Tides of Christmas

So….

Once again, life conspired to get in my way.  Well, sort of.  In the real world, I entered into a little venture to cut my own firewood.  After a few days of ascending to 11,000 feet (or about 3350 meters) to cut down fire-charred fir trees for wood, I have a hefty appreciation of what our ancestors must have gone through.  And they didn’t have chainsaws or trailers to haul it in.

And then there was that NaNoWriMo thing.  I did it, successfully, which makes me three for three in NaNoWriMo attempts.  Rather than start something new, I tacked 51K words onto Princess of the North.

(Muse:  Yeah good of you to not start something *else* new and leave it unfinished.)

Quiet, you.  That puts me closer to my goal of finishing the first draft by the end of the year.

That rolls us right into the holiday season (for us Western-civ types).  I personally love Thanksgiving; what can be wrong with a holiday where the whole point is to enjoy family and eat yourself into a food coma?  I am less keen on Christmas.  Take your pick:  over-commercialized, pressure of buying stuff, hassle of decorating, I think the Grinch was the victim of brainwashing in his story, etc.

But it does bring up an important subject to consider in our writing and that is of holidays.  I think they are pretty universal in human culture and civilization – if not for the same reasons across culture, then by presence.  Longest days of summer, first day of winter, anniversary of an important event….  These are all big events for a culture and as such, should be celebrated.

I see a lot of proxy holidays in spec fiction, such as birthdays being referred to as “Life Days,” or “Day of Birth” celebrations.  I would like to see some more examples of non-Earth equivalent holidays in writing or to have them celebrated in such a way that we don’t expect.  Perhaps on a given world, on the character’s birthday, they perform small acts of kindness or give gifts to all the important people in their life, rather than vice versa.  Perhaps on that world, the character shows their appreciation and thanks on the anniversary of their birth rather than being showered in presents.

Perhaps on the anniversary of the ending of a grueling war, the citizens all stay home and make whoopie, to celebrate the surge of birthing that occurred after the war.  Or maybe in celebration of a monarch assuming the throne, that monarch rides through the streets handing out coins and presides over games as a way to thank his citizens for upholding his/her rulership.  Or on the first day of summer just as the sun descends over a far mountain peak, the locals all go into the field together with onions tied on their belts and sing off-key until their deity descends and grants them a good harvest.

The side-effect of having a different set of holidays for your milieu – and I know I beat this drum a lot – is adding a touch of unique flavor to the background of your world.  Among spec fiction, fantasy is especially about escape.  So why not actually escape to a world we don’t know?  Of course, being who I am, I read the examples I laid out above and my brain starts plotting all the bad things that could befall my characters during those events.  But I digress.

Endless possibilities here and some that could be more entertaining than the traditional birthday/yule/new-year’s stand-ins I see so often.  I know, I am as guilty as anyone but here’s to being more aware for my own part.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Postmortem

So….

NaNoWriMo officially ended yesterday.  Here are the stats from the last week and two days:

Nov 22: 1023 words
Nov 23: 3353 words
Nov 24: 2089 words
Nov 25: 1463 words  <–topped 50K here
Nov 26: 1298 words
Nov 27: 491 words

Grand Total:  51891 words

I won't add the last couple of days, as I pretty much flopped.  Burned out and weary, I caved in and didn't do anything over the final three days of the month.

So what did I get out of this?

1) As always, it's good to challenge one's self.  I took up the challenge and was able to do it.

2) I have the core of a workable story.  It doesn't much matter that I deviated from the my initial concept from the get-go (the main character ended up not finding any scrap of paper at the farm).  It also doesn't matter that the subject matter became more family-friendly than initially intended.  Part of this was the result of emailing it back and forth to work and not wanting to get it hung up in filters, or getting myself flagged for some rather wretched violence, swearing, and sodomy.  (Yes, all those were part of the initial plan.)   I think the characters are believable without being over the top and there is some potential here.

3) It has kept my love of writing alive.  Over time, as life stresses wax and wane, I find myself looking away from writing, and at doing other stuff.  Sometimes I just need to reinvigorate myself.  Even though I didn't work on the project for the last couple of days, I did revise some other works and did a handful of submissions over the weekend.  My mind is tumbling with ideas and I like it when I get here (active and excited about writing as a whole).

On the whole, no complaints.  I'll have to look at doing it again next year.  To any reading that gave it a shot, I hope it was as helpful for you.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Week 3 Update

So I have been doing this for three weeks straight.  This is where it starts to get hard, where I go, "Ugh, could I just take a day off?"  And my Muse fires back, cracking her whip, and says, "No!  You get your quota done!  No days off!"

(Muse:  Don't act like you don't like it, baby.)

It's not so much that I am not enjoying the writing or that I even resent "having" to meet a certain deadline.  There is just so much I already know I want to go back and fix, change, and enhance.  And I don't have quite enough mojo to do both that and churn out 2K words each and every day.  I am glad I only have one more week to go, but as with the last post, I am on pace to hit 50K words on 25 Nov.  When I do, we'll see what happens.

Nov 15:  1847 words
Nov 16:  2686 words
Nov 17:  2156 words
Nov 18:  1858 words
Nov 19:  1867 words
Nov 20:  2026 words
Nov 21:  1787 words

All right.  Once more, into the breach.  One more week.

(Muse:  And two days.)

But-

(Muse:  Don't make me get the paddle.)

Grumble.

The Value of Bedrock

So …

I wrote about a year ago about the value of having good world building and how that helped aid the richness of the tale.  Most of what I discussed had to do with defining cultural differences (naming conventions and the like) of the various states/kingdoms/empires ahead of time and how that added flavor to the world.  That's all good and still believe it, but there's more.

