NaNoWriMo Tech

So, the first time I did NaNo, it was on a borrowed computer–something in a basement computer lab–and a thumb drive. One big, long Microsoft Word file, with little bits and pieces added in as the month progressed.

And it worked. That was the first novel I’d ever finished, so that’s a plus.

But it wasn’t terribly well organized. And when I started to revise it… Well… Uhm… I have to say again… it wasn’t well organized. I finally made it through the revision several years later.

I’ve done NaNo on a laptop, and on a desktop, and in YWriter… software specifically for writing novels. YWriter helps with organization, more than anything.

And this year?

I’ve decided to do NaNo on paper.

Not just to be retro, of course. I’m still working on that organization thing. I have just a little bit too much…. Hey, look, a duck!… in me. I am working from the idea that if I write on a piece of paper… on ONE piece of paper… I will wind up with more coherent chunks than I do, if I have say a notebook or a computer at hand.

Montessori style novel-writing. Write ONE topic on ONE piece of Paper. Fill that Piece of Paper, and get another Piece of Paper.

Right now my method seems to be more false starts, and aesthetic fresh sheets of paper than actual writing–at least, until I get some steam.

I am moving toward cleaner drafts.

Or at least, I’m going to succeed in finding another method that doesn’t work!

Either way, it’s something.

Good Taste, Sensitivity, and Writing

I’m fiddling around with the first traces of an idea. Something I might write for NaNoWriMo, if I can work out where the plot starts by then. I’m actually fairly excited about the idea. No, I won’t tell you what it is, but it does seem to have planted itself pretty firmly in my head.

The problem–if I can call it a problem–is that the idea centers around one of Humanity’s tragedies, and then adds a little bit of sci-fi-y, supernatural-y something. It’s the kind of story that needs to be written very, very carefully in order to avoid coming across as either preachy or callous.

I know that from experience. I have my own little corners of history that I’m protective of. Things that happened that resonate with me, that I don’t want touched. And there are certainly plenty of stories I’ve quit reading because they de-emphasized the serious part of the true story.

On the other hand, now and then, there’s a story about those same times that is actually… good enough. Good enough to make people think. Good enough to make them feel.

And I’m debating whether I have the skill to do a “good enough” story or not.

 

Sixteen Days To Full-Scale Panic

Sixteen days til NaNoWriMo, and I still don’t have an idea. Not a plot point, not a character. Not a teeny-tiny play on words to amuse my Muse. (Who is more or less an eighth grade boy, at heart.) Well, fine. I’ll just start with an explosion and work my way up from there.

I haven’t gotten much done with the idea that fluttered through my head as a September/October project, either. Maybe a couple thousand words.

The rule, right now, seems to be that if it’s stressful, it’s going to happen. Head to head with supervisor? Check. (Not sure it makes it a whole lot better that I appear to be winning.) Car problems? Check. Family problems? Double check, and also… Thinking of joining a commune. Or a convent. Or a nudist colony. Something, anyway. Anything on an island. Or a space station. Or an oil rig. Something not here.

This is not a good year for anything but treading water. I’m still working on revising Lepterians. Still working on figuring out exactly what I have there, and how many of it. I’m filling out a plot thread or two, trying to get from Point A to Point B.

And Nano begins in 16 days.

I probably need Nano, this year. Some nice solid goals and a whole lot of peer pressure to keep me from feeling sorry for myself. And I do have peers. A whole team of them.

So, working down the checklist of things that I need to do to get my nano-brain in order. I’m getting pretty close.

 

Mrs. Willoughby’s Heart

There were still a few pieces of Mrs. Willoughby on the slab, after the master finished his do-it-yourself project. All of the intestines. A bladder. No one wants the hassle of taking a monster to the toilet, after all. And there were other things. Odds and ends the monster wouldn’t need. A pair of emerald-green, sling-back pumps. Her right hand, still clutching a worthless can of pepper spray. The master had replaced that with spare parts from his Jeep. And Mrs. Willoughby’s heart.

The monster, you see, ran on propane and electricity, and a beating heart was just a relic.

Igor was supposed to clean up.

He was supposed to sweep the leftovers into the bin, and carry them down to the incinerator. He was supposed to hose down the lab, and empty the filters on the floor drains.

But the whole process had been horrific.

Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. She wanted to be a second grade teacher. And when Igor finally did get her back to the lab, it turned out the master didn’t want a second grade teacher. He wanted a Woman. Not a woman. A Woman. Not a woman. The master repeated himself with curse-words and fury, and in the end, Igor pretended to understand.

Then, there was the dissection.

Igor threw up four times before the master threatened to dissect him.

By the time they got to the electro-ressurrection, Igor was a little dizzy. He could barely stand up, and he would have gone home, if he had any sick-time left. He didn’t have any sick time left, though, so he pushed himself forward. Willed himself to keep going. He was careful. Slow and careful, and if he took his time–
The master threw the switch.
Mrs. Willoughby’s body convulsed. All at once, her muscles contracted, and then… The master cut the electricity. Mrs. Willoughby’s fist shot out, and hit Igor in the face.

