NaNoWriMo Musings

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November has gone and another NaNoWriMo is over. Time to think about what I discovered.

First some basic stats. This was my sixth year of NaNo and my fourth win, writing at least 50,000 words. Other wins were: 2012 – Wyrm Blood; 2015 – Fates Maelstrom; 2016 – Eagle Passage. I did write over 50k in 2011 but failed to validate that total in time. Although I fell short some years and didn’t start in 2014, I have completed the first draft of every ‘novel’ by the end of the year. My ‘lifetime achievement’ – NaNo writing – is 354,334 words.

My daily average for this November was 2,008 words and as a result, I reached the 50k target on November 22nd, in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my US family – without feeling that I ought to be writing. By the end of November, I had written 60,264 words of Ruined Retreat.

On reflection, I realise that with perseverance I can write 2,000 words per day – if I know roughly where I am going. I did have to minimise the time working on emails, checking Facebook, getting distracted but I wasn’t a total bore, I hope.

Back to that outline: a rough one, sketchier than with previous ‘novels’ but with the advantage of being Book 3 in the Snowdon Shadows series, so I knew some of the characters. Now, as I return to the fifth draft of Fates Maelstrom, Book 1 of the series, I know even more about the characters and where they are going.

Previously, I had plotted my novels with intricate detail, almost scene by scene. The problem was that diversions were difficult even if the characters demanded them. The danger of a too-rough outline is having too many wild plot horses to tame – as with Spiral of Hooves which took thirteen years to complete.

 

Dolbadarn Castle

Photo of Dolbadarn Castle, Snowdonia by Etrusia UK on Flickr

 

This time, I used a mystery plot template from The Novel Factory at https://www.novel-software.com/ and the three-act structure proved ideal, especially when I discovered that Scrivener had a similar three-act fiction template when I created the Ruined Retreat file. Having merged the two ‘guides’ to create, my novel flowed out more easily and logically. On November 26th, I completed the first draft and spent the next four days reading through what I had written, changing the glaring errors and marking the phrases that needed to be worked on and developed.

An interesting side-note is the research for this novel. Some research was done while I roughed out the plot, although that was more like compiling links for later use. I also marked up keywords in the text with Scrivener – yellow highlights and red text – to remind me where research was still needed. However, I must confess that my research brain doesn’t always switch off and niggles me until I check a fact. But I do ‘favourite’ the site if there’s too much to check, then knuckle down to writing more words.

Okay, 60,264 words are not going to be the final total for Ruined Retreat, but it’s the first draft so something to build on. I have finished a first draft during NaNo before but in most cases that was the furthest stage reached, even if they can be developed. This time, I won’t get to draft two for a while, but writing Ruined Retreat makes the earlier books in the series more achievable in 2018.

So, once I’ve cleared some non-writing priorities – like getting a good US health insurance policy and my UK tax return –  will make finishing Fates Maelstrom top of my agenda. But I suspect I’m facing a tough task deciphering the copious notes that were meant to bring order to a writhing plot some months ago.

Or do I just ignore the stray sheep and write knowing where I’m heading – towards a ruined retreat in Snowdonia?

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#IWSG – Backtrack 2017

Today, I’m answering the December 6th IWSG question – As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeMy first thought for this monthly post for the Insecure Writer’s Group is to say – or sing:

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do, I saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

I’m not sure if the ‘charted course’ was always planned and that might have been for lack of a GPS signal or the right map. I tried working with a few outlines as I am a plotter, but life is never as simple as planned. The answer for me is five-fold and some were successes, some failures, and most were near misses:

