Friday, September 11, 2015

Three Strikes

Apologies if today's post is shorter than I intended. Life happens, I like to spend time with my daughter, and the road is a harsh mistress.

So last time I posted about my first experience with NaNoWriMo which also happened to be a success according to the standards that were set out by said NaNoWriMo. 50000 words written. Sound the trumpets and let loose the confetti. But as I also said last time, I didn't really have a story. What I did have was a hell of a cliffhanger. I kept promising myself that I was going to go back and continue the story, but a whole year rolled back around to November and I really had done much of anything with it. I tried to change that with my 2010 attempt.

Weapons of the Dead was going to be my triumphant round two in a world covered with killer chemical clouds and ships out of a steampunk's dreams. I was confident and ready, or so I thought. Instead, Weapons of the Dead found me struggling to reconcile my new story idea with what I had establish in Tales of the East Wind. The new character I wanted to introduce meant the story was getting further diluted, and I wasn't able to come up with a resolution to the cliffhanger that I was satisfied with.

After 10000 words a combination of factors caused everything to go off the rails. The biggest was that I simply not able to power through the bouts of writer's block this time around. No method that came to mind could make the words sneak around my inner editor and find purchase on the page. Life also decided to intervene and decided to inject what ultimately proved to be too much suffering into someone I cared for greatly. I knew when I was defeated and it was time to move on to other things that were much more important.

2011 rolled around, and I found myself once again gearing up. This time I recruited a cadre of other friends, and we hit upon a weird but fun idea. Leading up to November we would build a world together, and then we would each pick a section and write our year's novel in it to make three independent yet still related novels. The three of this crafted a bizarre pulpy hodgepodge of fun ideas. There were strange ruins floating in the sky, countries that literally shifted position around each other, and what felt like countless mysterious areas on the map waiting for a story to be told.

Strong world building, though, couldn't make up for the fact that all of my effort had gone into world building while neglecting the idea of what my story was going to actually be about. When it came time to put fingers to keys, I only had come up with the most bare of bones of a plot. It was something about a crew of thieves who were under heavy pressure due to a botched job. There was enough to get to the 11000 mark and to make it there fast, but it wouldn't carry me further. Just like Weapons of the Dead, City of Lightning didn't have the legs.

The third attempt and failure is the one that actually puzzles me the most, a weird scifi tale that would have been called Wulf if I ever had been able to get past the first 3000 words. For this attempt I thought I had done everything I needed. I had a strong world and science fiction slant to it, and I had taken the time to work out many of the story beats. I knew what the arc would be for the main character, and how the events of the novel were going to change him and make him grow.

If I had to hazard a guess as to what actually caused it to fail, it would have to be that I was trying to write an ensemble cast without having a good feel for anyone but the principal lead. Everyone surround Marshall were caricatures at best. Since I wasn't able to care about the other characters, I was able to ultimately care about the story.

Each of these stories did manage to teach me something despite the fact that I wasn't able to get the words on the page. There needed to be a balance. World building, a strong lead character, plotting, and past momentum were each only able to bring a story so far on their own. If I was going to succeed again it was going to take a combination of all of those elements. I took stock of what I had done and decided it wasn't working. It was time to change tactics again.

The next year I got remarried at the beginning of November, and wisely decided to not attempt another run at the elusive 50000 word mark. (Although I can't honestly say that there wasn't at least one moment where I almost decided to do it anyway.) I regrouped and recollected my thought. I knew that when 2014 rolled around I would be ready, and I was right. 2014 brought me the closest thing to an unqualified success with writing that I have had yet. It brought me Americana Hex, which if you want to find out about you will have to come back early next week.

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