Nah, No Wri Mo


I apologize to everyone hoping for my latest novel that I’m not going to participate in National Novel-Writing Month except to reassure friends that it’s fine they missed the 6th, the 9th, and the 14th through 29th except for that time on the 22nd that they realized that a whole page was garbage and they made negative 620 words progress and then finished the 30th at 2,055 words. But I’ve given the world plenty of evidence of what happens when I think of stories. I like to believe I stay on the “kind of charming through enthusiasm” side of things, but, who can tell from inside their own narrative? Anyway it’s all good, the triumph is in trying and if it doesn’t work this time, that doesn’t mean it can’t work.

But to also kind of support folks without doing anything may I offer my guide from a couple years ago, a novel-writing walkthrough? If not, just let it pass and it won’t hurt anyone.

And finally, allow me to point out: it’s just a set of moves. You could do the Monster Mash to any song with the right beat, not just the one you learned it on. You’re welcome.

My NaNoWriMo Indulgence Post


I know, I usually put up a picture with a funny caption on a Monday post like this, and I don’t have a good one. So instead, I want to celebrate the start of National Novel Writing Month with the closest I’ve come to novel-writing since that Next Generation fanfic you have no idea how fortunate you are you will never ever read you are very welcome. Last year I did a sequence of my weekly major essays as a novel-writing walkthrough. It didn’t get much love, except from me, and that’s enough. So let me link to it. Here was the first piece, setting out the premise. Then I confounded my few readers by following up on it and making I think a good crack about being a career genre writer. In part three I get into what name-dropping gets you. And then the last part gets into me being cranky over books where they don’t name characters.

Also my mathematics blog did comics again yesterday. Don’t worry; I don’t figure on having another comics post there tomorrow. I’ve got other things to worry about, but haven’t we all?

And to talk about something that is not myself. Thomas K Dye, a friend who’s been in web comics since back in the days web comics were transmitted by Morse Code over telegraph wires, has a Patreon going. He’s hoping to bring his Newshounds project to an “ultimate-edition” completion. I can’t promise that his comic will be your thing, but you know, it might be. Try the comic strip out, if you’ve not before, and see what you think.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

No, really, we sent someone in to check that the index wasn’t stuck, right? They tapped the dial and everything? Huh. All right. So it’s unchanged. This happens sometimes. I mean, why wouldn’t the underlying fundamentals just happen not to change despite everything that’s gone on in the world the past day, right? That makes sense?

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Walking Through Novel-Writing: November’s Last Step


Hi again, folks. I suppose this is the last of the walkthroughs here before National Novel Writing Month ends. I’d like to think people who’ve made it this far in NaNoWriMo without declaring “look, it’s just been busy, all right?” are going to stick around after November’s over. But I know better. Still, hope this’ll be a good sendoff. Let’s see, where had we left last time?

Oh, yeah, protagonists. I’ve left them with the default names so far. That’s not because I like the default names, I just haven’t figured a name that fits them more exactly. When I have one, I just — here, see, you right-click above either’s head and there’s the option for renaming them. There’s first, last, nickname, familiar name, alternate nickname, there you go. If you’re doing fantasy you might want to use the option about True Name that does magic stuff.

Yeah, nobody ever spells out True Names in full, for the obvious reason. You don’t want an eleven-year-old reading the book to try ordering the character to appear. That just spoils the whole illusion that your magic scheme could be real and you don’t want to deal with a kid getting angry at you on social media. You never want to deal with anybody angry at you on social media, but against a kid? Mister Rogers could probably thread that successfully, but he’s been dead a long time. He lived back when tweets were sent by Morse Code to a back room of the local Post Office, where they were ignored.

Now, you see the option here of “no name”? Yeah, don’t use that. Nobody likes books where nobody has a name. The only time you can kind of get away with it is if you’re doing first-person. The logic of that works as long as nobody who’s standing behind your characters needs to get their attention. If you have characters who can sometimes not face each other then you’re stuck. No, it does not count if your character is a detective or spy and gets referred to by profession. Then, like, “Spy” or “Detective” or whatever is their name.

Yeah, there’s novelists who tell you withholding names gives characters a sense of universality. Or it conveys a sense of modern society’s detached atmospheres, or an unsettling air of unreality or whatever. Nobody likes it. You’ll never get to be the subject of a coherent book report if nobody’s got names. You won’t get to be anyway. But that’s no excuse to add another reason you won’t get to be to the ones already there.

