Posted November 27, 2010 in Writing
The tail end of NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, and it’s a miracle that I’m not more than a day’s hard labor behind. I’m excellent at filling up a word count quota on short notice. I am the champion of wandering around someone’s thoughts, and ending up with them taking a step forward a thousand words later. They’re tricks of the trade, after all, if you want your story to survive NaNoWriMo and still come out reasonably close to what you want it to be.
I’m writing a sequel this year to the novel I “finished” last year. In reality, I want to squish them together. Maybe market them as a magna-book if it ever comes to that. I was pretty sure that I ran completely out of novel ideas and plot lines last year or in the six years preceding last year, but I forgot how intricate I made this plot. I’m lucky, I guess. Spoiled for lack of a better word. I know, to some extent, exactly what’s going to happen in the next ten, twelve chapters. Okay, exactly isn’t exactly right. I work off of a very rough outline that says Mr. Slugbuddy goes for a swim or Grover Cleveland opens an elk preserve (maybe he feels triumphant!). It’s simplistic to the point of uselessness sometimes, but it helps when you’ve had this damned story in your head for years. It makes the pressure of finding something meaningful to spend words on so much lighter.
NaNo’s not hard for me because of the time and productivity constraints (I usually work best from about 10:30 to midnight, unless I’m tired—which is usually true). It’s hard because I’m a perfectionist, and I can’t write without flow. Sometimes, my paragraphs come to a jarring halt and everything stops until I can figure out why the previous sentence sounds so crappy. Everything hinges on everything before it, at least in my mind. Which is why I favor thought over actions. Thoughts are seamless; actions interrupt. My novel is probably 95% thought processes, 4% people whining, and 1% someone getting off their ass to go stick a sword in some other guy. But boy, the buildup to that 1%? Priceless. Maybe you could say I work the suspense angle. On second thought, maybe not.
I’m three days away from freedom and jubilation and going to bed accomplished. My last hurrah before finals, which will undoubtedly kick my ass. Oh well. I’ll take what I can get. Part II, here I come!
I have just under a month before I start working, and I just realized that this is basically the way I’ve treated the entire last month or so of school, if not all of April and May combined. Aside from waking up and going to class, turning in papers and assignments, taking notes, cramming lunch breaks into ten-minute binges of pizza and juice, scheduling naps whenever and wherever there’s a free hour/fifteen minutes, and using Hulu as a way to keep myself from doing anything at all until after 11 PM — you know, all that college stuff — I’ve pretty much done exactly what I would be doing in Austin right now at home. Nothing. I have a month off, and my only accomplishment for the five or so days I’ve been home is I’ve killed a mountain of roaches, and I’ve moved a bottle of Goldbond lotion to my nightstand so I can slather all of the mosquito bites I got … yesterday, while watching old Scrubs and Doctor Who episodes on my DVR.
If this is the good life, I sort of want my old busy life back. With deadlines and responsibilities. I did say “sort of.” Everyone needs a break. I just find huge gaps of free time just a little more suffocating than actually sitting down and getting something done.
There is one encroaching deadline: Remember how I said I would get my novel done by June 30th? It was a pipe dream to begin with. My new goal is less impressive. I have to finish the first book (another 2,000 words or so) in the next few days so I can print everything I have so far, edit it extensively with a red pen (this is the fun part), and submit it by June 2nd for my free proof copy. I did my math wrong, it turns out.
I’m a little bummed for two reasons. First, I wish I had more of my book done. If I just worked at it a little harder, I think I might have at least been able to make some headway. But I know that I don’t have that sort of discipline unless I’m actually setting goals for myself. “Finish the book” is vague and unhelpful. “Write 2,000 words,” on the other hand, is something I can deal with.
Secondly, little did I know that “free proof copy,” doesn’t mean that you’ll get a manuscript copy of your book. You get an actual book. This is driving my life-long perfectionist streak up the wall, because I just know something’s going to go badly. Maybe it won’t matter because I’ll be holding the first part of my book in my hands. But there’s always the chance that I’ll open to one of the biggest scenes in the first part, and go, “Oh god, that was supposed to be an apostrophe.” And my world will just crumble around my feet.
Thank goodness no one but me has to read this yet. I just might die of shame.
I’m going to apologize in advance to anyone who ever has to read my novel later, but I wanted to try something out. Most of my novel is written in past tense, with snippets in present tense where memories are concerned or flashbacks or dreams to make the past tense seem more vivid and fluid. But I threw in a whole chapter — a prologue really — written in present tense. And I love it. But it’s set about thirty years before the start of the novel. What this amounts to is that the present is written in past tense and the past is written in present tense. I thought that was clever. In hindsight. Really, I just wanted to mess around with a scene in my head, and the best way for it to come together was just as it did.
A lot of this is due to my chronology. I really set myself up for confusion by starting one of my prologues (there are three because I am ridiculous) twenty years before the first chapter, and tacking on each consecutive prologue before the first. So, I suppose, instead of covering eighty years in thirty chapters, I’m covering about ten years in twenty seven chapters, and the relevant bits of the past in three prologues (spread out over three books). In terms of skimming the story down to the immediate action, that is very nearly the best I can do.
I really like present tense, but I feel like it’s easy to abuse. I use it sparingly, because if I didn’t have any reserve with it, I would keep writing chapters in present tense and lose track of my plot entirely. In this particular section, I thought I’d use it to give one of my characters a memory from her own point of view — you don’t really get to see a lot of her in her own mind, or with her family. Here’s a snippet:
They stand before her like other men — not her boys, not the babes she taught to read, to walk, to sing. Fera — Feruq, after his grandfather — is taller, but Ithas is built stronger. Morica laughs with them, straightens their tunics. Even at fourteen, she stands tall enough to meet her brothers’ eyes, and Rema, outside this triangle of her children, sighs in contentment. She has them now, all three of them. But today, the war begins, and nothing will be the same after this. So she treasures this, and does not close her eyes. Still, somehow, she misses them, and when the boys turn to go, she realizes that she has not said a word to them at all. It is almost too late now. The horses are clattering their way down the hill into the valley. But she cries out above the wind, above the clamor of her cowardice, and they return: her boys, always her boys. There are too many words to say, too many fears that she will not name. Ithas will return and take his father’s title. Fera will become a statesman, a Paladin perhaps, for all roads are open to him. Morica, she will have into her old age, a little longer than the boys, reckless as they are, trying to sieve glory out of a war that has not yet begun. Not yet.
I haven’t quite finished this chapter, so I don’t know what the last third will hold. Something about war and intrigue and such — nothing huge. I’ll keep you posted!