Didn’t see this coming

Urban Fantasy is a genre filled with wizards and witches, vampires and werewolves, monsters and heroes. There’s so many books in this genre that it can be hard to find one, or even a series, that can keep entertaining for more than a few pages. Everyone seems to need a gimmick and that can make the world setting either unbearable or inconsistent. About eight months ago I stumbled upon the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. Almost literally too–I was in the library and just happened to pick it off the shelf to see what it was like.

In many ways, Verus is just like a lot of others in the genre. He’s a loner wizard with a couple of friends, a little bit of magic, and even more powerful enemies. However, he stands out in a lot of ways. Instead of becoming a massive superpower inside of a few books, Verus has actually been losing power in some ways. The books have been more about stripping Verus down until he’s relying solely on himself. His wits in the climatic moment have been the solution far more times than any grand plan (like Dresden) or sheer magical ability (like the Iron Druid or Anita Blake). Verus is a reactionary character, which is sort of ironic considering his magical power is divination.

That’s the beauty of the world setting here, too. Divination can be a tricky, tricky magic to have and that’s Verus’s one trick. In his world, if you’re good at one magic, you tend to only have the one magic. It seems to break down into mental abilities versus elemental abilities and about the only thing that can be used by most mages are gate spells, but that’s not something Verus can actually do on his own. Divination, or at least Verus’s understanding of it, doesn’t seem to lend itself to the gate magic very well. He also has a hard time looking far into the future because of a very basic world setting rule: Everyone’s got free will. This rule means that until someone makes a decision, it’s impossible to know what they’re going to do exactly. Verus’s magic runs more along the lines of predictions and probable outcomes–his magic basically makes it easier to compute what people are going to do given certain variables. In a conversation that can be tough, since people’s word choices change how the dialogue would go. Combat situations or long searches are easier for him to predict because the cause and effects are more formulaic.

One of the other big details I’ve noticed about Alex Verus is that it’s not very hard to interpret the character as asexual. Sure, a couple of times Verus has found a woman attractive, but he’s never really flirted with them. His bed’s unoccupied except for himself and that doesn’t seem to bother him in the least bit. (In fact, he’s so used to sleeping alone and being alone in his flat that in like book 2 or 3 it throws him off when someone’s sleeping out in the living room). Verus doesn’t go on for great lengths on how attractive the people in his world are. He doesn’t have a long list of ex-partners that crop up and make his life hell. Hell, in the seven books that are out so far, Alex hasn’t mentioned ex-partners, or trying to date. At this point in most series, the protag has had notable on page sex, but not Alex. He seems to like Anne and possibly wouldn’t mind coming to some sort of romantic situation with her, but he’s not obsessed with any one part of her anatomy. When she’s reintroduced each time, there’s no overture of how sexy she is and how much he can’t stop thinking of her. She’s simply Anne. The only key to how much Alex likes her is relayed through others, who point out that everyone else believes Anne is downright creepy. Alex never sees that in her, just treats her like a person like everyone else. There’s only one character in the series that has gotten the ‘attractive’ character tag multiple times in a row and Alex turns that around saying that the woman is the kind of attractive that makes her super-intimidating. The only other woman to which Alex showed a bit of obvious attraction turned out to be a charm mage–meaning that she was manipulating Alex’s hormones and brain waves into liking her (which when he figures that out makes her suddenly unattractive to him). In a genre where characters are often bumping uglies when they’re not dealing with monsters, Alex stands apart. I’m not sure the author intended for this to be true about Alex, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope Alex stays this way.

The series does have some downsides (somehow, for being full of Brits, my brain isn’t translating them that way. It could be American bias, but I’m thinking there’s something about the syntax that’s just slightly off), so it’s far from a perfect read, but if you’re looking for something a little different in a genre filled with fairies, fireballs, and overwhelming odds, Alex Verus might just be the breath of fresh air you’re looking for.

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Houdini & Doyle

All right, so Houdini & Doyle has started playing in the USA on Fox. I first heard about the show back at 221B Con at the beginning of April. The show premiered over in the UK first and is re-airing over here. I don’t mind the delay, really. The original broadcast was back in March, which would have been lousy timing since like all of television was coming back for their final halves. I probably would have over looked this drama and never realized the fun I missed out on.

