Writer Wednesday – Kickin’ It Old School

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An online friend of mine pointed me to the “A Month of Letters” site and I stopped by to give it a look-see.  It looks like a lot of fun!  In February, you commit to sending correspondence by snail mail for every day that the post office sends mail (so, not Sunday or U.S. federal holiday).  Since I love snail mail, I figured I’d point this out to my fellow Wrimos.

Write on!

A Poem by ChiWriMo Member Felicia R Johnson

Twas the first of December
and all through the land
there were Wrimos still typing
Writing even by hand
Cuz tho the competition was over
and many had won
the writing wasn’t over
so much to be done!
Revisions are needed
type until your fingers are worn
the labor pains aren’t over
until the novel is born.

Twas the First of December, and All Through the House…

NaNo is over.



Join us this Sunday, December 6th, from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. at Geek Bar for the Thank Goodness It’s Over Afterparty!

Plus, keep your eyes on this site for more content – I’ve got an interview with one of our homegrown Chiwrimos, an interview with the founder of Geek Bar, and some more stuff during the month of December.  I’ll also be posting about what to do in the off-season, and you’ll get emails from NaNo HQ on that very topic, too!

But for now, coffee.  Because, it’s December 1 and I should probably go do some chores and find my family under the mountain of laundry.  And the dog.  Here, Fido!

Guest Post: ChiWriMo Member, Charles Ott

Character Evolution

By Charles Ott

Here’s a quick recap of a couple of million years of human evolution. We started out from a band of apes who left the trees and moved out onto the grassy African savanna. The advantage of this was that it got them, so to speak, out of the high rent district: there was too much competition for resources in the forest, so they moved to where they could eat better.

Once they were in the high grass, they learned to walk on their hind legs. All apes will do this occasionally, but our ancestors learned to do it most of the time (thereby developing our human big butts). Advantage: you can see over the grass. When you’re standing up, your forepaws become useful as arms and hands. Advantage: you can hold sticks, throw rocks or carry food back to your family. They also learned to hunt cooperatively (probably the most important step toward humanity). Advantage: they could bring down game a single hunter can’t tackle.

Once they had hands, their brains began to develop to make better use of them. Advantage: all the things you can do with brains and hands. This is where our ape ancestors really began to differentiate into humans, because they had upright posture, hands, cooperation and bigger brains.

As a writer, here’s the take-aways. First, the apes don’t know that they’re on a path to something. The proto-humans don’t know they’re proto-humans, they get up every morning to take care of important ape business. When you’re in the middle of the process, you don’t know there’s an endpoint.

Second, the only reason the proto-humans took each of those steps is because there was an immediate advantage to them to do it. That is, they did not learn to hunt cooperatively because cooperation would lead to being the top of the food chain everywhere on Earth, they did it to get lunch that day.

All fiction is about a character making a journey. Let’s say you’re writing a novel about a lady vampire who enjoys rambunctious sex with other vampires. She offends one of the guy vampires and has to fight an epic battle to get rid of him. At the end of the book, she has learned that she’d better treat her partners well because she’s going to be encountering her ex-boyfriends for the next couple of millenia. (Yes, you can borrow this plot, and no, I don’t actually think you should write anything so hackneyed.)

The trap you want to avoid in writing this story is to have your character make any step in this process because it will help her reach the understanding she needs at the end of the book. Every step she makes, she must take because there is some immediate advantage to her, even if it’s only to survive until the next day.

Because she has a brain, every rotten thing that happens to her (you’re going to pile it on, right?) teaches her something that contributes to the end of the book. But she must realize these things only because those thoughts have an advantage to her right then. For example, she runs away from her offended ex-lover and seeks shelter with other vampires, but they kick her out because they’re siding with the ex-boyfriend. Your character realizes that cheating on her man offends not only him, but his friends. This is an important step in her progress, but the reason she learns this lesson is that she realizes she’d better stay the hell away from other vampires until she makes sure they’re not friends with her ex.

Your characters must live here-and-now in their world, even though you know what’s going to happen to them in the long run.


