Sunday, 7 December 2008

Mother? Is That You?

Hi Internets, how's it going?

Well NaNoWriMo is over, sleep is once again plentiful and my co-workers have stopped backing away from me and muttering cryptic things about crazy eyes.

I won't lie to you Internets, I didn't make it this year.

My word count topped out at 21 099 but I'm not disappointed, I learned a lot getting that far.

Last year's plot was a very by-the-seat-of-the-pants plan-as-you-go affair so as long as I could keep thinking of one more thing for my characters to do each day, I could keep them moving forwards and I ended up with the 50 000+ word count and a passable story.

This year I decided to try come up with a storyline to follow, got a little bit ambitious and the learning began.

Lesson the First: A Plan Is A Beautiful Thing (or If You Are Going To Base Your Story Within A Complex And Esoteric System Or World Of Any Kind, You Should Probably Have An Idea Of How The Whole Thing Works)

I started off with an idea of how I wanted things to run and was pootling along but every few pages I would have to stop and have a huge brainstorming session as the plot turned out to be very very heavily intertwined with how my exciting and strange situation actually worked. I couldn't just mock it up and keep going because the 'reality' of the situation was intrinsic to what was going on. It would have been like a murder mystery where none of the clues fit together and when you re-read it you realised that there must be more than one killer but no one actually died and also the characters had all swapped names midway. And the continuity was shot to hell.

Lesson the Second: Priorities Are Not Just For Self-Help Junkies (or If You Have Suddenly Realised That You Have This Situation On Your Hands You Should Stop, Sacrifice A Day To Putting Together A Framework And Go On From There)

I was so caught up in the 'must achieve word count' rush that I figured I could just nut it out as I went along. I was able to refine it slowly, with much revisioning as I worked out the bits that didn't work or didn't make sense once they'd been fleshed out, but what with the refining and the slow going without a clear picture of where I was going it was more difficult to tap into those type-til-your-eyeballs-feel-like-overfried-eggs bouts which are so helpful during NaNo. If I'd sacrificed a day or even two I might have had a clearer run at it. Maybe not, but I might give it a try next time and see how it pans out.

Lesson the Third: Your Characters Are On To You (or If You Don't Know What You're Doing Your Characters Will Get Short-Tempered)

Along with my having a crack at having a real plot, I had a bit more of a go at building characters and trying to have more complete back stories and characteristics that came through slowly in a structured fashion. It's hard. I've heard some writers say that it can be easier to get the bare bones of the story down and then go back and insert and flesh out different characteristics or plot points or backtrack to plant the red herrings and I definitely think that is the way to go after trying to get it all down from the start. Especially as for me I was still meeting my characters as each sentence wandered onto the screen. My characters got a bit tetchy at the underwhelming pace things seemed to be moving at, this created some useful and interesting tension that I'm planning to keep in, I like them when they're all cranked up.

There were a lot of other lessons to do with the juggling of work and sleep and writing and remembering to eat but those are just the lessons I've been told you learn every year doing NaNo. Like getting all nostalgic about going camping until you're out bush again and being handed the toilet diggin' shovel and slapping at the mosquitoes swarming your face and then you remember last time... And yet it's still fun.

I have ended up with page upon page of 'world-building' notes and even though I am exhaustipated I'm actually excited to continue with this one beyond NaNo.
I want to finish telling this story and find out what happens. And I could certainly use the practice.

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