Day Eight

An excerpt from the novel. Don’t judge too harshly, this is a hastily-written first draft:

They fought their way through the underbrush until they found a smaller road, then they walked along it. Leva strode next to her with his head down, contemplating something. Probably how much he hates peasants, she thought. “So,” she said. “Can you do any magic whatsoever outside of the school?”

He smirked. “I guess I haven’t tried that much,” he said. He turned that well-known, cocky expression on her. A smile played around his lips – the same smile that he always had when he knew he had the upper hand.

Her hair burst into flame.

She couldn’t help the scream that erupted from her mouth. She dropped the rucksack and threw herself to the road, dislodging Cat as she rolled back and forth on the hard ground.

“Stop,” Cat was shouting – as loud as a cat could shout. “Stop it. Stop!”

Leva was laughing.

After a few moments Marian realized that she wasn’t in pain – and she didn’t smell burning hair. She stopped rolling and tentatively put a hand up to her head. Her hair was as long, as lush and as curly as ever. It was a bit dustier now, but otherwise undamaged.

Leva was almost on the road himself. His face was red and tears glinted at the corners of his eyes as he snorted with laughter. “It was an illusion,” he gasped. “You should have seen yourself -”

What she was seeing was red. She scrambled to her feet, ready to punch him in his smug, upturned mouth. Cat was shouting something but she couldn’t really make it out. She didn’t care.

She opened her hand at the last moment so that her punch turned into a hard slap. Leva’s laugh became a choke as he was thrown off balance and onto the road.

 

Today’s lesson for me is: if you have personal problems, write them right in to your novel.

When I started writing today, I was behind by almost 3000 words and I was not in a good mood. I’m currently having some personal problems with my best friend – my ex-best friend, I should say, since our friendship is a bit on the rocks these days. I had just finished having a totally unsatisfying non-conversation with him and was (and still am) unsure of how to proceed along the road of our relationship.

This novel, and the interactions of the two main characters in it, has become an outlet for my frustration with my friend. While I didn’t come up with the idea with him strictly in mind, he soon became the jumping point for the easy, arrogant Leva, and the problems and flaws we both have were easy to make the starting point of an argument that got out of hand.

When I started writing I didn’t think I would make that many words. But I managed to make up for yesterday’s lack of writing, and keep going. And I could write even more – but I’m going to go home and make some dinner, instead.

Mood: frustrated but in some ways satisfied.
Word Count: 13,358
MusicThe Host of Seraphim, by Dead Can Dance.

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Day Six

I made it to 10,000 words!

Yesterday, after I bemoaned the fact that I wouldn’t reach my word goal, I wrote a little more – and ended up less than 100 words shy of the par. Just goes to show you. I managed to make that up and instead of falling further and further behind, I’ve managed to keep on track.

To mark the 10,000th word, I decided to put in a wordle. How have I been doing?

Wordle: 6th November

 

The largest word is of course the name of my protagonist, Marian. Following that seems to be a host of nouns that aren’t terribly interesting, though I suppose if the word obsequious or something similar were popping up all the time, I would have a whole host of different problems to be dealing with.

Another thing I noticed was that of the 10,000 words, I think around 300 are listed on there. If wordle really does chronicle and analyse every single word we use, I’m not using too many. Obviously conjunctions, articles and pronouns are not included.

Maybe I should try more variation in my novel. But if I’m spending all my time thinking about which words to use, I won’t get as many put down.

Mood: tired, mostly.
Word Count: 10035
Music: the dulcet tones of the election coverage – happy Election Tuesday, Americans!

Day Five

I’m pretty sure that my lesson for today is going to be: you can’t win them all.

Even though the day is far from over, I’m pretty sure I won’t make the word count. I shouldn’t be too upset about this. I think that 4 days of making my goal is the longest streak I’ve had during Nanowrimo. Really, I should be happy.

I’m not that happy.

