Friday, November 28, 2014

3 more days, 7000 more words

Well, 7000 more until 50000. At which point I will probably have reached the part in my original outline that was "the beginning". I think I just accidentally wrote the prequel to my novel. D'oh! That's ok, it means I was secretly a "pantser" all along. Or something. Or I'm always more interested in writing things other than what I'm supposed to be writing. So next year I will pretend to be writing the sequel to this novel and accidentally end up writing this year's planned NaNo. Right? Right?

Annoyance of the day: accidentally deleted all the mail in my inbox. Grrr. This was the primitive linux mail utility, which means gone is gone. (Like the time I was "organizing" my files and had a "what, you didn't really mean to rm -r * from that directory? LOL!" moment. Lucky I had a backup. Good old unix things.) Well, probably there's some way to recover it, but I don't care enough to spend time to figure it out.

Fantasy cliche of the day: Everyone thinks you're a traitor, when actually you're secretly a demon. As a result, you get kicked out of your organization. Teh traumaz! (Well, no. The character decided to go on an extended vacation before seeking a new job.)

Musical selection of the day: String quartets (and quintets) by Antonin Dvorak. I don't mean just the "American" (quartet #12, op. 96), but also especially numbers 8 and 9. I have a recording of those two with the New Vlach Quartet which is one of my favorite things ever. Love the super-mysterious second movement of #8. And the second movement of quartet #14 has been going through my head this morning. Right. That should get me through some words today!

So... 7000 words. That's about two chapters for me. Not so bad. On the other hand, my story will not be finished. Although... thinking about it... it could be the cliffhanger ending for part one of a series. It almost works. Even if it is a downer.

Sometime in the next three days I have to decide what this "magical superweapon" that I mentioned in my outline actually is. Crazy immortal collects antiques and supernatural artifacts. It could be anything! (Except the zither of doom. That one's already been used in someone else's novel.) Some kind of single-use item would be best, or some multiple-use item that is superpowered if you overcharge it and destroy it. That kind of thing. Ten thousand year Persimmon of Ultimate Destruction? Hmmm.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The "use magic!" scenes are even worse than the "everybody fight!" scenes

...and those are bad enough. I wanted to be at 40K yesterday night, but I ended up spending too much time watching "research" videos on Youtube. The thing about the genre (mythology/wuxia inspired fantasy) is that people want at least one fight scene each episode, as a point of visual interest. This translates into about one fight scene per chapter. And I would miss them if they weren't there (even though sometimes it's just boring) so I'm including them in my novel, too. Also, by convention, at least half the characters are skilled in martial arts. So then you have to let them show off their skills.

...but what about my skills (or lack thereof)? D'oh! I'm not a martial artist or fight choreographer. (All I have is a few classes in *mumble mumble* and fencing (foil).) Yeah. The funny thing is, even some of the classic wuxia novelists didn't always describe the fights. There's this one novel where there's a HUGE buildup to a showdown between the main character and the Big Scary. They keep meeting, exchanging portentous looks, and people (and the narrator) discuss each of their chances, etc. etc. etc. and the tension builds until finally at the very end they FIGHT! And it's like... the two walk into a room. The main character walks out. The end! Ha ha! It's amusing to see how the TV/movie adaptations either go with the black box version or else attempt to show the actual fight. I should try that technique sometime. But you can't use it more than once per novel, or the aggravation will be too much.

...and what about "genre convention" vs (even the slightest sense of) "realism"? For example, why swords? They're all constantly using swords and being all awesome-sauce with their SWORDS and stabbing each other with SWORDS and learning super-duper SWORD arts. But when I look at the evidence (and physical/mechanical considerations), spears just seem so much better in so many ways. Unless you're stuck in some small space where you don't have room to use a spear, it looks like the spear fighter (assuming equal skills and training) can point and laugh at the sword fighter. Jabbity jab jab! And a point on the end of a long stick is gonna move fast, too. Very easy to threaten here, there, everywhere. While the sword fighter dances around in annoyance trying to get within reach to use the sword. Moving in is just delivering yourself for shish kebab. And if the sword fighter does somehow manage to get close, the spear fighter can always pull out a dagger, or go to hand-to-hand fighting (close range can nullify the sword as well as the spear). Of course, a shield equalizes things a bit, but those wuxia sword fighters are too cool for shields or armor! Idiocy.

Well, I'm trying to be cinematic, but it's hard to run those little movies in my head without tsking at the silliness. Especially when I'm describing the action in my dull, simple-minded prose.