Now — oh, good grief, now these guys are flashing back. That’s a mistake. They only just met earlier this story, though, and I don’t want it revealed they used to know each other. Couple fixes for this. First is in the flashback change the name of the secondary lead. Then I can make something out of how the primary lead keeps attracting the same kind of person into his life. You see where that builds a score on thematic resonances and cycles of life stuff. On some settings that also gives you points for deep background.

You can swap deep background points out for fan bonus content, though. Like, here, if I snip out this whole flashback? OK. I put in a line referring to it, and then dump the scene on my book’s web site as bonus content. This way readers can discover this and feel like they’re in on a secret. That’s how social-media networking works. You want to put something out so everybody thinks they’re in on something nobody knows about. An accident like this is perfect. It doesn’t even have to fit logically the rest of the book because it’s an alternate draft. If you do it right any scrap text you can’t use, you can use. It’s a great time for writing.

OK, I suppose that’s about everything important for this step. Before I let you go let me name the Comment of the Week. That goes to ClashOSymbols for his funny dissection of every author-reader interaction on the Internet, everywhere. He’s not getting any less wrong about second-person. But remember what I said about engaging with eleven-year-old readers? That’s explained in great detail under section 4.4. Enjoy and catch someone later, sometime. But when can’t I say that truly?


About The Author: are a couple of pillows, a John McPhee book he’s had to renew from the library already even though he hasn’t started reading it, and several glass vases he’s worried he’s going to knock over if he sits up or back even the teeny-tiniest bit differently from how he’s sat every single time in the past.

Walking Through Novel-Writing: The Next Step


Hi, everyone, thanks for being back for the next part of this novel-writing walkthrough. You remember last time my leads had gone off down the wrong street. It’s so hard to keep a book on track when the characters drift off like that. Plus, there’s the risk of them doing something that a reader knows is wrong, and the reader then tweets something snotty about you. So what, you say? Well, how do you know that the tweet isn’t going to go viral? And you aren’t going to wake up one day underneath an Internet Dogpile of people mocking your naivete? The public pressure grows until the publisher recalls and pulps every copy of your book, and then goes after you for the money. You’re left with no choice but to escape your home, leaving behind all your loved ones and all the belongings that don’t fit in your cargo pants. And you have to flee to some obscure Canadian province where you eke out a bare living by working as an off-season basketball hoop. Then things get dire the second day.

But. Here’s how I’m going to double down and turn this accident into bonus points. See that? Second lead mentions how, you know, this is the part of town where Jonathan Lethem set most of Chronic City. Main lead didn’t know that but admits he never read it. Second lead reflects how he never read it either, he just heard this was the area. They shrug and get going back to where they should’ve been. Little detour is good for, like, 125 points total.

Why? First the obvious stuff. I get to mention a more popular author’s book, but not in any way that makes me look envious or sour. Readers who’ve heard of him now know I heard of him too, and they like me more because they figure we’ve got stuff in common. Even if they hate Lethem, that’s OK, because I point out the characters didn’t read him. More subtly, now, the story looks like I’ve used its specific setting. Major bonus in making the events feel grounded in reality. I get that even though if you look you realize I haven’t actually referred to any real details.

And if I have the reference wrong, I have a built-in excuse right there in text for getting it wrong. Even the most hostile reader has to agree, characters can get wrong details about books they haven’t read. Doesn’t say anything about what I screw up. Finally, having them talk about a book they haven’t read makes an echo of their talking about quantum mechanics they don’t understand. Almost nobody reading it going to pick up on that. But it adds this nice extra underpinning of security to the story.

You know, I bet this is all good for up to 150 points. Well, that depends on your scoring system. I use the one I’ve always used, some algorithm that was built into emacs back in Like 1994, because it’s too hard to learn another. Some madman exported it to a separate PHP script in 2002 and I’ve been using that ever since. And yeah, there’s this patch that’s supposed to let you use the 2009 revisions to standard story scoring but I’ve never gotten it to work reliably. You can score by whatever your word processor uses, or a web site if you’re doing this competitively. I mean my points and that’s enough for me.

So we’re getting near the end of this installment. Before I go, the Comment of the Week is a special one. In subthread BlooPencil had the happy discovery that Cat Rambo is a well-regarded editor and writer of science fiction and not a novelty tumblr full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. I want to thank everyone for whimsical comments on that. And for the novelty tumblr you put together full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. That’s the sort of loving and creative community everyone wants the Internet to be for. Keep it up, gang.


About The Author: Though he has never had any work produced in the movie or television industries, Joseph Nebus has seen aquarium animals with names that are compatible with their being Arrested Development references.

