Series or stand-alones?

Time for a very short blog piece today.

Is writing a series or writing a stand-alone better?

It’s hard to say. Writing series I think is most people’s goal, especially in science fiction and fantasy genres. But I also know that a lot of people prefer to write single books. There are pros and cons to each.

Writing a series means that you can explore a world you create very deeply, mores than any single book could dive. You can have more time pass within the overall story arc as well. However, you risk the chance of becoming redundant and having a stale or uninspired plot during one of the books in the middle of the series. I’ve seen this happen a lot.

Writing a single book means that you can focus entirely on the plot involved between the first and last pages. You know exactly where it is going to end, and filling in the rest is a matter of picking and choosing what details to share and what details will forever just live in your notes on your computer or notebook. These stories are a little less stressful to write at times, as you have a contained plot, rather than having to always think ahead to how a situation in book 2 will impact something larger in book 4 for example. However, it also means that usually (but not always) once you finish the book, that closes the door on that world and those characters. Even if you fall deeply in love with them, you probably won’t be able to write them again; at least not in the same form.

The whole point of this post is to show that there is no answer to this. Series are amazing! Stand-alone books are amazing! Writers and their works, are amazing!

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Advice: Naming characters is hard

Your characters are entirely made of your imagination. From their outward appearance, the slang they use, their emotional baggage, and of course, their names. Naming people is hard! Some people name their characters with a lot of thought behind it: the meaning of the name itself in correlation to the character and/or their journey, with specific detail to region/timelines and various other markers. Some people just pick names they like and slap them onto the character.

(I can happily say that I am the latter of the two.)

It doesn’t really matter how you come up with a name. It doesn’t matter if you come up with the name first or the after you’ve written half the book, and have an AH-HA! moment where you realize the perfect name for the character whose holder has been MC1 for your first thirty thousand words. Sometimes, you write a character with a hastily chosen name and decide that, ew it doesn’t fit at all. Either you keep the name and give them a nickname, or change it entirely to something that doesn’t make you wrinkle your nose and ask, “Who came up with this?” (The answer would be you, you came up with this, but hey, no one is perfect.)

I think, however, the hardest thing happens when you write an entire book with the perfect character name the entire way. You’ve marinated this idea and written it all down for months or years, and once you’ve finished, you decide you need to change things. Revisions sneak up on you like that. Perhaps you realize you need more diversity and change the ethnicity of a character to better suit the world they live in or their character arc. You have a name and character you love, but you have to change, say, their last name. That’s really hard. Or if you revise and realize that all of your characters have last names that sound too similar. We all know that naming most of your characters with similar names is a big no-no because it’s too easy for readers to get confused. (Imagine a drama sequence with characters named Sam, Sally, Sara, Sage, Sadi. Confusing right?)

I can also make an assumption (from no personal experience) that perhaps your agent or editor may make a note about a name for one reason or another, as to why you should think about changing it. By now, you have a manuscript as polished as you can manage on your own, and here are people in the industry giving you their knowledge. You want to take it to heart, to make the best book you could possibly make, but changing names is a big deal. There is no right or wrong way to name a character (unless, of course, it is a derogatory name, or if you use stereotypical names with negative connotations) but a name fully envelopes a character quite quickly in a writer’s heart.

I guess my best advice would be this: go with your gut and pick a good name. You could research a bunch of names first, or you could do a random name generator online and mash first and last names together that sound good. Name sure that the name is appropriate for the story you’re telling. It is, after all, your world, your characters, your choice. But also, be aware that sometimes you will have to tweak a name for some reason or another, and that’s okay too. It may be a little weird, and you may slip up while talking about your book to friends or future publishing aficionados by using the first name you gave them, but it happens. As long as you love the name, then that’s all that matters.

My Journey: The first novel

I have an interesting past. My family has often talked about how I should write down everything I’ve been through so I can write a memoir when I’m older, but mostly I just like telling people the random stuff that has happened to me throughout the years.

The least random of things is the fact that I was homeschooled from grades 2 to 12. (For non-Americans, and those unfamiliar with the American school system, that’s ages 8 to 18.) I had a very unique structure to learning, where my mom was my teacher, and I had a certain number of subjects that I needed to fill with courses. When I started showing a true desire to write, more than just random little stories with no substance, my mom decided to embrace that.

