Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fifty Thousand Words

Every November an event called National Novel Writing Month[1] takes place. The challenge is to write a novel of 50 000 words in the month, which works out to 1 666 ⅔ words a day[2]. I'm planning on having a go, if only to finish something. Firstly though, here's what I won't be writing:


1. Novelised versions of any of the stuff on this blog

Frankly none of them have the legs to be longer stories, which is why they got finished in their current form and stuck on the blog! Also:

ROBOT DEATH TANK - is a one trick pony.[3]

Carstairs and Topper runs into the problem of Topper - is he just a tophat, or is he actually Carstairs' partner? Or what? I prefer not to answer that question. It'd be like tracking down Bill Watterson and asking him if Hobbes is real or a figment of Calvin's imagination[4]. Also, I'd have to work out a mystery plot of some sort, and making that watertight is a good way of NOT writing a novel[5].

Professor Lovebody is a no because I am Steampunked out at the moment[6].

Major Squick could work, but would probably be a sub-standard comedy Flashman. Also researching the 19th century British Empire is a great way of NOT writing a novel. Just go and read Flashman and sequels. I can't lend you all of them as someone has wandered off with some of them. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The Ravenswood stories have some potential. On the other hand they're just me taking folk stories, folk history, apocryphal stories, fairy tales etc. giving them a bit of a twist and plonking them down in the Ravenswood. I don't object to a novel set in a folktale nowhere/everywhere place but it's a bit limiting as the people aren't characters but stereotypes and the events don't occur but have always occurred.


2. That fantasy novel I always intended to write more than 30 pages of

I've had this great idea of using Xenophon's Anabasis as the basis of a fantasy novel for years and years. An army of Greek Mercenaries marches into the heart of the Persian Empire, win the battle but lose the war, are betrayed and have to march back. Xenophon has prophetic dreams and everything[7]. It's hardly original, but I thought a modern gritty twist might lift it a bit. Also the sequel is a Fantasy Alexander[8] which almost writes itself.

It's such a good idea that I suggest you go and read The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney which has a fantasy Anabasis[9], and also a sequel Corvus that sets things up for a Fantasy Alexander. It's modern and gritty[10]! Damn it.


3. Supervillains

I've been thinking about Supervillains for at least three years now. I have a plot and characters and everything. Unfortunately it has Nazi human experimentation in the first act which is kind of harrowing to research, and frankly after reading about it I stop writing and just flop around in a grey haze for a couple of days. I could make it up, but that's going to be one or more of a. trivialising; b. disrespectful; c. disturbing in it's own right; d. disturbing on another level entirely.


4. A big modern talky novel

One problem with this is it tends to be about relationships and personal problems[11]. When writing I get bogged down in conversations and explanations and descriptions and so forth. The way to break out of this is to introduce some urgency; an emerging situation that requires at least the attention of the characters and usually some action by them[12]. In a non-genre novel this kind of thing can be easily overused, swiftly resembling a soap opera style lurching from car crash to affair to break in to house fire to children running away from home. Better to write a genre novel where these things are not just accepted, but expected.


5. Technothriller / Historical Adventure

These fall straight into the target area defined above. Unfortunately to do properly they require lots of research to work. It would be entirely possible to write a first draft and find that reality made the entire plot risible[13]. No, I need a genre where making stuff up is a positive attribute.


6. Science Fiction / Horror / Romance

Naah. Making stuff up for SF ties me in knots of research / plausibility / coolness / rinse-and-repeat. I'm not such a fan of horror or romance that I want to spend 30 days building a plot.

Classically, writing advice begins with "write what you know"[14]. So it's clear that I should write a nice fat fantasy novel. Or, as I'm aiming for 50,000 words, a nice slim one. Good work everyone! Now to come up with some stuff to go in it.


Next: Things that interest me to write about.

[1] With the hideous abbreviation NaNoWriMo
[2] Tempting! But my personal rule will be to write an integer number of words a day, unless quoting or reporting partial words in dialogue.
[3] Actual Robot Death Tank stories exist. I suggest checking out Keith Laumer's Bolo stories for an example.
[4] The answer is "Yes".
[5] A long-form Carstairs and Topper would mash together two Sherlock Holmes stories to make A Study in Bohemia, or unless it turned out to be a bit racy in which case it would be A Scandal in Scarlet.
[6] You can find Steampunk novels all over the place - Waterstones had a display of it a couple of months back. As noted I've had enough for a while so will not be recommending here.
[7] Socrates interprets it for him, and tells him off for asking the wrong question in the first place.
[8] Hardly original as two of David Gemmell's best novels follow just that template.
[9] Also a Katabasis. Hey, look it up if you can't keep up.
[10] Probably a bit grimmer than I would make it. The Ten Thousand make their way through by endurance and willpower, while mine would have been all about sudden forced marches, clever strategies, seizing forts and bridges by surprise and things like that. Something a little like the Chain of Dogs in Steven Erikson's Deadhouse Gates.
[11] Ugh!
[12] Hereafter referred to as an emergency.
[13] This hasn't always stopped other people.
[14] In Junior School they'd say "No aliens, magic, spies, gangsters, ghosts..." and list everything I wanted to write about, so all my stories were about going on nice walks and finding dead animals, or funny shaped trees or seeing ships and aeroplanes, except one time when they left spies out of the list by accident.

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