NiaD 7: Lessons Learned

Maelduin asked the questions: How would you tackle it next time? What did you do wrong and right?

I thought I’d start a conversation based on those questions because I’m sure there will be almost as many ways of going about NiaD as their are writers.

This was my first NiaD. I did zero preparation; trusting that, as always, things will work out. I never write with an outline, so that part was unusual. Even though there weren’t many marks to hit, I felt the constraint. In particular, because there’s no option to punt anything to another chapter. That’s part of the fun, of course!

I probably worried too much about character creation. With everyone creating their own – in addition to those provided – I worried about all the loose ends. I’m parsimonious with character creation, and generally give them at least a little backstory and a plausible exit. So, one idea is to provide a few minor characters and locations that everyone could share. Just a thought.

Another concern I had was about the introduction of main characters. It might be worth indicating first appearances (and perhaps final appearances).

All in all, though, I think things are fine as they are. There’s no prospect of perfect here and that’s not the aim either. It’s a glorious mess, as it should be.

Marc -

The lesson I took away is that I personally need an outline or else I may break outside the constraints, or not exploit the constraints to the extent possible. I offer the Scapple map that I created in about two hours starting at 5:14 AM EDT (USA). I played around with it during those two hours, but it gave me ample guidance to slog through my chapter. For the record, I delivered my part with only 20 minutes to spare prior to the deadline of 3:00 PM EDT (USA). But I was able to hit my plot points end where the rules stated I should.

I admire anyone who can execute NiaD without an outline. But for people like me who cannot, I highly recommend some sort of mind mapping software such as Scapple to aid in quick progress throughout the day of the exercise.

P.S. - - I apologize profusely for several grammatical errors I spotted after my submission. “Allude” does not equal “elude”. And others. Oh, the shame…

This is not my first rodeo. I actually find the exercise quite relaxing once I’m midstreamofvomit writing. Every year the brief is terrifying. But then… poof. Done. I guess I’ve settled into the following prep/plan/produce action set.

  1. I block my calendar after the second weekend of Oct. This is partly due to NiaD and partly do due to the upcoming holidays. I tell Mr * that the “to do list is closed and once I get the top 10 done I’m not doing anymore until after NiaD.” I then do all my chores by Wednesday so I have complete freedom for the weekends.
  2. I buy multiple bottles of rum. Yep. I really drink that stuff. This year I only drank one glass the entire time though. Didn’t need the lubrication. :slight_smile:
  3. Plan and premake as many meals as you need. No snacks (other than than liquor), if cohabiting, hope to a deity that they will warm the food and bring you a plate.
  4. Plan NiaD activities in 3 steps… t0-2, cry over brief and dice it into required sections, t3-11 sleep, t4+ write. This fell apart this year. Had one “idea” for the opening and BOOM… done.
  5. Ask Piggy questions. Do it privately as we should not be posting details on the NiaD thread since it gives things away to other authors and readers. But I’m a purist.

Let’s be honest, if it’s “hard” we may be overthinking it. as a matter of fact, this entire point is wrong… see #7
7. I write a short story, not a chapter. The key for me it so think of the brief as a creative writing assignment. All the hard work is done. I just have to write a story that starts with A, oh, and here’s some history, gets to Z, and I need to only stop at F, L, and P. I can ignore or add any other letters I want. It’s just a short story.
8. Ignore all other chapters. Reread 7. I assume that’s exactly what everyone else is doing to. So continuity is optional. Think about it.
9. Have a good time. Mrs * hears my draft. Her comments are typically unattached to the writing. Things like “you’re not having fun… write what you want to write”. If you don’t find it fun or enjoyable, then start over until you learn to “trust yourself”. I think my best submissions have been the ones where I wrote what I wanted more than what Piggy asked me for.
10. Write what you know. I don’t do much research on local or subject. I can’t do it well. Instead I write the part of the story that is familiar to me… the natural part. I almost always get a male/female interaction (thank your piggy) so I write that relationship. I try to stretch my character development or focus on alternate ways life could play out, but it’s “real” to me (this year is was a bit more reflective of the actual way my wife and I went from “acquaintances” to Mr and Mrs *. That’s probably why it was done so fast.

