Pantser’s and Plotter’s, and WriMo’s, Oh My!

Shield-Nano-Side-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiRes1338212_30238506October 31st is upon us. For most of America that means getting kids suited up in Batman and Vampire costumes, decorating them with glow sticks and orange pumpkin buckets, sending them out into the neighborhood to go door-to-door begging and candy. It means an incessant string of children at your own door, possible spooky decorations and perhaps a horror movie or three. However, for a small percentage of people out there, it also means something else: the horrifying moment when the clock strikes midnight and November 1st arrives.

Why would the beginning of a month be scary, you ask? It’s not the beginning of just any month, it’s the start of November and that means the official kickoff of NaNoWriMo. No, I didn’t just mumble under my breath and I am not speaking with my mouth full. Sound it out, you can do it: Na-No-Wri-Mo. Or in plain English the National Novel Writing Month aka November.

While men across the nation are attempting to display their virileness by not shaving, a group of us are sitting down in homes, offices and coffee shops across the country to prove to… well ourselves, that we can write an entire novel in just 30 short days. Ok, maybe not a whole novel, but 50,000 words… which by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s reckoning that’s a novel. (The Great Gatsby is exactly 47,094 words and you thought it was long in high school)

If you come in contact with a WriMo (that’s one of the many terms we use for ourselves) there are some terms and topics that might help you in dealing with them effectively. Besides providing them with ample amounts of coffee and chocolate, those are methods that will always have positive results.

The first term is Pantser. No, I’m not talking about when Jimmy Dannigan pulled down your shorts in gym class in the 5th grade and everyone could see you were still wearing Superman Underoos (not that there’s anything wrong with wearing them –pulls up his shorts-). A Pantser is a WriMo or writer who has decided to literally write their 50,000 word novel from the “seat of their pants”. The sit down in front of a blank computer screen, empty tablet, or notepad and write what comes to mind. Now, they may have done a little bit of planning. They’ve thought about the idea of their novel, where it is set, who is in it, but they have gone through the rigorous steps that their mirror opposite has.

This brings us to the second term: Plotter. While the term may bring to mind the latest Marvel villain, sitting in a lair with steepled fingers desperately thinking of how to undermine Tony Stark’s latest project, it may share a little in common. A plotter is a writer who has gone through great lengths to think of everything that is going to happen in their novel. They will have outlines, pages full of character sketches and perhaps even maps of their setting. Their October will have been almost as busy as their November is threatening to be.

When you come upon one of these diligent WriMo’s it is best to first assess the situation. There are some things you can look for and ask yourself before approaching them:

  1. Are they writing? If the answer is yes, perhaps its best to back away now, and leave the coffee and chocolate on a nearby table for them. While your interruption might not be unwelcome, there is a possibility that you will stop their train of thought.
  2. Are they not writing? If the answer is yes it may be helpful to ask them what they are writing about. Giving a writer the opportunity to look at the forest instead of the trees could help them get back on track.
  3. Are they doing anything else other than writing? If the answer to this question is yes, the best thing you can do is ask “Why aren’t you writing?” Writers by nature are procrastinators. They will find any excuse to avoid the blankness of a screen or page. They will update Facebook, tweet to their followers, post cute coffee cup pictures on Instagram or check the latest analytics on their blog. These are excuses, meant to keep the WriMo from finishing their goal. Help them get back on track.
  4. Finally, the best question of all – “Why are you doing this?” This question may get you replies from blank stares to “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a novel.” However, I am here to tell you the truth.

 

The real reason that these brave men and women have picked up pen, pencil or computer keyboard and set out upon a journey to bleed out 50,000 words in 30 days is this: It promotes literacy. It encourages not just adults, but children to read and write. The NaNoWriMo organization is a non-profit group that works nationwide with educators to help instill in our young, creative minds the desire to not just read stories, but to write them as well.

To help with this they take donations from the WriMo’s who participate in the month long writing endeavor and anyone else who wishes to pony up. To further encourage giving, each year duringNOWD-2014-Poster November they host the “Night of Writing Dangerously!” in San Francisco, CA. Here, WriMo’s that have been able to gather $275 or more in donations are treated to a special event and a 6-hour writing-thon! Imagine how many words one of us could crank out in that time.

