Update on My Novel: Month 22

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MARCH STATS

Days Writing: 22
New Words: 1525
New Chapters: 0.25

Total Word-count: 71,186
Total Chapters: 19

My goal for March was to work on the novel every single day. Even if I accomplished very little, I just wanted to learn how to be consistent in having some daily effort. And so far as that’s concerned, this month was a fair success. In all I worked on my novel for 22 days. Not my best ever, but certainly better than any months of late.

Obviously the 1,525 words written isn’t anything special, though. I only finished writing chapter 19, did an edit on all of it, and wrote a small piece of chapter 20. This continues a depressing trend in my performance. During the second year of working on this novel I have accomplished far, far less than I did during the first. Much of the time I feel like I am only scratching out the story a single grain at a time, and this feeling leads to a negative cycle. I feel dissatisfied from accomplishing so little, which makes me less motivated to put more time into it, which obviously makes me accomplish even less.

One of my major problems is that there are so many other things I want to fill my free time with. I want to have relaxation and recreation, just like everyone else, and I also struggle with more hobbies than I know what to do with. With these two forces combined it is a very hard thing to just say “no, write your book instead.”

I’ve been thinking about this, though, and there’s an experiment I’d like to try. While I might find it impossible to close the door on all my other ventures until this novel is finished, I don’t mind temporarily scaling them back. During the month of April I want to work on my novel every day, and I want to write or edit 500 words at least on each of those days. And so long I haven’t met that quota, I won’t do any of my other side activities during that same day.

I’ll still go to work just as much, I’ll still spend quality just as much time with my family, I’ll still take care of all my errands…there just won’t be any of my other personal treats until the novel has been cared for. And it might be that this excessive, and it might not even be sustainable…but that’s alright, because I can always recalibrate at the start of May.

I’ll let you know how this experiment goes next month, and in the meantime here’s one of the new pieces I wrote this month. Enjoy!

“Unless you want to take your chances, you should give the woodworker a drawing of exactly what sort of mirror to make,” John explains.

“Like how it should be shaped and all that?”

“Yes, exactly. Here, stand on this stool and look at what I’ve got laid out on my table: schematics.”

“Drawings!”

“No. Schematics. Drawings are fanciful and imaginative, but schematics are technical, shown to scale, giving the exact dimensions so that anyone can create the thing you want to perfect detail.”

“So for my mirror…”

“The woodworker wouldn’t only know how it should generally look, but the exact size and shape of it as well.”

“Alright, how do I make one?”

“I will help you with that. Let me get a fresh sheet ready. Alright then, how tall should it be?”

Clara lays two hands on the paper and John makes a mark at top and bottom.

“And where should the handle come to? Very good. And how wide at the widest part? Excellent. Mind you, we can alter this as we go along if it doesn’t come out quite how you wanted, this is just to get us started. Now tell me exactly you wanted this to look, and let me know any time I start to go wrong with it…”

An hour later and the schematic is complete.

“Do you like it?” John asks Clara.

“It’s wonderful! I just wish I could hold it!”

“Not a bad idea. Better to look at a physical model than just a drawing–“

“A schematic.”

“Yes, a schematic. Go look for something that’s the same size as this handle and see if it feels right in your hand.”

Throw Me Another Ball!

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A Mass of Faces)

It was once a selling point for movies to show a huge mass of people on camera at the same time. Epics like The Ten Commandments or Gone With the Wind would proudly boast of having “a cast of thousands.” And to be sure, it must have been quite a feat getting so many extras costumed, placed, and rehearsed.

Sometimes it wasn’t just extras, though. Some films would go to great lengths to pack one cameo into their film after another. Films like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and How the West Was Won sold themselves on having a “star studded cast.” We still see shades of this today, where the latest Avengers films work every major star of the franchise into a single, epic package. Of course most of these stars are only side-characters. Once you start writing primary motivations and arcs for more than four characters, things become exponentially more difficult.

This was one of the core pillars of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, though. The series was known for not only having a wide cast, but a cast that all had very specific, very mutually exclusive objectives. Each of them crosses the others in a multitude of ways, and it becomes a daring feat just to keep track of it all.

