Da Winnah!

I think this is my sixth NaNo win, not that I’ve actually won anything. But it’s great to have about 90% of another novel written. I’ll keep adding to it for the rest of the month, but at a much more leisurely pace. I did start running at the mouth for the last few days, just to get the winning thing over with, so there’s a good deal that will have be very seriously edited, much more than I would normally allow to survive more than a few seconds on the screen before I started tearing it apart.

So that’s done, and in record time, I think. Last year, it took me till the 25th. I’m itching to pull out Gift of the Ancien again and get back to work on it. And I still have to tackle the formatting puzzle, so Paul Salvette’s eBook Design and Development Guide will come out of cold storage. Busy, busy, busy.


No! No! No! It’s Too Early for Snow

The original forecast yesterday was for less than an inch of snow — the first of the winter white stuff. The forecast is now — Saturday morning — for one to three inches, and it is coming down with a let’s get busy on meeting that forecast, fellows attitude. I do not want to see white when I look out the window, not this early in the season. Not ever, really.

So much for what I want. There are 5,800 words waiting to be written before I can declare myself a NaNo winner for another year, plus however many more I can come up with. It isn’t helping that I go to bed exhausted and wake up tired. But I will forget all that and become the hero of my own life, or whatever BS will keep my fingers on the keyboard.

You know that cliché that always pops up in action movies, like a turd that won’t flush — “I’m getting too old for this.” That’s how I’m feeling right now. But onward and upward, stiff upper lip, and all that good stuff.

Instead Of

What have I been doing lately instead of blogging? Mostly trying to survive NaNoWriMo without going into total physical collapse. It seems to be more draining every year, and I suppose one of these years I’m just going to have to pass. So why am I blogging elsewhere if I’m so darn tired? And it isn’t really blogging. More like letting off steam in short bursts. I have to do something to keep from going crazy from the stress of writing a novel in 30 days. So I created a Google+ Collection. Offbeat Notes on Writing Fiction will be my place to dump rants, notices of interesting stuff on the net, remarks about books, and my trademark weird approaches to writing.  Right now, I’m popping in there two or three times a day with short bits, but I’m sure that will sometimes drop to zero or less.

Elsewhere — I’m crocheting a scarf, for no better reason than I found an 8 oz. skein of “Country Rose” yarn at a thrift store. I haven’t crocheted in years, but it’s coming back, and it will help get me away from the computer and my Kindle.

Tis the time of year for making resolutions for next year. I don’t make resolutions, but it’s a good time to make a list of things I would like to accomplish. At the top of the list, of course, is: finish writing and/or editing/revising several WIPs and get them published. Way off on the horizon of possibilities is a vague idea about expanding my little horror story, The Darkest Prison, into a novella. Urban fantasy? That might work.

The other one on that horizon and really too ridiculous to take seriously, is writing a romance. Go ahead and laugh. Until I decided to research the danged things, I’d only read once romance, that I can recall. Now I’ve read two more, and it was a pretty sorry experience. Made much worse by both books having been written by best-selling authors. I don’t know whether the critical standards are really lower than for any other genre, but trying to find examples that I can learn from has been a fairly nauseating experience. It may also have something to do with my total disinterest in the concept of romance and being absolutely appalled at what women will supposedly do to get that all-important man into their lives.

I’ve probably insulted every reader of romances, so it’s time to quit.

NOTE: Unless it’s just a Mac thing, the theme I’m using makes it impossible to see links in my posts. I’d appreciate someone commenting on that.  Offbeat Notes on Writing Fiction is a link.

Another Point of View

I tend to write my novels from the point of view of a single character and Camp Expendable started out that way. So it’s interesting to think about why, almost halfway into the story, I thought it might be a good idea to add another point of view. There are parts that are a drudge to get written, usually the ones that help move the plot from one dramatic point to the next. They aren’t all boring to write, and I certainly hope none of them will be boring to read, but some days, it’s definitely a hard slog.

