Hey there! How’s everyone’s NaNo project coming along? I’m trying to do on average 2,000 words a day and it’s been a struggle to keep up.
As far as the story, so far I’ve yet to complete the opening scene. I got a late start on November 1st and, just to make the quota, I did what I did last year and focused on scenes I already have pretty clear in my head – mostly dialogue, so very little of what I’ve gotten down so far is actually in sequence. Some paragraphs are likely to get shifted around as well once I start editing and check the flow.
The problem is, compared to last year’s project, it’s less that I have specific dialogue planned out and more that I have a ‘feel’ of certain character dynamics and interactions. So to write those scenes I really need to just start from the beginning of the scene and let the dialogue appear. And the problem with that is that, with zombie apocalypses being so chaotic by nature, I’m not 100% sure who is still going to be alive by certain points in the story! This is an unusual dynamic for me to work with, but is also exciting!
New character concepts have been popping up in my mind as well, even right up to the final days before starting NaNo, and more ideas may come as inspiration does. So plans could get derailed on occasion for the sake of newer and better ideas. I’ll be trying to keep an open mind during this project.
Speaking of which, I’m finally ready to publicly unveil the full title for this year’s Horror Vs Fantasy project.
Elves Vs. Zombies
Having done vampires and werewolves with the first two projects, the next logical horror theme was zombies. But choosing the next fantasy group required a bit more thought. Elves are of course one of my favourite fantasy races, and they come in such a variety of types already. There is a lot of potential, especially for seeing how they would adapt to a post-apocalyptic scenario.
The thought that really stuck out and got me excited about this pairing though is the sheer and stark juxtaposition between the elegant beauty and grace of elves and the cold, merciless horror of zombies – especially when an elf becomes a zombie themselves! The potential for play with this juxtaposition has me intrigued, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with it and what the final product will be.
I’ve already got a Pinterest board up and running (just made public), though admittedly it contains many more elves than zombies (with some that are potentially both). I try not to put too many dead things on my Pinterest boards, although I may need to make an exception here. Pins won’t be divided into sections for each character by name until I’ve got the book published. Until then it’ll serve as visual inspiration whenever I need it.
November is approaching faster than I thought! I had listed the last half of October as my time to finalize a skeleton plot with minor details for each scene, (as well as finer details for the opening scene, or whichever scene I plan to write first). I don’t always write my scenes in order, and this is definitely a story where certain later scenes are playing out in my mind in more vivid detail than the earlier ones. (I like having a sense of where the story is going!)
As far as outlying the plot though, I’m finding it a bit trickier this time around, and I think it has something to do with the zombie genre. I’ll explain.
My standard approach to NaNo prepping involves having solid ideas of characters, motives, individual roles and overall plot direction. As I research the zombie genre though, what I’m finding is that a key classic feature of these stories is to turn such things on their head. Deliver what’s unexpected. Change character roles on the fly. As they say – people show who they really are when the S#%! hits the fan, and one of the biggest traditions in a zombie apocalypse is events and characters taking unexpected turns.
It is supposed to feel chaotic to the audience. Of course, however, the one telling story should have an idea of what’s going on. I believe I’m there. But I should be open to taking new avenues with this tale if I get inspired mid-journey.
My previous two NaNo novels were 10 chapters each, and that seemed to just happen naturally. I’d like to take a more laid back approach to chapter counting with this one too, but I’ve had the idea of beginning each chapter with a flashback scene, and in order make sure each flashback idea actually gets used I of course need to make sure I’ve got the right number of chapters.
Things can get moved around during editing, I suppose, and that may be the approach I have to take to be open to plans changing along the way. Just to keep the current plot straight in my head I’ve even had to outline a rough map of where all the different settlements are and how each outbreak is likely to spread. This is the first time I’ve had to do that for a NaNo project. Although this is also the first one set deep underground. For my past two NaNo novels I mostly consulted already existing maps to get a sense of location and proximity.
Another shift from the last two NaNo novels is the battle outlines. Vampires Vs. Dragons and Orcs Vs. Wolves used pretty much the same 5-Big Battle system – an Introductory Battle – an Ambush – the First Mission with the New Group – the Pre-Final Battle Set-Up Battle – and then the Super Giant Final Battle with other smaller/individual battles going on simultaneously within it. This was not planned out – they just both naturally flowed that way.