Information on the writing-thon can be found at: http://nanowrimo.org/writeathon. And if you are so inclined you can make a donation to the NaNoWriMo organization through the Classy.org website. If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and any of my other’s on this blog, I would be honored if you would make such a donation through my own personal page: http://www.classy.org/dhsayers.

I started writing when I was 10 years old. I had a great deal of people, family, friends and teachers who encouraged me to do so. NaNoWriMo is an organization that can help promote and foster that kind of encouragement in our children.  So, the next time you see someone diligently writing away, or pondering in a piece of writing in your local coffee shop, give them a thumbs up. They’ll appreciate it. Cheers!

6 Ways to Write a Prophecy

Behind The Screen

The next section of this blog, that will be posted weekly, is one I have titled “Behind the Screen”. If you know anything about me, perhaps you know that I have loved tabletop roleplaying games for a very long time. I have played almost every genre of game and am always willing to try new ones. My first experience was at a Boy Scout camp during the winter when I was 10 years old. Us younger boys had to go to sleep, but the older scouts were allowed to stay up. I couldn’t sleep and slipped over to where they were huddled around a table playing the original Dungeons & Dragons.

A lot of old boys would have told me to go back to bed, or even told our chaperons that I was up, the Dungeon Master didn’t. He whipped out a halfling thief and asked if I wanted to play. It was all over after that. I’ve been playing roleplaying games for the last 30 years. Of that time 25 of it has been as a Dungeon/Game Master & Storyteller. So, I have a little bit of experience.

Almost any game you play has the possibility of using a prophecy. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a Wild West Space Opera, a High Fantasy Campaign, a Mind-bending Horror Chronicle or even a fast-paced Kill-or-be-killed gritty story, prophecies are a tool that any Game Master should be familiar with. You’ve seen them in countless books, movies and tv shows. Someone’s eyes go white, they talk in a raspy voice and they spew a string of riddle-filled words, leaving the hero of the story bewildered.

What I would like to give you are six easy ways to write and use a prophecy in your game. So, without further ado, let’s get into it, shall we?

1. Foreshadowing – Yes, I started out with the fancy English/Creative writing term. Foreshadowing can be a wonderful tool in your game mastering arsenal. What? You don’t have an arsenal? Perhaps a chest or tool box? Either way, you really need one. Foreshadowing allows you to set the mood and tone of the game. It allows you to place something dark, malignant and threatening on the horizon. Best yet, it can give your players a reason to follow the path of bread crumbs that you have laid down for them. The worst part of a game is when the players spit out every hook you’ve set in their shiny, pink jowls and wandered off to do something else… like start a bar fight and torch a tavern.

2. Player Inclusion –  Every so often you get that one player who says they are enjoying the game, and they answer questions when asked, but they don’t really do anything. They sit and listen, laugh, offer an out-of-character quip or two, but they don’t do a whole lot as part of the group. Sometimes this is because of the player, and sometimes it is because the character doesn’t fit well with everyone else. Maybe the rest of the group is gun-toting ex-Marines with a penchant for bar fights, and the character is a mousy librarian. A prophecy is one of the ways you can draw that player and character into the game. Have fate use that character to utter the prophecy. Suddenly those gun-toting ex-Marines have a reason for keeping the mousy librarian around, and protecting him.

3. Make it cryptic – Did you read the Harry Potter books? Let’s look at the prophecy that J. K. Rowling laid out through Sybill Trelawney – “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…” That’s some cryptic stuff right there. Phrases like “Thrice defied”, “born as the seventh month dies” and “neither can live while the other survives…” that’s some stuff that will bend your players’ brains. That’s what you want, too, prophecies, much like riddles in the game, aren’t there to confuse the character, they are there to challenge the player. If you throw a half-orc/half-giant dual wielding claymores at a character, he knows how to tackle it. However, when you slip in riddles and prophecies, the player is now challenged to unravel them and this does the one thing that we Game Masters strive for IMMERSION. We want the player to feel like they are part of the story, not just tossing dice, doing math and erasing health points. Start out with the bare bones idea: “The King will die in six months if he doesn’t get a broth made from snow lilies.” Now, take the nouns from this idea and twist them. Instead of the king, say “He who wears the laurel crown”, instead of six months say, “before the setting of the seventh moon”. Twisting these ideas, making them a bit more cryptic can help give that ominous feel and make your players think. They will have to remember that the cycle of the moon is 28 days, six months is roughly 184 days, meaning there will be almost 7 moon cycles.