Check out Charles’ novel, The Floor of the World, available from Amazon.

Guest Post: ChiWriMo Member, Charles Ott

You Know What I Mean?
By Charles Ott

I think we spend too much time worrying about describing things so that a reader will see them clearly. The plain fact is that no reader is ever going to see what you saw in your mind when you wrote that lyrical scene. The reader is going to see what’s in his mind – and that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

My favorite description of a facial expression is from Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Someone has just annoyed Wyoming Knott and she makes a face “like a little girl saving up more spit.” Now, I’ve met a lot of little girls in my family (and, I suppose, have annoyed all of them at one time or another) and I’ve never seen a little girl actually save up more spit. I’d guess you haven’t either. And yet, we both know exactly what that face would look like, don’t we?

It’s really quite magical: you can describe something that you’ve never seen, show it to a reader who’s never seen it either, and yet somehow those words can create a vivid image.

Hemingway was famously terse in his descriptions, and I’ve heard it said that you can’t really understand his books unless you also saw the same photographs in Life magazine that he saw. The days when you could assume that almost every reader saw the same magazines (Life and Saturday Evening Post, for you young folks) are long gone, and yet we still read Hemingway. Our home-made, wrong impressions of his scenes work just as well for us as the more correct impressions of two generations back.

Here’s an example from the lyrics of Paul Simon’s song Late in the Evening:

First thing I remember, I was lying in my bed
Couldn’t’ve been no more than one or two
I remember there’s a radio, comin’ from the room next door
And my mother laughed the way some ladies do

If you look hard at these lyrics, you have to come to the conclusion that there’s no description going on there at all. Everybody has heard the radio, always playing different music, and all ladies have some kind of laugh. All of us have fragmentary, context-free memories from early childhood. With a rigorous reading, we’d have to conclude that there’s no information at all in these lyrics.

But you can just hear that radio and that odd laugh, can’t you? Of course you can, pieced together from your own experience, whatever that has been.

Science fiction faces this problem all the time, because it often requires the writer to describe something that nobody has ever seen. From Edmond Hamilton’s Battle for the Stars: “Cluster N-356-44 … was hellfire made manifest before them. It was a hive of swarming suns, pale-green and violet, white and yellow-gold and smoky red, blazing so fiercely that the eye was robbed of perspective and those stars seemed to crowd and rub and jostle each other … pouring forth the torrents of their life-energy to whirl in cosmic belts and maelstroms of radiation.” Okay, I have a taste for purple prose – so sue me. You still got the picture, didn’t you?

Bottom line: describe your scene so you can picture it, and trust me, they’ll get it.


Check out Charles’ novel, The Floor of the World, available from Amazon.

Guest Post: ChiWriMo Member, Charles Ott

Writing About Characters with Religion

By Charles Ott

I’m about to kvetch about how religious characters are treated in fiction, especially science fiction, so let me start with some exceptions. Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz is a wonderful science fiction novel and, IMHO, one of the finest treatments of the Catholic Church in fiction. Really, if you’re writing about Catholicism in any genre fiction, you need to find a copy of this. James Blish’s A Case of Conscience is an SF novel that’s not only scientifically interesting, the plot turns on obscure points of theology that will delight the geekiest fan. And of course there are many other examples of SF that treat religion well.

But in general, religion in science fiction is a red-headed stepchild without respect for either the faith or the character who holds it. I decided this created an opportunity for me, and I wrote a novel in which one of the main characters is a black Christian man from south Chicago. “Brian Covington” is a scientist who’s not only a Christian, the novel opens during service in a church where Brian is singing in the choir, whapping his tambourine and beltin’ it out like a natural man. A number of friends, all science fiction fans, who read it remarked to me that they would never have gotten past chapter 1 if they hadn’t known that I wrote it.

But I did write it, and along the way I came up with some thoughts about how you can write about Christian characters too.

One: you’ve got to have some critical distance. This can tricky if you are a Christian, but the truth is that this applies even if you’re writing Christian fiction intended for an audience of believers. You must step back and consider how this character will appear to readers who are not of the same faith. As my old pastor used to say, “Folks don’t read the Bible. They read you.” Your character’s inner life must show up in what he does rather than what he believes.