And the Master threw the switch again.

And again.

And again.

Igor was black and blue before the thing that had been Mrs. Willoughby sat up and started to recite the times table.

By the time the monster got to thrice eight, the master cut out its vocal cords, and there was silence. Then, the monster began calisthenics. And the monster wasn’t content to do calisthenics alone. Oh, no. It grabbed Igor by the ear, and made him touch his toes.

The master just laughed and watched, and by the time calisthenics were over, Igor was black and blue, and out of breath, and exhausted. None of the other monsters had been that much trouble.

Then, the master took his new monster and left to do whatever peasant-chasing, village-burning things mad scientists and monsters did together.

Igor did intend to clean up. He intended to put things away, and tidy up the lab, but he dozed off.

Mrs. Willoughby’s heart was the first thing he saw, when he opened his eyes. She had a beautiful heart. It was perfect. Big, and warm. And it was his favorite shade of red. It quivered a little, as if it had been crying, and didn’t want him to  know.

He still knew. He could feel the heart sobbing in his brain. And he knew why, too: Mrs Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster, and her heart didn’t want to go in the bin.

The mess was still there, too, but the master could clean it up, himself.

And while he was at it, the master could get his own Women. He didn’t like the way Igor did it, anyway.

Igor put the heart in his knapsack and hefted it over one shoulder.

He was leaving. Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. Her heart didn’t want to go in the bin. And he didn’t want to be a laboratory goon.

On the climb down the mountain, Mrs. Willoughby’s heart chirped encouragement. Sometimes, the sound was lost in the waking songs of birds. And sometimes, he got distracted by flowers, or the rising sun. But by the time he made it back to the village, he knew what to do.

He was going to teach second grade.

NaNoWriMo Home Regions and Immigration

The first letters from our municipal liaisons are arriving, today, and I got back to my home region for the first time this year. Nebraska::Other. A rip-roaring writing community of eight people. Twenty-five percent of them are Municipal Liaisons, if you’re doing the math. Which I am.

As always, I’m seeking out new writers and new writers’ groups. And…

Somebody suggested a Google Hangout, since we’re spread out across the entire state.

And I’m vaguely thinking of defecting to Lincoln or Omaha. After all, that’s a fairly short drive, and there are more people in either one…

And yet… there’s a part of me that’s incredibly loyal to the small-town, stuck alone in the middle of nowhere writers and intellectuals. I connect with that. I am that. Have been for much, much too long. And I can’t imagine growing up, that way, or trying to get feedback on a first novel that way.

There’s also a non-nano writers’ group starting up. I might actually do that, if I have time and energy.

I still have to do my annual search for real live, local, in my own town writers. Last year’s wasn’t wildly productive. I located my next door neighbor. And her abandoned manuscript. And I still haven’t found a good way of bringing up the fact that I recognize someone from on the internet.

And I don’t have an actual idea, yet. I’m still hoping that one will turn up sometime soon, and I can pretend to plot a little bit.

Are you doing Nano this year? I’d love to hear about the novel you have planned (or not planned) and be sure to look me up over on the Nano forums.

Who’s My Main Character?

About a week ago, I started a new project. It’s a cute little thing. About ten pages long, barely talking in complete sentence fragments, yet. I’m also revising my last project, working through what I have, and trying to get it all to sit still in some kind of order.

The two projects are very different. The old one is third person, multiple points of view, and basically becoming a sprawling wasteland of revision. The new one… well, maybe I’m looking for something simpler, right now. It’s first person, one point of view, and–from an ethical standpoint–a lot more right and wrong.

First person really narrows my focus. The main character–the one who’s going to spend the most time on stage–is the I character. (Haven’t named her, yet. Of course.) Yes, you can find exceptions. But in general, that’s it. And that’s it in my new project.

I’m hoping that focusing on ONE character will reduce the revision time. And that first person will force me to do that. Can you tell?

In my last project?

There were five major characters in the last project, and that leaves me with two suspects for THE main character.

And three, if I’m allowed to count the world as a character in its own right.

It’s a big story.

But I’m still not sure whose story it is.

That makes me wonder if some of it’s more repetitive than I’m seeing. The two story lines are pretty closely intertwined. In the end, I’ll pick one, or reasons will appear and make one a clear winner.

When am I going to get to read your book?

People have been asking me when they’re going to get to read my book. People I don’t know particularly well, and don’t really see as a part of my creative community.

Coworkers, mostly. The occasional family member. That fundamentalist preacher–who clearly would not like my book.

Nobody ever looks at a medical student, and says, So when are we gonna see some of this “gynecologisting”?

Anyway, a while back–when I was pressed for time and stupid enough to do it–I took some of my manuscript to work to edit over my (absurdly long) lunch hour. I figured people wouldn’t notice, but… of course, they did.

That’s the point where I should’ve lied.

Homework. It’s homework. (Which, by the way, was their first guess.)

