Day Sixteen

Blech. I’m running out of steam.

And the problem is, I’m running out of steam in terms of everything I do. Thesis isn’t going as well as I’d like, novel is going just as nowhere as it was three days ago, I have little energy or interest for my job, and I don’t even want to cook dinner anymore.

November is a classic time in which we put a lot on our plate, because somehow it feels like the boring month. And for me, November has never, ever been boring. Finishing that novel has always been a challenge.

For all of you that are already finished (some people claim they know wrimos that can do all 50,000 words in a week or two), please go hide under a rock and stop making me feel inadequate.

Of course, it even says on the OLL blog that one of the points of Nanowrimo is that it’s for everyone, not just for people who magically have loads of time to work on a novel. People like me, in spite of having classes, jobs and outside commitments, finish every year and feel all the better for doing so.

But blech. Right now I just want it all to be over. Every aspect of my life, really. I am officially requesting a blank slate. Too bad life doesn’t work like that.

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along for the month. Hopefully things will get really interesting soon. In a good way.

Maybe This Time…

I try to participate in Nanowrimo every year.

By that I mean, I get at least one hour down the pike before giving up. Sometimes I get a couple thousand words in. And a few times I’ve gone all-in, and finished that novel with hours to spare.

I’m subscribed to the OLL blog and last year I was pretty active in my little writing group here in Copenhagen. During (and after) the Big Event, I kept hearing about these amazing people who had not only managed to write a novel in a month, but had managed to rework it, polish it, edit it, send it off to an agent or publisher, and sell it. Some of the people in my writing group were preparing to self-publish their work.

All this made me take a long, hard look at my previous novels. What I found was – lack.

Nanowrimo Novel Number 1: I seem to recall I started on this one rather late. A young man receives a very rare book from his dead grandfather, along with a note saying he has to protect it at all costs. In finding out what, exactly, the book is, why some people want to destroy it and others want to protect it, he ends up getting into all kinds of trouble.
What it lacked: Substance, really. While my main character did a lot of things, I don’t think I ever clearly explained why it was he had to do them, who was after his book, or what it was all about. It was an entertaining story but I’m not sure I’ll revisit it.

Nanowrimo Novel Number 2: It took me four years to complete a Nano challenge again. I’ll admit I was a little surprised, since I had no idea what I was doing and had absolutely no plan until November 1. My story centered around a vampire protagonist who was the main villain of a gothic novel – only she didn’t want to be the bad guy. The book followed her efforts to become self-aware and change the plot, with the help of some (and hindrance of other) secondary characters.
What it lacked: Although I enjoyed writing it as a humorous piece, I don’t think this will make it to a publishing house in its current incarnation, because it lacks originality. A vampire we can sympathize with? Been there, done that. Characters of a novel becoming self-aware? Likewise. It was fun to write a mock gothic novel, but the angle isn’t enough. I’ve got plans for changing this one, but not this Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo Novel Number 3: Emboldened by my success the previous year, I decided to try re-writing the second novel I ever completed. When I was 16, I produced an irritating, plotless adventure that even I didn’t really understand. It focused on a young girl who had a singular magical ability, and forged an unlikely and disapproved of friendship with the nearby magician’s son. I then spent the next six years trying to figure out what to do with it. I always liked the characters, but needed something more substantial for them than the wandering adventure that I had. So I made her the subject of an early-teen marriage to an older man, had them placed in a powerful position at some foreign court, and put in some mystery. Oh, and then I killed her.
What it lacked: I liked the way the manuscript started. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do from there. The decision to add in a little murder came towards the end, and then I realized what I really wanted – my novel was supposed to start with the murder. That led to something entirely different that won’t resemble, in any way, the mess I began six years ago. This manuscript lacked certainty. It’s something I hope to bring back to its latest incarnation – and maybe I’ll finish it this time.

This year’s novel: After a little tribulation, I decided to go with what I described in my book blurb # 1. It’s not the most original premise of the ones I posted, but I picked it because it has strong characters. That means they won’t be waffling around while I’m trying to figure out where the plot goes next. I have a clear picture of them all in my mind, so I won’t have to force actions on them or think up a reason or two. The plot doesn’t really have an unsolved mystery, which I’d have to figure out before the end, and it doesn’t have complicated magic, science or world views.

I’ll be blogging daily during Nanowrimo, in an attempt to stick to my word count. I’ll probably vent some frustrations about writers block, the cafe where I’ll do most of my morning writing, balancing Nano and thesis, and so on. I know that there are fellow Nano’ers out there in the blogosphere; maybe we can all put together a support group of some kind.