4. A Way Out – Don’t just throw a prophecy at your players without having someway for them to combat at it, or thwart it, or keep it from happening. It took how many books for Harry to figure out that he had to die so that Voldemort could be killed? Players do not want to feel as if they are at the whim of fate. They want to be able to do something about it. They want to take action to stop the great evil from taking over their shiny little hamlet in the mountains. Just like any type of story there needs to be conflict, but there must be stakes as well. By providing your players with a or several routes to stop the prophecy from being fulfilled, you have enabled them and empowered them to take action.

5. Most prophecies are fulfilled on the way to… – preventing them. That’s right. One of the greatest ways a prophecy can come true is when people make an attempt to stop it. In keeping with our example, think about it. If Voldemort had never tried to combat the prophecy, he would never have killed James and Lily Potter. He would never have given part of his soul to Harry, which was the one thing that saved Harry more often than not. Use this. Not just on the side of your villains, but players as well. Watch, listen and take notes as your players plan to take action against your prophecy. Look for ways in which their actions might enable it to come to pass.

6. Fate is fickle – Yes she is. Many times gamers, readers, movie-goers, think of prophecy as being in the realm of the hero. Fate reaches out to give the protagonist a bit of cryptic information, which if they can puzzle out, will allow them to defeat the antagonist. When you are dealing with Gods and religion, this seems to be true. Don’t be so one-sided. Our world isn’t black and white, neither should your gaming world. Let your villains have prophecies too. Allow their foul, cthonic gods to reach out and bless them with information to achieving their goals. Better yet, have them reach out to your players. What better way to bring the villains’ plans to fruition than to have the players do it for you.

There you go! 6 ways to use and create prophecies that can improve your game, empower your players and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone. Cheers!

A Walk Through Wayward Pines

Through My Eyes

I’ve decided that part of my blog will have weekly sections. As you can see, from the above graphic, Through My Eyes, will be a review section where I talk about my take on everything from tabletop roleplaying games, video games, books, movies, television shows and even local or not so local places to eat.

This week I have selected the book “Pines” by Blake Crouch. I stumbled upon this little gem in the Kindle Lender’s Library. If you have Amazon Prime and you’re not using the lender’s library, you are

missing out. Each month you can look through the books that other Amazon Prime members have purchased and just have sitting around dormant on their devices, and borrow one. I figured, hey, it’s a free book, I might as well go for something that I would normally throw down my hard earned $6.99 for, right? In doing so, I found this book.

I’m going to admit something very embarrassing here: it first caught my eye because the nice, minimalist cover had a sticker on it emblazoned with “Major Television Event on FOX, coming soon”. I know, I know don’t judge a book by it’s’ cover. Yeah, sorry, too late for that one. It got me interested enough to read the blurb: “Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and now briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off.”

Ok, that’s enough for me, you got me, Mr. Crouch, hook, line and sinker. So, I borrowed it from… whoever. Took it with me on my last duty day on the ship and read it as I had time. According to my kindle it’s roughly 309 pages long, so not a hefty read, but enough to get my teeth into and savor for a day. The other thing that got my attention was the sources of Blake Crouch’s inspiration for this little set of books. Do you remember a little T.V. show called: Twin Peaks? Or maybe The X-Files? Yep, Blake Crouch’s writing style and ideas appear to be a result of awesome, mind-bending, eccentric plots like the ones we relished in the 1980’s & ‘90’s.

The book itself is written in a nicely paced style that kept me reading. When a book seems too pretentious and full of itself, I normally toss it to the side. Pines did not come across in this way. The other attribute to Crouch’s writing style, the conflict kept building. Here and there, he gives the reader a bit of break, slipping into the past, or ruminating on the main character’s thoughts, but after a short breather, we the readers are thrust back into the carnival-world of Wayward Pines and left thinking… WTF is going on here?

Pines is one of those stories that will keep you guessing, and just when you think you have it nailed down, that you understand it and are on an even playing field with the narrator, a new piece of information, event or character pops up that sends on a slippery slope into confusion again; a good confusion. I pride myself on being able to spot the end of a story right from the beginning. It is very rare that a storyteller can slip one past me. The last person who did that? M. Night Shyamalan with The Six Sense and The Village.