Thus far, this next novel does seem to have the same number of big battles, more or less, but with different roles and orders. That alone is tripping me up a bit as far as trying to establish the story structure based on what is familiar to me and what I already know works. But maybe I need to be embracing that – embracing the chaotic feel of a zombie apocalypse which – by nature – creates a sense of the established order being turned upside down and the survivors having to improvise with what they can find. This could turn out to be me this November. A survivor. That’s assuming I do manage to make it to the 50,000 word count and finish the story. I haven’t failed yet, but wish me luck. I may need it!
What about you? Have you got a skeleton plot worked out yet? Do you use plot outlines prior to writing, or are you more of a ‘pantser’? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you 🙂
It’s Week 1 of October, and what I’ve got listed as the first order of business for this week is to finalize the world-building aspect of this year’s project. That means having a solid understanding of the culture, environment, class-systems, and general geography and history of this story’s world. I still have a few lingering to-do list objectives, such as also finalizing the core cast, and I found that difficult to do without having a more solid idea of the story’s general world as a guide.
This came as a surprise, because normally I would start with characters earlier on, and then built other aspects of the story around them, and I think I still do that to an extent. But I’m forgetting that when it comes to the finer details, like how these characters interact with their own world, that requires having an understanding of that world in the first place – the standards, rules, expectations, and available loop holes. Sometimes new character ideas spawn directly from having an understanding of the solidified world and what interesting things I can do with it.
As some of you know by now, my theme for these NaNoWriMo projects is Horror Vs. Fantasy, which has now become the official name of the series. Each project is something horror-themed verses something fantasy-themed.
As I address the fantasy side of this story, I’m going back over notes I had made years ago for my general fantasy world that eventually became Vel Ardon of The Final Power: Chronomancer, which I’ve been using as a template for future fantasy writing. But not all races and cultures were discussed in detail in that novel, and so not everything had been updated from working-version to official-version. Part of that updating means changing names, because back when I started I was still using Tolkien’s elvish languages for a lot of name generation. I had produced my own languages (or at least base words) for anything included in Chronomancer, but some things were left on the drawing board, so to speak.
Before I can finalize certain details in this NaNoWriMo project, I’ll have to finalize background information on a few cultures in my Vel Ardon files first.
Another central thing I’m learning to do, and this is a pretty practical approach to any of my projects, is I’m learning to ask myself, “What are the things that can only be done in this project? – Characters, environments, weapons, combat styles – What can I do here that I can’t do anywhere else?” And I’m making sure to include and emphasize those aspects. Make sure that what is unique about the project is what stands out.
It goes without saying that these NaNo projects are unusual in their concept. That’s intentional. I expect my audience to have seen instances of vampires fighting dragons, or goblins fighting werewolves, in portions of other stories, but never as the focal point of the story, and rarely if ever in a post-apocalyptic setting. There are opportunities inherent in these stories that are not inherent anywhere else. I need to take what is unique about them and run with those. It’s a big part of why the goblin culture in Orcs Vs. Wolves ended up the way it did. I took what I knew about orc mentality and applied it to a post-apocalyptic scenario, with very interesting results. For Vampires Vs. Dragons I had to build a whole class-system for vampires to hunt and take down dragons successfully, and that resulted in a whole new version of vampire combat tactics. There are unique opportunities in this year’s project as well. I need to keep an eye out for them, seize them, and emphasize them.
Have you started your NaNo prep yet? Let me know how you’re doing in the comments below! 🙂
It may be time for me to talk more about Autism again.
It’s been the topic people have been most interested in hearing about, and my autobiography is still the best-selling out of all of my books. I’ve taken some time to discuss more about my passion for storytelling of late, which I plan to continue, but in recent years I’ve all but neglected open discussion on this other part of myself that people seem the most fascinated by.
The way that I communicate with my audience has also been changing. It was just nearly two years ago that I began posting on YouTube, beginning with simple Soulcalibur fights (which still has the largest audience) and slowly progressing into videos where I talk and discuss things while playing, with a particular focus on discussing storytelling.
So far, the video that’s gotten by far the most views, likes, subscriptions, and watch-time hours is simply a video of me talking talking earnestly about something while wondering around in Fallout 4. This is causing me to put a couple of ideas together.
I want to start a series of me talking, and it can be about a variety of topics overall, but at least to start I feel like I should begin with discussing my personal experiences with autism. But in order to do that I need conversation starters. I need some questions to help me going.