Anyone interested in Nano support, let’s hear it. Problems in previous years, trends you’ve noticed, suggestions for some kind of group…

Nanowrimo Book Blurb # 3: Predestination

Samantha Goodwin has always known the shape of her life. That’s what you get when you grow up in the most powerful witch clan in the entire country. She knows when she’ll be sick, she knows when the frosts will kill the harvest – she even knows the day she’ll die. Everyone in her family knows it. It doesn’t make life terribly exciting, but then, what can you do? Everyone is content with (or at least resigned to) their lot in life.

At least, until he shows up.

A scruffy, scrawny boy on the run in a parallel universe somehow breaks the barrier between worlds and ends up in Samantha’s lap. Literally. The witch clans of his world insist that he must be executed. He is predestined to, after all. But Samantha finds herself helping him cheat fate and forge a new destiny, one that defies the power at the heart of her clan.

And if he can make his own choices, why can’t she?

***
I scribbled this one out on a late night train to the little town north of London where I’m staying. I just spent a full day at the British Library so my mind was in need of a thesis break and some creative output.
The idea didn’t spend long months fermenting in the back of my mind. It just rushed out. It came out of nowhere and will probably go nowhere.
Because I basically opened my brain and this story fell out, it’s not big on crazy metaphors or complicated, slightly creepy relationships. In my mind it’s a simple action/adventure/urban fantasy/parallel universe kind of story. No confusing, swirling narrative technique – just a straightforward, linear story line about a girl and a boy and the fabric of the universe.
That makes this much better nanoing material than the last book blurb, or the last novel I tried to actually write for Nanowrimo. Nothing needs a lot of deep thought, not at first. Things just have to happen. They don’t have to be terribly complicated.
I’m considering a love triangle aspect. Considering it. Love triangles are tending towards the overrated these days in terms of subplots, and so many stories have them. It would probably depend on what happens when I start writing, whether I can keep the excitement going or find myself flagging.
Is there enough material here to keep me going for 50,000 words and 30 days? What else does it need?

Nanowrimo Book Blurb #2

Earth of the near future isn’t as apocalyptic as some might have feared. Flooding has changed the face of the coastal cities – but most have been reclaimed or somehow preserved. Among them is Copenhagen, known for its canal architecture, its culinary movement and its tourism.

At the top of the tourism pyramid stands Henry Salt, the American owner of a hotel chain and one of the richest men on earth. At his right hand stands the controversial artist and misogynist Janus Van der Vindt, whose preservation of women as living statues has sparked debate around the world. Van der Vindt’s art is a mystery and a scientific impossibility, and many are eager to see it fail. So when his living statues begin to disappear from Salt’s hotel lobbies around the world, they’re eager to solve the mystery before anyone else catches wind of it.

Neither of them realizes that the journey will take them into the realms of the spiritual and the impossible. The answers lie not in the hands of normal thieves, but at the heart of the changing world, the nature of art and life, and the mind of Henry Salt’s brilliant daughter, whose fascination with the powerful men around her has a profound effect on their destiny.

***
So, this one’s a bit wordy. The idea has been floating around in my head for years – the living statues were first murder victims turned art, then art turned murder victims. Now they’re something else.
I feel like the last Nanowrimo book blurb was really based around this concept, of a normal storyline turned upside-down. The characters in it were people I tried to make interesting, but they were also tropes, easy to find once I’d picked out a setting.
This blurb is the other way around. I had the characters long before I had any kind of story for them. In fact, I don’t know what kind of story I have for them even now. After all, this is just for Nanowrimo. I haven’t made a big plan yet. But the characters were people I had fun playing around with. And when I moved to Copenhagen, I found a setting into which they fit.
First, you have Henry Salt. He’s a rich man, and a callous man. He likes to work and spend time with Janus Van der Vindt, his artist, primarily because Van der Vindt is controversial. Every time he makes a new piece of art, it’s in the papers. And if Salt commissions that art for his hotel, then his hotel is also in the papers. He doesn’t really care that Van der Vindt has been called a misogynist, a murderer, the antichrist, or a bad human being in general. He’s happy because it helps him make money.
Henry Salt’s most prized possession is his daughter, Medea. Though unattractive at 14, she’s a genius. She’s also attracted in an intellectual way to the 40-something Van der Vindt, who returns the attraction. The idea behind this relationship is not to portray pedophilia, but to make the reader feel slightly uncomfortable, as though their actions aren’t quite appropriate, but cannot be condemned with certainty. This is of course underlined by Van der Vindt’s disregard for other women.
One of the reasons that this book blurb was hard to write was because it’s not really a mystery, nor a fantasy, nor post-apocalyptic literature or action/adventure. I’d like it to have all of those – but not to be any one of them more than the others.
Anyway. That’s another Nanowrimo idea. I’d love to have time enough to write all these novels I’ve been thinking of over the years. Isn’t that how it is with all writers?

