The Plan

I am in the throes of NaNo-Envy, but I am still happy not to be doing NaNo. Yes, a contradiction, but I love the social energy this month brings in what is often such a solitary activity. OTOH, I am feeling under the weather, and I finished the first draft of my novel last Sunday, so… not great timing for me this year.

But I am in earnest planning mode on the second draft and the general outline for the trilogy of novels that is going to emerge from my first draft. I’ve actually been thinking of turning the novel into a series for a while now, because I see a lot of possibilities and stories in the world I am building (still building. I think my story-world was a bit thin in the first draft).

Back in July, I came across an online writing school, the bill-paying day-job of author Holly Lisle, http://novelwritingschool.com/. Other than a one-on-one writing coach and writer’s workshops, I have not taken any “writing classes” in the sense of instruction since I was a teenager/twenty-something. At that age, I was obsessed with learning “how to write fiction” and so never did any actual writing. Experience is the best teacher, IMO. I learned more from writing my first novel, Dis/inhibition, and The Destroyer series than I could have learned in a hundred writing classes. But I figured Lisle’s “How To Write A Series” course might have a few pointers.

I got through the first two of four lessons in July, then RL got in the way. The lesson videos and exercises guide you through the process of identifying what kind of series you will write, planning how it will unfold, etc (although I must say the video transcripts included are FULL of typos….)

So finishing that course is one goal I have set for my post-novel time. I also plan to work through The Plot Whisperer Workbook. Both of these are merely tools to help me focus on plotting and locating strong and weak story elements for the purpose of revision and expansion.

I reviewed the first two lessons of Lisle’s course this week, and realized quickly that a lot of the course exercises could benefit from me gathering together all the “future draft” notes I tucked away while working on the first draft–changes to plot points and characters I envisioned, ideas for expansion. So that is what I am working on now. I’ve got some good ideas brewing, and a LOT of research work ahead of me in physics, mythology, and random bits.

I just finished the first draft of my novel

Woo-f***ing-hoo!!

But yes, alas, that means I am officially not doing NaNo this year, ’cause October has been my NaNoWriMo–a non-stop writing-and-editing spree that began each morning as soon as I woke up , stopped only so I could go to the stress-hell that has been work this month, and resumed the minute I got home until I collapsed in bed.

I think part of the reason I managed to whack out the rest of this story in one month is that work has been so sucky, writing distracted me from dwelling on it. Which, bonus. But I overdid it. I have been sick with the flu for over a week now. Still working at my job from home–blast modern remote login computers.

I crawled into my actual place of employment for meetings twice last week and couldn’t even sit up for the length of them.

Now I am all jealous of my friends prepping for NaNo. Not because I’m dying to spew out 1,667 words a day, but because it’s fun to be part of all that energy. My Nov and Dec will be spent planning the second draft of my novel (and posting on that process, hopefully). And it will need planning–lots and lots of planning, ’cause for Pantsers, the first draft is really the “outline.” It is the raw material out of which the “actual” novel is formed.

And there was so much I wanted to include in this draft I didn’t have room for, I slowly concluded it was three books instead of one. So now I need to plan out three books. And then, hopefully before the new year (but I’m not pushing it), start the “second” draft of the first book.

NoNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month, AKA NaNoWriMo, gets a bad rap. I certainly used to knock it. What could you possibly accomplish in the attempt to pound out 50,000 words of new original fiction in one 30-day span, other than incoherent drivel?

I still sort of think if I attempted the above exactly as stated, that’s what I’d get. Of course, I’m a pantser, not given to overly pre-planning new writing before I start it, because the act of writing itself always transforms whatever I thought to write into what I really wanted to write. Your mileage may vary.

NaNoWriMo is still considered by many the playground of enthusiastic amateurs. Still, I’ve come to like it and look forward to it. It’s like an annual party for the novelist crowd.

I was tempted into “NaNo,” as my friends call it, watching the social energy they harnessed at that time of year–how one person’s effort made it a little easier for someone else to put the effort in themselves. My friends aren’t the type to actually gather in rooms together on November evenings with laptops and paper pads like some participants (not my preference either–I find the presence of others distracting when I’m writing). They mostly blogged about their progress and process, but the result was much the same.

I have now “NaNoed” three times in the last six years. And every year I’ve participated, I picked a project I was already working on. One time it was a few episodes of a fan fiction WIP. Another time, a fleshing-out of an original story I’d been working on for about a year. Some days, I’d let words I wrote before November slip into my word count. This year, I had fully planned to set a goal of writing only 250 words a day instead of the recommended 1,667 that gets you to 50,000 after thirty days.

In other words, I’ve learned to find NaNo useful by never following the rules. Not exactly, anyway. And the folks who bring you NaNoWriMo, the Office of Letters and Light, have embraced the people who do that. They have a forum board just for the “NaNo Rebels” to hang out in together.