  1. When I started 2017, I thought Gossamer Flames, my post-apocalyptic saga, was my next target book for release. But for various reasons, that intention ended and the ‘novel’ was shelved. Looking back, I might have invested less effort into that – but at least, I have a draft v4 to work with when I return.
  1. However, the first major derailment of my writing has been my health issues – from being rushed to hospital with Aspiration pneumonia to being diagnosed with blood cancer on top of having multiple sclerosis. While my health has stalled the writing at moments, I can look back and think positive: the pneumonia was treated, my cancer is at stage zero, and the MS is not getting worse. Should I have changed my diet earlier?
  1. I had planned to re-release Spiral of Hooves for some time, so the re-release in a newly revised edition on August 7th, was timely and on many levels, I have no regrets. People that never read Kindle books got to hold paperback copies. However, looking back I might have spent less on the re-launch – yet, I now have a back-catalogue that only I can make unavailable.
  1. After the 2017 A to Z Challenge and my re-launch, I ran an interesting poll, asking friends on Facebook what I should be focusing on – including Eagle Crossing, the novel linked to my A to Z theme. As a result – and with overwhelming support – I turned my attention onto Fates Maelstrom, Book 1 of my Snowdon Shadows However, looking back, I fear that too many restarts might have added too many side-plots. Whether the current draft becomes an unwieldy beast continues to haunt me.
  1. Finally, there was NaNoWriMo. I achieved the ‘Winner’ certificate and I even finished draft 1 of yet another novel. That will be next post – my thoughts on my NaNoWriMo win. But looking back, I worry that I chose the wrong novel to write – Ruined Retreat, Book 3 of the Snowdon Shadows Book 3? What about Book 2? Well, Seeking a Knife was written – or rather started in 2015. The main plotline was my first encounter with Welsh detective Sparkle Anwyl, around whom I created the series. Yes, I should have used NaNoWriMo 2017 to finish Book 2. But…I have Book 3 finished and I know a lot more, so ‘regrets…too few to mention’.

But that’s another post.

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Have you got any backtrack thoughts looking back through 2017?

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The awesome co-hosts for the December 6 posting of the IWSG are Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting:  The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

 

#IWSG – My NaNoWriMo Confession

 

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

It’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for another chance to confess – well, to tell the truth in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group post. Time to answer the optional question for this month:

November 1 question – Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

I’ve done NaNo five times – the first time in 2011 = lots of first drafts. I’ve managed 50k three times and one of those ‘wins’ is my current rewrite – draft 4 of Fates Maelstrom. I am taking part again to draft the third book in the same series; same detective and setting so this new story adds to my initial character. Not quite background, but knowing where she is going helps establish a few more aspects about detective Sparkle Anwyl.

 

She is a Detective Constable in Book 1 – Fates Maelstrom – but promoted to Detective Sergeant by Books 2 and 3. There may be a twist in that at the end of Book 3 due to her girlfriend – yes, she discovers that she is bi-sexual in Book 1.

Does a non-sexual relationship with a boyfriend prior to Book 1 make her bi? Book 2 was drafted, in part, in 2015 but will need some work, especially as the questions about her sexuality and identity hadn’t emerged yet.

Anyway, publication. As yet, none of my ‘wins’ has reached even the editor stage, although Fates Maelstrom is heading that way. By next year, the answer might be yes.

What about you? Do you do NaNoWriMo and get published? Are you taking part this year?

 

Dolbadarn Castle

Photo of Dolbadarn Castle, Snowdonia by Etrusia UK on flickr

 

 

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The awesome co-hosts for the November 1 posting of the IWSG are Tonja Drecker, Diane Burton, MJ Fifield, and Rebecca Douglass!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting:  The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

#IWSG – Favorite Aspect of Being a Writer

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

 

I’m still struggling with my health so normal posts are postponed until…whenever.

For now, it’s time for my monthly post for Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day:

November 2 Question: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?

If I had more than one novel published my answer might be different. I would have books to promote and readers to link with. However, I’m still at the early stages so I need to focus on those stages of writing.

For now, my favorite aspect must be able to take the germ of an idea and create an outline where that initial inspiration comes alive. Yes, the actual first draft is meant to bring that alive, but I find that my characters and their actions emerge on stage in the outlining stage.

Or is that because as I work on this post, I’m outlining an idea for NaNoWriMo? Maybe when I get into the draft, that will be my favorite aspect of being a writer. Or have I misunderstood the question? Am I meant to say being my able to work wherever?

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with my fellow writers.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

Our revved up IWSG Day question may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

The awesome co-hosts for this November 2 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Jen Chandler, Mary Aalgaard, Lisa Buie Collard, Tamara Narayan, Tyrean Martinson, and Christine Rains!

