Tag Archives: Writing

Notes From the Front: the 96 Hour Novel

Yes, yes, I took an extra day on it. Still, I think writing a full short novel… 25,000ish words, a hundred pages… in a four-day weekend is something that I can be happy about.

Trust me, I wasn’t happy about it Saturday afternoon, and I can’t discuss how I felt Sunday without adding some sort of plug-in to WordPress that will randomly cuss every sentence. But by Monday, I was forging on ahead and writing at a 20 page per day rate. That’s about two and a half times my normal rate, and the effect it had on my creative brain (wringing it dry, breaking it down, and leaving nothing but the story intact) is something that has to be seen to be believed. Though, I think my next project will be a 100-hour short novel… perhaps I’ll try that back to back during NaNoWriMo since my hero, Agata, claims she has more stories to tell me.

Tuesday evening I had an interesting bit of exhilaration. I’d not opened my copy on my desktop since Sunday morning, and when I looked at it I realised I’d written 50 pages in a little over two days. It made me feel dizzy for a moment.

Anyway, my report is that everyone should try this once, and I myself am going to try it again in a few weeks. I wouldn’t write a literary novel this way, and perhaps not even one of my beloved surreal horror stories, but for something that proceeds at a frenetic pace (the action in this story, tentatively called “Agata and the Broken Train,” takes place over the course of four days) it’s a perfect method. I’m also curious to see what happens to this in rewrite… will I trim it to an under-90-pages length and streamline it, or will one of the characters/ plotlines jump out and demand equal treatment, adding on another ten, or twenty, or fifty pages, even as I tighten and refine what I’ve written?

If anyone’s interested in reading, well, probably not my rough, but my first clean copy, let me know… it will be prepared in a week or two. As for my other stories, I’m still more or less on track for my story-a-week project, and I’ll be putting the first refined story, up here next week for your edification and enjoyment.

The 72 Hour Novel: Day One

Well, by 14 or 15.00 today I had given up, freaked out, gone to take a nap with a horrible headache, and convinced myself that all was lost. Then I got up from the nap, made black-bean chilli since I realised I hadn’t eaten in well over a day (probably the source of my headache), and went from feeling like a failure at 5000 agonizing words to hitting 7K and saying “That’s enough.” Then I pushed ahead to hit 8K/ 30 pages in less than 24 hours. So even if I don’t hit my goal of writing a short novel (23-25K/ 80-100 pages) in three days, I think I figured out how I’ll be able to do it the next time I try. (And honestly, I’m worried that even if I do hit my word/ page goal by Monday Midnight, I’ll not be done with the story. One of my slippery good/ villain characters is more deep than I thought, and my main character is really having a lot of fun telling me her story. So, I’ll check in tomorrow night, and I’ll still be posting on Twitter with the #72hournovel hashtag.

Random observances:

Writing is physically draining enough when you don’t dash around the dining room, your patio, and your kitchen re-enacting an epic fight from your Sword and Sorcery novel. Today, I also learned that it’s a good thing I don’t write erotica.

When you try to force a character into a box she doesn’t want to fit into, she will rebel. Much like fitting a person into a category she doesn’t want to fit into. The difference is:  I can erase the character. I think that actually makes it harder to deal with.

Magic in most fantasy novels is glowing, mystical, and beneficent, or dark, chilling, and malignant. It has crisp edges and direct lines of attack. When a man is hit with a spell, he dies or is turned into a toad or whatever curse is laid upon him. But I’m a veteran. I’ve seen Fireballs, and Magic Missiles, and Called Lightning. I’ve seen especially what they leave behind. There are no crisp lines and magical effects in combat.

The 72 Hour Novel

So, I’ve been on track so far with my goal to write 50 stories in 52 weeks. (2 for 2… that’s a start, I think…) However, this next story is a little longer. A teenage girl from the same world as my current serial at Way Too Fantasy stopped by my head and convinced me to tell a story about what happened to her and her family while she was travelling with her Uncle’s wagon train to a busy port in the north. Seemed like a simple story so I agreed… and then I realised it was going to take me 80-100 pages to tell the damn thing.