Two: There’s no use writing about a Christmas-and-Easter-Christian. Who cares? If your character has faith, then it must inform everything that he does, and in particular, it must be central to all of his quiet, thoughtful moments. As with anything else in character development, it must show up in what he does during your story.

Three: Having your character proselytize other characters (or even worse, the reader) will explode your story instantly. Don’t even go near this – and this applies even if you’re writing Christian fiction. I mean, seriously, this applies even if your character is a missionary and it’s his job to get converts. Show, don’t tell, and especially don’t preach.

Four: God is not the answer to any problem in fiction. Faith in God might be the answer, but the Big Guy must not take any active part in your story. For my taste, I’d avoid angels, too, but I realize there’s a lot of precedent for angelic intervention in stories. In the world of your story, however, God is Right Out.

Finally and most important: religious faith should not be a “funny hat” that gives a character mannerisms but says nothing about his inner life. As CS Lewis said, “Christianity is not a way of looking at certain things, but a certain way of looking at everything.” If you can describe your character without his faith, then he probably shouldn’t have any.


Check out Charles’ novel, The Floor of the World, available from Amazon.

Sunday Morning Thoughts As Week Two Begins

It’s Week Two.  Reality has started to set in.  We get a look at our schedule and think, was I nuts?  Am I even on the right track?

Keep going.

But I’m not a novelist! I’m not even a NaNoist.  How was I kidding?  This is silly.  I don’t even know where my story is going!

Keep going.

  • But Thanksgiving is coming.
  • I have kids and I can’t concentrate with them underfoot.  I’ll be a bad parent!
  • I’m too busy at work.
  • I’m not a novelist.
  • This is goofy.  Fifty thousand words of what?
  • Is this any good?
  • Will it sell?
  • Who am I kidding?

Keep going.

The secret to NaNo, if there is a secret, is that the way to write a novel is to write a novel.  The only way to do that, is to put words in front of each other until you’re ready to type “the end.”

NaNo teaches us to experiment.

The idea of a rough draft is just that: it’s rough.  It’s not perfect.  It’s not something we will run out and slap up on the internet.  No secret cabal is out to take your baby novel and throw it to the wolves of harsh critique.  This is a draft.  A draft is supposed to be rough.

You can’t edit what you ain’t writ.

In order to get to the final draft, you have to have a draft to edit.  You can’t have a draft to edit unless you write one.  So tell your inner critic you’ll buy them bourbon, or chocolate, or whatever bribe works, but right now, you’re writing.

Keep going.

One thing I hear a lot of around now is, “where are we supposed to be?”  I ask, “What do you mean?” “Number!  How many words am I supposed to have?”

Ignore the number and keep going.

Staring at the number is like trying to lose weight while living on a scale.  It doesn’t work.  It just makes us nuts.  Don’t worry about word count.  Don’t even worry about NaNo.  Just make a play-date with you and your baby novel.  Spend time with it.  Name it.  Sing a lullaby to it.  “Baby, you and me are gonna go places | Oh the places we’ll go | Baby, just you and me and a keyboard makes three | Baby you’re comin’ home with me!” ~la la la~

How do you get to the finish line?

Keep going.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
- E.E. Cummings

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Guest Post: ChiWriMo Member, Shannon Kelsey – and a Challenge to NaNoWriMotown!


by Shannon Kelsey

Do you hear the Wrimos type?
Writing the words of their novels?
It is the click clack of the keyboards
That will not lose to Detroit!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the pounding of the keys
There is a war about to end
When Chicago wins!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and write with me?
Within your active mind
Is there a world you long to write?

Then join in the fight
That will drop all Detroit to their knees!

Do you hear the Wrimos type?
Writing the words of their novels?
It is the click clack of the keyboards
That will not lose to Detroit!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the pounding of the keys
There is a war about to end
When Chicago wins!

Will you write all you can write
So that our word count ma advance?
Some will plot and some will plan
Or write by the seat of their pants
Chicago get writing
So Detroit cannot stand a chance!