Because that’s the first thing I noticed about the show, it’s fun. In an era of too many detective shows and too many supernatural elements, finding an enjoyable take on the genre can be a challenge. But Houdini & Doyle does its best to escape from repetitive dullness of the case-of-the-week formula with engaging, complex characters. The main cast captivates, but so do the side characters. This last week we got more details about the police chief and what’s likely to be a recurring plot with Houdini’s mother.

Of course, the really intriguing ones are Houdini, Doyle, and Constable Adelaide Stratton. The show focuses on these three characters and their evolving relationship as Houdini and Doyle assist the police investigations into crimes where the ‘supernatural’ may occur. Doyle is attempting to prove the supernatural each time and Houdini is trying to disprove it. In a lot of ways, it’s like putting Richard Castle and Adrian Monk head to head while giving Detective Juliet O’Hara (Psych) the lead on the case. In the show, Doyle and Houdini share an adversarial friendship so that even when they disagree (which is about every time one of them opens their mouth about the case) they still display a healthy amount of respect. After gushing at their first meeting, Stratton shows them the same respect, often being the one who will engage with both the supernatural or mundane explanations. The other two might be the initial draw, but without Stratton in the mix, this could easily become another too-quirky buddy-cop dramedy (like Battle Creek or The Good Guys).

One of the things that keeps the trio interesting is also the limits and abilities of each character. You could make a character sheet easily out of what we’ve seen so far. Houdini, naturally, knows how to lockpick, pickpocket, escape bonds, and a host of other tricks involved with his time on stage. Doyle has medical knowledge and research skills. Stratton has her police knowledge and access to those records. They wind up complimenting each other beyond personality and even into their abilities, creating a much more cohesive investigation team.

The show takes place in the early 20th century, a notably sexist time frame, and instead of ignoring this, the show has made opened commentary on it. We as an audience know when Doyle and Houdini are sent to Stratton that it’s because no one is taking her or them seriously. Stratton even directly addresses this point. And she even points out when they whack her with a paradox when interviewing a particular witness, “So if I fail, it’s because I’m a bad investigator, but if I succeed it’s because I’m a woman?” Doyle and Houdini like to puff themselves up on occasion as being defenders of women, but they’re quickly called out on their microagressions as well. At the same time, this element of the storytelling isn’t overdone. It’s there and acknowledged, but not to the almost teeth-grinding way Agent Carter addressed the same topics.

We’re already in the middle of the season with only six more episodes to air. I’m already keeping my fingers crossed for a second season. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed intelligent dialogue and interesting characters and I’m hoping the rest of the show won’t disappoint.

“Fear” the Walking Dead

I’m not huge into zombie media. The classic monster type is at the top of ‘things that freak me out.’ Give me vampires or demons or any of horror’s other plethora of creatures, but please please please, not the zombies! Which is why The Walking Dead was such a surprise for me. I started watching it because so many people were talking about it and since I can never seem to get into sports, I need a conversation starter of some kind. So I downed the first episode and the second and then seasons. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s something I love about The Walking Dead that brings me back most weeks. So when AMC announced that they were doing a spin-off called Fear the Walking Dead, I–like so many other fans–was completely psyched. More stories in this world? And it’d fill those empty months between TWD episodes? Awesome!

Unfortunately, like so many other spin-offs and recent creations, Fear the Walking Dead isn’t living up to the hopes and dreams. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for a whole season. Zombies aren’t the reason I’m into these shows, so I didn’t care that we barely saw them during the first season (though one of my friend’s consistent complaints was that we weren’t seeing enough of the undead). The show built up and built up these characters, some I cared about, some I didn’t, but hey, they’d have to spend some time doing that, right? Unlike TWD, there’s no precedent for the Fear cast. No comics to fall back on and bring out loads of information, just brand new people for the writers to explore. The show fell a little flat, but that’s not uncommon, especially in such a short season of a brand new show.

But then, at the beginning of the second episode of season 2, Fear gave us the perfect analogy of what’s really wrong with their show. If you haven’t seen it (and don’t mind being spoiled), that episode starts with two children playing in the sand. They’re happy and content playing in the perfect day sunshine. Zombies lumber up the beach towards them. Oh no! The children are in danger! Except, hold on, the zombies are blocked off by a well constructed fence. The element of danger we as the audience feels completely dissipates. As the episode drags on, the main cast encounters this little family and we get more exposition about how the world is now. We get treated to the same argument we’ll be seeing the rest of the season it seems–Strand does not want anyone else on his boat and while the others grumble about it, they don’t seem quite willing to do anything (I say this not having seen the episode on 5/1).