Maybe that was the factor that entered into considering whether I could bring in another point of view and make it an organic part of how the story develops. There were two characters whose point of view could potentially liven things up. I didn’t want both of them, so I had to examine what each one could bring to the novel. Of course, it would involve going back to previous chapters and finding the spots where inserting the new POV would work. It didn’t hurt that I would automatically be adding new chunks of material to my word count. Maybe that was even an unconscious motive that drove me to think about a second POV.

But here’s what became apparent as I thought about it. By adding the point of view, I’d be creating  a more fully rounded character, and I suddenly saw how important that would be for the end of the book. Because what he eventually does could sideline his career in the military or even get him court martialed. Why would he be willing to do that? Without his point of view, his actions seem to come almost out of nowhere. Sure, I can, and will, let him explain it, but that’s a last-minute thing. Because we don’t know him very well, there’s no gradual buildup to that point, and the potential drama of his action is lost. Without that, he’s little more than a deus ex machina dragged in to “save” the hero.

So what was my real motivation in adding the second POV? Well, that’s one of the mysteries of creativity, isn’t it?


Still Here

I keep thinking of interesting topics for blog posts, but all my energy is going into the novel. I hit 25,000 words this evening, halfway to the official goal, but I hope to finish with at least 60,000 words, so I’m pushing hard. I’d really like to get it over with and get back to editing Bentham’s Dream and Gift of the Ancien. Not to mention a few other bits and pieces awaiting my attention. Hope to finish writing A Well-Educated Boy early next year, and maybe even The New Serfdom, that I wrote for NaNo a couple of years back and never found an ending for. Still haven’t, but at least I’ve come a little closer over the last year.

The only NaNo novel that I ever got around to publishing is the least successful one. Wouldn’t you know it. I think Camp Expendable could be a lot more successful (if I can find a better title). In fact, it’s potentially the best novel I’ve written, so I have high hopes for it. If anyone would like to take a look, I’ve posted the first three chapters on Write On. (That’s a link, by the way. I keep picking themes that don’t make it easy to see links. Or is that just my browser?) Anyway. I was planning to post them as I finished them, and I’m up to chapter seven, but I’ve fallen behind. Will try to get another one or two up sometime this week.

You don’t have to sign up for anything to read stories on Write On, but I think you do have to be a member if you want to comment.

Enough words for today. I’m going to go read for the rest of the evening.

The First of the Very Bad Days — Too Soon

It seems that NaNoWriMo brings me new challenges every year. Last year was an experiment in revising parts of an already existing novel (written during a past NaNo), and adding new parts. It worked out better than I could have hoped for. I ended the month with the lowest word count yet, about 52,000 words, but over the last year or so I’ve been working on incorporating the new material. Maybe next year, I’ll get it finished and published.

This year, with NaNo barely begun, I’ve hit writer’s block. But only in a sense. On November 1st, I surpassed my day’s goal of 4,000 words by about 500. Today’s goal is 3,000 words, and I’ve written less than 1,000 so far, at 500:pm. It’s not that I’m stuck exactly. I’m just stuck about continuing on to the next scene. This has happened before, though not during NaNo. Or maybe during NaNo. I’m not sure. The obvious solution is to skip forward and write whatever scene calls to me. No big deal. It feels like cheating, though. Or something that isn’t quite right, that has nothing to do with NaNo itself. There are no rules about how you write, in sequence or out.

There is one factor in the mix, the one that has to be ignored during November: that I just don’t feel much like writing today. And if I let that go, will tomorrow be another day when I just don’t feel like writing? One of the reasons for signing on to Nano is that “just don’t feel like writing” is deadly enough that it has to be avoided.

There is no solution to this. And no final statement for this post. So be it.

When Inspiration Strikes, Grab It!

If I seem to be busting out with blog posts lately, you can blame it on NaNoWriMo. Anticipation always makes me antsy and I have to vent the restlessness somewhere. But don’t expect me to keep it up once November starts. All my energy will be going into getting Camp Expendable written. Maybe even completed. I’ll still be blogging, but I won’t be doing boring daily NaNo updates. If you’re not participating in NaNo, you probably don’t care how many words I’ve written, or whether I’m suffering from writer’s block, brain burnout, or finger fatigue.