And then there's trying to describe how people use magic. Maybe I can just sprinkle some nifty CGI into my novel. Pfeh. Magic has to be constrained. But the constraints get away from me. I cheat. I suppose that's the advantage of game systems over novels. You have a definite set of rules about what you can and can't do, and a character sheet reminding you of your abilities. Or sometimes I just forget what I decided. Or change my mind between chapters. Very annoying. You get the "why didn't you do <cool trick you did before> this time?" Or "if you can do THAT, why didn't you do it before, when it would really have come in handy?"

Oh well. Five days, 11000 words. I can do this, yeah?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stop talking to yourself, character!

All my character wants to do is argue with people. And now that she's alone, she's started arguing with herself! D'oh. It adds to the word count, but I do get tired of it sometimes.

So it's day 23, and I'm now at 33K words. Blah. Another chapter or two, and I will have reached the originally planned starting point of my novel. I feel like that writer in Gene Wolfe's short story ("My Book") who was writing his book starting with the last word, and working back from there to end with "...I will begin the preface." Heh. I wish I was half as cool as Gene Wolfe.

Latest input from my son: "You need to have a romance in it!" Yes. He insisted. Well. I would like to have a romance, but I'm so bad at it. So, for the next chapter, I am having a background romance, involving A's great-grandmother and a snake demon/fairy. Whee! But for the main characters? Hrmm. The only person A might conceivably have had a romance with is going to get killed off a few chapters from now. By A. So it sucks to be her. But even if the person hadn't died, it was a monk who wasn't going to get romantically entangled with A anyway.

Meanwhile, being tired of solo violins, I switched my soundtrack to Schumann (I've conditioned myself to write whenever I hear his 3rd and 4th symphonies) and then Beethoven. For some reason, the Emperor concerto (Beethoven's piano concerto number 5) has been going through my head. I thought I had a recording of it, but I couldn't find it, so... time for another Amazon.com download! There was a nice cheap one with Rudolf Serkin, so I was happy. Piano concertos 3 and 5, woohoo! Actually, I used to hate piano music. It sounded terrible to me. But then when we played some piano concertos in orchestra, I realized that it sounded MUCH better live, close-up, in an auditorium, than it did over the crappy car speakers. After that, my imagination filled in the superior sound even when listening to recordings.

I'll try to get more writing done today, but it looks like the next few hours are taken. I'm told we are having hot-pot for lunch. And as it doesn't seem to be magically assembling itself, I guess that means I have to go prepare the various ingredients. I hope the thing still works. I bought an electric hot-pot thingy last month, because it seemed too expensive to pay about $20 a person to eat it at a restaurant. I can't manage quite the endless plates of meat/fish/shrimp/fish balls/seaweed/mushrooms/vegetables/etc etc etc that they have at the restaurant, but I think I must have at least one meat, one bean curd, one seaweed, 2-3 vegetables, radishes, mushrooms, rice noodles, mung bean noodles, udon noodles, instant ramen, linguine... yeah.

Friday, November 21, 2014

When in doubt, take a prisoner

Gah. Days behind, but I finally reached 30K words. And now it's coming back to me how horrible it always is, inching forward a hundred words at a time. (Except for the spammy 500 words I flew through right before lunch.)

I'm stalling. I admit it. I have no idea how my character is supposed to succeed at this hopeless task I set her. My outline just says "A uses magic to win. It's very disturbing and alienating". Not really. My mental outline says that. The outline in my notebook doesn't even mention this incident. I interpolated it between two other events because it seemed to fit.

"Uses magic to win". Well, thank you very much. So specific and helpful. Not.

The whole interpolated incident is lame, anyway. I told my son, "This is the part where the person has to sneak into a bandit fortress and assassinate the chief bandit," and he said, "You copied that! That was in that movie you were watching!" Naturally I can't remember which movie this was, but he's probably right. He said it was some Chinese thing. I said, "Then how do you know what happened? You can't understand Chinese." He said, "You told me when we were watching it!" So not only do I not remember watching it, I don't remember translating it for his benefit, either. Argh. So brain-dead. And my son thinks I'm just pretending not to remember. Ha. I wish.

But I couldn't even get that far. I don't know how the character breaks into the fortress. Or if she even should. But I had to type enough to make my quota for tonight, so just had to make up some random garbage... hence the kidnapping! Whee. Tomorrow I can have my character ask her prisoner how to infiltrate the damn fortress. But I refuse to do the "prisoner and escort" trick. That's too cliche even for me. Besides, A doesn't have enough allies to pull that off.

