Camp NaNoWriMo Excerpt 1

Since I have started playing D&D I have discovered that I absolutely love creating character backstories. It’s to the point that I decided to turn the story of a character I haven’t even played yet into a novel. That is actually what I have been working on for Camp NaNoWriMo (as you probably guessed by the title of this post).

Here is a little sneak peek at what I have written so far.  What do you think?

The captain and the bard

“Here you are, Marisol. I am putting your bell right here. I will come to collect you when the market closes.”

“Thank you, Ryan,” she replied, settling carefully into her normal spot on the street in the heart of Neverwinter. Once she was settled she held up her hands expectantly. He placed a small stringed instrument in one hand and a bowl full of cloth in the other. As he turned and walked away she rested the instrument on her lap, spreading the cloth carefully before her and placing the bowl in the center. Then she leaned back against the wall and waited.

People slowly started emerging from their homes, many of them shopkeeps in the process of setting up for the day. A few noticed her and called out greetings, which she received with a smile and a nod. She perked up slightly at the scent of freshly baked goods drifting from the bakery two doors down. Still, she waited for more people to arrive, resting against the cool stone wall, keeping an ear out for footsteps. 

After a few minutes of waiting, a pair of footsteps approached her, causing her to perk up slightly. The feet were accompanied by the scent of fresh bread.

“Gift from the baker, miss. It didn’t come out quite right looking, but chef says it should still taste alright.”

“Why thank you,” she responded, accepting the pastry. It indeed felt misshapen, but it was still warm and smelled wonderful, so she did not complain. The person hesitated.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked. 

“Well, chef and some of the workers are in a bit of a mood. This dreary weather ain’t helping any. I know you usually wait until people show up to start playing, but if you wouldn’t mind…I know your music always puts people in a good mood.”

“Absolutely. It is no trouble.”

“Thank you, miss.”

“You can call me Marisol.”

“Thank you, Miss Marisol.” 

She chuckled slightly as the boy ran off back towards the bakery. The air was indeed cooler and damper than she had expected. Not enough so to cause concern, but just enough to make one feel rather morose. 

A smile slowly spread across her face as she picked up her lute and began strumming. Gentle music started to fill the street, softly at first, then growing in volume. It was a tune she knew the baker was particularly fond of, as he often sent someone to request it when she played near his shop. Once the song was done she paused to eat part of the pastry, stashing the remainder in her pocket for later. 

Around her, she heard the signs of business as people began trickling into the market. As the shop keepers days began, so did hers. She picked up her lute and began to play once more. It was not a particular song that she played, but one that she wrote as she played, mind filled with the notes, reveling in the joy of playing just to play. Sometimes she would dip into popular tavern songs or pieces of epic ballads that she had picked up listening to other performers. 

As she played she listened to the conversations happening around her. One of the perks of living in Neverwinter was the constant influx of travelers and traders from across the known world. That meant her audience was constantly changing in its composition. They also did not always realize that she and her fellow street performers were homeless. It was why they worked to wear the nicest of clothes and had long ago made deals with several of the shop keepers and traders operating in the market square. Their operation was a mutually beneficial one, and it did well to keep the rest of the homeless population fed and clothed at the very least. 

Coins plunked into her bowl sporadically throughout the morning hours. Some people would request certain songs along with their coin. She was only happy to comply. Others would merely drop in a coin and keep walking. Oftentimes people would stop to speak with her between songs, asking about her life and her skill and if she took payment aside from the coin. Hardy fruits and vegetables found their way onto the cloth, as well as a small amount of dried meat. She quickly gathered those into her small satchel to make sure they didn’t get eaten by any animals. 

Around midday, she caught a conversation between members of the crew of a foreign vessel. She perked up immediately upon recognizing them. Their captain brought them into port every few months and many of the crew would stop by her performance at least once. They were nice people, though she was not entirely sure what they did. She didn’t question, though, as the captain was often very generous. 

