Camp NaNo Catch-Up: Gardeners and Architects

Apparently, there is a George RR Martin quotation out there about how writers are gardeners or architects.

Some writers have an idea and run with it; others have an idea and plan the story. Of course, as with all things, most people are not really one or the other, but a mix of both. Normally, I get about half way through the planning stage and then start writing and see where it takes me. I’ve never been very good at endings, though. I might be seeing things, but I suspect there’s a link between that and where I cease to plan…

It’s been an interesting time for me, this month, with my focus being on planning; every now and again I get the urge to just start writing, I have enough notes and plans, and anyway that part of the story won’t happen for ages, and by the time I get to that bit I’m stuck on, an answer should have presented itself. Right?

I’ve written before, with just an idea. It was a struggle. Especially when I got stuck, and all I had for inspiration was how the entire story was supposed to end. Not knowing how to get there – not really a good way to write, I found. Led to a lot of writer’s block. I don’t, yet, know if writing from a comprehensive plan is going to be any different – no doubt I shall meet with other problems causing the same effect – but I’m not going to know until I try. And the hope is that I’m going to be addressing the most major plot-holes in the planning stages, and not half way through the writing. Starting over is never fun.

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I find, with the planning, that I enjoy it more. It’s easier to see progress and to feel optimistic about the story. I’ve found a couple of things which help me. They might be simple; they’re the sort of things you already know, but kind of ignore.

The first is good old pen and paper. I carry my notebook around, and write on any old scrap of paper to hand. Ideas, plot-points, problems, they’re all ticking away at the back of my brain, figuring themselves out. My brain is always half away with the fairies.

The second is my desk. Or, if I decide to work on the sofa, my table-top ironing board, which makes an excellent substitute. And means that it finally has a purpose, since I think life’s generally too short for ironing.

How do you write? Are you a gardener or an architect?

Camp NaNo, July 107

I made a decision a few weeks ago that the only way I am going to get to do what I want in life, as opposed to a series of pay-the-bills jobs, is by creating the job I want to do. To take control, in effect.

This might sound simple, and a bit of a Duh! thing to say, but taking control is not something I do. I am not a leader; I can only just decide what I want to eat from a menu, usually when the waiter appears to take the order because everyone else at the table has already decided. At that point I just pick something.

You may have noticed some small changes around my Cocoary. This is a part of my Taking Control.

I have found, though, since making this decision, that I am generally happier in the life and job (which I dislike) which I am currently living and doing. I have also found that something has clicked and I have more energy and enthusiasm to pursue my dreams. This is the most important change, I think. Never underestimate the power of having energy and a clear head. The job I dislike no longer gets me down like it did. My brain, which previously wasted a lot of energy thinking and dreaming of ways out, is free, now, to concentrate on the Way Out.

And so, to Camp NaNo July 2017.

I believe I have an account, but you won’t find me in the campsite. I’m not a people-person, sorry. Bit too busy for me.

Anyway, my plans for the camp which begins in the next few days are reasonably simple.

I have two story ideas currently competing for attention; they have been for the last few years. One is the story which I wrote for the first NaNoWriMo I completed in 2013, and still haven’t rewritten or polished to *er-hum* someone’s exacting standards, and the other is one which has been expanding, slowly, since the first scene wrote itself in my head on the way home from work while it was supposed to be working on the first story. Ideas are like that. However, both are at the point where they could, conceivably, be written (or rewritten in the case of the former) probably without too much difficulty.

In the spirit of taking control, though, and with the experience of writing without a plan something of a painful memory, my Camp NaNo goal is thus:

To write a plan, a synopsis, a detailed description, of both stories.

Mists of Time: The Viking Age

As a reader, the most important part of any novel is the story. A character or two for whom I can feel some sort of emotion (other than complete loathing) comes a close second in the list of priorities for choosing what to read.

As a writer, that story and those characters can come from anywhere.

I tend to find History to be full of both. There have been many, excellent, stories over the centuries. Leastways, I think so, and given the number of historical novels, apparently so do quite a few others. Anyway, as a step along my path, rather than just reading history and occasionally making notes in one of my many notebooks, I’m going to start sharing some of those stories here.

But first, I shall explain a little about the Viking Age. I’ve been doing that quite a bit recently – part of explaining my CV and background as a Viking Studies graduate.

The Viking Age is a very specific period. It is usually taken to begin with the attack on Lindisfarne at the end of the 8th Century, in 793, and the normal end-date of the period is 1066, with the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the death of the Last Viking, Harald Hardrada, at the hands of the last Anglo-Saxon King of England Harold Godwinson (well, OK, his army). Harold didn’t last much longer, dying at Hastings a few weeks later, leaving England in the hands of William of Normandy.

Actually, the Viking Age lasted a bit longer in the peripheries – in Scotland and Ireland – and had long since ended in mainland Europe and Byzantium.

After a bloody Ninth Century, Charles the Simple of France signed a treaty with Rollo the Viking in 911, offering him land in northern France in return for protection from other Vikings. Rollo said thanks, and proceeded to spread his wings a bit further along the French coast, with the Duchy of Normandy being established a couple of generations later, under Richard the Fearless (942-996).

In Byzantium, Vikings went from occasional raiders to Imperial guards, when Basil II formed the Varangians in 988. He decided he couldn’t trust his own people and recruited from the Northmen. Before he became King of Norway, Harald Hardrada was a very successful leader in the Varangian Guards.

To go ‘a-viking’ was something of a rite of passage for young male Scandinavians. Norwegians and Danes tended to west, towards the British Isles and mainland Europe; Swedes went east, down the rivers of eastern Europe towards Byzantium. Along the way, they also helped to establish Kiev and Russia – they were known as the Rus.