In the first film the intricacy was limited to the competing motivations of Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Captain Barbossa, and Admiral Norrington. By the end of the third, though, you can add to that list Davy Jones, Tia Dalma, and Lord Beckett, as well as several secondary characters with individual objectives, such as Governor Swann, Bootstrap Bill, and Captain Sao Feng. It’s very impressive that the writers were able to keep track of them all, but also it becomes overwhelming in some cases. A common complaint of the later films was that it was impossible to keep track of everyone’s motivations, and why exactly they were doing the thing that they were doing at any particular moment.

Juggling Ideas)

Of course a large cast is not the only way to add complexity to a story. The Lego Movie has a more standard-sized cast of characters. Emmett, Wyldstyle, Vitruvius, and Lord Business are your main crew, with support from Batman, Good Cop/Bad Cop, and Finn. But what sets this movie apart is how it is bursting with style and ideas.

The animation is frequently chaotic, with so many pieces moving across screen that it is impossible to track them all. Settings change at a blistering pace, too, from a modern city to the old west to a cloud paradise to an evil businessman’s lair to a live action basement in modern suburbia. The dialogue and the jokes come rapid-fire as well, hardly ever allowing a moment for the audience to settle before being whisked off to the next piece of humor.

Yet for all this complexity the film is not incomprehensible. For while the periphery is in constant motion, the underlying story is relatively straightforward. Emmett is believed to be a prophesied chosen one, come to save the world from the oppression of a tyrant. To do so he must learn a special set of powers, as well as overcome his own insecurities. In other words, it’s a classic hero’s tale, one that the audience is abundantly familiar with. It does add a unique wrinkle or two to that formula, such as Emmett not being the chosen one and him befriending the villain rather than destroying him, but its ideas are still so grounded that we are able to follow along in spite of all the visual pandemonium.

Chaos for It’s Own Sake)

But would it work for a story to change its settings as constantly as The Lego Movie, with a cast as wide as Pirates of the Caribbean, and refusing any sort of grounding narrative to carry the audience through?

As horrible of an experience as that might sound, Monty Python and the Holy Grail fits the tumultuous bill and remains a very satisfactory piece even so.

To begin with this film is nothing more than a series of comedic skits, one after another after another. They are tangentially related to a central quest for the holy grail, but are all still very disjointed from one another. Every scene goes to a completely different setting, with absolutely no attempt to place it in the broader landscape. They all introduce new characters that are absolutely central to that one skit, but then dropped afterwards. Whole plot threads are begun without ever being concluded…including the film’s central quest of finding the holy grail!

At the very end of the film the band of knights may or may not have found out where the grail is being held, and either way they decide to have an epic battle on the matter. Thousands of soldiers appear on either side of a wide field, with a shout they surge towards one another with weapons raised…and then get stopped before they can clash together by the police and are all arrested. The End.

It is the film’s final joke, a way to make clear that this whole thing is not about the quest, nor about the narrative thread, nor about the character development. It’s about the skits. And that’s it. And if you liked them then that’s great, but if you wanted a more traditional narrative experience you’ll have to go look elsewhere.

I would say that my current story has fallen under that same category of being about its individual moments instead of an overarching narrative. The reason to read about these children playing pretend is because you like to read about children playing pretend. There really hasn’t been a greater plot or character development or greater message to it.

I have thought about adding one. I toyed with the idea that Mavis could be moving away and this is his last hurrah with his friends. But honestly I think that would distract from the central idea of having fun for it’s own sake.

What Monty Python does well, though, is not overstay its welcome. Playful indulgence remains a delight for only so long. It is best when consumed as a nice, little bite. The Time Travel Situation used to be a great deal more longwinded, it was on track to be as much as eight posts long. But thanks to writing these a couple weeks in advance I had the opportunity to go back and trim it down a great deal. Hopefully it will be fun and rambunctious, but then leave before it becomes too much. Come back on Thursday as we follow it into its final setting.

