Mission Success! River and Cloud’s NaNoWriMo 2017 Experience


We won!!!

Okay, I just had to say that before anything else!  Haha.  This is the first time I’ve ever won NaNoWriMo, so it’s still a little unbelievable.  But those stats don’t lie:

River's NaNoWriMo 2017 stats. Screencap from nanowrimo.com

I think Chiyo expresses my feelings on the matter perfectly:




JUMP! ft. Chiyo by River on Strike A Spark

It was tough, but we made it through somehow, huh?  Many thanks to Cloud for being my best writing buddy and un-block-er.  And a shout-out and many thanks to our friends who encouraged us this whole month: Nana, Yureya, and Claire!

Now that the challenging month is through and I finally have free time again, I have a lot to catch up on – I finally have time to draw!  I missed having the time to just sketch and free-write.  And I’ve really missed blogging these past weeks, and missed seeing what my friends are up to.  So that’s next! But first, I thought I’d do a little debrief of our experience:

Our Process

Rondo of the Rising Sun cover - wip!
Rondo of the Rising Sun cover – wip!

Since our current project, Rondo of the Rising Sun, is a collaboration, we’ve gotten a few questions on our process for NaNoWriMo and how we divide up the work.  Usually, the work on our collaborations goes something like this:

  1. Cloud and I start talking about a new story.  During this brainstorming period, we come up with new characters, event ideas, and develop the world.  We also spend a lot of time getting a feel for the characters’ personalities, and talk how they would react to this or that situation.
  2. After a while, it gets difficult to remember everything we wanted to do with the story, and we end up going over the same things again instead of new events.  At this point, we write down everything we have so far in a document so we can move forward.
  3. Repeat steps 1 & 2.  And again. And again.
  4. At some point, we’ll have a lot of plot ideas, character details, and lore all thrown into a document.  So we’ll take some time sorting the information and writing down anything new.  (This step basically sums up our Plotober.)
  5. Now we have something resembling an outline!  We start writing the scenes we’re really excited about.  (Beginnings are hard, though, so we’ll leave them until later.)
  6. Now we have a lot of disconnected scenes – you couldn’t call it a story yet!  So it’s time to write all the connecting scenes, and anything we missed the first time through.
  7. After spending time in the story, we know more about the characters’ motivations, and fears, and desires, so it’s easier to write a good beginning . . . and a good ending. (Or so I hope.  We haven’t reached “ending” stage yet, after all!)
  8. And now, edit until it feels like the story we wanted to tell!

The whole time, we’ll keep talking about the story, and learning about the characters, and revising different events and situations.  The one who writes it down is whoever feels like it or has a better grasp of the scene.  It’s a very collaborative process, based on discussion and story-telling rather than writing. . . we tell the story to each other before we write it down.

For the NaNoWriMo challenge, there were several factors that made it necessary to change our process a bit.  Up until the 4th step was the same.  However, Cloud was very busy and didn’t have much free time to write, so after hashing out the plot, I took over and did the first draft mostly on my own.

It was weird to write Rondo mostly on my own.  Of course, I’ve written short stories by myself, and it usually goes smoothly from start-to-finish since I know where I want to go with it.  With a collaborative story, on the other hand, it feels like I only know half the story at any one time. . . there’s this vague feeling of unease that I’ll veer off into the weeds and start telling a different story entirely.  Luckily, Cloud was an immense help at unblocking me when I got stuck, and we had regular story meetings to make sure we were on track, so it worked out in the end.

Though I can’t say that the first draft is completed yet.  At the end of November, Rondo is about one-third of the way through the planned story.  So there’s still some writing to be done!

The Stats

In the spirit of “What Gets Measured Gets Managed,” let’s take a closer look at our word count for this challenge:

River's NaNoWriMo 2017 stats graph. Screencap from nanowrimo.com

The first ten days went well; I met or surpassed the average word count (represented by the diagonal line) each day.  I had enough to take a few days off (days 10 – 13), and even though we fell behind, I made up the word count by day 16.  In fact, it went well up until day 22. . . exactly three weeks after the challenge started.

I hit a slump.  Even though we’d outlined all the exciting events we wanted to explore, even though we had kept up the story meetings, and even though I sat at my laptop every day and tried to type, it felt like I kept slipping further and further behind the word count.

Luckily, Cloud made some free time the last three days of NaNo.  Whenever I hit a roadblock, she talked me through the block until I could write again.  So together, we managed to make up the backlog of words and hit 50,000 words on November 30th. . . just in time!

Moral of the story?  When you get stuck, take a break and get away from the page. Take a walk.  Talk to a friend, work your way through the story so far and the roadblock you’ve stumbled into.  Then you can get back on track and write at the speed of light!