No worries… I have Friday to Monday off this week, and I’ve always wanted to see if I could write a novel in a weekend. Well, a short novel. Michael Moorcock, and some of the other great prolific pulp writers did it. And since this is Sword and Sorcery, I think it may lend itself to this type of frenzied composition. We’ll see. It could just wind up a flaming heap of triceratops dung.

Today I spent outlining (I never outline, but it seemed necessary for this) and sketching and procrastinating, but it’s midnight. The witching hour. I have my snacks (apples and Doritos and caramels) and the first of what I suspect will be many pots of espresso (I have a 6-cup stovetop Moka pot, the kind they use in Italy… also, I don’t drink coffee much). I’ll be tweeting irregular updates @bovisrex and, if I remember, using the hashtag #72hournovel. I might also use #DiversityinSFF since my heroine is overweight, a minority, young, and not the typical swordsmaiden from these types of stories… i.e., no chainmail pushup bra and plate mail cameltoe. She wasn’t taught how to fight by an Uncle, or a boyfriend, or a brother whom she must now avenge… she grew up in a rough-and-tumble farming community and learned to fight with what she had. If she survives, she’ll get better.

On that last note, if anyone reading this can think of ways a 16-year old scrapper can ‘MacGuyver’ weapons and armour that she can use on her quest, hit me up here or on Twitter. By tomorrow, I might need a hand.

Alright, it’s five after midnight and I’ve procrastinated enough.

What Comes to the Surface, Part 1

All of these blurbs and bits are things that come to mind while I work on other stories. Some are quotes from other people; some are my own.

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices — to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill. And suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own – for the children… and the children yet unborn.” — Rod Serling, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”

All you know of a person’s identity is what he or she tells you. That goes for yourself, too.

“I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it.” — Jack Handey

No matter what you write, someone will get offended by it. And if you go out of your way to not offend anyone, I’ll probably get offended.

The terrible things we get up to while trying to prove something to someone could fill a book. Wait… they already do.

 

 

Disneyfucation

That’s not a typo.

I like to talk about seeing stories from a different point of view. This is not something I came up with, of course. Two books I read and fell in love with when I was much younger are John Gardner’s Grendel and Gordon R. Dickson’s The Dragon and the George.
And even when I was un piccolo bambino I found myself copying examples of switched viewpoints such as this classic Peanuts cartoon.

All of this has been in the forefront of the offices in my head because I’m writing a second draft of my version of a Disney story, one that is a relatively straightforward adaptation of a classic fairy tale. What surprised me while I was writing that story was that it really was a straightforward adaptation. That is not exactly par for the course for Disney movies anymore. Not that the classic Disney versions of other fairy tales were ever close to the source material (check out the Talking Cricket’s role in the original Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi… perhaps he should have wished upon that star a little harder, eh?) I remember being vaguely disquieted as a child when I read the original fairy tales and stories that Disney bowdlerized and sanitized, but since they occasionally produced a quality work of art (such as The Little Mermaid) I lived with it. All of this ended when The Hunchback of Notre-Dame came out in the mid-nineties.

The original novel by Victor Hugo is not as well-known in the US as Les Miserables, which is a shame since it’s just as moving and thrilling as that book, and at 500 pages, about the size of just one of the descriptions of what people shouted at The Battle of Waterloo (in the abridged Les Mis, of course…) Most of us these days only know the story from the various movie versions, and while many of them are  well-done, they don’t quite capture the power and pathos of the source material. Particularly misrepresented in many versions is the character of Phoebus. The novel has, of course, the hero, Quasimodo (who is also deaf, as were all bellringers in the days before ear protection), the villain, Claude Frollo (who is possibly one of the most despicable characters in French literature I’ve come across) and the beautiful wronged Gypsy woman, Esmeralda. And then there’s Phoebus.

