your Head and Smile (103k), finished writing my second draft of Learning to Lie (about 51k), started The Story of Em (54k), and started a fan fiction story (14k) because I needed something to write when I was stuck on the other ones. It was amazing.

This year, I have already upped my goal to 300k, and that is because I’m joining a small group of insane wrimos who are going for 50k on day one. You can follow us on Twitter if you search #50kDayOne or #50kkillmenow. This is my first year attempting this, and I’m not sure if I can do it, but I have the entire day off, so we’ll see. That’s why I want to have food already made for tomorrow and why I’m going to take a nap when I get home this evening – I won’t have much time for sleep tomorrow. I know I can do 50k in three days, as I did it for #50kweekend last year. One day might be pushing it, but we’ll see. If nothing else, I’ll start the month off with a big lead, and that would be exciting, too.

Now, the novels that I plan to write this month – in case anyone’s curious.

1. Zombies (working title)
Bath salts + flesh eating virus = zombies
Follows a group of six 20-somethings and two children as they struggle to survive a zombie outbreak. Not my usual genre at all, but it seemed like fun when I thought of it. There was a dare on our regional forum/chat (no longer recall which) to take “a man goes to the store” and make it into a tragedy. That’s basically what I’m doing. I also partly want to show that you can turn anything into Lit Fic – even zombies. 🙂

This will be the project I start with tomorrow, as it’s only half serious, and I won’t feel horrible if it ends up being horrible tomorrow. I mean, I want it to be good, and I have higher hopes for it than I should given the nature of it, but I don’t care about it as much as I do the others.

2. For Real This Time
After a traumatizing event at the end of eighth grade, Maggie Fitts , less affectionately referred to by her classmates as “Maggie Doesn’t Fitts,” is determined to lose weight – for real this time. When she meets Parker Williams, she’s even more determined to lose the weight. If she can pull this off, just maybe she can start high school with a new body and a new boyfriend.

But then Maggie’s parents give her news that threatens to destroy not only her diet but also her way of life. Will she find the strength to deal with her problems and stick with her diet, or will she succumb to the sadness that threatens to overwhelm her? And is losing weight even that important anymore?

3. Alone (working title)
In 2018, Congress passed what have come to be known as the Family Values amendments. The Personhood Amendment declares that life begins at conception and ends at natural death. The Marriage Amendment declares that marriage is between a man and a woman. It further states that only married couples can adopt children. As a result, half of all children are raised in overcrowded orphanages, anxiously awaiting the day they turn 18 and are released on their own without anyway to go.

Lucy Higgins has one year before she turns 18 and becomes yet another homeless orphan. Her only hope of salvation is the Exxmart Motors Lottery. Eligible students get to enter the Lottery, and four lucky winners – one from each of the four schools in the Atlanta region – get to go Etherton Academy, the prestigious private school uptown. Students at Etherton get a full scholarship to college, and Lucy knows that if she can just get in, she will have a chance at a real life.

But life’s not that simple. Just when things are finally starting to turn around for her, she gets news that threatens to undo everything she’s worked for the past seventeen years. Can she find a way out of the situation, or will she end up like every other teenage girl she’s ever know – cold and alone?

I’m not sure how successful I’ll actually be this month, but I’m hoping to get first drafts written for each of these novels. My plan is to finish these drafts and then spend a good portion of next year editing them. I think that was part of my problem this year – I was so focused on getting first drafts finished that I never finished editing anything. That’s going to change next year.

Less than eleven hours until NaNo starts!

April projects bring writing lessons

So, it’s been a while since my last post. I’d like to say it was because I was writing so much, but that would be a lie. Most of my time has been spent reading vegan websites and on weight loss forums. The good news is that I have been cooking a lot of plant-based, whole foods and have lost about 5 pounds. The bad news is that I didn’t write the 30k I was supposed to this month. But I’m okay with that, because I did learn a lot in the past few days.

First things first, though: I wrote 4,604 words yesterday, which translates to about 20 screenplay pages. I won Script Frenzy with an hour and a half to spare, which was exciting. I still have 7 scenes left to write (including the super long climax scene), but I’m hoping to finish that either today or tomorrow.

