Monday, July 1, 2013

Day 1: War Against the Word Count

I made a late start in Camp NaNoWriMo, today. It was after two in the afternoon when I finally sat down to do some writing. I set myself a word count target to achieve before I did anything else: 2000 words.

As it happens, I reached just over 2000 before five, with some distractions. Today has been a lot about getting back into the story, and trying to build on what my plan dictates I write. I'm noticing that the first couple of chapters in the book are a lot shorter than I'd have liked them to be, certainly shorter than the first chapters of Balor Reborn. What this means is that the rest of the chapters will be longer, to meet my target word count.

It's not an ideal way to write, but by notes actually require a lot more to be written later on in the book anyway. The earlier scenes provide a lot of set up for events that, in reality, take place over the course of a few hours. I say "set up", but I merely mean that it's all leading towards the climax. As it's a short book - they're all short books - there's not much to actually happen over a few chapters.

The flip side, of course, is that rather than simply having to reduce how much I write in each book, I have to attempt to include a lot more information about characters early on. With Fionn and Michael, it's easy: I'm working from Balor Reborn. With my later addition to the team, Emily, I have to figure out how to make her a strong enough character so that her personality shines through in her passages.

I've actually given her a lot of space to work by herself in this book. While Michael has been the "side-kick" before, Emily has her own troubles to deal with independently to Fionn and Michael. This is keeping in mind the fact that Fionn is the lead protagonist in the series; he's not alone, and he's never supposed to be, but he's also not the only person in the series that matters.

In the flash fiction stories on, I've tried to make it clear that there are other important characters who exist in the country. This includes, but is not limited to, Ogma, Fearghus and a couple of the lead characters from other stories - the ones that don't meet an unfortunate end. So, while Fionn is part of a Grand Plan to save Ireland, Emily and Michael have their own roles to play. Without them, it's just this nineteen year old with a hurl trying to fight off all sorts of monsters and magical beings. But see, here's the thing: he's not always the most level-headed person in the world, and the events of the books are going to take their toll on him - on all of them. He needs other people to go through this stuff with him, and they need to prove themselves independent of the protection he can offer.

So, Emily is kicking ass with her half of the book, having scenes alone to deal with problems that on the face of it are larger than those Fionn has to face a lot of the time. I called her, a while ago, a "strong female character", and this is exactly what I mean by that: she can hold her own, not just against the dangers in the book, but narratively. I wish the term hadn't become cliché, but there you have it. I hope you at least understand from this what I mean.

It was today that it really became apparent to me the sort of person she is. I've made her inquisitive and considerate, and while she's not a natural warrior, she's able to put on a brave face. Except that wasn't in the plan. I just wrote her that way today. (That plan didn't say anything contrary to how I've made her. It just didn't say "Make her smart. Make her brave. Make her ask questions." That part had to come from the moment.)

Writing a series like this isn't going to be easy, I know. Balor Reborn was manageable, because it was just one book, with one clear goal in mind: stop the maniac with the Death Ray in his eye. But there's a lot more to the story that I have yet to reveal to readers, and it's those parts that are the driving force of the series as a whole. Early hints have been dropped in the first book, but I have to address the issues again in The Hounds of Hell, before I really throw a spanner in the works in The Blood of Leap.

I won't say any more about what's actually happening in the series. Don't worry.

The actual writing was fairly easy to get in to, once I had my Excel sheet set up. I like to keep track of how many words I've written in a day. I find that when I'm aiming for a word count target, and I find my concentration slipping, it helps to know how much I have to write to catch up on myself.

It's also handy to have something to judge by when I really get into the writing and smash my target. I think the most I've ever written in a single day is over 10,000 words, and I've managed it on a couple of occasions, but it's a whole-day affair, and it requires a lot of motivation. Still, two days like that a week and I'd write a million words in a year. There's a Thing for that, isn't there?

My advice, for those who are trying out Camp NaNoWriMo this year, is to set yourself realistic target each day. If you know you have a lot of work to do in other areas of your life, don't assume you can write the same amount as you would if you spent the whole day writing. For me, my 2,000 word target took into consideration the fact that I was starting late and had to clean my room. Well, not clean my room exactly, but clear out a press outside my room...which created a mess inside my room. Mainly in the doorway. I can't spend all day writing when I have to do that. Tomorrow, though, if I have a lot of the cleaning up done, I can write for a bit longer than I did today. I might manage 4,000 words, if I'm lucky.

I've also read the advice that you should never start on a blank page. Some writers suggest stopping before you finish a chapter. However, if you can't bring yourself to stop there, I suggest even writing the words "Chapter..." and whatever chapter you're on, on the next page. That, or do some writing warm-ups. I write haiku when I need to get words into my head again. I really have to think about the right words to use when writing them, so I kind of jump-start my brain.

I may need that tomorrow if I don't finish this up and make my room habitable again soon. To my fellow Wrimos, I wish you good luck tomorrow with your novels. To everyone else, I hope you have a happy Tuesday.

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