In the book, Phoebus is best described as a weasel. Like Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, he doesn’t have the cojones to truly be a bad guy. He does bad things in a moment of weakness and either doesn’t own up to them, or blames his weaknesses, or blames other people for not taking his weaknesses into account. Phoebus, however, is so much more painfully well-wrought than Dimmesdale is. No other character in literature filled me with such pathetic disgust like he did. When people talk about what they would do if they could magically travel inside one of their favourite books and meet its characters, I don’t think of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, or Winter’s Tale, or any of the “Black Company” books, or even hanging out in a tavern in Lankhmar with the Grey Mouser and his companion. I think of how sweet it would be to step inside 15th Century Paris, find Captain Phoebus, and just smack the everloving shit out of him. No character deserves it more than he does.

So fast-forward to the mid-nineties, when I see a trailer for the Disney movie. True, I’d been a little disappointed with Pocahontas, (who wasn’t?) but the movies that Disney had been putting out since 1989 (The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) were stunning enough for me to look forward to what they were going to do with perhaps my favourite French Gothic novel. And then I saw a toy commercial for the movie, and amidst the other plasticized characters, the announcer pointed out “Brave Phoebus.”

Brave Phoebus.

This was a character that perhaps caused most of the bad things in the novel to happen, was too weaselly to do anything about it, and still somehow came out ahead in the end.

Of course, the little cynic that I keep locked in a trunk in the back of my head piped up, “Well, of course they had to make him the hero. God Forbid they make a hero out of the ugly deaf guy. I mean, really… what would that teach our children?”

I’ve never seen any direct evidence that that was the direct cause of Phoebus’ transformation but everything else that Disney’s done since then (like Merida‘s makeover from self-sufficient warrior tomboy to glamourized, sexualized, properly keeping to her own place Disney Princess) hasn’t disproved my hypothesis.

This is why us writers and artists and creators need to produce quality stories about quality people, adults and children. Real people. Warts and body odor and clumsiness, along with accidental good deeds, kind eyes, and a way of occasionally doing the right thing. (The cynical movement in literature and film is just as naïve and detached from reality as the Polyanna-esque ‘everything is sunshine and rainbows and unicorn farts movement.) Even though it may be one day Disneyfuc’d into something barely resembling its origin, the stories need to be there. And once the story’s out there, flip it over and tell it from another point of view. Or tell it backwards. Or tell a realistic version of a magical tale or vice-versa. The slippery plastic sheen of homogenous popular culture may always be more visible, but people are always willing to dip beneath it for the good stuff, if you give them a reason to.

The Fifty Story Tower of Fiction, or, The Amount of Disregard I Have For My Sanity

Yup. Things got a little rowdy here at Chez KC what with it being Fiscal New Year’s Eve last night, and ‘sampling’ a new shipment of Saurian Brandy, and, well, I got carried away. So carried away that I lost all sense of judgement and proportion and decided that…

Well, I have two friends. (Honestly.) One of them, June Faramore, started a 365 poems-a-year blog called Work Your Way Out, which I recommend. (She claims I inspired her to do that, but I don’t believe her… that’s all her.) A few months later, my other friend Charlotte Cuevas was inspired by that blog to put up her own 365 poem blog, The 365 Poetry Project. This blog is also wondrifulous and awesome. So, I’ve decided to follow their example. But of course, I couldn’t do the same thing that they’re doing. That would be, among other things, sensible and responsible.

Nope, I’m writing 50 stories over the course of the next year.

I was originally going to write 52, but I thought that giving myself two weeks of flex would be a good plan. And to show I mean this, I’m putting up a short-short as a sort of “Week Zero” post. Anyway, I write well (read: I only write) under pressure, so come along for the ride and we’ll see how this goes.

The page is here. Wish me luck.