 

How long was that novel?

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Which novel you ask? That bestseller? My novel? Well, in some ways that’s a general question, but today it’s personal, and my monthly post for Insecure Writer’s Support Group day – and my weekly post combined.

As November approached, I was wondering if reaching the NaNoWriMo winning tape was possible, and how I would managed to keep blogging. But now, 70,186 words later and a ‘Winner’, my worry/insecurity is different.

I haven’t finished this re-write of the first draft [Draft 1 Mark 2] of “Fates Maelstrom”, and, looking at where I am in relation to Draft 1 Mark I, there are another 32,000 words to write. Maybe more if I play out my new crazed idea and kill another character.

A crime novel with over 100,000 words, in a highly competitive market, felt wrong. Surely, Agatha Christie had been able to tackle far cleverer mysteries in less words.

It didn’t take me long to find truth in that fear. Agatha Christie’s novels range from 54,000 to 70,000. And looking at two more recent authors that I admire, Ellis Peters and Dick Francis, their books are shorter than some of the current writers that I read, like Linwood Barclay.

But then I looked at Famous Novels and saw the huge range, well-illustrated in word count order, from small gems to mammoth tomes, in this article, and in alphabetical order here.

However, my novel has to fit in with the norm, and current publishing requirements – even if I self-publish, somehow. I began to feel better when I found out that in the genre of ‘Mysteries and Crime Fiction’, the suggested figures are: Cozies 60,000-70,000; all others 80,000-100,000.

For those of you that want more detail, I found the following figures in posts by various people, including Jacqui Murray – Word Count by Genre. The posts also tackle all the key genres. For crime, the figures are:

  • cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k
  • mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction = A newer category of light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries clock in at about 75k to 90k. Historical mysteries and noir can be a bit shorter, at 80k to 100k. Most other mystery/thriller/crime fiction falls right around the 90k to 100k mark.

That gives me some leeway, at this stage, as I sense my mystery is veering away from a ‘cozy’, although it isn’t going to be an action-driven thriller.

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Last stop on the research bus was Writers Workshop, and a post by Harry Bingham, a crime novelist and founder of the WW. (I’m slightly apprehensive now, as Harry has written a successful crime series, featuring a strange young female Welsh detective, Fiona Griffiths. And my series features a strange young female Welsh detective, Sparkle Anwyl. Uffern gwaedlyd – the bar has been raised.)

Anyway, Harry Bingham says, “Crime novels usually run a bit longer than women’s fiction, so although 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, anything up to 130,000 words is pretty standard. Don’t go below 75,000 though.”

His post, not only looks at other genres, but also has links on what to do if your novel is too long. I will be using those suggestions come revision time – even just to remove the weasel words and the padding.

By any of the above measures, my debut novel “Spiral of Hooves” fell just inside the lower limit, coming in at 75,400 words. “Fates Maelstrom” may be nearer the upper end, around 90,000.

Insecurity postponed.

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with other writers – aim for a dozen new people each time.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the December 2 posting of the IWSG are Sandra Hoover,Mark Koopmans, Doreen McGettigan, Megan Morgan, and Melodie Campbell! 

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Mal Sumnor: Bloodhound or Genius?

 

After learning something about Twyla Locke, Brogan Keyes, and about Sparkle Anwyl, one of the detectives, it’s time to meet the other key detective in “Fates Maelstrom”, my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel.

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Tom Hiddleston would make a good Mal Sumnor.

Detective Sergeant Mal Sumnor is with Bangor CID, part of the North Wales Police or Heddlu Gogledd Cymru, and he’s the senior officer investigating the suspected murder of Aubrey Locke.

Bangor is not exactly round the corner from Craig-o-Niwl. Weren’t there any closer officers?

Not ones that had the expertise to handle a murder investigation, and as you must be aware, the force is stretched at this time of austerity. Of course, the local uniform boys were first on the scene, but the case was passed to my team, as soon as the victim was identified. Aubrey Locke was a member of a wealthy and influential landed family.

So you must be concerned about the case. There must be a great deal riding on this, not least your reputation? What do you think is going to happen next?