Do you hear the Wrimos type?
Writing the words of their novels?
It is the click clack of the keyboards
That will not lose to Detroit!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the pounding of the keys
There is a war about to end
When Chicago wins!!

Why NaNoWriMo Works

I’m a terrible writer.

I’m not saying that I have bad grammar, poor spelling, or inadequate technical skills. They beat a lot of that out of you in college. I actually have a fairly decent vocabulary, and some of the stuff I’ve written has even been called “interesting.”

No, I’m a terrible writer for one reason: I am inconsistent.

Throughout the year, I make promises to myself about my writing goals. They start out reasonable, but as life makes other plans, they get loftier and loftier, perhaps in an attempt to assuage my guilt at neglecting them in the first place.

As the days roll on and I get done perhaps one fifth of the writing I planned to do, I grow disappointed in myself, my poor time management, and my lack of commitment.

Somehow, all of that changes in November.

I’m still nowhere near perfect (I wrote 158 words yesterday… 158 words), but I’ve reached a point where I cross the 50,000 word threshold in November more often than not, and even have managed to finish some of the projects after the month is over.

In November, suddenly, I Can Do It. It’s not that time somehow mystically appears. I’m busier than ever. But instead of fodder for previously essential naps and chores, open blocks of time in my schedule become prime writing time. Words flow (sometimes haltingly, but they still flow) from my brain to my fingers more readily. And even if I miss par for a few days, rather than viewing it as a life-shattering failure that sends me into a shame spiral, I take it in stride, promise I’ll keep going tomorrow, and then follow through on that promise.

Finally, it occurred to me to ask…. WHY!? What’s the difference? Can I bottle it and keep it with me after November is over, so that I can keep going throughout the year? Here are the answers I’ve been able to come up with so far:

1) Deadlines.

This is elementary, but it bears repeating. Deadlines are a key to productivity. Keep one, and you’ll have a better and better chance of keeping more in the future. And deadlines shouldn’t be arbitrary. Why do you have to meet this deadline? What concrete, immediate reason do you have for picking your particular deadline?

With NaNoWriMo, all of that is built in already – we have a deadline, and we’re a community working together toward that deadline. The structure is created for you, and all you have to do is plug in and buy in. Speaking of community, that leads me to the next reason…

2) Peer Pressure.

We might also call this “community” or just plain “having company.” Whatever you want to think of it as, consider this: while you are plodding away in November, doing what you need to do to get the words on the page, a tiny part of your brain takes comfort in knowing that there are literally thousands of other people across the globe, toiling away just like you.

The lucky thing about NaNo? You have access to those people throughout November, through the NaNoWriMo.org website and various other community things we have as Wrimos (Facebook groups, chats, and even the occasional in-person write-in).

You might view these folks as friendly competitors (“haha, I totally clobbered you in that word war!”) or as essential allies (“OMG that character name you gave me IS PERFECT”) or just as kindred spirits (“[…sharing knowing, exhausted, highly-caffeinated looks across a cozy library nook…]”), but whatever it is, knowing they are alongside you in this crazy endeavor somehow spurs you forward.

Think of it as having a writing workout buddy.

3) Wow Factor/”Crap now I really have to do this”

I love telling non-writers that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. It’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s a conversation topic, and it always gets a reaction. “You’re doing what, now?”

Fortunately/unfortunately, it also leads to the inevitable question:

“So, how’s that novel coming along?”

And, as the month progresses:

“Heh, so I bet you gave that novel thing up by now, huh?”

And then, in December:

“Did you ever finish that novel?”

And I love the looks of surprise as I pass each hurdle.

Having those little comments and check-ins pushes me forward, because I don’t want to experience the shame of having to admit I failed. Sometimes it’s a guilt-trip that reminds me I need to get cracking, and sometimes that’s just what I need.

What about you? Do you struggle with writing each day outside of NaNoWriMo? Why do YOU think NaNoWriMo works?

Special Guest: ChiWriMo Member, Aly Grauer, and Her New NaNo Novel!

