Posted by: victanguera | November 4, 2013

Of NaNoWriMo: Pantsing vs. Plotting

When I travel, I’m the girl with the map. I’m skilled at reading maps (apparently not as common for women). But nothing I do is quite common. Before heading somewhere, I study my map. I look at it from different angles. Memorize street names and turns. Alternate street names and turns. Just in case one of those routes turns out to be a dead end or a road that no longer exists–I’ve had that happen. As a result, I rarely get lost. Unless I’m in Richmond. That seems to be the black hole of maps. Or my ability to read a map.

So I’m not sure why it is that I believe I’m a pantser (autocorrect wants to call me a panther–erm, okay). Possibly because the first year I did NaNo, I religiously waited until November 1st to start my novel. Well, at least on paper. But like my map reading, I studied my story in my head. Not one word went on paper, put I’d thought out characters, different scenarios, locations etc. The idea wasn’t fully formed in my head, put I had the basic plot more or less set out in my head. I may have gotten quite lost in the Richmond of my story, but found my way out eventually. Or maybe the story is still lost in Richmond.

Every year after that first one, I went in with a blank slate. No thinking, no studying. No google for legends, ideas, myths. Nothing. And every year since that first one, my story has failed. I haven’t figured out characters, plot, character arc. My story didn’t even make it out of the driveway. It’s pretty sad writing 50,000 words about your car and how beautiful your driveway looks. Trust me.

This year, I finally acknowledged I operate better with a map and a firm guide on where I’m going. Like a plot. Now the only thing I need to worry about is getting lost in Richmond. But I’m pretty sure if I turn the map right way up, I’ll be able to find my way out of there.

Posted by: victanguera | May 7, 2013

Um… Waves Hello

Well, this year got off to an… interesting start. I’d fallen in to a deep, black hole of funk (okay, probably closer to depression, but because I’ve never been depressed in my life didn’t recognize it). Some strange things happened at the beginning of the year that kind of kicked me in the butt. As a result, I’ve spent almost every moment when it hasn’t been raining outside. In my yard. For anyone that knows me, this is a remarkable thing. Strange. Almost alien. But it wasn’t a choice and couldn’t be avoided. Thing is, it has helped me put my life back in to perspective.

Things I’ve accomplished this year:

1. Cleaned my yard. All the blackberry canes that had taken over the back of my yard are now gone. Erm, and the side. And the front. Yeah, bad.

2. Read 14 books. Just to put that in perspective, last year I read 26 books total and only 7 the year before. This from a person that normally read anywhere from one to five books a week.

3. Wrote an article and had it published. Yep, you read that right. To be fair, it is for the magazine I work for, so it almost doesn’t seem fair as it means I got to skip the whole angst of submission part. But I’m now published! And my editor tells me I should really do this for other magazines. Like Geist. And The Tyee. And that I should build a portfolio. Erm… nerves, don’t fail me now! Here is the article.

Posted by: victanguera | January 15, 2013

Happy New Year (With a Photo Prompt)

Well another year. Did you make resolutions? I’m not the kind to make resolutions. They just seem like one more list. I lose lists. Forget them at home and then can’t remember what I need because I wrote it down (thus exiting it from my memory).

That said, I do want to write more. Call it a goal. If I make it a resolution, I’ll only forget about it by tomorrow. Mind you, that might happen anyhow.

So to get me started, here is a photo prompt. My goal (you see what I did there) is to write something by the end of the month using this picture as inspiration. Care to join me?

Posted by: victanguera | December 5, 2012


I just watched the newest Bond movie, Skyfall. I’ll say right up front that the movie disappointed me. I’d heard through various sources (twitter, I’m looking at you), that this was the best Bond movie yet. I heard it had a great plot even. That statement made it seem that previous Bond movies didn’t have a plot, that they were simply about blowing things up and kissing all the girls, which isn’t even close to true. So, I had expectations.

What I found instead was predictability. I’m not even going to rant about how wooden the acting was. But aaagh, Daniel Craig is such a bad actor. He has no emotion–like the Blue Steel of the Bond world. He has one face, one way of acting. He’s great at stone cold, but not much else. It made all his interactions with the female characters seem forced and unrealistic. Hey, I said I wouldn’t talk about the acting.

