The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘horror

My 90 day fast draft novel challenge is done! I finished up last week. I ended up with a little under 55,000 words. Not bad for a first draft. I had a few setbacks though, including losing 6,000 words (!) due to a computer glitch in a recent Microsoft Word update for the Mac. Losing that much material really sucked, but overall, I feel inspired about the progress I’ve made on my nascent horror novel.

Why This Challenge Worked for Me:

-I love a good writing challenge! Doing a fast draft appeals to me for the same reason that doing NaNoWriMo appeals to me. Both challenges provide structure and encourages and rewards daily effort. I love stretching past what I think I can do. With NaNoWriMo, you also get community through numerous online support via their website. Since I was posting my word counts on my author Facebook page, many folks cheered me on there.

-I also love the first drafting process. The first draft, as Jane Smiley has said, “only needs to exist.” In first drafts, I can put all my crazy ideas, flights of fancy, strange characters, and meandering subplots in. Although I was thinking some about the reader experience while writing, I was mostly writing to discover what I thought about the setting, the characters, my themes, etc.

-It gives me something to revise later. In Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass he said that when revising, you should look at a first draft and figure out the themes and ideas you were interested in exploring and then in the next draft to consciously write toward them.

-Writing 800-1,000 words five days a week was demanding, but also doable. I took Mondays and Tuesdays off which gave me some time to mull over what I was writing. NaNoWriMo’s daily word count of 1,667 words is not for the faint-hearted. This lower word count was just enough of a challenge to keep me focused, but it wasn’t so demanding that I had to keep the breakneck pace that NaNoWriMo requires.

-This challenge requires writing all the way to the end of the story. It forces you to construct some type of ending, no matter how provisional.

The only thing that I didn’t like about this challenge was that the research, writing and reading in the field was so all-consuming I couldn’t work on much of anything else during the 90 days. My submission rate plummeted. So, if I do this again, I will be more intentional about using one of my off days to stay on top of my submissions.

What’s next?

This big messy draft exists somewhere between an extended outline and fully fleshed out scenes and chapters. I’ll sit down in the middle of October, read it, make a new outline and write the next draft.

Want to know more about 90 day fast drafting? Check out Racheal Herron’s inspiring video.

Advertisements

I finally got to visit the Great Dismal Swamp. My new WIP is set in the GDS and I feel lucky that I could take a few days and drive up to the Dismal Swamp State Park in South Mills, N.C. and look around.

The GDS (that stretches across southeastern VA and northeastern NC) has a long and fascinating history as it was a place that provided protection to outlaws, moonshiners, runaway slaves and anyone that didn’t want to be found. The GDS Canal in the late 1790s played a key role in the harvesting of timber. It once spanned close to a million acres and now is about 112,000 acres that are under Federal Protection.

This trip allowed me to get the feel of the swamp and also dig deeper into its history. Although my WIP is set in the present, it has connections to the past. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in the swamp for days, months and years, either as a laborer or in a maroon society.

These are pawpaws, a type of fruit I found while hiking in the Great Dismal Swamp. Pawpaw trees were everywhere and there was fruit on the ground for the taking.I had tasted them many years ago in a dessert and thought I didn’t like them. Boy was I wrong! They look funny, but eating them fresh while ripe was a major treat. They are custardy and a cross between a mango and a banana. This is a fruit that many people living in the swamp would have eaten. The leaves also have medicinal qualities.

I found a flush of mushrooms called ‘chicken of the woods’ while hiking in the Great Dismal Swamp. These are choice mushrooms and have a delicious meaty and slightly nutty taste. They are easy to identify and my partner and I have only found them once before in TN, though they tend to be common. I wonder if people who lived in the swamp knew about eating mushrooms. Will have to dig a bit more to find that out.

 

Kayaking down the Dismal Swamp Canal. All that green you see on the surface is duckweed.

 

There was much to explore and I will be reporting back on other things I learned while in the GDS!

It’s the end of the first week of July. We’re in the third quarter of the year.

As I look back over the first two quarters, I can count some successes:

Two pieces of mine are out circulating in the world!

My novelette “Doll Seed” appears in the recent issue of FIYAH: Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. FIYAH is a quarterly, digital publication of fantasy, science fiction, and horror by Black writers. It is about dolls, magic and civil rights! You can read excerpts and even hear a playlist for the issue, as well as buy the issue here.

