What next? I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of last year and decided to take the challenge. I would write a novel in one month. More specifically, I would turn this snippet of an idea into a novel by the time that last grain of sand passed through the hour glass. Now, I knew I would not need 60,000 words for the story I wanted to write. 30,000 words would do. So, I set my goal to write 1,000 words a day.
In the beginning it was easy. I had my story outline and my fingers flew as words hit the page. Then it got harder. Some days I couldn't write more than 100 words. On those days, I went back and revised, or worked on descriptions of the environment, or moved words around. Or walked. I wrote most days in the library from which I had recently retired, so I visited and caught up with former co-workers when nothing was coming from my brain. I loaded up on hot tea, ate the occasional coffee cake. I had lunch with friends for some brainstorming. I must admit, some of my favorite bits came from that.
And I succeeded. By the first day in December I had created an entire story. Better yet, I liked the story. Now what?
I knew I needed a serious critique. The announcement from Highlights about upcoming workshops in 2015 arrived and there it was: "Writing the Unreal - The Whole Novel Workshop in Fantasy & Speculative Fiction." That was it. That was what would help me get my story to the next level. So, I applied. Then I sent in my writing sample. I waited. And waited. Early in the year I learned that I had been accepted! I sent in my entire manuscript and received comments from my faculty advisor, Anne Ursu, shortly before our workshop.
Early in May, I was on the road, off for The Farm in northeast Pennsylvania, and for the help that was waiting for me. And Anne Ursu was that. Not only had she gone through my entire manuscript and left line-by-line edits for consideration, she had an overall critique that we discussed at length. By the end of the first day, I was rewriting the beginning chapters and focusing in on a main character. The second day, what was my former first chapter was critiqued by the group, my fellow attendees working on their own fantasy stories. Again, I came away with comments to consider.
In the days ahead, as we met with special guests Jordan Brown (Editor, HarperCollins), Tina Wexler (Agent, ICM), and Debbie Kovacs (Director, Walden Pond Press), I took away more ideas. I have to admit, Debbie Kovacs helped me immensely in understanding my story. She asked simple questions. Whose story is it? What's at stake? What if it doesn't happen? What does he learn? As we discussed these questions and hashed out the answers, the problems I couldn't figure out within my plot and the motivations behind my characters became clear. It was an "Aha" moment for me.
Another new discovery for me came during a writing exercise led by Christine Hepperman. We were challenged to write the justification behind a character's actions in that way when you are trying to convince yourself of your decision. I wrote about the predicament my Queen found herself in and in doing so, found out the real reason she did what she did. Another big discovery. It didn't necessarily change my story in any way, but now I understood her motivation completely, and it also tied in with what I had discussed with Debbie Kovacs. I was elated.
I left the Workshop after one week feeling rejuvenated. I got what I wanted, a clear direction to take this fantasy to the next level. And it was this: I needed a narrator for the story, which I already had in the lovable and favorite character of everyone, Smoky the Cat, and a main character to follow, who turned out to be Rose, eldest princess.
As I told the group in our final meeting, I will be working on these revisions, but I have other projects I must work on as well, so it may not be immediate. Who knows? Maybe I will be revising this story during the 2015 NaNoWriMo?