Science Is Story: Why We Need More Stories About Science

Stories can impact the future. No one knows that better than science fiction authors, and writer-scientists. All week, leading up to our Interstellar Day of Science and Storytelling on Friday, May 8, we’re talking the power of story with everyone from Star Trek writers to computer scientists. Today, Dr. Kathy Kitts, longtime Wrimo and geologist, shares why story needs to be even more crucial in science:

We’ve all seen the posters that list nifty inventions that first appeared in science fiction and later in our pockets. Scientists and engineers readily admit they take inspiration from the stories they’d read. Yet there is another very important contribution that story makes to science that we don’t talk about. Often, story communicates science concepts better than science itself does.

It’s not that scientists don’t know how to write (or can’t be taught), but rather a strong cultural bias exists against employing the tools of story in science. Somehow by using metaphor, we contaminate the data, dilute the message and undercut our credibility…

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Making Unlikeable People into Likeable Characters (with April Ludgate)

Unlikeable people can be a pain to write if they’re a main character. After all, our audience needs to like them enough to be around them for the course of the story. If our readers can’t stand them, they won’t want to read about them. But sometimes our protagonists are meant to be bad. They need to be bad. Heck, sometimes even the likeable people in our stories have jerk-qualities.

So how do we render their bad-qualities without driving our readers to throw our books across the room?

We turn our unlikeable people into likeable characters.

We make them such likeable characters, that the audience forgives, accepts, or overlooks that they are unlikeable people.

Here are six ways to do that.


1. Make their Flaws into Super Power Strengths (NOT THE CHARACTER ARC)


In case you missed the caps, this tactic is not about the character arc. This isn’t a situation where you have your unlikeable character overcome their flaws and become a better person. That’s part of the problem when writing unlikeable people; we see their flaws as something negative (with good reason). Instead, start seeing their flaws as a strength. Shift that context. Put your character in situations where their flaws and negative characteristics actually help them and maybe even benefit others.

I’ve been writing about a character who has the compulsion to always tell the truth. He’s too honest (but yet, he’s not meanspirited). When I first started writing this character, everything that had to deal with this compulsion made him come across as weak and annoying.

So I had to stop and think about how to shift that characteristic to make it more cool and entertaining and seem like a strength. I asked myself, “How could this character use truth like a cool weapon? When he’s not meanspirited? How can being too honest work as an advantage, without it being rude? Without creating negative feelings or at best, a ‘vanilla’ feeling? Without being too saintly (in other words, annoying)?” Let’s just say that he’s made a lot of improvements since my first draft.

You can do the same thing. It takes some brain power and brainstorming time, but think about situations where you can turn your character’s flaw into an advantage. Is your character too selfish? How can that be a good thing? Maybe you can relate it to the importance of being self-reliant and exercising self-preservation. Maybe because he is selfish, he can detect routes that require the least amount of sacrifice possible–routes that self-sacrificing people wouldn’t even think of because they don’t have that strong selfish motive.

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7 Things Publishing Professionals Wish You Knew

The “Now What?” Months continue, and we’re shifting our focus to the wide world of publishing! Today, Holly West, an editor at Feiwel & Friends and the crowd-sourced YA Romance imprint Swoon Reads (a previous NaNoWriMo sponsor!), shares seven things writers should know about the publishing process:

So you finished your novel. Congratulations! That is a huge step, and one that takes no little amount of effort. But once you finish your novel, then comes the business of trying to get it published. 

There are many ways you can do this (I work both on the traditional publisher side for Feiwel & Friends where I receive manuscripts through agents, and I receive young adult romance manuscripts through swoonreads.com, a crowd-sourced publishing imprint where writers submit their manuscripts directly). But no matter how you send in your manuscript, there are some things you should keep in mind that might make the publishing process seem a little less mysterious. I thought it might be helpful to share a short list of things that we as publishers wish authors understood:

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How to Motivate Yourself When You Just Don’t Feel Like it

I was feeling particularly unmotivated lately—unwilling to take my own advice, tired from work and cleaning at home, and wanting to use my weekend simply to relax. So, I decided to do Camp NaNoWriMo the night before it started. Now we are on day #2 and I’m hoping I can keep up with my daily goals.

