Saturday, December 5, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009 = 51329

I had a nice thoughtful post mostly written all about this year's NaNoWriMo and lessons learned and all that and, quite frankly, even the idea bores me.

In some ways this year went better than last. I certainly felt more prepared. In other ways it was a little more of a struggle. I think I'll go back to gritty hard-core fantasy next year. I also think I'll do more pre-writing so I can hit the ground running even faster.

Including the stuff I wrote before NaNoWriMo, I have somewhere around 80,000 words so far. This means I only have about 20,000 left to finish the story.

At this point in the story, I've adapted everything in Xenophon's account up to the greeks' journey through western Armenia. Next I have to decide how much of their wanderings through the Greek frontier and the political machinations that follow I can squeeze into the space I have left. I also have to figure out how they find out about the aliens' plan (in my adaptation) to attack the now defenseless Earth.

(Yeah, I decided the story needed to end with more of a bang. Xenophon's account just kind of trails off with the break up of the army, it's partial reformation and his hand-off of the troops to the Spartans. I decided to make his little excursion where he captures the rich Persian a little more significant though it will, unfortunately, lose all the humor Xenophon had in his version.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 3.5 An Interesting Discovery

I was going through my posts cleaning things up and discovered this incomplete post from NaNo 2009. Even though it's not complete, I thought I'd go ahead and hit the publish button. The tension between character-driven and plot-driven stories is still something I wrestle with.

There are many ways to divide people up. One way to divide writers is between those who write character-based stories and those that write plot-based stories. I have long wanted to be the former type, but have secretly feared I might be the latter.

Plot-based stories tend to be pretty exciting. Lots of things happen and the story keep moving along, but the characters don't necessarily change much and in the end you're left with something entertaining, but not necessarily meaningful. They're often the types of books or movies you enjoy once, but probably won't care to read/watch again.

Character-based stories tend to move a little more slowly. You get into the whys and wherefores so that learning the character's background and motivation--why the character is going what they're doing--is at least as important as what they are doing.

I have long enjoyed character based stories, particularly quirky characters like those in the works of P.G. Wodehouse's stories or Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. (For this I blame an early exposure to the works of James Blaylock and his friend Tim Powers.) I also particularly like (and this will expose the truly pedestrian nature of my tastes) the method of character reveal in some of the better anime like Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. (Here I'm talking about the anime, I haven't read the manga yet.) I particularly like the reveal/transformation of Vash's character in Trigun.

But... I've long feared I lean more toward the plot-based type stories in my writing. Part of that, I think, just comes with maturity. When I was younger, it was all about the action. Also, I didn't like hurting my characters. (I think a lot of young writers start off writing Mary Sue type characters to some degree.) Having grown older, I can now appreciate implications of character that probably escaped me when I was younger.

So what does all this have to do with NaNoWriMo?

This story is more of a plot story and I'm having more trouble with it than last year. I spent half the book just leading up to the war when most adaptations of the Anabasis begin about the time Cyrus gets killed. Why did I do that? It's because there were all this cool interpersonal tensions between the generals and the Greeks and the Persians as well as the fact that Cyrus was obviously lying to them as he led them to Persia.

At this point the Greeks are marching towards home. They've just left Persia and are halfway through Kurdistan. Now don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of interpersonal conflict, but there's just so much more plot to get through. (Xenophon himself describes their trek through Kurdistan as seven days of non-stop fighting.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week 3 Down and Moving Into the Final Stretch

This week has been a bit of a struggle. Although I've stayed well above the running total I should have for each day, I haven't always done my full 1667 for the day. For some reason the word widget at the side of the blog isn't showing the three days at the end of the week where I came up short. As a result, my cushion of words has dropped a little.

Story wise, I'm well into the "mushy middle". However, because the story naturally has a nice plot twist around the true middle, for me its more like a "mushy three-quarters".

Sudden disaster has led to political conflict and unexpected betrayal. Now Kenneth Phon has to step up and get the fleet back home. At this point they're wandering around deep in alien territory just trying to find a way out and have just learned their best option may be through the territory of a backwards race so aggressive that even the empire won't mess with them.

Ironically, the thing that's holding me up in this story, is not what you would expect. Perhaps I'll blog about it tomorrow. I'm taking all of next week off so I can try to power through the 50k mark. I may just have time to blog this before the end of the week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Week 2 Down, Week 3 Begun

This is where things often get hard. Story wise one tends to be stuck in the muddy middle. NaNoWriMo wise, this is also where the lack of sleep starts to catch up to you. Yes, I miss my free time and I miss my family time, but to tell you the truth at this point I mostly miss my bed time. I've had a couple of days where I really just wanted to say screw the writing, I'm just going to take a 12 hour nap. But, so far, I've managed to gut it out.

I crossed the halfway mark two days early and I'm within two or three hundred words of the 2/3 mark. Assuming disaster doesn't strike, I should cross that tomorrow, two and a half days early. Sure, I could probably do that tonight but, A) I'm going to bed as soon as I post this and B) I just ended a scene at a major turning point and if I start the next scene I probably won't stop for a couple thousand words at which time I'm sure it will be well past midnight.