She heard his distinctive voice coming up the street and changed the tune she was playing to that of a sea shanty his crew often requested. A few of them stopped and began singing along. It ended up drawing quite the crowd, as it was a genuinely delightful and adventurous song that the crew sang quite well. When the song ended, she set the lute down, grinning.

“I had a feeling you all would be in town soon. How was your latest voyage?” she asked. Small showers of coins and trinkets found their way into her bowl as the crew shared their tale.

She always enjoyed it when they came, bearing tales of adventure and sea creatures and mysterious treasures. True, their tales ate up the time she could be performing for coin, but she didn’t mind. She rather enjoyed the break, as well as the coin they donated, along with the excess wares they shared with her. It was often clothing and blankets and bags, sometimes even shoes and accessories. Whatever didn’t immediately get grabbed up by her fellow street performers was dispersed among the rest of the homeless community or sold. 

The captain, as usual, stayed towards the back and did not say much. She knew he was there, though, shifting back and forth, keeping an eye out as his crew arranged their donations around me and spun their tales. After about twenty minutes, he cleared his throat.

“I am afraid we must continue onward. We have a meeting that needs attending. I hope you have a wonderful day, ma’am.”

The crew complained good-naturedly and bade their farewells. She wished them well, scoping some of the coin into my pockets along with the food and other trinkets. They had left a small barrel of mead, which she carefully moved to sit right next to her. The clothing and shoes went to the other side, tucked up next to her so her elbow would brush against them. Long years of performing on the street told her to keep such things close. 

Several hours later things were finally beginning to wind down in the market. Most of the street vendors had already packed up for the day and many of the shops were slowly starting to close things down. Marisol continued to play, though, as she had nothing better to do until Ryan came to collect her. She finished the song she was playing and lowered her lute, sighing.

“Are you going to say something, or are you just going to stand there?” she asked.

“How did you know I was here?” the captain asked, shifting uncomfortably.

“Just because I am blind doesn’t mean I don’t notice things,” she commented. “Plus, I heard you telling some of your crew you would meet them at the ship. You normally go with them when leaving the market, if you don’t already have a room at an inn. That means you want something and the fact that you have been standing there, sighing every few second, means it is something to do with me.”

He chuckled, stepping closer to her.

“I see you are far more observant than I gave you credit, my dear. May I ask your name?”

“Marisol. And you are?”

“Captain Cutler Everit of the PIRATE SHIP NAME.”

“Ah, so that is the name of the ship.  I have been meaning to ask every time you come into port. Where do you hail from?”

“We hail from all over.”

“So you have no home port then? Or is Neverwinter your home?”

“The sea is our home.”

“How interesting.”

“If you don’t mind, I was wondering if you would be willing to join me for a drink at the tavern just down the road. There is something I wish to discuss with you.”

To Be Titled Excerpt

This is an excerpt from the second draft of a story I am currently working on. I finished the first draft year before last for NaNoWriMo. I’m still working on a title.

This is where the story begins.

“This changes everything!”

“This changes nothing. I am sorry Monica, but we cannot devote resources we don’t have to a lead that we aren’t sure it will pan out. I appreciate your dedication and we understand your desire to make things better. We just don’t see the point. The magi are gone. It is time that we move on and make the best of the life we have now.”

I was trembling, shaking less from nervousness and more from frustration and exhaustion. “This proves that the corruption can be reversed. Someone was able to trace the corruption to where it began years ago. If it can be traced, if the source can be found, then we can find a way to reverse what was done and bring the magi back. We can save everyone.”

“We understand that you are still upset over the loss of your husband, but you must understand. We feel your pain. We have all lost someone…”

“Don’t you dare try that line with me,” I snapped. “I lost everything, you hear me? Everything. And now I am telling you that we can get it all back and you would rather sit here and let those we have lost rot outside these walls.”

“You will remember your place and to whom you are speaking. It is by our generosity that you were permitted to remain within the city. There are those who would have seen you cast out in fear of your magic returning and bringing with it the corruption. You also provide us a valuable service when it comes to your knowledge, but even that value can run out.”