So the problem is that we have a complete lack of tension. The characters manage to have all of these perfect save moments–when Strand and Nick were escaping from the facility and everyone happened to come together at the same door, one of them even having the needed key card! Ofelia has an infection and oh look, Nick managed to find the right drugs! The sources of conflict should be many with the world setting alone, but the families were protected first by the military and then by the boat they have now (and oh man, when it broke down, Travis managed to fix it in a day!) Instead of giving these characters experiences which they’ll draw on in the future, that will harden them into the necessary group of survivors that it takes to make it in this world, the group is little better than the Hilltop or Alexandria from TWD. They’ve got a slight ability in this world, but really, this seems much more like a group that would get torn down to about half before running into Rick’s group and eking out a life, maybe only one or two of them surviving until season 6. Of course they shouldn’t be perfect badasses from the get-go, but it seems like they’re being treated with kid gloves by the writers. We never worry about this core group because on the rare chance they encounter something, they dodge it almost perfectly.

The other should-be source of tension would be the interpersonal relationships of the main group. Strand has his secrets and keeps reminding everyone that the boat is his so his say is final, but the other characters only seem to have minor frustrations with this. Sure, Travis, Maddie, and Daniel have a couple of conversations, but I’m almost surprised that episode from 5/1 had previews saying that conflict was going to come to a head. Daniel spends a lot of time telling Ofelia that Maddie and her family are only going to look out for themselves, but he seems to be saber rattling. In fact, Maddie and the other members of her family only ever seem to try and bring more people into their survivors unit, so I don’t understand Daniel’s continued paranoia about them. They’re eight people and the yacht isn’t that large, why haven’t they gotten on each other’s nerves more? Alicia and Nick are getting along fine, Nick has wormed his way into ‘acceptable’ with everyone on board (except maybe Daniel who trusts only his daughter), Chris roams however he wants with no one caring. Strand isn’t quite Shane from TWD and Maddie isn’t quite Dale. It feels like the creators spent a lot of time making an ideal zombie survival group without giving them the personalities that would butt heads.

Basically, what we’ve got so far is just a great and long lesson in what a project looks like without that tension to keep a viewer on the edge of their seat. This is what happens when it’s too much exposition and not enough action. (They even managed to drive to Strand’s house without incident at the end of last season, come on!) At this point, my interest in the show has waned. Maybe I’ll pick it back up when the whole season’s available for a quick watch, you know, if I need some low-key background noise.

I’d like to stop dying.

People who talk to me on a regular basis would probably tell you that I get angry, a lot. That I get angry at media more often than anything. And that I’m ready to unleash my opinions on a trigger notice. I’ll go off about story-telling flaws–I’ve got long lists of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if?’ or ‘I would have done it this way if I was in charge.’ My other major aggravation is lack of representation. It’s been so cool this last year to see How to Get Away with Murder and Star Wars: Force Awakens and Mad MaxFury Road do well. The fact that women-led movies have dominated the box office the last couple of years is great. We’ve got more in a lot of ways.

And yet, somehow, a lot of the shows I watch decided that now was a great time to start killing off LGBT characters–specifically LGBT women. In the last week and a half alone, two different shows have killed same-sex inclined women. This trend isn’t anything new either. Autostraddle’s ever growing list goes back decades.

The trend is outright frustrating, especially in most cases the deaths aren’t necessary to continue the plot. Even more so because there are so few queer characters in the first place that killing them often means not seeing or finding another queer character for seasons–if the show gets to continue that long in the first place. The Walking Dead is now six seasons done with hundreds of characters, yet only five have ever been openly declared LGBT characters. Three of those have been women and two of those three are dead. The Vampire Diaries is in its seventh season and has had few queer characters to begin with, but they just decided to blow up Nora and Mary-Louise (the only f/f couple I can recall) in one move.

