Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ten Years in the Blink of an Eye

Origin Story

Ten years ago in 2004 I had to write a short story for my English class, but I put off writing it until the night before it was due. That night I typed out a story that was nearly a page long (635 words long) influenced by the images I saw in a Stephen King pop-up adaptation of "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon". I loved writing it and my teacher praised me for its creativity and quality for my age. That was the moment I knew that I wanted to be a writer.

The stories that I wrote shortly after that were forgettable, uninspired, dark, stream-of-consciousness, emotional outlets of my early teenage years. (Years later a college professor would help me realize that dramatic, emotional exposition was the essence of my writing voice, so I suppose those early stories are fitting.) I never cared much about those stories that immediately followed, but the first one would prove to stick in my brain for years afterward despite how much I'd grown and changed as a person.

Revisiting the Past

In fact, that first story stuck with me so much that I rewrote it from scratch five years later in 2009. This second version benefited from a higher skill level, imagination, and vocabulary. I was able to take the essence of the original, then alter and stretch it to just over two pages (1,527 words long). It was really fun to write again, and sort of acted like a perfect reflection of the skills I had gained in the past five years. It's one thing to compare old and new stories to see how much I've grown as a writer, but it's another thing entirely to compare old and new versions of the same story. I quickly decided that I would rewrite my first story every five years to see how much I could improve on the same idea with each new iteration as well as use them as a sort of photograph of my exact skill level and style as a writer at that time.

So here we are, five years after the first rewrite and ten years after the original. I remembered the idea to rewrite the story early this year, but put it off in favor for working on my novel and other short stories. Just last week it occurred to me that I only had one week left in the year in which to keep the promise to myself, so I quickly made it my next immediate goal to rewrite the story that started it all ten years ago.

The Same Story, Ten Years Later

The third iteration of the story yet again breaks down the original plot to its bare bones, then adds some new flesh based on my current style and interests. The newest version stretches to four whole pages (2,784 words long), mixes up the twist ending, adds more personality to the unnamed narrator, explores a bit more of an internal struggle in place of the external one, and overall accurately represents where I am at this stage in my writing.

It's amazing to realize that it's been ten years since I wrote that first story. In that time I've been through high school and college, got a job, met a girl and got married, started this blog, and have written a lot more stories. I have no idea what the future might bring, but I'm excited to see what form my first story takes on when I rewrite it another five, and then ten years from now.

Here's to many more years of writing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Present vs. Past Tense

Almost immediately after NaNoWriMo 2014 ended I discovered a large error in my new story; an error caused partially by my new method of writing. That error? Tense.

To all you non-writers, choosing a tense to use while writing a fiction novel is no small task. It may come easier to some writers than to others, but the use of tense is not as simple as picking between "do" and "did." The difference between present tense and past tense when writing fiction reaches far beyond simple grammar.

Writing in present tense sort of forces you to, as you might guess, write all about the now. Present tense can be great for writing a story where the entire plot unfolds in a short time span, but otherwise it can cause you to get bogged down in details and events that don't matter. I've run into this problem already with my previous novel, where I had to teach myself how to turn a character walking from one location to another into a compelling scene, as well as decrease the time span of the overall story from several months to several days, but those were both challenges that I was ready, willing, and able to take on. Unfortunately I've just gotten to a point in my new novel where a large leap in time is absolutely crucial to the story, and present tense just isn't going to make sense for that.

So how did this happen? Why didn't I think ahead? Well that was sort of the point of this story. I really wanted to write something from beginning to end without looking ahead or back too much and just let it go wherever it takes me, so I didn't really put much thought into what tense I should use before I started writing. I thought that by doing as little planning as possible I would avoid many of the issues I've been having with my last attempt at a novel.

Who was I to think that I could actually get through writing an entire story without having to go back and make at least one huge revision? It seems to happen every time. Changing the story to past tense will make it much easier to make leaps in time throughout the story, but then I have to contend with the fact that my word count might drop significantly as I eliminate scenes that were written specifically to keep the flow of present tense going smoothly.

It feels kind of like I've put myself between a rock and hard place. I'd love to just go sailing forward, but this seemingly small oversight will and has been causing huge problems in my storytelling so far. My only hope is that I can counteract the loss of scenes with additions of others, but we'll just have to see how that goes.

I'm sure it will be worth it in the end, but right now it really sucks.

Monday, December 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

Last year was the first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, and my efforts back then were less than successful. I've participated again this year to better results, which goes to show just how much a person can improve their writing during a single year.

NaNoWriMo takes place every November, during which time everyone with an interest in writing a novel is invited to partake in the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. Local meetups and seminars are organized, online forums are opened up for discussion and help, and statistics are tracked.

Last year I worked on a novel I had started months before, which was then called "An Offbeat Affair," a story which I described on the NaNoWriMo website as:
"A first-person account of what it's like to be 'the other woman.' Mandy is a college senior who is sleeping with a married man, and she's not exactly feeling bad about it. Through her experience she learns more about herself and what she believes in, and finds love in a very unexpected place, which leads to her getting tangled up in a complicated relationship that could only exist in literature in the 21st century."
Unfortunately I got bogged down with rewrites and revisions of my novel, which ultimately led to me completing the month with a measly 13,102 words to show for it (though I actually wrote much more, I didn't count my revisions into my final word count, only the actual length of the novel). My logged statistics were thus:
My stats for NaNoWriMo 2013
It's quite depressing to look at, but that novel had and has been quite difficult for me to write, since it involves me constantly pushing myself to write something above my average skill level.

When November 2014 rolled around I barely remembered about NaNoWriMo at all. I hadn't planned to participate, since, as with last year, I initially thought of the event as a gimmick that detracts from the actual writing itself. It wasn't until I was about two weeks into the month that I realized that I'd been writing a much higher volume of words per day than ever before, so I decided to utilize NaNoWriMo simply to keep track of my word count.

Though you're meant to start and finish your novel during November, it wasn't as much of a stretch in 2014 to write a novel I had already started on, since I had only started it a week before November (as opposed to months before in 2013). Furthermore I had already made a promise to myself to do as little revising as possible for this novel, which is tentatively called "Eternal Paradise," and I describe on the NaNoWriMo website as:
"A teenage boy's uncle, best friend, girlfriend, and mother all die within the same month, and just when his confusion and anger start to become unbearable he is whisked away by a mysterious stranger to a tropical paradise in another world where nothing is as it seems."
I can say with pride that I had not only surpassed my word count for last year's NaNoWriMo at 22,403 words, but that number also surpasses the entire current word count for last year's still-in-progress novel.
My stats for NaNoWriMo 2014
I was writing almost exclusively during the week for an hour a day, averaging just over 1,000 words per hour (the listed words-per-day obviously includes the days I didn't write at all). This is very much thanks to the hour-long lunch break that I get at my new job, the freezing cold temperatures that have kept me inside for the lunch break, and the thrill I get of feeling a story move from my head, through my fingertips, and onto the computer screen.

Perhaps next year I will take NaNoWriMo much more seriously, and really dedicate myself to meeting the 50,000 word goal. I can't help but feel incredibly accomplished and enthusiastic about the future, and I wonder what novel I might be working on next year.

I also really, really hope to be finished with a novel and published by then.