The Finish Line!

Athlete Running Through Finish LineI won! I crossed the NaNo finish line Saturday evening, November 29th. I’d even had to work all day, but I got up and wrote that morning and that evening.

I won NaNo at 50,092. I got REALLY behind the middle of the month and was about to give up. but I put in the effort and even wound up writing almost 10,000 words in one day.

I think a lot of it had to do with the tarot reading I did earlier where The Sun showed up as the possible outcome of my doing NaNo this year. I hadn’t won NaNo the past few years and was afraid I was going to wind up not winning again this year.

ancestral-path-tarot - CopyI kept seeing that Sun card whenever I wanted to give up. It kept me going. Another thing I did is to stop doing certain things.

I got the idea from a book to make a list of things to stop doing. I call it “The To Stop Doing List”. Kind of a mirror image of a To Do List.

One of the things I stopped doing was watching television or surfing the internet when I was bored. If I’m bored now, I walk, stretch, read or, most especially, write.

My NaNo novel needs a LOT of work but it’s a complete story and it’s done.

Hope things went well with your NaNo novels and if not, do like I did and try again next year. And you don’t even have to wait until next November. Every month can be a “book in a month” month.

I’m certainly planning on writing another book in a month! The important thing about winning NaNo is not just writing 50,000 words in a month. It’s setting myself a goal and achieving it, no matter how rough things get.

I’ll always have to keep trying and struggling and making mistakes and even failing. But I don’t plan on ever giving up.


NaNoWriMo Prep #12 – The Six Stage Plot Structure

Book CoverMichael Hauge is a script consultant and author. His book Writing Screenplays That Sell has been in print for over 20 years. He’s also collaborated with Christopher Volger, author of The Writer’s Journey.

Hague’s plot diagram follows both the outer and inner journey of the character. He also divides the story into three acts with Act Two having a mid-point break.

I’m going to use James Cameron’s Avatar as an example of this plot structure. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Hauge Plot Diagram

Avatar 1In Act One, the story is set-up and a new situation is introduced. Jake Scully, the story’s hero, is a disabled vet. When his twin brother is killed, Jake is offered the job of piloting his twin’s avatar, which plunges Jake into a new situation on the world of Pandora.

As it relates to Jake’s inner journey, he is living fully in what Hauge calls The Identity. The Identity is the emotional armor a character wears to protect him or herself from some wound, whether emotional or physical.

In Jake’s case, his identity is to do as he’s ordered and to operate as the former soldier he still sees himself as despite his disability. The other soldiers look down on him and don’t consider him one of them, especially since, according to Jake, they’re only on Pandora for the money.

The Essence is who the character is when that emotional armor is stripped away In Jake’s case, deep inside he wants to be a hero, a warrior who yearns for something truly worthwhile to fight for. He doesn’t want to fight just for money. He wants something more.

In  Act One the character also gets a glimpse of what they could be if he or she were living fully in their Essence. In this case, Jake’s avatar, the alien body he will pilot using his mind, is a glimpse of who and what Jake will become over the course of the story’s journey.

In Act One, there are also two Turning Points. Turning Point One is  the Opportunity. In Avatar, it’s the offer made to Jake Avatar 2to start a new life on Pandora. The second Turning Point, Change of Plans, is the Turning Point that pulls the character into Act Two. In Avatar, the second Turning Point for Jake is when  he is separated from the other scientists and soldiers and winds up being found by Neytiri.

Not only is Jake now firmly in Act Two but he’s also in a different world, the world of the Na’vi or what Campbell and Vogler call the Special World.

In Act Two, as it relates to the Outer Plot, Jake is making progress on his goal to learn more about the Na’vi. But as it relates to the Inner Journey, Jake is still operating from his Identity as a soldier. He’s been ordered by the story’s antagonist, Quaritch, to obtain military intel on the Na’vi so Quaritch can force them to comply with the company’s desire to mine on their land,

However, one of the functions of Act Two is to move the character along both the Outer and the Inner journeys. As it relates to the Outer Journey, the hero faces more complications and higher stakes in achieving his goals. As for the Inner Journey, the character wavers between the Identity and the Essence.

Avatar 3This is illustrated when we see Jake switch back and forth from his disabled human body to his strong, powerful Na’vi body. He’s also becoming more and more like the Na’Vi and, at the midpoint of the story, or as it’s called the Point of No Return, Jake not only becomes a member of the Na’vi, or the People as they call themselves, but he and Neytiri make love and she tells him they are mated for life.

