It won’t be morning by the time you read this, as it will take time to write all this, edit it, and then publish it to the Web.
Which is perfect for today’s topic.
What is it?
National Novel Writing Month: write 50,000 words in 30 days.
November 1st is the call to begin writing on that thing you’ve always wanted, that story trapped in your head, whether it be a completely original idea or maybe a better ending to a story you already love.
You can read more about NaNoWriMo here.
You don’t have to sign up to participate. You just have to have a want to write.
I’m a little late (story of my life), being a week into November already, but that’s okay. That’s the thing about writing, people put a lot of unnecessary pressure upon themselves to write The Next Great Thing. We all hope to, trust me. (Although pressure can be helpful for those of us who live on the edge of deadlines lol!)
Write for yourself.
What’s something you would like to read?
You write better when you’re relaxed.
Without judgement, the words will flow.
I’ve decided to take you on a trip with me to explore NaNoWriMo and see how the process of story creation works. A behind the paper (or screen) glance if you will.
Grab yourself a snack or a drink, because we’re going on an adventure!
Okay, so here is the hardest part for most people
What do I write?
You have an endless expanse of possibilities at your fingertips, a million stories, a million movies, a million personal experiences. The sheer mass of possibility can be daunting. If you start from “I wanna write a blockbuster!” You’re not going to be happy with what you write. If your expectations are amongst those who have been doing this their entire lives and you’re just starting now, it’s not going to be that easy.
Experience is what you need.
How do I start?
Brainstorming, one of my favorite parts!
Let’s take something familiar most people should know.
The Little Mermaid.
You could go completely in-depth and investigate the hidden symbolism and infuse all sorts of easter egg double meanings. Or, you could just have fun with it.
Let’s have fun.
Undersea maiden with a killer voice longs for life above, saves a handsome prince, goes against her parent’s wishes and visits the sea witch to change herself to be with him.
The cost is her voice.
The prince is happy to have this beautiful mute woman, but longs for the singing maiden who saved him, not realizing the two women are the same.
The old version of the story has a sadder ending with the mermaid not wanting to destroy the prince’s happiness with his new bride and jumping to her death into the sea to become foam.
The Disney version of course is nicer with the characters working together to beat the sea witch and the mermaid’s dad gives her permission (and legs) to marry the man of her dreams.
So, how can we have fun with it?
Does this mermaid have to be half woman/half fish?
What if she was half of another sea creature? The Irish have mythologies of selkies, shapeshifting women that wear the pelts of seals (there’s of course more to it than that). What about a half otter? We could call her fuzzy britches! Half sea anemone? That might be interesting, but she would be rooted to the spot.
How about a half-orca mermaid? That might be fun to try since they exist in pods.
Okay, so a half-orca mermaid.
We could also flip it and have it a merman.
So instead of a prince, we could have a princess, or maybe even a working-class single mom, just trying to make ends meet? This will make it easier for the reader to relate, even for yourself. You’re not a prince/princess, are you? Chances are any potential readers won’t be either.
Let’s say she works at a hotel in the morning cleaning rooms and in the evening, a restaurant on a pier above the sea, she’s always staring wistfully through the dining room window out to sea.
What do they want?
Character motivation is key when developing your story. When you know what they wish for, long for, desire, you know what will motivate them, and what challenges to put in front of them to overcome.
So, single mom, working two jobs, trying to provide for her kids. She would be short on time and money, trying to balance actually seeing her kids with trying to earn enough to feed, clothe, and house them. No time to care for herself, possibly not even trying to date, but lonely. Maybe she’s also trying to go back to school?
Let’s say they have grandma or grandpa as a babysitter while mom works and/or goes to school. They could play the role of the Sage, providing wisdom and maybe even foreshadow stories of seeing orcas turning to people while aboard a fishing vessel.
A really good resource is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and Carl Jung’s 12 Archetypes. Pretty much every character in every story you’ve ever read, heard, or seen has at least a version or two of these. This also allows you to play with different aspects about them.
For example, let’s say the Grandfather spent time aboard a fishing vessel until forced to retire from an injury. We’ll want to make everything related, so possibly an accident involving a pod of orcas.
Maybe the Grandfather found one caught in a net. Did he set it free? Did his actions or inaction result in crew members getting hurt? Is he still dealing with the guilt from this?
You can use this handy chart to figure out what motivates your characters.
We can also play with the sea monster/siren trope. Maybe he saw a beautiful Orca Maiden? Ooohh maybe her mom was an orcamaid? Now we’re starting to get a story.
