NaNoWriMo Is Approaching

National Novel Writing Month is about to start up again, and I plan to participate just as I have for the last two years. 

For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is pretty simple: write 50,000 words (approximately 200 pages) during the month of November. This works out to be about 1,667 words a day. A challenging goal, but one that I am capable of meeting, as my wins in 2010 and 2011 prove.

This year will be a bit different for me than the previous years.  In 2010 I wrote an initial draft of the second novel in my Gods Among Men series, …Demiurge, Unbound,…. In 2011 I focused on creating a draft of the backstory surrounding my most dynamic character, Artemis Arrowsmith.  In both cases I focused on a narrative that flowed from one scene to the next.

This year my plans are more scattered and random. I have some specific scenes in the first book, At The Lady’s Behest Comes…, that need a rewrite, such the opening paragraphs. Also I have decided to alter the opening few chapters of …Demiurge, Unbound,…. And there are a variety of scenes I have yet to create which I need in the second, third, and fourth books of my series. 

NaNWriMo provides an excellent opportunity to jot down quick first drafts of these scenes that I can later rework into useable material.  At the very least, the exercise of writing these scenes will help flesh out details that fill gaps in my rough outline.

In addition, I plan on writing down a lot of mythology that currently exists only in my head.  For example, I can specify:

  • Details about how magic works
  • The true history about Demiurge and the Lady
  • Delve into the wars Demiurge and the Lady fought against the Daemons and the False Gods
  • Explore details about the religions that have grown up around Demiurge and the Lady
  • Flesh out the cultures of the Gogs and Magogs

And so forth.  This material I will clean up and include on my new and improved website under the World menu. 

And I also hope to use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to create a series of musings I can later turn into blog posts. I have a variety of subjects in mind, but will let the whim of the day determine what I focus on.

These are my rough plans for the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge.  I think I have plenty to write about, but the lack of a strict narrative I think will create new difficulties for me, as will the additional demands on my time. Check back in December to see how well I managed. Hopefully I’ll have a new winner’s certificate to post on my site.

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.

Fighting Inertia

I have been avoiding writing lately.   Partially this is due to an overly tight schedule, but mostly it is due to a convergence of thoughts that inspire near paralysis. 

In recent weeks I came to realize how I needed to trim and structure my story to make it more accessible to new readers.  These thoughts have raised the possibility that I need to rewrite or majorly edit much of what already exists in the first book.  This in of itself is not the core problem, as much of that text needed to be rewritten or seriously edited anyway.  The problem is that the focus of the chapters need to change in order to develop the character of Tara much more.  This means I must develop her character much better than I have to date, and that is not easy.

Also the changes I am considering require me to trim or eliminate much of the scenes centered on Artemis, a character I find interesting to write, but who really isn’t the center of the story and shouldn’t be.  To put it simply, I know what I must do with her character, but I don’t want to do it.  It is tempting to make her the focus of everything, but she is not the right character to do that with.

Then there is the danger of the “infinite edit”.  The possibility of simply going over and over the same material and never moving onto the larger story.  Part of me wants to forget what I have written so far and dive into writing only new material.  Tempting as that thought is, I do need to edit what I already have, to make it better and eliminate what doesn’t work.  If for no other reason than I must prepare some of this text for submission to the Magic City Writers’ Group.

I am uncertain how to proceed.  I may need to establish a more rigid schedule in which I devote certain days to editing and other days to writing new material.   Even that is difficult to do however because of other demands on my time, demands that are not going to go away.  I am dedicated to following my new exercise program, something especially crucial given the serious back problems I experienced over the last year.  And making plans for my upcoming wedding requires copious amounts of time. And writing for this blog and the one I maintain for the Magic City Writers’ Group takes a few hours every week, assuming I have the time to spend on them.  All this, and I haven’t even mentioned my day job yet. And in the meantime development on my new website has fallen by the wayside.

I feel like I am in an ocean and can feel the water recede in the way it does right before a massive wave surges forward.  This is not to say I feel like I am about to be swamped, rather that I am in the quiet mood that precedes an enormous burst of activity.  I am an inconsistent worker, sometimes doing incredible amounts in a short time, and other times being still to the point of doing nothing.  During my quiescent moments I can feel thoughts lurking below the surface as my subconscious mind works out details that my conscious mind is not yet privy to.  At some point the paralysis I have been experiencing will pass and I will tackle the problems before me, I just hope that moment comes soon.