So. Think of something else. By tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I've lost track of what day it is

...but I know I'm behind, behind, and even more behind. As I write this, I am at 22K.

ARRRRRGH! <--- This is me, not coping.

It's not NaNo's fault. It's the "SAD. SAD. SAD. SAD. SAD. SAD..." (with the occasional "Hungry.") for two straight days I fall to pieces at. You're sad, I'm sad, we're all sad and not doing anything productive. *clutches head and hides under the blanket (and that goes for about three of us in the family)* I tell him at least you're not going to that ultra-competitive college for magicians (the one in Lev Grossman's book) but it's not much comfort. We're still sad. And getting phone calls from the school isn't terribly helpful. Though it's amusing that when he's not sad, my son is the one telling me to go write my 2000 words and asking me what the plot is and trying to read my notebook.

Oh well.

I've sent him out to take a long walk with the dog. Perhaps tomorrow will be better. We live in hope.

As long as my words-needed-per-day is below 3000, it's still doable for me.

Though when I tried to explain my plot, it did come out sounding pretty lame. Drat. What can I say? It made sense to me in my head at the time. Of course, each time I get to a new scene and write it to find out what "really" happened, I change my mind about things and have to redo the "outline". For instance, today I had to switch two characters around so they made the reverse decisions of what I had originally planned for them. D'oh. Hmm. With any luck, it will come to some conclusion by the end of November. I would like to see how it all turns out. (That's why I'm writing this story and not some other one, after all.)

I suppose it's because I'm a simulationist at heart. The initial outline is what I get with crude approximations of the characters, and it always turns out to be inaccurate. NaNo is me running the simulation in more detail. I need to write the story because I can only run a short sequence of interactions in my head at any given moment.

The annoying thing is the backstory. I can't work those out properly until the characters start spewing out their life histories to each other. Stop! Argh! It's tell, tell, tell and no show for pages on end. I didn't show it in the first place because I thought it was boring, but the characters are incapable of being concise, damn them.

Anyway.

Still got lots more words to get through tonight.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Half-way? AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

No. Not even close.

I've been a total basket-case pretty much all last week. It shouldn't really stop me writing, but I stop anyway. Oh well. So today I am at 17000 words right before I have to go make supper for everyone. It will be a frozen food day. I will do more writing later. I promise!

On the plus side, my kids did help me come up with names for characters D1, and D3 - D11. All right, yes, so far they are all minor characters who may not even show up in the novel, but every little bit helps. And having a name for D1 helped me come up with his backstory. Of course, now that I have a backstory, I had to go off and have him tell it all to character A ("Winter"). Poor Winter currently is stuck in bed with two broken legs, so she has no choice but to listen to this story. Is the story relevant? Is it just ripped off from Pu Songling's tales? Err. Maybe. And let's say "inspired by" rather than "ripped off". Mountain trolls, monks, Taoist sorcerers... um, not calling them Taoists. What was it? Disciples of the Unspoken Way? That's what I'm calling them. Not that I'm fooling anyone with that. On the other hand, I'm stealing my son's magic spell chant for the monks and making them go "ogol ogol ogol". Well. Changed it to "Ogol-daha-mi" because of reasons.

I am actually enjoying parts of the story. Whee. Not immortal prose or anything, but it's fun to hack out these cheesy cliches. Amusing to me to write stereotypical wuxia dialogue in my head in Chinese and then try to translate that into English. But I can't help having my own take on how all the magical stuff works, so it's all a mess really.

I just...have to...write...faster...more hours...

I can't help but go back and edit bits here and there. And deleting and rewriting sentences as I go. Which is against the spirit of NaNo, but since this is the only month I commit to sitting down and writing massive chunks of prose, I'm gonna do it the way I feel like doing it.

Also. Stupid outline! Y U so vague? "A somehow manages to defeat D1 and get away. D1 plants something on A?" and then "A delivers the thing to B'. B has done something clever involving time (mirrors?) so that the ritual is reversed and B wins." GAH! I ask you. What am I even going to write when I get to those scenes? I have no clue. This is probably why I procrastinate and stick in a dozen extra scenes before we get to the parts I actually had in my outline. As it is, I already pushed back the opening of my novel about 6 chapters. Ridiculous.