Walking Through Novel-Writing Some More


Welcome back everyone. Hope you had a good week writing and are ready to resume walking through this novel-writing experience. Before I start, though, ClashOSymbols had his good post for the month, “Facts: Never Your Friends”. Read it wisely.

Now we left off last time here, our heroes wondering about the many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics. But they don’t know it enough to say anything meaningful, so they can’t be wrong. See ClashOSymbols above. You can’t break a suspension of disbelief if there’s nothing to disbelieve. That’s the first reason they have to talk about stuff they don’t really understand.

Something else you get from this. Now, this part doesn’t matter if all you want is a book, but a career walkthrough’ll tell you this. Characters talk about quantum mechanics, you have a science fiction book. You want to start out writing genre, because if genre readers to start reading you they’ll never stop. Doesn’t matter what genre. Science fiction, mystery, western, romance, military, anything at all. But then you have to pivot to literary fiction. Your genre readers will keep reading, and they’ve talked about you enough to their normal friends that you get those readers too. All your books get reissued with boring but uniform covers and your back catalogue sells all over again. Your genre readers will complain about you selling out, but they’ll keep buying and new people will follow them. Always in your career: start genre, then pivot to lit.

But here’s the thing. The harder you start in genre, the tougher the pivot to lit. Start your career with books about Earth pacified by giant memory-wiping kangaroo robot detectives, your pivot is going to have to be like five novels where a sulky old guy reviews badly-named bands for a minor-league city’s failing alt weekly while nothing happens. So doable but soooooooo boring. If you start instead with something so softly genre it could get filed by accident with the grown-up books, you can pivot without doing anything more than picking duller titles.

So. They talk quantum mechanics many-worlds stuff, they don’t know enough to say anything right or wrong or anything. Science fiction fans’ll eat it up, real people will think you’re doing that Bridging The Two Cultures stuff. The novel’s got a good start and I’m already setting up for the pivot.

Now — oh, phoo, what did they go down there for? OK, they just got off the subway and went down the wrong street. I could just go back and restart from the subway and go the right way but you’re going to have to deal with accidents like this and you should see how to recover. Why is a wrong street dangerous? Because if you’re set in a real place, you might say something about the place that a reader can check and find is wrong. That can wipe out all the score you get from the whole chapter. Even if you’re doing the little-chapter strategy, which I say is gaming the rules and won’t do because I have integrity, this dings you. Remember, facts are just stuff you can get wrong. So, have the characters observe something non-committal and non-falsifiable and then they can say they’re on the wrong street. Hey, they’re rattled from that knifeketeer/magician thing, anyone would understand.

Or you can martingale it. Double down, pick something about the setting and just go wild describing it. Extra hard, yes. It’s almost irresistible to put bunches of facts about the place in. And facts aren’t your friends. But pull it off and you can get so many bonus points. We’ll talk about that a little next time.

For now, though, let me point out the Comment of the Week. That’s from FanatsyOfFlight back on Monday with her great Fan Theory: All Fan Theories Are The Same Fan Theory. If you missed it, you’re probably thinking fan theories are a weak target for satire. Maybe they are, but they’re so well-eviscerated.


About The Author: For two years as a reporter on the student newspaper Joseph Nebus attended all the student government meetings for four of the Rutgers University undergraduate colleges. The most challenging was the University College Governing Association, because as adult commuting students they could afford to cater their meetings with way too much pizza to eat and had the pull to reserve the warm conference room with the plush chairs.

Walking Through Novel-Writing


Hi, okay, welcome to this walkthrough of writing a novel. I know we’ve got a lot of new viewers this month because they want to do their NaNoWriMo stuff right. Don’t worry, you should be able to hop right on into this. You all see my novel like it is right now, so let me explain where I’m going.

First, though. Viewpoint. I’m doing third-person omniscient. I mention for the new viewers. I explained why third-person omni like, was it three? episodes ago. Go to that if you want the whole spiel but, in brief: I like it. It’s cozy. I’ve got all my writing macros set up for it. It lets me drop in cynical observations without any characters having to be snarky, which is off-putting when you do it as much as I do. You want to limit readers’ reasons to dislike your characters to the ones that you want, so much as possible. Third person limited is okay. It’s a harder level for getting dramatic irony but sometimes you want the challenge. First person is the easy mode for suspense, the extra-hard mode for dramatic irony. Figure how hard you want to write your stuff. Also you think you get away with any continuity errors by playing the ‘unreliable narrator’ card. Everybody knows that trick so they don’t fall for it. Neutral there.

