Nov. 2nd, 2012 10:35 am
As I say in my profile, I'm yet another aspiring novelist. I've taken three months off my job as a civil servant to finish writing my first novel, Windrose Hall, which I synopsify as follows:

Windrose Hall is a young adult novel set in early seventeenth century England. Christopher (Kit) and Thomasine (Tom) are the children of a well-to-do but unconventional family living in Windrose Hall - a rambling Northamptonshire manor house. Cross-dressing, cross-tempered Tom longs to follow in her scientist uncle's footsteps; Kit is passionate about theatre and loves animals of all kinds... almost as much as he loves being the centre of attention.

Their comfortable lives are shattered when their parents die in a fire, and they lose the house and everything in it to their other uncle - a scheming Puritan. With Joan, their shy but resourceful housemaid, they set out to recover their lost inheritance, or find new lives amidst the stench and crowds of Shakespeare's London.


Any thoughts on the synopsis? I'm not sure I like "cross-dressing, cross-tempered".

I now have an actually complete draft. I'd missed one scene out during November, because there wasn't time to do the research, and I've just this moment finished it.

Chapters 1-28 have been edited once
Chapters 29-36 are still in need of editing

Once I've done 29-36, I'm going to think seriously about pace. I think what I'll do is make a kind of diagram of the emotional highs and lows and so forth and see if I think it needs altering. Something a bit like the 'beat sheet' recommended in Nail Your Novel (thank you [personal profile] bateleur for linking to it back in November).

I'm also going to think about making sure each of my three narrators has a distinctive voice. I've been doing a bit on that as I've been editing, but I know it needs more work.

Then I might be ready to start trying to interest agents in it...
Aaaaaand done. Hurrah!

The random 'extras' I wrote at the end turned out to be more useful than I was expecting, I think.

Now a couple of days off for Messiah and readthroughs, then edit up some old short stories and enter them for competitions, then on to the editing!
So I'm writing supplementary material. So far I have:

1) An epilogue - in fact an early scene from the sequel. This might stay in.

2) A fragment from the point of view of Simeon (a minor character) - it was very useful in developing his character - I'm sure I'll use what I learnt from it during editing.

3) A scene in which two characters try to invent gender reassignment surgery, though thankfully they give up on the idea while still at the theoretical stage.

4) A sex scene between two characters who fancy one another in a very repressed sort of way, but would never actually do anything about it. Fun to write, but utterly useless.

5) Another scene from the sequel.

6) A fuller description of Windrose Hall than the one in the text. I will probably incorporate this at editing stage.

7) Some family history. About the main characters' grandfather and great grandfather, and how their house was built.

8) A timeline of what happened in which year. Very useful, doesn't belong in final novel.

9) Another scene from Simeon's point of view (Simeon may or may not be a major character in the sequel - I'm sort of fleshing him out to see).

10) Introduction to the reader. Something like this will stay in, but I'm not very happy with its current format.

3000 words to go and I'm getting a bit sick of it all. I really ought to stop, but 'winning' Nano is important to me, and more than half of my supplementary material is turning out to be useful.

Any suggestions? [profile] gnimmel's idea of a connected but standalone short story is an excellent one, but I don't think I'm clever enough for it right now.
Sorry for abandoning my daily update plan.

Today is a good day for two reasons:

1) I have finished the current draft of Windrose Hall - it stands at 66,000 words.
2) I have written 40,000 words during November.

These were the targets I said I'd have to reach in order to wear my shiny Nanowrimo t-shirt that arrived earlier this week.

I said I would consider myself a Nanowrimo winner if I finished Windrose Hall and wrote 50,000 words during November, however. So I want to write 10,000 more. I'm not sure what to do. I think the options are:

1) Short stories for competitions and/or my Yuletide assignment
2) Fragments of the sequel to Windrose Hall
3) Fanfiction on Windrose Hall - this would be like fragments of the sequel, but about things I don't think should happen canonically to the characters (though obviously I might change my mind).

Thinking about what might happen to the characters next would be useful, because it might inform edits I make to the current draft. And it's a bit more within the spirit of the challenge, since some books have little tasters of what comes next as a sort of epilogue.

Fanfiction on WH might be fun.

Yuletide I have to do anyway, so I should arguably make a start.

Another competition win or two before I start sending things to agents might be handy.

What do you think?


Nov. 16th, 2009 04:16 pm
I didn't write much over the weekend, but I wrote enough today to be on schedule for the first time. Hurrah! 26,680 words. I very much suspect the story will be finished before I hit 50,000 (there are already 26,000 I wrote before this month - so we're looking at about 70,000 as the finished length, which seems about right for a first draft).