. . . . At least until the next block.  So, rinse & repeat as necessary! 😉

NaNo’s over. Now what?

NaNo was fun, and difficult, and so challenging.  I really thought we weren’t going to make it there for a while, but we managed somehow. . . mostly thanks to Cloud’s intervention. 😉 And now that it’s through, we have 50,000 words on a new story.  Where do we go from here?

Well, like I said above, I’m going to take some time and get back into drawing.  The whole time I was writing, I kept thinking of new paintings! Haha.  And I want to finally finish the Rondo cover!  I’d like to do some studies too, so it looks like my art schedule is filled for a while.  😀

After a little time has passed, we’re going to do a review of the NaNo draft and finish writing the story.  I’m sure there are scenes that no longer fit, or that need editing – and there’s still two-thirds of the plot to go. So we’ll pick that up again, and move it forward.  Maybe we can finish it & share it with you all next year!  I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Thank you all for following along with me and Cloud on this madcap adventure.  The first leg of the journey is done, and while there’s still a ways to go, it’s time to rest and celebrate what we’ve accomplished thus far.  Tomorrow, we’ll start again.



Only Ten Days Left (NaNoWriMo 2017)

Can you believe that we’re already two-thirds of the way through November?  I can’t. . . It seems like just yesterday I was staring at a shiny new blank page of (digital) paper, excited to start writing.  And now we’re almost through!  How does time fly so quickly?

This month, NaNoWriMo took center stage.  I expected to spend a lot of time on it, but I didn’t expect that it would take over my life this much!  It’s to the point where I don’t have time to draw or blog as much as I’d like to.  But it’s okay – I’m having a lot of fun getting the Rondo’s story down on paper. ^^

As I scraped out a little time today, I thought I’d do a quick update on my progress!

  • As of yesterday, we broke 31k!  Rondo of the Rising Sun is now officially the longest NaNo project I’ve written. (TTuTT)
  • It’s been difficult to keep up with my 2.5k/day goal. . . I’ve had to work the last two weekends to catch up.  I’m going to work hard this week so I can take a day or two off, and let my hands rest.
  • Plot-wise, we’re only about 1/3 of the way through the RRS story. . . so it definitely won’t be “finished” this month.  At least we’ll have 50k written by the end of the month!
  • The biggest problem we have right now is all the unnamed side characters.  We’ve been calling them things like “Acquaintance 1” and “Adventurer A.”  💦 I’ve had to make an extra document just to keep them sorted out!

So, things are going fairly smoothly for once!  It helps that Cloud and I have regular story meetings to discuss what we should tackle next.  It’s really nice to have someone you can bounce ideas off of when you get stuck.  ^^

For all of you challenging NaNo, keep it up!  We’re at the final push now.  You can do it!

Lazuli believes in you!

How’s your November going?  Let me know in the comments below!


(Psst – one last update!  I’ve finally put up a gallery for my Inktober paintings – you can check that out here.)

NaNoWriMo incoming! Are you ready? (Final Plotober update!)

Plotober graphic. Made by River using photo resource from Mark Levin.

Dear Plotters,

Plotober is winding down, and NaNoWriMo is almost here!  Are you getting excited?  I am~  It feels a little like, “Finally! I can work on this story!”  So this will be the last Plotober update for this year.  Next up, NaNo!

The Successes

To date, Cloud and I have had multiple successes this Plotober.  We have:

While there are still things under construction – namely, the timeline, the various important side characters, and the world – overall, our Plotober project was a success!  I feel we’ve grasped enough of the story to take a good stab at the first draft.  Not bad, considering I’ve been a pantser for many many years before this.

Continue reading “NaNoWriMo incoming! Are you ready? (Final Plotober update!)”

Rondo of the Rising Sun Costume Designs Batch #1 (Plotober #9)

Plotober graphic. Made by River using photo resource from Mark Levin.

Dear Plotters,

It might be a bit of a stretch to call this a part of Plotober, as costume designs are purely aesthetic and will likely change over time, but nevertheless!  Today I’m happy to share with you Ruby, Lazuli, Tiria, and Luna’s outfit designs!

(Click to enlarge)

I’ve focused on these the past week or so as I felt I ought to get a better grasp of their outfits before I continue working on the cover.  Now that the main four are done, I think I can ink the sketch.  ^^ I’m hoping to finish the cover soon, but realistically it probably won’t be done until sometime in November at the earliest.

You may have noticed that Luna and Lazuli are in Western-style garb, while Ruby and Tiria are in Eastern-style.  This is mainly due to personal preference; the world of The Third Turning includes areas inspired by different cultures, so there’s a lot of choice available. There’s also Tropical, Tribal, and Northern styles, for example; I just haven’t drawn any characters who wear those styles yet.