It’s funny – for the past year or so I’ve thought of myself more as a pantser than a plotter. Sure, I spend most of my time planning stories, and I usually have at least a basic outline when I start writing, but I generally toss that outline fairly soon into the writing process and just write what comes to me. I always have to start out with a basic overview of what will happen, but if I get too specific in the outline, I either don’t finish the story or completely ignore the outline.

But I realized something yesterday, after I spent a fair amount of time staring out the window and writing a new outline for the end of Degeneration: I wrote more of my screenplay in one go after writing that outline than I had the rest of the month, and I like what I wrote yesterday more than I like the rest of the script. I’m realizing that it’s not the outlines that were hindering me before – it was the fact that those outlines were horrible.

Take my first outline of Degeneration – I have at least one bullet point for each scene, but there are no real specifics. I thought this would help me write, since I would have more freedom, but I just ended up spending a ton of time staring blankly at my screen, trying to figure out what to do next, how to get from one bullet point to the next. It would be like trying to drive from Georgia to New York without a map – or, rather, with a map of Georgia and a map of New York. Sure, I might know where I want to be at the end, but if I don’t know how to get there, can I really be surprised when I end up way over in Kansas? It’s not that maps aren’t helpful; it’s just that I didn’t have the right maps.

What else happens when I don’t have the right maps? Well, I stall for time. I hate being lost, so I’m not going to speed off at 70 mph in what could very well be the wrong direction. So, instead, I’ll spend a lot of time right where I am. I’ll take a walk in the park. I’ll visit each store in town, examining every single knickknack in the place, prolonging the moment when I’ll have to leave and actually make a decision. That’s why I was at page 45, and they had only just arrived at her grandparents’ house, even though that scene was supposed to occur between pages 20 and 25. That’s why, when I was writing Learning to Lie, it took me almost 20,000 words before something interesting happened. I didn’t know where I was going, so I just rambled for a while, hoping that by the time I stopped rambling I would know where I was supposed to be going next.

That’s not to say that outlining is the only way to write. There are plenty of people who are gifted at just jumping in the car and knowing instinctively where to go. There are also others who set out with no destination and just sort of drive around for a while, enjoying the ride. I admire these people, but I am not one of them. I need an outline, especially when it comes to the second draft.  That was my biggest mistake with Learning to Lie: I wrote draft 1 with only a basic plot idea, and I learned a lot from it, but I didn’t then stop and take the time to plan the whole series. I just planned the first one, and now I’m going to have to rewrite a large part of that one once I finally figure out where it’s going long-term.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a screenplay to finish. 🙂

One step forward, two steps back…

I have two more days before the new year starts. That means I have two more days before my year of writing begins. I’m rather nervous. I’ve spent so much time waiting for the new year to begin so I can start writing, when I completely forgot that I should have been editing Learning to Lie.

I’ve printed out the second half that I wrote during NaNo this year, and I’ve started reading it. The problem is that I’m not really sure where I want it to go. I have a huge plot hole that I created for myself. I could have just left it alone but no – I had to make Isri know something that Loki has to figure out, only I have no idea what it could be. Something about what happened when he was younger and at war, but I’m not sure what else.

I’m not due to start working on the sequel until June anyway, which means I have time to work on it, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to fix the plot hole in time. I really like that novel, and I’m really excited to write the rest of it. I love my characters, and I can’t wait to see what else they do. I just can’t get completely behind that novel because I don’t have it all planned yet. That was find when I was writing the first one, but now it’s getting to the point where things are going to start happening. They need to go see Kali’s family, but I can’t think of a good reason for it yet, and I’m not sure what to do about the whole Isri thing.

That said, I’m still looking forward to the year of writing. Worst case scenario, I write something else instead of the rest of the Learning to Lie series. I have a lot of ideas. I just need to write them.

I’m also trying to learn Dvorak before the new year. I should have started sooner. I know where all the keys are, which is great, but I’m still really slow. I’m averaging about 16 words a minute, which puts me around 1k an hour. That’s not horrible or anything considering I haven’t even been learning for a week, but I can theoretically type 5k an hour in Qwerty. I need to type at least 4k a day in January to hit my goal – I can’t risk it by typing that slowly.