Defeat and the death of Nukelandia

You may remember that just over a week ago I found myself a nice shiny gauntlet, slapped it vigorously around my chops several times then settled down into 12 long hours of writery goodness.

The challenge was to write a 17.5k word novella in 24 hours and grin at the self-satisfaction of either total defeat or total victory. Unfortunately, the victory was neither totally good nor the defeat totally bad. I pushed out the word count, but failed to complete the story.

In an effort to salvage something from the experiment, I picked up a couple of books on plotting, structure, and the like (including the one which inspired the rather half-arsed act of creativity) and made the bold statement that I would have the work finished, formatted, covered and published by the end of this month. With 6 days left in February, I can finally say I have my total defeat.

Since finishing the epic word-a-thon, I’ve spent most of my free time looking at the structure, the plot and the characters trying to find a way to push myself through the last few thousand words and into the land of Finished Products. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I re-imagine my initial idea, I just can’t find a toss to give about completing Mona Kit’s foray into betrayal, slavery and revenge.  I just can’t find it in me to care if she makes it or not.

There’s an oft-repeated saying in the world of ‘how to’ literature and it’s basically ‘if you’re going to invest time in writing a story, you’d best give enough of a damn to want to see it through to the end’. Last Sunday, I gave enough monkeys to populate a small zoo, but it looks like the keeper let them go.

I have to say I’m a bit gutted at the defeat, but I’m more interested in working out what changed. Maybe I tried to push too hard, or maybe I confused my initial enthusiasm for a marathon writing session as a desire to write about a scorched earth environment. Maybe it was the not finishing that turned me off to the copper-top girl with a run of bad luck.

None of it really matters, of course. At some point, I’ll run the old fiction generators again, find something else to write about then start on that. I might even sort a cover and do something with Predayne’s Spire.

First things first; I’m going to strap on my boots and take the dogs out.

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To Do List

48 hours later, and I still feel Sunday’s write-a-thon was more failure than success. The sensible, objective part of my brain is telling me that’s a stupid way to look at things. 17k in one day is something to be proud of. The subjective bit, the little chunk that dreamed up the whole novella in a day things is sitting in the corner laughing at me. Horrible little bugger that it is.

I did intend to put down some more words on why I failed, but not only do I have some big boy work in (so I might actually get some money), I’m pretty sure I covered everything that needed to be said re the 24hr on my last post. Now, there’s only room for going forward.

I’m 98% certain I didn’t achieve the goal because I didn’t stick to the outline. The main reason for that is my outline stank. I could throw in the excuse that the entire thing was put together in under 6 hours, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to look at the problem and do something about (technically, I already have).

Last night, I picked up a Kindle edition on how to improve outlining (I forget the name, I’ll link to it later). I read it in my lunch break and now, since I obviously hate myself, I’ve jammed another gauntlet in my pretty pink face. It goes like this:

Since Nukelandia (place-holder title, I promise) already has some plotting, I’m going to spend the next couple of days fattening the bones and stuffing in some heart. From then until the end of the month, I’ll get it drafted, revised, edited and ready to roll. If I can get a cover out in that all the better (the cover is non essential, I can’t draw blood shaving).

The current challenge is take that horrible bit of mess that I dropped on my hard drive on Sunday, give it a bit of the old Frankenstein treatment, and see if I can’t have a decent little novella out and about in the world by March 1st.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

24hrs. A victory. A defeat.

So I crawled out of bed at 08:00 this morning, washed my gob, had a cup of coffee, smoked a couple of cigarettes then settled into my work chair, popped open my work machine and started typing. Just over 12 hours later (around 20:45), I’d typed out 17546 words. Yay me, right? Sort of.

I believe the exact challenge I set myself was to write a 17.5 thousand word novella in 24 hrs as per the ebook of a similar title. On the one hand, I succeeded in  my goal of churning out over 15k words of fiction. I also managed it in (a sliver over) half the allotted time. That is sort of a win. On the other hand, I didn’t actually finish the story, which was probably the point of the exercise. In fact, I’d say there’s another good 10k words required before I can edit the hell out of it.

