Where did this come from?

These last several weeks I have made a very conscious effort to outline, to plan, to study, and to understand how exactly scenes and plot elements work together to make a story. I also banned the idea of embarking on a long project without adequate planning, as that has resulted in many years of floundering for me, and I no longer wish to flounder.

On a related topic (you will understand soon why), I have always been fascinated with a lore which was popular with stories of my childhood, though does not seem to be so popular now. In fact, it seems forgotten, and it is possible that the only reason I know of this lore was because I was madly crazy about unicorns and horses as a little girl. The lore goes like this: To hunt a unicorn, a virgin must go out into the woods and kneel down, and a unicorn is drawn to her. If she is true, he puts his head in her lap and the hunter may then shoot said unicorn. If she is not true, then what happens depends on the unicorn, everything from running away to stabbing her through her wicked heart.

I’d never questioned why someone would want to hunt a unicorn, nor why a woman would help in these matters, nor why she had to be a virgin, or for that matter, most disturbing of all, why a male unicorn is drawn to a female virgin and proceeds to put his head essentially on her genitalia. As an adult looking to find something of use to Google, I decided to do just that.

I found two articles, one addressing the unicorn hunt which may well have its originations in Late Mideaval and Rennaisance lore and art which lead to the creation of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries made at the turn of the 16th century. As was a common trend, this unicorn hunt could be a blending of Pagan and Christian lore to make Christianity easier for the local population to accept. From my interpretation, the unicorn hunt is representational of Christ’s crucifixion, with Christ being the unicorn and the virgin being a vessel of truth which he saves, or a vessel of lies which he may kill. The hunter represents those who committed the crucifixion.  Additionally, the virgin sacrifice would be seen as both a poetic and a practical thing. Who wants to hear about a mother of five being torn away from her family to feed a dragon, or for that matter a pregnant newlywed? Doesn’t have the same story-telling lure as does a coming-of-age style tale. And, of course, ALL unwed women of the time were virgins, right?

Still Intact: The Lure and Lore of the Virgin, an article by Anke Bernau, discusses the role of virgins and makes a wonderful anthropological analysis in a manner which even ordinary people will find fascinating. While the Unicorn Tapestries did make me think, it was this article which prompted me to put pen to paper.

I had this burning question, What if unicorns really were a representation of Christ? What if dragons really did plague the villages? What if, instead of sacrificing woman after woman without knowing if they would satisfy the sacrificial qualifications, the villagers instead appointed a single girl to be their Virgin Sacrifice when they needed one? After all, if the virgin were true, the unicorn did not kill her, and thus she may be re-used several times over. Now what of the dragons? What did a dragon want? Certainly a human did little to sate their hunger if they wanted a meal, compared with a horse or perhaps a hog or two if they liked human-like flesh, and dragons were universally regarded as being intelligent so perhaps they wanted company? 

OK, so that is much more than a single burning question, but I thought it would be an interesting idea to explore in a short story. Then the very first paragraph threw in a twist for me, and the ones after were equally intriguing.

I find my cloak and slip it over my shoulders, the one lined with unicorn fur and decorated the the iridescent sheen of dragon scales.
“I am going out,” I tell the monks hunched over their respective books. I lick my lips before I add, “I may be a week or two.”
It will take me that long to find a man who does not know me, who does not know what I am, and who will not see me returned home pure and intact. It is a dangerous objective to go into the world with this goal, but it is my only way.
Brother Adams looks up from pulling string through the binding of his book, and Brother Jacob looks up from laying out an illuminated letter on the page, making calculated placement of the decoration and the size of the ‘G’ before touching the hide with anything permanent. He’s already scraped off the mistakes once today. The two men look to each other, exchanging glances. Brother Jacob is irritated, Brother Adams is concerned, but they reach an agreement during the course of their eye contact, knowing that it has been three months since I expressed a desire to walk the woods. Brother Adams nevertheless frowns as he says, “We will burn black smoke if we need you. Bring back whatever herbs you find, we will be in want of them soon.”
I bow my head, pick up a basket off the floor, hoping they do not notice that it sags in the bottom with the weight of a knife hidden beneath a loaf of bread. I feel guilt already for taking it without asking, but I know that the Lord would want me to have a tool handy with me on this quest. My bag bumps my knees as I stand upright; it contains all I need to survive for months, and is unnervingly light on my shoulders, but I took as much food as I dared to take without arising alarm.
Brother Jacob must see something in my expression, he has the better light and can see my face easier. “Constance, what will you be looking for?”
Brother Adams has not resumed his work; he, too, suspects there is something not right even as I have done my best to remain impassive and uncaring. Speaking with a hint of a smile, I say, “The seasons are changing. I seek knowledge.”
They watch me as I slip toward the door. Brother Jacob calls to me, his brows furrowed, “Be wary what you seek, child, for knowledge is a dangerous thing to wield.”
It’s as though he knows I am leaving to lose my virginity.