Okay, back to the predictability. From the moment that Ralph Fiennes was introduced, I knew what would happen at the end. Without going back and watching the movie again (please don’t make me), I’d have to say that it was because they gave his character too much weight right from the beginning. The scene between him and M almost shouted what the end conclusion of the movie would be. I won’t say more in order to prevent possible spoilers, but that scene and that followed could have been written so much differently.

Also, from the very beginning, I knew the bad guy would be a rogue 00 agent, maybe because as a Bond aficionado, I’ve watched Goldeneye. Talk about reusing a plot line. And not as well as the one from Goldeneye. I knew that they’d catch said agent, place him in a cell, he’d get out and cause trouble. And that the final scene would be as expected after the introduction of Ralph. So I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. Nothing made me jump because I didn’t expect it.

So here’s the thing. I don’t like predictable plots. Ones that I can tell from the introduction of a character what role they will play. Ones where the characters seem mere pawns in an author’s game. It makes the writer’s hand feel too obvious. I want the reader to make me cry, laugh, rant or… whatever emotion it is that they want to pull out of me. I don’t want to be able to figure out what is coming five minutes in to the movie or book. That’s just boring.

Posted by: victanguera | November 16, 2012

Starting Over (and Over) Again

25,000 words in to this year’s NaNo, and I hit a wall. I couldn’t figure out what my character wanted. You know, that one thing that should drive the story. I sat at my spinning wheel (great place for letting your mind just drift and think), and went over ideas. Why it kept going back to that one story, the one in my desk that I thought I’d buried for good, I really don’t know. But in the strange way minds work, I may have come up with a solution for not just my current NaNo, but that story as well.

Upshot of the whole thing? I’ve started this year’s NaNo over again. Those first 25,000 words will go in for word count, just not for story count. The new idea is still basically the same–same characters, same location–but Wendy (from Peter Pan fame) is now young adult. And she admitted she stole an airship (although she didn’t mean to). Steampunk. Ha, that could be fun.

Posted by: victanguera | November 7, 2012

Chasing Voice

I’m up to close to 12,500 words in NaNo so far. That surprises me, considering how poorly I’ve done the last two years. And how little writing I’ve done this year. It’s like something broke open for me this year, and I’m producing much closer to how I wrote that first year of doing NaNo. Yes, that includes the crappy quality of my draft. But hey, it’s NaNo.

The interesting thing for me, though, is how well the writing goes when I fall in to the voice of the main character. I can hear it in my head, but it isn’t always consistent. Sometimes, the voice is my own, and the writing grinds to a painful, limping halt. Other times, I forget myself and hear how I perceive the character would think and speak. And the words flow.

The voice of mine? Inner editor.

At least I’m getting closer to identifying the sounds. That’s progress, right?

Posted by: victanguera | November 2, 2012

Doing the NaNo Thing

So how many of you are doing NaNo this year? I’ve signed up again. As late as the day before, I wondered what possessed me to once again say I’d try to write 50,000 words in one month. After all (as you can tell from the blog silence), I haven’t really been writing much in the last year or so.

When it c omes to writing, I’m my own worst enemy. Because I don’t (and can’t plot–trust me, I’ve tried), my stories meander. Go in one direction and three pages later change direction. Only to go back to the first direction. I introduce characters when I run out of ideas. And two scenes later forget that character even exists.

For the last three NaNos, I’ve tried to “fix” that problem. I’ve tried to be more consistent with plot. To keep characters that I introduce, or only introduce those that belong in the story. But my writing has been stale and flat. It has no life. No action. No… anything. Well, yeah, lack of words does kind of affect a story. And not in a good way. Hard to be a writer when you don’t write.

But last week, one little comment from the editor where I work changed everything about how I think about my ability to craft a story. For the last two years, I’ve been a copy editor at work. I’ve seen what I do as line edits. Misplaced modifiers. Grammer issues. Missing hyphens. Small stuff, and not anything exciting. But the editor doesn’t see my function the same way I did. Instead, she said she relies on me to catch overall logic breaks in articles. Things that skew off in the wrong direction.

Those problems that exist in all my first drafts.

Until that comment, I’d never thought editing/re-writing was a skill I possessed. Kind of figured I had to get things right the first time or my story would be broken forever. Now to put aside that need for perfection long enough to get 50,000 very broken, illogical and unformed words out onto a page. I can always fix the logic later.