My largest source of anger comes from the fact that these characters are often killed for the sake of a main man’s plot. Supernatural producers defend their Charlie-killing (one of like only 5 LGBT identified characters in the show’s 200+ episode history) as ‘where the story took them.’ In this case, that was to get Dean to the point where he’d be willing to go kill a bunch of men. And it had to be death because, you know, torturing or kidnapping a character he saw like a little sister wouldn’t have been enough to set off the already everyone-kept-commenting-on-anger-levels Dean. Right. Never mind that Charlie had been out surviving on her own for practically a year, somehow she lost a fight when she literally should have climbed out the window. ‘For the story.’

Denise’s death on The Walking Dead isn’t any better. For one, she’s one where they decided to change comic book cannon. Instead of hooking up with Heath, she was with Tara. On top of that, Denise survived longer than her comic-counterpart. I’d assumed it’d be so we could have a lot longer with her–Carol’s still alive seasons after. But no, Denise uttered that she was scared about love and then bammo, less than a minute later she has an arrow through the eye. And what have the only effects been so far? Daryl getting pissed off and going out on a revenge spree (that was quickly cut off) and Rosita joining him on that. (You could attempt to argue that was why Maggie needed to go to Hilltop–without their doctor, she needed care. However, I will remind you that Denise was a novice doctor with limited resources while the Hilltop’s doctor was an obgyn with an ultrasound and Maggie’s pain has been abdominal. They would have needed to go to Hilltop anyway.)

On Arrow, Sarah Lance died because Malcolm wanted Oliver to deal with the League of Assassins for him. Oh, and the source of extra angst for most of that season was not telling her father because of his ‘weakened’ condition (a condition that seems to come and go as needed…) I don’t even know why Toshiko Sato of Torchwood had to die except those producers were getting rid of like everyone but Gwen and Jack (no, really, it’s inside of four episodes of the show that you lose 60% of the cast). But considering her death was part of Gray’s plan (worst plan and villain ever, btw) of revenge on Jack, that means that Tosh didn’t die as part of her own plot, but his.

Nora and Mary-Louise’s deaths on The Vampire Diaries were completely unexpected as well. I’m not even sure why the story went that way, and honestly it’s been hard understanding where this season’s story arc wanders in any given episode. I’d say they died for their own cause, except there’s a hitch with that. See, they blow this relic so that they don’t get separated. Sure. Makes sense, makes it about them. Only this moment is entirely framed around the fact that Stephan is laying on the ground, soul in the damn relic. And I don’t know why Raina threw her sword at Nora and Mary-Louise when she spent a chunk of the episode getting the sword back. Just doesn’t make any sense, unless it’s done entirely to prevent easy re-ensouling of Stephan, therefore, they died ’cause of a guy.

These have just been the characters I’m most familiar with in recent years. The frustration stems from the fact that 1. It’s so hard to find LGBTQA characters to begin with, 2. That they get to be fully realized characters in the first place and not just stereotypes, and 3. You get to spend just enough time with them that you can find something relatable. So it’s devastating that over and over, I get to have hope that these characters exist in these often violent worlds. I get to see that, hey yeah, there’s all kinds of people! That the world is wide and full of possibilities. And just when I get used to the idea, those characters are ripped away. With Nora and Mary-Louise, I was like ‘yes, awesome! we get to go through the ‘my lover is dying and I’ll do anything to save her’ plot/trope, only to have that turn into a ‘if we can’t be together we’ll die on our own terms’ inside of an episode–meanwhile Damen gets to fucking lament about Elena and/or Stephan for like the millionth time.

So I’m going to propose that for the next 5 years tv doesn’t kill another LGBT woman. Hell, at the current rate, I will take the next 5 weeks. I want the chance to feel included, not to sit there wondering how long until the clock runs out on the queer women this week. Come on, it’s not that hard to let characters live in these fictional worlds.

After all, the lead guys are all still there.

Editing, and why it’s not my enemy anymore

You hear writers grip a lot about the editing process, and for good reason. After you get done with a project, the last thing you want to think about is the changes you’ll have to make to it. Sometimes, we get that little voice that blocks us from writing in the first place because Oh God, we’re going to have to go over this again and fix it all! That’s why during NaNo writers remind each other to go bury that inner editor, abandon it for as long as possible just to get that draft out!

Unfortunately, that inner editor can’t stay gone. Eventually in the process, we need to let that critical voice ride shotgun. If it’s well trained, it helps us catch those errors and mistakes. Note, I point out well-trained. I’m not talking about the voice in the back of your head that tells you to give up writing in general. Sometimes we blame those thoughts on the inner editor, but really, that’s not coming from that voice. The give-up thoughts come from the doubter.

