NaNo and Accompanying Revelations

There’s three days left in NaNoWriMo, and I am completely confident I will reach the 50k mark.

However, I’m also completely sure that close to half of what I’ve written will hit the metaphorical cutting room floor. There’s far too much fat covering the meat.

Fat equals flavor and savor but too much just results in a huge greasy mess that rapidly becomes indigestible. For example, I’ve got a scene that’s taking Feyd and Damien to Aurelia’s house, then to the slave pits. There’s a lot of sloppy exposition that I shoved into that scene, because the ideas were coming hard and fast that day.

It needs to be trimmed, rendered, simmered to its essence. Maybe some details can be worked in later, maybe some things will just have to be let go. Maybe I can take 2000 words down to about 1200, maybe even down to a thousand. I need to find the bones and bring them forward.

I’ve said that Diana Gabaldon is one of my influences, because I love the intense sense of place she creates- it feels like I am standing inside the heroine’s head and I could turn around and see exactly what she is seeing/smelling/tasting/feeling.

However, some of the only criticisms I hear of her work is that sometimes she is TOO detailed and loses track of the plot for a short time. This is something I’ve also encountered in James Michener’s works. Therefore, it’s something I try to be mindful of, and rectify when I catch myself trending in that direction.

There’s a term for this- it’s called “killing your darlings”. There are some descriptions I am damn proud of, but if they have to go, they have to go. I know I have a tendency to overuse certain words, and I’m a bit too fond of adverbs.

However, knowing this, I now know where to find the hidden pockets of fat. It’s a start, at least, towards going from a primal cut to the beautiful roast on the groaning board.

Where will you look to trim the fat in your work?

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One week in, four to go.

I’ve officially reached my first week in NaNoWriMo, and my word count is at about 10,500. (Disclaimer: have not yet done today’s writing {11/7} but it’s still three hours til bedtime, I’m golden.)

My characters are beginning to show their true colors in ways I did not imagine. My female lead, who I have often seen as somewhat quiet, the plotting type, has got a mouth on her that’s going to end up getting her into trouble. My male lead is proving surprisingly docile, until he gets into a situation that he knows how to handle.

And then there’s my villain, and his dog.

The dog is simple- she’s based off someone I dislike intensely, but actually feel rather sorry for.

The villain himself, that’s another kettle of piscatorial life forms entirely. He combines the bad and worst aspects of both my ex-husbands. As a matter of fact, when he speaks, he does it in my most recent ex’s voice. His short temper and cocky attitude come from my first ex. I wrote out a description of him to read to the Kilted One, who looked at me and said, “Wow, honey…you really don’t like this guy, do you?”

As a matter of fact, no, I don’t. I can’t think of a single redeeming quality that he has. This may need to change, as the best villains can usually evoke a little sympathy. Think of Darth Vader, or Lord Voldemort. They are somewhat sympathetic characters. People can pity them, if not what they turned into. Darth Vader was always the doe-eyed little Annie Skywalker, Tom Riddle was an orphaned child who was a social outcast.

I really need to find something pitiable about my villain. This will be my next challenge to myself. A purely “bad” character is almost intrinsically doomed to be one-dimensional, and we can’t be having that.

Writing a villain is hard, but writing the hero himself seems to be even more challenging. I had always seen my ML as a brash, aggressive, axe-wielding antihero. He’s turning out to be far more sly than I thought.

I have three secondary characters at the moment. One has been introduced, the other two will be shortly. I’m trying to work in some humor, because right now it’s very grim, and it shouldn’t be.

All in all though, I’m enjoying stretching the literary muscles. It’s been too long.

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The Time Between Times, And How To Use It

Today is Samhain, or Halloween if you prefer. It’s the end of the Celtic year, the time to prepare for what is yet to come. Unlike the Julian calendar, the Celts did not step from one year to another with the tick of a clock. Our New Year begins on Winter Solstice, December 22nd-ish.

This is the time to take stock, to go through the herds and decide which beasts are destined for breeding and who has a date with the dinner table. As NaNoWriMo draws closer (T-minus 16 hours and counting, give or take) it’s time to cull the herd.

I have my cast of characters. I have their world framed, if not entirely built, and they are all more or less on speaking terms with me. Now comes the culling- to see what ideas get to make it to the next generation and which ones are going to be the entree of the next big celebration.

I’ll be sharpening my scythe tonight, keeping the hearthfire lit and welcoming those from Beyond who care to visit. It is the night before the Time without Time, the Place between Places.

A perfect time to go walking in another world. Join me, won’t you?

See you on the other side of the Veil.

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Storms and their uses

With respect and best wishes/prayers with those being affected by Hurricane Sandy, I love storms.

I grew up in tornado country (and they still freak me out no end) and one of the only things I miss about Texas, besides real barbecue and the best ice cream in the world, are the thunderstorms.

