Crossing the Finish Line

2011_Winner_Certificate_filled_out

Above is the certificate I won for finishing NaNoWriMo.  I crossed the line a day early with 50,0042 words.  Considering how many thousands of words I was behind a week in, I’m justifiably pleased with having finished early.  

Below is another picture I can also proudly display.

Winner_180_180_white

I spent almost all of this NaNoWriMo writing down the backstory of perhaps my most dynamic character, Artemis Arrowsmith.  This material will appear in flashback scenes in the second and third books. 

Last year I wrote much of the second book for NaNoWriMo.  All told, between what I wrote last year and this year, I have over 300 pages of material for the first-draft of that novel.  I plan to spend the next year turning that into a completed work.  I’ll keep you informed of my progress.

That’s all for now.  Have fun everyone.

Brant on NaNoWriMo Day 8

Before I get into my post today, I want to give a shout out to Kathryn.  Most of the posts out of the this blog have come from her lately.   Kathryn’s informative posts about what music inspires her and where she has been focusing her writing on a day-to-day basis have provided me insights of my own, as well as links to some beautiful music.  Great work Kathryn.

My Current NaNoWriMo  Status

  • Suggested Daily Word Count: 1,667  (Works out to 50,000 words in 30 days.)
  • Words Written Today: 1,800
  • Suggested Cumulative Word Count by Day 8:  13,336
  • My Actual Cumulative Word Count: 17,807
  • Average Words per Day: 2,226
  • At This Rate I Will Finish On: Nov 23
  • Days Remaining in November: 22
  • Total Words Remaining for NaNoWriMo: 32,193
  • Words per Day to Finish on Time 1,464
  • Current Page Count of (Mostly) New Material: 64 

The short hand of these statistics is that I am well ahead of schedule.   I have a comfortable buffer that I can build on to make certain I actually do 50,000 words in 30 days.

A Song That Inspires Me

Song of the Seahorse by Miriam Stockley is a song which I listen to often.  Its sweeping melody and melancholy lyrics makes me think of many different things, but with regards to my story I feel it captures something essential about my character, Artemis Arrowsmith. 

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Song of the Seahorse, by Miriam Stockley

The lyrics dwell on the death of a lover and the how the person feels because of their loss.   This is central to Artemis’ character and the subplots that revolve around her.    The music also captures a sense of beauty and even wonder, other elements central to her character.

A Lesson Learned From NaNoWriMo: JUST KEEP TYPING!

Seriously, don’t dwell on anything.  Just keep typing.

“What am I wanting to accomplish in this chapter/with this character?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“Wait…isn’t this character supposed to be dead already?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“What color did I say her eyes were a few pages back?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“Wasn’t this character a different sex in and earlier chapter?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

The Result Is An Interesting Mishmash.

On scenes I have reasonably well mapped out in my mind, I blend descriptions and actions and dialogue together in reasonable proportions.   Not great, but workable text.

Then there are areas where I know I want or need a conversation on a subject, but I don’t have the details well thought out. 

This writing tends to be various people talking in an undefined area with characters appearing out of nowhere.  Where are they? Who knows?  What led up to the scenes?  Who knows?  All I know for certain is that there are elements in those scenes that I definitely want to keep somewhere in the overall story.

A Funny Thing Happened While Trying to Write A Story

Along the way, I was forced to deal with the motivations for the character of Demiurge in a more concrete way.  Given that the title of the second book is …Demiurge, Unbound,…, this was unavoidable.

But his origins are located behind a shroud of the distant past, which meant I needed to think about that past in the way he would.  I.e. Discovering the voice of Demiurge required thinking about my story’s mythology as he remembered it.

This led to a multipage “tell” that turned into a surprisingly clean summary of events explaining how the world ended up in its present state.  

Details became clear to me that I had glossed over in my mind, and with those details I realized I needed additional information about the world’s geography that I had never considered before.

