Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I did it again - I finished my NaNoWriMo Novel, all 50,000 words of it, and two days ahead of schedule. That's three in a row! It's nice to see that I can still set myself a target and achieve it. And I'm quite happy with what I wrote, too. I wouldn't say it's any good, but at least I don't hate it (like I did last year).

The story is finished, but there's still room for me to add a bit more. The priest character (who I mentioned in a previous post) appears pretty much from no-where three-quarters of the way through the book, and I think it would add to the overall story if he appeared earlier and more consistently throughout the story. I also still haven't written the scene I mentioned earlier, or a similar scene that appears later in the book. I think both additions would add something besides wordcount to the book, but whether I'll ever get around to it is another question.

But I have to say, I am tempted to go back to my outline, work in the priest, go back to my preface, write out a proper outline for it and re-write it in a more logical order, and then maybe, start working through the body of the story itself and seeing if I can't find the very worst things about it and improve them a little. Who knows?

But the most important thing for me to do right now is to bask in the glory of success. I did it! Hooray!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

NaNo: Three-quarters

Well, things have picked up over the last week. I've made a real effort to catch up and I'm now sitting pretty at a little over 37,000 words, about a quarter of a day's worth ahead of schedule. Go me!

I'm also 1800 words ahead of my 3000-words-per-chapter target. This is a good thing, as the next chapter is in danger of being about two paragraphs long. I have an outline for it - three sentences and 11 words of it. Making those sentences into proper narrative text would take about two paragraphs. What I really need is to imagine a couple of incidents which demonstrate the situation; but that's a bit more difficult.

I suppose I could always write the two paragraphs and move on to the next chapter, which should be easier to bulk out: it's a meeting, so basically a long piece of dialog punctuated with enough description to make it interesting. I'll think about how I can write the tricky chapter properly, though, as it'll be nice not to have to use a gratuitous filler.

It's just as well I'm ahead at the moment. I'm away and very busy this weekend, and I'm not sure how much time I'll have to catch up next week (the final few days!) so I need to get as far ahead as I can.

I'm focusing on quantity in this post rather than quality or substance. And what not? That is, after all, what NaNo is all about. But I do at least feel that the last week's worth has been no worse than what preceded it. I think the two biggest issues with the last few chapters have been a lack of key detail due to a lack of research / knowledge on my part, and dialog which doesn't adequately distinguish the characters involved. Ah well. Maybe that's something I can work on in future. Still, I do feel that I have improved my style in one area: I wanted to avoid long passages describing the characters' inner thinking and feeling, and rather to make their feelings apparent through their actions and conversations. "Show, don't tell," I think it's called. I don't know how good my "showing" has been, but at least there's a lot more of that and a lot less "telling". That's got to be something.

So, one more week to go, and my "novel" is reaching its grand finale. Things are going rapidly downhill, and my characters are about to embark on their heroic last stand together. Yes, it really is that tacky. But how will it all end?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

NaNo: half-way update

It's the 15th today, so in theory I should have written 25,000 words by now. In practice I'm just over 20,000, so I'm a little behind, but no need to panic just yet (just write more).

How's it going? Well, the chapter outlines are proving useful, in that I've managed to write the story thus far and it's gone pretty much as expected. My writing isn't very good, but that's hardly a surprise. I'm also starting to think that maybe the story idea isn't as good as I thought it was, largely because I'm not convinced by a lot of the details. But that could just be because I don't know enough about the subject matter. Note to self: stick to what you know next time. Only I did that last time and it was very very dull. Hmmm...

The first week or so, everything went well, and I managed to stick to my schedule fairly well. That was when the characters are introduced, along with the setting. I was actually quite happy with what I was writing, too.

Then I got to the first problem scene. It involves a health and safety inspector condemning a kitchen which is perfectly clean but doesn't meet regulations. I know a little about food hygiene, but no-where near enough to get the details right, and as a result, the scene is full of vagueness wherever it needed specifics. It took a while to write, not because I kept researching the details (I don't think I can write 50,000 words in a month if I have to research them at the same time - at least, not while keeping a full-time job and a family!) but because I knew what I was writing was rubbish.

That problem, and the attendant feeling of wading through treacle, persisted with the next few scenes, which cover the aftermath of the inspection. I was almost on schedule nonetheless until the end of last week, but then I went away for the weekend and didn't write anything (visiting family is important, even in November). Hence being a bit behind at the moment.

But the good news is, I've moved on from those particular awkward scenes onto ground I'm more comfortable with - two people meeting on a train and getting into conversation. I can't say I'm writing that well either, but there's bad and there's bad, and at least it's flowing.

Thus far I've written the chapters pretty much in order, but I've cut half of one chapter, basically because I didn't feel up to writing it. The story moves ok without it, but I think it's important for character exposition, and also, it makes a point. It's a romantic scene involving a couple in their mid 50s who have been married for 30 years (and have grown-up children who have moved away). Hence me not being able to write the thing - my wife and I are 20 years younger than that and I believe the experience is a bit different :)

It's a shame, though. I thought it would have made a good point. On the whole I think the portrayal of that sort of thing in fiction tends to be unethical and unrealistic - it's usually young and unmarried couples, and it's always fantastic for both partners. I thought it would make a nice change, then, as well as making a moral point, to write a scene with older people who had been married for 30 years and still loved each other - where it's about relationship more than pure pleasure, where it's funny, where things aren't always perfect but are still worthwhile.

But I haven't, because, quite apart from the age issue, I have no idea how to write a scene like that anyway. Oh well, maybe if I run out of words later on, I'll come back to it. I understand there are some good examples in my wife's collection of Jilly Cooper novels ;) And it was her idea to put a scene like that in (albeit probably not with the kind of characters I'm using).

The couple themselves weren't originally part of the story; I introduced them (leading on from my wife's suggestion) because I needed a sub-plot to push the word count. I reckon the story as it is now should hit the required length, but if it doesn't, I have another sub-plot (or at least another character) up my sleeve - the ubiquitous priest. I may put him in anyway, for two reasons: (1) characters can talk to the priest to reveal their feelings as a useful plot device - I'm trying to avoid long passages discussing the inner workings of characters' minds this year - and (2) as with the romantic scene, I think it would make a nice change to have a more representative fictional portrayal of a Catholic Priest - i.e. one who is a law-abiding, respected, and generally helpful member of the community.

So that's where I am. Will I post another update before the end of the month? Who knows ...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

NaNo: starting off

November 1st arrived at last, and with it the opportunity to start writing actual words for my new novel. Actually it feels presumptuous to call it a novel, as if somehow I am implying that my 50,000 words of excrement stand any comparison to the great works of literature. They don't, but that's beside the point.

So I woke up yesterday morning and started writing, and at this point I've completed the preface (about 1400 words) and am just starting the first chapter.

I would have done more, but unfortunately the last couple of weeks of November were so exhausting with work that right now I really feel I need a rest, rather than to launch myself into another mammoth, if rather less technically demanding, task. As a result, I wrote virtually nothing yesterday evening or this morning; precious time that could have been spent typing was not.

Now I'm just hoping that I can perk up and regain some - some Voom, some enthusiasm, some Fundamental Will To Be, whatever you call it - in time to throw myself into the project for the rest of the month.

Time and tide wait for no man - not even in November.