NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 9 (11/09)

I bit off more than I could chew yesterday. I got home and tried to focus and write for four hours and got nowhere. I wish I’d just called it after the first hour because I’d have at least done something relaxing with my time. But I just wanted to get it all done like I’d planned. Which is the downside to goals, I guess. Especially big ones like the ones I was throwing around yesterday. It’s important to know the difference between “possible” and “likely.” I leaned too hard on the possible part and paid no attention to how unlikely it was that I’d have the energy and focus to do that much writing after a full day of work and stuff. I probably need more sleep, a bit of actual relaxation, and then I’ll be good to write.

I think the goals are good, I’m just still recovering. So I’m going to dial them back a bit and aim for that. The blog post counts are pretty much going to stay the same since nothing is going to stop me from updating my blog every day, but I probably won’t pre-write all the Tips for the rest of the month. It’s a bit of a pain to try to come up with them at the end of a night of writing, but it’ll still be easier to do that once a day over this weekend than to try to jam out nineteen extra at some point in the next few days.  I’ll aim for reaching fifteen thousand words in my National Novel Writing Month project, which is pretty much what I should be writing every day according to the NaNoWriMo thing, and I’ll drop my word count for the romance novel down to six thousand. Sure, I’ll have most of tomorrow afternoon and evening to write since I’m up a few hours at work, but I’ll be busy most of Saturday so I’ve really only got two days to spend on writing. Saturday, like yesterday, will be just about getting as many words done as possible before or after helping my friend move to her new house and then doing the requisite amount of hanging out before I bounce. As much as I’d love to spend some time with my friends, I would also like to get some writing done and rest up for next week. Next week is when I’m going to try to get back to it, hardcore mode.

I say “hardcore” mode like I’m going to step up my game to some new insane level, but that’s kind of the theme of the entire month. I’ve had three good days out of the last eight and I wrote twenty-three thousand words in that time. If I kept up that pace every day and wrote just my NaNoWriMo project, I’d have the whole thing done in a week.

Maybe that’s what I should do. Set aside the romance novel and just do the next forty-two thousand words of my novel over the next seven days (leaving a little room for blog writing), and then swap to my romance novel to do the same. That could work. Except for the fact that I know it won’t since seven-thousand words a day is an unsustainable pace during a work week and I still also want to do my Coldheart and Iron weekly posts, so that’s an extra two or three thousand words. Plus, as I said above, there’s a big difference between “possible” and “likely.”

So let’s just stick to my tame goals and then, when I’m rested, I’ll figure out how to fix up my plans so I can still accomplish all my goals for the month. I know I can still do it. I’ve been off to worse starts than this, percentage-wise. I doubt I’ve ever been this far off on word-counts, though. I should be at about thirty-two thousand words for the month as of the end of yesterday, but I’m only at twenty-seven thousand five hundred. Which isn’t a bad place to be, it’s just behind on all my metrics because I’ve only been consistent about blog posts and I can’t ride that minimum daily count for any longer before it starts to put me way behind. I mean, I’m only five thousand words behind schedule and that’s about five hours of work if I can focus. So who knows, maybe I’ll catch up. I feel pretty far behind, though, so I’m not sure the “projected total” and “actual total” are actually giving me the information a quick analysis says they do.

Okay, I crunched the numbers and everything’s further off. I should be at eight thousand words for my romance novel (at a minimum) and I’m only at two thousand and all those are getting tossed out because I need to fix how I’m writing it. I’m at eight thousand five hundred words in my National Novel Writing Month project and I should be at thirteenth and a third thousand words. So I’m essentially thirteen thousand words behind my word count totals. Which is about what I’d make up if I’d actually gone with the goals I stated yesterday.

I think that I’m going to keep my more reasonable goals for this weekend and just see where I am when I get there. Maybe I can push for some extra words every day to make up for being behind. An extra thousand every day would catch me up in no time. Four thousand words a day plus blog posts. Doesn’t seem like much when I say it like that, looking at my daily totals from past days, but it’s going to be difficult.

