inasmuch as it concerns Musespotting:
Scrambling after Mnemosyne's daughters as they leave their grafitti all over my works in process.
in which a tedious writing exercise becomes inconveniently interesting
- 1,136 wds. long
The long blog silence is testimony to the truth of the adage "After derby is too late." Not a universal adage, admittedly, but a fairly reliable one in my little universe. So today I'm blogging before derby. Just before. Instantaneously before. I'm in fact sitting at the folding table in the Officials' Corner at our practice location, and I have until they arrive and need to actually use this table to get this blog post done. Go me!
(I think I will be able to manage posting it after derby. There is no wifi at our practice location unless I beg use of someone's smartphone uplink. And smartphones notoriously fail to get signal in our practice location.)
I found a little time earlier this week to play around with interactive fiction. In Melissa Ford's book Writing Interactive Fiction, I had just got to the Designing Agency section--it's pretty early on in the book, I'm not moving through it particularly quickly--and worked through the Beanstalk exercise. The exercise has, to my thinking, two purposes: It gives you more practice using Twine to give the reader/protagonist choices, and it focuses your attention on whether those choices are meaningful. If they aren't, the interactive fiction isn't.
The exercise was to write a sort of Jack and the Beanstalk... sequel? Alternate plot? Basically, the giant is threatening to come down the beanstalk and STEAL YOUR SISTER. Oh noes! The first scene must end with two options, and each of two ensuing scenes must end with two options, which means there will be four possible endings.
I was not enthusiastic about this.
(Oh, crap, it's 6:30 already. I have to go put my skates on. I will finish this after derby! I will!)
(And now it is 10:00 PM. I'm a little more bruised and a lot more tired than I was when I left off. Now... where did I leave off? Oh. Right.)
I was not enthusiastic about this. I had absolutely no desire to rewrite Jack and the Beanstalk, much less in four permutations. But that was my assignment, so, darn it, I was doing it.
Forty-five minutes and 1,500 words later, I had done it and it wasn't so bad. Having no love for damsel in distress storylines, I had worked every branch toward the revelation that Jack's little sister had become a soldier competent to lead an army. The reader's choices would determine where she and Jack stood as siblings. In one, they were teammates working together to defeat the giant. In another, they were enemies, traitor and betrayed, and Jack wound up exiled for his sins.
It was all very silly, but it still managed to capture my interest by the end of it. That night, on my way to sleep, I couldn't stop thinking about ways to expand the story into something actually worth reading. I could foreshadow the little sister's development into a warrior princess, for instance. I could tell how she'd practiced swordfighting and climbed every tree in sight so she could grow up as fierce and strong and brave as her adored big brother. I could note the foolishness of Jack treating the giant like a personal problem when in fact his little farm was part of a great big nation which the giant might rightfully be seen as invading. And what about the harp? Did she resent Jack for having stolen her during his earlier foray? Did she miss living up in the clouds? Was she the medium by which the giant delivered his threat?
And so on, and so forth. And what's ridiculous about it is, it's probably not going to be commercially viable no matter how well I revise and expand it. The entire premise is from an exercise in a well-known (I think?) book on the subject, which other aspiring interactive fiction authors have no doubt already worked through themselves, and there aren't that many markets for interactive fiction at this time. So I really shouldn't let myself obsess over it, at least not until I've got a bunch of other projects out of my hair. Like, say, the short-short I want to expand into an interactive piece that actually is commercially viable. Hey, brain, maybe we should obsess on that story, and not on this one, what do you say?
Darn it, Muse! You are so inconvenient!
Lastly, some quick fictionette news: The freebie for August 2017 has been released. It's "Tina, Destroyer of Worlds," and you can now read/download it as an ebook, an audiobook, or as a webpage via Patreon regardless of your patron status. Also I finally put the Fictionette Artifacts for April in the mail. I hope not to take so long with the ones for May. If I take a whole month to do each one, I'll always be three months behind, and that would be depressing.
kind of like the way pain just means you're alive
- 1,200 wds. long
I've been thinking about interactive fiction. Specifically, I've been thinking about a particular short-short of mine, "Keeping Time," and how I might expand it into an interactive piece. I've actually been thinking about this for a couple years now, but it can take me a while to find myself a chunk of time in which I can do more than think about it. You know how Violet "invents" extra time for herself and her siblings to solve a mystery in The Wide Window by Lemony Snickett? I had to invent extra time for myself. Mostly by getting up earlier and figuring out how better to adhere to a daily writing schedule. So far so good. Deliberate invocation of allergic reactions was not involved.
