National Novel Writing Month 2018: ‘Twas the night before NaNo…

When all through the house…er, condo…not a creature was stirring, except me, making sure I’m actually ready.

As I mentioned on Broken Forum, I’ve got most stuff set up:

  • Story with actual plot outline
  • Daily word tracker
  • Updated laptop with writing apps installed

Note I said writing apps. That’s because I’m still flipping between using WriteMonkey or FocusWriter. Both are installed on any machine I’ll use and both save to text format, so there’s no issue if I switch from one to the other, or even back and forth. At this point I’m leaning toward FocusWriter because it’s been more recently updated and has fewer options to distract me.

Now to find out if I’m looking back on 50,000 words in a month’s time or a puddle of tears over what might have been.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: Three days until doom (?), plus an unexpected outline

As referenced in this post, I did in fact spend some time mulling over version #3 of Weirdsmith and came up with enough to think it might work with a little more fleshing out. I chatted with Nic because it’s always helpful to bounce ideas off someone else and came away with what is an actual outline. I just have to move it from my head to somewhere that I (and others) can read it.

Here it is in broad strokes:

  • William Smith has a decent but not great job. He yearns to become a successful writer but is plagued by writer’s block and lots of self-doubt
  • He is also single and working to rectify this, too
  • He meets a guy through a dating app and they begin dating
  • Eventually they begin a committed relationship, though William is still frustrated with his writing and not thrilled with work
  • William gets into a head-on collision that leaves him badly injured and in a coma for several weeks; the occupant of the other vehicle is killed
  • During the coma William has a lot of weird dreams and also sees things that he later feels are more like premonitions than dreams, though he can’t say why. These largely revolve around a book of some kind.
  • William faces a long period of recovery, with a lot of physical therapy, plus survivor guilt to work through. His partner provides support, reminding him he was not at fault in the accident.
  • After he has mostly recovered, William finds his writing is no better off. “So much for the artist having to suffer,” he muses.
  • A woman comes to him one day with a book in hand. She introduces herself as the sister of the other driver killed in the car accident. The book is an unwritten journal. She explain that her brother, like William, was also a writer, and also struggled to get the words down. He had purchased the journal to help record his thoughts, his inspiration and the sister believes that by passing it to William it will help keep her brother’s spirit and his work alive.
  • William thinks this is a little creepy and weird, but takes the journal. He tucks it away in a drawer, never intending to use it.
  • He continues to be plagued by nightmares and is frustrated by his ongoing inability to write. He takes out the journal, thinks about writing in it, then decides instead to throw it away, thinking it bad luck.
  • The next day the book is back on the nightstand. His partner denies any knowledge of it. William leaves it in the drawer again.
  • Eventually William feels a strange tug toward the journal and writes in it for the first time. He isn’t writing fiction, just his thoughts, so it comes easier.
  • A day or so after writing in the journal, he picks it up again only to find a few cryptic words have been added after his entry. He ponders asking his partner, but ultimately rules him out, as the words are essentially meaningless.
  • William continues to write in the journal and after each entry, more writing appears. He eventually shows his partner, who offers no explanation. They check the security of their condo and there are some tense nights as William–already plagued by bad dreams–believes he hears an intruder entering their home.
  • The entries in the journal become more coherent and William realizes someone–or something–is trying to communicate with him. He attempts to reply back.
  • The communication begins in earnest. It seems the person or entity wants to help William with his writing and offers him advice and tips, some of which seem rather dubious or even ill-advised.
  • As this happens, William begins to see what are at first subtle changes in his personality. His partner picks up on this but at first says nothing, thinking he is suffering mental (or physical) trauma from the accident.
  • Eventually this change in behavior begins to generate friction in the relationship.
  • His partner puts together some clues that lead him to believe that somehow the man killed in the car accident is somehow communicating with William through the journal. He takes this to William, who finds the idea ludicrous, something “I wouldn’t put in a novel because no one would find it believable.” The tension in the relationship grows.
