Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The end of November came...

I managed a pretty respectable 30,069 words, I believe, during the month of November. I didn't make the 50,000 target, and for that I feel a shade of disappointment, though it is only a shade - I said at the outset that I would be happy with 10,000. I managed triple that! Plus, it's 30k words that I didn't have back in October. I'm proud of what I achieved, and that the writing in my first draft thus far doesn't entirely stink.

I think it's important also that I reflect on what I learned during the process:

Be realistic
For the first couple of weeks, I wrote like a man obsessed and managed to keep slightly ahead of my targets. Things then arose in my personal life that bumped writing way down the list of priorities, and I initially felt a bit of resentment for a couple of days. I got over it, and accepted that I wouldn't hit the 50k; that it was unrealistic and unfair for me to still try and aim so high. I lowered my target to 33.3k (two-thirds), and then to 30k. I write because I have a need, a craving, to express creatively. I shouldn't try and force that against all odds - it's enough that I am writing.

Planner, not pantser
The double-whammy. I had spent months planning the first six chapters of my WIP, and had outlined each scene of every chapter in detail. I whizzed through writing those. I could easily write 3,500 words in the few hours I had spare each day. However, I only had a rough outline for what sort of events needed to happen in the second quarter of the book (and even rougher for the third, and very little for the ending). I tried to plunge on with writing chapters 7 through 11 regardless and got nowhere fast. I was down to maybe 350 a day, and it was like writing through treacle.

Outlining looks to be essential to me. It still leaves me, in fact it gives me, the freedom to pants it. I need to have that framework - only then do the characters take control and lead me along the way forward.

Violence is not for me
I have one scene at the end of the first quarter where one character dies in quite a brutal fashion. I found that really weird to write - easy, in that the words flowed, but it felt utterly horrible. I was quite discomforted by it; in the end, once it was done, I had to just walk away. That style of writing is not for me!

I found a lot of support online - the NaNo community is great, and I stumbled upon quite a few people, particularly on Twitter, that I will be keeping in touch with in future. I am drawn to positive people, and there are so many out there, blogging and tweeting... It's great. Day-to-day life is full of negative nellies, and if I am to embark on a writing adventure then I want to have some constructive shipmates sailing with me.

Monday, 21 November 2011

A post-apocalyptic future?

My work in progress is set in a kind of post apocalyptic future where human society has been decimated by a multi-pronged set of disasters. I picture this as really setting things back quite a way to a mixture of a kind of medieval way of life, or perhaps a more nomadic existence.

There are lots of unanswered questions for me though. Let's say we go 80 years after this collapse. What are people wearing? What has survived (in terms of buildings and particularly materials)? What do people remember of the distant past?

I have so many questions like these. I need to find the answers!

Ideas, Six Sentences and NaNoWriMo

I'm hoping that I can avoid just using this blog as some sort of horrible progress report (not great, for what it's worth - barely 28,000 words, but I'll come to that). I'm new to the whole Twitter thing, but I've seen a couple of things that have really caught my eye on there, things that I like the idea of doing on here.

The first was Flash Fiction Fridays. I thought I may put up short stories on here on an irregular basis. Maybe some will be new, may be some will be scenes from my work in progress that stand well on their own and that I like (or think merit feedback!). So... I may well have a go at that, soon.

The other was Six Sentence Sunday. This one is pretty self-explanatory, and it just so happens that I've picked out six sentences from my (unedited) work in progress that stand nicely on their own. Our protagonist, Erin, is returning home from her adventures in the wild, and this is the reader's first view of her home town.

The town blended almost perfectly in to its surroundings. Nature had largely reclaimed the valley that had once been a huge sheep farm, nestled amongst the mountains. Trees had sprouted everywhere, with reclaimed clearances spotted here and there for arable and livestock farming. A small, shallow river made its way lazily from its source up in the mountains down through the town, and out through the one narrow mountain pass to the south, the runnelled wagon track running along side it. A small cluster of stone buildings, once the centre of the old farm, now marked the Town Hall and the centre of Redemption. Spread through the woods were newer timber-framed and log houses, all built out of wood and whatever other materials could be harvested or reclaimed from the nearby desolation.

Thought? Yes, I know it's Monday. We'll get over that one together. And I'm desperately bad at names. Desperately. I've taken to using an online list of all the placenames in Britain now to find names that don't sound as terrible as what I've been coming up with when left unsupervised in charge of my own imagination.