Alas, this year, it doesn’t look like I’ll be in a position to do NaNoWriMo. I am scrambling to finish the next-to-last chapter of the first draft of my novel before the end of the month, and I don’t see the final chapter going any faster. I think October will get eaten up by it. I had planned to use October to plan out the second draft. My suspicion is this first draft is going to end up being expanded into three separate novels, which will require actual outlining and plotting and Time to figure out. I won’t be ready to start writing the second draft of book one by November lst.

I’m kind of bummed about this. The social energy of NaNo has got to be, like quadrupled interstellar on Twitter, which I’ve only just started using this year. Maybe I will try to blog more about the Planning and Plotting process as it is going on, and post snippets in later months when I have them.

NaNoWriMo Day 23

New words: 1,670
Total words: 38,730
Goal: 50,000

38730 / 50000
(77.46%)

As my story fleshes itself out, I see myself taking an approach that I can only call the fantasy equivalent of “hard science fiction.” Hard science fiction attempts to bring scientific accuracy to the speculative elements of a story, either by basing them in actual contemporary scientific fact, or extrapolating from that fact to theoretical ideas that are likely to be confirmed in the near future based on what we know now.

The “fantasy equivalent” of this, for me, is to have the fantasy elements in my story–whether it is strange beings, their powers, or the “magic” humans do to interact with/effect these beings–be, not supernatural, but natural phenomena. I am only straying from the “hard” line by saying these fantastical elements are natural phenomenon that scientists at present just don’t have the theoretical concepts or observational techniques to deal with yet.

I sort of can’t help this naturalistic approach. Although I am perfectly comfortable with the supernatural in fiction, there is something I want to say with this story that makes taking this approach important to me.

But as a result, it is feeling a bit like I’ve sucked all the sense of wonder out of my novel. I did a Harry Potter marathon this past week since I got the final movie on DVD/Blu ray, and the thing that makes HP appeal to so many people, I think, is you can see and do so many fascinating things in his world, whether it is turning a loathed relative into a human balloon, or riding over a lake on the back of a half-bird, half-horse, or visiting someone else’s memories inside a sink full of mist. Magic is afoot in his world, and there is so much more to his world than an ordinary muggle ever suspects.

Similar case with Buffy, or the Dresden Files, or Star Trek, or anything like that. There is an element of each of these story worlds that is beyond escapist and actually transcendent, because, for a short time, these stories allow you feel as if you are touching something beyond the mundane. They do this by starting very much in the mundane, and taking you on a gradual journey to fantastical places where you can do and see these amazing things.

I have to figure out how to do that, to make my world more interesting, without turning it into a cartoon version of itself.

I don’t want to write “just another fantasy novel” with elves and magic and evil sorcerers and whatnot. I need to find a way to take my more “serious/rationalistic” approach and imbue it with a sense of magic.

NaNoWriMo Day 12

New words: 2,762
Total words: 19,524
Goal: 50,000

19524 / 50000
(39.05%)

I finally made it through the entire draft doing the dialog. Of course, I haven’t written all the dialogue. If I wasn’t sure of something, I skipped it. Now I plan to go back through and figure out the parts I like best, and make sure those get supported and expanded before I really dig into adding action and blocking bits.

I am starting to have an image of the ending of the story, one that is both interesting and wraps up the immediate conflict, but leaves enough hanging for there to be plenty of material for the next novel.

I have also been experimenting a bit with writing from an omniscient point of view. Something that would allow me to get in the heads of characters as I choose, or not. It’s REALLY hard.

I’ve always preferred Alternating Third Person Subjective, with a clear delineation in the text (marked by a paragraph change and a symbol, like a centered – or ***) when the point of view changes. Point of view has always been a conscious element of my stories, in which I could show different characters reflecting on the same thing and explore their totally different perspectives on that thing . It is one of the more Artistic elements in my writing.

And my third person has always been as close to first person as you can get without actually writing in the first person. The “voice” in the narrative is the point of view character’s, I write the way they talk when I’m in their head.

Changing that style to a more omniscient POV is going to be a challenge, especially if I want to keep the intimacy of third person subjective.

There is a form of the omniscient view point that is kind of like a screenplay, where you never get into any character’s head. Everything is the “camera-eye” view, but you have the freedom to go anywhere, show any character doing anything.

While I found writing in screenplay format rather freeing while working on the Destroyer, doing it in a regular narrative format lacks intimacy. I think readers want to be with the character, living the story through them, not just observers, and for that, a story needs introspection.

Another form of omniscient viewpoint switches between character’s heads within a single scene, sometimes within a single paragraph. There are so many ways to screw that up and confuse the reader. But I think that’s what I need to figure out how to do.

Eep.

InsaNoWriMo Day 1

New words: 1,749
Total words: 1,749
Goal: 50,000

1749 / 50000
(3.5%)

InsaNo because work is nuts, and has been nuts for over a month, and I work weekends as well (both days! Uphill! In the snow!) and there’s family events to attend (stop having birthdays, people! This instant!) and a girlfriend to pay attention to, and when am I going to write?