If you are looking for something to engage you, transport you into a freakishly twisted, confusing story of danger, intrigue and mystery, Pines is for you. Pick it up at your favorite bookstore or just snag it on Amazon. I promise you, you won’t regret it. Or perhaps the dreams it will give you will make you regret it. Either way, it is one helluva read. Cheers!

Click to find out more about Blake Crouch

Get a copy at Amazon!

Writing An INFJ Character

You’ve been diligently preparing for NaNoWriMo this year. You’ve nailed down a plot, pigeonholedinfj-head it into a genre, fleshed out your mood, theme and started to develop some conflict. You have a pretty good idea how it will begin, where it will go and some thoughts on where to end it. Then you turn to your main character. You’ve been quietly letting him sit on the sidelines while you prepare the stage for his glorious arrival upon it. He or she has been standing in the wings, just out of the lights, cast in shadows. You go through all of the tips and tricks that you’ve been able to find in blogs, books and through Google searches, and you’re starting to see him in a light that will allow you to write him. In one exercise you look over the Meyer Briggs’ Personality Test Instrument and decide that he or she is an INFJ. Great, one of the rarest personality types in the world… how do you write that?

For my money, there is no better way to understand this personality type than by talking to one. So, without further ado, hello, good morning, my name is Darius and I am an INFJ. The Introvert Intuitive Feeling Judge, sometimes called the Counselor and Idealist in various other personality tests, comprises 1% of the population, making it one of the rarest types of personalities around. To give you an idea of how to write an INFJ, I’m going to break down each section and then give you some practical examples from my own personality and life.

Introverted – Introverts are shy, quiet, reflective and normally associate with a small circle of friends, rather than larger groups. Wholeheartedly yes on this one. I am most certainly introverted. I do better in small groups of people, normally under 7, than I do with larger crowds. Even then, among close friends, I can still be quiet. It does not mean that I am not engaged, I believe in saying what needs to be said in the most concise manner possible to put across my thoughts. I would rather use two sentences to express myself than five pages of conversation. When I am in social situations I become drained. It takes effort and energy for me to engage with groups of people. The only way for me to gain that energy back is to get away from them, to be alone, in quiet and solitude. That is where an INFJ recharges his batteries.

Intuition – In the perceiving department there are two side: intuition and sensing. The INFJ takes in their information through intuition, rather than relying on their five senses. This could be a hard part of the INFJ to write. From my point of view intuition is innate. I still receive information from my senses, but when I need to make a decision about a person, a place or an event, those details go out the window, and the conclusion comes from my gut. I can look at a person and instantly know if I will like them or not, sometimes without even having spoken to them. I have been known to simply hear of an event happening and with no further facts on the matter decide that I do or do not want to attend. The INFJ character makes quick decisions, most times based simply upon how they feel about the subject rather than anything tangible.

Feeling – That brings us here, the opposite side of thinking. I am not saying that INFJ’s do not think, please do not mistake me there. I think all the time, in fact I do quite a bit of thinking, perhaps more than normal or more than I should. However, it is normally not thoughts that sway my choices, it is my feelings. Tied in with intuition, these feelings are much like the tides and the moon. One affects the other, and they work in harmony. In another light, I care less about what someone thinks of something, I care more about how they feel. When I am speaking with someone, I listen not to the words they are saying, but to the way they say it, to the emotions that play through their voice, their body language and tone. You could sit and tell me how much you love my writing, but if I am reading your body language, it might say something different.

Judgment – The two sides here are Judgment and Perception. Most people take in what is happening around them and go with the flow. INFJ’s do not. I, myself, prefer a bit of order to my life. I like things to happen a certain way, I love to be prepared and will plan for outcomes; sometimes even if they are extremely unlikely. I wake up normally around the same time every day. I follow a routine of preparing for my day and when that routine is interrupted it can have an effect. If I feel I might clash with someone over a topic, I have probably planned out the conversation ahead of time and looked at the various directions that discussion could go. This might be days, weeks or even years in advance. On the other hand, I could plan it all out in the three minutes you are saying your piece. Either way, I want to be ready.