As for NaNoWriMo... as eluded to above, it's not going too well! I managed to power through the first six well-outlined chapters, but as soon as I reached the unplanned chapter seven, I ground to a stuttering halt. It's like writing through treacle, if that makes any sense. I've written maybe 1500 words in the last five days, which is less than I should be doing in a single day. I should be hitting 35,000 words today, so I'm just under 7,000 behind. I can do 3,500 comfortably on a good day with a fair wind and a full outline, so it's not impossible for me to turn it around. Three or four good days in a row and I will be back on track...

The question is, as I've posted elsewhere on Laura Lam's blog, I'm not willing to write garbage just to hit some magic number. My writing has a hell of a lot of room for improvement, but I'm really happy with the story I'm forming. Do I write 22,000 rushed words, just for my ego, or do I sit back and start revising what I've done, and start really learning my craft now instead? The latter seems far more logical, to be honest.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Pantsing vs Planning

I have probably already mentioned that this is not my first recent attempt at novel writing. I've always been one to dive in and give things my fullest attention, and so it was only natural that I would be, in writing terms, a pantser.

On those previous sojourns in to writing, I would come up with a good opening and start hammering at the keyboard. Words would fly past, and I would get 700 words down with barely a thought. Then I would block up completely - and that would be that. I tried writing some short fiction to get round that problem, but the stories weren't the one I am supposed to tell (yet, at least).

It turns out that, in writing, I am a planner. I need a good outline if I am to get a good day's writing done - and it gives me the overall direction I need in order to keep going. You can find a lot of good outlining advice with a simple google search - the sites I looked at came up on the first page of results. When I'm at a PC I'll try to add some links for attribution.

What I did was break my story up in to four 'acts'. The idea is that each of the first three acts ends with some disaster, with each worse than the last. I then roughly fitted the rise and fall of my characters around that framework.

It was then a case of figuring out how those features fitted around the story I want to tell. That quickly gave me six chapters for the first act, and a good overview for the second and third acts. I only have a general idea of my ending.

Knowing broadly how the first six chapters go let me get, and keep on, cracking. The characters then decided to change (and improve) the structure. Where I hadn't known whether a particular event would occur at the end of act 1 or the start of act 2... Well, I got told!

I also found that some characters decided they wanted to be more central than I had planned. They weren't happy being bit part players. This has grown the complexity of my novel, and added in subplots aplenty, which is something is struggled to fit in to the outline.

In the end, outlining has given me the freedom to be pants it. By having that framework, the story has held my hand through the writing process. I'm on target to 'win' NaNoWriMo on time, and the full first draft should end up at around 80-100,000 words.

Then I just have to revise, rewrite and revise again... I'm learning my craft as I go.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Day 7 Blues

I'm still going on my NaNoWriMo project, and have hit 12,500 words. Yesterday was tough. I've had to write past general lethargy, and the feeling that none of my characters are doing much interest, that maybe its all a big mechanical... Lots of exploring and waiting and tension. Clearly the revision month, NaNoRevMo, will be just as tough as this month!

I was lucky enough to be getting some stitches out today. I say lucky - it meant two extra commutes and a lengthy stay in a waiting room, which gave me a chance to get about 2500 words down. Mainly of my characters waiting and exploring. Hey, I'm world and tension building...

Someone I'm following on Twitter just posted her NaNoWriMo opening on her blog, here: http://www.lauralam.co.uk/
Go read it - it's great, I think!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Brain freeze

Writing has been going pretty well so far - I've written a little over 4,000 words in 2 days, so in NaNoWriMo terms I'm ahead of the game. I'd like to have gotten a lot more down today, but I've been really busy again. I had a minor op to remove a lipoma yesterday, and then a freezer to defrost today.

Two things have struck today though, that are worthy of note. I'll comment on the second one first: somewhere amidst the freezer-defrosting, my brain has also frozen. I think it might have transferred to me during the carrying of mini-icebergs from freezer to sink. I'd taken today off to really crack on with the novel, but it's just not happening this afternoon. Ugg.

The first thing, that I will come to second, is voice. I really worried in advance about finding my voice. I've been looking for my writing voice for such a long time, and I've never felt that I have found it. On the way in to town this morning I was tapping away on the bus, and I realised I'd written about 350 words in under 15 minutes. More to the point, it felt natural and normal.

I may have found my voice after all. Now to wear it out!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

An opening

November 1st has arrived, and I'm finally underway. Eek! This is completely unedited, but hopefully gives an idea of what is coming. I'd love any feedback anyone has to offer!

Crouched in her woody hiding place, Erin brushed some stray lilac hair behind one ear. The tree felt rough, solid beneath her hand as she gazed intently at the open space before her.