My breaths were growing harsher with each word, fists clenched tight enough to have shattered my pen had I not already thrown it in a vain attempt to stop them from shaking. I could feel their eyes on me. Assessing me. Scrutinizing me. Waiting for any sign, for any excuse to cast me out.

“Now, Monica, we all know you have suffered worst than most of us,” someone else said in what was likely meant to be a soothing tone. “I cannot begin to fathom what you have been through since the evacuation. The amount of work you have done since regaining consciousness is surely commendable. Some of it has even proven invaluable to helping us settle down here. Maybe it is time you took a break and spent some time focusing on yourself. Take some time to heal, to really think about your life and how you want to spend it.”

Even with my outrage, I noticed the attempted olive branch shadowed by his threat. They wanted me to stop questioning, to stop fighting. They wanted me to fade silently into the background so they could continue to rule as they saw fit.

“I apologize, council members, for my outburst,” I said, bowing. “You are right. I have not been well. I will not burden you with my grief any longer.”

The hard truth about your first draft

All writers, whether they are published or not, tend to agree upon one thing.

The hardest part of being a writer is actually FINISHING the first draft. Its something I myself have done once in all my years of writing. It is kind of sad actually.

So many stories go unfinished because either we lose the inspiration and the drive to continue them (or we get distracted by a shiny new idea). Others get started and restarted so many times that we lose sight of why we started writing them in the first place. Some die the second we tell someone about them and they brush it off as a silly idea.

The reality is, being a writer was never going to be easy. You are going to have to face some harsh truths, especially when it comes to your first draft.

You won’t finish as fast as everyone else

I know there are some people who can write a book in a month, or sometimes all they need is a week. It took me well over a year to finish mine. Some people take a lot longer than that to write the first draft of their book (though they tend to work on and finish others in the meantime).

It can be SO easy to fall into the trap of comparing your progress to that of other writers. I know someone who beat NaNoWriMo in 5 days (she wrote 10k a day). It took me seven years and some fudging of the rules to win.

The truth is, there will always be someone who gets things done faster than you. Maybe they have more discipline. Maybe they have more experience. Maybe their schedule allows for more writing time than yours does. It doesn’t matter

This is your journey and yours alone. So keep your head down, stop checking to see how far along the person next to you is, and get to writing.

It will be the hardest thing you have ever done

As I have mentioned, writing your first draft is going to take a while. This is especially true for those of us with a day job(s). Sometimes it is just hard to find the time to write on top of everything else that we have to do. Add onto that the fact that life is stressful and we tend to continually find ourselves surrounded by people who think writing is a silly waste of time, it can be really hard to stay motivated.

You will also have to deal with the people around you not understanding what you are doing or why you are doing it. I talked a lot about what this feels like in my open letter to the creators who feel alone. This is something that is really hard to face. Hearing the people close to you echoing back your own self-doubts can cripple your creativity and stifle your desire to keep going.

That is why I always highly recommend finding and joining the online writing community. There you will find people who not only understand what you are going through, but they have been there themselves.

Just because you are the only one who can tell your story, doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. Find people who will support you along this journey, with both encouragement and a kick in the rear when needed.

It is going to be hard to stay focused on the story for a long period of time. There will be days when you have neither the time nor the motivation to write. That is okay. But you have to get back to it tomorrow.

There is also that annoying psychological thing that prevents people from finishing things. I personally struggle with this, as evidenced by the amount of random YouTube videos I will have watched by the time I finally finish this blog post. I don’t know if there is a scientific term for this, but it is very much a thing.

A thing that you will have to find a way to power through. Maybe try asking one of your accountability partners to pester the living daylights out of you until you finish the thing. Or tell literally everyone and their mother that you are going to have it finished by a certain time, so then you have to have it done by that time. Because everyone and their mother is expecting you to.

It’s a very stressful yet effective tactic.

Most of it will be garbage

100% guaranteed, no one is ever going to see your first draft. By the time it is finished and you have taken a step back, you will soon realize that it is a steaming pile of garbage. There is no way around it.