INFJ’s come from many different walks of life. To give you some further resources in writing your INFJ character, here are some of the famous personalities throughout history who were INFJ’s – Jimmy Carter, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Crystal, Nicole Kidman, and Mark Harmon. If you are a Game of Thrones fan you may find this interesting as well. Characters from a Song of Ice & Fire who are INFJ’s – Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow and Maester Luwin. I guess that explains why Daenerys and Jon Snow are two of my favorite characters. 😉

There it is. More information on the actual life of an INFJ. I hope that this information helps you in writing your characters, breathing life into them and making them more real for your readers to enjoy. Cheers!

Six Ways to Develop Characters For Your Novel

In the Yin Yang of writing the two major parts of any novel are Plot & Characters. Without a plot,1386501_92761519 you are simply writing a conversation about a few characters who don’t seem to go anywhere or do anything. Without characters, you end up with a wonderful tale about cookie cutter people who do some amazing things for being Polaroid pictures.

In writing, as in life, it is all about balance. Today we will look at six ways you, the eager writer, can flesh out the characters of your novel and bring them to life before the reader’s very eyes. So, without further ado, drum roll please… drum roll? Oh never mind:

  1. Coffee & a Chat – A great way to get to know your characters is to have a conversation with them. (It is also a great way to be diagnosed with a mental illness!) Brew up your favorite cup of coffee, sit down at your writing desk with pen and paper, or laptop and strike up a chat with the character. Treat them as if you just met clandestinely at your local coffee shop and now you want to know all about them. Ask them where they are from, who their parents are, where they went to school, their hopes, their dreams, their loves and schemes. Become their best friend.
  2. “Tell me aboutz your relationship wit yer mudder…” – That’s right, apply some good old Freudian psychology. Understanding a person or a character’s relationship can tell you a lot about them. So, have your character flop down on the leather sofa, pull out your clipboard and scribble down all of the things they talk about when it comes to their relationships.
  3. More psychology – A great tool, for understanding anyone, is the Meyer-Briggs’ Personality Test Instrument (MBTI). It uses Jungian psychology to assess a person and label them according to a spectrum of introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Perhaps you’ve taken it, perhaps you haven’t. If you have not, I suggest taking it for yourself, to get an understanding of the questions and results. Once you are done, go back through and take it as your character. Understanding their personality type can be a great way to understand the character. (I’m an INFJ if you were interested 😉 ).
  4. Writing Prompts – You can find tons of these in books and on the internet. Here are just a few:
    1. http://awesomewritingprompts.tumblr.com/
    2. http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts
    3. http://www.warren-wilson.edu/~creativewriting/Prompts.php
    4. Do all of these from your character’s point of view. They can be a great help to gaining insight into them. Which do I use, you ask? -à http://www.amazon.com/The-A-M-Epiphany-Exercises-Transform/dp/1582973512
  1. Table-top Roleplaying Games – Ever heard of a little game that came out 40 years ago called Dungeons & Dragons? Wait, you’re not writing an epic fantasy in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien? You’re not going to be the next murderous author like G.R.R. Martin? You’re writing a horror/mystery/suspense/thriller/romance in outer space? Guess what? There’s a game for that. That’s right, find an RPG that corresponds to the genre and theme of your novel and create your character in it. Maybe even play a few games as them, it might give you a better understanding of how they make choices.
  2. Write, Write, Write – That’s right, write as your character. Even if your novel will be written in the First, Second, Third person omniscient point of view, write from the character’s perspective about… anything. Write about what they did on their summer vacation. Write about the time their parents took away the keys to their car because the put it in a ditch. Write about their first love. Every time you put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, writing about their history, you’ll gain another diamond to polish and perhaps incorporate into your novel.


There you have it. Six easy ways to get to know your characters and present them as living, breathing people to your readers. I hope this helps, Cheers!

The Art of Debate in the 21st Century

There is an art to debating. That art can be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece, with some of1156735_53212445 the greatest minds, Plato and Aristotle. It was further refined by the Roman Senators such as Pliny the Elder and Marcus Cato. However, it was not until the 18th century, that which has been termed the Age of Enlightenment, that debate became a true scholarly pursuit and art. Also called the Age of Reason, it began in the late 17th century with such people as Sir Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton. Across Western Europe thinking became fashionable. Salons were opened that catered to those who wished to chase not just scholarly pursuits, but wanted to engage others in discussing the very ideas that shaped the core of their society. From these places the art of debate was born.