Which, of course, begs the question why? 

…and then, the short story kept on growing. I’m finishing it today. I worked on it in three parts on three days. The first day was the beginning. I actually did type that up, it was around four thousand words. The second day was the middle; it is not yet typed, and I suspect it is around seven thousand words. Today is the conclusion, and I want it to be between three and four thousand. It is about half-done at the time I am writing this post. This would put the draft at about 14,000-15,000 words. Not a bad size for a novella.

This is not exactly my standard subject material, and I find myself wondering which of my friends would be the most open-minded about reading it over in a week or two. Just to say this, as I had to beat it into my husband’s skull, it is not a sex novel. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but it just *isn’t*. It’s a tale about taking control of your life, about growing up, and following your dreams. The very nature of the premise makes it inseparable from sex and gender, as well as dealing with topics of religion and beliefs. It’s a tinderbox of social taboos. And that’s good, because writing is one of those places where taboos can be examined. Of course, when you play with fire you will get burned at some point. Someone won’t like it, but if you’re lucky, if you’re real lucky, your readers will be divided into two camps: Love it, and Hate it. This means the message you’re communicating is being received–and people are reacting. What good is a bit of writing which causes no reaction?

Still. It’s something that made me very embarrassed when my husband picked up a page and read aloud, “What is it like to kiss? I pressed my lips to my palm, then licked it, ran my tongue over the roof of my moth and my teeth.”

He looked pretty green at that excerpt. I don’t know why he couldn’t have picked a bit dealing with a unicorn or, better, a dragon, where there was action going on. I beat him up with a towel until he gave me my page back. Having someone read my work aloud is very embarrassing to me, and it would have been terrible if the concierge was called on us to settle a noise disturbance over a bit of my writing. Meh. I got my way in the end.

Anywho. I really need to get started on our Thanksgiving feast. The hubbs won’t be glad if he comes home from classes to find out I’ve spent all day on the computer. 😉

Till later,

-Nicolette

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70,0001 Validated Wordcount

Whew! I’m feeling better about pushing through this baby now. I’m on chapter 18 of 22. At this point I just want to slug through everything and be glad it’s over, you know?

And then do it all over again because it’s what I like to do. Am I a masochist or something? It sure seems like it, but then again, to create anything you have to go through a certain amount of pain, discomfort, or inconvenience. On occasion, you also go through a whole lot of frustration even when you actually know what you are doing but things won’t work out.

So, seventy thousand words. Yay…too bad it’s all crap, but oh well, that’s what another draft is for, right?

Realizing that I need to draw more drawings,

-Nicolette

 

 

Outlining for The Dreamer

Today I’m starting off my morning by laying out the scenes for my next novella, The Dreamer. For this one I am breaking so many literary “rules”, namely *don’t go sticking dreams in the book, they’ll be passed up by the reader, and *don’t start your book with a dream.

Here’s the deal: My protagonist has a dream she can’t wake up from, and the harder she tries to wake up, the more real the dream becomes, until she is awake (and behaving rationally) in the dream world. The dream-world is sort of this 14th century high-fantasy style world, with focus on magic, wizards, evil warlocks, and a smattering of lore and tales I had an obsession with throughout childhood.

So you understand, the dream has to come at the beginning, and there is no good way I can avoid writing that dream sequence. At the bottom of today’s post I am including a list of random links which are written about writing dreams; I have every intention of returning to read them later, as I fear I have had one cup of coffee too many to be able to do anything but want to bang fingers on a keyboard.

This is what I wrote about it when the idea first hit me:

Laura rides in a dream world, wandering snowy woods with a stranger. Though initially neither worrisome nor dangerous, Laura eventually realizes that every time the dream takes her close to awakening, a stranger puts his hand on her forehead and she returns to complicity.
That is, until the day the stranger is a little late in returning to camp. Laura and her horse, Ghost, run away in a blizzard with little hope of survival–but a little hope is all they need.
Laura awakens nude in a 14th c. inn with a bridle in her hands and an equally naked man, blood from nails on his hands and feet, is sleeping alongside her…and Laura realizes that somehow, this dream world has become her world and she has no place in it.

Plot Goal
Will Laura wake up at home or is she stuck here with Ghost in a world she does not know?

Heart Goal
Will Laura find her place in the world, that she fits in, that she feels at home somewhere?

Literary Similarities:
Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland,      The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Now the bridle and the bloody hands/feet comes from a tale I heard as a child, about a wicked witch who had an enchanted bridle. Every night she would sneak into a man’s cottage and put the bridle on him and he would turn into a horse. She would ride him to do all her witch-y duties, and take off the bridle in the morning. He woke every morning exhausted, until one day he understood what she was doing, and he put the bridle on her one day, had her shoed at the farrier’s, and sold her at the horse market. When the new owner took the bridle off his mare, there was the witch standing there with blood on her hands and feet.

OK, so it isn’t exactly a touching tale, but it stuck with me. As an adult, the witch riding a man every night actually has sexual connotations. Hmmm. The point is, in a dream this makes perfect sense, and I want to keep that hint of absurd reality going strong–but my idea is to keep Laura’s emotions and reactions very much grounded in how any one of us would respond, and to have her lose that “I know what’s going on here” feeling we get when we are dreaming about crazy things.

So all of that I wrote down a few weeks ago, not so coincidentally after I woke up from that dream. I had the thought that it was interesting enough that I could use the core idea as an actual story, but I thought I would just stash it away and almost forget about it until months later. It turns out that I’m feeling compelled to write it after I finish up this NaNo story. At this point I am employing my newly-mastered outlining skills and gathering up information. I have a book called The Encyclopaedia of Things that Never Were, and I’m going to use that as a reference for some of the story-related material. But technical things, like how to capture that hazy yet sharply realistic dream quality? Yep. Links. And re-reading some of my literary similarity books, because they all have that same pseudo-dream feel to them.

I will go into my 10 major scenes in another post. For today, I think I’ve hit on plenty of information. Here are a list of dream-links:

Like I mentioned above, this is as much for my reference as for yours. I haven’t actually read most of these yet. I’m too jittery. And today is only for organizing and planning of this project.

Till next time,

Nicolette

60k Today

And in a random burst of energy I ended up typing over 7,000 words today. Yesterday I typed between 5-6k, and the day before I had a big fat daily word count of zero. Today I’m going to keep this post fairly short, as my shoulders are aching from sitting here for so long.

I don’t know where I get these sudden bursts from. They sort of just happen. I’m hoping to keep my word count up around 3-4k a day, about the length I tend to make my chapters. I’m currently finished with chapter 14. Yesterday and today I finished up with 2 chapters each day, and I want to do at least a chapter a day so I can finish the novel this month.

Then next month I plan on doing a typed draft of an urban fantasy I have sitting and chilling in my binder. That one is in much better shape than anything I’ve done so far. This NaNo novel is in pretty decent shape, but it’s riddled with typos, possible timeline issues, and the need to check into the technology available in the setting.

It’ll be fun!

Oh, and my NaNo group? I’ll make it to the next meeting, I promise. Last Sunday I had a double-whammy: It was Mom’s birthday and I was modeling Viking attire for a History of Fashion charity show. I promise you I could not make that up.

Well, the husband wants my computer to watch Lord of the Rings. So, I’ll talk to you guys later!

-Nicolette

I don’t want to type today

Pencil sketch

Well, I don’t. So far I’ve scrubbed the house top to bottom, gone grocery shopping, prepped a breakfast meal, prepped dinner, done laundry, gone shopping for thread and an embroidery hoop, and done a 3″ embroidered image of a fishing vessel.

I frankly had little to go off even for today’s post, so I’m going to include a snippet of the pep talk delivered to my NaNo inbox today. For the background info, he is comparing novel writing to being a Tribute in the Hunger Games. If you don’t catch the reference, that’s what Wikipedia is for. (Pep Talk from Lev Grossman)

So, you are a Tribute for the Hunger Games but you don’t feel confident. You feel like crap. Like you have no idea what you’re doing. Sometimes you pick up your bow and arrow or your throwing knives and you’re like, I don’t even remember how these damn things work. Why? Why are you different? What is wrong with you?

So this is point number two: nothing is wrong with you. You’re not different. Everybody feels as bad as you do: this is just what writing a novel feels like. To write a novel is to come in contact with raw, primal feelings, hopes and longings and psychic wounds, and try to make a big public word-sculpture out of them, and that is a crazy hard thing to do. When you look at other people’s published novels, they seem gleaming and perfect, like the authors knew what they wanted to do from the start and just did it. But trust me: they didn’t know.

What you’re feeling is not only normal: it’s a good sign. A writer—someone once said—is a person for whom writing is difficult. That resistance you’re feeling is proof that you’re digging deep. To write a novel is to lose your way and find it over, and over, and over again.

A lousy draft proves nothing. Rough drafts are rough—everybody’s are. Being a writer isn’t like being a musician. You don’t have to get it right every day. The wonderful thing about being a writer is, you only have to get it right once. That’s all anyone will ever see. The only bad draft is the one that doesn’t get finished.

