What to Write for NaNoWriMo

Remember, remember, the month of November 

The writing of novels a lot; 

I write not of knowing, but NaNoWriMo’ing 

An effort made for naught?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What’s the easiest thing to write for NaNoWriMo?

—Katelyn Laek, Tigard, Ore.

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

I’ll break it down by genre. I’ve listed levels of difficulty associated with each novel of 50,000 words worth. If you don’t face much challenge with getting the 50k down anymore, feel free to up the grade on this year’s entry.

GAMING THE SYSTEM: Dadaist hypertext, repetitive incantations, uniform texts found in Borgesian libraries, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” abstract language narratives.

ALMOST EASIER TO WRITE THAN READ: YA-fiction, middle-grade fiction, crime, mystery, low-concept Sci-fi, urban fantasy, romance, vampire/zombie anythings, horror, autobiography, fanfiction, time travelogues, erotica, Christian fiction.

AVERAGE FARE, BLAND BUT LABOR-INTENSIVE: High-concept sci-fi, high/low fantasy, (anything)slash, holiday, inspirational, memoir, thrillers, military, biography, cyberpunk, chick lit, Westerns, space opera, war stories, queer fiction, courtroom drama.

MODERATELY TAXING, TAKING IT SERIOUSLY: Historically-accurate romance, romantically-accurate history, alternate-history anything, literary sequels, chiastic narratives, technical fiction, Victorian steampunk, non-Christian religious fiction.

TOUGH BUFF STUFF: Epistolary novels, continual stream-of-consciousness regurgitation, pre-Victorian steampunk, literary fiction, Gothic, saga, New Greek tragedy

TOP-SHELF DIFFICULTY: Christian erotica, Christian queer fiction, fictional literary criticism, prehistoric legal cyber-romance, modern Elizabethan drama, elementary school readers, medical texts, absurdist plays, Apocrypha.

WELL-NIGH IMPOSSIBLE: Preschool readers, ad copy, character sketches, haiku.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Metaphorically Speaking…

Ever metaphor you didn’t like? Wait, no – but yes, maybe I did.

(That was lame.)

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What make a good metaphor, cultural or otherwise?

—Jaime Latcheson, Franklin, Pa.

Whoa. People don’t ask such questions these days. Most just assume that can write because they can string a sentence together. Bravo.

This could make for a whole series, but I’ll pass.

Extended metaphor

This is where you “come out and say it” by not saying it, a la Moby-Dick in Moby-Dick (an extended metaphor about, the universe or something) or the Mississippi River in [anything by Mark Twain]. Like a symbol, it’s presence pervades, backdropping the story with underlying, unspoken meaning.

So make it big, but not obvious. A mural explaining the character’s history? A wall of hieroglyphics? No.

Apprehension

Metaphor is both won and lost on its audience. Good luck if you’re plying your trade in science fiction and fantasy, because only you will get the references if you’re writing about “her eyes were bluish, time-refractive orbs that shone with the steadfastness of a pulse controller,” or “Charl’s reign was a fire-coated, scorpion-tailed Wyrxshith raining down spite and misery upon the peasants.”

Make it recognizable, unless your readers are you. 

Getting too fancy

Let’s take this example (from Wikipedia, no less): “The man’s arm exploded with pain, spiderwebs of fire crawling up and down its length as the tire of a passing car crushed it.

Exploded with pain? I get that.

Spiderwebs of fire? Huh? You lost me. I don’t care if you’re aiming for shape. Even if you’re able to get a spiderweb to burn for longer than a second, I’ll be damned if you get it to crawl.

Getting creative

“Her face radiated, a rising sun of happiness working her way through her dainty features.”

“He stared ice cold into the obsidian rock of night.”

Oh. My. God. I have never before seen happiness compared to sunrise, nor cold compared to staring before! You must be a genius, an unparalleled craftsman among writers. I would never have thought to join such images. Amazing.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

How Many Words Should You Write in a Day?

“Whoever writes the most words in a day, wins!”

Is this what we’ve come to?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

How many words should I write in a day? 

—Nathan Burt, Cantonment, Fla.

What? 

This isn’t NaNoWriMo. This isn’t a contest. This is writing. Art. Do or do not. There is no word count goal in life.

So what occasions this question? Oh, I know!

Writers. 

Writers who will toot the rusty trumpet of wordcount boasts by the 500s, 1000s, 1500s, and OMG I WROTE OVER 9000 WORDS TODAY. Writers who have slit throats and slain the “good writing goats” over the profane altars of “Most Words Wins.” Writers who forgot that writing isn’t probs, probes, stats, or maths. This isn’t a numbers game.

You misspelled quality. Looks like you wrote quantity instead. That’s your problem.

Is it OK to eke out some occasional hollow boasts of word count in your Tweets, posts, and braindumps? Can’t fine or arrest you for that. We’re all guilty. But don’t make it a habit.