The downside:  The new geographic details affect what I have already written in the first book.  On the bright side, what I need to add, while major, can be done by placing a few key sentences in a handful of  areas.  One particularly vivid description in chapter seven in the first book could be the foundation for significant reveals in the second book.

Rather than add those elements to the first book, I noted what I needed as part of my NaNoWriMo efforts.  i.e. I just wrote it in a a major, ugly, info dump.

And while I was doing that, I had a second major insight to the working of my world. 

How magic works and what its limitations are is a subject I have wrestled with often.  Now many of those details are clear to me, and I see how it has affected the path of Artemis and Damon both. 

These insights led me to know how the second book will end, and what scenes will comprise much of the third book of the series, …And Damon Roth,…

In particular, I now know why Damon first became interested in Artemis, and what he had to go through to find her.  Once again, I decided to jot down these thoughts as part of my NaNoWriMo efforts.

After these insights, I was able to return to a more linear narrative focused on scenes I had long thought of but had written little about.  Once again, I am writing less mythology and info dumps and more of a blend descriptions and actions and dialogue together in reasonable proportions

Insights Learned During NaNoWriMo.

The pace of writing has forced me to abandon quality for quantity.  To pour words onto the page as fast as they appear in my head.  Misspellings abound.  I use the same word in sentence after sentence, creating a repetitive feel that is, frankly, boring to read.  Grammar, the bane of my existence, is sacrificed for rambling sentences that often make little sense even to me.

Fast and furious writing forces you to make decisions that ripple through your overall work.  Earlier text that you think has settled and needs nothing more must be modified.  Plot strands for the future become clearer and more defined.  

Good ideas also end up on the page as details I hadn’t considered until now become facts of the world.  The story evolves and becomes substantially better.

I must admit to a temptation that this style of writing has inspired in me.  Namely to write my whole seven volume story in one gigantic effort as fast as possible. 

Yes, the final product would be craptacular, but it would also be a complete first draft.  After that I could focus on the long slow editing process where turgid text is replace by compelling prose. 

I’m not certain this would be a better approach that my normal style of write-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-write some more.  But my experiments with NaNoWriMo makes me wonder if writing the whole story at once wouldn’t yield rewards I can’t fathom at this time.

The Unreliable Narrator

Most of the time, the reader can safely assume that the writer tells the truth.  That what appears on the page is an accurate version of events in a story.  This is not meant to suggest that characters do not tell lies to each other, or that the events themselves are plausible, merely that what is written on the page did in fact happen in the story. 

There are, however, exceptions to this rule.  The author can deliberately lie to the reader by relating events on the page, only to reveal that those events never actually happened in the story.  The narrator of the story becomes unreliable.

As an example, consider the movie, A Beautiful Mind, in which the principle character suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and has constant delusional episodes.  His delusions are presented to the viewer as if they are really happening.  It is not until much later in the movie that we discover that much of what we have witnessed on the screen never happened.  We are required to search our memories and decipher what was real and what was false.  What actually happened during those delusional moments is left to our imaginations.  The narrator of the story, in this case the director, has lied to us and is therefore unreliable.

This technique of storytelling dates back over a thousand years and is used for many different effects.  In A Beautiful Mind it is used to both explain the nature of paranoid schizophrenia and to make the central character more sympathetic than he would be without that understanding. In other works it is used to set up a surprise ending, or to make the reader/viewer think about something in a new or different way.

I make use of the unreliable narrator technique in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men, as a means to:

  • Describe a major event
  • Build a mystery around that event
  • Lay out the social order
  • Explain the military structure
  • Establish the limits on the powers of normal wizards
  • Show how the protagonist, Damon Roth, exceeds those limits. 

In an earlier post, I wrote about how my late wife, Ellen inspired me to change three places where characters describe a major event and make those tales into flashbacks told from their point of view. 