My eyes hurt, so I’ll keep this bit brief and maybe expand on it in the morning, but a couple of things struck me while I was strapped to my keyboard. They are (in no particular order):

1 – An outline is mega important for any writing project. Having the plot and structure mapped out before hand makes finding words a whole lot easier. I guess part of that is not having to find ideas as well as the words to express them.

2 – Sticking to that outline is also quite essential. Around the 10k word mark, something happened, I got a little side-tracked and ended up spilling a social justice tale, rather than a two-fisted pulp guts and glory shoot ’em up. Although it’ll probably give the tale more depth (post editing), the last 5k words were totally off track, had to be pulled out of my head on the spot (see note 1) and is probably the reason I don’t have a shiny product ready to edit.

3- If you’re going to make coffee every 45 minutes, it’s probably best to keep a pot or kettle close at hand. It may sound dumb (lets face it, the whole thing is a little dumb), but you tend to lose 15 minutes every hour dashing down stairs, waiting for the kettle to boil, pouring a cup of hot-and-black, smoking a cigarette and dashing back upstairs to get to work. Not only does it cut a massive chunk out of an hour, but it also breaks flow, and flow’s damned hard to find once it’s slipped.

4- The last thousand words is both the hardest and the easiest. I can’t remember the exact point that things really started to suck (although it’s clear as day on my twitter feed), but after twelve hours (ish. See below), I was ready to pluck out my eyes, cut off my hands and quit for good. The push to the end was quite a chore, and the last two thousand words sucked out every bit of enjoyment the project possibly had. I’m going to be honest, those last thousand almost didn’t happen. I was bored, tired and my eyes ached. It came down to a figurative coin toss – carry on and finish or go drown myself in the bath. Since I’m not keen on clean, I puked up just over 1k words in ten minutes. That’s a full 1/6th of an hour making shit up at 100 words per minute (I use yWriter and it has a little thing on it). It’s not as fun or epic as it sounds

5 – Getting out of the chair is a must. I mentioned that I have a couple of dogs (in a way). I love taking those little blighters out into the woods. Despite today’s silly games, I couldn’t let them lounge around the house, bored out of their cutsie little skulls, legs crossed and in desperate need of a tiddle. Around half eleven, I strapped on their lead and took them out for a stroll. I’m almost certain that walk gave me enough time and fresh air to punch a bit of life back into my aching grey matter and carry me through to the end.

6 – This does not feel like a victory. I’ve been writing for years. The first time I made money, I was still in my (very) early twenties. Last year was first since then that I’ve not only not earned any beer tokens with words, but also the first time I’ve not actually written anything worth publishing. I’ll be honest and say not writing for over a year was pretty crushing. There’s that strange ‘creative’ thing that burrows into your psyche and kind becomes your identity. Although I’ve been back on point this year, I figured that smashing out a (relatively) big project in such a short space of time would  have me dancing through the trees sipping Black Rat from an old boot. Nope. My eyes ache a little, I’m a bit restless (probably the coffee) but mostly I get the feeling that if I hadn’t taken the dogs out, today would have been a total right-off. I kinda get the impression it’s because I got lost along the way and didn’t actually finish the story. My previous personal best was 11k donkey’s years ago on a day when the sun shined, birds sang and everything was peachy (that story was total junk though). Today, I not only beat my personal best, I hammered it into submission and used its corpse to fertilize the daisies. It’s bizarre, but I really thought I’d feel like I’d achieved something. Maybe it’ll feel better on the re-write.

7 – This is probably the most important one. Considering today is February 14th, and I just spent 12+ hours writing dodgy post-apocalyptic escape fiction, I’ve declared to the internet what a bad-ass lonely loser I am 😉

Anyway, I have some photies of my climbing word count that I can post (if anyone actually gives a toss), but that’s enough from me. There’s something in the air and its freaking the dogs out which is, in turn, making me as jumpy as hell. I’m going to try and get some sleep but I’ll probably spend my night between soothing the mutts and trying to wake up from shitty night mares.