And but so anyway: Interactive fiction, Twine, and me. Twine! "Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories." I'm learning how to use it. I'm going about this the same way I went about learning PHP: By working my way, page by page, through a book about it. This book here: Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine, by Melissa Ford. Her book may or may not align with the kind of interactive story I want to tell, but it looks like it'll make me a competent Twine user, so.
"Keeping Time" is a very short story, originally under 700 words and later expanded to about 1200, about a character who flees Earth and travels via dimensional portal to other worlds, hanging on tight--despite radically changing environments and perspectives--to their identity and humanity for as long as they possibly can. In its current form, it has five scenes that act as a sort of montage portraying the journey and the changes the character undergoes along the way. As a piece of interactive fiction, I want it to have more scenes--that's a no-brainer--but not necessarily more endings. I want it to be a sort of many-roads-lead-up-the-mountain thing. The ending is sort of inevitable, to my mind, but how one gets there, and how many different worlds one experiences on the way there, and how those influence the remainder of the journey by changing the character either according to or against their will--that's where the choice and variety comes in.
So, less of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and more of a roller coaster ride with decision points. You get on and off the ride at fixed places, but the shape of the ride from one to the other is up to you.
(Actually I have just thought of an alternate ending. But I'm not going to go into that just now because spoilers.)
You may or may not have seen my old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story Engine? One of my earliest HTML/PHP projects. It's over here, and you can play with it, but be warned it is probably overrun with spam and awfulness right now because I've been an absent moderator lately. (Note to self: get on that.) Anyway, it's an editor and repository of very simple interactive fiction. The first page ends in a choice. Each choice leads to a new page. Each new page ends in a choice or possibly THE END. Anyone can add onto what went before, so it's interactive and potentially collaborative.
That is not what I want to do with "Keeping Time." I want to do something more like what Michael Lutz does with "my father's long, long legs." And I don't just mean the difference in formatting--the difference between interspersing blocks of story with "What do you do next?" on the one hand, and, on the other, presenting choices as hyperlinks from within the story proper. I mean, the variety of ways the choices are used. What the choices are for. Sometimes, the hyperlinks simply advance the reader to the next part of the story--a way to turn the page. Sometimes they act as footnotes--an invitation to examine the hyperlinked concept in more detail. Sometimes they're decision points which will change the story, or your path through the story, irrevocably. Sometimes they're more like scenic bypasses, or branching, braided streams that take a detour around farms and fields before rejoining the main river. There's a lot of complexity there, many different ways of shaping reader experience. Or, rather, many different experiences to let the reader choose.
Also it never stops being a story. Interactive fiction straddles the line between "story" and "game," with some examples falling more to one side than the other. The exact placement of that line, and what falls on which side of it, is subjective. I want to create something that's still very much a story, not a game--at least according to my version of that line.
On another note: The more I think about this story, the more ideas I get, the more ambitious the whole project becomes... and the more terrified I get of taking it on.
This is worth noting: When I become afraid of a (writing) project, that's generally a sign that the project is worth doing.
Can I please progress to the point where fear turns into excitement and I stop eating my own stomach lining? Please? I would like to get to that point tomorrow. It would make my writing life a more comfortable place. And I would like it to be a comfortable place, seeing as how I intend to spend a lot of time there.
what you can never have too much of
Greetings from the tail end of a very satisfying Monday. It was a day made up of writing and household work and quality video game time. And this despite a kind of rough-start morning. If all days could be like to day, I could get a huge lot of stuff done indeed.
Speaking of getting a huge lot of stuff done, check out an online acquaintance of mine, Cora Buhlert. For the third year in a row, Cora wrote one short story a day every day for the entire month of July, plus a bonus story this year. I am in awe, inspired, and just a little jealous. If I could finish one short story a week I'd be well pleased. (One submittable short story. Friday Fictionettes don't count. Although finishing one of those a week isn't exactly nothing, credit where credit's due.)