Now back to plotting.  Today I’m tackling the timeline and some worldbuilding.  Wish me luck~

On Themes: The Guiding Light of A Story (Plotober #8)

Plotober graphic. Made by River using photo resource from Mark Levin.

Dear Plotters,

There’s only a week left of Plotober! Where did the time go?!  Does anyone else feel like this month has gone by  too fast?  I feel like I haven’t even done half of what I’d planned so far. . . .

With only a few days left until NaNoWriMo begins, I’m beginning to feel that pre-finals-esque pressure to finish plotting so I’m fully prepared to write. At these times, it’s tempting to frantically work on everything that comes to mind, filling the time with as much busywork as possible to stave off anxiety; however, I find that it helps to slow down and refocus on the basics instead of worrying about the minor details and intricacies of the plot.

A few weeks ago, I talked a little bit about my take on how to design good characters.  Characters are the heart of a story, and having a deep understanding of the characters will make writing easier as you know how they will react and change.  However, I believe there is also another vital piece of the puzzle, which deals with the type of story you want to tell.  So today we’ll talk a bit about themes, the guiding light as you tackle the writing of a story.

A Brief Look at Themes

A theme is a grand, overarching idea, value, or message that guides a story, or that a story explores along the way.  You could say that while a character’s actions drive the plot, the theme helps to guide your character’s actions.  Or rather, your readers will feel the theme as they experience the character’s struggles and thoughts over the course of the story.

Take a moment and think back to your favorite stories – books, movies, video games, whatever tales you like to go back to again and again.  I guarantee you, they all have strong themes. Those heartrending moments, those moments that grab you are all manifestations of a story’s themes.

Some popular themes are Good vs Evil, The Power of Love / Friendship, Maturing in the Face of Adversity, The Pursuit of Vengeance, The Circle of Life, and The Struggle to Find One’s True Self.  And there are hundreds of other themes to boot!  Many stories will focus on one central theme; others will have several major theme as well as a multitude of minor themes that help enrich the tale.

For example, let’s look at some of my favorite stories.  See if these themes match your idea of the story*:

  • Harry Potter: Love Conquers Evil, Perseverance in the Face of Adversity, The Courage to Do Right, Coming of Age
  • Lord of the Rings: The Courage to Do Right, The Struggle to Resist Corruption, The Power of Friendship
  • Fruits Basket: Purity vs Corruption, Love Conquers Darkness, Homelessness / Making a Home, Coming of Age
  • Kingdom Hearts: Light vs Darkness, Coming of Age, Childlike Wonder, The Power of Friendship

*If you haven’t experienced these stories yet, sorry! I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. ^^

So? Did  the themes I mentioned sound familiar?  I pulled these off the top of my head, so there are probably many more major and minor themes that could be mentioned, but I think these speak to the core of  each story.

The brilliant thing is that none of the stories mentioned above are lectures; they never preach on a certain value.  Instead, by exploring the world and experiencing the events alongside the characters, we, the readers, are able to see through their eyes and watch the themes unfold naturally.  This, in turn, allows us to consider our own philosophies and come to new understandings about our own world.

Choosing Themes

During the plotting stage is the perfect time to choose the themes for your story.  Once you know your themes, they will quietly show you where to go, and anytime you feel lost or like a scene is going nowhere you can ask yourself, “Does this fit my theme?”  Often, the answer will be “No!” and you’ll know to scrap that scene and move on.  This is why I call themes the guiding light of a story.

When looking for themes, it may help to divide them into “major” and “minor” themes. Major themes are anything that drive the story as a whole; they’re the big ideas, the big questions.  So a story about a hero striving to defeat the Lord of Darkness would have Good vs Evil as a major theme.  A story about a protagonist who is trying to find his family’s murderer might have “Is Vengeance Worth It?” as a major theme.  It will take most of the story for your character to deal with the major themes.

Minor themes are smaller, yet no less important ideas that support the major themes and enrich the story.  The shorter story arcs and subplots will deal with the minor themes.  For our hero fighting against the Lord of Darkness, a minor theme might be Survival when he must find a way to survive in the marsh with only the clothes on his back and his trusty knife in hand.  For our revenge-seeking protagonist, he may help out a family in need during a story arc for a minor theme of Selflessness.  Minor themes help your characters grow a little bit more during their journeys.

How Many Themes?

How many themes you choose to focus on will depend a large part on the length of your story.

  • Short stories and flash fiction will usually have only one major theme.
  • Novellas have a little more wiggle room, with one or two major themes and a couple of minor themes.
  • Novels and other long-running stories will have the space to explore several major themes and several minor themes.