Because I’m concentrating so intensely on prep work for the novel, all kinds of unexpected goodies keep popping up that apply to writing fiction, whether you are or aren’t doing NaNo, whether you’re an experienced writer or a beginner. Today’s delight (at least it was a delight to me) is about inspiration and how it can create drastic changes in a story.

It’s kind of hard to end on an upbeat note when your protagonist has just been shot and you don’t know whether he lives or dies. But I intended to make a stab at it. I hoped to make it clear that it was everything that came before that was important and essentially upbeat in circumstances that should lead to hopelessness. What happens to Casey over the course of the story leads him to be in a position to be shot, and he has accepted the possibility of his death as relatively unimportant. I was satisfied with that ending and didn’t have any plans to change it.

And then inspiration struck. It was something I was reading, that had absolutely no point of connection to my plot, a blog post by John Michael Greer, the Archdruid. In The Patience of the Sea, he was talking about the meaning of life and whether it’s important that you be remembered. He’s always looking ahead to the distant future, and he recognizes that even the things and people we think will remain in humanity’s memory forever are just tiny blips that will disappear in the hundreds and thousands of years of the earth’s future history.

That took my concept of Casey’s life and possible death way beyond any consideration of what it means for that moment in time. If I let Casey live, it allows the significance of his gesture to extend outward and have some real effect on the world. He’s been transformed from the apathetic man we see at the start, into someone who can make a difference. His death, however brave it might be, would end his story right there. If I let him live, it also gives the novel one last dramatic uptick, as well as a more upbeat feeling combined with the open-endedness that tells us his story isn’t finished yet, even if we don’t know how it will turn out.

What Is That Dream About?

For some reason, I opened the story that was to become Camp Expendable with Casey, my protagonist, waking up out of a dream. In it, he was standing at the edge of the water in a flooded downtown Miami. What he wakes up to is his arrival, along with about thirty other men, at an internment camp somewhere in America’s southwestern desert. As the story developed, I couldn’t find any reason why the dream was relevant, except to tell the reader that we might not be in the early 21st century anymore, but I couldn’t bring myself to delete it, even though it’s the perfect example of introducing something that raises reader expectations for no reason. I think it was Anton Chekhov who said that if you have a pistol lying around in a scene, you have to use it.

So there I am, a week before NaNoWriMo is due to start, and I still can’t find a reason for the dream, and still can’t delete it. I know a lot about Casey, but there are still gaps. I know that he’s been drifting through life since his wife and child died in a nationwide salmonella incident. I know that he feels guilty about it, but not why. I know that his protective instincts are strong, as much as he tries to bury them and avoid becoming involved with some of the violence that takes place in the camp. Then it comes to me — the memory of a nightmare that got me out of bed one night when I was just a kid, terrified, to make sure my little brother was still safe in his bed. We lived a couple of blocks away from a canal, and I dreamed that he had left the house, ridden his tricycle to the canal and fallen in.

And I finally had my reason for Casey’s dream, which he can’t remember in detail until much later. I gave Casey my nightmare, and had his brother actually drown later, as an adult. As unreasonable as it is, Casey feels he should have been able to prevent it somehow, another burden of guilt he’s piled on himself. When he remembers the dream about the drowned city, in full, and understands how it connects to his brother and his various guilts, that understanding frees him, turns his life around and makes my planned ending believable.

Finding My Character’s Heart

Maybe I haven’t found Casey’s heart exactly, but the essence of who he becomes in the face of unavoidable trials. Since I’ve been working (more or less) on the story for about two years and still didn’t know my protagonist very well, I have to be grateful to National Novel Writing Month for pushing me to overcome my ignorance. Because, yes, I’m lazy and have more WIPs in progress that would make sense even for someone far more organized and energetic than I am.