Underlying the challenge of writing a short story every day is another challenge, that of coming up with a viable story idea every day. (That's something I've got at least a slight handle on, what with my daily freewriting-from-prompts session.) Cora addresses that hurdle here:
So let’s talk about inspiration: Where on Earth do you get inspiration for 32 stories, one for every single day? As in previous years, I used writing prompts (Chuck Wendig’s are always good), random generators (particularly name generators are a godsend, because you’ll have to come up with a lot of names for 32 stories) and images – mainly SFF concept art, but also vintage magazine covers – to spark story ideas. By now I have a whole folder on my harddrive which contains inspirational images – basically my own catalogue of concept art writing prompts. Other sources for inspiration were a call for submissions for a themed anthology, a Pet Shop Boys song I heard on the radio, 1980s cartoons that were basically glorified toy commercials, an article about dead and deserted shopping malls in the US, a news report about a new system to prevent the theft of cargo from truckbeds, a trailer for a (pretty crappy by the looks of it) horror film, the abominably bad Latin used during a satanic ritual in an episode of a TV crime drama, a short mystery where I found the killer (the least likely person, of course) a lot more interesting than the investigation.
Ideas are where you find them. Rather, ideas are where you recognize them.
My own writing prompt routine had been growing stale and needed shaking up, so I was happy Cora's blog post lingered a little over the question of inspiration. She mentions Chuck Wendig's blog--in specific, I believe she's referring to his weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. He challenges his readers to write a new short story each week (hey!) based on Monday's prompt and to share the results via a link posted to the blog comments by that Friday at noon.
While I won't be participating in the show-and-tell portion of the game, I have begun using his prompts for my Monday freewriting. Incidentally, what came out of last week's "slasher movie edition" will show up as the first Fictionette in September.
And I'm coming back to my old beginning-middle-end standard. That is, instead of just babbling around the prompt for 25 minutes, I want to wind up with a piece of writing that, however rough, has an identifiable story shape: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I used to do that in college every morning before my 8:00 class--I used to get up at 6:00 in those days--but instead of a timer I used the length of a printed page as my endpoint. This obliged me to a quick revision stage, on top of everything else, in order to get the word count just right. If I started doing that again--the beginning-middle-end thing, not so much the length-of-a-formatted-chapbook-page thing--I think it would naturally lead to my completing and submitting new stories more frequently.
Bonus: Via this week's Flash Fiction Challenge, here's the Magic Realism Bot! It is a Twitter bot. Several times a day, it tweets writing prompts with that special magic realism sensibility. The one I chose for this morning's freewriting session was this:
A 15-year-old pianist has an unusual ability: He can sense the presence of deserts.— Magic Realism Bot (@MagicRealismBot) August 7, 2017
I wound up with a world in which climates and microclimates had begun to move around like sentient creatures, and our teenage piano prodigy was translating the movements of the desert that was coming to swallow his city whole into the movements of a sonata. At the end, his piano fills up with sand and begins to play a song that is truly strange.
It's got potential. In my head, where it sort of kind of already exists in a way that Schrodinger's cat would recognize, it has a bit of that melancholy "shimmery" feel. But first I have to write it.
So! Armed with all the inspiration, I go forth into the week. Huzzah.
can't TG when I isn't O
It's Thursday. Thursday is scrimmage day, both here with 10th Mountain and back home with Boulder County Bombers. (I hear tonight's BCB scrimmage was fantastic.) Unfortunately, a conflicting event scheduled in 10th Mtn's practice space obliged them to cancel tonight's scrimmage, so I never did get to try out the jerseys I made out of those plain white and black T-shirts I bought at Walmart the other day.
Actually, I only found time to finish one of them, and I'm still not sure it was a good idea. See, after I hacked off the sleeves and six inches of the shirt tail, I cut that material into long strips, about a quarter-inch wide, which I then crocheted into numbers which I sewed onto the back of the shirt. I'm a little concerned that the crocheted numbers are too thick and heavy to hang from such a lightweight material. They're also about a quarter inch thick, which could be a problem in terms of sticking out and catching people's fingers. I don't know. I'll try it out when I next need a numbered white jersey and see what happens.
It's possibly a good thing there wasn't scrimmage. My shoulder got tweaked a little last night, ice skating up at Beaver Creek Village. It wasn't a fall! It was one of those sharp backwards windmilling arm movements a body makes when trying to catch one's balance, even after roller derby has done its level best to train a body otherwise, and I guess I pulled something, 'cause it hurts. It feels better now than it did late last night, but it'll be even better after resting a few more days.
I went ice skating last night and paid full price because I knew with scrimmage tonight I wouldn't be able to go when it was free. Well, surprise! So once I heard scrimmage was canceled, I headed back up to BC Village again. Unfortunately, those rental skates are really unfriendly, and my feet were still annoyed at them. Most especially annoyed was my right upper ankle/lower outside shin, where the hard boot cuff had abraded a slice out of my skin last night which opened up again tonight. The boots also pinched my feet, as though the soles, rather than being sole-of-foot shaped, resembled valleys. And not wide, rolling valleys, but sharp, deep ones still being carved by a white-water creek. And the snow was piling up on the ice. I think that's why I skidded around worse tonight than last night. In any case, I managed just a few minutes of skating before giving up. Good thing it was free!