I know a few of you sick and twisted people are thinking, "So, when am I going to get to see this thing?" Well, the answer is probably not for a long while. But if you really are morbidly curious, I posted the first chapter on my profile at

I should warn you that it is a VERY ROUGH first draft. Also, it begins a little weird, but then you should expect that from me by now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Starting Week 2

Well I've completed week 1 with a mostly unqualified success. I had a couple of days where I failed to meet my goal of 1667 words, but I've always at least kept the running word total above what it needed to be for the day. You can largely ignore the "word widget" at the side of my blog. It should read 14,448 as of the date of this posting, but it's at least a couple of days behind. It took them over a month to even get it working, but it is apparently still not correct.

It's probably just the normal tricks of memory, but it seems like this story is resisting me a little more than the last two nano projects. This despite the fact that the story is already pretty much laid out for me. In some ways I've been living with this story for decades. Perhaps that's why this story feels more like a re-write than a discovery draft. Still, the only reason I even made goal tonight was because I already had the next scene well mapped out. At least I don't have to stare at a blinking cursor and wonder what comes next. I just have to figure out how I'm going to get to the next scene.

The big battle has just begun and Kennth Phon's (Xenephon) employer, the alien "Shines Like the Sun" (Cyrus the younger) looks to be winning. I've completely manufactured an incident in the battle (since the real Xenephon hardly mentions his role until after the disaster befalls them) that would be worthy of a good action movie's opening stunt. Let's hope I don't introduce any plot complications I'll later regret.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Beware Greeks Bearing Spaceships

NaNoWriMo is here again and I'm getting geared up for another 30-day mental marathon. This year I'm returning to SF with an adaptation of the Anabasis. I've wanted to do a military SF version of this classic greek military expedition gone horribly wrong for a very long time--now I've got my chance.

Since 50,000 words is basically half of a real novel, I've got a bit of a jump start on the project. I'm writing everything up to the war between Cyrus and Artaxerxes, saving the big action scenes for November 1 so I can start with a bang. Some might feel this is a violation of at least the spirit of NaNoWriMo, but when I get to the end of NaNoWriMo, I'd like to actually reach the end of the novel and 50k just doesn't cut it.

When I was just a kid in grade school, I would often find myself with a half-dozen volumes of The World Book encyclopedia spread across the living room floor open to some subject or other. At one point I made it through to the "X"s where I found an entry for Xenophon and this picture—

—entitled: Xenophon Gave Thanks to the Gods as his “Ten Thousand” Finished Their Long Retreat to the Bosporus.”

I can't say precisely what it was about this picture that so capture my imagination, but after reading about Xenophon and the “March of the Ten Thousand” I would—even years later—bore people with a passionate recounting of those historical events. I know others have done a SF version, but all the ones I know about involve some military force crashing on a planet and having to march around to some sort of spaceport or something. This version will be the first (that I know of) that takes place entirely in space.

The interesting thing about the writing so far is that I've got so many words written and yet all the politics leading up to the initial war is just a tiny fragment of Xenophon's account. It seems strange that such a minor part of his account should be so rich in potential conflict.

At least it doesn't look like I'll run out of material before Nov. 30. The real trick will be injecting the personal transformation of the main character into the story which might be hinted at, but certainly isn't addressed in Xenophon's text.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Done! ...mostly

This is what 134,761 words looks like--the result of NaNoWriMo '07 & '08 and a little bit more. I just finished formatting it, photoshopping a new cover and uploading everything to Amazon's POD. Hopefully it'll get verified soon and I can use the free proof coupon before it expires.

I'm looking forward to working on something different for '09, but the truth is this still isn't the end of the story. I resolve the most immediate conflict in part one, but the over-arching conflict is still left largely unresolved. I had hoped to do it all in one book, but what I have now is already ambitious enough. I'm sure I could do part two in a fraction of part one's length, the question is whether I can fit it into a the existing book or stretch it into a second full-length novel.

Either way, around October, expect to hear about a far future science fiction space opera based on the work of an ancient greek.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One Proof down...One To Go

I haven't blogged on blogspot in months, for which I entirely blame facebook. Fortunately, unlike last year, that doesn't mean I have stopped writing. In fact I've written pretty much non-stop since then except for a break in March and part of April where I had to do some editing, formatting and some graphic art work to take advantage of my free proof from Amazon. (Which I won from completing NaNoWriMo in 2007.)

I was fully prepared to be disappointed by the free proof copy, but I was pleasantly surprised. The quality of the print and binding surprised me. I was a little disappointed that they didn't have a standard paperback book size, but I was quite happy with the quality of what they produced.

Now I just have to finish the thing to take advantage of the free proof for NaNoWriMo 2008. My current word count is 126,805 and, judging by my outline, I have another 12 or 14-thousand to go to finish the story and I only have until the end of the month to take advantage of the Amazon deal. (Can you say PRESSURE?)