The dark green gorse and leylandii were well established here, their roots long since having cracked open the brittle tarmac and concrete; a harsh reality being replaced by a nature no more vivid. Erin was grateful for the soft breeze that caused the vegetation to sway softly, also keeping her cool as she sheltered from the overbearing sun. After an hour crouched under the tree canopy, this was still the only movement she had seen; the abandoned facility seemed empty.

Finally swatting away the flies buzzing around her, Erin wiped the sweat from her brow and stood slowly, creeping down the bank and emerging into the heat, all the while looking around for movement. Silence pressed in on her, almost making her hunch; the soft wind and the thumping of her own heartbeat filled her ears.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The story...

Apologies for posting twice in a day - I don't really like blogs that do loads of posts, and I certainly don't intend to follow that path myself. I did think it valuable that I outline what my story is going to be about, for my sanity if nothing else.

I always envisaged myself writing fantasy, lots of elves and so forth. I've spent 20 years looking for my story. When inspiration finally arrived, it took me by surprise - it involved elements of science fiction, which I don't even read! Initially, it was going to be about two worlds - one the traditional medieval fantasy fare, and one set in a post-apocalyptic future - that have been linked by a wormhole through space-time when some future researcher dabbles with something she doesn't really understand. The twist was to be whether or not the two worlds were indeed the same.

Now I've written that, it still sounds kinda cool to me. Anyway, most of the story was set in the olde worlde, but my thoughts were constantly dragged into the future. I was getting pretty hyped about the future world and all its characters and conflicts and felt nothing towards the old one. Maybe my wormhole idea was just a gimmick. I decided to ditch it, for now, and just pursue the part that was inspiring me.

Which leads me on to my short synopsis - the sort that can be shared with a friend in a lift before their eyes completely glaze over: "A young female scientist battles to uncover what caused the apocalypse, amidst a struggle to reestablish society."

It's ultimately a tale of greed and corruption. The setting is a world where the tabloid's dreams and science's nightmares have come true: runaway climate change, conflicts over water, food and other resources, mass overpopulation, pollution; if it can go wrong, it will have in my world, leading to a mass extinction. That sounds bleaker than I intend; some time after all of this calamity, society is being rebuilt in small pockets.

One such pocket is my town. It doesn't have a name, yet, but it's on a hill, surrounded by fields. Beyond the fields is the ring of mountains which protected this little enclave from the worst. I've always been inspired by this painting, The Bard by John Martin. My mountains will I guess probably be a little like that. The town is governed by an evangelical and unpopular protector, Joshua, who is doing his best to protect his people at the cost of certain freedoms.

Beyond the mountains are the plains that once hosted vast farms. In a desperate move to cope with the overpopulation and food crises, mass land clearances had taken place, with cities restructured in to tiny islands of densely packed skyscrapers - the inspiration here is Kowloon Walled City. It is amongst these desolate plains and ruined cities that intrepid researchers like Tom and Erin, my main character, now travel, as they seek to understand what caused the apocalypse, and to determine what threats lie ahead in the future.

The story is what Margaret Atwood would call 'Speculative Fiction'; as a scientist myself, it's important to have a strong basis in the art of the possible. Like Atwood though, it's possible to be wildly creative (I hope - eek!) once you've set the rules...

I dare to dream too!

So. I'm writing a novel. I said it, it's true and now people might know.

I say I'm writing a novel - actually, I'm starting next week. At the moment I'm in the final stages of planning, which mainly appears to have involved very vague plans for 3 main characters and their adventures over the course of the first three-quarters of my story. I've got a good outline for the first few chapters. I've been working on the story in my head for a good few months now, but my evil internal editor has put the brakes on my first couple of attempts at Actual Writing.

The first couple of times I started, I did so without any outlining or planning - I had an idea for a strong opening and I went with it. After 700 words, I would think "Right, that's gone better than I expected... what now?". And my mind was blank. Now I have no excuses...

But why now? November is National Novel Writing Month - NaNoWriMo. If you're reading this, you probably already know that - but on the off-chance that you don't, it's a 'competition' (against yourself), whereby people try to write novels of at least 50,000 words in the month of November; some people somehow manage to write more than one - eek! It's a big challenge, and I don't know if I will 'win'. I expect that I probably won't, and that's important - the key thing for me is to get in to the habit of writing, and to try to do something every day. I don't necessarily believe than NaNoWriMo is the path to good writing, but... It'd be great if I wrote 50,ooo words; it'd be awesome if I wrote 10,000, too though.

Something is better than nothing. Something is chasing a dream, a start, and maybe by the end something to be proud of.