National Novel Writing Month 2018: Ideas from elsewhere

Looking over the various OneNote pages, Word files and other bits and pieces where I’ve recorded story ideas, here’s a list of some of the more intriguing ones, again rated on a scale of 1 to 10 pounds of James Patterson novels.

Time After Time (yes, YATTS*): A person with Stage 4 cancer comes across a flat translucent stone that lets them jump ahead in time and then back. They decide to see if it can be used to cure their cancer.

I’m not sure this could work at novel-length because I frankly don’t think I’m clever or sophisticated enough to pull it off, and my natural (and sometimes terrible) tendency would be to somehow make light of the inevitable “What does it mean to live? What price to pay?” theme that would develop. For example, maybe the protagonist discovers they can survive the cancer by sacrificing someone else or by allowing something horrible to happen. And I’d play it for laughs. But maybe that could work. Still, a thin, if interesting premise, with potential for some solid characterization.

Rating: 7 pounds of James Patterson novels

Grinder: A thriller about someone using a dating app with GPS locations and getting undesirable results

This has actually happened in real life, where people have used hook-up apps that show location to meet and then beat unsuspecting men. This would probably work better as a short story. I imagine it having either a supernatural element or some kind of Twlight Zone twist to it.

Rating: 3 pounds of James Patterson novels

One Slip: A couple meet in their early 20s and spend the next 20+ years together, experiencing the usual ups and downs of any relationship, against the backdrop of the Vancouver gay community and the specter of AIDs. One day as they stroll around the rugged terrain of a national park, one of the partners slips at the edge of a lookout over a spectacular waterfall. There is a safety barrier but it’s too low and he goes over, as his partner watches in horror. The body is never found. As the surviving partner grapples with the loss of his spouse, he begins to experience odd phenomena that seems related to his departed partner. Gradually he begins to wonder if they are messages “from beyond the grave.” Eventually he realizes that his partner is still alive and somehow trapped in another dimension, one that has a portal just below the falls. The other dimension is unstable and unfriendly and time is running out. The story concludes with a return to the waterfall and a last ditch effort to pull the missing partner back into the world he belongs–or risk pulling both into the bad place where neither should be.

This is a rare in that it’s relatively fleshed out for a simple idea. I like the concept of the surviving partner going from thinking he’s seeing signs of a ghost to gradually realizing his partner is still alive and somehow trapped. It’s a bit goofy, though, but I’d be able to weave a lot of small details into it for added authenticity (write what you know, you know).

Rating: 7 pounds of James Patterson novels

Wake Up: Protagonist is in a coma (but doesn’t know it, and neither does the reader at first). The story follows the vivid thoughts inside the protagonists mind, as doctors and loved ones try to find a way to connect with this person from the real world. Their efforts result in strange, seemingly unexplainable phenomena in this “coma world.” Finally, the protagonist sees the message: “If you’re reading this, you’ve been in a coma for almost 5 years. We don’t know if or when this message will reach you. Please wake up.” (Think Inception, but like, sad and coma-y).

This was actually given as a suggestion on the NaNoWriMo forum a few years ago. I like the idea of bridging the gulf between a conscious and unconscious mind. There would probably have to be some bigger stakes at play, and this would require research and I’m lazy and hate research. Still, a solid idea.

Rating: 6 pounds of James Patterson novels

Best Friend Dead. A friend accidentally killing another friend, and trying to hide the fact, or something to that effect.

Pretty thin idea. Basically, “What do you do if you accidentally kill your friend and really, really don’t want anyone to ever find out for reasons?” Could go many different ways.

Rating: 4 pounds of James Patterson novels

The Broken Bridge. After a near-fatal pool accident, two friends find themselves at a crossroads, where taking responsibility can mean more than just growing up, it could save a life.

This was a long short story I wrote a hundred years ago that I think could potentially work at novel-length. It’s dark and despairing, because it’s about a friend saving another from drowning and the saved friend believing he was meant to die, and slowly unraveling as he attempts to “right the wrong.”

Rating: 7 pounds of James Patterson novels

Sanity Road. A man pulling an all-nighter on the road battles to stay awake—and sane, as the trip wears on his body and mind.