I’m sure a lot of you are in the same boat OR you just want to get back into writing full-force. Here are a few ways to motivate yourself when you’re just not feeling it:

Why did you originally start writing?

Ask yourself what you like about writing a novel. I used to turn to writing as a form of relaxation, so I need to remind myself of that from time to time. It’s exciting to get lost in your own world and it’s good to put other responsibilities aside for an hour or two. Try to rediscover your love of writing or remind yourself why it makes you so happy. Keep it fun!

What are your goals?

I know my goal is to finish this novel by the end of the month (first draft). I try to visualize myself at the end of the month sitting on top of something I can be proud of. I know it will need a lot of work, but I’ll have something I can mess with. I’ll have some fully formed ideas. I try to keep that in mind when I become unmotivated. I want to finish this story and I want to have another novel under my belt. Try to remind yourself of your goals.

You can always move on to something else

If you’re not feeling your story and you’ve been at it for a long time, you don’t have to continue! A lot of people don’t have that option when working on a NaNoWriMo project, but you do have the option to take your story in a new direction. Don’t get stuck on a scene that’s not exciting for you, move on to something else.

Figure out why you’re not excited about your story

Most of the time, I realize that I haven’t fleshed out a scene enough OR I’m just not interested in writing that scene at all. There will be highs and lows in your novel, but you should be excited about almost all of the scenes you write. If you’re not, your readers won’t be either. Pinpoint why a particular scene or character, etc. is not motivating you in any way and try to find a way to fix it. Change the setting or consider cutting a character.

Dream cast your novel

This has helped me immensely with my new project. Before Camp NaNoWriMo started, I casted each character in my head and that’s helped me flesh out a lot of my story so far. It might sound like a silly idea, but it can really help you visualize scenes in a clearer way.

-Kris Noel

You’re watching the clock. The last minute before NaNoWriMo is ticking down. But you’re ready. You’ve planned it out. You know where your story begins and ends. You sort of know the middle. You’re in love with this story, and only twenty seconds are left before you get started.

Ten…nine…eight…

Your document is open.

Seven…six…

You take a last sip of water.

Five…four…

Your fingers hover over the keyboard.

Three…two…one.

BRAIN ERROR WHAT IS WRITING

You freeze. You can’t think of a sentence to write. You forget how writing even works and strongly consider becoming a hermit living off of old cans of tuna.

Take a deep breath. Relax. I’m here today to help you get past the “First Sentence Freeze” - or hopefully prevent it from happening in the first place.

First thing’s first: Don’t sweat it so much. You’re writing the first draft of your story. There will be plenty of time to edit and fix later. You don’t have to show it to anyone before you’re ready. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be ok. 

Second, don’t put so much stock in your first sentence (yet). Is it important to have a strong opening sentence? Yes. But it’s not important when you’re drafting your story. The draft is the clay that you will form the sculpture that is your story. Don’t worry about the details until you have all the material you need.

Third, jot down ideas for the beginning sentences and what you want to say or mean. This is the best solution I’ve found for getting around First Sentence Freeze. Have an idea of what the first scene is going to look like and where the reader comes into it. The more you know in advance, the easier it will be to get started.

Fourth, once you’re ready to start writing, just write down something. It can be a sentence you’ve had in your head for a long time. It could be a sentence that comes to you on the fly. You can even borrow a sentence from a prompter. But get it down so you can keep going.

Finally, if you really can’t think of anything and you’re getting worried about it, just skip it and come back to it later. For now to get you started, just drop us in the first scene and go from there.

If you have any questions or need help with starting your story, please feel free to drop me a message.

Good luck, my fellow Campers. Happy writing!

~Banette

If you’ve ever wanted to participate in November’s NaNoWriMo session, or if you have participated and it didn’t go well, then sign up right now for Camp NaNoWriMo! Instead of writing 50k words, you choose your own goal.