Jake is now in the second half of Act II, the stage known as Complications & Higher Stakes. We see this when the company invades the grove where Jake and Neytiri made love and destroys a sacred tree. We also see that Jake is fully committed to his Essence, his warrior Na’vi self, when he attacks the soldiers and bulldozers. He’s crossed a line of no return here. He’s made his choice and he’s choosing the Na’vi over the company and his fellow soldiers, although at this point Jake still hopes to find a way for the two to live together.

Hauge Plot Diagram

The Midpoint was Turning Point 3. Turning Point 4 is known as the Major Setback and it’s the point that also turns the story from Act Two into Act Three.

When Jake tries to warn the Na’vi that their home is about to be destroyed, they find out that he was essentially nothing but aAvatar 4 spy, gathering intel for the humans. Jake tries to tell them that over time he came to love not only Neytiri but the Na’vi people, but they reject him and cast him out. Jake now has nothing and is nothing, neither a part of human society or the Na’vi. It’s his dark night of the soul, the Black Moment, and he literally wanders alone in the wilderness.

At this point, the hero may be tempted to retreat back to his Identity. If this happens, the story turns out to be a tragedy. But Jake does not do this. He chooses to become more fully Na’vi and even more of his Essence by taming a Toruk, a dragon-like predator both feared and honored by the Na’vi. By taming the Toruk, Jake regains the trust of the Na’vi, including his beloved, Neytiri. He rallies the Na’vi for battle and we are now fully in Act Three.

There are two major stages in Act Three: The Final Push and the Aftermath. There is also one final Turning Point, the Climax.

Avatar 5In Act Three of Avatar the humans are planning one final battle to utterly destroy the Na’vi. In response, Jake organizes all the tribes of the Na’Vi to fight the humans.

In the climax, the hero and the villain usually come together for one final, decisive confrontation. This happens when Quaritch attempts to defeat Jake by killing his human body and incapacitating his avatar. However, Quaritch is killed and the humans that had wanted to despoil Pandora and destroy the Na’vi are defeated and forced to return to Earth.

The Aftermath not only resolves the story questions but shows the transformation of the main character from Identity to Essence.

In Jake’s case, he not only literally forsakes his human body, which represented his Identity, but his consciousness is transferred permanently from that body to his Na’vi avatar body, the symbol of his Essence.

You don’t have to worry that following Hauge’s structure will cause you to write a NaNo novel like Avatar. Keep in mind that story structure is like a cup. You can pour coffee, milk, water, wine, hot chocolate, etc in it. Structure is nothing more than a skeleton upon which you flesh out all kinds of stories; mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, romances, literary, etc. each one as unique and individual as you are but supported by a strong structure that will keep your story from meandering or falling apart.

NaNoPrep #8 – Need Help with Your Prepping?

Microsoft Clip Art

Are you still searching for an idea or need some additional incentive for your NaNo Prep?

Here are a list of books and tools you might find helpful.

No Plot? No Problem – A Low Stress High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days  by Chris Baty – This is THE book if you’re doing NaNoWriMo as its written by the founder, Chris Baty. There’s a newly revised, updated and expanded version available.

Ready Set Novel – Plan and Plot Your Upcoming Masterpiece – Also written by Baty and others from NaNoWriMo

No Plot? No Problem Novel Writing Kit – Comes with a booklet, button, calendar, etc.

First Draft in 30 Days – A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript by Karen S. Wiesner

Book in a Month – The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Amazing Story Generator – Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts by Jason Sacher – This is a fun book. Some of the ideas are wacky but could generate a story idea you wouldn’t have thought of in a million years!

The Storymatic – Six Trillion Stories in One Little Box – It’s filled with cards that you can mix and match to come up with ideas for stories.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas. – A Writer’s Guide to Transforming Notions into Narratives – Just what the title says. A guide to coming up with ideas for your stories.

These last two books are less about writing a book in a month but more about keeping your sanity while doing so.

The Kick-Ass Writer – 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published & Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig

Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path – The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott – I HIGHLY recommend you get this book and read it because you’ll find that even after finishing your novel on a month, there are more pitfalls, detours, howling caverns of despair on the writer’s path. This book will help you not only navigate them but enjoy the process.

If you have any books you’d like to share please do.