  • Putting together more clues, the partner comes to the conclusion that the sister of the brother has given the journal to William in the hope that her dead brother’s spirit can be transferred from the journal into William, allowing him to live again. The partner, without William’s knowledge, confronts the sister. Rather than denying it, the sister admits to it, says it was wrong and agrees to stop. The partner leaves, thinking it all went a little too easily. This is accurate as she was lying all over the place about stopping.
  • A short time later, the partner is nearly run down by a car. A coincidence or something more?
  • The partner takes what he has done to William, but William, already acting increasingly belligerent and odd, rejects the whole thing as absurd. The partner is torn. On the one hand, he wants desperately to help William, but also feels very much that he is getting pushed away hard. He decides to give it a little more time.
  • They end up in an argument, with William saying and doing things so strange that his partner gives him an ultimatum to either work with him to do something or he’s leaving. William tells him to leave.
  • The partner goes back to the sister, who claims again that she hasn’t done anything and has no idea what could be happening. He tells her it doesn’t matter, they’ve split up, anyway, and that William is now on his own. She barely suppresses her glee at this news.
  • The partner goes back to William to try again to convince him to get rid of the journal before it’s too late. To his surprise, William agrees. He gets a large butcher knife, which strikes the partner as rather odd, but watches as William tries to stab the journal. The knife keeps deflecting. The partner asks if he can try and the same thing happens, the blade keeps skating off the cover. William tries tearing out the pages, but they remain firmly attached. He then gets a lighter and tries to burn one of the pages, but it fails to ignite.
  • The partner wonders if it’s already too late, but he still sees enough of William to think it isn’t, and that the efforts to destroy the journal were genuine. He attempts a reconciliation and William tells him that they can no longer be a couple, he’s no longer attracted to him. The partner retreats, hurt and unsure how to continue.
  • At this point the communication from the dead writer is nearly complete. He tells William to finish writing in the journal, to complete the task and let him fully assume control. William balks and tries to get rid of the journal again, tossing it off a bridge into a rapidly flowing river.
  • The next day the journal is back, good as new. William fears he is losing his mind as his personality continues to change. He calls his partner for help and he returns, albeit with some hesitation as he is unsure how much William is in control at this point.
  • They agree that the best and perhaps only way William can defeat the dead writer is by not destroying the journal, but rather by tapping into his own writing skills to effectively pen a different ending.
  • William and his partner sit at the kitchen table with the journal. William fights hard against the dead writer assuming control, but he begins to write in the journal. At first his words have no effect. His partner offers to try writing instead and is violently repelled, but unhurt.
  • William tries again and suddenly grips the arm of his partner. His partner feels not only uneasy, but also not quite right–the dead writer is trying to transfer from William to him. With his free hand, William continues to write and his other hand eventually loosens its grip.
  • William seems more himself and the two tentatively believe that it is over, they have pushed back against the dead writer. They agree that rather than destroying the journal, it is actually safer to keep it. William puts it away in a drawer again.
  • They both go to work the next day, but when they get home, the journal is gone from the drawer. The partner suspects the sister has taken it and says they should go to her. William is reluctant and the partner pretends to relent, fully intending to confront her on his own.
  • He does this and she doesn’t deny that she took it, then says they can have it back if they wish. She promises not to take it again or interfere in any way with them again. The partner smells a trap, but there is little he can do but take the journal and leave.
  • Upon bringing the journal back, it becomes apparent that the sister has somehow infused it with more dark magic and William is drawn to write again in response to the pleading of the now-fading dead writer. His partner tries to pull him away, but William fends him off. William begins to write a scene and suddenly the book is blasted off the table, flying against a wall and sliding to the floor. He seems wholly himself now.
  • They worry that the sister may try again and debate on trying to destroy the journal. for now, they decide to keep it, thinking the window for the dead writer to transfer has either run out or is very close to doing so.
  • The End!

I’m not sure if I’ve captured everything from the discussion we had, but it’s certainly enough to start with, and it has a middle and and end and all the things you expect in a story. I’m not sure how exciting writing in a journal will be, but hey, you never know.

I’ll find out in three days. Well, I guess I’ll really find out in 33 days.