 

24 hours. An idiot. An Update.

Okay, I realised it’s Saturday today. That means I can try to knock out this 17.5k madness in 24 straight hours. I know, I know, but if you have shares in coffee, you’re going to see their value soar!

So, the perl thing. The first block of information is general stuff which, other than the mid-point, is pretty self-explanatory. The midpoint business comes from James Scott Bell’s write your novel from the middle. It has some fairly good information on it, but I find some aspects of his formula rather restrictive.

The second block is based on Holly Lisle’s Professional Plot Outline Mini Course. it’s using a mix of plots from the various ‘xx number of plot’ theories for the background of the story. It’s pretty good and although some of them are a bit hard to get your head around, they do wonders for getting the brain working.

Your genre is Scorched Earth
Your archetype is the Leader
Your goal is to escape something physical
Your death is Psychological
Your ending is Positive
your length is ~20 thousand words

Your first conflict is Overcoming the monster:
Your second conflict is Underdog:
Your third conflict is Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune:

Looking at that lot, I have a scorched-earth escape story where the protag must pit her (I’ve gone for a lady, maybe because I’m tank-girl curious) wits and brawn against some evil beast/baddie. At some point (hopefully the mid-point), she’s shocked to the core which forces personal change. It’s supposed to have a happy ending. I don’t think I’ve ever written one of those, but I’ll see what I can do.

Anyway, that’s the guts of it sorted. I’ll finish off the outline tonight and get cracking on the first draft n the morning. If you want to follow my progress, I’ll tweet my hourly word count (If I remember) from @gr1mj1m

Also, if I’ve gone a bit overboard on the book plugs, please forgive me. I just like to give credit where it’s due.

24 hours. A challenge. A work-around

I’ve been known to make a few quid from writing now and again so, like a lot of word hurlers, my shelves (real and virtual) creak under the weight of books on the craft. Today, those nice people at Amazon sent me an email pimping a book titled ‘How to write a novella in 24 hours’. Although it piqued my interest, I downloaded the first few chapters (for once) but decided this particular book wasn’t my cup of tea. I closed my browser, opened my work machine, began editing the short pulp-fantasy piece I wrote this week and forgot all about  it.

With the edit done, Predayne’s Tower sent to a couple of chums for input and not a lot else to do, I decided to stroll my hounds through the forest I’m lucky enough to call home. Since the weather was pretty poor this morning, I found myself walking with my hood up and head down trying to avoid the rain. It could have been the drizzle, it could have be the fact I stroll through those woods every day, but for some reason I found my mind turning away from the trees and prospect of sighting deer (I saw a family of 6 yesterday, btw) and to the advertised book.

I’ve participated in a couple of swimming and running events and a long time ago I fought in a couple of judo tournaments, so I guess you could say I’m the kind of guy who likes a challenge. Also, 2015 was a stinker of a year for me in the writing stakes. Other than the words here, I think I finished two short stories. One of them was a pulp-fantasy piece that’s slowly rotting on my hard drive, the other was a poorly executed crime piece. It’s probably down to these two facts that I found my brain turning over the idea of churning out a first-draft novella in the tiny time-span of 24 hours.

The more I thought about it, the more I figured it was a dumb idea.

I’ve decided to give it a shot.

Now, going in blind would be a dumb thing to do. In her how to book ‘2k to 10k‘, the highly talented Rachel Aaron points out the more you know about what you’re going to write, the faster you’re going to write it. From my experience, it’s sensible advice and with that in mind, I’m kind of reaching for a couple of cheats before I start.

The first one is setting. I’ve recently rediscovered my love for uber-geeky tabletop RPGs. My current paper-and-dice poison in the Savage Worlds system published by Pinnacle Entertainment group. When I get together with my pals, I run a game in a kind of science-fantasy post apocalyptic landscape filled with wild-west flavoured gun slingers, radiation-blasted wastelands, and hideously mutated Skootie Picts. Because I’m familiar with this sunken earth setting, it’s going to be the one I use for the novella.