Keep on prepping!

NaNoWriMo Prep # 7 – What’s Your Character’s Sign?

TaurusAs I mentioned in a prior post, I don’t do astrological charts for my characters but as a rule I do know what sign they are. Why?

I find astrology useful when I want to go into more depth with a character. If, for example, I know my hero is a Taurus, I can either look up the characteristics of a Taurus in one of my tarot books, such as Linda Goodman’s classic Sun Signs, or go to any of the numerous astrology websites and look up the traits there.

Let’s see what Linda Goodman’s book says about Taurus. What’s great about Goodman’s book is not only does she talk about the sign in general, but she also details what a Taurus man, woman, child, boss and employee would be like. And her writing is very personable and fun to read.

Here are some examples:

Taurus in General

“The bull seldom rushes forward to stomp on your toes. He simply wants to be left alone. Don’t disturb him and he’ll remain content. Press him and he becomes obstinate.”

The Taurus Man

“The bull may take a long time deciding if he wants you for his woman. He’s not going to execute a flashy swirl dive into a pool of romance and discover on the way down that someone forgot to fill it with water.”

The Taurus Boss

“He is determined to give everyone a fair break. He won’t judge hastily. He won’t expect miracles overnight, nor will he mind if you’re a little slow in catching on to his methods and his very set procedures.”

Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs is full of gems like the above and, personally, if you were to get only one book on astrological personalities, I’d recommend this one.

Ms. Goodman wrote another book on astrology Linda Goodman’s Love Signs. This book pairs up the different sun signs romantically, so if you wanted to know how your Taurus Man would fare with an Aquarius Woman, this book will help you. It’s also a fun read and whenever I read it I can’t help seeing my characters in action.

Another book on romantic astrological couplings is Cosmic Coupling by Starsky & Cox. This book, however, doesn’t just focus on heterosexual astrological pairings. It also address both gay and straight pairings.

Another helpful book is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sextrologywhich will give you some ideas of the sexual traits of each sign.

Finally, if you find that most astrology books focus too much on positive traits, try Born on a Rotten Day – Illuminating and Coping with the Dark Side of the Zodiac by Hazel Dixon-Cooper.

What about that Taurus we were talking about earlier? Sounds like a pretty nice guy, right?

Well, if you look up the sign of Taurus in Born on a Rotten Day you’ll find that he can also be jealous, possessive and obsessive. Piss him off and he’ll hold a grudge. Seriously hold a grudge.

I’ve found that Born on a Rotten Day is really helpful for either coming up with negative traits for my characters to balance out the positive ones or for creating villains or antagonists.

And, of course, you don’t have to believe in astrology to use it for creating characters. Just think of it as another tool in your toolbox of techniques and strategies for NaNoWriMo.

Oh, and I just remembered. Corrine Kenner wrote a book called Astrology for Writers.

NaNoWriMo Prep #4 – Best Books for Creating Characters

Lady Books

How is your NaNoWriMo prep going? I’m concentrating on characters for the next week or so. I want my NaNo novel to be the first in a series so I’ll be spending more time on characters than I usually do.

Today I’m going to share some of the best books I’ve read on creating characters. You won’t have time to read all of them before NaNoWriMo starts, but when the insanity of NaNo is over and you have time, you can read them at your leisure.

If nothing else, glancing them through should give you some ideas.

The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines – Sixteen Master Archetypes – Tami D. Cowden, Caro LeFever, Sue Viders – Not only gives you sixteen archetypes to choose from, eight male and eight female, but demonstrates how these archetypes but clash and mesh.

Bullies, Bastards & Bitches – How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction – Jessica Page Morrell – Need villains and/or bad guys/gals? This book will help you create them.

The Power of the Dark Side – Creating Great Villains and Dangerous Situations – Pamela Jaye Smith – Another good book for creating villains, anti-heroes, etc. She talks about what’s so appealing and necessary about having the dark side in your fiction.

45 Master Characters – Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters – Victoria Lynn Schmidt – Similar to Cowden, LeFever and Viders’s book above but bases the archetypes on mythic characters such as Hera, Zeus and Apollo

A Writer’s Guide to Characterization – Archetypes, Heroic Journeys, and Other Elements of Dynamic Character Development – Victoria Lynn Schmidt – A companion book to 45 Master Characters but goes into more depth as to how these archetypes interact.