The first step to enjoying the editing process of writing means separating the doubter’s input from the inner editor’s critique. The doubter is the one that wants you to lose hope, to demolish your sense of self-worth, and to wreck your motivations. That voice can sound like a twin to the editor, but it’s not quite the same. See, the inner editor wants to help you find the best version of your draft. It points to flaws–grammar or story structure, but once separated from the doubter it’s just flaws without judgment. With its help, you can go from saying ‘draft’ to ‘manuscript.’

The second part is remembering why you’re sitting with a draft. Writing is hard work, but anyone who’s involved in this stage of the process is still at it because they want to be. Part of you wants to tell the best story possible and one of the big differences is caring enough to edit. We all wish magical, perfect first drafts would spring out of our head, but we know the reality is the sweat and marked up pages. Lots of marked up pages. We’re at these pages because we have stories that we want to share with others. Editing focuses prose into a better story, making it more enjoyable for the readers.

And lastly, finishing editing is one step closer to publishing–whether you go for self-publication or submitting to publishing houses. It’s really the last of the huge steps. After the draft is this solid, you hand it out to some betas, you finish that editing and wow, you’ve got a completed work. You’ll be done.

While it’s a lot of hard work, it’s part of the process. It helps dig out the wonderful story buried and put a noticeable polish on the words. Editing is something that has to be done in order to get the best story possible. Finding ways to enjoy this part of the process is going to make it a lot easier to do. And don’t we get more done when we find a way to have fun?

Dialogue, more than the words characters spit out

In an effort to improve my overall writing, I’ve been doing what every good writing book will tell you–I’ve been reading. And reading. And when I thought I would take a break, I’d crack open another book. Some of it’s been fiction, others have been writing advice. Recently, I read through some of James Scott Bell’s works on the craft. His tips in How to Write Dazzling Dialogue are great, and they’ve helped me catch on to analyzing dialogue in what I’m reading, watching, and writing.

Which is why I’m blown away by Netflix’s Jessica Jones series again. The show is brilliant in so many ways, but the tight dialogue does so much heavy lifting. It carries you forward, makes you care, and provides the actors with fantastic opportunities to play their scenes.

I want to break down a scene here. This is in the third episode (AKA It’s Called Whiskey), and while still moving the action forward, it also provides exposition for us. At this point, we’ve got a pretty good impression of the current way Jessica is–the angry, traumatized woman who is struggling through her day to day, through a case dealing with her former abuser. What we don’t know is much about her past–It’s something Jessica hates talking about, but she and Trish have history, which the writers used to give us details about both their lives.

[After Trish takes off her shirt to reveal bruises covering her arms and shoulders. They head into Trish’s bedroom.]

Jessica: Who’s doing that to you? Is your mom back?

Trish: Just calm down, will you?

Jessica: Okay, is this why you have the video surveillance and the steel-reinforced door?

Trish: And bulletproof windows, a safe room. I made some upgrades.

Jessica: You–What you made is a fortress. Trish, what you afraid of?

[They head into Trish’s training room]

Trish: Not much, anymore. Except clowns. But that’s just common sense.

Jessica: You turned my room into a gym.

Trish: I needed a place to train.

Jessica: By “training,” you mean getting beaten purple.

Trish: [seizes Jessica and easily tosses her to the ground] No one touches me anymore unless I want them to. I let you fight my battles for too long. When you left–

Jessica: [rubbing her sore shoulder] You became a ninja?

Trish: Krav Maga. More brutal.

Jessica: Can you back off? You’re scaring me a little.

Trish: [grinning] I’ll make sandwiches.

This dialogue takes about a minute and a half of the show time. But look at the sheer amount of information here, even without the full visual to go along with it. From Jessica’s initial concerns, we see that she cares deeply about Trish’s well-being, something Jessica hasn’t shown a whole lot of and especially not in such an overt fashion. So far, Jessica has been as mysterious as possible with the other people she talks to, but with Trish, she’s asking the questions and deliberately engaging her when she typically shies away from too much talking.