So in the end I walked across Avon and took the shuttle up from Elk Lot to BC Village... mostly just to have dinner at Blue Moose Pizza. So that was my Thursday night.
It's also December 1. December 1, in addition to just happening to be the day this year when the reindeer visit Avon Public Library (they are adorable and a good deal smaller than you might imagine), is the day after National Novel Writing Month ends. This is sometimes known as "Thank God It's Over" Day, when NaNoWriMo participants hold TGIO parties to celebrate achieving their goals and getting their lives back. But my novel, far from being over, has not even hit word 1. It's still deep in the planning stages. No, despite designating November as the start of my personal "novel-writing season," I quite definitely didn't do NaNoWriMo this year.
I feel a little guilty about this. I did it for so long, it became a tradition. But if everything I did for more than two years running became obligatory for the rest of my life, I'd have no room to try new things, or to just rest. Besides, after twelve years of done-and-won, and then a few years of "Am I doing it? I should be doing it. Except I don't seem to be doing it," I've come to the conclusion that I've learned what NaNoWriMo had to teach me, and it's OK to let it go. Maybe at a later date I'll return to it, but right now I have other things to learn.
(Like how to plan a novel. And then how to begin drafting it without blurting out all the juicy worldbuilding details in the very first scene.)
The other thing about NaNoWriMo is, it's social. It's joyfully social. It's an international communal challenge that brings all its participants together under a single banner and in pursuit of a single cause. And that is awesome, but it is, at this time, no longer for me. I seem to have reached a time in my life (and doesn't that make me sound old?) where my writing process has become intensely private. It wants a writing environment that's more or less under my control. Like, say, in a room in my house behind a closed door. I'll still write in coffee shops and libraries occasionally (and have done most days this week!), but my threshold for ambient intrusions has dropped sharply. And what with a decade of being a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison and organizing and attending NaNoWriMo write-ins, I've kind of burned out on having to be the Mean Lady who's constantly telling everyone else (including, memorably, my co-ML that final year) that this is a write-in and some of us are trying to write and could you please take your loud, animated conversation elsewhere. I'll happily do a write-in with a group of close friends who have all agreed what we're there for, but I'm kind of done, at least for now, with public write-in events a la NaNoWriMo.
In the meantime, I continue planning out the current novel. During tonight's session I managed to start moving out of backstory and worldbuilding and into plot. There are several catalyzing events that I know of, but I don't know what they consist of. For instance, I know Delta gets a phone call during her first date with Michael, but I don't know who's calling or what they have to say. I know that the talking cat has something to tell Delta, but I don't know what.
And so forth. I made a list of that sort of thing. Questions That Must Be Answered Before The Plot Can Move. And then filled in a little more backstory and worldbuilding, which led to at least an idea about who might be on the phone.
Argh. But I'm getting closer to being able to start writing actual scenes. When I do, in the spirit of NaNoWrimo, I plan to do it at a rate of at least 1666 words per day. Every month should have fifty thousand words in it. Or more. Because this is what I do.
the hot tub and red wine method of novel planning
- 1,328 wds. long
Tonight was another successful evening of novel planning. Yes, yesterday counted as successful--once I put away the laptop and got in the tub. This time I skipped the bit that didn't work and went straight to dunking myself in hot water AND I COUNTED THAT TIME TOWARD MY WRITING LOG AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME. Because it worked. There was about 20 minutes of soaking in the tub and talking to myself, and then there was about 20 minutes of non-stop feverish-paced typing to jot down what I came up with. We have a method, folks.
We may need a non-tub version, though, because once I get back to my own house, it might be prohibitively painful in the utilities bill. At the very least, I need a comfy place to lounge and complete solitude so no one will hear me talking to myself. But I'd prefer the wine and hot tub method any time I can get it.
Meanwhile, I got this book out the library, right, I got it yesterday, but this evening it TALKED to me about THE VERY THINGS I'D BLOGGED ABOUT YESTERDAY. Like the author knew. It's The Writer's Idea Book, which isn't entirely my cup of tea as it turns out--the author's sense of humor comes across to me as LOOK AT ME I MADE A JOKE, he has a tendency to make unmerited universal pronouncements ("Who, for heaven's sake, doesn't like Popeye?" Me, for one, but thanks for telling me how absurd and freakish you think that is) and the "prompts" are more like the Tasks in The Artist's Way than they are viable jumping-off points for my daily freewriting--but which is nevertheless full of unexpected gems here and there. Like...