Characters & Viewpoints – Orson Scott Card – A classic book not only on creating characters but how using viewpoint. Highly recommended.

The Art of Character – Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film and TV – David Corbett – This is a new purchase. I’ve only had time to read the first few chapters but already I’m impressed.

The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits – Includes Profiles of Human Behaviors and Personality Types – Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D – This is a book to have on your research shelf. It’s full of information about all aspects of human behavior. Excellent resource

Tarot Thursday – The Chrysalis Tarot

The Chrysalis Tarot

I placed my order today for this tarot deck, which came out this month and, from what I’ve heard, is already going into its second printing! Amazon was out of stock of it for nearly two weeks!

I can see why. Have you seen this deck? It’s absolutely gorgeous and my fingers are itching to start working with it.

The deck is illustrated by Holly Sierra. I wasn’t familiar with her artwork, but I’m definitely a fan now. You can check out her work at her website.

It’s written by Toney Brooks, who also writes for the Chrysalis Tarot blog over at its website.  I highly recommend you check out the blog because not only can you see more of the images of the cards, but the posts are quite insightful.

They also have a page over at Facebook. There’s even more there about the evolution of the deck, stunning images from the cards and information about accompanying tarot bags and other items you can order.

Oh, yeah, I’m definitely spreading the word about this deck! I should have mine next week and after I’ve had a chance to work with it, I’ll write up a review.

The World Card from the Chrysalis Tarot – Art by Holly Sierra

Just to give you an example of why I’m so stoked about this deck, check out The World card from the deck. Not only is it absolutely beautiful, but the imagery evokes all that  The World card is about. Success, joy, wholeness, happiness, fulfillment.


How Do You Rule in Westeros? WIth Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – Game of Thrones

Westeros is the mythical kingdom in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series and HBO’s television series, Game of Thrones.

As a result of the death of Robert Baratheon, who had managed to hold the seven kingdoms together after ascending the throne, his death, along with that of Ned Stark, sends the kingdom into chaos.

Joffrey Baratheon, who is actually the incestous issue of Robert’s queen, Cersi and her twin brother, Jamie, ascends the Iron Throne, but not only does he not have any right to that throne, he’s a psycho. With a capital P.

He dies, thankfully, and his younger brother Tommen, is now king. Tommen is also Cersei and Jamie’s son, but Tommen is nice. He even likes cats.

But he’s probably going to wind up being manipulated by dear old grandpa, Tywin Lannister, who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the kingdom or its subjects. He just cares about making sure his family and his legacy survive and thrive.

Robert wasn’t a very good king. He only managed to hold the kingdoms together though his political marriage to Cersei. He pretty much left the rule of Westeros to his councilors, which included Littlefinger who, we discovered in last Sunday’s episode, is pretty much responsible for ALL the bad stuff that’s happened in Westeros, or at least his actions were a catalyst for them.

So, does anybody in Westeros have what it takes to be a good ruler?

Yes, Fire and Ice.

Daenerys is Fire. She can’t stand seeing people suffer. She knows that to be a good ruler you have to care for the common people.. She accepts this condition of good rulership so completely that she’s delaying her return to Westeros to go back and kick the asses of those jerks who are re-enslaving the people she freed.

Jon Snow is Ice. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong. He was raised by Ned Stark, a man who was so decent and so honorable that because he wanted to spare Cersei and her children from Robert’s wrath, he pretty much gave Cersei the rope with which she hanged him. Jon has Ned’s blood in him. (Noticed I said “blood”) Did Ned ever come right out out and say that Jon was his son? I don’t recall it. He just said Jon had his blood. Meaning they were related.

But I digress. Jon would make a great King, and Daenerys a great Queen, because both of them are good, decent people. Not perfect, of course, but they care about others and they know what’s right and what’s wrong. And I think, or I hope, that both are savvy enough about people to not make the kind of mistake Ned Stark made in trusting people like Littlefinger or showing someone like Cersei mercy.

Long may he, she or they reign.

Once they do whatever they wind up doing in the series, that is.

Whatever it is, I hope it involves dragons.

Dragons being ridden by Jon and Daenerys.

And maybe Arya. There are three dragons, after all.

Or Tommen. Or Tyrion. Or Pod. Or Brienne.

Or some other cool, non-psychotic person.

As long as those dragons are scorching white walkers, the Night King and whatever other horror is lurking in the North.