Three Days till November

NaNoWriMo starts on Friday, so I really need to start taking my planning seriously.  For the past few days, what I've been doing for writing (since I finished my last short story) is setting-preparation. I remembered, and dug up, an article I saw on Boing Boing a couple years ago (2011, actually, in August, because I almost certainly saw it more-or-less when it was posted) that linked to an essay by Michael Moorcock on how to write an Adventure novel in three days.  It seemed like it would be useful.

(I got briefly distracted by trying to find a copy of the book the essay is from, called "Michael Moorcock: Death Is No Obstacle," which is out of print.  The cheapest copy on Amazon is 60 dollars.  Y'know, if anyone out there was looking for a birthday or anniversary or Christmas or Thanksgiving present for me or anything...)

Some of the things I am paying a lot of attention to:

  • "There is an event every four pages, for example -- and notes. Lists of things you're going to use. Lists of coherent images; coherent to you or generically coherent. You think: 'Right,Stormbringer [a novel in the Elric series]: swords; shields; horns", and so on."
  • "[I prepared] A complete structure. Not a plot, exactly, but a structure where the demands were clear. I knew what narrative problems I had to solve at every point. I then wrote them at white heat; and a lot of it was inspiration: the image I needed would come immediately [when] I needed it. Really, it's just looking around the room, looking at ordinary objects and turning them into what you need. A mirror: a mirror that absorbs the souls of the damned."
  • "You need a list of images that are purely fantastic: deliberate paradoxes, say: the City of Screaming Statues, things like that. You just write a list of them so you've got them there when you need them. Again, they have to cohere, have the right resonances, one with the other."

I've been making lists of images that I hope are coherent -- drawing sketches of rooms that characterize different groups.  Like, the troll room has a driftwood desk, and a wool rug -- which made it immediately obvious that the trolls have sheep, which totally works and makes sense.  (Heh.  The trolls invented tweed.)

  • "I was also planting mysteries that I hadn't explained to myself. The point is, you put in the mystery, it doesn't matter what it is. It may not be the great truth that you're going to reveal at the end of the book. You just think, I'll put this in here because I might need it later."
  • "You start off with a mystery. Every time you reveal a bit of it, you have to do something else to increase it. A good detective story will have the same thing. "My God, so that's why Lady Carruthers's butler Jenkins was peering at the keyhole that evening. But where was Mrs. Jenkins?"

This one was a relief to read, because I've got a basic idea of who all my characters are -- where they come from, why they left, what experiences they have to bring to the group -- and a notion of what they're ultimately going to be trying to get at the end of the story.  I've also got a map of the world with a dotted line drawing their whole trajectory through the narrative, so I know where each next thing is going to happen.

  • "There's always a sidekick to make the responses the hero isn't allowed to make: to get frightened; to add a lighter note; to offset the hero's morbid speeches, and so on. ... The hero has to supply the narrative dynamic, and therefore can't have any common-sense. Any one of us in those circumstances would say, 'What? Dragons? Demons? You've got to be joking!' The hero has to be driven, and when people are driven, common sense disappears. You don't want your reader to make common sense objections, you want them to go with the drive; but you've got to have somebody around who'll act as a sort of chorus."
  • "'When in doubt, descend into a minor character.' So when you've reached an impasse, and you can't move the action any further with your major character, switch to a minor character 's viewpoint which will allow you to keep the narrative moving and give you time to think."

This is helpful advice, because I'm writing a novel with an ensemble cast.  I can always rationalize their decisions: what's important is that my rules for deciding what they decide are governed by what improves the story, not what's best for them or the most reasonable, considered conclusion.

Tomorrow I will be writing up my new blogging rules for the month of November -- I can't possibly keep up 500 words a weekday here as well as 2000 words in my WriMo novel.  I'm thinking it will have something to do with highlights, as well as just signal-boosting stuff I think is cool.