...under the spell of The Author, that part of ourselves that sees every moment of writing as important and valid only if it leads to publication.
(Emphasis mine.) Which seems to speak directly to my insecurity yesterday that the time spent novel-planning was such a waste of time compared to, say, revising a story that's nearly ready to submit, or going back to consider an existing novel draft that's much closer to completion than this thing that still only lives in my mind. I'll also admit to chafing at my Morning Pages or daily freewriting sometimes for the same reason: THIS isn't publishable writing, why am I wasting part of my precious day on this? Despite knowing that they are both valuable exercises from both a craft and self-care standpoint.
And then there's the frustration that came from sitting down at the laptop to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, only to find that I couldn't make the missing knowledge appear just because my hands were on the keyboard.
Ideas don't respond to the force of our wills--damn them. We can't make them appear. That's why when we're feeling blocked it does little good to try to pound our way through. It won't work. We'll grow even more frustrated....
Getting ideas requires allowing our minds to yield....
YES. Or, in other words, relax and let them come. Let yourself off the hook. Don't try (so hard!) to figure out the novel. Get in the goddamn tub, drink your wine, and daydream about the novel.
Incidentally, another activity that has produced significant insight into this novel is thinking about it while falling asleep. Not coincidentally, my dreams have also played a part.
Anyway. During my successful novel-planning session tonight, what did I come up with? All the details about Delta's daughter and the broken contract that obliged her, Delta, to give up her name. Also an extra tidbit, related to that, which makes the tragedy in Michael's backstory not just a maudlin trope but PLOT-NECESSARY. Yay. I was worried about that.
And that's all I'm going to say. This novel is now far enough along that I can't keep blogging everything anymore because that would be spoilers. And that's kind of exciting!
The closer we get to the point where it's time to start writing actual manuscript, the more scared I get. Can I do it? Can I actually convert this novel in my head into a novel on the page? Emotionally, I'm all nooooo it's not possible I'll BREAK it I suck forever. But logically, I remember that I've been doing exactly this in short-short form almost every week for two years now. This is exactly what I'm supposed to be getting out of Friday Fictionettes: practice in, and confidence in, turning ideas in my brain into stories on the page.
Speaking of Fictionettes, I have released the Fictionette Freebie for November 2016. It's "The Witch on the Corner." Link goes to the HTML version, which now includes the first text. At the bottom of the page are links to the ebook and audiobook versions, or you can just click the links right here. Free for all! Enjoy! See what you think!
no no really this is part of the writing process
I've never planned a novel out the way I'm trying to plan this one. But then, I've never actually finished a novel at all, so it was probably time to change my approach. Oh, I've reached THE END before, I've reached 50,000 words, but I've never quite managed to clean up the babble into proper drafts and chapters, fill in the holes marked I'LL THINK OF SOMETHING LATER, or clean up the infelicities and unfortunate implications. I've never gotten more than the first three chapters of a novel ready to submit anywhere, and since the rest of that novel was still a mess, those three chapters were probably a mistake. But all the novels I've ever not finished, I wrote them according to the NaNoWriMo method: 1,667 words a day, come hell or high water, and fifty thousand by 11:59 PM on November 30th.
Which is to say, until this fall, my novel writing experience has consisted of pounding away at the keyboard whether I knew what came next or not. It's a perfectly feasible way to do it, but I can't help but think my failure to finish revising any of them is connected with this untidy method of creating them.
So this fall I determined to plan everything out before I wrote Scene 1. Instead of the Chris Baty "No Plot? No Problem!" method, I'd give Rachel Aaron's "from 2K to 10K" strategy a try: The more you know about what you're going to write, the faster you can write it, the more you'll enjoy the process, and the more developed your first draft will be right out of the gates.
Aaron's first step is to write down everything you already know about the novel. Cool. Check. Good. It's her second step that's bogging me down: Fill in the gaps. Take all the stuff you don't know, and figure it out. I'm having trouble figuring things out. Like, oh, how the novel will end. And a large chunk of the middle, too, I don't know that either. Every time I sit down, I figure out more about the characters, their surroundings, their conflicts, and their backstories, but I still don't know how things will proceed. It's like there's a barricade constructed right across the plot timeline about two weeks into the narrative, and I keep running into it--wham! Ouch.