So one of the reasons I’ve put this blog post together is to ask around. I want to ask you guys if you have any questions about autism (or other topics) that you’d like to see me answer in an upcoming video. If so, you can post your questions in the comments below. Or, if you’d like to be anonymous for any reason (I know not everyone wants to talk about their own autism openly) you can send private questions to my business email – email@example.com- with the subject line “YouTube Question” and I’ll know that you want me to wait for the video to answer your question.
I’m open to discussing pretty much anything, though I’ll be making these videos kid-friendly, so just keep that in mind. One of the reasons this idea has been on my mind is in case any children on the spectrum need the encouragement of seeing someone like them being open and honest about struggles (or even just open and honest about their favourite dinosaur). I won’t know who (if anyone) needs to see these videos until I actually start the series and get feedback from viewers, but I certainly don’t want to include any material that would make it unavailable for kids.
To see what kind of topics I’ve talked about before, you can check out the following blog posts. (And for a short of me talking about autism, as an example of what I might be doing, you can watch this excerpt I clipped from my playthrough of Battleborn.
We’re nearly done the first week of September and I figure I should say how I’m doing so far with keeping up with my prep schedule.
I can say that so far it’s going well. Though I should be candid and say that some of the prep was started earlier than scheduled. Some inspirational intake had already taken place throughout August just because I was looking for things to watch that I had excuses for 🙂 And a skeleton plot for this year’s project has been in my mind for a while (though with several bones missing). So this is the time to pin some ideas down.
Speaking of which, my secret Pinterest board is looking pretty full now. I haven’t yet finished going through all of my other, public boards and seeing what to repin for inspiration, so I should finish doing that. And I’ll make the board public once I’m ready to announce the project title – probably in November.
As far as focusing more on inspiration – I’ve got my list right next to my chair where I eat, and I’ve been mindful to watch something on the list while I eat. I generally need to sit for an hour after eating so I take that time to either finish off whatever I’m watching, or play one of the video games that I also have on my list. There is a broad range of both television and video games that feed into the subjects I’m writing on this year, so finding inspiration hasn’t really been a challenge – just finding the time to do it all!
I also took some extra time the past couple of weeks to finalize my working cast. I may have more characters to add down the line, but an essential cast was necessary just to know that I have enough roles filled to move the story.
As far as what I’ve been focusing on the most this past week – major decisions about the world itself – its history, how it currently works, why it works that way.
One thing I still need to figure out is an initial cause. There are a number of major events that occur in this story, but currently in my mind they are unrelated – in the sense that they are caused by different things. So I need to rework that, figure out how the different events can be connected so that there is one initial event that chain-reactions into all the others. Otherwise, too many unrelated catalysts all happening at the sme time can come across as convenient, and pull the audience out of the story. There needs to be a natural flow to everything or else it feels like the author is interfering. So I’ve still got some work to do there.
How about you? Are you doing any NaNoWriMo prep this September? Are you waiting til October to start prep? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
We’re coming upon that time of year again! (Okay, so November is still more than a couple months away but, as I learned last time, my kind of prep needs to start early!)
I actually couldn’t remember if I had decided that prepping needed to begin in September or August. Fortunately, I had last year’s posts to turn to for guidelines. I had a whole (rough) schedule laid out for myself, and it worked well for me for the most part, but I noticed some room for improvement.
I remembered that last time I had begun Inspirational Intake in October and that I found it didn’t give me enough to time for the amount of material I wanted to cover. So I decided to amend the existing plan by starting Inspirational Intake as early as September, continuing through into October if needed, but also using October as a time to re-watch or re-play any material I found to be particularly mood-setting. In other words – September is for the collecting of ideas, and October is for creating the mood/vibe/head-space that I need to maintain throughout November and even while finalizing ideas in late October.
The revised NaNoWriMo Prep plan is as follows…
Last Week of August: Create list of Inspirational Material (and a schedule for September if needed).
September: Begin Inspirational Intake (Movies, TV, Videogames, Music). Begin world-building (grand scale), character list, and basic plot.
First Week of September: Create Pinterest Board (kept private and uncategorized for now).
Second Week of September: Create Musical Playlist.
Last Week of September: Complete Core Cast of Characters.
October-November: Replay of mood-setting material.
First Week of October: Complete World-building (finer details).
Mid-October: Skeleton Plot with basic details for each scene.
Last Week of October: Greater Details for opening scene (or the first scene I plan to write).
Also November: Announce project on Blog. Make Pinterest Board public (but leave it uncategorized – no named characters yet).