But how do I ever decide where to start the story? Eh? I suppose I originally had A start it. But now it's B. And I picked a different moment of disaster for A to introduce her (She had at least one before and one after that I could have used). So there's that. And to make life more fun for them all, I introduced more horror elements (alone in the house with your dead grandmother, killing fluffy animals, eating dead enemies to keep plagues from starting, etc.) Yay me.

Yes. Clearly I am still a basket-case. But I will be a basket-case who is writing NaNo words. Yeah. Any minute now.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I can't take "it" anymore!

Right, that's that, then, I'm switching to a made-up gender neutral pronoun instead of using "it". The one that ended up working best for me was "ze" and "zer" (rhymes with "their"). It's less offensive to my eye and ear than "it". Though I will continue using "it" in things like "I can't take it" and "it's snowing" and so on. Using gender-neutral pronouns doesn't mean it's not a sexist society in my story, but people there accept whatever gender someone identifies as without worrying about the biology or personal history of possible sex changes. (Which happens more than you might think, due to people reincarnating and remembering their past lives.) Well, it's a fantasy setting. They don't have to have the same prejudices as a real life culture. This gender-switching thing must be in the air, though, as it came up in Doctor Who of all things recently (with a classic villain turning from male to female)! Total coincidence. I started with this NaNo idea ages ago, before this season of Doctor Who started.

Anyway, starting today with a word deficit. (Of course. Don't I do that every year?) Relying on cliches and tvtropes and tour package sites to get me through NaNo. If it weren't for cheesy cliches, I wouldn't even have any plot, so let's have a moment of appreciation for the old favorites. For example, today I introduce the old friend who's planning to retire after this one last trip/mission. Yep! I'm digging his grave already. And then I used the "Aha! Your father was my enemy and ruined my evil plan! Now here you are..." thing to link up a couple of my plot strands. Some revenge thing going on.

If I get at least 2000 words done today, I'll reward myself by watching the Doctor Who season finale. I'll try not to think about Dwarf Fortress. My son recently introduced me to the game. Ha ha ha! I'm playing it un-modded, for the classic cryptic experience. (Though I'm not hardcore enough to attempt it without reading the wiki and the quickstart guide.) All those little ASCII characters under my command! If only I could have them arrange themselves into words and sentences and insert them into my novel. Oh well.

I wonder if I should type out the backstory for one of the characters and include that in my word count? I don't actually want it in the novel at this point, but it's stuff I should know about. Hrmm. It could come up somewhere. Who knows? At the moment I just have some scribbled notes (much mocked by my son, who can't read my handwriting anyway.) Maybe a story inside the story. Or an outtake. Hmm.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Day 5: do we have enough snacks yet?

So it being NaNoWriMo, I went out and bought more snacks than usual. With another trip to Trader Joe's yesterday, I now have more boxes of crackers than I know what to do with, a bag of almonds, two bags of pumpkin seeds (why do they only have the salted ones!?), cheese, romaine lettuce, and bread. From previous expeditions to supermarkets, I have instant noodle bowls, fruit, beef jerky, potato chips, mini Kit Kats, M & Ms, real Haribo gummy bears, peach gummies, lychee gummies, spicy peas, and frozen potstickers. The problem with this is that here I am now eating leftover pork chops with TJ's pumpkin cranberry crisps and gummy bears for lunch. Hrmm.

So yeah. The hours and days of NaNo tick relentlessly on.

ARRGH! I'm at 8000 words now. Behind-ish as usual.

It takes forever to get any words out. I feel like I've been typing for ages, but when I scroll back through the file, I can't help thinking "What? Was that it?! That's hardly anything!"

And it isn't, since I'm still following the orphan boy ("Lolo")'s tale. Even though I will have other chapters in between later, I want to write down this storyline while it's fresh in my mind. This makes it seem as if Lolo is the main character in the book, since basically he's all I've written about so far!

Slow slow slow... such slowness... wow.

So every time I introduce another in the band of orphans, the story goes on hold for ten minutes while I try to think up a suitable name. Gah! "Yang Ash Peach"!? WTF? I had to pick something, and that's where my mental roulette wheel ended up. With any luck, I'll kill off 4/5 of them in the next scene. So that's something to look forward to.

Must...write...more...words...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Day 3, blech

Well, I just got to 4000 words, so it's time for my day 3 moan of "Gah! Behind already!" I was going to write much today (after writing "not much" yesterday), but then things didn't go to plan and the day is grrrrrrrrrrr bad. Oh well. I wrote about 1000 words anyway, and I'll write some more later. Just taking a short bloggy break.

