Friday, November 30, 2007

Another lesson learned . . .

This one's about backstory.

Writing a choose your own adventure novel gives me the opportunity to give my heroine a different backstory in each thread. The basic backstory is that she was raised in Africa on a chimpanzee refuge, but fled at age 15; our story starts 15 years later. The reason she fled can totally change, though, which is fun. So far I've had her flee a homicidal insane father, and flee to establish her independence from her radical chimp activist parents, and there will be several other reasons, too.

So it's fun to consider radically different backstory possibilities, and see the impact of motivations (she fled b/c of fear) vs the primary facts (she started a new life as a private investigator).

But the main thing about backstory? Most of the threads don't need it at all, beyond brief references to the basic facts. I've been avoiding backstory in a lot of threads because it just adds to the complexity (is it this thread where she killed her mother? or was she kidnapped by the religious cult in this one?) - so I've only gone into the deep backstory when it's absolutely necessary. And 90% of the time, it is not necessary. People want to read story, not backstory.

Just two things to keep in mind when you're launching into a 5,000 word flashback about your heroine's childhood - consider a bunch of backstories before settling on the best one; and whenever possible, just skip the backstory altogether.

About 3k words to go on the nano novel, and then I'll be an official winner.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nanowrimo 2007

So I'm about 35,000 words into my nano novel, and it's going really well. This is my seventh time (hit 50k four of those times, and surely will this time, too), and I'm really pleased with it. It's just falling into place, without the glaring structural problems I've had in previous attempts. I've learned a ton from all the other ones, and it's always worth doing, for me - but this time it's just working; I think I'm actually going to have something worth editing once this is all over.

It's a choose your own adventure novel, which is a crapload of fun. The format presents its own challenges - it's tricky to work in all the information I need in all the various downstream scenes, and tricky to keep everything straight (did I maim the antagonist in this thread? or was it the other one?). But it's fun to see how my protagonist's choices play out, and liberating to be able to just kill her off whenever I want.

It also forces me to have a very active protagonist. Something *has* to happen in every scene - no sitting around navel-gazing, no long pointless scenes that go nowhere. Every scene *has* to lead to others. She *has* to choose something in every scene - things can't just happen while she reacts. And the choices have to be significant enough, and distinctive enough, to spawn different threads that can carry their own weight. A lot of times I've thought, let's have her do A or B, only to realize that B is a really boring choice, or too similar to something I've already done - so I've had to rethink things to consistently make the choices more significant.

And that's a good thing - who wants to read about a character who never does anything, never makes any real choices, never has to deal with the consequences of her actions? I hope I'll be able to remember this lesson next time I'm writing a regular story.

Tools of the trade:

I'm mapping out the options with, a free online mind-mapping application. It's very simple and easy to use, and when you delete a bubble, there's a little explosion, which I like, because I am three.

I'm writing in yWriter, which lets me work on each scene as an individual unit - this would be a nightmare in a single text document, or even a collection of them. yWriter keeps it all together for me.

And I'm listening to Pandora.