Today, taken as a whole, went swimmingly. I worked my "morning shift" right on schedule (at the Avon Public Library, as planned), so I had plenty of time to stroll around town, shop, eat, and then go back to the room and read (library books!) and nap. Then I sat down to my novel planning session, also right on schedule. I had allotted myself two whole hours to work on that novel, and not the last two hours of the conscious day, either! It was, in theory, fantastic.
In practice, I immediately got uneasy and restless. Like I wasn't properly utilizing my work day. As though sitting there planning a novel was wasting time. Like I was cheating my timesheet, crediting myself for two hours of writing when all I'd done was sit there staring into space, talking to myself, and typing incoherently into my Scrivener project. Which, yes, is part of the writing process, I know that intellectually, but deep in my gut where the butterflies live I feel like it doesn't count as writing at all.
It's not precisely that I feel I should be typing up the draft rather than planning it--although actually typing out actual scenes would probably help mitigate the uneasiness. It's more like I'm feeling that any time spent on this novel is a waste, and that I ought to be spending my day on more worthwhile projects that actually have a hope of getting finished. Like revising one of my already sorta-finished novel drafts. Or writing new short stories and revising existing ones for publication. What if this novel never gets finished? What if I never figure it out enough to write it? What if I secretly know that it'll never get finished, and that's why I'm doing it, as an infinite means of procrastination such that I'll never finish or publish anything else again?
Reminder: These are not my logical thoughts. This is the shape of my uneasiness. Have you met me? I am a very insecure person. If you didn't know that, awesome. Maybe I've gotten better at hiding it over the years. (I hear that's like 85% of adulting right there.)
Sometimes, when I'm stuck, things will come unstuck if I just talk to myself about them. Not on the laptop; just talking to myself, out loud. Admittedly, I'm always talking to myself. It's like my thoughts aren't real until I've made them into words that my ears can hear. So that's what I did tonight. I put the laptop away, ran a hot bath, and commenced with the relaxing and talking to self. (The talking to self method works better while relaxed. Relaxing works better in a hot soak. Also, a hot soak was really necessary after this afternoon's hour and a half walk to the Walmart and back. I forgot to pack my scrimmage jerseys, OK? So I needed cheap T-shirts in black and white. $2.79 in the craft aisle along with all the fabric paint pens you can choke on.)
What I was hoping to figure out was more street-level details of the neighborhood Michael's currently living in: what his daily commute looks like, what cafes and restaurants and bars he frequents, what his apartment complex is like. I can't really write forward without knowing the terrain the characters are going to be moving through. I didn't get any of that. What I did get was a few more details about childhood in Allemondia, the kinds of fairy tales and fantasies that those facts inspire, and a tragedy in Michael's childhood that was a factor in his decision to be a doctor.
Argh. More background and backstory. Still no narrative progression. But I got out of the tub and I wrote all of it down, because I'll take whatever I can get. In the end, it's all going in there.
taking the guilt out of guilty pleasures
I still don't have the hang of Wednesdays. Their insistence on coming after Tuesdays is one problem--although, admittedly, last night's roller derby practice was much lighter than usual, so I didn't wake up feeling beat up. But I had another rough night of constantly interrupted sleep, which kind of killed my morning.
That, plus, I had dreams. They were compelling dreams. They compelled me to go back to sleep to remember them better. They resonated oddly with all the novel planning I'd been doing, especially the idea of a "company store" environment in which Delta, one of my protagonists, is trying, futilely, to work her way out of perjury debt.
OK, so, it goes like this: In Balvion, the country in which the novel takes place, contracts are not legally but inevitably binding. Inevitable, like gravity. When you sign your name to a contract, you are offering it up as collateral. If you fail to uphold the terms of the contract, you lose your name and identity. You can theoretically earn enough to buy it back under a new contract, but you need a job to earn money, and to get a job you need things like a resume and references and a work history--which you no longer have because your identity isn't yours anymore. You can't even claim your own high school diploma.
So what you do is this: You rent an identity. At ruinous interest. So you can work a crap job that pays less than minimum wage and play along with the fiction that this will somehow make it possible to scrape together enough money to buy your name back.
That's the situation that "Delta Echoes" is in. It's not her real name. We won't know her real name until later in the story. Meanwhile, I'm having nightmares of being beholden to shady corporations that will compromise me morally if I continue working for them but will seriously punish me if I escape their evil clutches. Fun!
