Crisis of Confidence

Lately I’ve been suffering from a lack of confidence in my story, and thus in myself as a writer, and it came about not because of any criticism or anything similar that came my way. It came about because of a writing contest, a contest I did not even enter!

How can not entering a contest cause me to lose confidence, you may ask? After all, this was (still is, in fact) a contest that specifically does allow unfinished works, so it would seem like a perfect fit for me, yes?

Alas, as with most contests of this nature, the entry requires a synopsis. Nothing particularly unusual about that, and every writer eventually needs to come to grips with producing the scary synopsis. However, typically for contests, this synopsis is limited to a single page, double-spaced, in 12-point type, with 1″ margins all around. Oh, and the first line really should be a heading stating “Synopsis,” so that’s one less line to work with. That means the synopsis is pretty much limited to somewhere between two-hundred and two-hundred-fity words, which is not a lot.

The typical five-page synopsis written for an agent or editor’s consideration has an opening statement about theme and genre, a closing statement about character arcs, and in between summarizes all the major plot points that impact and influence the main characters.

That’s impossible to do for a novel-length work in two-hundred-fifty words.

So, a one-page contest synopsis should instead focus on theme and how the character’s growth and conclusion illustrate that theme, and that’s about it.

Trust me, while it might be just one-fifth as many words, it is five times harder to write! And to give you an idea of what two-hundred-fifty words looks like, we’re at about three-hundred right here.

Still, this is a very good exercise for any writer to go through, and it should not be impossible. Indeed, it should be mandatory!

But describing how a character’s growth and plot arc illustrates the novel’s theme is difficult to do when you don’t actually yet know how the story ends, or even perhaps what theme you are illustrating, because you’re making the story up as you go, by the seat of your pants, in an episodic nature because you publish each scene online as you write it.

After spending an entire day struggling mightily, and ultimately in vain, with this one-page synopsis, I came to the conclusion that my story has deep structural flaws, because I’m currently unable to figure out how the main character’s plot progression drives, or is driven by, the theme! I’m not even sure if the story has a theme. Surely a contest loser.

I brooded on this for most of this past week, and a couple days ago came very close to stopping all further development of The Silence of Ancient Light and starting over on an entirely new story, one that would not be pantsed, but instead properly and traditionally plotted. Which, interestingly, is what I was trying to do two years ago when I started SoAL as an exercise to distract me from my analysis paralysis of developing a plot.

The good news? After two years of this distraction, I still really do want to go back to that original project. I still think it has fantastic potential, and I now have some better ideas for how to work out the plot roadblocks I had encountered. That project, by the way, was tentatively titled A Drive of Light and Shadow, but I will probably change that (but I love the title, so I’m keeping it, even if it ends up stuck on a different story).

The other good news? After two years, I still think The Silence of Ancient Light has promise, and I still like the story — even if it is devoid of any theme and the main character is flat and without growth. I know some of you are enjoying it, because you have told me so and I trust you when you do, but I also know that not very many people have read it, so the sample size is not large.

So no, I am not discontinuing SoAL, I will continue to churn out (or drizzle out, more likely) episodes for you, and I will try to figure out my own angst along the way. Perhaps I can pass some of that to Anna in the story to amp up the tension, although it’s not as if she doesn’t have enough on her plate to keep her angsty already!

Crisis averted. Though I have decided, for the health of my own stress levels, to pass on the contest this time around.

🚀

For SoAL readers curious about that original story from two years ago, there’s an oblique reference in a casual comment Anna makes to Laxmi in the 2nd scene. Yes, that’s right, these stories take place in the same universe. Can you spot it?

🚀

And for those curious about the contest I almost entered, it’s the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Unpublished contest. The deadline for entries is in about a week, so technically it’s still not too late! But no, I’m not ready, so you go right ahead.


header image credit: user:Free-Photos / Pixabay under Pixabay License

NanoWrimo 2019

It has been five years since I last participated in NanoWrimo.

Nanowhat? you ask. NanoWrimo (sometimes capitalized as NaNoWriMo, but I find all that pressing of the Shift key tiring), or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual affair that occurs every November, in which tens (hundreds?) of thousands of writers (published or not, famous or not, serious or just having fun or… not) attempt to write 50,000 new words in 30 days.

1,667 words per day. Every day.