Anyway, that’s my list. Should be interesting to see how others do it.

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I don’t really outline. What I do is split the brief into docs for each plot. I add a history section and a ends section. I move all the character info into research. At most, if an idea hits, I add a few sub docs to track “hit this as Q” type notes.

I think it was in the ghost one where I tried to outline. The points that I outlined were basically all that I actually did for them. The entire piece was “off” the plan and only barely touched the brief points. But again, I’m writing more from a “I can put my life into this story” than “I need to make something up”.

I guess I’m not really creative when I say it like that… BOOOO!!!

I thought it was a comic book story and treated it as such. But I don´t read comics and watch few superhero movies, so I felt a bit lost. I think the lesson I learned is that is it difficult for me to write about characters I do not know or situations/themes where I do not know the motivations and personal stakes.

For this reason I spent time researching Alcatraz to connect Terrondon and Sleepwalker (both criminals but with different purposes). My instinct was to seek the common thread that made them both turn to crime. I aimed for a backstory to guide me and yet still leave it ambiguous enough that it could be easily overturned in later chapters (and not contradict previous installments). This was difficult. When I came to my conclusion I thought, “I will never scoff at soap opera writers again!” :stuck_out_tongue:

A lesson reiterated: I suck as describing houses, buildings, and superhero costumes. :stuck_out_tongue:

I wrote a longish post, pressed the wrong button just before I was going to submit it, and it all went up in smoke … I’m not going to type it again. What I learned:

As I learned from each of my previous 2 ventures:

  1. I have little imagination, hence
  2. I am lousy at characterisation
  3. I am even lousier at dialogue in anything but my own usage
  4. I am really not widely-enough read to undertake such things.

From this venture, I learned:
5) To make use of the corkboard
6) That once I know what it is I need to write, I can do it quickly and don’t need too much post-editing (in my opinion), but the result is in my personal, rather pedantic style and probably yawn-making to any reader.

So, once again, I am left thinking that I am really ill-equipped to undertake such ventures, and that I shouldn’t put my head on the block again next time. But when next time comes round … :confused:


Mr. X,

Do it again.

Well, Mr * … bit like you, eh?

‘Cept I would exclude myself, while you are always hoping Piggy will exclude you?

:laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

More “accepting that he should” than hoping.

This, so much this. When I first came across NIAD I read the first book – Horror. Fine! I like and read Horror, I could have contributed to that one. So I signed up for the second year, and the genre was SF – Perfect! I’ve been inhaling SF&F since I was ten or so. Felt like a duck in a warm pond. So then I signed up for year 3.


I’ve never in my life read a book about gangsters. I’ve never watched a gangster movie. (Yes, not even any of the Godfather movies.) I read the brief feeling like it might as well have been in Mandarin. :frowning: (Did my best, which was utterly pathetic. As I remember I mostly nattered about someone’s thoughts as they drove home from something.)

Anyway, for me not knowing what the genre will be is the killer disincentive weighing against automatically joining up. 24 hours is just not enough time for me to create anything someone might possibly enjoy reading in any of the myriad genres I know nothing about. :frowning:

I don’t suppose Piggy would bend on the ‘no advance info’ rule? Perhaps no public info for all those of you brave enough to leap blindly into any stormy sea, but have a single line spoiler, maybe somewhere on his website, where cowards can go. Just “this will be steam punk” or “hi tech thriller” or “urban fantasy”, something like that.

Beth, I am a bit surprised that you are still grieved about the genre thing!