We learn that Trish was a victim too, and that her mother may or may not be completely out of her life. They talk about their setting, which provides us more details about Trish. She’s confident in her security upgrades and these extra measures are what help her feel safe. In previous scenes, it’s established that she’s a radio talk show host. While we could guess that she’s worried about stalker fans that mean her harm, Jessica’s reveal about Trish’s mother shows us that Trish fears more than the average celebrity problems.

Also of note is the fact that Trish and Jessica aren’t just good friends, they’re former roommates. And this dialogue tells us that Jessica leaving the apartment was a transformation event for Trish. And Trish feels the need to prove her new abilities to Jessica–which we see when she tells Jessica the full details of the upgrades and shows her not just the training room, but some of that training. There’s a need to prove she’s okay if something happens to Jessica.

The fact that Jessica doesn’t know all these details about Trish’s life is another sign. When she needed help, Trish was someone she reached out to, but we can gather from the lack of knowledge that it’s been a while since they’ve talked frequently. Yet, their closeness is obvious. Even though Jessica’s worried, Trish is joking and open. By the end of the scene, Jessica’s initial fears for Trish’s safety are put to rest and they move on to have lunch together. They may have been out of each other’s lives for a while, but they’re obviously falling right back into their tight bond.

And there’s another layer here too. The show’s theme–victims, primarily women, overcoming trauma–comes into play. Jessica has built herself a mental fortress. She lives in a shitty apartment and says shitty things to people instead of showing that she does, in fact, give a damn about what happens to them. Trish has done the opposite, building a physical fortress while maintaining her faith in the general good intentions of other people. They’re both leading isolated lives in response to their fears. Their friendship, shown even in this short scene, is part of what gets them through this.

If you haven’t seen Jessica Jones, I highly recommend it for the dialogue and the amazing storytelling. Take just one episode and comb through it a few times. Every scene is tight with a dedicated purpose to telling a griping story. I know I plan on rewatching a few more time to catch all the great details of craft.

NaNoWriMo Tips

National Novel Writing Month kicks off on November 1st, which is this Sunday!

Okay, for those panicking (much like me), remember that nice deep breaths are your buddy. NaNoWriMo is exciting for sure, but it can be a little overwhelming even if you’ve won challenges in the past. In the last couple of days, my brain’s been running over a series of tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years that will help make my NaNo easier. I thought I’d share a few.

  • Remember, writing is fun!

This can be a hard to remember in the middle of a draft. I get thinking about everything I’ve done, everything left to go, and I lose track of why I sat down at the keyboard in the first place: Because I like it. Because I have fun telling stories and getting words out to share with other people. Sometimes, I need a reminder that, hey, this is supposed to be an awesome experience! Going to write-ins or using the message boards helps me refuel my excitement for my project. Simply knowing that other people are also working their way through the 50k challenge makes me continue pushing for my own word count. I’m able to commiserate for a few minutes (Writing can be hard and solitary) and then find my fun groove again.

  • Planning or Pantsing, anything can work.

More than a lot of hobbies or professions, writing is a lot of trial and error to find the process that works for you. I’ve had a NaNo where I didn’t know much about the book except for the main character and a bit about her world setting. My other NaNo, I knew the cast of characters and the circumstances completely. NaNo is about discovering creativity, about getting that book out of your head and onto the page. And you’ll hear this advice over and over, the writing process has to be tailored to you. I’m sure a lot of people are like me–I’ve discovered that I do best with a mix of plotting and pantsing. My words fly onto the page when I’ve got just enough planned, but not every scene mapped. If you’re feeling anxious about reaching 50k, I recommend doing some plotting. If the thought of knowing too much of the story beforehand frightens you, don’t worry about it. NaNo is all about finding *your* groove.

  • Believe that Writer’s Block is a myth

Since I started working the mantra “there is no such thing as writer’s block” into my writing practice, I’ve had far fewer creative hurdles to jump. Frequently, in the past, when I was ‘blocked,’ it was because I didn’t feel a muse’s divine inspiration, or didn’t know what to do with the characters next. Sometimes–more often than I care to admit–I was blocked because I’d driven my characters into a plot that wasn’t in their personalities. NaNo doesn’t leave time for second-guessing. Never erase during NaNo, never go back and rewrite, but I’ve found it useful to write new scenes as if I’d already fixed the problem. If I feel like the story’s not going anywhere, it’s time to add a new character or to up the tension by having the worse possible thing happen. I think Kirkman, writer of The Walking Dead, likes to joke that if he needs something to happen, he just throws a zombie into the mix. Same can be said of Lost and Battlestar Galactica. If you’re worried about being stuck, get spontaneous. Throw in something you hadn’t considered before, or ask ‘what would make the characters’ lives worse?’ You’re the writer, you’re the god of the story. You get to be Murphy’s Law to their lives. And if that won’t work, find a friend or a forum to start explaining your story. I find myself making connections and new plots constantly when I try to tell someone how the story works. It’s just the little seed I need to keep going.