I am a sucker for this idea, even if I have little idea on the specifics. To me it oozes atmosphere. A man has a deadline to meet and has to drive all night, going from the city, through the desert and mountains, before arriving at the destination city. Along the way he thinks he sees things along the sides of the road, maybe something in the backseat–something bumping around in the trunk? He essentially drives himself crazy, then probably dies in a horrible car crash just short of his destination when it’s either revealed that there really was [some awful thing] or he just finally snaps.

Rating: 7 pounds of James Patterson novels

Clean Slate. A person has the ability to literally wipe anything out things—wipe the words off a sheet of paper, wash a car out of existence, etc.

An intriguing but slight premise. And I have no idea how to flesh it out.

Rating: 2 pounds of James Patterson novels.


Tomorrow I’ll pile together all ideas so far and begin The Winnowing.


* YATTS = Yet Another Time Travel Story

Birthday: Bread, but no cupcakes

As always, I am most grateful; on my birthday for having made it largely intact to another birthday.

It was even nice enough for me to go out in a t-shirt and shorts, possibly the last time I will do that this year without questioning my sanity or prepping for a polar bear swim in January (the forecast promises mostly sunny and 23ºC a week from now, but the weather in the second half of September can change in a whimsical and abrupt manner).

I thought it might be cute to buy a cupcake and put a single candle on it (mostly to take a picture of it), but Save-On Foods sadly was only selling a half-dozen of aggressively overdecorated cupcakes. I might have settled for a chocolate muffin instead, but they had none of those, either. I came home instead and, as the kids say, had a sad. I also made bread, which was yummy.

Part of me still wants to go out and find something, but I think the “it’s your birthday, just laze around and very slowly burn calories” part will probably win.

So here’s an image I found on the internet instead. I searched for “sad birthday cupcake.”

And here’s the image in its original context on flickr:

National Novel Writing Month 2018: A mean mind or something else?

On finishing The Mean Mind

The Mean Mind probably has more notes, outlines and various errata on it than any other novel I’ve written.

And yet it still remains unfinished.

While I hit 50,000 words while working on it in NaNoWriMo 2012, I didn’t actually finish the story and the outline I had was vague, especially around the middle (or second act) of the story. I also made a late game change to a major aspect of the plot, bringing in time travel of all things, then expanded the scope to saving an entire world and doing so meant the good guys first had to defeat the bad guys. Maybe I thought I’d have a sequel in which the world was actually saved. The Green Mind.

Hmm, now it actually sounds kind of appealing. :P

The reality, though, is I’d only retain parts of what I’d written, no more than a few scenes, and the rest would be started over from scratch, using a new, more complete outline. So while it seems like this novel already had a lot of the work done, it really doesn’t.

But I like the basic idea and the antagonist (not the villain) was a fun character to write, because he really didn’t care what anyone else thought, and acted accordingly.

If I decide not to pursue a revised The Mean Mind, what else is there?

Journal ideas

I have my journal of ideas. It mostly lives in the Drafts iOS app and when an idea hits me, I tap the complication for the app on my watch and dictate the idea. If I’m in a place where talking into my watch would be socially unacceptable, I type out the idea on the phone version of the same app.

Looking over what I have, if I prune out ideas for blog posts, dream fragments and other miscellany, what I’m left with is the following:

  • People who have died have learned how to breach the gulf between the living and the dead and the living must stop their [plot] somehow, even though the dead obviously can’t be killed.

This is kind of intriguing, because how *would* you stop an evil dead (person)? The twist was they would be more like ghosts and less like zombies, so shotguns and chainsaws would not work. But thinking over it now, I still have no clue what the actual conflict would be, so this is probably best left as a neat idea, better-suited for a short story, perhaps.

  • Only see someone in the window reflection on train, never in the actual seat. Tries to make eye contact through reflection.

Another idea that smacks of multiple dimensions/realities, this neat premise also seems better-suited to a short story. It feels like a Twilight Zone thing, possibly building up to a terrible twist at the end.