That may not seem like a lot, and for a day here and there, it’s not. But this is every single day. If you have a full-time day job, this can be a bit daunting. If you have kids to manage, this can be daunting. If you have a social life… yeah, you might have to put that aside for a month. Also, it’s November, which in the United States is a major holiday month, in which many people travel to spend a long weekend celebrating with family.

1,667 words, each and every day of that holiday weekend, while your family celebrates around you.

What do you win if you reach the goal? Bragging rights. Some downloadable “stickers” that you can put on your blog or your social media profiles. And sometimes decent discounts for writing-related software, but that’s it. It’s not about the prizes, it’s about challenging yourself. It’s also not really a competition, at least not against other participants, because there is no limit on how many people can win. Everyone who reaches the goal is a winner.

Really, everyone who tries, who writes more in November than they normally do, and who keeps on writing, is a winner, whether they reach 50,000 words or not.

The traditional goal for NanoWrimo is to work on a new novel. Plotting is allowed in advance, but no words can be written prior to November 1st. However, the organizers have recognized that there are rebels out there who use NanoWrimo in their own way, to achieve their own ends. Some people continue work on an existing work-in-progress. Some people write multiple short stories instead of one novel. Some work on revisions and 2nd drafts. The only real caveat, the only hard-and-fast rule, is that only words newly written between November 1st and November 30th can count toward the 50,000-word goal.

I am a rebel.

As those of you following along know, I have been working on The Silence of Ancient Light for nearly a year and a half now, and in all that time I am just now approaching 50,000 words for my first draft. Turtle writing, indeed! I briefly planned to put that aside and work on two new short stories for NanoWrimo this year, but I have shelved that plan. Instead, I will continue working on SoAL, using the challenge to inspire myself to perhaps write a bit faster, a bit more prolifically, than I usually do.

Will I reach 50,000 words? As a total WIP word count, yes, but as new words just in November, almost certainly not. I already know I’m just not going to be able to do that every day.

I “won” in 2013, and let me tell you it was a lot of work. I can also tell you, however, that it sure felt good, afterwards, even if I never did anything with the story I wrote that year.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover
Yes, I “won” in 2013

I also participated in 2012, although I did not “win” that year. Nevertheless, I was pretty happy with the words I wrote — perhaps someday I will post them here.

This year, my only goal is to make steady progress on my existing work — a rebel goal! — and perhaps also to inspire and be inspired by others who also participate.

Are you doing Nano this year? Let’s be buddies! Find me there at:

https://nanowrimo.org/participants/matt-fraser

Happy writing!

Purple Prose and the Capricious Narrator

A little over a week ago, an author I follow launched a small contest on his blog, the Post-Apocalyptic Purple Prose Contest (1st annual). You know what purple prose is, right? To quote Gerhard Gehrke, the Capricious Narrator himself:

Elevated language where none is needed. Overly flowery descriptions of the mundane that distract. Haughty verbiage where spare description would suffice. Maximum verbosity. I’d like to honor language on stilts that draws excessive attention to itself as it pertains to the decline and fall of civilization.

In other words, a little fun at literary expense. Naturally, I couldn’t resist, so I whipped up a brief entry and posted it, thinking it would be fun to see what others come up with.

And… I won! To be fair, there was only one other entry, so I’m not sure this classifies as a grand prize of literature — well, especially not, given the nature of the writing involved — but still, I am now the proud possessor of a copy of Gerhard’s newest book, Nineveh’s Child, autographed by the author, and a t-shirt featuring the book cover. See above for a shot of yours truly in said t-shirt, trying to look all post-apocalyptic and such. Ok, I was having some fun with filters.

Oh, and the winning entry? Here it is, in full, for your enjoyment (try not to laugh too hard, now, will you?):

Diana glared, a gleam in her stymied eye, across the purpling sage-filled prairie, golden grains turning red as blood in the decaying light of a dying sun. She wearily lifted a slender, weather-beaten hand to her beetling brow, shielding her fractious gaze from that awful hue, searching determinedly for the slightest sign, the merest indicator, that the egregious enemy so heinously hid in any practical proximity to her present position. Well she comprehended the dire, desperate danger of being capriciously caught in the noxious night, food for the fearful fiends she distinctly despised.

Lots of purple there.

Thanks again to Gerhard for a fun contest! I’m looking forward to settling down for a good read with Nineveh’s Child.