I still haven't properly written the courtroom scene. I drafted the two important speeches, and what happens afterwards, but there's a lot of research and a bit of writing left to go.

I'm struggling a bit with my narrative structure. Not much is happening to two of my three narrating characters, but lots is happening to the third, so she's currently writing a mammoth chapter. I think I can get it done in 4000 words though, and I'm pretty sure there's one of a similar size earlier on (most average at around 2000, with quite a lot of variation). And I think that will be OK, though I can't really tell until I read the whole thing, of course.

Another problem I've identified is that two of my characters (one main, one secondary) are supposed to be misanthropists, but they end up liking most of the characters we meet. I'll have to do something about that.

And the current chapter is basically a love story. I don't know much about love stories, and how to write them without being clichéd.
Today was an amazing writing day - I got through about 7000 words, and so am now only about a day behind.

Whether they are any good remains to be seen, of course, but I didn't feel I was lowering my standards any, and there was quite a bit I deleted as not good enough.

I think when it comes to editing, I'm going to have to take some of the booze out. Many of my characters are a bit repressed, so when I want them to say anything to one another I have to get them drunk. And other nefarious types in the story are also out to get them drunk, so what with one thing and another, they've been rolling through the last few chapters three sheets to the wind.

I'm fairly certain you're not supposed to do that in young adult books.

Writing repressed characters )
Today I discovered the autosummarise tool on Word. So far, Windrose Hall in autosummarised form looks like this:

“Tom! Tom!”
“Kit. “Tom? “Simeon!”
Master... “Tom! Tom!”
Simeon turned to Kit. Tom nodded. “Sorry Kit... “Kit?” “Joan!?”
Kit grinned. Joan. Uncle Benjamin...”
I met Master Tom’s eyes. “I see,” said Master Tom.

“Kit...” “Joan,” said Tom.
“Talking to Simeon,” said Master Tom. “Do you?” asked Master Tom.
“For dinner?” asked Master Tom. “Joan!” “None,” said Master Tom. “Tom? “Tom...” said Kit.
“Tom? Tom?”
Kit asked.
Kit sighed. Tom said. “Tom, Kit,” she said. Master Tom sighed. “What about Master Kit?” “Yes,” said Master Tom. I was Master Tom and Master Kit’s housemaid.”
Tom nodded. “Joan. “Joan?”

Anyone feel like commenting with autosummarised version of things they've written, or classic works of literature? Unfortunately plays don't really work, as they come out like this:

Richard III )

On the other hand, Pride and Prejudice looks like this:

Pride and Prejudice )

[Don't ask me how to find autosummarise on Word - I'm awful at describing that sort of thing. It's easy to find by googling though.]
Today I wrote two scenes: one from the point of view of the dog, and another in which two of my central characters get ready for bed together and have an awkward conversation about homosexuality.

The dog scene was written during a quiet point in a rehearsal. I managed writing during rehearsal better than I thought I would, though next time I'll make sure my tiny little computer is fully charged.

I ended up promising one of my fellow ensemble members a cameo role. I asked him what he wanted to be and he said a thief, which was quite a coincidence because I need a thief next chapter, and I hadn't got round to naming him, and the ensemble member is called 'Daniel', which works well, as it's period and I don't have a Daniel yet.

Feeling much happier about it than I was yesterday, although I'm getting more behind with the wordcount all the time.


Nov. 11th, 2009 10:53 pm
When I was growing up, everyone I had a crush on was 33. I had a crush on Stephen Fry when he was 33, and I had a crush on Kenneth Branagh when he was 33. (And to be embarrassingly honest, I had crushes on most of the rest of the cast of Peter's Friends when they were 33 too).

Richard III died at 33, and so (allegedly) did Jesus.

The reason I fought to get these three months of work is that if I don't get my novel accepted for publication, or do something else fabulous while I'm still 33, I'll be really, really upset.

Anyway, I've just finished a draft of the spreadsheet which tells me what happens in each chapter, and entirely without fiddling, the story as I see it happens in 33 chapters.

Given that I don't do superstition,* it's silly that I'm quite as pleased about this as I am.

* My mind's the wrong shape for it, so I have to concentrate very hard to manage the Christianity thing, and there's no energy left for anything else.
Yesterday's research trip was excellent for my novel, but bad for my bank balance and my confidence in my novel.

I visited St Bartholemew's Hospital, the Globe Theatre and the Museum of London, and bought a copy of John Stow's Survey of London, and maps of London from 1520 and 1666. It's a bit irritating that they didn't have one from nearer 1610, but they are still very useful when supplemented with Stow and other sources.