My essay, “The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank” is reprinted in this gorgeous new book whose cover I love:

Available for purchase at all online booksellers.

My goal for the next 90 days include producing a fast draft of my horror novel. I’m aiming for around 60,000 words. I was inspired to do this by Rachael Herron’s YouTube video about why it is a good thing to fast draft a book. Rachael Herron is an author and podcaster. She said doing a fast draft ensures you are the same writer from roughly start to finish. As a writing instructor she said she witnessed many students struggle with projects that were undertaken over many many years. She said these kinds of projects can be beasts to revise because the writing was completed in very different stages of ability. That makes so much sense to me as someone who has had to mine a 400,000 word unfinished novel over the years!

She gives great suggestions on how to fast draft a novel (but could work for memoir, too), including how to outline and how to stay motivated with the writing. Herron backs up her ideas by describing the success stories of her students that she’s taken through this process. In some ways producing a fast draft over 90 days is like doing an extended NaNoWriMo, but without the exhaustion and frantic energy.

Beginning July 1, I committed to writing between 800-1,000 words a day, 5 days a week.

To give me a little more incentive and accountability, I decided to post my word counts on my Author Facebook page. Knowing I am sharing it with everyone there keeps me honest–public accountability = heightened private results.

It’s funny how quickly one can establish a new normal when you commit. I made my goal this week and have almost 5,000 words. Fast drafting is by far the hardest part of my day and so I try to get to it before the afternoon. This pace hopefully will be my new normal for the next 90 days to produce a draft.

I’m also doing Camp NaNoWriMo, a virtual writing retreat that takes place in July. If there’s a project you’d like to set a goal to move toward completing in July, this might be a fantastic way to get support.

Thinking about and writing a fast draft of the novel is going to take up most of this quarter. I’ll still actively submit work, but I won’t be producing a lot of new work. I’m also judging a literary award for the North Carolina Humanities Council and a writing fellowship for the North Carolina Writers’ Network, so I’ll be busy with those service commitments. It’ll be busy but really fun!

What are your third quarter goals?

I’ve found that different creative projects require new ways of brainstorming and opening channels for getting inspired. For the last few weeks, I’ve been playing around with two different items that have kickstarted my brainstorming sessions for my horror novel.

One was already on my shelf, bought years ago. It’s called The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel. Published more than 20 years ago, I remember using it for stories I wrote a long time ago. It has been fun to rediscover its usefulness now. A new edition is available on Amazon.

It includes 50 fun and innovative cards that offer techniques to bust through writer’s block. The cards match to short chapters where Epel draws on her experiences as a writer and advice gleaned from many best-selling authors.

I love the design of the cards. Some of the approaches will feel familiar (like what I drew recently which was to ask ‘What If’ questions; still a good prompt as I made myself come up with 50 plot ideas), others offer fresh approaches that I haven’t seen elsewhere like ‘Follow a Scent’.

I heard about Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards through the fabulous How Do You Write podcast (a new favorite of mine), by Rachael Herron when she interviewed W.L. Hawkin, a writer of edgy urban fantasy. The idea of an archetype was theoretically developed by psychologist Carl Jung. Archetypes are recognizable human patterns, signs and symbols that are found all over the world and across time (e.g. ‘the witch, ‘the maiden’, ‘the hero’, etc). Many writers and storytellers have drawn on Jung’s work to understand how archetypes figure in storytelling.

Hawkin said that she uses the archetype cards to help her brainstorm aspects of her story, especially in developing characters. Here’s the episode. I thought this was a brilliant idea and immediately bought the deck. I’ve done a lot of reading on my own about archetypes but have never thought to apply them to fiction.

There are 74 archetype cards and each description includes light and shadow attributes. She also includes  6 blank cards for your own creations. Although the deck was designed for personal use (i.e. to discover how you embody certain archetypes), it adapts beautifully to storytelling.

The artwork is compelling.

For the horror novel, it’s currently looking like I will have at least six viewpoint characters. And, I’m far enough along to know some things about them including their fears, secrets, needs and wants. But, I was interested in how might they interact with each other (especially under stress), and what could cause conflict between the characters based on how they were expressing aspects of their archetype.

