My Protagonist And I Both Need Friends

So I’m finally working on revising my novel, Peony Warrior. I wrote the first draft last year for NaNoWriMo, did a couple things with it through the rest of winter and spring, and then used it for this summer’s Camp NaNo project. Unfortunately I hit a roadblock. I couldn’t decide what gender to make my character. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if not for the fact that the plot hinges on the main character producing a child. The story of a father in that situation is very different from a mother’s, and I liked both ideas.

Now, my older brother actually suggested I try both, an interwoven story, and I have noticed I tend to use dual protagonists for my stories, but it just wasn’t working out. Their stories were too similar to work together, but too different to condense into one. Plus I really didn’t know what to do with them outside of the original basic concept. I didn’t know how to get them from “confused and isolated single parent” to “hero.”

I have a lot of siblings, but the other one relevant to this story is my roommate. She’s three years younger than I am, and we like a lot of the same things. In particular we’ve begun watching Kamen Rider together in the afternoon. Generally, though, we just kind of exist around each other, not a lot of interaction.

Friday or Saturday night, we got to talking about stories. She writes, but she’s afraid to show it to anyone, probably because of how my siblings and I handled reacting to each other’s fiction a few years back. Point is, she does like to talk about it, and to hear what I’m up to. We started talking, and went on for about two hours. In explaining my situation to her, I figured out what I really wanted–and what would work better. I had a full arc planned for the father version, and as she pointed out, it seemed like I had more planned for him. The mother version really didn’t need to be about a mother, just end up in a position where she had to unlearn her training as a mindless member of a military horde. Maybe I’ll find a way to tell her story later.

Now that I was settled on the main story, the ideas started to come in. I had a lot of scenes or sequences planned, but as I got into revising the synopsis, I realized another problem that had been nagging at me. Most of the plot events could be placed in any order, because none of the secondary characters changed anything. If they were at all interesting or relevant, it only lasted for their “episode” in the plot. That meant my lead had to develop as a character basically by himself, which is not an easy thing to write. However, now that I’ve gotten the energy back for this story, I’m starting to come up with some engaging secondary characters. Now I just need to decide who or what the border invaders are…

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me

Now that my big project has ended, I’ve been unsure what to post on this blog. Something writing-related seemed the most logical–and the biggest writing project I’ve been working on was, well, National Novel Writing Month. So there you go.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Participants can plan as far in advance as they want, but must not set pen to paper before midnight strikes on November 1st. From there it’s a mad rush to the finish line on the 30th. Throughout the rest of the year are revisions, camps and other challenges to keep people interested. The site can be found here.

As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t work for every writer. Some people need to draft as they go, some prefer to write smaller chunks a day, some don’t like the pressure, the list goes on. Everyone has their own writing method and churning out 1667 words a day every day for a month doesn’t gel with all of them. And of course the novel may not turn out to be any good, even with revisions. However, without trying it, I wouldn’t have learned some of my own writing methods.

The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo was 2011. I had a couple of vague ideas for a novel, but no real characters or plans. I dove in headfirst, and got into trouble really quickly. I actually stopped on the second week or so and went into revisions–which by the way is a terrible idea. Not only is it super-stressful to keep up the word count while going back, you’re liable to rush and make really obvious mistakes–skip scenes, move them around so they don’t make sense anymore, etc. Besides, that’s not the point of the challenge, as I came to realize. It’s to make words so you can shape them later, because no matter how bad that raw material is, it’s better than nothing. 2011 was probably the clearest demonstration I’ve ever given myself of my overactive inner editor. When I don’t have any external pressure, I tend to start writing, run out of steam, then revise so drastically that I get worn out and eventually abandon the project. It’s a problem I’m still trying to get past.

2012 rolled by, and by this time I had gotten well into the world of fanfiction. It’s not something I like to talk about a lot, but that’s a topic that could fill a whole other blog post. The point is, by now I’d taken on a number of projects, and so this time NaNo could serve an actual purpose: give me a running start on one of my big fics. So in I went, this time with the familiar framework of a series of Power Rangers to hang my new ideas on, and some characters to follow. Whenever I got stuck I’d skip around to whatever scenes were tickling the imagination, already planning for the rewrites I stopped myself from making. By the end of the month, I had a chaotic jumble of snippets. I’d brainstormed, come up with a couple cool ideas, but hadn’t really planned how my story would even begin, and now I didn’t know how to stitch the pieces together. I couldn’t write out of chronological order and have the story move smoothly.

NaNo 2013 was another fanfic-focused month. This time I was ready. I had plans from detailed to sketchy, knew where I was going, and (as it later turned out) most importantly, knew my characters. It went a lot more smoothly than the last two years. I wrote pretty steadily, but still skipped a few times on days I felt less motivated. I got sloppier later on, but unlike the last two years, I had another external motivation to not only write, but improve. I got about halfway into the series before the month ended, and began publishing it on January 1st, 2014. A new chapter came out each week. In retrospect that extra pressure was probably too much–I didn’t feel like I could write anything else during that time–but the basic point was sound.

Finally, last year, I’d decided it was time to turn back to original fiction. Granted I hadn’t worked on any lengthy original fiction for a while by this point, but that was part of the reason I wanted to give it another shot. I wanted to finally be able to talk about my project without admitting it was fanfiction or having to explain the setting to an uninitiated audience. I came up with my novel idea in October, planned for a little while with different profiles and the like, and got going. This was probably my most organized year, and one of my most steady. The words rarely came easy, though, and in retrospect this was the time I started noticing signs of what was later diagnosed as depression. Writing, something I’ve always enjoyed, started to get harder and harder. However, I stuck to the novel plan pretty well, and even came up with a reasonably acceptable ending. The real problem with this novel was the revisions, actually. I’ve discovered that the more I plan, the better the overall result is, but once I start looking to change something, everything is up in the air. And I do mean everything. The setting, the length, the characters, the plot, the themes…

Am I going to participate again this year? Maybe. I don’t know. Don’t know where my head’s going to be when the time rolls around, what ideas I’ll be working with. Guess we’ll just have to see.