Maybe I am funny in the head, but I don’t think NiaD novels are genre books at all. They take on different subjects and settings, but it is not as though the chapter authors magically transform into genre writers – a romance writer one time, a western author the next. They arrive with the writing skills they have and, while they let their subject and setting influence them as may be, they are still notably writing “in their way”. Even though Dickens was an obvious touchpoint for 3 Ghosts, that book did not turn out any more Dickensian for all that. Twenty-four hours is not enough time to rejigger your underlying writing skill set and somehow deploy it significantly differently for a whole chapter. Rather, the time frame presses most of us down to our most basic go-to resources as writers. For someone like me anyway, it is a kind of coping against the clock.

I remember being terrified of not knowing what the genre might be when I first signed up. But in large part for the reasons above, I lost my fear of unknown genre after that. It seemed to me and still seems to me that what makes NiaD a challenge every year is not genre.*

Of course, one might just be disinterested in writing about certain things and for this reason long for a genre reveal – but that seems to me a different matter. As it was for me, and perhaps for you as well, the worry about genre was the worry that I was unprepared to write in some certain mode that (I imagined) genre books in that genre are written. But I concluded that nobody is such a chameleon, and the NiaD books just weren’t like that.

NiaD books may at some moments vamp on genre tropes, but these books are not in any of those genres. They are a kind of experimental fiction.


  • I say this with caution and only after due reflection, because I found this year’s NiaD particularly challenging!

Just to add to GR point, I wasn’t even sure what the genre was… stupid in hindsight, but I thought it was more horror/slasher/suspense. Even if someone told me super hero I wouldn’t have done much different. Mostly because I’m a dense, one-trick pony.

If only I could figure out what that trick was…

There was a bit of discussion over at a few years back on the subject of genre reveal, and - after a little debate - the conversation landed pretty firmly on the side of keeping it under wraps.

Everyone’s reasons were a little bit different. Mine centred on what people would do with that information:
Some people would use the knowledge to research and do a whole load of prep, which contradicts the whole “everyone is in the same boat” part of NiaD.
Some people would use the knowledge to decide not to take part, which I’m hardly going to knowingly facilitate! Plus, I’m always a little bit jealous of people in this position. An opportunity to write a chapter in a genre you’re completely unfamiliar with? That’s the NiaD event at its most challenging and most exciting, and where you learn the most about your own “voice”.
But as others have mentioned… We’re not really coming up with different genres in the truest sense. In my mind, genres are a mixture of three things: 1) a reality, 2) a story, and 3) an emotion*. In NiaD, I dictate (1) and (2) but leave (3) completely up to you. This is what GR was referring to in how NiaDs aren’t really genre fiction… that third element of deciding which emotion you want to evoke defines a lot of what you get from a genre, and that’s where the writer’s craft really comes into play!

In fact, my wife and I had some good sport before NiaD trying to reverse-engineer the genre module of your brain and made bets against each other about which way you would jump with NiaD 2017.

We were both so so wrong!

Scouring the depths of the abyss that is Rog’s brain, is in fact a genre as yet to be defined … a hellish scary one at that! :open_mouth:

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel that genre novels involve a sort of contract with the readers. Certain things they have a ‘right’ to expect to be included or exclude. And if you are not even aware of those unwritten conventions, how can you possibly fulfill your end of it?

But, yes, I suppose I can see the argument that NIAD is a genre of it’s own, so the writer is free to add a time traveling Sherlock Holmes to the contemporary paranormal romance , why not?

I totally agree! :slight_smile: But that’s one of the nice things about NiaD. If you don’t know them, that’s not your fault or your problem. Most of the conventions you talk about are book-wide contracts not chapter or paragraph-to-paragraph contracts, so it’s on me to make sure that the chapter briefs include the necessary world features and plot markers that a reader would demand.

Well, I’d prefer you kept to the reality set up in the brief, but, yeah, you can set the tone / voice for your chapter.

What did you come up with?

It’s worse to live in than to visit.

Feeling sorry f’ y’self, won’t get y’ anywhere!
Grow up! Be a man!

Oh, I’m not complaining. I’m just saying I don’t need anyone else to move in. :stuck_out_tongue:

Wait. Then why did I pack all my stuff into this shipping container?