Don’t be guilty of surfing with the popular crowds of crows, shouting out into the nothing about the numeric dent they’ve made in their #wip. Don’t strut like an ostrich on uppers after you write xxxx number of words in xxxx amount of time. You don’t see stenographers hop up and do the Dougie in the courtroom after they wrote “FIFTEEN THOUSAND WORDS IN A DAY, YEEEAH!” 

Heck, you could write “swag swag swag” over and over again for an hour and light the jorts off of most wordcount poseurs.

Just write. Write something. Make it good. One hundred hard-earned words well-written and kept quiet win out over the thousands who write for nothing more than the inevitable wordcountbrag fodder.

It’s the words that count, not the word count that counts.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Writing the Best Chick Lit Ever

Chick lit. Back in my day, it was candy. Today? Money.

And even still, you’d be surprised how many well-meaning authors screw it all up.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong,

What advice do you have on writing good chick lit?

—Caroline Heidl, Germantown, Md.

Well. Uh. Yeah. Right, then. Good to see you’ve asked the expert on chick lit.

From what I’ve gathered, chick lit is like the literary version of Lifetime®, only better, and more intelligent. Of course, the same could be said of Caveman Legal thrillers, armpit slicks, and the occasional YA ghostpunk novel.  Here are some basics to getting these down, and getting them good (I think):

Don’t write about “man” stuff

Your chick lit shouldn’t contain any of the following:

-Chewing tobacco

-Eating pork rinds

-Losing an argument

-Being “OK” with someone pretending to listen

-Farting (or farting around) or burping (or burping around)

-Rounds of “chainsaw-jousting” while riding rocket-powered motorcycles 

Writing about the common traits found only among the man part of the human race will discredit your intent, sad to say. Even if it’s pretty cool when ladyfolk do that kind of stuff.

Write believable women

“Susan Sass is on top of the world, having purged herself of insecurities, trusting in her gift of good looks, and using her perfected charm and wit to win over anything and anyone she wants. But deep down inside—she’s the exact same winner as she is on the outside! And she gets along with everyone in life: ex-boyfriends, jealous co-workers, even her mother-in-law.”

That’s not believable. Flaws make for great stories. Throw a few in the mix. Instability. Calamity. Acne.

Renege on romance

Because exotic, spicy fairytales of farfetched flings are just that: lousy. Prince Charming isn’t a popular guest star in the chick lit kingdom. Neither is Prince Perfect-Abs. The lads of chick lit are more pauper than prince. That’s life.

Don’t keep your distance on the difference

Gender. It’s as much knowing what differentiates what “women want” and what “dudes do” when the circumstances could be the same. To put it lightheartedly:

Crisis: Severance of employment.

Chick: “How could this happen to me? I thought I was doing just fine here. Great, months of job hunting and flailing, here I come. (Cue more introspection)

Dude: “Sh*t, how’m I gonna pay up for my Ford, my beers, and my cigs this month?

Crisis: Relatives moving in.

Chick: “Oh. My. God. This was my house. And now it’s a courtroom where I’m being judged 24/7. Can’t somebody declare a mistrial?”

Dude: “We got an air mattress in the closet right? Ok, we’re good.”

Crisis: Pregnancy.

Chick: “Here begins a new chapter of life, written before I picked up the pen. Breathe. This happens all the time. There’s a book on this, right? Ok. I’m not sick yet. Why am I not sick yet?

Dude: “Wait, WHAT? How did I get pregnant? Man, all my bros are gonna flip.”

Come to think, I’m giving chick lit the win.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Showing vs. Telling: Round Two

Last week on Writing All Wrong, we touched upon the ongoing battle between “showing and telling” in writing.

You may “know show,” but can you “tell telling?” They don’t call it “storytelling” for nothing. Perhaps we should find some unbribed referees and make this a fairer fight.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Writing All Wrong:

I hear the “show vs. tell” mantra to know that telling something I shouldn’t be doing in writing. But should I? Doesn’t “telling” also have its place? How are they all that different. I figure you will have some smart answer to this so I await your response.

—Rachel Kovac, Thornton, Co.

And here’s where we let “telling” take Round Two. Can’t have one without the other, no matter how many pseudo-purists tell you otherwise. Heck, they tell you to show more. That should tell you something indeed. Some takeaways on telling:

Telling is underrated.

“Oh,” the pedant cries, “it’s writing, don’t you know! You can tell anyone anything. Showing is the sizzle of the steak, dear writer.”

This guy needs to sock it. Showing might be the sizzle and the shizzle, but telling is your beef. It does more with less (if done right). It keeps the car in gear. Compare:

“The fire raged to the last vestige of the house. The roof caved at last, crushing all his belongings with a punishing blow. He allowed an exasperated breath to pass from between his lips, carrying with it the air of long-held, pent-up desperation.”

You can just say: “He sighed.”