Debate became such a part of society that by the end of the 17th century satirists would use it for IsaacCruikshank-DebatingSocfodder in their works.  In universities across Europe, debate societies began to spring up. The oldest one, the University of St. Andrews Debate Society can trace its origins back to 1794 and the Cambridge Union Society was founded in 1815. In these groups, young minds were able to but against each other in a controlled, civil fashioned the helped to foster some of the greatest changes Western society had ever know, changes that we can still feel to this day.

From a simple discussion of viewpoints between members of a town council, to the floor of the House of Representatives, debate is an intricate part of our society. Without certain mutually agreed upon rules, our arguments might devolve into simple shouting matches and name calling. Without it our founding fathers who never have been able to agree upon the articles of the Declaration of Independence and we would still be sipping tea, saying “Cheerio!” and “God Save the Queen!” (No offense to my British readers, you all are the Dog’s Bollocks, but hey, we Americans need our own culture.). Without debate our current government would devolve into petty squabbling, cursing and actual fights… For a bit of history, read up on Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner from the 1856 Congress. It will help if you add in the word “cane” to your Google search. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/preston-brooks-attacks-charles-sumner

With knowledge of the history of debate and an understanding of its role in our society, that brings me to the intent of this post. Stop allowing your discussions with other people via the internet to devolve into petty name calling, shaming, bullying and out-right threats of attack. You are better than this people! You don’t believe me, do you? You don’t think it happens, or that it happens that often. You think what I am referring to is the work of immature children who have been allowed to walk the digital byways of our culture lacking adult supervision. I hate to say this, but you are incredibly wrong. To prove my point I have found a few examples with which to rest my case:

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Now, because my Ma taught me to never present a problem without a solution, we have arrived at the portion of this post where I will stick my two cents in for what it may be worth. Taken from the International Debate Education Association (IDEA – http://www.idebate.org) we find this information:

Public Forum Debate
Public Forum Debate offers students a unique opportunity to develop on-their-feet critical thinking skills by situating them in contexts not unlike US political talk shows. Public Forum debaters must anticipate numerous contingencies in planning their cases and must learn to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances as discussions progress. Public Forum’s open-ended cross-examination format encourages the development of unique rhetorical strategies. Public Forum debates should be transparent to lay audiences, while providing students with real-world public speaking skills, through the discussion of contentious ideas.

Public Debate
IDEA believes that debate should not be limited to the setting of competitive debate tournaments in which only students take part, but instead feels that debate should operate within a broader context of public participation and should embrace different segments of a community. IDEA strongly encourages its members to promote and support public access to debate through the organization of public debates and by inviting the public to debate competitions.

 

Looking through the website you can find a great deal of information on debates. However, I am not suggesting that each time you get into an argument that you whip out a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order (www.robertsrules.org), but rather have an understanding of the structure of a debate. Each discussion or debate normally has a topic. I first learned about debate in high school. Yes, I am so old that we had this as a class. Our teacher, Mrs. James, walked us through the structure and rules of debates, before finally putting us into them. She would provide a topic, such as “Birth control, among high school students, is a necessary tool.” From there, we would be allowed to choose which side of the argument we stood on, whether we were pro, or for the topic’s idea, or Con, against the topic’s idea.

By the end of the semester we had become experienced in debating, and our final exam was a debate where the teacher chose the topic and which side we were on. I state this, because it brings about a necessary element to debate: research. Being given a topic is one thing. You probably have an understanding of it, and you know what side you are on. However, being given both the topic and the side from which you must argue, that necessitates research. I encourage you, when you find yourself in a discussion (especially online) to take stock of what you know and understand concerning its topic. If you do not have the necessary knowledge, perhaps you might want to brush up on the information before you dive in.

I’m not asking you to immediately search up the necessary details for a fifty page dissertation, but having a better than average knowledge of the topic will help to prevent your side of the argument from devolving into name calling and beating people with a cane.

So, a topic has been put forth, someone has made their opening statement and you’ve been allowed to speak your piece. Here is where the real meat and potatoes of debate comes in: the rebuttal. The person you are in a discussion with has the opportunity to refute your argument and evidence. Of course, when they are finished, you also have this ability, which will more than likely further the conversation, but then isn’t that what we want out of debate? We are looking for a venue to share thoughts, ideas and opinions. We are looking to do this intelligently, calmly and through the use of critical thinking. In doing so we are able to hear different sides of argument on the topic and in the end make up our own mind about it.