A Time To Rethink

I have been delinquent in my duties to this site for the last week, and for that I apologize.  My intent is to post at least twice a week, but that has proven difficult to maintain with my current schedule.   Plus, I have been plagued by questions about my story of late.  Questions that have consumed much of what I laughingly call my “free time”.

One of the hardest choices a writer can face is deciding what good material must be done away with so that important material will shine.  You can write beautiful passages that slow a story down to a crawl, or have subplots that obscure the main ones, or so many characters that you can’t tell major ones from minor ones.  If this is done intentionally then it is a legitimate artistic choice, even if it turns out to be a bad one.    If any of these happen for no reason, and you make no attempt to correct the problems they cause, then you are guilty of bad writing.

Recently I was working on writing down a chapter-by-chapter outline of my whole story, Gods Among Men.  This became a major task that forced me to think, long and hard, about the order of scenes and what each scene must include.  I have long known my story was big with many interrelated parts, but I am beginning to realize that I have included much that simply needs to be removed. 

A Bit Of Math

I think in terms of books, chapters, and sections.  I have seven books in the series, thirteen chapters per book, three sections per chapter; each section can be as long as it needs to be, but must focus on one central scene or character.    I know at a high level what each book must contain, and where each book must begin and end.

This rigorous structure helps me plot what must be done, and how much space I have to do it in.  A quick calculation reveals that there will be 39 sections per book, 91 chapters in the whole series, and a grand total of 273 sections.  That is the space I have to fill with words; no less and no more.

At first glance that sounds like a whole lot of wiggle room, but it is far less than you might think.  A story has rhythms; a quickening of pace in some places and a slower mood for others.  You can’t mix these elements directly, but must transition from one to the other.  Too sharp of a transition and the story feels choppy, too slow and it becomes boring.  A single book packed with heart-stopping action from beginning to end can be exhausting to read, and can cause readers to not care why characters do what they do.  From there it is easy for the reader to not care about the character at all, and from there to stop caring about the work itself.  The same danger exists with books that meander aimlessly and where nothing important ever seems to happen.

Too Many Notes

At one point in the movie Amadeus, Mozart is told that one of his works has “too many notes” and that he should “cut a few”.  Mozart is rightly offended, and we agree with him that the advice is being given by fools.

But why do we agree with him?  Because we know Mozart is a genius whose works will grow more popular the more people listened to it.  There aren’t too many notes; there is a lack of appreciation from those who are listening.

The truth is that talents on the scale of Mozart are incredibly rare, and most artists think too highly of their own work.  Sometimes there are too many notes, and the best artists are the ones who know which ones to cut.

In my case, I hew too closely to plot and subplot with too little consideration for characterizations.  This is a consistent failure of mine.  Partially it is because I don’t practice characterization often enough, but I have come to believe there is a bigger problem at play here.

Know You Story

It is hard to write a story you don’t fully understand, and it is only in the last few months that my story fully crystalized in my thoughts.  As it did, I came to realize that I had characters that serve less purpose than I had first thought.  Keeping big scenes with less important characters means less space for characters that are crucial.  I have subplots that would be full plots in lesser works, subplots I crammed in because I thought I needed something to fill 273 sections.  I also kept adding characters to flesh out scenes, to provide depth to the work as a whole. 

I was right, and I was wrong.  Yes, a sprawling epic will have many characters and subplots; that is the nature of sprawling epics.  But a story that sacrifices quality for quantity is not worth the time it takes to write, nor will anyone likely read it to the end.

I need to make clear to the reader what are the important plots and subplots, and I need to develop them better.  Also I need to make clear which characters are important and which aren’t; who should be followed closely, and who should be forgotten.  Right now, I have more characters than I can reasonably include and do full justice too, and trying means there is less room to develop important characters.   The work is a maze for me, and someone else has little reason to attempt navigating that maze.

Where To Now?

Gods Among Men is about Damon Roth, and he is not a nice character.  He is not easy to relate to, easy to understand, nor should he be.  But the reader needs someone to focus on that will draw them further into the work.  Someone they care about, positively or negatively, and hope either succeeds or fails.  Damon is ambiguous, and it is important he stay so. 