Today I've done no writing but a lot of research, and uncovered lots of useful things, not least how much more research I'm going to need to do - a depressingly large amount. I enjoy research, but I enjoy writing more, and I'm concerned I won't be able to finish in the timescale I set myself. I'm wondering whether I'm cut out for historical novels at all.

I need to get myself down to the National Archives, to have a look at some real cases of disputed wills. My entire plot centres around a disputed will, so I need to get it right. I'm unclear whether that will help with some of the really basic stuff though, like who could act on behalf of a minor who is in a dispute with one of his two guardians about which of them (i.e. the guardian or the minor) should inherit an estate. Can he bring a case himself? Does the other guardian have to do it? What if the other guardian is out of the country and uncontactable? Can the court itself act on his behalf, and if so, how would that work?

The Chancery Proceedings page of the National Archives website says: "Suits are sometimes named In re Bloggs: these tend to be where the court is acting on behalf of someone incapable of acting for themselves: a minor, or a lunatic perhaps." So I think the last of these options is viable, but I have no idea how it would work in practice, or whether my vital plot device of Kit stumbling upon a friendly lawyer who wants to help, but turns out to have his own agenda, makes any sense.
A research trip to St Bartholemew's Hospital Museum primarily for the sake of one short scene that takes place there. Is that:

1) Dedication
2) Procrastination?

Further info - more scenes take place around that area, and four of the six most important characters are heavily involved in medical work of some description. It's only open on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Yesterday I remembered what prompted me to come up with this plot in the first place.

I was sick of all the stories about "feisty", "spirited" girls donning boy's clothes and running off to seek adventure, recover their family fortunes, escape from forced marriages and so on. I thought it would be interesting to write a novel featuring a boy who dresses up as a girl in order to recover his family fortunes.

On a tangent, "feisty" and "spirited" (as applied to female literary characters) are two of the ickiest words in the English language, in my opinion. They epitomise a view of the world which fetishises women struggling against oppression, usually hopelessly. They often seem to be coupled with an assumption that the vast (non-feisty) majority of womankind live up to all the worst misogynist stereotypes. And yet I often hear people claiming that a book or other work is non-sexist on account of one of the main female characters being "feisty". Yuck.
I'm not making myself write on Sundays unless I feel like it, but I'm behind on the wordcount still, so I did manage a chapter today. Unfortunately it consisted of some not very interesting things happening, followed by a flashback to some other not very interesting things happening.

I think what I'm going to have to do when editing is shorten the non-flashback section, and restructure the flashback, which I think has the potential to be interesting, as it tells us how and why Tom started dressing in boys' clothes. I'm going to leave that for the editing stage though.

Something I'm finding really useful is a chapter by chapter spreadsheet. The columns are as follows:

- Chapter number
- Narrator [my three main characters take it in turns to narrate]
- Date
- Any significance to that date [Lent, Easter, May Day etc.]
- What happens
- Things that need checking, adding or changing in the next draft

The last column is a new one, but I'm already finding it very useful - it means I can keep going and not interrupt my flow, but not lose track of edits I may need to make later.
A good writing day so far today: 3048 words, and the roadtrip - which I've been having difficulty with for over a year - is just about nailed.

Today my characters were a bit dumb. I can't decide if they were too dumb.

Excerpt )

Translation )

We have [personal profile] atreic and [personal profile] emperor over for the weekend, which is fantastic, but probably won't be great wordcount-wise. I'm going to go and have a housework break, finish my Greek assignment due on Monday and then maybe write some more.
I'm beginning to get concerned about my wordcount. I didn't write much at all today (around 500 words).

But I did knuckle down and get dates and seasons sorted out. I knew that what I'd written so far takes place in Spring, but apart from that I hadn't been thinking about timescales. Or to be more precise, I was thinking about them, but only in a guilty "argh I need to get that sorted out - I wonder what they weather's like - is it still Lent? - have we had Lady Day yet?" way. I hadn't even kept a record of how far apart from one another the events in the novel were. This was proving a serious impediment to writing, as I kept getting to bits where I wanted to write something connected to the weather or the church season, or just something that happened in an earlier chapter, and I had to fudge it, which makes the writing less fun.

So now I've added two more columns to my chapter-by-chapter spreadsheet - one for the date or date range during which the chapter happens, one for relevant information about feasts (and fasts).

It's very tempting to portray today's work as lots of useful groundwork that will make future writing easier AND SO EVERYTHING'S FINE - SHUT UP. But I could have worked much harder on the actual writing bit, and got more words under my belt.