You should still be proud of your garbage heap. You put a lot of work into it. That doesn’t change the fact that none of it is even close to being ready to publish. Don’t worry though. That is completely normal.

No one will ever see the mess that is what I wrote during NaNoWriMo. It was a convoluted hodgepodge of plot points and character building. I still keep a lot of the text in the case that I do end up using some of it, but I have since started a complete rewrite. I now know a lot more about the world, the situation, and my characters’ motivations. I also know how not to write and pace certain scenes.

If you feel like your first draft is too silly or too serious, or that you aren’t sure if you want it to be paced/structured that way, that is totally fine. This is your sandbox, so play around in it. Try different scenes from different angles. Dig through the layers of fluff and descriptions to get to the heart of your story. And, most importantly, don’t worry about what anyone else will think.

Your first draft is you telling the story to yourself, so you can come back and figure out how to tell it to everyone else. It is never going to be perfect. It will likely not resemble the end product. It’s most likely going to be a jumbled mess.

That’s okay, though, because you can edit a messy page. You cannot edit a blank one.

Your first draft only needs to be one thing.

Written.

So get to writing. We have a lot of work to do.

The Lies Writers Tell

If you think about it, writers are natural born liars. It’s basically our job description.

We craft worlds from our words and fill them with living, breathing people who never existed outside of our minds. We imbue them with life and embed pieces of our soul throughout the story.

We twist your expectations to fit where we want you to think the story will end only to turn everything you think you know on its head with a few, well-placed words, leaving you wondering how you did not see it all along.

We have the unique ability to make the familiar seem strange and the strange feel familiar. We can make you question some things while blindly accepting others.

The lies we writers tell are loved by the world because we make people think about things they never really thought about before. We are holding up a mirror that shows the world not the way things are, but the way they could be.

These lies help people become better versions of themselves. They help people connect with others and with themselves in a way nothing else can.

In a way, we aren’t really lying. We are just showing the world a different truth.

The real lies, the dangerous ones, are the ones we tell ourselves.

I can’t make it as a writer

This is often tied to the lie that ‘writing is not a career’ and ‘I am not good enough’. Both painful lies that the world around us has a nasty habit of reinforcing. People look at writing as a hobby. Something frivolous that people do in their free time that is of no real value.

If you are a writer, you are going to have to get used to this. You are going to have to get used to people pushing you towards other careers that they view as more attainable. They are genuinely trying to help. They just don’t understand how painful that kind of job can be to think about. To have people constantly telling you that you will never be able to make it in life doing what you want to do.

It hurts even more when you begin to believe it yourself.

The truth is, you can make a living as a writer. It isn’t easy and is going to take a lot of time and effort, but it is 100% possible. Keep chasing your dreams and you will find a way. You may not be the next JK Rowling or Stephen King, but you can still make a living telling stories.

So-and-so is a better writer than me

First off, ‘better’ is subjective. Trust me when I say there is nothing good that comes from the comparison games. There will always be people who have been writing for longer than you, who have more experience in a certain genre, and who have published more books than you have.

I know some people who can churn out 10k words in a single day. I average about 500, maybe 1k if it is a really good day. When it comes to the quality of the content, there really is no comparison. Different people have different tastes. Your style will never match anyone else’s and vice versa.

You have to learn to be comfortable with your own progress and your own style. Lean into what makes you unique. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are a bad writer because you don’t write like someone else. Keep writing. Hone your craft.  

No one cares what I have to say

This is perhaps the most painful lie of all and it is one I still struggle with on a regular basis. I know what causes it too. When people talk over you when you try and tell them about your new story idea. Their eyes glaze over. They zone out, cut you off, and totally change the subject.

Couple that with the sheer volume of novels and novellas and poetry books already in existence, and the fact that most people do not consider writing to be a valid career?

It leaves you feeling like you have no chance. No one is going to like your book, no one will read it. You are just wasting your time.