Meanwhile, after my appointment at Cafe of Life, I went back to that terrible super buffet. I AM NOT ASHAMED. It was strangely less terrible this time. Even the green-lipped mussels and the so-called seafood pie were acceptable, although this is possibly because I was choosier about where in the pan I selected my portion from. But I suspect it really isn't about the food. It's about the routine, which I find comforting and comfortable. I completed one of my writing tasks over my first plateful of vaguely OK food items and a bowl of perfectly adequate egg drop soup. Then, as a reward for accomplishing that writing task, I picked my way through a bunch of crab legs while rereading a few chapters of The Goblin Emperor. (This included the chapter with Maia's nineteenth birthday, which meant a little bit of crying in public. I am not embarrassed. That scene is beautiful and wrecks me every time.)
(Also it is strange looking back at yesterday's blog post and my use of the term "brainstorm" while in the midst of rereading a novel in which that word is used as a synonym for a cerebral stroke.)
I will admit that sometime during the sleeplessness of Monday night I was attacked by an intense and specific craving for lumps of crab meat mixed into butter and eaten with a spoon. That's how long I have been looking forward to my Wednesday evening dinner at China Buffet. Have you met my brain? This is my brain.
And now I have discovered that they have ambrosia on their dessert table--you know, the chunks of fruit and the mini marshmallows in some sort of creamy matrix involving either sour cream or yogurt and also the unconfessed sins of childhood? They used to serve it at my school under the name "pineapple delight." I was routinely the only person at the table who actually liked it, so everyone gave me theirs. This is one of my ultimate comfort foods, and this restaurant has it, and I am no longer ashamed of returning. So there.
i knew this when I was a puppy
It's already November 22 and I've barely spent any hours at all working on my new novel. I guess novel-writing season is likely to extend into December. Of course, in theory, thoroughly planning the novel out beforehand can result in knocking the draft out in a week or less. However, I'm new at this 10K-a-day stuff, so I'm trying to keep my expectations reasonable.
Had a worldbuilding brainstorm last night, though, which is incidentally the best way to compensate for being almost entirely unable to sleep. Only, before I can tell you about that, I need to catch you up on some of the story so far.
In the country from which one of the main characters hails, humans aren't born human. They're born chimera--part human, part some other animal. For instance, Michael was born half-cat. More than half, actually. Mostly cat. But over the course of adolescence, the animal features are replaced by human ones. It's a perfectly natural and spontaneous process, comparable to other processes associated with puberty. Its social effect is as you might expect: Where our world has Sweet Sixteen parties, quinceañeros, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and other coming of age rituals and celebrations, Michael's homeland makes a great big Hallmark deal out of children becoming fully human.
(Only some few days after I'd come up with that did I realize this echoed a let's-pretend motif of my early childhood, mostly forgotten until this time. I can't remember the details, but I can remember a specific incident that has the freight of something much repeated. I was all-fouring my way across the kitchen floor and going woof to get Mom's attention. Mom asked me what I was doing. I said, "I'm being [NAME] when he was a puppy." She said "I don't think [NAME] was ever a puppy." I said, with a trace of exasperation that she didn't get it already, "No, the powerful [NAME]." Apparently the person I was pretending to be had experienced a previous stage of life in which he A. had superpowers and B. spent his childhood as a puppy. A. and B. were inextricably linked, as best as I can recall.)
And so but anyway here's the brainstorm: Those animal features don't just disappear. When they're all gone, an animal of that type appears in the newly adult human's life and stays with them forever. It's possible this was influenced by a current reread of The Golden Compass, because this sure sounds a lot like Pullman's daemons. But in this case, the magical animal companion isn't a revelation of your essential nature, but rather the ultimate home of your not-exactly-discarded childhood. We talk about "the inner child," right? The people of Michael's homeland have a very much outer child.
Now, here's the real brainstorm: That's what the talking cat character is. Did I mention the talking cat character? There's a talking cat character that shows up and startles the other main character, Delta, by talking to her. Turns out it's not some random talking cat popping up to be accounted for. It's the part of Michael that used to be a cat.
I haven't decided yet what to call it. "Familiar" has the wrong connotations, and besides, I'm using that in another continuity. "Pet" is entirely inaccurate. "Daemon," as I said before, is taken. And "magical animal companion," though it works well enough as a descriptive phrase when talking about the novel, is a bit too twee for use within the novel. Well, Delta can use the phrase sarcastically while she's trying to come to terms with the critter. But Michael wouldn't. Him and his folks would have some other term, something matter-of-fact, devoid of both fanfare and self-deprecation.
I'll come up with something eventually.