There’s so much primal energy flying around.

What does this have to do with writing, I hear you asking.

Storms are transformative. They are brief, even by the standards of human measurements, but their impact can last for generations. Who hasn’t seen a huge tree split by a bolt of lightning, a flash and sizzle and bam- a century-old tree is so much kindling.

Ideas can be that way too. You can have a well-thought-out idea for a story- hell, you can have characters and plotlines and even a world created- and you will be hit with a lightning bolt of an idea, and now you’re ankle deep in pieces of plot and lightly fried squirrels.

But, like the lightning strikes that start the wildfires that rejuvenate the forests by burning off the debris and detritus and tangled undergrowth, those flashes can be the catalyst for something new to grow.

Never be so in love with a character or a plot that you can’t set it aside to see what will come of a strike. You may set him/her/it aside for five seconds, five minutes, or five years- but you can always pick them back up.

Even if you have to start by picking up the pieces and starting a new fire.

Stay safe out there, everybody.

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Muse Found!

At least for today.

I’ve always been open to inspiration from anywhere I can find it, and I believe some things do just fall into your lap when you least expect it.

In preparation for NaNoWriMo next month, I’ve been laying out the pantheons for my main characters. I have been struggling trying to find the right “desert” deity for one of my characters. She needed to be female, fond of warriors, enforcer of oaths…you get the idea. I also consciously wanted to stay away from Ladies that the average person would know about.

Interestingly, I had a really “don’t do this” idea when I tried to come up with my own Lady for this particular character. As a pagan, I didn’t want to risk annoying any Divine who thought I was trying to create divinity. (Makes heaps of sense, I know, but the thought was there.)

His nickname is The Scorpion, he’s devoted, he’s sensual, he’s vicious, and he’s oathbound.

Then, this morning, I got introduced to the Lady Ishara via Journeying to the Goddess. In all my classical studies, I had never heard of her. Listen to this.

“Ishara’s themes are creativity, sexuality, passion, instinct, fire and energy. Her symbols are the scorpion (or any stinging, hot items). An ancient Mesopotamian Goddess, Ishara is known for her fiery nature. The Syrians specifically worshiped Her in the form of a scorpion when they wished to improve sexual prowess or passion. In other traditions, Ishara judges human affairs fairly but firmly, and all oaths made in Her name are sacred.”

I literally sat there, jaw hanging open in a most becoming fashion (yeah, right) and immediately said Thanks! to whoever was listening.

I really feel like this was truly a gift from the Divine as a reward for not pushing ahead when my intuition told me not to.

Oh Great and Wondrous Mysteries of the Universe, my pen is at the ready. Thank you for the gift of writing. Thank you for the spark of creativity that leads me to tell stories. Thank you for the incredibly strong sense of will that will propel me forward.

In the words of Terry Pratchett, in Pyramids, “It’s not a case of must, you see. I will.

I will, with their help, get this story told.

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Update: I wasn’t kidding about needing something to ignore…

Today, during what had to be one of the most boring work trainings ever devised by man or demon, I managed to hand-write, in a small Moleskine  notebook, what will probably turn out to be one of the more important conversations in my upcoming NaNoWriMo novel.

This teacher – and I do mean teacher, she made a great point of telling us how she used to teach high school business classes – was boring me to the point where I would have gladly sawed off  one of my own feet with a rusty grapefruit spoon than sit in that class another minute. Who, in this day and age, doesn’t know how to navigate a website? And you don’t hyperlink someone somewhere, a hyperlink LINKS someone to another somewhere. It’s a noun, not a verb….but I digress.

So I grab a pen and my Moleskine and started listening to Aurelia and Julia as they were talking. In-ter-est-ing. I didn’t even know my own mind could be that deviant. I really hate one pair of my characters even more now.

Fun times, listening to the voices in my head and taking notes like a good little eavesdropper.

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Things I Need To Write.

That is, things I find necessary to the act of writing.

  • A computer/word processor/BlackBerry…something with a keyboard. I think very quickly, and my fingers can keep up with my thoughts on a keyboard far faster than they can with pen and paper. Plus, I get hung up on making my handwriting pretty.

 

  • Music, with headphones. This is key. Music through speakers doesn’t have that immersive quality- at least the speakers that came embedded in my laptop. The music will be instrumental for the most part, unless there are certain songs that I have decided are a leitmotif for a character or scene. For example: “Ava Adore” by Smashing Pumpkins is the song for my current villain.  “Exodus” by Two Steps From Hell is the theme for a scene. Vivaldi’s “Devil’s Trill” is the song for one of my main quartet of characters.

 

  • Tea. With sugar. Specifically, Stash Earl Grey or English Breakfast, occasionally Princess Grey. The sugar must be real sugar and ideally in lump form. A devoted Scotsman who brings me my tea on a regular basis knows that the Essential Fluid of Inspiration is best served in either a Japanese style tea bowl* or my favorite blue and black cup with no handle.