ClashOSymbols, I see you already rushing to the comments section and you’re wrong. Second person is not happening, and you’re not gonna make it happen. Everything you do in second-person reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. By the third time anyone reads a Choose Your Own Adventure, all they’re doing is reverse-engineering the Happy Ending. Do it in a straight novel and you hit the Choose-Your-Own problem, where ‘you’ get told you’re doing or thinking something you would never do. Yes, shut up, a reader who pretends enough will go along with you. But every line you get wrong is fighting the suspension-of-disbelief and a whole novel of that doesn’t work. You’ve got better fights to pick with your readers than what they think they’d do in your scenario.

Also no it’s not second-person if the setup is the person who did the thing telling it to ‘you’. You are so wrong. New viewers, meet ClashOSymbols. That first impression you’ve got of him? You have him pegged. Short-short version, I’m right, he’s wrong, we’re just delaying his inevitable admission. And yeah, interests of fairness, read his walkthrough yourself for the wrong side of things.

Back to the writing. Up here, that’s the Meet Cute. This isn’t a romance, but my leads didn’t know each other before the book starts. They have to have some reason to stick together. They aren’t in a spot they can be ordered to stick together, and it’s so hard having an emotion about a new person. They gotta be shoved together and that’s why it’s a Meet Cute.

So. New York subway scene. Protagonist rescues the guy from the manic guy stabbing the air with a knife, other guy says it was a magician and shows his cell phone photo to prove it. That works. Readers can imagine knifeketeers on the New York subway. They maybe heard from someone how there was a magician performing on a car or in a station on a big city subway. Readers’ll buy it. And the characters have some reason to keep talking because one has the photo of the knifeketeer, the other the magician. All that doesn’t make sense.

So here you see they try guessing about some quantum mechanics multi-world thing. Neither of them knows enough quantum mechanics to figure how that makes sense. That’s fine, it doesn’t make sense. But they can make wild guesses that maybe explain it, and I don’t have to commit to anything. This is important. Everything you write as a fact in your book is something you can get wrong. Every statement is a chance to break the reader’s suspension-of-disbelief. If you want to do science fiction don’t ever explain how something works in enough detail that any reader can check the numbers. They’ll never ever work. Stay vague and you can insist you’re really writing “hard” science-respecting science fiction. Plus you can boast you spared the readers the boring calculations that would prove it.

This does something else important too. But I’m about out of time for this installment. Hope you learned something useful for your novel-writing. Catch you next week with some more walking through. And, yeah, ClashOSymbols, as always, commenter of the week for that killer pumpkin snark. Congratulations. Folks should check what he has to say out. He can write so brilliant an argument you almost forget he’s wrong. Catch you later.


About the Author: Joseph Nebus has an unpublished Star Trek: The Next Generation novel from back when he was a teenager that dear Lord you will never ever EVER SEE YOU CANNOT IMAGINE HOW WELCOME YOU ARE. He is currently working on an ambitious project of grousing about others’ success.

The October 2015 Scraps File – with NaNoWriMo donations


Here’s some writing I couldn’t make good use of in October. If you think you can, you’re welcome to it. NaNoWriMo participants especially welcome to these chunks!

  • I’d say the worst Star Trek continuity error of all time has to be in naming the captain. One episode it’s ‘Kirk’, next one it’s ‘Picard’, next one it’s ‘Janeway’, next episode it’s ‘Christopher’ in some scenes and ‘Kirk’ in others for crying out loud. Then some episode it’s ‘Jack McCoy’ or ‘Dean Pelton’ or something ridiculous like ‘Jack Aubrey’. And nobody even points this out, maybe out of embarrassment we let the producers get away with this. — Scrapped because I’ve really been making mischief on TrekBBS too much lately.
  • wonder what this movie would be like if John Harker were a character in it. — Left over from me snarking about the 1931 Dracula, which I actually liked although yeah, the Spanish-language version was mostly better.
  • I ask you to refer all questions to — Cut when I realized I didn’t have anyone it sounded plausibly like could get the question. I should’ve made up a name.
  • yeah, I was just wrong all down the line there and I’m sorry — Cut because I was right and you know it.
  • chicks dig metaphors, chicks dig, d-i-g, metaphors. — Taken with barely any attribution from the song “Metaphor” by the band Sparks. Should probably talk to Ron and Russell Mael before using this yourselves, because Ron wrote it and he seems like an interesting person to talk to. Paul McCartney impersonated him briefly in one video back in the 80s, but I forget which one.
  • Hieronymous Thump. — Created to sound like a Funny Name that isn’t actually funny and maybe I could’ve paired it with that refer-all-questions-to thing.
  • yes, i can do that, that’s no problem (14 instances) — Should have cut about twelve more instances and then I would probably be better off.