Making this change was problematic  because the tale the characters were telling was not entirely true.  Their minds had been altered and parts of what they related were fictions placed in their consciousness.   They were unreliable witnesses to the event, which is not quite the same thing as being an unreliable narrator.   They believed what they said was true, and clues that their recollections were false were given to the reader even as they spoke.

Once I wrote those scenes as flashbacks, and turned their delusions into events that would appear to be true to the reader, I became the unreliable narrator.  I started lying to the reader by describing events that did not happen the way I wrote them on the page.

This opened up possibilities and gave me great advantages as a storyteller. The flashbacks became exciting, action filled scenes, each one building on the last.  In each telling I added details–private thoughts, worries, desires, and observations–that the character wouldn’t include when telling their version of events to others, but which gave important information and insights to the reader.  The downside was the reader was forced to think about what was real and what was imaginary.  To sort through the clues and decipher what really happened, and what were parts of a magically induced delusion.  These were problems I could live with.

Since then, I have thought much about the unreliable narrator technique.  Were I to use it too much, then the story would become unreadable.  If nothing can be believed then the essential suspension of disbelief  is forfeited and the reader loses interest. 

Therefore I decided upon a simple rule: I will only use the unreliable narrator in flashback scenes, and those scenes will only be told from one point of view.   In non-flashback scenes, what the reader sees on the page will be true and reliable.

For example, I have an extended flashback where Artemis Arrowsmith relates the events that led to the death of her lover Marcus.   This scene will be told solely from her point of view, albeit in third person fashion.  Her actions, thoughts, feelings, and memories will be told to the reader directly.  For other characters the reader will only be told what Artemis sees them do or hears them say or has related to her by another character.  Artemis might misremember certain details, or lie, or misinterpret events because of her own biases or preconceptions.  Thus she becomes an unreliable narrator of her own tale. 

But what she and others say and do both before her flashback starts and after it ends will be accurate and factual descriptions to the best of my abilities.  The reader can rely upon the scenes set in the present as containing only the truth.

The unreliable narrator is a powerful technique that allows authors to explore ideas, emotions, and experiences in ways that would be impossible otherwise.   In some cases, such as mine, it provides easy routes for including details that would otherwise be awkward or impossible to introduce.  It is an approach that puts unique demands upon the writer’s skill, and challenges the reader to think about what they read in new ways.  It is not the right choice for most works of fiction, but it is an option that should never be dismissed lightly.

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 3

This post is part of an ongoing series about the central characters in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. Here are links to the earlier posts in this series.

Protagonist, Antagonist, Hero, Villain, Antihero, and AntiVillain
Protagonist: A Closer Look at Damon Roth
Antagonist: A Closer Look At Demiurge
The Nature of the Hero
Hero, Part 1: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis
Hero, Part 2: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis, Part 2
Hero, Part 3: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis
Hero, Part 4: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis
Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith
Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 2

Today I continue with reviewing the character of Artemis Arrowsmith, the woman who fills the role of antihero in Gods Among Men .

In my previous two posts on Artemis I established the journey she took from being a stock, male, character with no well defined role to a female character central to the story. Last time I focused upon the elements that would become seeds for her back story, about how on the surface she would appear to be completely different from the story’s protagonist, Damon Roth, but underneath would have a history and personality that made her his natural ally. I described how Artemis became the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.

Within that framework were details that had to be filled in. Details that took years for me to determine and which were inspired and influenced by a motley collection of sources including, but not limited to, Greek mythology, Dungeons & Dragons, Dances With Wolves, Babylon 5, cheesy science fiction heroines, and the seven deadly sins.

First came Dungeons & Dragons, which is where Artemis first began. She was inspired originally by the ranger character class. Rangers in D&D are fighters with specialized knowledge of certain types of creatures that heps them become experts at fighting and killing those creatures. I incorporated this feature of rangers into Artemis’s personality by making her exceptionally knowledgeable of, and focused upon killing, Gogs; humanoid creatures that have a wolf-like appearance along with some characteristics of wolves.