Sometimes you may find that you’ve got a laundry list of themes because you want the story to explore so many things! And that’s great!  However, keep in mind that having too many themes may make the story seem scattered.  So it’s important to limit your themes enough that your story is still tight and focused.

As a rule of thumb, for a novel project I tend to choose up to three major themes and two to five minor themes, depending on the story.  This way, there’s plenty to explore without having too much ground to cover.  Basically, as long as I can keep the main points in mind without having to refer to my plotting sheet, I’ve got just enough themes.

All that said, I believe themes are more organic than the word “choose” implies.  Oftentimes, I’ll find that the themes for a story become clear as I work with the characters.  It’s more a matter of listening to my characters and hearing what story they want to tell, then checking that the themes make sense.

Finding the Themes for Rondo of the Rising Sun

Rondo of the Rising Sun cover - wip!
Rondo of the Rising Sun cover – wip!

At it’s core, Rondo of the Rising Sun is a story about a group of friends who are trying to rebuild their lives after being trapped in another world.  Knowing this, the major themes rose fairly quickly.  We also have a couple of minor themes, and as we continue to work with the characters this month, I’m sure a few more will arise as well.

Major Themes

These are the three big ideas that we want to explore with this story.

  • Displacement / Homelessness: What do you do when you’ve lost your home?  Everyone who is trapped in The Third Turning has essentially been exiled, after all, and each character has a different way of dealing with it.
  • Rebuilding After Disaster: Related to the first theme, and the route that the Rondo takes.  Though they are desperate to return home, they also try to restore some semblance of an everyday life.
  • The Power of Friendship: Are you surprised to see this one?  😛  The Rondo members support each other through thick and thin, and through their friendship are able to accomplish much more than they each could alone.

Minor Themes

These themes relate more to the characters’ individual growth and subplots.

  • Believing in Yourself: Several characters – namely Luna – struggle with believing in themselves.  And in a major subplot, the girls must stay true to their own philosophies even when faced with opposition and derision.
  • Letting Go of Perfection: At least one character is a perfectionist, and almost has a nervous breakdown because of it.  Through letting go of perfection, they’re able to move on and improve, as well as learn to enjoy everyday life.

We plotted most of the story without considering the themes, but once we sat down and discussed what kind of story we wanted to tell, it became easier to fill in the holes.  While we may adjust the themes as we continue to work on the story, I like that we have a firm idea now.  It feels less like we are struggling along in the dark and more like we have a story we believe in.

If you feel like you’re at a standstill during your plotting, I encourage you to take a moment and consider your themes!  Chances are, they will help shine a light on where you should go next and help smooth out your writing process.

Now it’s your turn!  What kind of story are you going to tell this NaNoWriMo?  Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Plotting!

The Courage to Write (Plotober #7)

Plotober graphic. Made by River using photo resource from Mark Levin.

Dear Plotters,

I’ve been having trouble writing this past week.  Oh, not plotting – no, the plotting is going well!  (Though there’s still a ton to do before the month ends. 💦)  And I’m excited to share a few more things with you all about Rondo of the Rising Sun, when Cloud and I have settled a few more things.  But aside from plotting, I’ve tried writing various things, including a few more article-type Plotober posts, and they’ve all fallen flat. Bleargh.

Well, I could claim I was blocked. Or I could just say that I wasn’t writing the right things.  And I’m inclined to think the latter – because when I logged into WordPress this morning and saw the last couple Daily Prompts, I felt something click.

The daily prompt today is Brave. Yesterday, it was Risky.  They both key into something that’s been at the back of my mind lately: how much courage it takes, sometimes, to create something, and then to share our creativity with the world.

And for a nice synchronicity, Shaun at Clockwork Clouds published a great post this week about “Trusting Ourselves and Our Audience.” It made me think, so today I thought I’d write some of these thoughts down.

Continue reading “The Courage to Write (Plotober #7)”

Rondo of the Rising Sun Character Profiles #4: Luna (Plotober #6)

Inktober 6: Luna from Rondo of the Rising Sun

Dear Plotters,

Today we round out the first (?) batch of character profiles with Luna, the reserved & mysterious girl who is Lazuli’s friend!

Inktober 6: Luna from Rondo of the Rising Sun
“. . .”


  • Age: Early teens
  • The quiet, reserved type
  • She often hides inside her cloak
  • She can sneak past people without even trying to, but it’s not a skill she enjoys – on the contrary, she actually hates feeling “invisible”
  • Somehow, her stealth stat keeps going up with no effort on her part. . . .
  • Her preferred weapons are thrown weapons like small, swift daggers which allow her to stay further away from the fighting
  • She often goes out materials-hunting with Tiria
  • Lazuli is her best friend