My fourth week of writing got off to slow start after my Sunday stomach bug segued into a still-not-100-percent Monday. I did manage to do some more “big picture” stuff–mostly myth-building–that, since it was in the form of dialogue, technically counted as fiction rather than meta. But writing it, I found myself skirting the edges of a problem that has been making me increasingly uncomfortable over the past few weeks.
The problem is this: urban fantasy generally centers on the premise that some kind of fantastical species–be it vampires or faeries or witches/wizards–is living amongst us in what is otherwise presented as the real world. Sometimes, as with the Dresden Files or Buffy, etc, there is even more than one kind of supernatural species in the story. But the successful urban fantasy writer finds some way of making said creatures accessible to the reader, “humanizing” them so to speak, so they can be characters in the story and not too larger than life.
I am still working on exactly what my creatures are. At first, I thought of them as “demons” or “spirits,” and imagined them being “the factual basis behind the various world legends.” But then, as I started doing research on demons and spirits in actual legend, I realized that over hundreds of cultures and thousands of years, those words have meant Very Different Things to different people. The idea that there could be one type of creature that inspired the diversity of human legends about “spirits” and/or “demons” was a stretch, and such creatures would have to be so removed from human society (to account for why we had such diverse stories about them) that any characters based on them would be difficult to humanize.
Suffice it say, I still haven’t figured out exactly who or what my supernatural creatures are yet, and it stymied my progress this week.
On Tuesday, I got my feedback from my writing coach for my week 3 check-in. I had been angsting a bit about whether or not to count research notes as part of my “word count”, and she assured me that since research that inspired new writing was progress, it was OK to count it. Of course, I still think that policy needs to be enacted in moderation, otherwise, I could win NaNoWriMo in the space of one evening just by downloading a bunch of Wikipedia articles into their word counter and calling it a day. One alternative to word counts my coach suggested was giving myself a time goal rather than a word count goal. That way, whatever I was doing–writing fictional prose, doing story meta, engaging in research–would all count unambiguously as “progress” if it helped me fill, say, ten hours a week or whatever.
OMG, a world of No. The idea of a time goal makes me cringe. I have no problem whittling away entire days writing. Granted, half my “writing time” is spent piddling around in ways that seem counterproductive, even to me, but I’ve found that piddling necessary in order to get myself into full writing gear. If I start clocking my writing time, I’ll either fuss over that piddling time, wondering whether it counts or not, or start watching the clock. I don’t ever want to watch the clock when I’m writing. Takes all the joy out of it.
Word counts may be an absurd measure of progress, but since I am well aware of their limitations and can find creative ways around it, I think I’ll stick with them for the time being.
Back to the being stymied. Around Wednesday, my mind turned to what I’ve been calling my “1999 novel.” I’ve been avoiding looking at the thing this month, mostly because I’ve been trying to make this story different from that one, after discovering, to my dismay, that my initial story concept this time around looked suspiciously just like that one. But I had three weeks under my belt now of myth-building and character-building with a mind to making this story different from that one, and I thought, “You know, I’ll never get past that story until I salvage from it what I can, and leave the rest behind.”
So I hauled that story out of electronic mothballs and went through it. Like most of my stories, it was an ensemble-cast piece in a soap-opera format, meaning each new scene picked up one of the many story threads going on and continued it from the point of view of a different character in the ensemble. I took that long, rambly story and chopped it up into individual scenes that I labeled according to the character pov it was written in. Then I read each scene in no particular order.
Oooh, boy. I had a number of reactions to revisiting this story. Years before Charles Gunn coined the phrase “turgid supernatural soap opera”, I was writing them. Which means, yeah, a lot of it just seemed like a geeky excuse to write porn. But other parts of it involved politics and intrigue and secret societies and this cool group of supernatural characters who, while they were ostensibly “spirits” from another dimension, had a clearly defined history on planet Earth that tied to them to one specific region, and were a relatively small population of unique individuals that a reader could get a grasp on as characters. Plus, this being a soap opera, they were really All Too Human most of the time.
I also realized why I stopped writing it, and didn’t want to start writing it again. A lot of the politics and espionage in the story was poorly-researched and kind of silly. Plus, I tried to blend that with Queer As Folk/The L Word/Sex in the City-style relationship stuff that reflects a time in my life I was much more obsessed with who-was-dating-who romance and friendship plot-lines. Suffice it to say a big reason that story fizzled out is it was just personal self-indulgence. Big fun, but nothing I wanted to show another living human being, ever.
And yet, the story had its moments. I found snippets of prose that were evocative and interesting, and, if I could see them in the story I am writing now, I clipped those out and added them to my growing list of “fiction blurbs.” I also clipped out and saved whole scenes or parts of scenes I could conceivably imagine using at some future point, even though I wasn’t sure I would. Those I tucked away for safe-keeping, but didn’t add to this week’s word count. The rest I eliminated from consideration. If I ever change my mind, I can dig out the disc it’s all saved on.
One of the more amusing things about revisiting this story, something I had forgotten, was that I had actually cannibalized stories I’d written earlier than 1999 and wove them into the 1999 story. I had decided back then, much as I am doing now, that I had this interesting bit of writing that was never going to see the light of day, I might as well salvage it and use it in my current project. Which means in essence, I’m borrowing from an old story I wrote that borrowed from even older stories I wrote.
Between the new writing I did this week, and the cannibalized nuggets from the 1999 story, my word count comes in at 2,488. And now November is almost over, and I have four weeks worth of outline notes, blurbs from writing prompts, mythological world-building meta, down-loaded research files, and cannibalized story bits, none of it organized in any fashion I can move ahead with. So that’s the first task for this coming week: sort it all out and see what I’ve got, and continue from there.