The correct resolution is paramount, but I’m confident that I can attain that speedily. Restoring calm in the community, and demonstrating the abilities of the Heddlu Gogledd Cymru is essential.

I am pleased to say that the forensic team have gathered considerable evidence, and a key suspect was arrested. We have some reliable witnesses, so the case is straightforward, and I anticipate an early conclusion.

Straightforward? Why have you brought in an officer from another area?

A formality. My Detective Inspector suggested that we talk to the suspect, Twyla Locke, in her native language, although she speaks Welsh and English – as I do.

However, Detective Constable Meinwen Anwyl has been assigned as she is a Romani speaker, and as she knows the village. But I will show her how to run a flawless investigation. She has to realise that I’m the one with the Criminal Justice BA – with Honours – from Bangor University.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having a female partner, and I don’t mind that she’s a Goth, or even Welsh. But there has to be an understanding – a rapport.

So a University Education is essential to the police force? Not grassroots experience. Doesn’t policing start on the streets?

Both are needed, but, and I quote the College of Policing, the body responsible for setting the standards for police training – ‘all officers should have degrees’ as the job is now of ‘degree-level complexity.’ Times have changed, this is the 21st century and the world is now very hi-tech. We need a police force that can deal with anything – from tackling cyber-crime one day, dealing with child sexual exploitation the next. That demands something that only a degree can bring.

Won’t the cuts to services make that even harder?

At the moment, the situation might well get worse. Lesser crimes, like burglaries, will not be investigated, unless they are high-profile. Therefore, long-term the cuts will make the ability to detect crime more demanding. That is why we need more multi-skilled officers – trained to degree level. That might require more surveillance, but that might be preferable to more crime.

Is there something that makes you a good detective?

The ability to speedily separate evidence into obscure, circumstantial, misleading, and suspicious – and then knowing what to discard, starting with the obscure. It takes intelligence – and yes, that university degree. That education gives me access to invaluable techniques and experts. Despite what the media panics us into believing, the serious crimes don’t happen on the streets, but in that cyber world that we so readily accept. If a criminal runs from me, I can find him using those hi-tech tools – wherever he or she hides.

That is scary, and a reason to stay the right side of you. But why should we care about you?

Apologies, I’m coming over as the tough-no nonsense guy. I probably take my job too seriously, but then I aim to protect and serve the people. But off-duty, down the pub, or over a delicious meal, I can relax, smile, and tell a few jokes. Should I lie and say I have a dog? That’s not me. Give me a chance to prove that I am just a humble man with dreams.

Does that mean people misunderstand you? If so, what do they get wrong?

They see me as a humourless obsessive, who behaves like an authoritarian bully – even if I rarely wear a uniform. But fighting crime is serious work, and there is very little to laugh about. Once the crime is solved, the other side can come out to play – if you let me. Then I can drink with the best of you, and take off the suit and tie.

What about your parents? Do they support you in this dangerous line of work?

Very much so, since they are in the force. My mother is a Chief Constable in another Constabulary, and my father is a Detective Superintendent. Therefore, I was born to the force – yes, I realise that sounds like Star Wars, but isn’t that a plus point. Anyway, they have supported my career at every stage – and they have provided me with some invaluable contacts, as required.

Are you going to die in this story? Should you?

Is there a reason you ask? My intelligence has kept me alive this far. It helps to be able to detect things in advance of the criminals. Staying ahead of them is a challenge, and I don’t intend to be caught out in such a way that I get killed. Don’t forget, in Great Britain, the police rarely carry firearms, so gun crimes are far less than in other countries. And I wear a stab-proof vest.

What is your worst fear?

I try not to focus on fear as it impinges on my effectiveness. Nothing in my profession scares me to that degree. Yes, my adrenalin pumps when I have to deal with dangerous criminals – and some of my colleagues’ driving.

Perhaps, I have a fear of flying – or handing control to a pilot. But then, I know he’s trained so I ignore the sensation. Anyway, I never go abroad as there are so many great places in Great Britain, especially in North Wales. Next time you want to go somewhere special, come to Snowdonia.

Many thanks for your time, detective. I wish you success with the case and your career.

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