Sometimes this will lead to one person changing their mind on where they stand concerning the topic. That is something wonderful, because it concretely reinforces our need for debate. The swaying of minds to an opinion like our own. In other times will end in a stalemate, where neither side will budge from the opinion, but perhaps walks away a little bit wiser on another person’s viewpoints.

Finally, I would ask that besides researching to understand your topics, allowing your opponent the chance to speak their mind and opinion, and allowing for stalemates between the two of you, think of the ability to simply walk away from the conversation. Sometimes we cannot express ourselves in the most eloquent ways (see above examples). This does nothing to help our side of the argument and does everything to make ourselves look less than intelligent and credible. If you cannot find a way to speak your mind using intelligence, critical thinking and patience: walk away.

It can be difficult out there in internetlandia. There are trolls, seeking to draw us into explosive arguments simply for the joy of watching our little heads light up like Christmas trees before blowing the circuit breaker on the entire house. There are people out there who simply want to abuse and bully others of a differing opinion than their own. Don’t be them. Be intelligent, critical and most of all patient. Cheers!

10 Ways to Prep for #NaNoWriMo2014

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

So, you’ve bit the bullet, pulled the trigger, logged into the site and signed up! Congrats! You have done something only a small percentage of the population has done in a long time, you’ve made a commitment to your passion. 50,000 words in 30 days, however, from this side of November, can look daunting. I am here to tell you that it can be done. I did it myself last year and will do it again this year.

So from one Winner to another, and you are a winner, don’t let any Internet Troll tell you otherwise, I am going to share some of the things you can do to ensure that you succeed. So, without further ado, I am going to lay out for you 10 ways in which you can prepare to win National Novel Writing Month!