Also, I know this version won’t be called Weirdsmith, but on other title immediately occurs to me. Titles are easy, though. Writing is hard.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: Possible doom

I can’t say why, exactly, but I’ve been unable to outline any of my finalist story ideas. I’ve thought about them and had some ideas, but nothing that could be applied to an outline in any useful way. When I try to think of how to outline one of the ideas, I experience this strange sort of blanking where my brain simply comes up with nothing and I eventually end up looking at kittens on the internet. It can be maddening because it feels like the harder I try to push against the blanking, the more resolute it becomes.

I’m not sure how to get past this, but I am soliciting the help of others instead of just flailing on my own. If nothing else, I’ll at least have company while I flail.

Also, I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, but it feels like NaNoWriMo itself is at a low ebb this year, with lower participation and enthusiasm. This has no actual bearing on my specific issue, but it makes me feel slightly better to think a general malaise is plaguing the entire thing. Actually, it doesn’t make me feel better, it makes me feel a little depressed.

But there are still 10 days to go before November 1st, so I remain cautiously hopeful that I can still pull this off. If not, there are still plenty of kittens out there.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: The Winnowing, Tool Edition

I’m still deciding on what to use for writing this year’s novel.

I’m leaning against Scrivener for a few reasons:

  • the 3.0 version for Windows seems very unlikely to go live before November 1st. The older version works fine, but is not directly  compatible with the current Mac version.
  • I am still not comfortable with how fragile it is with cloud storage. I get that it’s not that hard to just use Dropbox and remember to save, close and sync before returning to a project on a different system, but it’s 2018 and it just seems like this shouldn’t feel like a hack at this point. Plus my preferred storage solution of OneDrive is actively discouraged.
  • I am still not a big fan of the UI, though it is certainly better in 3.0.

That said, it has a lot still going for it, especially for a novel, so I haven’t absolutely ruled it out.

Speaking of Scrivener, the Scrivener-like Atomic Scribbler seems out of the running as its cloud-saving is even more fragile, and the author of the software offers dire warnings to those who would trust an online service in conjunction with it.

I’m also actually considering Microsoft Word. Since novels don’t use a lot of formatting, it wouldn’t get too bogged down and unlike Scrivener, cloud saving is easy-peasy across devices. But it’s still Word and despite having a billion features, it lacks a lot of things that are useful for novel-writing.

WriteMonkey 3.0 is still in beta, doesn’t (yet) support paragraph indents and is unlikely to even come out of beta this year, let alone before NaNoWriMo. Version 2.7 is still very capable and the text-only files it produces make cloud-saving simple and the files themselves very light and quick to load. This is probably still the leading candidate.

FocusWriter is like a stripped-down version of WriteMonkey that supports a lot of its core features and offers an easy-to-use interface. Since it can save in text format, it’s easy to switch between it and other editors that use text files without anything mucking up. I’m not entirely sure why I don’t consider it a stronger contender. It’s almost as if it may lack some feature I need but I can’t think of what it might be.

There are a billion other editors out there, but as I’ve recounted before, most have one or more features (or lack of the same) that make them unsuitable.

The three contenders above are also among the few that support both Windows and macOS, though the latter is less important since I’ve gotten a ThinkPad and seldom use my MacBook Pro now (every time I do I still want to start a rant about the keyboard). Scrivener and Word do offer the bonus of iOS versions, too, though in theory any iOS text editor could work if I stick to using the text-only format–though paragraph indents would likely remain a problem.

Unlike the story itself, I can pretty much put off making a decision about what tool to use until the last minute. And I just might!

National Novel Writing Month 2018: A dark horse re-emerges

A few days ago I was reading the NaNo Technology sub-forum because I like reading about the tech used for writing almost more than writing itself. Just typing that out I can feel the ghost of Harlan Ellison scowling over me.

Anyway, someone described but could not name a thing where words get put into a and are sized based on frequency. These are word clouds, which several other forumites helpfully named. Someone linked a site that generates word clouds based on the text you paste in, so I went looking for some text.