And yet just by starting to do that writing today, I know NaNo is going to give my story a kick in the pants it needs. I have been working pretty steadily on it this year, having just finished chapter 7 in mid-October. And handing each chapter off to the Sculptor for her unwaveringly supportive feedback is helping a lot. But working in such a linear fashion, each chapter in sequence, has its drawbacks.

It’s hard to establish things in current chapters you’ll need for future chapters if you’re not sure how those future chapters are going to play out themselves. And outlining doesn’t help, because invariably when I’m writing the actual chapter, I think of something better. So NaNo is my chance to write ahead. To flesh out future chapters without the Sculptor chomping at the bit about when the next installment is coming out. And to flesh them out without commitment. I am not handing *them* off to the Sculptor in December, they will just go on the hard drive to wait their turn. If I decide they’re dreg or that details need to be changed, no harm, no foul.

There will be some cheating. Specifically, if I have a place to put a blurb I’ve already written in the actual text of the story, I will put it there and count it. I did a smidgen of that today, and honestly, such blurbs end up being revised to fit the spot I’ve designated for them. So.

So, on InsaNoWriMo!

Original fiction project – week of 9/04/2011

Dis/inhibition: Still working on final edits. It’s going slower than I thought it would, and that’s frustrating. Especially after having an editor go through it and clean it up. I’m probably adding in new missing/misused words and awkward sentences after she cleaned up all the old ones. As for the artist doing website artwork, we are halfway done already. Cute little illustrations of my characters come to life.

New story: I love it when you start a chapter intending it to work one way, and it ends up playing out in a way you didn’t plan, but gets the job done all the same. One difficulty I’ve been having with this new story is that I have these spirit being characters who I can’t really show in all their detail, nor feature as point of view characters, because that gives away too much of the unfolding mystery. And yet I still want to “show” their activity behind the scenes in the story. Finding clever ways to manage that has forced me to write each new chapter in creative ways, which is resulting, I think, in chapters that are a lot more interesting than they would have been.

It’s the middle of September now (how?!), which means it’s time to start making NaNoWriMo plans. My plan is to belt out 50,000 words of this story, which is currently in chapter 6. It will be a disjointed mess come December 1st, but then I can clean it all up and be much further along than I would have otherwise been polishing off each chapter one at a time.

NaNoWriMo Day 16

New words: 1,702
Total words: 30,920
Goal: 50,000

30920 / 50000
(61.84%)

NaNo notes: I sometimes wonder what people must make of my entries on writing, assuming they make anything of them at all. I must appear to have the most convoluted writing process ever. I can’t just do as other writers/NaNoers seem to do, say, “I have this idea for a story…” and then sit down to write it, challenged by coming up with good characters and plot to fit my idea. That is such a logical, top-down, blueprint-for-a-forest approach. No, I have no forest blueprint, no idea for a novel, I have only this urge to write that needs an outlet, and no idea what I want to say.

I must simply start planting trees willy-nilly, trees and rocks and random deers and other things one might find in a forest, then test my feelings about each of them and eliminate the things I don’t like, then generate some more. Eventually, a forest will emerge, and it will have some sort of theme/story to tell/thing to say that was buried deep in my subconscious in a way I have no direct access to.

Or if you prefer another metaphor, writing for me is like an archeological excavation. A Neolithic archeological excavation. I have to pull my story up out of the ground, piece by piece, and be able to tell the difference between stone tools and plain old stones that can be tossed away. After many years, I might have a story/ancient dwelling site. Or I may end up with a pile of rocks.

“What do you want to write about?”

“I don’t know. I’ll figure that out after I write it.”

That about sums it up.

NaNoWriMo Day 12

New words: 1,928
Total words: 23,889
Goal: 50,000

23889 / 50000
(47.78%)

Quote-worthy snippet:

And when she came down, when she had her mind back, when things weren’t torment, restlessness licking like flame under her feet, crawling under her skin, buzzing in her head, not leaving her alone, she could see the havoc she’d wrought, and feel only supreme helplessness to stop it.

Because all the medications in the world couldn’t stop it–not the ones the so-called ‘professionals’ gave her, and not the ones she found herself.

NaNo notes: Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve marinated in the story this month long enough for words to come to me spontaneously *after* I’ve shut down the computer and closed the laptop and wandered away from my chair. Yesterday morning, I scribbled some stuff on a notepad at work soon after I arrived there, just because my laptop wasn’t up and running quite yet. Then, yesterday evening as I crawled into bed, another scene (dialogue, it’s almost always dialogue) played out in my head, forcing me to head back out to my writing chair, find a paper pad, and scribble it all down before sleep took most of it away. Sure enough, this morning, I’d forgotten I even wrote it, and only went looking for that pad as fatigue made me cringe in despair at the thought of having to feed the damned word count today. But my hastily scribbled bits could be typed into the computer and expanded on. A lot. I do really write too much. Which makes NaNo a Big Giant Enabler.

But honestly, writing stuff that isn’t pure crap is hard. It’s really hard. So you take those moments when the quality is effortlessness as a gift, because they come from a part of your brain that won’t perform on demand and that is much more intuitive and in touch with what you want to say.