This is complete and utter nonsense. There are people out there who need to hear what you have to say. They need to hear your story just as much as you need to tell your story. Words have power far beyond what most people will ever realize.

Every single one of these lies ties back to one thing. Imposter Syndrome. That voice in the back of your mind telling you that you are not enough.  The fear and anxiety that keeps you from chasing the life you want.

The important thing to remember, though, is that they are lies. They are the lies we tell ourselves because we fear the unknown of what happens when we take that leap. What happens when we leave behind everything the world tells us we should want in the pursuit of who we truly want to be.

Words have the power and we were born with words at our fingertips.

It is time we use them.

It is time to change the world.

Meet the Monomyth

Strap on your seatbelts and hold on tight, because I am about to take you through the plot of every story ever told.

It is all laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Published in 1949, this book dives into the pattern that all stories follow in some way. I was first introduced to the Hero’s Journey (or the monomyth, depending on who you ask) in the lead up to my first ever NaNoWriMo. The Hero’s Journey is broken into 12 main stages set in the Ordinary (1-2, 10-12) and the Special World (3-9). Picture it like a clock.

Once you know this basic structure, you will never be able to unsee it. You are welcome.

1: The Ordinary World

This is where you introduce the main character and begin setting up the main conflict. The hero wakes up, eats breakfast, and goes about their day to day life. This is where you get to meet the hero’s friends and family and see what their ‘normal’ is. You watch them go through the motions of a regular day while longing for something more, something better (because rarely is a hero 100% happy with where they are in the beginning). There might be some hints of the coming conflict, but nothing that really catches the hero’s attention.

Everything is perfectly normal. Everyone is happy. Everything is about to change.

2: The Call to Adventure

A mysterious messenger arrives to inform the hero that, for one reason or another, they are needed to save the world. It doesn’t matter how familiar they are with the conflict or what their opinion is on the subject. All that matters is that they have been chosen. It is time for them to rise to the task of saving the world.

3: The Refusal of the Call

By the time it hits 2, the hero has point blank refused the call. Whether they are unqualified or just uninterested, they have absolutely no intention of answering the call to adventure. They are perfectly happy in their ordinary world, thank you very much (even though they were just complaining about how much they wanted something more not even five minutes ago).

4: The Meeting with the Mentor

The mentor arrives at 3 to tell the hero that they need to talk. Somehow they heard about the call that the hero refused. They have known the hero for some time or have been in the hero’s shoes at some point. They are more familiar with the conflict than the hero does and often have a greater understanding of the role the hero will play in the coming battles. They are the one who talks the hero into accepting the challenge.

5: Crossing the First Threshold

4 o’clock rolls around and the hero is finally ready to cross the first threshold. Reluctant or not, they have accepted the challenge and are answering the call to adventure. This can be a really challenging time for the hero. They are leaving behind everything they know and love. Sometimes they leave because the conflict has already destroyed the one thing they were staying for, other times it is because their home is threatened. Either way, they have accepted the call and there is no going back. Once they reach the point where they cannot return, they have crossed the threshold. The adventure is on and there is no going back.

6: Tests, Allies, Enemies

The 5 o’clock hour is divided into three things. First off, the tests. How well does the hero know the world they live in? Do they have the skills they need to survive? Are they worthy of being called a ‘hero’? Some of these tests are given by enemies who seek to impede the hero. Others are given by potential allies who are trying to decide if the hero is worth following/aiding.

7: Approach to the Innermost Cave

The approach to the innermost cave begins around 6. This is when things are starting to get dark. The hero must be prepared to face the great unknown that they have been fighting against the whole time. Think of this as the dark night of the soul. They have never faced a challenge like this before and they are going to have to use everything they have learned so far to survive this.

8: The Ordeal

The real ordeal starts at 7. This is the final test where everything is on the line. Everything they have learned over the course of the journey will be tested. This is where everything changes, including the hero. Some part of them will break. Something is going to die, whether it be a hope, a dream, or a person. It may even be the hero.

Let’s just say it isn’t called the ‘ordeal’ for nothing.