Update on My Novel: Month 22

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FEBRUARY STATS

Days Writing: 12
New Words: 2867
New Chapters: .75

Total Word-count: 69,756
Total Chapters: 18.75

I consider February to be a more successful month than January. Not just because I was able to actually work on new material, but because my mind was more dedicated to the work…sometimes.

The fact is my performance for February was still very low. I seem to have found my way into the doldrums lately, and I’m having a hard time getting back out of it.

Of late I’ve had the goal to just write something every day. As you can see, I still missed on that very lax requirement for more than half of the days this last month. And on the days that I did write, I didn’t strive to do more than the bare minimum. My average wordcount on the days that I wrote was just shy of 240, hardly anything at all

I’ve tried a few different ways to get out of this slump, and frankly none of them have lasted more than a month. That’s alright. I’ll keep trying new ideas until either I find something that sticks or I get this novel out the long way.

So for March my goal will be to double down on that “write something each day.” All I’m looking for is consistency. I want to find a routine that I can become dependent on every day, even if it only churns out 20 words each time. I will measure my success in number of days and repetition, not in final wordcount. Once I’ve got that, then I’ll look for ways to expand on it.

Come back April 1st to hear how it went. In the meantime here is the piece I have selected to share from my work this month. Enjoy!

It is a very heavy blow to William, it hits even harder than the worm infestation. The first loss had softened him, so now this one is able to strike deep and truly wound.

“I’m sorry, William,” Eleanor can see the heartbreak in her husband’s eyes. “Will we still have enough crops to make enough of a profit back on the mainland?”

“Who’s to know? And even if we do now, then what about after the next problem comes up? Or the next after that?”

Eleanor nods sympathetically. “Things seemed to go much more smoothly during the trial season, didn’t it? Of course we were growing much less, then.”

“Yes, there seems to be much more that can go wrong when there is an entire community of crops.”

“Yes, there is,” Eleanor nods. “I know your original plan was to earn one-fifth of what we initially spent to come out here. If we bring in one-tenth, instead, is that so much worse?”

“Ten years to be successful in our investment?!”

“But we’d still be able to hire at least one or two new hands and expand on the foundation we’ve already set. Why the next year we’d be able to double things up to that one-fifth level. The next year even further. Accelerate the growth, just as you had been saying.”

William nods, but Eleanor can see he isn’t too encouraged.

“But today is still a disappointment, and I certainly wouldn’t sweep that under the rug. I’m truly sorry, darling.” Eleanor rests her hand on her husband’s sunburned arms. “You’ve worked very hard, and you’re not wrong to want to see the fruit of that. I’m sorry.”

The Self-Examined Son

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Usually at the conclusion of each story, I leave a little space at the end to review all the different lessons I gained from writing it, and to summarize all the elements I had been trying to imbue in it. But sometimes these stories run nine chapters long, and there is too much to cover in the little space at the end of the last post. So instead, I will use this entire post to review my current story, The Favored Son, all the things that I think went well, and what I think could be improved on.

Manipulation)

Right before I launched into this story I shared a post discussing how an author gets readers to trust and distrust certain characters from the outset, so that then the audience will accept or reject the philosophies connected to them.

At the time I pointed out how I wrote Tharol and Reis in particular ways to make one likable and the other not, to get the readers to assume one would become the protagonist, and the other the antagonist. That expectation was wholeheartedly affirmed.

A little bit later, I wrote about how this style of manipulation allows the author to guide the reader’s mind to a particular state, and then, knowing what they are expecting, they can either reaffirm or subvert those expectations.

And so, having had this affirmation of Reis as the antagonist and Tharol as the protagonist, I knew the reader would now assume that there would come a standoff between the two of them, a point where they duel over their different ideals and the protagonist would finally overcome the enemy.

And again, this was affirmed in my last post as Tharol defied Reis’s orders and convinced the other youth to do so as well. At that point it may have seemed obvious for Tharol and Reis to cross swords, but I wanted Reis’s downfall to be strictly due to his own hubris, not because Tharol happened to fight better. And so that is what occurred.

