“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.”
Erica Jong

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Day 6: On Premature Climaxes
Tue 2007-11-06 21:31:38 (single post)
  • 10,068 words (if poetry, lines) long

Get yer mind out of the gutter. I'm talking about plot.

OK, well, the scene I'm thinking of did have sexual elements. But that's not the point. Point is, sometimes in writing a long piece of work, there's a temptation to, er, blow one's wad a bit early. Maybe it's just me. I've got this whole novel in my head, and some scenes are clearer in my head than others. Generally, the more tension in the scene, the more clear it is. Which means I'm more likely to start writing it, like, now.

That didn't make a lot of sense.


Think of fairy tales, where things happen three times. Three nights the adventurer watches over the twelve princesses to discover why their shoes turn up all worn through by dawn. The first two nights, some magic spell puts him to sleep and he misses the whole thing. But by the third night he's figured it out, he avoids the trap, and he follows the princesses down the stair to the ballroom where they're ensorcelled to dance the night away. It can't happen until the third night, else the dramatic tension goes fizzle. But there's a temptation to write it Right Now, because it's cool.

Yesterday I managed to write a scene like that, only to realize that I'd cranked the stakes up way too high way too soon. It left me nowhere to go, no way to increase the tension over the next couple chapters.

This is where I plug Spacejock Software's yWriter. (Here we go again.)

So, yWriter is essentially project management for novelists. You define chapters and scenes, and each shows up as a separate writing space. The chapters you've defined are listed off to the left. Whichever one is selected, its scene list shows up in the middle. Double-click on a scene description to open up the text editor to write that scene. (If that was confusing, just take a look at the screenshots on the yWriter website.)

As November approached, I defined the chapters and scenes for this novel, and on November 1, I began writing the text that belonged in Chapter 1, Scene 1.

So when I realized that what I'd just written needed to happen on the third fairy tale night rather than on the first, all I had to do was cut the text from Chapter 2 Scene 3 and paste it into Chapter 3 Scene 2. I could do this because Chapter 3 Scene 2 already exists, even though it has a word count of 0. (Also, I made a mental note that i'd need to create a few more scenes in between, and figure out what happened. Because, unlike a fairy tale, I need more than just "The next night, the prince fell asleep again.") Yay for yWriter!

Other than that, all I have to report is that I have remained on track. I got a bit behind yesterday, but I'm all caught up now. 10,086 is greater than 1,667 times 6. Whee! Good for me!

And you know what? Most of the people I see at write-ins in my region have consistently higher word counts than me.

Have I said Boulder rocks? Boulder rocks.

Day 4: Still On Schedule / Ditching the Mary Sue phobia
Sun 2007-11-04 20:48:47 (single post)
  • 6,849 words (if poetry, lines) long

Hello. Back for more, as promised. Also, the Saints totally did kick the Jaguars' collective butts. It was brilliantly played. How about that onside kick, eh? "No, really, a field goal is nice, but we really wanted a touchdown. So... we're not gonna give you the ball just yet." And I'm all like, "Is that even legal?" because I'm not really knowledgeable about football at all, I just like watching my team win.

Anyway. One football game and 1667 words later...

So after digging up the "Namarie Sue" Making Light blog post to link to yesterday, I started reading it (and much of what it linked to) afresh. And part of the ensuing conversation rang very true, especially considering it mentions NaNoWriMo:

Mitch Wagner: "As a reader and wannabe fiction writer myself, I hate to think of up-and-coming writers who might be scared off of writing idealized versions of themselves because they're afraid of committing Mary Sue."
Kass Fireborn: Unfortunately, I gather it's so: Writing the Non-Mary-Sue Female Protagonist [now-defunct link to old NaNoWriMo forum topic]. There are five pages there discussing the problem of, well, writing the Non-Mary-Sue female protagonist, and that's just one of the threads which bring the concern up--and these days, NaNoWriMo is a broad enough cross-spectrum of future writers so you can figure if it's got that much of a discussion there, it's a problem elsewhere, as well. [...] So what you get, basically, is an effect on two kinds of people. One group contains people who, yes, might have written a Mary Sue if they hadn't seen this sort of thing, and went back and rethought their characters and as a result got something with better depth. The other group is full of people who wouldn't have written a Mary Sue--but they think they could have. They also think of not for grammar guides they'd have misused a semicolon, and if not for a class on plot structure they'd have had a novel that went nowhere. And so they go back and rethink their characters too, and start carefully sanding away certain bits of them, because they'd hate to give offense or do something as horrible as writing a Mary Sue. [...] If this sanding gets taken to extremes, what they end up with is, I suppose, a sort of anti-Mary Sue--a character so unremarkable you can't care about her at all.
That is me all over. I'm sitting here so totally worried about the Sue-ishness of my main character that I'm, well, not so much sanding off her interesting bits as much as being made practically too paranoid to write her story at all.

I think the thing to remember here is, once again, rough draft. What you end up with on December 1 is a huge amount of total rough draft. Rough draft is supposed to be flawed. No one writes it perfectly on the first try--well, maybe some people do, but their example is not useful to us mere mortals. Our rough drafts get better as we continue practicing our craft, but then so do our revision skills, and our standards rise too. So we don't so much aspire to write publishable rough draft as we aspire to have better stories at the end of the writing-revising-polishing process.

As it is, the conclusions people came to on that Making Light comment thread can be summarized as follows: You can have author-insertion that isn't a Mary Sue. You can have admirable characters that aren't Mary Sues. Mary Sue is, quite simply, bad writing. If your wish-fulfillment story is well-written and its main character is well-rounded, it's not going to be a Mary Sue.