9: Seizing the Sword

At 8, the transformation begins. They have survived incredible odds and have come out even stronger (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually). They also obtained some sort of prize. The prize is the thing that the hero has been searching for this whole time, whether they realize it or not. It might be an object, it might be a secret. It might be knowledge or insight into a problem. It could even be a reconnection with a loved one. Either way, there is no time to celebrate. The clock marches onward and it is time to return home.

10: The Road Back

The clock strikes 9 and it is time to return home. This is a reversal of the call to action and crossing the first threshold, a final push back to the Ordinary World. They may revisit some of the same places (which is a great way to showcase just how much the world and the hero have changed since the ordeal). Ultimately, the hero will have to choose between their own personal objectives and a higher cause. Not an easy decision for anyone.

11: Resurrection

From 10-11 the hero has one final, incredibly dangerous encounter with death. The implications of this fight stretch far beyond the hero’s existence. The outcome of this battle determines the future of the Ordinary World. All of their knowledge and all of their experiences come to fruition in this final fight. This is a chance for the hero to prove that they have truly changed.

12: Return with the Elixir

Things have finally come full circle as the hero returns home to the Ordinary World. The conflict is gone, the threat has been vanquished, and there is finally some sort of peace in the world. Yet everything is not as it once was. The hero has changed.  They have grown. They have brought what they learned on their journey home with them to help make their world a better place.

 

If you pay attention you can see this pattern unfold in all of the stories that have ever been told. We have this natural inclination to telling stories like this and I find it fascinating. I could go on about the psychology behind it all as well as all of the different variations of this journey, the different character types, motivations, etc for hours.  And I probably will at some point.

For now, I have a strong desire to watch Star Wars.

Until next time!

My Dreams for 2019

2018 was an…interesting year for most people. Very little went as I had planned it, so I had to do a lot of learning on the fly and adapting to uncertain situations.

I’m not going to lie, it was tough. It all worked out, though.

I can say with confidence that I am in a better place now than I was when I graduated. I have a good, stable job. I’ve made a lot of connections. I have learned a lot about business, entrepreneurship, and life in general. I honed my writing skills by delving into game writing and completing NaNoWriMo (for the first time in 7 years).

Now I am looking to the new year. And I have plans.

First off, I want to publish blog posts more consistently. I was going pretty steady for a while, but sometimes I get busy and it throws me off. I want to be more intentional about my posting. I want to start working on posts earlier, so that not only will they be done on time but they will be done well.

I also want to write more games. While most of my focus will be dedicated to my work with the writing team for Fallout Cascadia (relatively new project), I want to work on some ideas of my own. Most of these will be simple little games, but they will be good practice. Given my desire to one day work for BioWare as a game writer, I should probably get started somewhere.

Another goal is to finish the first draft of my novel. After NaNoWriMo, I realized that while I had learned a lot about the world and the characters, what I had written was a giant mess. I learned a lot about the world and the characters, but the flow needed a lot of work. I started rewriting it about a week ago and have almost hit 1,000 words. I want to have this draft done by the end of the year.

During Thanksgiving break, I got an idea for a project that I fully intend to pursue in 2019. I want to help authors with their social media marketing, both for themselves and their novels. Whether this ends up being on a purely freelance thing or grows into something more, I’m going to do it. I am still working out some of the details, but once I’m ready to roll I will definitely be sharing it.

I know that I have said before that I would be doing a podcast. Truth is, I still very much want to do one, I just haven’t decided how/what I want to do it on yet. I have a few ideas I am playing around with. I am hoping to have one of them ready to launch sometime this year.

There are a few other things I want to do as well. I want to get better at pixel art to the point where I can create animations. I want to try my hand at graphic design. I want to teach myself how to play piano on the keyboard we for some reason bought a few years ago and never used.

For me, 2019 is going to be a year of opportunity and growth. A year to try new things. A year to chase old dreams.

Whatever this year throws at me, I intend to live life to the fullest.  

What about you?