After Publication (December-January?): Announce on Blog. Plan Launch Party. Categorize Pins on Pinterest Board.
Although launch parties might still be on hold until I know it’s safe to gather. Or I could do an online launch party. The options are there for me to mull over, and I’ve got quite a few months to think about it!
So for now, the only thing I have to do is finalize a list of inspirational material, and I’ve already got a pretty big list! In fact, there’s a good chance I’ll be going over some of this material and jotting down notes and ideas early, and marking anything I find helpful for mood-setting as something to go back to during October-November. For now, I’m just glad I got this to-do list sorted out ahead of time so that I know what aspects of prep to focus on in each week of the coming months. Come September I should be able to hit the ground running.
What about you? Do you have any pre-NaNoWriMo prep strategies? Share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you 🙂
A collection of custom characters I designed using the Creation mode in Soulcalibur 6. As a fiction writer the Soulcalibur franchise has proven to be a useful tool for visualizing my characters and seeing what looks good and what doesn’t. All of these pictures however are just interpretations of others’ characters. Enjoy!
A collection of quotes from my post-apocalyptic dark fantasy novel Vampires Vs. Dragons, my NaNoWriMo project that was published last year, and to which this year’s Orcs Vs. Wolves served as a shared-universe follow-up. It took me some time to get a handle on creating book quotes as posters, so I ended up giving Vampires Vs. Dragons the quotes treatment after Orcs Vs. Wolves, but better late than never. As with all of my books, Vampires Vs. Dragons is available on Amazon.
Thanks for checking out this series! If this is the first blog you’re reading on ‘Writing Speculative Fiction as a Christian’ then please see my intro on post #1 for context on the reason I’ve put this series together.
We’ve just about covered every topic by now, but there are a couple of subjects that Christian writers tend to struggle with most frequently when writing speculative fiction, and I’ve saved them both for last.
What about magic?
Christians who are also fans of fantasy tend to fall into two categories when it comes to the use of magic in stories, there are those who see no problem whatsoever, and those who panic at the first sign of anything feeling even remotely occult. Very few find themselves in a balanced place in between. I myself lean very heavily toward panic, and that’s why my advice on this subject is going to be more on the play-it-safe side and perhaps not as balanced as it should be. Keep that in mind and take everything with a grain of salt. I’m coming from a position of greater caution, but I also recognize the importance of proper balance.
The tension between the cautious and the carefree exploded with the rising popularity of the Harry Potter books. It has settled a lot since then but hasn’t entirely gone away, and the simultaneous re-popularization of the Lord of the Rings franchise raised a fair question that we don’t all know how to answer…
Harry Potter is a wizard. Gandalf is a wizard. What’s the difference?
Most Christians on the cautious side (or even the balanced side) will say that the difference is between magic as a make-believe power (Gandalf) and magic as a real-world occult power such as witchcraft (Harry Potter). Gandalf’s powers are endowed to him as a natural result of his being since he is actually a Maya in disguise, a privilege not everyone can access. Harry’s powers are learned through lessons and texts on witchcraft, something anyone can actually do.
There is a defense that can be used, a strategic approach to implying “magic” into your story, even in a real-world context, while getting the panicking Christians off your back, and that’s to avoid direct references to actual occult research. A lot of the Christian outcry over Harry Potter came from the assumption that what was being taught in the books was actual witchcraft.
Having not read the books myself, I cannot give an educated confirmation on that one way or another. I can say that as far as the films I did not see much that set off my own personal alarms (apart from one scene on divination in one of the films). The only question left in my mind as far as the material in the films is the words (or incantations) spoken by characters in order to perform spells. I’ve avoided learning any actual spells myself, so again, I can’t confirm if the spells spoken in Harry Potter are real or made-up incantations.
Which brings us to the specific subject of spoken words. As far as I am aware, there is nothing wrong with making up your own words and having characters speak them out, if you’re using a fictional language made up for your story. The only remaining issue is that some members of your audience may still be uncomfortable. I myself get uncomfortable if I don’t know what language is being spoken or what a character is saying. In Chronomancer, my counter to this issue was to include an appendix at the end that includes language origins and meanings for every fictional word in the book. That way, if a reader was uncomfortable with not knowing what a character had said, they could look it up in the appendix.