Also: A Mary Sue is the character that you're told to like. Because the author says so. For no other reason. Which condemnation says nothing at all about those characters that you come to like because they're genuinely likable.

Also: A pre-emptive remedy for Mary Sue-itis might be, "OK, so you have God-like powers. Now what?"

Also: Read the whole thread. It's good for you.

On a nearly unrelated note, Kass's mention of NaNoWriMo came about because several people upthread were outing themselves as NaNoWriMo participants: "It's rapidly becoming impossible to encounter a fairly large body of prospective writers without tripping over at least one WriMo." And this was 2003. There's even more more of us now. That we Nano'ers are considered a significant portion of the future write population, and that we can gab with pro writers who don't look down at us for choosing this method to produce our rough drafts, is a fine fine thing.

Did I Mention It's November Again?
Sat 2007-11-03 21:17:31 (single post)
  • 5,141 words (if poetry, lines) long

Yes. We're three days in already, and I have this to report: I'm solidly on the 30-day NaNoWriMo schedule. Truly. 1,667 words or more per day, every day. 5141 words so far.

I rock.

As promised, the novel under development is one I always said would never, ever, ever be read by anyone else. On the one hand, it originated in the stuff of pre-teen fantasy, a protagonist all Mary Sue supported by characters drawn straight from the realm of high school crushes and pop celebrity idols. And on the other hand[1], the main character's strengths, capabilities, and her very name all came out of what folks in the shaman business like to call "a big dream." The idea of telling tales about this character for the entertainment of the general public feels like sacrilege.

[1]Given that those two problems are at opposite ends of the banal-to-sacred spectrum, it follows that whoever owns those two hands has an extremely wide armspan.

I'm finding out interesting things about my main character that make her much less Mary Sue-ish. Did you know she doesn't read? She simply doesn't read. Story does not appeal to her. The idea that I might write a character who doesn't share my tendency to devour books was not one that had occurred to me before, say, November 1 2007. Then I added this to what I already knew about her, which was that she didn't have much of a social life, and I boggled. What the hell does she do for fun? If she doesn't read, and she doesn't have many friends, what's left to occupy her time when she runs out of homework? Origami, for crying out loud? Stamp collecting? Whittling, maybe?

That this is a dilemma probably says more about me than I'd prefer.

The Boulder contingent (of NaNoWriMo participants) has been as active and excited about another flurry of novel-writing madness as anyone could hope. It's not safe to plan kick-off events! Every one 'em, with the exception of the traditional midnight "three, two, one, WRITE!" pot-luck at Chez LeBoeuf-Little, has turned into a recurring weekly write-in due to attendees heading home again with the words, "So... same time again next week?" We have next weeks coming out our collective wazoo. Saturdays at the Tea Spot, Tuesdays at the Burnt Toast, Wednesdays at Caffe Sole, Fridays at Cafe Play, Tuesday and Friday lunch hours at Vic's II Downtown, and that's not even getting into our Longmont writer-in-residence at the Deja Brew and various plots hatching for meet-ups in Lafayette/Louisville/Broomfield.

And you know what? Words are getting written at these write-ins. Words by the thousand. I'm all self-congratulatory because I'm sticking to the traditional words-per-day recommendation rather than falling behind on Day 2, but at least three write-in regulars are pushing 10,000 already. Boulder loves to write.

This year is said to be the biggest NaNoWriMo event ever. (Every year is the biggest ever. Sign-up numbers have never decreased.) And the official web site, as usual, is feeling the burn. All the above events are on the calendar, except the calendar is inaccessible what with the website being down for maintenance at the moment. And before that it was de facto down by virtue of page timeouts by the score. I'm surprised people are managing to stay informed about events. And yet each has been extremely well attended. Like I said, Boulder rocks.

So there's yer kick-off report. More tomorrow, probably after the Saints kick some Jaguar butt at lunch-time. If you need me, I'll be playing a game of Go with my husband at the Lazy Dog and making incoherent fan-girl noises at the bar TV.

The Trunk Novel: Inevitability
Mon 2007-08-27 13:45:57 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 18,226 words (if poetry, lines) long

That's it. I'm officially rewriting the trunk novel for NaNoWriMo 2007.

Ackcherly, the trunk novel is in fact three novels. First there's the story of the Mary Sue character coming of age and inheriting her mother's sparkling wonderfulness; and then there's the story of some of the not-so-wonderful consequences of that, including having all her mother's memories and being persona non grata with her father; and then there's potentially a story about what's left for her to get up to after she survives all the mindblowingness of book 2.

So NaNoWriMo 2007 will be all about rewriting, fleshing out, and finishing Stormsinger's Birth. Between now and then I'll be outlining it somewhat thoroughly via the Chapter/Scene Description inputs in yWriter. And retrofitting that outline as I tinker around with the second book, Stormsinger's Quest.

(Yes, these are in fact related to "The Stormsinger's Daughter." Same mythos, different character. Different, in fact, planet.)

...I'm gonna hafta put these novels into the database, aren't I? Boom, there they are. The first and second, anyway. I haven't wrapped my head all around the third yet. But you know what this means? It means I can't call them "the trunk novel" anymore. I might have to treat them like real, honest-to-goodness viable drafts. Which means I'm gonna hafta really scale back the Mary Sue factor and the teenage fantasies and make a real, honest-to-goodness story out of all this. I'm gonna hafta publish excerpts. That people can read and stuff. *shudder* This is all very frightening. I suppose it's what I get for declaring that there is no story that is without merit on the rewrite.