  • Time travel. Sent back 20-30 years but with all memories intact. What do you charge? How do you live knowing what may or may not happen?

Oh lord, more time travel. When will I learn? The answer is never. This is the best of the three in terms of an idea that could be fleshed out to novel length, because it has so many possibilities, once you establish the rules of the time travel. One thing not mentioned here is the original idea I had was the person would not just go back 20-30 years, they would also go back in age, so the 40-50 year old protagonist would become 20ish again, but with the 20-30 years of memories still intact. How would you deal with that, even apart from the question of trying to enact big picture changes (stop a disaster/assassination, etc.)

This one is good enough to go on The Short List. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Brainstorming -or- The Delicate Sound of Blunder

I don’t have anything to add here, as I’ve not done any official or even unofficial brainstorming. I’ve mulled from time to time, but not enough to have anything stick. I may devote some time to this soon™ and revisit with what comes of it (if anything).

The Short List are the stories I think stand the best chance of getting spun into a workable NaNoWriMo effort.

The Short List

The Mean Mind – unfinished 2012 NaNoWriMo novel
Time Travel Idea – a person in their 40s or 50s travels back 20-30 years in time, regressing back to their younger age, but still retaining all of the memories they had accumulated

As you can see, the short list is currently living up to its name.

My next task will be to do some brainstorming and to look through other various notes and bits for any other ideas, add them to The Short List, then winnow out all but the final few deemed the most worthy. At that point I’ll outline the remaining stories and see which one sings and which one just lip-syncs.

National Novel Writing Month: Unfinished novels rated

Here are my unfinished NaNoWriMo novels, as reported yesterday, and how I’d rank them on a scale of 1 to 10 pounds of James Patterson novels, with 1 being “Don’t bother” and 10 being “Get James Patterson to co-author this ASAP.”

  • Low Desert. Not much meat on this one. I envisioned a literal interpretation of the Rapture, or something like it, with characters meeting in the desert at the end for some undefined purpose. Rating: 3 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • The Dream of the Buckford Church. Other than the hook of “weird shit happening in a creepy old mountain church” and the main character being drawn to it in a dream, there was little else here. Some sort of ritual stuff that needed to be stopped, maybe? Still, I liked the dreamy/terror vibe it had going in the short story version. Rating: 4 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • The Mean Mind. The most complete of all of the unfinished novels, the overall story was actually outlined (even if it got vague toward the end), but was maybe a bit too grand in scope. Scaling it back might make it work better. Rating: 7 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • The Start of the World. Ignoring the unintended riffing off The Dark Tower, this had a good hook, a sense of doom/world collapse, but the specifics were mostly ignored. Rating: 6 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • Weirdsmith. Sort of a latter-day The Dead Zone, except this car accident survivor finds a blank journal that lets him write things that actually happen. I had nothing more than this to go on, so there’s much work to do here. Rating: 3 pounds of James Patterson novels.
  • Last Exit. The initial premise was worked out, but the overall outline was never completed. The character finds himself slipping through portals into a desert, among other places, before always returning back to his bed/waking, while someone or something acts as a guide of sorts. For what purpose? you got me! Rating: 2 pounds of James Patterson novels.

The clear standout here in The Mean Mind, which has the bonus of also having a cool title with multiple meanings. In my next post I discuss how viable reviving it is, and talk about some of the other story ideas I have kicking around.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: Unfinished stories that could be finished

A story begins with an idea. It might be something as simple as an image, a “What if?” scenario, a certain type of character demanding to speak. But all stories start somewhere and it’s not usually via a helpful muse bringing the story down from the heavens on a velvet pillow, fully-formed and only needing the writer to simply record its magnificence via keyboard, typewriter or legal pad (R.I.P. Harlan Ellison).

Sometimes brainstorming can yield worthy nuggets. Other times it’s better for its entertainment value. Or attempts at entertainment value.

Keeping a journal of ideas (or the modern tech equivalent, like a note-taking app) can work.

Occasionally you can reach into the past, to unfinished or unsatisfying projects and either finish or rework them. For NaNoWriMo this would be cheating, but you’re in no danger of having a NaNo police officer arrest you for breaking the writing law.