I’m so pleased to share with you, Dear Wrimo, the success of one of our very own ChiWrimo, Alyson Grauer. Her NaNo novel On the Isle of Sound and Wonder is available from Amazon.  Aly will be at Geek Bar Chicago this Saturday, November 7th; check it out and register to attend on the Facebook event page.  Aly answered some interview questions for me; read on!

CWM:  What was your inspiration for this book and the main characters?

AG:  As an actor, I often delve into the history and given circumstances of characters and stories within plays. I imagine the memories and the in between moments you don’t see onstage, and I wonderwhat would be different if the play was set in another place or time. When I started writing Sound & Wonder, I had just re-read The Tempest and found it complex and confusing; Shakespeare presented it as this commedia dell’arte influenced comedy but in the play itself you can see how dark the emotional lives of the characters can be and how dire the circumstances are that bring them all together this way. I wanted to explore those circumstances by giving the story and characters lives of their own beyond (but including) what Shakespeare wrote. I didn’t want to re-do it or overwrite it, I just wanted to explore a parallel trajectory. A world just slightly to one side of our own, with familiar things in it, but its own history and magic and scope.

CWG:  Where is your story set and why is this setting exciting/sexy?

AG: Sound & Wonder was challenging for setting. I knew exactly how it would need to be: their equivalent of Italy, and an island somewhere in the Mediterranean. But how do you do steampunk on a barely habitable uncivilized island? My solution was not to make the island itself steampunk, but allow the characters to interact with the environment in a steampunk sort of way. Mira is quite the engineer and architect, and although the island is something of a prison to her, she studies it, annotates it, manipulates it like a scholar or scientist would. My editor Jess and I half-jokingly called it “islandpunk”. The island is so cool – it has a variable landscape and even after living there for twelve years, Mira is still surprised by things that crop up… You may notice too that each set of characters experiences and describes slightly different views and terrains on the island – that was intentional.

CWG:  What’s the story behind your book’s title?

AG:  This title was the working title when I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2012. searched and searched for a line from the play that would work as a title but nothing satisfied me. When I sold the book to Xchyler Publishing we briefly tossed around the idea of changing it, but it just stuck. Sometimes titles just stick. To me, the title is about the island of course, which is in some ways a character as well as the setting, but it also unintentionally echoes “sound and fury,” which is not only Faulkner but Shakespeare as well (a line from Macbeth). Dante is sometimes more like Macbeth than Prospero, to me. So it’s a happy coincidence.

CWG:  What subgenres do you write in and who are you published with?

AG:  Steampunk, fantasy, spec fic, sci-fi, etc. I have two short stories and this novel through Xchyler Publishing, and two short stories through Imagine That Studios — the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences’ Tales From The Archives anthologies.

CWG:  Plotter or Pantser?

AG:  Both. I was a pantser for a loooong time (and happily so) but editing Sound and Wonder was a lot of work, and some of my other projects have taught me that Plotting/outlining/preparation can be super important depending on the story.

Author Bio:

Alyson Grauer is a storyteller in multiple mediums, her two primary canvases being the stage and the page. On stage, she is often seen in the Chicago area, primarily at Piccolo Theatre, Plan 9 Burlesque, and the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Her non-fiction work has been published in the “Journal for Perinatal Education” for Lamaze International. Her short fiction can be found in Tales from the Archives (Volume 2) for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and in two anthologies from XchylerPublishing, Mechanized Masterpieces: A SteampunkAnthology, and Legends and Lore: an Anthology of Mythic Prorportions.

On The Isle of Sound and Wonder

Blurb: All but alone, wild but resourceful, Mira dreams of life beyond the shores of her mystical island. Isolated by her father, a dark sorcerer bent on vengeance, she has only his servants, an air spirit and a misshapen cast-off, to share her company. When Dante conjures a terrible storm to wash ashore his mortal enemies, Mira must chose between her loyalties to her father and what she knows is right.

Sail the skies and soar the seas surrounding this Isle of Sound and Wonder as Alyson Grauer masterfully retells William Shakespeare’s classic, The Tempest, bedecked in the trappings of Steampunk.