Secondly, according those reliable peeps at Wikipedia, a novella is classified as anywhere between 17.5 and 50 thousand words. Since 17.5k is the minimum standard to fall into the novella bracket, that’s what I’ll be aiming for. Of course, it’s only the first draft I’m going for, so the end result could be a few thousand different either way.

My third cheat is a remnant from my days managing projects for a IT firm. When I got the job, I was all management and absolutely no technical understanding. In order to better understand the projects, I learned a little Perl. Although I’ve forgotten most of what I learned, I did write a couple of random story idea generators. I’ve given one a little tweak specifically for this challenge and will be using it for the germ of an idea. I’ll include the details that come up on the generator and possibly how I’ve worked through it on a later post.

Fourth, since I’m writing this at 14:33 (although I’ll probably post it in a couple of hours), I’ll be using the rest of the day to hammer together an outline.

Now, although I’d love to solely earn my crust with words, I’m not that lucky. I’m not working tomorrow, but I need time to hammer together ideas and an outline. Although I could start typing now, I’d never finish in 24 hours. What I’m thinking is put a grand effort in tomorrow then either finish off (sticking to the 24 hr limit) Tuesday after work, or spread the number of hours over the next few days (say, 4x6hrs). I’ll have to think about it.

Right, the kettle’s boiled, the random generator is booted up and I’m ready to roll.

Wish me luck!

Purgatory Avenue

I figured I’d have a play with this week’s prompt from Flash Fiction Friday, so here’s my offering:

Purgatory Avenue

The door bell rings at exactly 12:00. I’ve been expecting it for a while now, but I’m half-way through my yoga routine. Sweat’s glistening off the tattoos stabbed into my skin and I roll my eyes at the timing. The top of my head is pressing into my pristine white carpet while I’m taking the weight on my forearms. My feet point toward Heaven like I’m some kind of Otherworldly compass. I think about letting it go, ignoring it, but I left that kind of M.O behind when I moved up here.

The bell chimes again and I try not to swear as I fold my body in on itself. My toes sink into the deep, rich pile and I unhinge my waist until I’m on my feet, standing straight and shoulders squared. I swipe an equally white towel from the arm of my thematically-fitting leather sofa, swat perspiration from my face and head to the front door.

I let a smile tickle my mouth as she hits the buzzer again. I don’t need to open the door to know it’s her. The fact she’s matched my schedule for everything from hitting the shops to putting out the bins would give even the least aware resident a hint they’d made a new friend, but it’s not her kooky bad stalking that give her away; there’s so much light leaking through my solid-slab front door that the high-gloss finish is positively singing.

I wipe the towel around my face, around my chest, under my arms. I consider dashing upstairs for a shirt, but another ding tells me she’s as clued in to the fact there’s a couple inches of wood between as I am. I guess things must be a little shadier that side of the door.

I shake my head, hide as many of the tattoos as I can by draping the terry cloth over my shoulders and swing the door open.

“Hi,” she says, spidery fingers tugging at the hem of Judas Priest t-shirt with more curry stains than the India Restaurant’s table cloth.

“I …”

She gives me a smile and I have to turn away. The light from those pearly gnashers would put any Hollywood A-lister to shame and I just can’t stand it.

“Are you okay?”

The concern in her voice is horrible. It actually washes over me in cool, soothing wave that, were I back home, would probably flay the flesh from my bones. It takes all I can muster not to vomit on her bare feet.

“You’d better come in,” I say, holding out the door and making an expansive gesture with my right arm.

“Straight through to the kitchen.”

It’s against the constraints of the ‘new me’, but I can’t help snickering when she crosses the threshold and shivers like she’s got an ice cube in her panties. My mirth quickly dies from the genuinely hurt expression on her stupidly pretty face and I almost reach out to touch her when she looks at the door.

“Devlin,” I say, holding out a hand that I hope to Home she doesn’t take.

“Angela.” She gives me a little curtsy along with the name.