At twelve, I started writing my first novel. It was my English Literature class. It was structured as this: week 1, write an outline, week 2, write chapter one, week 3, write chapter two, etc. Each week had a full assignment and at the end of that week my mom would read it and we would go over it together. It worked surprisingly well. (I won’t share my idea because I plan on revisiting and rewriting it soon and trying to publish it.) There were four main characters, so I learned how to write different voices, and I spent a lot of time realizing how much I rely on patterns whilst writing.

Even though I had written the entire outline, I didn’t finish writing the book that school year. I got halfway through, having written about 60,000 words, and then my life went into an upheaval. I don’t think I wrote much of any original work between then and sixteen, but at sixteen (or nearly sixteen) I decided I needed to finish that first novel. It was just standing there, with the end unwritten. So I finished with about 101,000 words. My writing had changed so much that it wasn’t even the same story anymore, but I at least completed the idea. Then I set it aside.

I didn’t touch it for years. I had my grandmother, who has experience copy editing, read it. (Embarrassment ensued.) And then I decided to read it myself. I felt a complex mass of emotions attached to it. Obviously, the story, the characters…they’re my actual children. They’re the first characters I fully developed, the first world I created, they will always be precious to me. But I also realized that yes, while I have definitely gained a very distinct fiction writing voice and style, I lost a lot of my storytelling skills as I moved into my teen and adult years. Reading the first half of this book, it was as if I were writing about friends and people. There were so many tiny details of those first 12 chapters that I cannot seem to ever write into my newer work. Every characters had multiple hobbies, they were constantly involved in action, there was emotional impact and no overdramatic teenage love bogging down the story.

I can’t seem to write that way any more. It makes me really sad, and I have been trying to get myself back into the frame of mind where I could possibly write like that again, but match it with my more refined style. It is a difficult task, and most likely a large component as to why it is so hard for me to finish large, world building projects these days. I keep second guessing my ability to write characters who are people and not just words on a page.

Let’s take a lesson from this: don’t discredit your writing from when you were younger. You can learn a lot from rereading your first stabs at novels or poems or short stories or whatever it is that you write. You can physically see how much you have grown, and you can pinpoint things that you’ve lost along the way. As a writer, this is important, because writing is a consistently changing and evolving process and we are our own best teachers.

NaNoWriMo

We all know what NaNoWriMo is. If you don’t, it stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. I believe, years ago, it stood for “National November Writing Month”, but that could be misinformation. NaNo, for short, is an event hosted on a website where it challenges you to write 50,000 words a day for the month of November. (There are multiple smaller events through the year, but we’re focusing on November right now.) It’s a really great exercise, especially if you do well with a deadline and visual stimulation. The website is set up in such a way where you can view your statistics in a bar-graph. This means, instead of just numbers going up in your word document, you can see bars stagger upwards toward your goal!

I do very well with visual stimulation and a visual representation of my progress is a great way to keep me motivated. I wish there was NaNo every month for this very reason! I have yet to find a good simulator I can use on the months when NaNo isn’t actively occurring. That is, however, beside the point in this blog.

A lot of people don’t finish NaNo; I have a track record of never actually completing a NaNo month in the five or so years that I’ve participated. Most of this is attributed to the fact that it takes place in November, a time when I had midterms and finals going on at a massive scale. After I graduated two years ago, I went through a rough patch where I didn’t write for six months. My writing has been super spotty ever since then. Which is why I’m so keen on doing NaNo this year! I need to write another novel. It’s been too long since I wrote my last WIP (over two years), and I am having a hard time motivating myself farther into my writing career because of it.

No one writes a perfect novel in 50,000 words on a first draft. Hell, no one writes a perfect novel in 100,000 words on a first draft. That’s not really the point of NaNo: the point is to challenge yourself to reach a goal and to have support from friends and fellow writers to reach a goal. Many people far surpass the 50,000 word mark. Some barely get there. But the fact of the matter is that on December 1st, you will have written more words in November than you had on October 31st. It doesn’t matter if they are perfect, it just matters that you’re writing, that you’re creating and that you’re enjoying yourself.

If you would like to follow my progress on NaNo, my pen name is Negasonics. I encourage everyone to join NaNo, even if you don’t think you’ll make it to 50,000 words. It is called a challenge for a reason, and there is nothing wrong with a little challenge, a little support, and even a little stress to get yourself going.

So please, become my buddy on NaNoWriMo! Follow my twitter for updates and support! Grab some of your favorite cozy drink and foods, think of an idea that you’ve wanted to write for ages, or maybe think of something new and fresh, and just GO FOR IT! There is no right or wrong way to do NaNo, as long as you try.