You might have noticed that I also setup an expectation for things to go horribly wrong with the battle against the elders by foreshadowing trouble multiple times. There was Tharol feeling uneasy, Tharol going along despite the protesting of his own conscience, and the youth encountering many surreal and unsettling sights along the way. All this was meant to create a sense of discomfort in the reader, and prime them for a scene of failure. Which, again, is exactly what occurred.

Appetizer)

I next wrote about stories that begin with an extended prologue, which gets the audience settled into the tone of the story before the main thrust of the tale begins. I suggested that this was my approach with the first sections of The Favored Son, where the youth first gathered at the centrifuge and Tharol spoke with Master Palthio about his dilemmas of faith.

At this point it should be abundantly clear that the real story was not about those elements, but about the war between the elders and the youth. And its themes evolved into letting go of old expectations to begin something new and about the need to preserve one’s soul even in the most dire of situations.

This isn’t to say that the introduction was entirely disconnected, though. Those opening scenes still laid the roots for several elements in the main story arc. In them I established the basic ideas of Reis’s hunger for power and Tharol’s efforts to listen to his conscience. Thus while my intro largely stands apart from the rest of the tale, it does still remain in connection to it, too.

Things Go Topsy-Turvy)

Then I reached a critical juncture in my story. I was having trouble making that transition into the real thrust of my tale, and suddenly I thought of a better way to go. But that better way changed a great many things, and meant that all the rest of the story would have to change accordingly.

I explained this in great detail at the time, and also shared my realization that it is a perfectly fine thing for an author to have more than one version of their story. Our minds work in tangents, and it is vain to assume our story-crafting won’t branch into multiple interpretations as well.

At the time I considered releasing an alternate version of The Favored Son. I had wondered if that would be redundant though, after all that I would end up writing in this new version. And now that I am at the end of this branch, I actually think there are still a lot of original, worthwhile ideas that have been left on the cutting-room floor.

And so I will be doing another take on The Favored Son. I think I need to rework the opening sequences to better support that alternate form, so I will be rebuilding it from the ground up. Certain elements will be similar, some passages will probably be copied over verbatim, but eventually the two will permanently diverge, at the point where the elders attacked the youth in my current version.

Familiar Haunts)

Next I spoke of stories that revisit the same location multiple times, and how using that familiar backdrop can be used to highlight the changes in the main characters by contrast. The location I was using for this effect was the centrifuge. Previously we saw the students there in a moment of innocent drama. They were quibbling about politics that didn’t really matter, and their fears and anticipations were only minor things.

The second visit took place after the initial attack of the elders, at a point where things had become horrifying, and probably seemed like they couldn’t get any worse. Now we see them returning for the third time, when things have absolutely gotten much, much worse! The unchanging nature of that centrifuge is helping to highlight the darker and darker situation among the youth as it unfolds. Where the location’s broken columns and crumbled stone were originally just an amusing piece of set dressing, now they can be recognized as a foreshadowing for the entire Order.

Pizzazz)

Finally I spoke of inventing new things in a story, simply to entertain the reader. I mentioned as a counterpoint to this, though, that all these crazy, new inventions still need to feel like they belong together. So long as the new creations feel like they originate from the same place, then our illusion of that place as somewhere real can be preserved.

In The Favored Son there are quite a few new creations. There is the strange behavior of the Invaded elders, the reforming Shraying Staffs, the strange physics when one is connected to their core self, and the cryptic hints of the Order’s doctrine.

I like to think that there is a sense of cohesion between all of these, although if I’m honest I kind of just wrote them down as they occurred to me, realized that they didn’t gel together, and then refactored them in my rewrites to bring them more in line with each other. Generally I like to pin down the system and mechanics of a world first, but in this case I kind of just took flight and corrected things as I went. And in the end, I don’t think it was half-bad!

Well that was a lot to cover! Now all that’s left is to finish the tale. Next I will be posting the last section of The Favored Son, and I hope it all comes together in a way that makes the journey satisfying. Come back on Thursday to see the result of that, and then a little bit later we’ll look at the alternate form of it, and consider which version lands better.