Today was productive in ways other than writing, and tonight I will go out and do something nice, and not think about writing words at all. I had intended to write my words this morning. I’m trying to participate in daily morning write-ins at my local book-cafe. This morning was the first one I have been able to attend. I got there a little after 9, and left a little after 10.

How many words did I write? 138.

That’s pretty pathetic, even for me. I partially blame my computer: Scrivener froze twice and wouldn’t actually open. When I tried to write in another application, the entire computer froze and I just sat there for five minutes wondering if my computer had finally kicked the bucket.

But enough of my excuses. Today, I won’t hit the recommended mark. I’m trying to be okay with that.

Mood: up and down (thesis is going well; writing, not so much)
Word Count: 6987 so far
MusicSkalds and Shadows by Blind Guardian

Day Four

Today I wrote, “The streets were dark and without light.

Yes, that was an actual sentence in my actual Nanowrimo novel.

Fortunately, the inner editor kicked in and I removed it before continuing. Even though we’re not supposed to hit the backspace key, EVER (I remember someone saying that we should tape it over), I will never be sorry that I failed to hit it then. What a sentence. Eesh.

As I rather casually read over what I had written during the course of the evening, I noticed that I used the word dark  a lot. I am describing an evening scene in which my main character returns to her hometown. And even though night is falling, do I really have to use dark as many times as I do?

I guess that’s the lesson for Day number four. I need to broaden my vocabulary.

I never thought I had a particularly small vocabulary. I know a lot of synonyms and almost-synonyms, and a lot of words that are long and complicated and impossible to spell. But the problem is that I don’t necessarily use them.

When it comes to writing, I believe that the right word should be used. Not the most complicated word, not the least complicated word. The right word. I want to use the right words in my writing, and I’m pretty sure that of the ten or so darks that I use in my 400 word paragraph, I could find at least eight other ‘right’ words.

I know that’s not the point right now. The point is to get all those words down and fix it up later. But I couldn’t help noticing it, and wishing that I could think of something better at the time.

Mood: pretty positive – I’m still above the daily word count goal!
Word Count: 6,765
MusicSlow, Love Slow by Nightwish (the instrumental version)

Happy writing!

Day Three

Today’s lesson was a little bit of a difficult one. I learned (again) how tedious it is to write when I just don’t feel like it.

Three times I fell asleep while writing. It was only 10 PM. The scenes that I wanted to put out were laid out nicely in my head, but didn’t come out the right way on paper. Since I’m attempting to quash my inner editor, I didn’t go back and erase everything and spend the next six hours staring at the blank screen. But I wanted to. Oh, how I wanted to.

I don’t feel like the writing I did today was particularly good. But I know what’s going to happen fairly soon – a nice, tense action scene – and I’m looking forward to it. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go above my recommended word count.

But, for now, I need to go to bed and prepare for a long day tomorrow.

Is there anybody out there who’s got more than 5000 words? If so, I’d love to know how you do it.

Mood: slightly less optimistic than yesterday. But hey, I’m still on track, and that’s something.
Word Count: 5024
Music: The Moon by Dark Moor.

Character Sketches pre-Nano

There are a lot of different motifs out there for a ‘good character.’ Some people want heroes, some people want anti-heroes; we can have regular men and women, struggling adolescents, brilliant assassins, bad-men-turned-good – you get the idea.

I want my Nanowrimo novel this year to be good. Good enough for me to work on it, revise it, and maybe even give to other people to see if they’ll like it. And with that in mind, I have dropped my previous pantsing approach, and am working full out on the planning.

I chose this idea for my novel because I liked the characters in it; I felt I could work with them. I’d like to maximise their potential and know where they’re going before I’m halfway through the novel and thinking, ‘so, what is this guy’s motivation, anyway?’