I have never been a big "outline" guy.  When I talk about outlining, I usually mean that I have sketched out a very quick idea of the major events of a story, just to get things sequential.  I don't get deep or keep a real detailed list of how the story will break down.  "Make it up as I go" is pretty much the rule of the road.  Much of that comes from writing short stories.  In a short story, I think you can get away with it; you have a limited scope and if things go awry, it is harder to paint yourself into a corner, because if you have to go back and redo 2K words, that's easier than 20K words.

But here is something I picked up:  there is insane value in having a well-detailed background for the world.

For my NaNoWriMO piece, I wrote a fairly detailed history of the world in which Shattered Colossus is set.  I started with omni-scale events that outlined how society kind of stood up and how it developed into the current setting.  The closer in the history I got to the story beginning – the more it affected the characters now living – the more detail I added in.  I sketched the timeline of the wars, the scale-up events, and the breakdown of the world.

Again, I kind of made it up as I went.  I wrote up the events, made up the names and let fly.  But this left me with several benefits:

1) It's consistent.  When the characters reference past events, including the ones that led to the protagonist returning home to find it deserted, they all refer to the same events, in the same time frame, and in the same understanding.  Having that on paper in advance made it much easier to keep all these babblers on the same page, which is not my strength.  Again, in a short story, because of scope, I can get away with it in my head.  In an epic, with many characters, it has worked out easier to pre-scope it.

2) It's organic.  Having the history of the world determined forces me to have the characters act consistently with that history.  Because of that, when they discuss the events, it blends with the story seamlessly.

3) It's a source for story material.  Having a twenty year history of wars, erupting rivalries between feudal lords, plague, and conquest by a despotic demon-conjuring insane emperor gives me absolutely no end of angles to attack this.  Every road the protagonist walks down, I have something to do to him, because something locally has gone wrong.

Granted, this is still not what I would call a hugely detailed list.  This is several thousand words in a few RTF documents, with notes on the nations, wars, and minor characters.  But it has made writing the novel vastly easier thus far.

So … am I coming around on writing an outline?  Not exactly.  I used to be hardcore against it.  But I am seeing the value.  I'm still too lazy to do a full one-

(Muse:  No kidding.)

-but so for this effort, it has been very helpful.  Food for thought, maybe it will be for you too.  Seacrest out.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Week 2 Update

Okay, I know, I haven't been very productive, posting-wise.  I promise, something worth reading will show up this weekend.  Okay, I'll write on something besides NaNoWriMo, even if it's not worth reading.

Here's this week's progress:

Nov 8:    1597
Nov 9:    2530
Nov 10:  2447
Nov 11:  2047
Nov 12:  1986
Nov 13:  1781
Nov 14:  1302

Week two total:  13690.

Hmm.  I had two substandard days in there (Nov 8 and today) where I didn't meet my quota but the weekend writing allowed me to stay ahead.

On schedule:  2338 words
Two week total:  27941 words

So I am still doing all right.  The story is going pretty well, considering I completely making this up as I go.  I already see ways I can pull it together and maybe make it compelling for the protagonist.  Not sure if doing so will allow the core story to survive, though, so it may come down to a decision between characters or re-wickering the storyline.  If history is indication, my writing works better when I deliver on the characters.  So we'll see.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Week 1 Update

So….

I am one week into NaNoWriMo and I am maintaining a good pace.  As one could expect, the story is proceeding somewhat different than I first outlined.  I already deviated from the crumpled parchment I mentioned last time, and yes, I already caught hell for it from a friend.

(Muse:  You have friends?)

I treat NaNoWriMo somewhat as a stream-of-consciousness exercise.  Get the words on paper and worry about making it better later on.  This one – this whole story – could very well be workable but I can tell it is going to take some horsing to get it into eventual shape.  The good news is I feel like the first 14K words unfolded without any trouble, and I have a very long way – maybe 2-3 more books worth – to get to the end.  Anyway, here's progress:

Nov 1:  1708 words
Nov 2:  2886 words
Nov 3:  2284 words
Nov 4:  2102 words
Nov 5:  1708 words
Nov 6:  1787 words
Nov 7:  1776 words

Week one total:  14251 words, or just over 2K words a day.

At this rate, I am on schedule to get over 50K by 25 Nov.  So far, so good.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Prologue

So….

As mentioned recently (yesterday), I am ready to do NaNoWriMo this year.  I have an idea for a more straight-up fantasy.  My first two few books haven't been very traditional sword and sorcery.  I'd call one kind of dystopian fantasy, the other low fantasy, or science-fantasy (maybe even soft science-fiction).  Mrs. Axe, ever the voice of encouragement, says I have it in me to write something massive and epic, along the lines of Game of Thrones.  I'm not saying I am George R. R. Martin's league, or even in his minor league, but the support and faith of my better half is nice.  So I am going to try it.

The story opens in the ruined countryside of Oberya, one of the "Seven Brothers," the seven countries that occupy the continent of Karsheh in a semi-confederacy – a land that has descended into chaos and strife.  Foul monsters stalk the land and rumors of a rumors of a vast evil clawing it's way back into the world darken every grim corner of the remaining bastions of civilization.  Our protagonist, a young man named Briard, returns from a futile service in a decimated army to find his farm abandoned and his family missing.  A tattered parchment in the wreckage gives him hope.

And we're off and running.  Based on one event that is kind of in my head, my working title is The Shattered Colossus.

I outlined my opening.  I know where I want this to end, whether it is in 50K words, or 500K words.  I have no idea what I am going to do in between points A and B.  So let's find out.

I'll update progress/word-count weekly.