As there was no obvious limit on what could be pasted in, I went to the Novels folder of my All Writing – current folder and grabbed the most recent revision of my incomplete novel Weirdsmith. The site didn’t actually generate a word cloud, probably because I don’t have Java installed, and I couldn’t be bothered to pursue it further. But I looked at the incomplete draft of Weirdsmith–abandoned after only a few days–and was surprised. How can I be surprised by my own writing? I have a bad memory, apparently.

Weirdsmith has been started at least four different times:

  1. As a play. This is the closest to actually being done of the bunch and in it, Weirdsmith is a psychopath who is found injured in the woods by a young couple. He insinuates himself into their lives and things do not go well, as you might expect. This was probably 40% complete when it petered out.
  2. Novel attempt #1: This preserved the main story noted above, but as a novel and with the young couple being switched to two guys. It didn’t make it past the first scene.
  3. Novel attempt #2: This is the one that surprised me. I’ll get back to it in a moment.
  4. Novel attempt #3: This one, like #3, also changes up the story. It starts with a young man driving through a snowstorm to a new city and a new job. He crashes and is left in a weeks-long coma. My work ended just as he starts physical therapy and at a point where nothing unusual has happened.

What surprised me about #3 is that I had somehow managed to blot it right out of my mind. Re-reading it, it was at once familiar again, but it was kind of weird (no pun intended) to have so utterly forgotten about it, especially since the re-read revealed that it was not bad at all.

This one doesn’t start with a car crash or a new job, but rather an IT guy (write what you know) dealing with daily annoyances, struggling with his desire to write (write what you know) and finding little details in his life just a little off. The story hints ominously that the day is not going to end at all in a way he would like. In a rare case of recording my ideas, I actually have a note before the last (incomplete) scene:

William drives to meet a date and that is when he has the crash/finds the book—compare it to shouting “look out” to the girl and how the sequence of events leads to something happening that may not have happened otherwise [edit—or not. There may need to be more initial plot development before going straight to Magicke Book]

The Magicke Book is ill-defined, but I expected that it would somehow shape or predict events, possibly by making things written in it coming true, or something along those lines (I want to say “or words to that effect” but that would be a terrible bit of wordplay).

The other surprising part of finding this third version of Weirdsmith is how it actually grabbed me and showed promise upon re-reading it. William’s personal and private lives are both fleshed out, each with its own travails, so you immediately see a person with flaws, struggling, but seemingly decent at his core. He seems a bit hapless, and maybe deserves better.

As a result, I’m going to spend a few days trying to outline this and see where it goes. Nic suggested that perhaps after finding the book and using it as a journal, William is surprised to find other entries written in it–perhaps in response to what he is writing? Is someone or something trying to communicate with him? and why? Questions!

We’ll see how it goes, but I am thinking this may work out better than the Stage 4 cancer time travel story, which would require more research at the very least.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: The Mulling™ begins

This weekend, other than eating almost-turkey on Thanksgiving, I will begin mulling over the primary candidate for next month’s contest, which is:

Time Enough? (working title) A Stage 4 cancer victim acquires an object/device that lets him slip through time. He tries to use this to rid himself of his cancer.

I’ll also be doing a final look over all of my various and zany ideas, to see if something else grabs me like that girl’s hand at the end of Carrie. If nothing does, I’ll spend next week doing an outline on Time Enough? and see how that goes. If it founders, I’ll spend another week looking at other ideas, pick one and outline that one in the fourth week of October. If that one founders as well I will spend November writing 50,000 words of haiku (that’s 2,941 haikus).

While I am still well ahead of where I’d be at this time in years past, I must admit to feeling a bit nervous with 26 days before the writing begins. But still reasonably confident I can do this.


The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon

The Writer's Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow (Dictation Mastery for PC and Mac)The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow by Scott Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that sets out to do one thing, in this case guide you through using voice dictation with Nuance’s Dragon software to improve your writing output. And author Scott Baker succeeds in providing a concise, clear and confident set of advice, covering everything from set up to hardware recommendations, the common pitfalls to avoid and more.

A lot of the advice also applies in general terms to using any kind of voice dictation, though Baker as much admits that Dragon is the only credible option for the best results (and is more expensive now that the Premium version has been discontinued in favor of the pricier Professional version). Dictation has the potential to dramatically improve your writing speed on first drafts–Baker advises against using it for editing, as do other authors I’ve read who are otherwise strong advocates of dictation–and Baker encourages the reader/writer to use it whenever they can.