Nope. I told the truth. And I’ve been suffering for it, ever since.

I’m a perfectionist. And a cynic. And that means that I’m usually afraid that if I don’t have every single comma in the right place, and every single i dotted just right, I’ll be driven out of town by an angry mob with pitchforks and torches.

I think the best thing in the world for me would be to print out copies of the next story, stand on a street corner somewhere, and hand them out.

Except… I could do that. Easily. As long as the street corner in question is somewhere else, filled with people I never have to see again.

For maximum benefit, it would have to be a street corner here in my own little world, filled with half-strangers and nearly-friends who I do have to see again.

Terrifying.

I’m simultaneously afraid they’ll look, shrug, and walk away, and afraid that they’ll look, laugh, and not walk away. That I’ll be left in a sea of laughter forever.

How much am I capable of trusting people? That may be something I have to work on. Suggestions?

Writing With a Sense of (Some Other) Place

In the first draft of my first trunk novel, the story was set in a small town that exists in real life.  My characters lived in a house that belongs to one of my family members, and got ice cream at the very same cafe that used to make the best root beer freezes in the entire world. My villain took several people hostage in a very weakly disguised version of a business where I worked for a couple of months, once upon a time.

Oh. And, of course, my villain was a serial killer running rampant through streets and businesses that really exist, and which would probably prefer not to be associated with mass homicide.

This is interesting. It’s a small town. Fading. I don’t remember it’s glory days, and frankly, it isn’t getting the best of the current economy. Or the one before. Or… well, any economy in recent memory. I keep hearing revitalization, but I’m just not seeing any.

A cadavers and carnage museum might be just the thing to pull people off the main road and into the local businesses. If my stories were very popular, it could be the Mitford of Mayhem. They could give tours, and maybe have a parade.

Ultimately, common sense kicked in. I fictionalized the crap out of that town, and moved it across the border into Iowa. Iowa appreciates a good bloodbath. Unlike some places.

Do you write about recognizable, real places? Or do you change them, so people won’t know? What made you make that choice?

 

 

Feeding the Muse… She’s a Cannibal, You Know.

You get to ask strange questions, if you’re a writer. A lot of the times, the questions are the purpose in themselves. Sometimes, you even get real answers.

I just finished perusing an internet’s worth of Lichtenberg figures.  Yup. The marks left behind–on objects, or on people-by a lightening strike. There aren’t a whole lot of pictures, because it’s pretty rare. They’re beautiful, and I’m honestly a little entranced by them. Once I ran out of Lichtenberg figures, I moved on to electrical burns in general. Those aren’t so aesthetically pleasing.

I don’t know what I’m looking for. If it isn’t just a wild tangent, I’ll know it when I see it.

Somehow, I got from there to axe murders. Itasca, Colorado Springs… Somewhere else. I can’t remember. But the truth is, I’m a little bored by axe  murders. That didn’t last long.

An article on using DNA to store information. That one caught, and I think there’s something there. My brain’s clicking away.

A whole lot of information has to go in to get the results I want back out. Sometimes, that means a biography, or a history, and sometimes that means skipping from place to place on the internet.

My imagination likes to cherry-pick, and we just can’t do that on a television and pop-music diet.

Those Naughty Psychopaths, and the Writers Who Love Them

One of my main characters just threatened to skin a man alive. Threatened? Promised?Well… more of a two pronged offer. As it turns out, the guy took what was behind door number two, and kept his skin. The thing is, I’m certain the Captain would have done it. He wouldn’t have made the threat offer, if he didn’t intend to follow through.

Obviously, I don’t condone this kind of behavior in real life.

And in my character’s defense, he really is trying to reform himself. It’s just that sometimes, extreme violence can expedite matters. Particularly when dealing with other psychopaths.

So, thinking about this, and what I want in a violent character, and whether there are any rules for a violent character, I came up with:

The Reprobate Typewriter Guide to Characters Who are Capable of Extreme Violence

  1. He can control himself. He’s not a mindless force of nature, or an animal running on instinct. If he does something violent, it’s a choice. Every.Single.Time.
  2. He does know the difference between right and wrong. He may choose the wrong path, in the belief that he’s serving a greater good, but his goals… His ideal world… are things that normal, psychologically healthy people can identify with.
  3. He has something to lose, and something to gain. Usually, with every choice he makes. Money, power, human decency. Whatever.
  4. He’s likable. I want my character to be the guy you’d watch threaten a man’s life one moment, and still want to have a beer with him, the next.
  5. He has a purpose. Goals. A recognizable intent. He’s not just there for the explosions.
  6. He’s trustworthy. He’s not a danger to his mother, his significant other, or random old ladies walking down the street.
  7. He’s rational. If he does something, there’s an excellent chance that it will result in the outcome he’s looking for.

I pull some of the violence in my stories out of world history, and some of it comes from my imagination. No, we can’t talk about that.

So, what about you? What raises a violent character above empty gore-for-gore’s sake violence, and makes him worth reading about? Or writing about?