Here are some of the things I have been setting down for my characters. I’ve been writing them to fulfill my daily goal of 750 words, so they’re not super long, nor super thought-out. But they get the ball rolling:

  • Short Bio (emphasis on short)
  • One or two anecdotes from the character’s past that exemplify a trait or explain a development
  • Favourite colour
  • Favourite food
  • Pet peeve
  • Phobia
  • Deepest fear
  • Nervous habit
  • Outward relation to other main characters
  • Inward opinion of other main characters

This would probably be a good thing to write out for all my characters. However, even if I had the time, I don’t know that I’d have the patience to do it. It’s fun to write a lot of these things, but I’m starting to itch for story progression. There are so many scenes I want to put down! But taking the time to make these things up has helped me think of a couple great scenes in which that can be put to good use.

What else should we think about when we want to make a well-rounded character? As always, dazzle us with your brilliance in the comments.

The World is Not Enough: Worldbuilding in preparation for Nanowrimo

Alan Lee's rendition of Tolkien's land.

Everyone talks about the importance of ‘making your world believable.’ It’s a big issue in fantasy fiction, especially in the genre of high fantasy in which so much can be ripped off from other people. But while I have read a lot of posts saying, ‘be sure to make your world believable!’ I haven’t seen so many that say, ‘This is how you make your world believable.’

An example: a few years ago I was attending the fantastic Eastercon in London. Eastercon is a huge science fiction and fantasy convention which features famous novelists (George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman and China Mieville have all been guests of honour there), and consists of panels, workshops, endless games, book signings and all the things you’d expect at the con of your dreams. When I last attended, there was a late night panel on exactly this topic – how to make a believable fantasy world. So I went to check it out.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The panel consisted of four or five authors who, in reality, spoke about very little. One guy who wrote historical fantasy said, ‘make sure that your history is accurate.’ Gee, really? Another self-published woman spent most of the hour complaining that tween fans  didn’t think her vampires sparkled enough. Which is definitely a topic worth talking about, but a little off-subject. At the end of the hour, I didn’t have any new tips. The general consensus of the panel was, ‘historical writers, make sure your world is accurate. Everyone else…make it multidimensional.’ Okay, but again, how?

Since I’ll be working in a high fantasy setting for Nanowrimo, I want to make sure two things happen: firstly, that my fantasy world should not be a lesser copy of Tolkien, Martin or others. Secondly, my work should seem believable.

Here is a list of things I plan to keep in mind when creating my fantasy world:

  1. How does the government work? Who’s helping the king run things? Is there even a king? Or maybe a queen? Government gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, so this is important to think about.
  2. How does the class system work? What do the lower classes think of the higher, and the higher of the lower? Who’s in which class? This is particularly important for me since my main characters will face this issue often.
  3. What is considered normal? Customs differ from region to region in our world, so it goes without saying that they should be totally different in another.
  4. How does the economy work? This is one of those things with which you could go into great detail, or little. I’m no big economist and I don’t think that a lot of high fantasy writers. Putting in a banking or monetary system will make a world seem just a little more convincing.
  5. How does technology interact with the world? With the rise of steampunk this is becoming an increasingly important question.
  6. How do the other creatures of the world come into play? We’re all used to elves and dwarves and orc-like things. If we want them to stand out from the crowd, we’ll have to develop them.
  7. What do the cities look like? We can take inspiration from London, Dubai, Beijing, ancient Rome, Paris underground, the steppes of Mongolia – or all of them. City planning can give a unique feel to something.
  8. How’s the environment doing? Fun fact: the ancient Romans are still at the top of the chart in terms of polluters. Aside from that, what is the environment actually like? How is it different from the environment of all those other books?
  9. What are the fashions? Laugh if you want, but fashion dictates the look of a lot of things. Not just fashionable clothing, but fashionable architecture, fashionable music, fashionable art, and so on.

Naturally, one of the hardest parts is weaving this into a narrative without just setting it all down as an info dump.

This list is a bit slapdash, full of things I pulled off the top of my head. There are, of course, a lot more things to talk about. The list could go on and on, but I feel that this post should not. If you have something you think should be on the list, put it down in the comments. I’ll be thanking you profusely throughout November. Maybe we can get a nice set of questions together that help build that elusive, well-rounded, completely knockoff-free world that we’re all looking for.