Another year over, see what I’ve done

I completed my novel last night at about 65,000 words. For the first time in like 10 years I was writing until the ‘last minute’ in order to finish the book. And while it says 65,000, well, after my first 10k I was unsatisfied with how the story was playing out and decided to ‘start over’. That is, I declared the first 10,000 words ‘back story’ and began as if I were starting the novel. So I see 55,000 words, which is the lowest I’ve done in 8 years. And yet, in all honesty, the entire novel needs massive rewriting, so what’s the harm in counting the first 10,000 words, because the next 55,000 aren’t much better!

I had troubles with this year’s novel. I struggled. At some moments I asked myself… am I even a writer? Have I learned ANYTHING these past 10 years if I can’t even write a short book in a month, if I can’t push the plot forward somehow and see it through? I was quite troubled until I realized…

I’m working with higher standards, even than last year. I see a lot more of what I’m doing and yearn to craft the novel rather than spew it out. The problem is that Nanowrimo is not a time for crafting, it’s a time for spewing, so I was stabbing myself in the foot every other chapter. Once I realized that, I was able to reign in my inner editor… mostly. I still rearranged sentences and removed paragraphs and all that mid-writing. I also turned off spell-check so it wouldn’t keep underlining my character’s names in red, and hoping that I wouldn’t get distracted or slowed down by misspellings. After this experiment, I conclude that was not the case—I spent longer checking words that I was sure I had misspelled (it was about 50/50). Then I had to go through the entire doc afterward and fix the spellings (not as many as I expected, mostly ‘nothern’ instead of ‘northern’).

Setting

Higher standards in storytelling and dialog and scene layout and foreshadowing is one thing. But I was also having a hard time being true to my setting. Although it’s fantasy, it’s based on an area around the Serengeti, and (mostly but with great liberties) Kenyan or Tanzanian people. The more I read up on the area and the customs the more I realized how little I know. And then I started watching Poldark which takes place in Cornwall in the 18th century and I started giving my characters English/Irish accents in my head and THAT was hard to overcome. I’ve never done a setting like this. It was hard. Why was it so hard?

And then I realized none of my other settings have been very true to themselves either. Most of Ignolopi is supposed to be Nordic, but I mostly just made it whatever impression I’d gotten of ‘you know, fantasy’ worlds. People ride around with swords, there are forests and rivers when there need to be forests and rivers, and the mountains are conveniently off to the side somewhere, and it probably is always summer/fall because they are never concerned about food or the weather, no one near the ocean talks about the sound of the ocean or fishing or winter storms, it never rains, they all wear the same clothing and we aren’t sure what that is, and the story is the important part not the economics or history or culture anyway, right?

So it wasn’t just that I was setting the story in a setting I was mostly unfamiliar with (although I’ve wanted to go to the Serengeti since I was little and heard my dad tell stories of when he went ‘on safari’ and that was so cool…), it was that I was thinking a lot more about ‘where’ and ‘how’ these people lived.

Doing any writing, but especially Nanowrimo, you don’t want to be caught up in Research. The most important thing IS the Story, and getting to the end. That said, I really enjoyed the research, and still have about 20 tabs open with Wikipedia and other articles I want to read. I found a scholarly journal with an article about bow-hunting in [the Masai maybe?] and I considered buying the PDF for $30 because I was curious. In the end I didn’t because I still have those 20 tabs open and I should probably content myself with surface research if I ever want to get anything done.

My next Audible—once I finish the next couple lined up about Europe in the revolutionary/industrial period—needs to be some part of African history though. Outside of Egypt, I haven’t studied it much (specifically; it comes up in a lot of other histories of course). The world is large and each small piece of it interesting.

Style

Lastly, being the other major factor in why this novel was so hard for me, I outlined it as a tragedy. It was very sad and people betrayed each other and it might even have ended with the death of all the main characters. Sniff. Shed a tear. But Bodad wasn’t supposed to be a tragedy, it was supposed to be a comedy. So I had to rethink my approach. And as I wrote these characters, the more their ‘betrayals’ were kinda lame, so some of that changed too. In the end, it’s… an adventure fantasy.

I’m still not sure I figured out the character of the Bodad himself. His name is Kyneun and he is a demi-god, and a half-cheetah (this kind of thing happens in the magic animal-filled histories of the world, don’t question it). I found myself wondering how he would act, when he was so different and so revered, but to himself, he’s just a 25-year-old man who wants to make a better world (and be loved~).

The story is told in a journal format, by Kyneun’s aide/scribe Opeki. I thought this was a good idea when I planned the book, but writing it, I found it very limiting. I like Opeki but there’s no way he can see everything that is happening, and no reason for him to write about it all either. One of the things it’s hard to get across is Kyneun’s character. So, on rewrite, Opeki’s journal will be the ‘source material’ but Dinian (the historian) is going to have to do some work and write this book like has all the others.

Another issue with journal format is that by its nature, it’s ‘tell’ not ‘show’. When you are writing down an account of what you did today, are you going to sum it up like “I snapped at everyone I met, and couldn’t even enjoy my supper.” or “I am annoyed at my friend.”—the second one, right? We think we are pretty good at identifying our emotions, although we’re not, there’s usually a lot more going on… that we aren’t going to talk about. So a realistic ‘journal’ is going to be, frankly, boring. (I haven’t read any ‘real’ journals though. I think Childhood of Famous Americans doesn’t count, somehow.)

And could you honestly recall an entire conversation and would you actually transcribe it? No!

One fun challenge was Opeki’s ‘voice’. When he speaks, he’s goofy and informal. When he is writing, he adds flourish and can get long-winded. Naturally, you get more of his writing, but it’s in the dialog he comes alive. I had no real interest in Opeki when I started but I’m happy to say that, by the end, after telling his story, and admonishing him for his decisions (or lamenting his tragic fate) during my walks around the neighborhood, I quite like him and will be sure to defend his position as protagonist in the rewrite. Ah, Opeki.

In conclusion

It’s always fun to rise to a challenge, but in a couple of months I would like to write something ‘easy’, a fluff piece that flows from my fingertips and makes me laugh and is probably not worth a penny except to me. That may make me feel better about how hard this Nanowrimo was for me despite being my thirteenth!

Also, I prefer getting the first 20,000 words done in the first week, because it takes that long to really get into the story. My method this year was frustrating. And by’ method’ I mean procrastination and not writing during the week at all.

Not that anyone will really read this blog post, but if you did, thanks for listening to my rambling 🙂


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