Another good resource to play with are tropes.
Tropes are the storylines we’ve heard a million times and generally accept as typical. The typical princess, the typical Romeo and Juliette romance, the typical hero who takes an incredible amount of damage without succumbing. You can find a great resource for tropes here, I found a fun one to start with about mermaids.
Wait, stop! What’s going to happen?
Now, at this point I normally race to start writing the story, but then I struggle down the line with the plot.
What can be helpful is to if not completely outline, at least jot down what you want to happen in the story. (see next post, after I write it)
And remember, when writing a story, you need something to happen. A day-in-the-life pseudo documentary can be interesting if the subject matter is interesting. But most of the time, the reason why people read a story is enjoy following a character on a journey of some sort.
If nothing happens, the reader can feel cheated as if they wasted minutes of their life they will never get back, and that does include the writer as well.
You want to read something to enjoy it, so write something to enjoy it.
Before we get to that, I’d like to focus on the main point.
You don’t have a story without characters.
Even your setting can be a character, if the environment is trying to kill your protagonist (think a snow storm or earthquake). Your characters need to go through something that changes them or challenges them, which can be physically or mentally, often times both.
So far, we have Single Mom, Orcaman, Grandfather, and kids.
Let’s give them names.
If you know your time period you can Google popular names of that time. If you have a culture in mind, that will help, especially to add depth to your character. How about we make them Irish, a sort of also nod to the selkie?
I like using the 1990’s for pre-everything-on-the-internet age, so there can still be some mystery, in that the protagonist will have to seek out information. And not many cellphones.
Let’s say Single Mom is 36 years old and this will take place in 1994.
Single Mom would have been born in 1958. The top Irish names were Mary, Margaret, Catherine, Ann, and Elizabeth.
Let’s also keep in mind that Grandfather would have been approximately 23-25 years old when he had Single Mom. If we make him 24 at her birth, he would have been born 1934. Popular boys names would have been John, Patrick, James, Michael, and Thomas.
Okay here’s what I’ve got so far…
Single Mom: Catherine, goes by Cath, age 36 years. Has 2 kids aged 7 and 4 from a previous failed marriage. Works at the Black Fish Motel (opposite of Red Lion, see what I did there?) from 5 am to noon and at Briny’s Steak and Seafood from 5 pm to midnight. (like I said, she’s exhausted). Archetype: Hero
Grandpa: Patrick Michael Muirgen (means “born of the sea”), age 60 years. Retired from a life lived on a fishing boat. Cath’s mom left when Cath was a baby, so his mom Mary Elizabeth mostly raised Cath. Injured many years ago at sea, he’s been struggling with his wounds ever since. He tells tales of his time at sea, entertaining the children. Archetype: Sage
Orcaman: Orcas are apex predators with complicated family structures and are highly social, comparable to elephants and certain primates. They live in matriarchal pods where the grandmother is the fiercest hunter, teaching her children and grandchildren where the best hunting grounds are. A type of dolphin, they can be seen playing with each other and other sea creatures, if not eating them. After age 15 or so, orcas begin mating, but females return to their Grandmother’s pod to give birth while the males return to their own grandmothers. Interestingly, female orcas go through menopause. Thinking human-wise, this gives me the impression of a man that has a strong familial bond, playful, and maybe wanders around, putting himself in dangerous situations for the adrenaline rush. VERY close to his mother and grandmother. We’ll give him black hair, he’ll always be running and jumping (enjoys basketball?), and a really silly sense of humor. They are called killer whales for a reason. Maybe he’ll beat the crap out of someone trying to mug the protagonist? Little details to keep in mind for later. Being a sea creature, he would not want to be kept inside a home. And maybe he lost one of his senses when he morphed to human? Eye sight? A lack of sense of smell could be humorous to exploit. Archetype: Explorer
Children: They will likely have a lesser role in the story, but it’s good to get an idea of what they’re like to infuse realness. Ages 7 and 4, how about two girls to have that echo the matriarchal aspect of the orcas. And with how kids seem to be able to see through that veil with their imaginations, maybe they see him as he really is, an orca? Let’s give them the names of Ashley the 7 year old and Jessica the toddler. Archetype: Innocent
Now what characters will you come up with?
Next blog will be on outlining or my form of it, rather. We’ll explore different techniques, as everyone is different. Together, we’ll come up with ways to plan out the story we want to tell.
Thanks for pretending with me! See you next time!