  1. Know the Journey – If you think about it, NaNoWriMo is just that: a journey. It has a starting point (November 1st and a blank page) and it has an ending point (November compass30th and 50K words written). Your novel is also a journey. It is something that you should look at not with anxiety, trepidation and fear, but excitement, wonder and joy. Just like any journey you are going to need a map. There are two ways you can go about getting that map:
    1. Plotter – You can sit down and break out a detailed map listing everything from your start, finish and all points between, with a daily schedule of stops, breaks and rests, i.e. an outline. The Plotters in NaNoWriMo are the ones that flesh nearly everything out before they start. They know exactly which narrative road they will take, who (the characters) are coming with them and what will happen between here and there. There are a number of resources out there for you to use if you choose to go the way of the plotter. Here are some that I suggest using:
      1. Annie Neugebaur’s Novel Outline with Prompts
      2. The Writer’s Craft’s Create-a-Character worksheet
      3. Finding names – Baby Names.com
    2. Pantser – The flip side of the coin from the Plotter, is this one. Here we have the carefree individual who wants to experience the journey more than understand all of its intricate workings. These writers, many times, know their beginning and ending, and little else. The write from the seat of their proverbial pants and make their map as they go along. Both the Plotter and Pantser have their pros & con’s. It is up to you to decide which method works best for your journey.
  2. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule – Ever been told that “in life you should always pay yourself first”? The idea being that when you receive your check each week or month, that you toss a portion into savings, so that when the time comes you have a nice little nest egg to retire on. The same holds true for writing during November. You have a nest egg that you are saving for (50,000 words) and you have only 30 days to do it in, set aside time each day to make that happen. Let me whip out some mad-math-skills on you. 50,000 words in 30 days = approximately 1,667 words per day. An average person writes 31 words per minute. 1,667 words/31 WPM = 53.77 minutes. Setting aside one to two hours per day should get you that daily quota.
  3. Ambiance – Ever been on a date and the place the other person picked just made you want to walk out, run back home, sit down in front of the latest episode of the Walking Dead and eat spaghetti? The same thing can happen with writing. You are about to do something intimate. You are going to sit down and have a conversation with your characters. To do so you need a place, an atmosphere and a feeling that is going to promote good writing. Now, maybe you’re a budding Stevie King and the only place you have to write is the laundry room of your one bedroom trailer, with a typewriter stuffed behind the water heater (bet you didn’t know that’s where Carrie was turned out from 😉 ), but more than likely you have a place that you can designate as your “Writing Zone”. I’m not promoting Feng Shui (look for other posts on that in the future), but having a comfortable area to write in is paramount. It will give you the feeling and the encouragement to bust out those 1,667 words per day.
  4. Boundaries – Just like everything in life you need to have them. Like the rules in Monopoly, they gave you guidance on how to run this writing life you are dipping your toes into. The boundaries are for you and everyone else. First, you need to set them for yourself. “I will write from 1pm to 3pm every day.”, “I will get up at 5am every morning and write 1,667 words.”, or “I will write 2 hours per day.” These are the promises that you make to yourself to complete each leg of the daily journey as you move closer and closer to 50K. KEEP THEM. Don’t make these promises and then idly toss them aside. It takes 6-8 weeks to build a new habit, you only have 4. Second, the boundaries for everyone else. Perhaps you are a great multitasker and can handle four to five different things at once. If I know you though, and I’d bet even money I do, you can’t. So while you are writing away at your 1,667 words each day, set the boundaries for the people you live with. Put up a sign that says “Writing in progress – Please Do Not Disturb”. Let people know that you are working.
  5. Keep a notebook with you – Not just for NaNoWriMo, but as a writer in general. You 1338212_30238506never know when inspiration may hit. On your morning commute to work, during a business meeting, at lunch, walking the dog, grocery shopping, picking up the kids from daycare or any of a thousand other daily tasks we do, the muse might speak. When she does, you need to be prepared. Keep a notebook and a pen/pencil available. If you want to be more modern download some of the great note-taking apps to your tablet or smartphone such as OneNote or Evernote. You’ll thank me later.
  6. Reward system – Devise a reward system. While positive reinforcement has a slower learn time than negative, it has a slower decay rate than negative reinforcement. Find a way to treat yourself when you accomplish your goals. This could be something as simple as “When I finish my 1,667 words for the day, I’m going to have a cup of coffee on the porch and read a book.” Or perhaps, “When I reach 25K words, I’m going to take myself out to dinner to celebrate!” Hell I’ve known writers who have said, “When I get 1,667 words written each day I’ll have a glass of wine.” Find what works for you and treat yourself as a reward.
  7. Splurge a little, you deserve it – There’s a meme that’s been going around about “dressing for the job you want” and there is some truth to it. When we do things, or batmanhave things that make us feel professional, it validates our decisions. Maybe it’s a nice pen, or a leather notebook. Perhaps a set of business cards, or a rocking domain name for your blog. Whatever it is, find something that will give you that “Hey, I’m a professional writer”- feeling.
  8. Toot your own horn! – Experts say that 90% of getting a job is networking. The same is true for writing. Let people know what you are doing. Post it on Facebook, Tweet about it, put up excerpts of your novel, Instagram pictures of your coffee cup. Not only does it let people know what you are doing, it builds interest in the event itself. It also can do one more thing. If people know you are writing a novel in 30 days… they’ll ask you about it. So when you’re feeling lazy one Sunday morning and you tell yourself “Naaah, I’ll make up that 1,667 words tomorrow…” and Aunt Sally calls to ask how the novel is coming along… you might think twice about procrastinating.
  9. Talk with other writers – NaNoWriMo is a community event. Weeks before it kicks off on November 1st, the event staff has wiped the forums clean and posted fresh, shiny new ones, and people begin talking. There are forums on almost every genre available, divisions by age groups and lifestyles, writing groups starting up and discussions of plot, characters and more. Dive in to this with both feet. Start talking to other writers about what you plan to write and if you don’t know what you are going to write, or only have a partial idea, there are a great number of people who can give you assistance, advice and be a sounding board.
  10. Don’t dwell on failure – if you done NaNoWriMo in the past and you did not complete. That’s the past. This year is a new slate. Start from scratch, think about what might have tripped you up the previous years and think about what you can do to overcome those obstacles. When the event begins, and you miss a day of writing because little Susie decided to punch her math teacher in the kneecaps for not letting her use the red crayons to make her cupcake monster picture and you had to spend half the day begging the principal not to expel her, don’t be hard on yourself. Life happens. To quote Thomas Wayne: “What do we do when we fall…?” – “So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”

 

Take these ideas to heart, use from them what works for you and share them with others. And if this little list did some good for your writing journey, let me know! I love feedback. Cheers!