I’m going to take my advice from a few days ago and just focus on non-numeric goals. No time, no word count, just moving down the page and marking off story beats. It’s good advice. I should listen to myself more often. Anyway, I hope your day goes well, that you make good progress today, and that you can find the time to step away long enough to breathe and prepare yourself for the next dive. Good luck!

 

Daily Prompt

Unless you’re trying to write period literature based on stories from over one thousand years ago (if you are, I wish you the best of luck and I hope you let me know because I live stories from back then), your characters are probably going to grow and change. Maybe the entire story is about your protagonist growing and changing. Whatever part of the story it is, growth is important to show. For today, write a scene showing your protagonist growing. You could show them reflecting on a time when they would have made a difference choice or you could even show them growing by having them change the way they’re responding to whatever situation is causing their growth. It can be as little or as big as you want, but show it to us, don’t just tell us about it.

 

Sharing Inspiration

Sometimes, you just need to have an uncomplicated fun time. Most people don’t really think of Twitter when they think of places they can go for a fun time, especially considering how many nazis infest the platform these days. But me? I go check out #BadBookIdeas. Two of my Twitter friends are responsible for the resurging popularity of the hashtag and they occasionally have duels that always result in a spike of people Tweeting. It’s a great place to go for ideas. You shouldn’t use the ideas other people are posting because that’s kind of rude, but they have pun titles usually and they do a great job of getting you thinking about quick little stories. Participating is also great practice for coming up with stories ideas for your own use, so check it out and try it out!

 

Helpful Tips

Take some time away from your screen, typewriter, or notebook. Walks are great, but sometimes you just need to center yourself. Your mind needs to be tidied up every so often, just like the place you live, and the best way to do that is some kind of non-specific writing or expression. Maybe have an open-ended philosophical discussion with your friends. Maybe draw something or make some non-word based art. Maybe write a poem. Maybe do a little writing in your journal. Maybe meditate. You’ve got a lot of options and I’m sure you know which will work best for you. Don’t continue to push yourself when the words won’t come. Take a break, tidy up, and get your mind in order. This doesn’t mean play video games, read, or watch TV. You need to take the time to intentionally order your mind. Get things out of it.  Put some of it away. All of that. It’s not always easy and it’s not always possible, but there’s usually benefit to it. I’m planning to do a bunch of it after I leave work today since I’ve been putting it off all week. I’m going to make a phone call, have a good cry about this week, and then clean up my mind. Maybe then I’ll actually be able to write what happened in my life.

Anyway, this is a bit beside the point. Take the time to reflect on what’s in your head because that’s where the stories come from. You need to clean it up and care for it if you want to keep producing. Sometimes that means not accomplishing the goals you set for yourself, but that’s okay. Your mind is your best tool and it’ll work better once you’ve put some work into caring for it.

Tabletop Highlight: Subverting Expectations to Comedic Effect

One of my favorite things to do in more limber storytelling formats is to find a way to set and then subvert expectations. If you read my flash fiction, you’ve seen me do it tons of times. What you don’t know is that subverting expectations is my favorite way to create comedic situations in my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. It is difficult to create humor without some about of subverted expectation because most humor is derived from an unexpected outcome to a pose situation. For example, the joke “Three men are walking down the street. Two of them walk into a bar but the third one ducks.” takes the format of a “walks into a bar” joke and spins it on its head, subverting the expectation that the punchline was going to involve a situation inside a drinking establishment. Of course, explaining a joke removes the humor, so the above joke is no longer the bit of supreme wit it was before I started this post, but it illustrates the quick payoff most jokes depend on. If you wait too long for the punchline, it is a lot more difficult to make the joke stick the landing.