I was able to easily pick out dominant archetypes for each character! So, for example, I have a stunt woman character and it made sense to connect her to the Athlete archetype and use that to explore what aspects of this archetype might she express both consciously and unconsciously. When people are less conscious of how they are acting out of these patterns, it can lead to inner and outer turmoil. And, of course turmoil adds heat to a story!

It’s fun to think about how to update archetypes, too. You can do so by emphasizing lesser known characteristics of the archetype. One of my characters will have a combo personality of the femme fatale and bully. That should be fun!

I had so much fun looking through these cards and making notes, I lost track of time. I’m keeping these cards close as I write.

I’ve started preliminary research for my horror novel. I know that some of it will take place in the Great Dismal Swamp.

The Great Dismal Swamp is one that extends across southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Some scientists estimate that it once consisted of over a million acres.

Over the past several centuries, however, due to intensive logging and the building of the Dismal Swamp Canal (completed in1805), the area shrank to 112, 000 acres.

Books from the library.

I got interested in the history of this swamp, several years ago, when I learned that many African American runaway slaves formed maroon societies in this very harsh environment. There are also lots of tales and folklore about the Great Dismal Swamp that involve eerie lights, ghost sightings and other strange phenomena. There are also true stories about people going into the swamp and never being seen again.

Although swamps can be beautiful places because of the biodiversity, they also lend themselves to a horror landscape.

The swamp has its own unique ecosystem and that includes critters that would be fun (so to speak), to highlight in a horror novel.

To that end, I’d love to know what kinds of fears the swamp might invoke for you. If you have a moment, I’ve created a poll to gather just such information.

 

 

Photo Credits: http://www.virginialiving.com/travel/the-great-dismal-swamp/

https://www.hhhistory.com/2016/09/the-great-dismal-swamp.html

https://www.ncpedia.org/great-dismal-swamp

When I originally signed up for Samantha Bryant’s ‘Finish Your Novel’ workshop, I thought I would either be working on a parallel novel set in my Reenu-You universe or the urban fantasy novel I’m co-writing with my sister. The workshop meets for five Saturdays for three hours. Samantha’s a great instructor and I’ve taken her classes before through CCCC’s Creative Writing Program. She is most well-known for her superhero menopausal series, which I adore. See my interview with her about Going through The Change, her first book in the series.

I loved when Samantha asked us to place ourselves as writers on the spectrum of Explorers (i.e. Discovery writers) and Architects (i.e. Plotters) in how we begin projects.

Everything changed last weekend when I attended Illogicon, the local sci-fi convention that I’ve been attending since 2015. I had scheduled a meeting with a publisher that I was hoping to get to know better.

Although I can’t release all the details yet, suffice it to say I pitched this publisher a horror novel idea that’s been rolling around in my psyche for a few years. They loved it. So much so, they are offering me a contract. I will have a soft deadline of turning in the novel by October and a hard deadline of January 2020.

I literally have only about six pages of notes on my horror novel idea. Getting published is often a mysterious processes defined by things both in and out of one’s control. As I have often said, there is no one route to publication. And, although I still have to write the book (no small feat!), the way this opportunity has unfolded has been marked by a wonderful feeling of synchronicity. I also believe that all the other pathways of the writing life that I have been contributing to (e.g. blogging and using social media, building relationships with other writers, and submitting work) has contributed to this moment of serendipity.

I’m still both gleeful and stunned at the ease of how everything unfolded. When I met with the publisher, I didn’t have the slightest intent on pitching this novel idea, but during the conversation it felt right. I had studied the company’s catalog and surmised that they might want to continue to develop their horror line.

After the conversation finished, I immediately thought—OK, WELL THIS CHANGES ALL MY WRITING PLANS FOR 2019! and, I NEED SOME SUPPORT IN GETTING THIS NOVEL WRITTEN! and, CLEARLY THIS STORY WANTS TO BE BORN!!! and, YIKES! AND, OMG, I’VE NEVER WRITTEN A HORROR NOVEL!!!!!

I took a deep breath and told myself that I would figure it out, as all writers do.

This brings me back to the Finish Your Novel workshop. We met yesterday and I think it’s going to provide a helpful model for accountability. Samantha will discuss key issues about novel structure and all the participants will have at least one opportunity to receive feedback on their work. My goal is to develop a detailed outline for our Feb meeting.

There is nothing like getting a new notebook when starting a project. My writing teacher got me hooked on these colorful and inexpensive composition books.