The Plot Line Hotline will be open all through April (and beyond!) to help you solve your writer’s block and plot conundrums. I’ll go one-on-one with you through private asks or generate discussion by publishing to my followers. Entirely up to you!

Camp NaNoWriMo is coming!

Starting in April, Camp NaNoWriMo challenges writers to complete a custom-set word count goal in a month. Your goal can be whatever you want–from 1,000 words to 100,000 words or more (or less, but come on, 1,000 words in a month is nothing).

For those of you that don’t know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an event that takes place every November, where writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in a month. Finishing something is often the hardest part, which is why NaNoWriMo was started–to encourage writers to get stuff done and start writing on a schedule!

Personally, I love NaNoWriMo because of the graphs. You can track your daily word count to watch your progress (My July Camp stats). There’s also a lot of support with your writer friends and forums to chat with other writers, ask for help, or participate in group “word sprints”. It’s free to join and take part!

Since NaNoWriMo has proven to be highly effective for a lot of writers, Camp NaNoWriMo was started up. It takes place twice a year and is less serious, since you can set an easier goal like 30k or 40k if you want.

Camp also has “cabins,” unlike the November NaNoWriMo. You can be put in a random cabin with random cabinmates if you want, you can ask for cabinmates within your preferred genre, or you can make private cabins to invite your friends.

I will be hosting a private cabin this April, and anyone is welcome to join me! Currently, there are 9 open spots in my cabin, so it’s first come first serve. Message me if you’re interested. Even if you’re not participating in Camp, you can add me as a writing buddy on NaNoWriMo’s official site. :)

Emilie

Tips from an Editor: Five Times to Say Yes

The “Now What?” Months continue, and we’re shifting our focus to the wide world of publishing! Today, Heather Lazare, editorial and publishing consultant, shares five “yes"es you have to check off your list, including "Yes, my novel is freaking awesome!”:

You did it! You wrote your book! NaNoWriMo inspired you to hunker down and get that first draft on paper. …And now for the heavy lifting of draft after draft. As a freelance editor, I like to encourage authors to get as much free help as possible before paying a professional. If you can reply yes to all of the below (be honest), then let’s talk.

You’re not the only person who has read your manuscript, right? 

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In the Midst of Camp NaNoWriMo

It’s currently day 13 of Camp NaNoWriMo—almost two weeks in—and I’ve written about 20,000 words. I might not have hit my goal every day, but I’ve written at least something every day. And that’s enough for me.

Whether you’re working on NaNoWriMo or you’re in the midst of a WIP, motivation can become a serious factor. Some writers get bored with their novel once they get past the initial excitement and then the project eventually falls apart. Here are a few ways to ensure that doesn’t happen:

Revisit Your Outline

Right after you finish your first act is a great time to look over your outline. Your story might have led you in some unexpected directions, so feel free to do a little restructuring. Some writers edit their outline after each day of writing, but that isn’t entirely necessary. Take a look at what needs to change and start brainstorming new ideas. Keep yourself excited about the writing process.

Work out Your Ending

If you don’t yet know your ending, working it out might get you more excited about where your story is going. Connect the dots. Fill in the blanks. Do whatever it takes to get your creative juices flowing. I usually know where my story is going, so I can build up to it and drop hints along the way. This doesn’t work for everyone, but give it a shot if you’re stuck!

Complete an Exciting Scene

Skip ahead if you feel like you’ve been stuck in once place. You don’t have to write in order, so don’t stress about skipping around. Also, try to identify why you’re stuck on a specific scene. If it’s not exciting for you, maybe you need to cut it. Try the same scene from a different angle.

Lead into the Next Day of Writing

If you have writing goals you’re trying to reach, try to keep something exciting for the next day. I usually finish a chapter and then write a few paragraphs of the next chapter to get myself started for the next time I write. This ensures that you have a plan. Some writers stop in the middle of an exciting scene, so they have no problem getting back into it the next day. Remember, this usually only works if you’re writing on a regular basis—or else you might lose momentum.

Good luck!

-Kris Noel