So the last few weeks have been fairly concentrated as far as prep work for NaNo goes. The plot has expanded, as has the number of significant characters, some of whom have major impacts on the plot, and on Casey, the protagonist. That’s all very satisfying, but there’s a special thrill when a character who has been, essentially, drifting with no clear goals in sight, “wakes up” and becomes aware of himself and his purpose. That would have to happen somewhere along the line, but without the pressure to be ready for November 1, it might have taken another year or so.

Unlike novels where you can create a plot and then punch in the characters, character-driven fiction creates much of the plot. Without knowing Casey, right down to his soul, the plot could have kept wandering around with no clear focus. For this particular story, that knowledge is especially vital because it ends with Casey committing an act of self-sacrifice. If that wasn’t believable, the story would fail completely.

But He Would Never Do That!

Consistency. It’s a hobgoblin that can get in the way of creating interesting characters. Fledgling writers are told that their characters actions must be consistent. You’re not supposed to throw a monkey wrench in the reader’s expectations by having a character doing something completely unexpected and out of the blue, something so not the character you’ve established. And why not, pray tell?

The most boring people, in real life, are the ones who never surprise us. We know what they’re going to do from day to day, even from hour to hour, some of them. We know what they like and dislike, believe and disbelieve, and we know exactly what they’re going to say when they open their mouths. They’re the ones we avoid like the plague unless we’re tied to them by inescapable bonds of blood.

If we cross to the other side of the street when we see one of those perfectly consistent people heading in our direction, why in the world would we want to read about them? We would much rather read about the quiet, friendly neighbor whose house is suddenly surrounded by police before they break the door down and lead him out in handcuffs. They found three corpses in the freezer in his basement? But he seemed like such a nice man!

We will eventually learn a lot about our former neighbor, about his background, maybe about crimes he committed before moving to our quiet neighborhood. We will learn that we were beguiled by a facade that covered a monster. We never saw it coming, but we eventually come to understand why it all happened. That’s real life, repeated on an almost daily basis, confounding our expectations, jolting us out of our assumptions about what people are really like.

How well do we know anyone in real life? Haven’t we all met people who surprise us by acting completely “out of character?” How many marriages and friendships break up because someone has done something unacceptable and completely out of character? You can know someone for half a lifetime and still be surprised when they do or say something you never could have seen coming.

In fiction, if one of my characters does something unexpected, that means there’s an element of their personality or background I haven’t made you aware of yet. It’s my job as a writer to make sure that element is there, and to explain it to you in a way that relieves you of the need for a consistency that exists only on the surface.

For the writer, it’s an opportunity to go deeper and find out whether it’s really an inconsistency or something hidden that we’re now aware of. The important thing is to explain it, not just let it happen and then drop it. This is one of the uses of backstory. Done right, it will change your view of the person and add to the dramatic punch of the story.

But I Thought “Wireless” Meant…

Free of landlines, free of wires. Right? With WiFi everywhere, it’s so easy to think that being untethered from wires means real freedom. It can be a shock when everything’s suddenly gone, as happened Friday afternoon. No internet, no phone. For over 30 hours. Just because the cables are buried underground, and are fiber-optic instead of copper, that doesn’t mean our ties to the world can’t be disrupted.

A cut cable put nearly the whole county out of touch with the rest of the world. Service would probably be back by 10 pm, someone (with a working phone) reported. The next morning, I was wondering: 10 pm of what day? I finally woke up to a live internet this morning, and phone service came back a couple of hours later. Something tells me the problem was bigger than one cable being cut, but we may never find out.

So what happened to the prep work for NaNo and the ongoing revision of Gift of the Ancien during that down time? There was nothing to interfere with any of that except my mental state, and it did a bang up job. Of course, it didn’t help that I ran into a really rough chapter of Ancien that’s going to require major rejigging, which is almost always one of those jobs I dread with a big dread. So, lots of pacing, reading, just trying to stay on an even keel. I may not be addicted to the internet (which is, in many ways, more important to me than my phone), but being completely isolated from the world certainly messes with my head. If I had my druthers, I’d rather be without a phone than without the web. Being without both? Please. Not ever again.