I can’t wait to share more details. I’ll do that once the contract has been signed, etc. I can tell you that my story will be set in North Carolina, in the present. I will be updating you right here about the joys, triumphs and struggles of writing this novel.

One question for the fiction writers:

What’s your favorite book on plotting and novel structure? I’d love to know!

One question for the horror lovers among us:

I haven’t read that many classic European and early American horror writers like Lovecraft, etc. What are some classics that I should read?

In my recent newsletter, I wrote about how fun it has been to break some WRITING RULES during the month of November. You might want to consider breaking some writing rules, too.

I’ve been taking inspiration from Durham author and podcaster Mur Lafftery. She is creator of the delightful podcast called I Should Be Writing.

Like many folks, I am working on a NaNoWriMo project and juggling other writing projects, work and life. Also, like many folks, I recognize that we’re moving into a time of the year where it can be harder to get creative work done due to holiday travel, holiday plans, increased expectations about spending time with family and/or friends, etc.

I won NaNoWriMo in 2014, but I used an outline and prepared for months. This year, I don’t have an outline, so I’m “pantsing it” and to boot my NaNoWriMo project is an urban fantasy novel co-written with my sister. Complicated!

Mur typically does a special NaNoWriMo series on her podcast. This year, she’s been posting daily using the metaphor of The Purge (which was a series of horror movies). The NaNoWriMo Purge suspends and breaks “all writing laws/rules” in service of getting more writing done.

These movies look scary!

Hearing her encouragement on breaking writing rules has been a lot of FUN and given me PERMISSION to try new things. A writing rules purge every once and awhile is probably good for us. It builds a sense of excitement and rebelliousness when we come to the page.

So, here are some writing rules to consider breaking—just for the month of November, because well, you know how this month goes. You might be doing NaNoWriMo and trying to get more words written or you just might want to get writing again. Anyway, without a bit of fortitude it’s cold turkey sandwiches, sticky leftover cranberry sauce, the last slice of pumpkin pie, a retail headache and a lot of regret by November 30th.

Writing Rules to Break in November according to Mur (with my interpretation)

Write every day. Nope! Now usually this is a good rule to have because it helps with our consistency. Well, as Mur notes, a major American holiday intervenes in the midst of November which usually includes lots of cooking, eating and retail adventures. You can break this law! Instead think about what writing might realistically fit in your schedule. Plan to be interrupted. Find time to steal. Maybe you will write in the car (assuming you aren’t driving) on the way to Thanksgiving dinner. If you are used to doing a specific word count, consider what it would take to write just a little bit more when you can—so plan to make your word count up over six days, knowing that you will probably not be able to write during the holiday weekend.

Don’t write dream sequences. Nope! Many writers are absolutely terrified of putting a dream sequence into a novel. OK, sometimes they are overused, but that’s not always the case. A dream sequence can be just what you need to get your writing juices flowing—it can always be cut later. Put on your Freudian or Jungian hat and write a dream sequence. Use it to foreshadow an event, get into your characters’ subconscious, and show us their desires or their fears.

Don’t head-hop. Nope! So the rule goes don’t go head-hopping between characters in the same scene. You can confuse the reader and it is not as common in literature as it once was. Though as Mur points out Agatha Christy did this within in a scene and even within a paragraph! So, head-hop all you want. Tell us what Janelle thinks about Damon and then tell us what Damon thinks about her. Tell us what the server in the restaurant that is watching them thinks. Give us all the points of view possible in the very same scene!

-Don’t start a scene with dialogue. Nope! This is one of my additions. Common writing wisdom frowns on starting with dialogue as it disorients the reader. Readers need context. I think it depends on what the characters are saying. Read the fantastic mystery writer Walter Mosely, and you’ll find that he often starts his scenes off with dialogue and trust me, you are immediately hooked. I would have never finished my first NaNoWriMo if I stuck to this rule. Starting with dialogue can be a way to get the reader quickly involved into the emotion of the scene.

Can you think of more writing rules that you’d like to break? I bet you can.

You can listen for free to the first of Mur’s NaNoWriMo Purge series here. The rest of her series is available through her Patreon page. Patreon is a platform that lets you directly support artists and creators.

Break some rules, people! It’s really fun. We will return to our writing law-abiding selves after November. Promise.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

View Full Profile →

Follow me on Twitter

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow The Practice of Creativity on WordPress.com
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: