Writing fiction is one of those strange, untouchable creative endeavors. Sometimes you struggle to put anything on a page. Sometimes it just flows out of you from some unknown source, a beautiful and perfect stream of prose. Just like with any other NaNoWriMo challenge, I experienced both of these on my way to finally completing the April 2015 Camp NaNoWriMo.
Part of me is glad that my word count is complete and the “novel” is now validated. Though writing 25K words is no where near as rigorous as trying to complete 50K, it’s still a lot to swing when you work as a tech writer IRL. I also took a bit of a break from blogging during this time, which I hope was understandable.
Thoughts on Fiction Writing
Fiction writing is a different beast from business writing or blogging. It’s all putting words on the page, that’s true. But when you finish a blog post, you don’t need to worry about whether characters developed, plot stayed consistent, or if you need to completely cut what you wrote because it was a bunch of drivel that didn’t further the story in any valuable way.
I’m not saying that it’s not a challenge to devise a solid, informational or entertaining blog post. It’s just a different sort of focus. One that I’ve gotten used to since I’ve started blogging more regularly here.
So when I tried to wrap my head around fiction writing again, it was a pretty tough challenge for me in many ways.
This is the fourth year I’ve written a continuation to my fantasy story Runne. I started writing this in November of 2011, and completed three full 50K NaNoWriMos in a row. However, I found myself walking away from NaNoWriMo 2013 with a problem: I had hit a dreaded plot block.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know where the plot was going. I had a good idea of the major plot points I needed to hit. I just didn’t know how to connect the dots between point A (where I currently was in the story) with point B (where I needed the story to get) in a clever, logical, yet organic-feeling way.
Pantsing It Up
Over the years, I’ve found that the best writing method for me is to write as a light pantser (yes, this is a word). I do believe in sketching out a loose outline and knowing important plot points I need to hit. I don’t believe it allowing that outline to dictate every chapter I write, however, as this constricts my writing style and what the characters do. To me, that’s a recipe for a very wooden story, devoid of organic growth and change.
My characters (I often call figments) have a life of their own… some who totally balk the idea of being dictated to by a greater, fixed outline. I swear I can’t force them to do anything they don’t want to do. If I DO try to force things on my figments, it rings hollow in my ears and seems out of character for them. Some of the most interesting and unusual plot lines have come when I simply let my figments tell me their stories… not when I dictate to them how the story goes.
So, I kinda sit down to write with an overall goal for my chapter in mind, then let the figments respond to the situation I create. It’s kinda like… playing DM in a tabletop adventure! You don’t know how the players are going to respond, and they are the ones that make the game interesting based on their reactions.
Likewise, I don’t always know how a character is going to react to things. Sometimes, they do things very surprising to me… and then I’m left wondering how I’m going to move forward with a plot that just got turned on its head. Most of my creative excitement comes from these random moments of surprise. It’s what makes writing so rewarding to me.
Suffering With Plot Block
I was super stuck with plot block in my attempts to plan and write for Runne since November 2013. In fact, I was so blocked, that when I decided to try Camp NaNoWriMo last year, I choose to work on Shadows of Zot instead of Runne. I just didn’t have any idea how to keep the story moving forward, so I totally avoided writing for it at all last year.
Over the winter holidays, Syn and I sat down and worked on a very large and over-arching outline for Runne. We spun a lot of great ideas, things that really excited me about the future of the story. However, when I finally worked up the courage to sit down and write for Runne the first time this year, I found myself still staring plot block in the face.
Sure, we drafted some neat future-scenarios… but I still didn’t know how the heck I was going to move the characters from point A to point B. Ugh!
I struggled with it… a lot. I putzed around the first few chapters trying to set a tone and establish plans for the characters. I thought this was totally dull, but thankfully, my figments weren’t content to let me write too boring of a chapter before they threw in their own little twists. Once I’d written myself as far as I could in that direction – I even explored characters I loved to write but don’t often get to write about (TsuMeTai) – I decided to fall back on the dreaded fail safe of bored writers.
I created new characters.
New Characters Save the Day
I try very hard not to fall into the trap of character bloat. This is what happens when a bored writer keeps introducing new characters over and over and over again, hoping one of them will spark that inspiration they need to keep writing. Usually, a new character will help inspire a writer and make the story fresh… at least, for a little while. So, it’s not bad to consider a new character now and then, as long as you know how they fit into the existing story.
Runne is an interesting beast in that I designed it to allow me to write in what I call segments. These are short groups of chapters where I can spend time visiting one section of plot or group of characters, then bounce to another plot or group of characters with the next segment. It also allows me to skip large expanses of time, since Runne is a story that spans a whole lotta years. If I were to try to write every little day in chronological order, it would be impossible.
So, jumping focus to a pair of new characters – in this case Bahamut (no, I’m not talking about Binding Coil) and Kei — was very viable and didn’t interrupt the flow of the rest of the story. These chapters actually helped me to explore some world building, too. I learned a bit about the bigger picture of the world of Runne as well as theories of magic and history that I wasn’t totally aware of. Plus, the characters were just fun to write and will factor heavily into the future of Runne when they come in contact with the other established characters.
Once my little foray into new-character-land was done, I found myself right back to point A with the same problem. I had a nice and inspiring diversion, but I wasn’t any closer to point B than I was when I first started Camp NaNo. How frustrating!
I did a little bit of mini-planning to see what resources I had available to me. I realized it had been quite a while since I had visited a certain set of figments (Fu and Nikko), and there were some important developments in their relationship and in world building that I wanted to touch on. What I didn’t realize was that this chapter was going to lead me a different direction… when another character, TsuMe, decided to make an unexpected move and interact.
Now, for anyone who doesn’t know these characters (that’s probably most folks still reading this), these are two extremely blunt, headstrong, stubborn and angry characters. I’m talking enough pent up rage to strike the fear into the heart of 4chan. While they are both usually pretty anti-social and untrusting, they are both raging against the same thing (evil, corrupt governing body).
So, suddenly, I have two fairly snarky characters starting to talk for the first time. And they each realize, “Hey… I’ve just met someone as pissed off as I am… and he’s pissed off about the same things and at the same people!” And, suddenly, I have this alliance of two fantastically pissed off characters putting their heads together to do something about the things that piss them off. I was so totally stoked at the strong character interaction that I had to rush home from work and draw art about it!
Now… now… I was getting somewhere! I may not have all the details still, but I have characters who feel strongly about something who are spearheading plot motion from point A to point B. And I totally never even considered putting these two in the same room before this. Go figure.
Have you ever RPed or written fiction and had unexpected characters do unexpected actions and led to really awesome things?