I think I need to be more disciplined and have periods of time where I ban myself from the internet. And if things haven't got better by next week, I'm going to make myself use Write or Die, which I really hate the thought of. (Sort of... I think it's a very clever idea, I just hate the thought of using it.)
Today I worked out what the last scene of the novel would be, and thought I might as well write it while it was in my mind, which I did. It brought with it a very hazy idea of what the sequels would be about if I turn this into a trilogy.

Windrose Hall ends with a question, and the answer might determine whether Book Two is historical fiction or alternate history. I'm fond of that idea.

I'm also much fonder than I ought to be of the fact that in my head, [one of the two possible versions of] Book Three is entitled The Return of the King.

All alternate histories have a point where they diverge from real history, I think, but usually that happens before the book begins. Are there any existing examples of historical fiction that turns into alternate history quite a long way through?

I'm quite behind with wordcount in terms of Nanowrimo (3151), but I usually start out that way and I've never failed at Nano before, and of course this year I'd rather have 30,000 good words by the end of November than 50,000 not so good ones.
Yesterday was a better writing day than I was expecting. I'd intended to spend it mostly on planning. In the end I solved two of the problems I was hoping to solve, and also wrote 1500 words. Which isn't very much, until you consider that I'd stalled on that bit for a year, and I really enjoyed writing them, and they didn't suck.

Today I wrote much less, because I was busy with other things (tattoo retouch; visiting National Maritime Museum; rehearsal), but I finished the chapter I was working on.

I've been thinking about Racefail and Nano. Avoiding Racefail is basically a matter of Not Being a Racist Arsehat, but given we live in a racist society, Not Being a Racist Arsehat is harder than it ought to be.[1] And I think there's a dilemma there, because Nano is about writing quickly and giving yourself permission to get things wrong. But I'm not convinced that white people have the right to give ourselves permission to get race wrong - either to exclude BME people from our writing because that's easier, or to resort to stereotypes, because that's the first thing that comes into our head.[2]

I don't think there's an easy solution to that. Maybe it doesn't matter too much if the first draft you don't show anyone is racist - but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that 'not being racist' is something you can add on at editing stage.

Under the cut there's some slightly incoherant rambling about a technique I used which uncovered a racist trope that might have been lurking in future chapters had I not noticed it at the planning stage. )

[1] Right now, I'm not interested in debating with people who want to reserve the adjective 'racist' for the Nick Griffins of this world. I hold the basic assumptions about racism in this post, and I currently writing for a readership which shares them.

[2] I hope it's obvious to all and sundry that I'm using "right" in a loose sense here. Obviously we have the legal right to write anything we want to, and that's how it should be. But I don't think of myself as having a 'right' to exercise my white privilege, though I know that I inevitably will.
I intend to make a blog post every weekday during my writing sabbatical. The first one is where I think about why I'm doing this, and what I want to get out of these three months.

Overall goals

1) To write a novel that I'm sufficiently happy with to send off to agents and/or publishers, and send it.

2) To be ready to start a new job as a manager in Jobcentre Plus by the beginning of February.

But there are also other things I'm doing with my time:

- I'm a sort of 'extra' in an English National Opera production of The Messiah - this will involve three rehearsals a week, and ten performances in late November and early December.
- I'm organising two readthroughts - a small one in late November, and a bigger one in late January.
- I'm learning ancient Greek with the Open University.
- I'm starting to practise playing and singing music again after fifteen years of not doing very much on it at all.

I need to devote enough time to those things to make them successful.

Daily Targets

I think the best way of approaching these thing is to have certain things which I aim to do every day.

- Write fiction (average 8 hours, mostly novel, but can include other stuff). That's the main reason why I'm doing this.
- Exercise (average half an hour - this is going to be mostly Wii Fit). After 33 years of denial, I finally admit that exercise is good for me and makes me feel better. Bah.
- Work on learning ancient Greek (average half an hour).
- Practise music (average 20 minutes). I've promised myself a new recorder if I can practice every day for six months. I have yet to decide whether to bend the rules to let the three months I've already done count.
- Spend some time out of the house. I get grumpy and headachy if I stay in all day.
- Read. I can't make good sentences without studying how other people do it.
- Make the house more beautiful. Because I find it impossible not to.

In my daily entries I'll write something about how I fared in each of those respects, and try to also write about something I've learnt, or ask a question. There may be occasional brief excerpts of writing too, though they will be kept to a minimum as my intention is to write for publication.

They aren't hard and fast targets - they won't apply if I'm away from home, for example. And if the weather gets really cold, then neither leaving the house, nor half an hour of exercise, nor eight hours of writing is likely to be a possibility.

I've signed up for Nanowrimo, so another goal for this month will be 50,000 words of my fiction. Ideally, this will be 50,000 new words on my novel, but I'm being flexible and may end up counting substantially rewritten parts of my novel and/or short stories.