So 4000 words in, and I'm still on the boy (character B2) and his dying grandmother (B2.1?). They both have names, at least. Not good ones (why did I decide to call the boy "Lolo"? Why? WHY!? LOLOLOL.... errr.... no...) but they do have them. B2 will get a new name when he gets adopted, but that hasn't happened yet.

Yeah. This was supposed to be over by now! Lolo was supposed to be with the other boys singing "Consider yourself (part of the furniture?)" or "It's a hard knock life" or something by now. But no. This intro section is going on and on. Well, at least it's words on the page.

To be fair, it's also our introduction to B (the goddess character). The original B, before the messy business of incarnation happens. And yippee, I also have a name for B! (A rip off, but who cares?)

The hard part was writing 4000 words and hardly using any singular third person pronouns. Man, this calling everyone "it" thing is killing me. Stupid. More with the "it" faster, and I'd be used to "it" by now. But I'm not. Maybe I should have gone with "zie" instead. Ah well.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It begins! (NaNoWriMo 2014 Edition)

Aka "I'm doomed! DOOMED!"

It's only the first day and the first two hundred words and my Plan already requires a rethink. It's like this. I couldn't think of a good name for my story (or the Scooby Gang, which is my new Scooby Gang after the Salt Gang retired, or before they were born, or something) so I just made up a temporary name: "The Mud Cult". All very well and fine, but then I had to have some way of making that make sense in the story.

So as I was falling asleep last night, I thought I could open my novel with one of those epigraph thingies that people have. This being a fantasy novel, it would be a completely made-up quotation from a completely made-up book. Now, Chinese traditionally has a zillion aphorisms or idioms or what have you, that students are supposed to learn about in school so they sound educated. (Like in that Star Trek TNG episode "Darmok", except not so extreme.) Mostly these are archaic four-word sayings which uneducated people have no clue about. (In TV shows/media, you have those characters who use the sayings, and then the other characters who complain "Stop with the four word this, four word that, you know I have no clue what you're talking about!!!") Anyway, I figured the "Mud Cult" must be a reference to some such saying. Luckily I have an English language book (volume 3 out of who knows how many) that explains a bunch of these idioms. I browsed through it and thought about inventing one of my own...

...and this morning came up with this (complete with horrible "fantasy language transcription": I'm too lazy to make up a real fantasy language, too ignorant to use real Chinese):

Saying: "Mong teen bo nay." (To blind yourself to Heaven and worship mud.)

Accepted Meaning: Don't put your faith in the ephemeral.

Origin: (from the "Historical Records" of Shiye the Honest Scribe)

During the Broken Mirror Period, the king of Gan was at war with the king of Towan. The border between their kingdoms being well-guarded, the king of Gan marched its army through the Atkaloi hills, the home of the Kaloi tribe. The Kaloi refused to allow passage of the army, stubborn in their resistance. They cursed Gan with the fury of the Dwellers in the Dark, their tribal gods that haunted the cave-riddled hill country. They raided the supply wagons and threw rocks from the high places where the road wound through narrow valleys. The king's army was superior in its number and quality of weapons, yet to pursue the tribe through the hills would be a waste of resources.

The king of Gan's minister suggested a strategem to the king: let the idols be seized from the holy caves of the Kaloi. The idols being made out of dried mud, when set in the open under the sky, the afternoon's thunderstorm soon washed them into puddles of goo.

The spirit went out of the Kaloi with the dissolution of their holy figures, and they soon submitted to the king of Gan.

Commented the king's minister, "This is what happens when you blind yourself to Heaven and worship mud."

--- From "The Compiled Sayings, Volume 4"

So then I'm like, "Oh. So that's what it means?" Clearly, it's the purpose of this year's novel to prove the saying wrong. If I have something like that at the beginning, how else can I end it? Since the novel is called "The Mud Cult", and I want to have a (mostly) happy ending, it's inevitable. Philosophically, I guess it must be like the "slow food" movement. Cook delicious food, then eat it. Mmm, fooooood...

Wait wait wait. Where was I? Oh yeah. Now my novel will have some banal theme about the value of the ephemeral. That probably means that my "happy ending" will include lots of characters dying. ARRRGH! It must be so. Even before I wrote the bit above about worshipping mud, I had pushed back my originally planned opening to start with the orphan boy... and the death of his grandmother! Begin as you mean to go on, and all that. Ha ha ha.

Day 1 is halfway over.

DOOMED!