*more surface area, so it cools faster and therefore is consumable at a higher rate. Science is awesome, m’kay?

And now, my oddest requirement- something or someone to ignore. Allow me to elaborate, Gentle Readers (all two of you). I was re-listening to Douglas Adams’ posthumously published The Salmon of Doubt, specifically the bits about Maggie and Trudy, the two dogs that adopted him when he was in Santa Fe. He mentions that the dogs were not content to go for a walk, they had to go for an ignore.  In the end of the vignette, he mentions that the dogs have realized that they cannot go for an ignore without someone to ignore.

I cannot write without something to ignore. Be it my actual work, housework, the roommate, the laundry…something…I have to have something to ignore.

I think this need started back when I was writing about my RP character for the first time and ignoring my now ex-husband so I could concentrate. Ignoring has just become ingrained in me- I do my best work when I am ignoring. Probably a character flaw, but oh well, it is what it is.

By the way, I recently picked up The Art of War for Writers. I highly recommend it.

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Finding Accountability

I love to write, to get into the minds and hearts of my characters, to play in their imperfect world, which is so different than my own imperfect one. They have to worry about invasions and demonic mages and careful intra-court politics. I have to worry about my car lasting another year and what to wear to work tomorrow.

But…there’s always a seductive reason to put off sitting down in front of the keyboard. Laundry, cooking, playing with kittens, spending time with my favorite Scotsman, slaughtering half of Azeroth in the name of the Horde. Work, sleep, not becoming a total recluse.

So I started a writer’s group on Facebook with some of the better Star Wars RP’ers I know. There are exercises, group critiques, and hopefully a good exchange of information while we all learn how to improve our craft. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

What it actually is is a source of accountability. I can’t post exercises for others and then not complete them myself, because that’s just not sporting. I need that nudge, that requirement, that metaphorical disapproving glare. I don’t have an agent or an editor to fuss at me, so I had to create my own. 

Now, off to do the exercise I assigned everyone else on Wednesday and is due in under 6 hours. Did I ever mention that I am the Queen of Procrastination?

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Antagonists- practicing the delicate art and preparation of literary cannibalism

“a lady novelist…remarked to me once that writing novels was a cannibal’s art, in which one often mixed small portions of one’s friends and one’s enemies together, seasoned them with imagination, and allowed the whole to stew together into a savory concoction.” Diana Gabaldon, in Voyager, Book 3 of the Outlander series.
It has long been said that princes feared satires more than swords. And certainly, the urge is within every person- to see those they hate brought low in a variety of cruel and inventive ways endlessly upon the page.

But how far is too far? When does a parody or similarities to a real person cross the line from inspiration to catharsis to obsession?

One of my characters is a melange of all the men who have ever treated me badly- be they relatives, lovers, coworkers, or just chance encounters. He bears no physical resemblance (bar height) to any of them…but there’s still enough there that I can see all of them in him. I wonder, sometimes, if I have lost sight of the whole by focusing on the component parts.

One of my other characters is based on a mix of some female friends of mine- aspects of them, both good and bad. I like to think that she is entirely a creation of my own, but I can look at her and see all of them within her.

Is there such a thing as a purely original character? Some would say yes, others say that all characters are mixes of other characters that have come before. While I would never be foolish enough to deny the tropes and derivative natures of popular characters, I hope that mine are a little further from the madding crowd.

This project has been something I have been working on for a year or so, kicking around for six months before that. Some of the characters are very, very real. Some are still completely nebulous.

My antagonists (there are three, though one of the three is actually a pair) are very, very clear for the first portion of the story. As the story moves forward, they recede, and I am having a hard time replacing them with something as sinister, as menacing, as straight-up nasty as my first enemies.

Maybe I need to meet some nastier people.

 

 

 

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Begin at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.

I have to write.

It’s something I feel compelled to do, like I feel compelled to cook, compelled to read, compelled to correct people’s bad grammar if I know them well enough.

I have finished one novel length manuscript that will never see the light of day- it unwound at the end like a ball of yarn that had been in a roomful of hyperactive kittens.

I am working on another one, but the characters are being elusive, showing up at inopportune moments when I cannot stop what I am doing to write.

Yes- I see my characters as sentient creatures, with wicked senses of humor. They show up when and if they feel like it, and sometimes disappear for weeks or months on end.

I have the compulsion to write, yet the spark is missing.

Hopefully, a little metacognition in the form of a blog will entice them back out of the shadows and get them back into demanding my attention in a situation when I can write down their escapades.

I will most likely be blogging in three different areas- food/cooking, the adventure of rehabbing and making our new home our own, and writing and the trials thereof.

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