I couldn’t have Artemis intent upon killing Gogs unless she had a good reason for hating them. Killing for no reason is the act of a villain, and I was determined that Artemis would not be a villainous character. Finding a reason for her to hate Gogs drove me to flesh out these creatures as something more than big nasty wolf-like monster. At the same time, I also needed a way for Artemis to gain her special knowledge about them.

Around this time I watched the movie Dances With Wolves, in which Mary McDonnell plays the character Stands With A Fist. Her parents were killed by Indians when she was a young girl, and then she was raised by a different tribe of Indians.

There on the screen were answers for why Artemis hated Gogs and where her expertise of them came from. Artemis hates Gogs because they were responsible for someone she loved dying, and her knowledge came from a period where she was taken captive and lived among a Gog tribe.

This solution raised other problems. I had already decided that Artemis was an orphan raised by the Guild, a world-spanning empire. This part of her history was important because it paralleled Damon’s own childhood and was integral to using Artemis as a way to explain Damon to the reader. i.e. Artemis could not be raised by the Gogs, nor could it be her parents that were killed by the Gogs.

The solution to this quandary came from a merging of ideas from the science-fiction television series Babylon 5 and the story from Greek mythology of Artemis and Actaeon.

In an episode of Babylon 5 there was a tender, romantic moment in which the character Marcus Cole sacrifices his life to save the life of the woman he loves, military officer Susan Ivanova. This prompted me to add a love interest for Artemis, someone she grew up knowing and fell in love with. I named him Marcus, a homage to the character who inspired him. I decided that Marcus and Artemis would have served in the military together and that he died fighting Gogs.

In Greek mythology, the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, catches the mortal Actaeon spying upon her. As punishment she has him torn apart by his own hounds. I already thought of the Gogs as related to wolves, which in turn are related to hounds. Once I thought of Actaeon being torn apart by hounds because of Artemis, it was easy to conceive of Marcus being killed by Gogs because of something Artemis did.

I combined these ideas and decided that Marcus and Artemis were, at some point in the past, sent to a remote fort. Because of something Artemis did, Gogs overran the fort, Marcus died, and Artemis was taken prisoner. There she would learn about Gogs in great detail before she managed to escape and make her way back to civilization. As a plot twist, I decided the Gog who captures her and holds her prisoner would be Widukind, the Gog I created based on the work I did while developing Morel Rihtwis’s character arc. In developing his relationship with Artemis, Widukind in turn became an antivillain.

Over time, Artemis’s grief over what happened to Marcus became transformed into bitterness, which in turn became a wrathful need for vengeance against those she believes have wronged her. In particular Gogs suffer her wrath, but as Gods Among Men unfolds others become the focus of her burning rage.

Wrath, of course, is one of the seven deadly sins. Rage became the character flaw that made Artemis violent, even bloodthirsty where Gogs are concerned. Her excessively violent nature makes her cross the line between hero and antihero. It also means that at some point she must pay a heavy personal price for committing the sin of wrath.

There were other influences that drove Artemis towards the character she is now. Germanic and Celtic mythology offered ways to resolve problems with the timeline of events in her life. Movies such The Deer Hunter made me ponder the psychological effects the violent events in Artemis’s life would have upon her, which led me to consider the affects upon her relationships with those closest to her. Songs such as the Moody Blue’s Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time) and Bill Whelan’s Highstep inspired particular scenes that, in turn, made me tweak her character so I could eventually include those scenes.

In many respects, Artemis Arrowsmith has become my favorite character. Her flaws become entangled with her strengths, her failings color her successes. Her importance in Gods Among Men and her ever growing complexity as a character made me alter other characters, facts about the world, and even plot elements so that they better fit what I needed and wanted from her character. Without her I couldn’t begin to tell the story that I have worked on for so many years now.

Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 2

Today I shall continue reviewing the development of Artemis Arrowsmith, the character who has developed to fill the role of antihero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. This is part of a larger series of posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, and includes posts about the nature of the hero, protagonists and antagonists, and multiple posts about the more heroic characters Morel and Tara Rihtwiz. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Last time I covered how I first included a male ranger-type character drawn from my Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing experiences, then evolved the character into being a female archer/hunter called Artemis Arrowsmith. Although I did discuss how the character underwent a sex-change and was renamed, I did not discuss the changes that occurred with her back story. That is because at this point in her evolution she had no back story to speak of.

To call Gods Among Men a large, complex tale is an understatement. It took a long time for me to understand what the story was, which made actually writing any of it rather difficult. For many years I was plagued by more problems than solutions and few of my vague thoughts made their way to written word.

Artemis was one of many characters included because I felt instinctively a need for certain archetypes common in fantasy and mythology. Over time, my thoughts on the plot began to coalesce and the real needs of the story became more clear. As that happened, some of the characters I first included were removed while others were altered, some quite dramatically.

The central character in Gods Among Men has always been Damon Roth. Part of my growth as a writer was understanding how making Damon Roth central to the story influences the development of other characters. To state this revelation in simple terms: all the other characters become defined by how they react and interact with Damon.

As originally conceived, Artemis was to be Damon’s ally. For many years I kept her personality defined based upon stereotypical notions of what she should be like, and that made her impossible to write effectively. Once I realized Artemis needed a personality and history that made her a natural ally of Damon then she came into focus.

Thus began a slow mixing and matching of traits so that, upon first glance, Artemis would appear to be the exact opposite of Damon. He was a wizard, she was almost immune to magic. Damon was wealthy and lived in a grand manor, Artemis carried all her belonging in a backpack and had no permanent home. Damon was subtle, while Artemis was blunt. Damon planned everything he did with infinite care, while Artemis lived entirely in the moment, reacting instinctively to all that happened.

Underneath all these surface differences were the similarities that would bind them together. Both were exceptionally skilled, unusually intelligent, individuals who loved leading dangerous lives. Both were orphans, raised by the Guild, and inducted into service at a young age. Both had hurt those who cared for them, and both suffered guilt and regret over their actions. They each want redemption for their past sins. They want to be heroes, but both are willing to cross the moral lines that a true hero never would.

Then came the insight that firmly moved Artemis from merely an ally to a central character once and for all: Artemis is the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.

Damon needed to be mysterious; the reader must wonder about his motives and history and plans. Ergo, Artemis must ponder those questions. The reader should not trust Damon right away, therefore Artemis must not trust him right away. The reader should come to understand Damon overtime, so Artemis must come to understand him. Every question, every concern, every reaction I wanted the reader to have concerning Damon became the theme that ran through all of the scenes involving Artemis.

It was in this process that Artemis transitioned from a traditional heroic model of character to an antihero. As I explained in my post about Damon as the protagonist :

Damon Roth cannot be the hero because he does not embody heroic ideals. In his past he committed horrible acts for his own benefit. Acts which harmed many,including people he cared deeply about, though he was unable at that time to acknowledge those feelings even to himself. The important point of his character is that he is still doing this. He will again commit and cause atrocities that will harm many including those he cares for. … The acts he commits in Gods Among Men, as terrible as they will be, are intended to save mankind, to save the world and everything on it. To avoid the death of every living thing on the planet he believes, truly believes, that he must follow a ruthless plan that leaves a path of death and destruction in his wake. Some must suffer so all may be saved.

If Damon is going to commit atrocities, and if Artemis is going to accept those acts as being required to achieve a greater good, then Artemis cannot be heroic in the classical sense. She must, on some level, be capable of rationalizing that certain amoral acts are required, and that is something a classical hero would never do. She is not a villain, because her acts do not spring from selfish desires, and she performs heroic deeds without thought of reward. She is flawed, and those flaws make her an antihero.