A great checklist from Nail Your Novel on outlining your story before NaNo. Are you ready? I’m not. Eeep.

Nail Your Novel

Are you making an outline for NaNoWriMo?

We all need different levels of planning. Some writers like a step-by-step map so they can settle back and enjoy telling the story to the page. Others want the joy of discovery while their fingers are flying.

However you do it – whether formally beforehand or as your wordcount builds, these are the questions you need to tackle. (And even if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, you might find them useful.)

Why is this story going to grab a reader?

All stories need to dangle a lure – an element of intrigue, the remarkable, the sense of something unstable, a disturbance. That could be:

  • a literal outrage like a murder
  • a dilemma that puts a character in an impossible position
  • an event that appears to be ordinary to you or me, but is a profound challenge in the character’s life.

Unless you…

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Posted by: victanguera | September 25, 2012

Re-writing Memory—Another Writing Prompt

I have a friend that excels at re-writing her memories to “fit” what she believes. A couple summers ago, while on the phone with her, I saw what I thought were hummingbirds fly through my front yard and off down the block. I exclaimed over the sight. On reflection, they were probably only finches, but it was evening, and hummingbirds are known to congregate in my yard. But not in such large quantities. Recently, my friend has told others about “our” experience seeing the hummingbirds fly through my yard. But she was never there. She’s owned it as if she saw it.

I’m not quite sure how this works. Claiming someone else’s memory or experience as your own. It intrigues me greatly. Like aren’t there great gaps in the vision of the event? How do you make colour, lighting, your own physical placement in the scene fit? To incorporate yourself into someone else’s life like that, you would need to re-envision everything. Although it is the weirest thing to me, it is the type of thing writer’s excel in.

But let’s take it one step further. We create the world our characters live in. We imagine place, setting, interactions. Now what if your character re-imagines those events? What if in a later scene, your character relates information from an event they never saw or took part in? Is it recurring? Why would a person do it? My friend only does this because she wants so badly to have witnessed something like a flock of hummingbirds, so she paints herself into my experience. That makes it real for her. Too bad those hummingbirds were probably just finches.

Posted by: victanguera | September 6, 2012

The Story of a Pony

…Because Horses are Just Too Cliche

I’m trying to get back to writing. It is going about as well as getting back on that horse that miserable little pony in the far field. You know the one.

As a girl, we lived on a small hobby farm. My parents rented at a reduced rate in exchange for looking after the owner’s horses. And one Shetland pony. Now ponies are ornery, miserable, mean little beasties. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. I’d give most ponies the benefit of sympathy, after all they aren’t really designed to carry anything bigger than an underfed hobbit. One that doesn’t believe in elevenses and second breakfast. Most hobbit sized individuals are children. Maybe not the best thing to put on the back of an ornery animal. Just saying.

But Patches, our Shetland, wasn’t like most ponies. She was meaner. Much more miserable. Maybe she’d carried all the hobbit gear to the gates of Moria and had just had enough. She spit. She bit. She bloated her stomach so a saddle wouldn’t fit. And I still loved her. Of course I also wanted to ride her. Luckily, I was about as small as an average hobbit. Or even smaller as I hadn’t yet discovered elevenses or second breakfasts. Patches, on the other hand, didn’t care about size; she was still just an ornery animal.

One day, I took her out, much like any other time. And it wasn’t the first. I’d learned after much coaching from my dad how to out wait her holding her breath so the cinch wouldn’t fit around her stomach. Or once it did fit, she’d blow out that last reserve of air and the saddle would flip over. But that’s another story. This day, she seemed more docile than normal. That should have given me a tip-off that things would go bad. Very, very bad. As in about 12 feet from the barn, she bucked me off. Luckily I had quick reflexes and missed the kick she aimed for my head. Not the whole kick mind you, just that she connected hard with my body, not a much more fragile part of my body.

And while I was still reeling from the pain, she tried to bite me. As I scuttled backwards out of her reach, she took off down the field. It took me hours to catch her again. And I even rode her more than once afterwards. A pony may be stubborn and ornery, but I’m much more so.

As I try to get back to writing again, it feels a bit like Patches bucked me off, kicked me in the head, and actually managed that well-aimed bite. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a damn pony to try to catch. Because I need to go for a ride again.

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