Keep in mind that heading to the end for an appendix isn’t an option in films or television, and that some members of your audience may still be uncomfortable with a character chanting something in a foreign language, even if it’s a made-up language, because made-up languages are not always immediately apparent. It’s safe to say though that any incantation-like chants that sound Latin will raise red flags.
Back to the primary subject though – is it okay to have magic in your story if you’re a Christian writer? I would say yes with an Asterix. As long as the type of magic you’re using is purely fantasy-based in nature, and not based on anything resembling witchcraft or other occult powers, then you’re good to go. A big question that arises, and that you’ll have to address for the sake of your Christian readers, is what is the source of the power?
Again, Gandalf was essentially “born” with his power because of the kind of being that he is. The same could be said of elves and other fantasy races. In Chronomancer it is mentioned (or implied?) that magic ability was something bestowed on a few select creatures and individuals in the early days of that world for the purpose of helping to shape it, and that inborn power has been passed on to even previously non-magical races like humans through cross-breeding.
It gets trickier when you make magic into something that can be taught or given to individuals who don’t already have it inborn, because that’s where it gets dangerously close to sorcery. My recommendation would be something like suggesting that magic can be contained in substances like potions, and that characters can gain the potential for it that way, rather than it being something that can be gained purely through study.
It gets especially tricky if your story is set in the real world. In fact, to avoid confusion I would avoid using the term “magic” at all if your story is set in the real world, unless you plan on specifically taking the time to show or explain the distinction between the power being used in your story and real-world witchcraft. Otherwise, I suspect many Christians would start to feel uncomfortable with the content.
What about references to various mythologies?
It’s common for writers of both science fiction and fantasy to make references to old-world mythological figures, particularly from Greco-Roman and Norse mythologies, in order to add meaning to something using names that most educated audience members are familiar with. For example, if I call something “The Eye of the Basilisk” people would generally know that it’s a reference to death, and if I talk about rising like a Phoenix then people generally know that it’s a reference of new life coming out of death.
Where some Christian writers and audiences draw the line though is references to entities which in those mythologies were worshipped as gods. We are told in scripture to not even have such names on our lips (a figure of speech, since the scripture itself mentions many of these entities by name, but the clear implication is that we should not be praising or celebrating these things).
What are referred to as “gods” in these mythologies are what Christians would refer to as idols, and sometimes we would leave it at that and say that these are purely fictional things not even worth talking about. Paul says as much, in part, (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) but he goes a bit deeper (10:19-20) to explain that these things are representations inspired by demons, and that these idols are the demons’ way of being worshipped. This is why God is against it.
There are ways around this issue. If you’re writing fantasy then your own world may have its own completely different set of entities with different levels of power. I think this is okay as long as the entities are not referred to as gods or worshipped as such.
This was Tolkien’s approach when it came to Middle-earth. (Apparently not in his earlier works, because when Christopher Tolkien published them more or less as-is they used the term “gods” even though those terms had been abandoned in his primary works prior to publication.) I think he understood the issues his widely Christian audience would have with such terms and understood how to work around it. This has been my own approach as well.
There are benefits and drawbacks to such an approach. On the one hand, if the things in your story have nicknames based on your own invented mythos, then you don’t have the benefit of the audience knowing right away the meaning behind these names.
On the other hand, more hardcore fans may delve into side information like appendices (if you include them) and look up the meanings for themselves. Seeing that you have an entire mythos built into your fictional world really reels in deep-thinking audiences who are drawn to that kind of depth of world-building, as long as your story is interesting enough to be worth investing in in the first place.
Also, I would say that not all names and creatures in various mythologies are named after the deities of those cultures. I mentioned the Basilisk and Phoenix creatures earlier, neither of which are worshipped, they are simply creatures that inhabit those worlds. If you’re not sure, then I would recommend looking up info on such creatures online, particularly name meanings and etymology, since that can give you an idea of whether or not a creature’s very name is something to be avoided.
You can also stick with Bible references and use popular names from those stories instead of mythologies. Many Biblical names are well-known and have recognizable meanings when mentioned. The risk on that side is accidentally saying something sacrilegious, so be careful to give respect where it’s due.
This is the final post in this series, at least for now. After this I will have covered every topic that comes to my mind at the moment in terms of the aspects of speculative fiction writing that Christians sometimes wrestle with. I am absolutely open to doing more posts along these lines though if more subjects are brought to my attention. Are there any topics you feel I haven’t covered in this series? Leave a comment and let me know – I may do some additional posts in the future. But for now, thanks for checking out this series, and stay safe out there!