He also addresses a problem people generally have with voice technology, whether it’s dictating or just speaking a command to your smart phone–it can feel somewhat embarrassing to do in public. Baker gamely insists people won’t care and my transit rides suggest he may be right, but he provides solutions ranging from dictating in your car on the ride in to work, to dictating as you leave the train and head to the office. With the increased speed of dictation over writing, even 10 or 15 minutes can yield great results.

Baker’s website also includes video tutorials for buyers of the book, as well as a blog where he regularly reviews microphones and other hardware, as well as provides a useful bunch of links to resources ranging from books, microphones, software and other accessories.

In all, this slim volume is an excellent way to acquaint yourself with Dragon dictation software, but more than that, it’s a good primer on why dictation is worthwhile to begin with, full of practical advice and good tips.


View all my reviews

National Novel Writing Month 2018: The Winnowing, Part 1

In which no actual winnowing occurs.

I’ve gotten feedback from three people on my seven story ideas and so far the results are:

  • Time Enough : 2 votes
  • Wake Up: 1 vote
  • Mean Mind: 1 vote
  • Lost youth: 1 vote

Time Enough is Stage 4 cancer person using time travel to get rid of the cancer.

Wake Up is the guy living another life in a coma as doctors and family try to reach him.

Mean Mind are psychokinetic good and bad people trying to use their powers to change the world or keep others from changing it.

Lost Youth is the other time travel story, with someone going back 20-30 years in time, but with all of their memories left intact.

I’m still discussing the ideas, so the winnowing has not begun, but I’m only extending my deadline by a week. That will still give me three weeks to work on an outline and, if need be, jettison the story for another likely candidate. This is why it’s good to have seven of them instead of one. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

More soon, though I am giving Stage 4 (alternate working title) some thought now.

On a side note, I am still deciding what tool to use for the writing part, though I am still planning on working on mixing in voice dictation. I’ll be trying that out more extensively this week.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: The Expanded Short List and Start of The Winnowing

My short list is shorter than I thought it would be, but perhaps this is one of those things that turns out to be a blessing in disguise, like when scientists found out that eating chocolate makes you lose weight.

The Short list

  • Time After Time: A person with Stage 4 cancer finds a translucent stone that lets them move forward and back in time. They use it to see if they can cure their cancer.
  • One Slip: A man falls over the edge of a waterfall and is presumed dead by his partner. As time goes by the surviving partner sees signs that suggest his lover is still around, but stuck…somewhere.
  • Wake Up: Person unaware they are in a coma (as is the reader at first), experiences lots of weird and vivid things in the coma world as doctors and family try to break through to contact them.
  • The Broken Bridge: Expanded version of the long short story in which a man is saved from dying, only to become convinced he was meant to die.
  • Sanity Road: A long night drive starts to play havoc on the mind of the driver. A Twilight Zone joint, if you will.
  • The Mean Mind: Scaled-down version of unfinished NaNoWriMo novel in which a small group of people with psychokinetic powers must band together to stop The Bad Guys with the same powers, as they want to reshape the world in yucky ways. (Imagine if one were the right-hand person in the current White House. Talk about scary.)
  • Time Travel Idea: Yet another time travel story. This time a person goes back 20-30 years to become the younger version they once were, but retaining all the memories they accumulated over those 20-30 years. How does this knowledge help or hinder them?

Looking over this batch, I don’t have any strong, immediate urge to axe any of them–which is good, in a way. It means they all have potential. I may solicit some feedback from a few others and go from there.

I am going to have a target deadline in mind, though: the end of the month, which is exactly seven days hence, Sunday, September 30. On or before that day I will pick one of these seven and then begin the outline process. In the event of a tie, I’ll do two outlines and then choose the stronger of the pair.

Even without having chosen an idea yet, I am already way ahead of where I’ve been for most National Novel Writing Months I’ve participated in. Exciting! And weird.

And sorry, I lied about the chocolate thing.

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

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.