In Dungeons and Dragons, though, the Dungeon Master has a little more leeway. For instance, in a comedic game I read a couple of weeks ago, the players were selected to participate in some kind of game by forces beyond their ken. As a result, they were pushed through a portal into a different world where they were given a problem to solve. In this case, they stepped out of a preparation room and into a Dr. Seuss world and were immediately approached by the Lorax who requested their aid in defending a grove of trees. Since all of the players knew the Dr. Seuss story, they immediately leapt to the yellow-mustachioed creature’s aid. They charged right up to the giant machine ripping up trees and woodland creatures as it belched smoke into the sky and accosted the man operating it.

As it turns out, he was just some guy doing his job. When the found out that the manager was in his operations booth off at the edge of what turned out to be a surprisingly rectangular forest, they went to discuss the problem with him, all the while animals continued to run into the now-idling machine. There, they found out that the company the manager represented owned the land and had specifically grown these trees to be harvested along with helping environmental groups restore the natural forests they had previously destroyed following the Lorax’s successful campaign to raise public awareness of the environmental impact of the loss of all those natural habitats. Unfortunately, this was the point when the party decided that the smoke was still a probably and started attacking the machine and its poor operator. If they’d continued seeking a peaceful solution, they’d have discovered that the smoke was actually beneficial to the environment given that the atmosphere of this strange planet in an alternate universe had a different chemical makeup than the atmosphere of earth. Instead, they attacked the poor operator, nearly killing him, and then actually killed the Earth Elemental cop who came to arrest them. After stealing a stun baton from one of the security officers and grabbing the badge the Earth Elemental dropped, they declared victory and then assisted the Lorax and his guerrilla army chase the rest of the company off the property before stepping through a door to their next waiting room.

Not only was this story itself a subversion of expectation (you should have seen their faces when I described the Lorax and his guerrilla fighters appearing from amongst the trees right after the Earth Elemental crumbled into rubble and a copper badge), but it’s part of a broader effort on my part to set the stage for future encounters in this “shiggles” campaign. I take something fairly simple and clear-cut, flip it on its head, and let them find out how far astray their assumptions have led them. After this, they’re generally a little more on-guard and I can actually break out the big guns. In a previous shiggles campaign, I had their characters wind up in a room that looked strikingly like the one they were in and, after the first remarks about how dumb it was that I was going that meta subsided, revealed that they’d actually stepped onto the elemental plane of Generic Suburban Houses that all contractors of pre-developed neighborhoods summon their houses fun. After that, they visited Carpenter’s Hell, and wound up accidentally stepping into a Harry Potter book before visiting a Faerie’s Demesne which was actually from a book none of them had read so no one got the reference.

The whole point of subverting their expectations constantly was to get them to abandon them completely so they would live entirely in the moment. If you can get your players to exist in that mental space, it is easier to keep them involved in the story you’re telling and the jokes you’re setting up. They stop worrying about what they should do or how they should behave and simply act, littering the campaign with easy places for you to insert humor or for it to arise naturally out of the group dynamic as they go about whatever little tasks you’ve given them. You need to keep subverting their expectations in order to maintain that mood, constantly flipping the script on them so they never feel like they’ve figured you out. If you stop or let things go too long, or maintain a joke for too long, then you step away from the comedy and back toward the drama of Dungeons and Dragons. For instance, my last “shiggles” campaign had a character all of the players loved, called Blornth the Tuba Player. Because they literally abandoned everything they were doing to follow him around, my ability to subvert expectations was pretty much limited to having Blornth do ridiculous stuff and that started to get stale quickly. I’m certain that, if the campaign had continued for much longer, they’d have all gotten sick of him and we wouldn’t be sharing memes about tuba players and musician gods while lamenting the end of the last campaign.

Comedy, like wisdom, needs to change and grow in order to stay fresh. If you stick with one thing for too long, it grows stale. So throw a curveball at them and, as soon as they think they’ve got you figured out, throw in a fastball just to watch them doubt themselves while trying to figure out were the trick is. It’ll be funny for everyone, especially you.