And that’s it briefly. I’ve glossed over it, and not talked much about Ireland and Scotland, but there will be more details when I’m talking about more specific people and not simply being brief.

Knowing about Writing

“I’m going to write fantasy,” I announced, with all the confidence of a fourteen-year-old who hasn’t thought it through. “Then, if I don’t know something, I can just make it up. No research!”

“Hm,” said my dad, with that parental expression of unimpressed but trying not to discourage.

He’s not a writer, I thought, what does he know?

Turns out, more than I do.

To write convincingly, whether fiction or non-fiction, you have to know your subject matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re making it up or not: you still need to know it, inside-out and back-to-front. You don’t need to have experienced it, but you do need to be able to research it, and to be able to imagine how it feels.

And yes, in the grand scheme of things, if you don’t know or can’t find something out, you can just “make it up”, but make sure it makes sense with the rest of your story. And you’ll have to know how it fits in.

My suspicion, based on my current WIP, is that the key to this is Proper Planning. That way you don’t get sudden surprises half way through a chapter. And you don’t need to rewrite the entire manuscript.

You have to know what you’re writing about, whatever that is.

The End of the Dinosaur

I shall begin, as all good stories should, at the beginning, when there is nothing; when the heavens are empty and the Gods alone, that their Creation might rise up, like a phoenix from the ashes, and be Glorious in its existence.

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As the Gods look on the Nothingness before them, they begin to see an order in the chaos. A pattern to the mess. And they begin to build.

They build as the Fates will them, to fulfill the destinies laid down by those who control even the Gods. The Gods do not know they are being controlled, so light is the hand on the reins, and they continue, happy in their creating.

And so it is that the World is created and the Gods can look out on their Creation, a view which pleases them.

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All it requires is washing, ironing and being turned into a book-bag.

Writing Procrastinations

I sat down this evening with the fixed intention of getting through the section I’ve been working on so far this week. I feel like I’m nearly there with it, and I wanted to get it done. I want to get on with the book, and get it completely finished; not just this draft, but done. Well, except for a final edit. But you know what I mean.

But as I was walking home this evening after work, another scene, entirely unconnected, I’ve considered before popped into my head. It wanted to be written. I don’t yet have its full story, and I haven’t plotted anything really for it, but since it wouldn’t let me be, and it certainly won’t let me write about my troll, I thought I’d better get it down.

I feel it has great promise for a later work, if I can work out the details and quite what’s going on…Here it is, in all its unedited wonder!

***

A phone rang. It was a cheerful, if tinny, ringtone, and it shattered the stunned silence of the congregation.

Eventually, unable to bear it any longer, Serena said: “You know, I think it must be hers!”

It seemed as if everyone turned to stare at her, to condemn her for daring to say anything at such a time. With an irritated noise, Serena pushed past the people in her row to reach the aisle where the body lay. Reaching into a pocket with her gloved hand, she pulled free a phone, which was indeed ringing.

Carefully holding it close enough to hear, but not so close as to touch it, she answered. “Good afternoon; how may I help you?”

She listened, a look of bemusement crossing her face, and pressed the speaker button. The voice of the caller filled the room.

“…calling about the non-fault accident you had recently.”

“Well, goodness, what timing!” Serena exclaimed. “But really, my good man,” she said resuming her previous, somewhat imperious manner, “don’t you think that your time might be better spent ringing the ambulance than – to whom did you say you wanted to speak?”

“Um, a Miss Diana Smith?” The voice, a male one, sounded nervous and unsure of himself. Clearly his script did not allow for such deviations and he was questioning what little he did know.

“Miss Smith? Yes, well, quite. If you know about her accident then I would suggest telephoning to the ambulance, not her; Miss Smith’s accident is serious. And, yes, I rather think the police might want to know, too. Immediately, my good man!”

And with that, Serena hung up. Around her, she could see several people doing exactly what she had just told the nameless man to do. She wondered briefly if he would do so. She shrugged, feeling that she had done her duty, and returned the phone to its owner’s pocket.

What to Say, or Not…

They say that to become a good writer, you must first be a good reader. By which it is meant that you must read. Anything and everything.

Of late, my reading has been sketchy, mostly being just what I find on the internet. I try not to buy many books at the moment for the very simple reason that my current home has not nearly enough space.

Happily, my last week at home home has meant that I’ve been surrounded by the library I collected as a teenager. I have had the time and comfort to curl up and reread the stories I’ve loved for years.

I knew someone once who couldn’t see the point of rereading books. Once you’ve read it, you know how it ends. No surprises, so what’s the point?

I find rereading books I’ve enjoyed to be like catching up with an old friend. Reminiscing about things we’ve enjoyed, learning new details. My reading this week has mostly been Georgette Heyers, her detective novels as well as some romances. It’s been interesting comparing her approach to each.

The romances are filled with sartorial details, the mysteries not so much. I was particularly looking out for this because apparently someone somewhere, according to my mother, once said that the important difference between Heyer and Jane Austen, despite them writing about the same period, is that Austen was considerably less interested in the clothing choices of her characters. The reason for this is that Austen was writing about her own period. Her readers would know about the clothes and fashions. Heyer, on the other hand, was writing at least a century later and needed to help her readers set the story. I need to reread Austen to check this theory.

However, having compared Heyer’s romances to her contemporary mysteries, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was found to be true. She, and the readers, would know about the pre- and post-WWII fashions. Detailed descriptions unnecessary.

It’s made me think about my own writing, about my fantasy world, and the necessity of detailed descriptions. I’m not sure quite what I’ve decided about it just yet.

What do you think? Do you like knowing the details of clothes, down to the last trailing thread? Or do you skip them because honestly once you’ve read one description of a dress you’ve read them all?