I'm not sure quite what to do with this information, but that's OK. I don't have to know everything just yet. As long as I figure out a little bit more at each novel-planning session, I'm doing fine.
And so I am off to have a novel-planning session now. Cheers!
NaNoWriMo Day 3: the slow accretion of plot and character data
There's been a little movement on the broken blog front. I heard back from my domain host's support people. They wanted to verify that I really was the account holder. I sent them back the requested proof that I am. Now I'm waiting some more.
Meanwhile, on the novel front, a few additional plot points and proto-characters came to light. This was in no small part due to a dream I had this morning, a rather disturbing one actually, but the disturbing ones make entertaining fiction fodder, so it's cool. (I have a strange relationship with nightmares. I wake up fascinated with them, replaying the memories with enjoyment. It's like I just got to watch a really entertaining horror-action-thriller-suspense movie in my sleep.) In that dream, I was obliged, because of careless promises I'd made, to give up several of my fingers. It wasn't going to hurt much, and the wounds would heal instantly, but it would--contrary to my understanding when I made those promises--be permanent. I was heartbroken because I wouldn't be able to play piano, flute, or guitar anymore. (You'd think "or type, or write with a fountain pen" would have occurred to me, but no.)
Once awake and thinking about the novel, I translated that into a better understanding of why Protagonist 2 had to give up her name and accept a new identity at the Magic Pixie Call Girl agency. She'd signed a long-term contract, and when time came, she found she simply couldn't bring herself to fulfill her part of the bargain, possibly because fulfilling it turned out to be a more dire proposition than she'd originally thought it would be. (Nothing to do with removal of fingers, by the way.) So the magical contract enforcement clause was triggered and she had to forfeit her name. The call girl agency gave her the improbably name of Delta Echoes. She's working hard and saving up money to buy her name back from--I dunno, the perjury pawn broker, something like that.
The name-forfeiture thing will be foreshadowed quite early when Protagonist 1 goes to fill out some routine form and is informed what will happen if anything he signs his name to turns out to be false. This will shock him. Also shocking will be the cat that one day starts talking to him. They don't have magic back where he's from. He's going to have to get used to it.
Things continue to slowly come together. Slowly. I'm very tempted to just start writing the first scene and see where it goes from there. But I have written quite a few novel drafts like that already. I want to try out this other method of novel writing, and I can't very well see how well I like it if I don't actually do it. So the planning stage continues.
My hope is, tomorrow, to figure out how the novel ends. Ambitious, I know, but it's not outside the realm of possibility.
Nanowrimo Day 2: write what you know, know what you want to write
Nope, still haven't managed to carve out time for web site troubleshooting. I've begun to suspect it might be something very simple, like, say, all the files in the /journal directory having mysteriously disappeared, or maybe just a key #include. I DON'T KNOW. I haven't gotten to any point in any day this week where I've felt like I had the time and the energy to take a look.
But I did manage to sit down and nibble off a bit of Step 1. Why, that must mean I finished Step 0! Indeed. Three of the freewriting documents I read yesterday apparently lodged themselves on my mental backburner and fell into a single pot left simmering there, and this afternoon it turned into soup. It all came together while I was on a massage table, of all places, with nothing to do but relax and occasionally be stoic while a skilled therapist applied pressure to bits of my shoulder and neck that weren't ready for it but needed it very badly. (My right shoulder has not fully relaxed in years. It makes it hard to sleep at night. The chiropractic treatments are helping, but very slowly, and meanwhile I keep playing roller derby. So I'm trying to help things along by getting my upper back and neck massaged about once a month or after every bout, whichever comes first.) I took advantage of that time to mull over story ideas, and was kind of surprised to find one already there, spooling out scenes in my head.
Some wise writer said once that the best stories rely not on a single idea but on two: two story ideas that combine and intersect in interesting ways. I appear to have three. Possibly four, if the dream I woke up with this morning turns out to be useful. It was terrifyingly epic and needs to wind up in a story. I just don't know whether it will be this story. Anyway, here they are in all their generic glory:
- The Manic Pixie Call Girl Agency
- Being obliged to file for name/identity bankruptcy after breaking a magically enforced oath
- The cat started talking to its human today because it had a warning to give
- On a train incognito through enemy territory; team leader gave the order to get off-planet
The story that arises out of the intersection of those ideas is the novel I'm going to write. FOR NOW. I've written down all I know about it as of this evening. We'll see if, in the morning, I know more.
And for goodness's sake, I have got to get this blog fixed. I'm tired of posting into the void.