By the same token, while I like the character of Artemis Arrowsmith, and while she is a crucially important character, she also is not easy to relate to or understand.  She is also not a nice person, nor should she be.  She is the lens though which the reader comes to see and understand Damon.  She is important, but it is impossible for her to be someone the readers latch onto emotionally.  I have written much of the first book as if she was the central character, and that was a mistake.

The person the reader must care about is Tara Rihtwis.  She is the one whose success everyone must root for, whose failures everyone must cry over.  Damon is the brain of the story, it is his quest for redemption that is the central-most plot line.  Tara is the heart of the story, whose hardships make the reader want to turn the page and find out what happens next.  Artemis is the character that joins them together, that is friend and ally to both.

This is my core insight in the last few weeks, and now I must begin trimming my notes to turn this insight into action.  Anything that does not directly affect either Damon or Tara, that does not move their stories forward, must be eliminated.  Any character that does not directly interact with them or influence them must be eliminated, or at least reduced to their most essential moments.  Essential being defined by how it impacts Damon or Tara.

It is a harsh insight that carries with it drastic implications.  I now have a scale to weigh what must be kept versus what must go.  The hard part is actually forcing myself to live with what that insight tells me I must do.  Major portions of Gods Among Men must be rethought, whole chapters rewritten.  The plot remains as it was, but many subplots will be sacrificed so that the most important subplots can be adequately developed.

I must admit, I am not looking forward to this task I have set myself.  But I think it is the right direction for me to take the story.  The right choice to turn Gods Among Men into something people will want to read.

Music To Write By

I like to listen to music when I write, sometimes at decibels that can cause hearing loss.  I have even created playlists that I associate with certain characters; that expresses, for me, something about their nature, or inspires some scene involving them. 

I find that, after a while, the song itself becomes an odd mixture of background noise and inspiration.   I end up not listening to the words or individual notes, but my imagination still becomes hyperactive. 

An All-Round Favorite

A short list of my favorite pieces would have to include  All The Strange Strange Creatures , the trailer music from the new Doctor Who series.   This is a terrific piece of music that just never gets old.   It practically screams, “write an epic while listening to me”.  I can listen to it and write almost anything.

Other songs are more tied to particular scenes, often ones that I have long planned. 

The Ecstasy Of Music

Such is the case with another favorite of mine, The Ecstasy Of Gold by Ennio Morricone from the movie The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.  Not the version on the “official” soundtrack; that version just lays there and puts itself to sleep.  No, to hear the version worth listening to you must rip it from the actual movie itself.  (Or, click on the link I’ve provided above.  It takes about 40 seconds before the song starts.  It’s worth the wait.)

To me, The Ecstasy of Gold is synonymous with a scene where Tara Rihtwis is pursued closely by a pack of Gogs, led by Widukind, who in turn are being tracked by Artemis Arrowsmith.  

When the music plays I can see this scene as if it were being played in a movie theater.  I can describe it in perfect detail, probably better than I will ever be able to write it.

Moody Music

I find almost anything by The Moody Blues great to write by, but Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time), from their album To Our Children’s Children’s Children, holds a special place for me.   Listening to it inspired a scene that struck me as so powerful, a plot twist so unexpected, I altered my story to include it. 

The opening moments of the song made me think, completely unbidden, of someone hearing something that alarms them. For no good reason I decided it was Tara who was alarmed.  

Then the drummer hitting cymbals in the background made me think she was hearing the muffled sounds a sword fight, perhaps on the other side of a door. 

Then the music swells into a strong guitar rhythm, and in my mind’s eye she opened the door to see a room on fire.  In the center of the room are two people locked in mortal combat.  One, her beloved father, Morel Rihtwis; the other her closest friend and oft times protector, Artemis Arrowsmith. 

I had never thought about having those two characters fight until I listened to Gypsy (Of a Strange and Distant Time).  Afterwards, I realized that their diametrically opposite worldviews made their conflict inevitable, and the result of that conflict equally inevitable.  I came to see their final clash as the pivot point from which to start bringing various plot threads to satisfying finales.

Other Music

The list goes on, and on.  So many pieces of music that have shaped my thoughts, and in so doing shaped my story.  The point is not which music inspired what moment, but that music itself forms such unexpected connections within each of us.

What music do you listen to as you write?  What scenes are synonymous with certain songs for you?  What songs have inspired elements of your own stories?