I think we get it. You tell a little, and you let your reader do more reading into it. Don’t do the thinking for your reader.

Telling hammers home the nail of showing.

“The stallion’s eyes become one with the black. The foaming ceased. He was dead.”

Anything past that, and you’re beating a dead horse. Literally. You don’t have to show it all when you can drive the point home with a forceful tell.

Telling is the soul of dialogue.

You may be a master showman, but you’re going to be a master cheesman as well if you don’t get your telling in line when it comes time to dialogue:

“‘How?’” she asked, barely hiding her confusion.

“With the spray cheese canister,” he said, matter-of-factly. “You can rig just about any of them to explode,” he explained, sensing the worry in her voice.

“But why?” Elena pressed. “Couldn’t he have gone . . . some other way?” Her voice trailed off, audibly conveying her hopelessness and dismay.”

You can show less, tell more, and fail much less if you stop trying to show the dialogue. Observe:

“How?”

“Spray cheese canister,” he said. “You can rig just about any of them to explode.”

“But why?” Elena pressed. “Couldn’t he have gone . . . some other way?”

Showing off your dialogue gets annoying. Don’t waste effort on annoying your reader, please.

Tell what you don’t have time to show.

It wasn’t about the money, he explained. She’d been unfaithful. Too many walruses and seals. Not enough orcas.

I don’t think you’d have the time nor space to “show” me all of that. I’m sure it’d be a fun read, but you’ve told me enough to keep me reading regardless. Nothing at all wrong with that.

Care to tell me about how you use your telling?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Showing vs. Telling: Round One

I’ve always enjoyed a good bit of advice by way of adage, even if I’m not all too sure what it means:

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

“You jiggle more with laughter than you do with lard.”

“Choke on a bone, don’t come home.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

You’ll come across that last one more than once. And you’ll tuck it away as fact. But what does it even mean? Make the assumption of fact an action at that.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Writing All Wrong:

I hear the “show vs. tell” mantra to know that telling something I shouldn’t be doing in writing. But should I? Doesn’t “telling” also have its place? How are they all that different. I figure you will have some smart answer to this so I await your response.

—Rachel Kovac, Thornton, Co.

Smart answer? Me? Maybe.

I’m going to take this one to two rounds, as there’s a lot of the arena to be covered. I’ll let “Telling” have its say in Round Two. But with “Showing,” here are a few key takeaways.

Showing is overrated.

Is it now? It’s a critical part of the narrator’s framework, but I think it gets too much time in the sun.

While it takes you from:

“Joe was scared.”

to:

“Joe’s face ghosted white, his chin quivering.”

Too often writers will go for the show gusto with:

“Joe’s face drained of color, leaving it a ghastly white. His chin and lips quivered incessantly, and bubbles of uncontrollable drool gurgled from behind his teeth. His whole head went clammy as a cold sweat broke out unbeckoned…”

All right, all right, we get it. Sho’ no’ mo’.

Show only what needs showing.

“Three uneven chairs surrounded the makeshift table. They were chipped in odd places, one on its back, the others within the seat. One of the chair legs had succumbed to some termites, while the other two looked just as wobbly by virtue of age and disrepair. Together, they made a trio of—”

We don’t need to know all about the dumb chairs. Are you showing? Sure, but it’s showing too much. Like the half-ton hirsute neighbor of yours who doffs his wife beater once he finds out the apartment pool is now open.

If you’re looking to improve this kind of lame writing, then make it compact. The first sentence would have done nicely.

Show what’s worth showing off.

“Bubble, the goldfish, flicked his shimmering fins within the sullen confines of the tank. His bulbous eyes flitted to and fro, darting this way and that, like he were searching for a lost treasure.”

Don’t care how much you’re trying, but showing me Bubble’s escapades in the tank isn’t going to take this story from the mundane to the transcendent. Show me everything you want about a story not worth telling, and you’re showing in vain. Now, if you took this approach:

Bubble, the goldfish, flicked his shimmering fins within the sullen confines of the tank. The M1 Abrams afforded little in creature comforts—”

Stop. You win.

Show, but don’t overshow.

“The crazed zombie tumbled from the fridge. Paul yelled back in horror.”

The amateur stumbles here, inexpertly finding an area of improvement with the “yelled back in horror” part. Here’s what we get:

“The crazed zombie tumbled from the fridge. Paul shrieked with panicky terror.”

“Aha,” you may think, “shrieking shows the emotion so much better!” What about the tautology of “with panicky terror?” Yeah, not everyone catches that, unless there’s a way to shriek with “meted control,” or “disciplined effect.” And no, I don’t think anyone’s “shrieking with delight” at the sight of a refrigerated zombie.

Showing: simple, but elegant. Try too hard, and you’re trying too hard.

How do you make showing work for you and your writing?

(You can read the take on telling here: Showing vs. Telling: Round Two)

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).