  • Guard your writing time.

This piece of advice comes up frequently, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until the last couple of months. It seems like such a natural, obvious tidbit: eliminate distractions from writing time and space. I wasn’t really following it though. I started to and my daily word count jumped incredibly. For me, it means getting out of the apartment (away from my television) and getting to a quiet spot in the library, making sure to use a quiet reading room or a study room because frequently other patrons can cause disruptions (the amount of small wailing children in libraries will surprise you. I’m never angry or upset with the parents–small children cry, this is a fact of life. I simply seek the corners where it’s harder for sound to reach). It takes a lot of discipline for me, but I tell myself that I can’t go surfing on the web until it’s break time.

For a lot of others, this means telling your loved ones that when you sit down to write, it’s your time. Don’t feel guilty for carving out time for what you’re doing. You’re finding fun, you’re creating. Guard your time (and creative space like a desk, or the kitchen table while you’re working at it) like Gollum with the One Ring. Keep those sneaky Bagginses away from your Precious. They’ll have their turn with your time later. Getting your family to understand why you’re protecting like this might take a lot of conversation (for at least a year, my mom seemed to have this uncanny ability for calling me while writing, but this doesn’t happen nearly so much lately because we’ve talked about the hours I’m usually at the keyboard), but hopefully they’ll be supportive and understanding in the end.

  • Set-up a rewards system

This is one that can be really tricky for me. I like telling myself “Oh, I won’t do X until I reach the word count!” buuuuuut I often go for “Oh, well, I reached Y. That’s good enough.” This month I plan on sticking to my goals a lot more, especially since I plan on taking so much. For me, it means no catching up on last night’s episodes until I reach word count. Or delaying that bit of desert until after the writing session. I find something to keep me moving during the writing sessions and push until finish.

  • Drink enough water/Have water on hand

Okay, this is a bit of an odd one, and something that might be just me. But when I’m really getting into the groove, I start getting thirsty. In order to eliminate this distraction, I have water near me. Some people prefer their coffees or sodas, but lately, I’ve been trying to keep down the sugars at the keyboard and make sure I have enough water. Plenty of water is supposed to be good, so it’s a win-win.

  • Remember, writing is supposed to be fun!

It’s on here twice because it’s that important. This came back to me full force during the NaNo Meet and Greet the other night. I hadn’t realized that I lost the fun there for a while, but I had. Stress of getting a project done can obscure the reason for getting to the keyboard in the first place. That makes me grumpy and winds up building over time. So, I’m thinking of making it part of my process to take a minute before each writing day to remember why I’m doing this. It’s not just that the story is burning up parts of my brain, begging to be put on the page. It’s not just that these characters want to talk. It’s not just that I feel that I have to. I write because telling stories is fun. Because I like getting something in front of a reader and getting them to laugh with me or curse me as the prose moves them. I write because creating is a joy that I don’t find anywhere else.

So, there it is, my list of small reminders to make my NaNo easier. You might discover that some work for you, you might realize that none of them do. That’s how it should be. Writing is different for everyone who approaches it. You wouldn’t expect two painters to describe the exact same process even if they paint similar pictures. In On Writing, Stephen King talks about filling up your own toolbox. It takes years, and hundreds of thousands of words to find the tools best suited for your approach. I’m still constantly shifting things, picking up new ideas and chucking them when they don’t work. Don’t be fooled, writing is a science like any other art. Trial and error are a big part of the process. Don’t be discouraged by the error parts. Remember, NaNoWriMo is about the fun and joy of creating a story. Deciding to take on the challenge is already a huge accomplishment. Be proud of whatever comes next. I know I can’t wait to see what we write in the next month!

Got any other tips or tricks you want to share? Feel free to comment below! Make sure to sign up for the 50k challenge at nanowrimo.org!