Nanowrimo book blurb #1

What do a prince, a magician and a cook’s assistant all have in common? Nothing – until their collective home is destroyed and they find themselves on the run. 

The low-born Marianna thinks herself fortunate to get a position as a cook’s assistant at the most prestigious finishing school in the country. Serving up the country’s future leader’s and magicians isn’t as glamorous as she thought it would be, but she can handle the scathing comments of her “betters.”

Things only become really difficult when an unknown force attacks the school, intent on abducting a prince in attendance there. In the chaos Marianna escapes – and somehow finds herself the protector of both the school’s most arrogant magical student and the prince, disguised by enchantment.

In their bid to reach safety they’ll have to work together, come to terms with who is better than whom and, most importantly, reach a consensus on breakfast.

***

So. Nanowrimo isn’t for another couple of months, thank God. I never know what I’m going to actually write for Nanowrimo until I sit down to write on November first. Or second. Or third.

But book blurbs are things I have always loved to read and write. The perfect book blurb makes you want to open the book instantly and immerse yourself in the world you have been promised – and for me, writing a book blurb for a novel I have yet to start makes me excited to actually get writing.

So tonight, I decided to put up a possible book blurb for a possible Nanowrimo novel. I hope to do it a few more times before the actual novel writing starts, as a way of putting ideas out there/asking for suggestions.

I came across this idea as a sort of take on the quest theme. The main character, instead of being some kind of chosen one or having some kind of unique talent, is possessed only of her brains, wit, and quick ability to chop onions in a crisis. For once, an ‘ordinary’ character has to take care of ‘extra-ordinary’ ones.

I like this role-reversal because it means the characters themselves will have to   come to terms with it. To the prince and the magician, this girl’s only function in their previous life was to serve up lunch. Now she is their caretaker. They have to look up to her.

While thinking this story over, I decided that the prince was probably a nice enough guy. It’s part of that chivalry business. So he would have a much less difficult time adapting to Marianna’s sudden relative power. But the magician – he’s a problem. He can’t face the idea that a common kitchen wench might be better at something than he is. So when his magic fails (which it inevitably does – we’ve got to level the playing field somehow) he has a lot of thinking to do.

In my brain, this is a comedic turn on the classic quest, a young adult type novel. Who knows whether it will ever be written, for Nanowrimo or otherwise?

What do you think? Is it fun for anyone else to write a book blurb? And if you could give this book a title, what would it be?

Planners and Pantsers

Every year I try to participate in Nanowrimo. I have not succeeded unequivocally, but at least I have tried.

The good Nano’ers have divided us writers into two different camps: planners and pantsers. The planners prepare their novels right up to the moment of writing. They have intimate character sketches, theme discussions, hidden relationships, in-depth outlines. They’ve got it all and more. The pantsers, on the other hand, start working on their idea the moment they start writing. They’re going by the seat of their pants. They no more know what’s going to happen in their novels than a reader might.

I am, without a doubt, a pantser.

I tried once to be a planner- in my very first novel, written when I was 15/16. The completed manuscript was a bloated 400 pages written from a series of notecards that had little moments and elements that I wanted to capture in my story. I took the notecard approach on the recommendation of a book that claimed it would teach me how to write science fiction and fantasy. I have since disdained the book and, while the notecard approach doubtless works for some, I never re-approached it.

My next book was written in the same year, completely by the seat of my pants. As a result, it was utterly without plot. The next tried to put too small a plot into too large a novel. Again, I had the bloating problem.

Others no doubt have great success with pantsing. But in my work (and this is only a commentary on my work), when I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I wander around in my world until I finally do. Which means that my manuscripts are at best meandering, and at worst overblown.

But for me, pantsing is more fun. During the writing process I am excited; I don’t know what my characters are going to do next and it’s so much fun to find out that I often dispense with the planning in favour of being pleasantly surprised.

But when I recently started work on a new novel, I decided to give planning another try.

Part of this is for research purposes. It will be set in a city much like Renaissance Venice, and I want to be able to capture and express a feel like that.

It’s also because this idea has been following me around in some way or another for eight years. I want it to come to something.

Wish me luck in my endeavours! I will still be pantsing on everything else. Maybe in a few months I’ll put in an update on how the pantsing vs planning is going.