I’ve drawn on all of these things to write stories, both for NaNo and otherwise. My success has been inconsistent and when a story dies, it is usually a long, drawn-out process. Usually it’s because the story loses direction–through lack of planning. The lack of planning is often rooted in a fear that plotting things out will kill both spontaneity and interest. This isn’t true, but like most fears, it’s hard to shake off.

Last year’s effort, which yielded a record zero words, was based on two things: a title and a vague, one-line elevator pitch. This is not enough. There’s no way this would ever be enough, unless some kind of writing miracle followed on November 1. And on the next 29 days. That did not happen.

The option that gives me the most to work with from the outset is to revive a stalled or incomplete story. My NaNo history is littered with these:

  • 2010: Low Desert. This was originally a short story called “Hello?” about a man who returns from a camping trip to find the city–and presumably the world–empty of all people. I wrote very little on this for NaNo and the short story ending wouldn’t work for a novel-length treatment. I had loosely planned out the rest of the story, but ran out of gas before getting very far.
  • 2011: The Dream of the Buckford Church. Also originally a short story. This really didn’t go anywhere and my ideas for the expanded version were as vague and mysterious as the short story (not a good thing).
  • 2012: The Mean Mind (winner) I wrote 50,000 words on this so yay me. But I didn’t actually finish the story. This one I outlined to a certain extent, but I had some doubts about some big plot elements and the ending was still ill-defined (do you see a trend here?)
  • 2013: The Start of the World. A guy who can see glimpses of a parallel version of our world is told by a mysterious truck driver that he is going to “restart the world.” There will be three signs, then off he goes! As a high concept, it worked and I wrote several chapters, but I had on idea where it would go, other than somehow he would keep the different worlds from intersecting, which would be really bad. I wrote this while reading The Dark Tower series and it definitely shows.
  • 2015: Weirdsmith. This has a somewhat convoluted history. It started as an (unfinished) play and the title character was a psychotic killer insinuating himself into the lives of a couple who “rescue” him when they find him injured in the woods. Somehow it evolved into a story about a man who nearly dies in a car crash and after a long recovery finds a blank journal and when he writes in it, things happen. What things? Details, details. It’s like the first half of a really exciting elevator pitch and then the person giving the pitch gets out of the elevator and you never see them again.
  • 2016: Last Exit (or Last Stop). I love altered reality stories. This one had a guy in tech support start noticing lots of small details in his daily life seeming a bit off. Eventually, he starts following a strange cat that leads him to a weird buzzing blue portal that leads him into a desert. He always seems to end up waking up in bed, so he becomes convinced he’s just having a weird dream or dreams, but eventually things start to happen that blur the lines between the waking world and what he thinks are dreams. And then who knows, because I never got past the first few scenes.

As you can see, this list has a recurring theme of “What the hell happens next/how does this all end?” Trying to tease out which one would be the “easiest” to finish won’t be easy, but I will try…tomorrow.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: The theoretical plan for success

I am not ready to commit to NaNoWriMo 2018 just yet, but I do have a plan to follow, should I decide to do so. Here it is:

  • Have a plan
  • This is to say, not only have an idea, but have a story ready and planned out in advance
  • Planning means outlining. Outlining the whole thing. Even the ending.
  • Choose the writing program to be used
    • Current candidates: WriteMonkey, Scrivener, Atomic Scribbler, iA Writer
  • Develop a proper save/backup scheme that won’t result in corrupted files and a sad author
  • Do more testing of dictation to help speed up the first draft process
  • Write 50,000 words in 30 days between November 1-30, 2018

This concludes my plan.

I’ve highlighted the most important part in bold.

Winging in–called pantsing by NaNoWriMo folks–has not just failed for me in past attempts, it’s failed spectacularly. See my 2017 summary for an example. This year I am going to outline my story in advance. If I don’t have this done by November 1, I will not take part. Instead I will post an amusing cat picture on this blog that is somehow writing-related. Maybe I’ll do that, anyway.

Tomorrow I’ll post some of the story ideas I’m mulling.