She likes my pun as much as I like hers. The tension shifts from her shoulders and the thin lines of worry disappear from her brow. I can’t stop my breath catching when her pretty face turns drop-dead beautiful.

“You, uh, you want a drink?”

“Sure,” she says, nose wrinkling at the bridge.

“You have any Scotch?”

“Sure,” I say, shaking my head as I lead her to the kitchen.

“I’m a red wine guy, myself.”

Angela’s still grinning when I’m done rummaging through cupboards and pouring booze. She smiles wide enough to blind me momentarily when scoops the glass from my alabaster counter, swills the amber liquid around the glass and pours it, one hit, down her throat.

“Ah,” she says, smacking her lips noisily.

“You don’t get that back home.”

“I do,” I say with a wink.

“Or rather, did.”

A sliver of something tossed aside works its way through my chest at the thought of where I’m from. It lodges in my heart and sinks through my flesh. I guess Angela sees it happen because the room loses more than a few lux along with as many degrees Celsius.

“Hey,” Angela says, her hand sliding across alabaster, stopping a millimeter from my fingers.

“If this isn’t okay, I can go.”

Her mouth turns up at the corners but the lights stay dimmed. I level my eyes with hers and do my best to match the expression.

“No,” I say, cutting that millimeter in half with a push of wrist, not daring to risk a further half.

“It’s nice to have someone around who gets it.”

Her nod is so gentle it’s barely perceptible. What I do see is fatigue in her eyes. The war, the death, the constant conflict that eats away at your core. They’re etched across her face as clear as the tattoos cut into mine.

“How long have you been down here?”

“Uh, about a month… independently, I mean. When my last charge went to His arms, I decided I couldn’t go back. It was too ….”

Angela can’t help who she is, and I have to remember that as her sorry, her grief, roll from her core with the power of hurricane and threaten to smash me from my seat. I thank whatever ‘s left for a guy like me when she tries to surreptitiously wipe a tear from her eye and misses me grab the breakfast bar for support.

“It’s a lot better here,” I say, cutting that half to a quarter, desperate to find out what happens when it’s gone.

“Yeah,” she says, a little hint of hope in her pretty eyes.

“It’s so beautifully…”

I make a mental note to buy some sunglasses as she draws out the sentence to find the right word.

“Dull? Normal?” I cut in.

“I was going to say peaceful, but I was probably being too generous.”

The warmth of her smile starts to grow on me, and I take a moment to really look. I might have hinted that she’s as gorgeous as her people are supposed to be, and the stained shirt, threadbare jogging pants and cheap jewellery strike me as so incongruous as to bring the attention she’s trying to avoid.

“You know,” I say, taking a sip from the glass of red.

“There are better ways to dodge unwanted attention. I know what you’re doing but….”

I let the sentence hang because the look on her face breaks my misappropriated heart. The embarrassment and shame etched across her features chills the room so low it makes the dead guy I’m wearing prickle with frost.

“No, it’s okay. I made the same mistakes when I first got here.”

The words are an effort, but don’t take half as much concentration as shifting my hand away from hers. As I sweep the towel from my shoulders, exposing the sigils etched into my flesh, there’s a strange tingle in my finger tips that feels like longing.

“Oh wow,” she says, bringing a dainty hand to her perfect lips and breaking her spell on my corpse jacket.

“They’re…”

“Basic,” I say.

“I got them when I first ran. I made one last deal with a boy in a graveyard. In my desperation, I let him convince me he knew more than he said.”

She leans in so close I can feel her breath against my chest. Her eyes drink in the marks from a thousand cultures and it’s all I can do to keep the response in my stolen hormones under check.

“Did they hurt?”

“Some,” I say.

“But I know someone better now. If you’d like…”

The words catch in my throat and I’m unsure what’s happening. She knows though, she knows because that longing in my fingertips is replaced with a fire so bright it’s almost too fierce, even for something like me.

“Would you take me?” She says, spreading those flames to the back of my hand.

“Would you help me be free?”

I can’t help but smile as I nod my head. A tear stings my eye, but it’s nothing to do with the searing heat in my flesh.

END