So get back at it. Let the others lose heart and give up. You stay out there in the woods. The weapons of a writer, James Joyce once wrote, are silence, exile, and cunning, and probably he wasn’t thinking of the Hunger Games when he wrote that—probably—but it fits the metaphor. While Tributes are falling left and right, you will fashion man-traps from ninja stars, steal weapons from the fallen, and bide your time, and when you’re ready you will come out of those woods like an avenging angel of death.

Forget that stuff about the odds being ever in your favor. What does that even mean? Screw the odds. There are no odds. You’re a writer, and writers make their own odds.

-Lev Grossman (http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lev-grossman)

Ok, a ‘snippet’ turned into ‘like almost half’, but this was the half that really spoke to me today. It may seem like I’m almost at the finish line, but the truth is, I’m not. If I quit at 50k then I wouldn’t be challenging myself. I’m going to keep on writing, as much as I can, for the whole freaking month. I have a goal in mind. Currently I am at about 60% of that goal. It isn’t about the words, it’s about finishing this stupid draft. And I want the draft done this month. You know?

That’s how things sit today.

-Nicolette

 

PS- yes, my drawings. I thought I’d start sharing my daily doodles.

44k Words, Another Challenge

Usually I find the 40k-50k stretch of words easy peasy. Not so much this time. I still force myself to type out 350 words each time I sit down, but I’ve found that lately my brain wants to do logical thinking and planning rather than scene building. Oh well. I fixed the bigger errors I have in my plot, laid everything out so it’s easier to comprehend. Now I just need to actually type it all out. 🙂

…it might also help if my hubbs stopped wanting the Big Screen to watch Netflix every evening. Haha, oh well.

I’ve been doing a lot of researching and reading into scene-making and novel-writing, and I’ve come across some interesting thoughts, but the one which struck me the most was written by Randy Ingermanson. My favorite two posts are: Writing the Perfect Scene, and How To Write a Novel. His site has some interesting commentary on the state of the publishing industry, on vanity, self, and traditional publishing, and a whole lot of information on everything related to writing. I would say I wished I found this years ago, but I don’t. It came at a time when I was able to comprehend and apply the concepts I like.

That’s all for tonight. I’ve spent much too long on my blog as it is.

TTYL

Nicolette

Lessons Learned

I’ve heard a number of writing lessons over the years, but I’ve found these two to be the most true:

  • Read. Read often, read everything, never stop reading.
  • Never stop writing.

While I was in college, I largely stopped reading for pleasure. I frequently was assigned 2-3 hours of reading every night, as well as plenty of other homework, so I scarcely had time to myself–and when I had it, I didn’t want to spend it with my nose in a book. Sometimes I would fall asleep before I could finish my assignments, so I ranked reading near the end of the priority list; I would then skim over the subject material in class, make a few quick observations, and call it good. Yeah, I was one of those BS-ers, but it was good-sounding BS.

After I graduated, I became addicted to PodCastle because it allowed me to listen to fantastic short stories while I tended to things around the house. I listened to everything in the archives.  This included some stories I was not entirely comfortable with, including Red Riding-Hood’s Child, which was frankly a little odd for me at the time as it involves not only werewolves and sex, but gay wolf sex. Personal insecurites set aside (if I want to call them insecurities–it’s simply not a topic I was accustomed to, as I spent all my formative years in ultra-conservative cultures), I found the actual story and the telling in particular to be very beautiful.

PodCastle opened my eyes to a variety of voices and tales, including: Goblin Lullaby, a sort of “the other side of the questing adventure” tale; Illuminated Dragon, a tale of amazing magic which inspired my own start of an “illuminated” story; Black Ribbon, a tale of a baby reared into being a poison-laced assassin; Magnificent Pigs, a tale of child mortality mingled with key elements from Charolette’s Web in a heartbreaking yet heart-warming story; Wizard’s Apprentice, the story of an evil wizard who takes in an abused boy as an apprentice; Gods of the North, a classic Conan tale; and of course, a how-to guide called Accounting for Dragons.

So many of these stories made me question something in myself. Is the evil wizard still evil? Sure, he is, but is that a bad thing? But wait, evil is inherently bad. That sort of line of mental questioning kept me going from one story to the next, and oftentimes it took the next episode coupled with some of the selected comments from the forums in order for me to understand why I was hung up over a particular turn of events.

The thing about these stories is they aren’t mainstream. The ideas in them have their place, but I couldn’t ever imagine seeing them in the Bestselling Top Ten because they bring up too many questions, opinions the mass public might be unwilling to have challenged. There are a few people in my family, for instance, who firmly believe that dragons and snakes can only be “evil” characters and have actually flipped out a little when I pressed the subject. I don’t really discuss my fantasy writing with them. But I still write dragons as neither inherently good nor evil, but rather just as another character with their own drives and motivations.

I don’t believe in censoring ideas. Object or agree with them as you will. I certainly do. But does that mean that the only idea, the only acceptable concept is your own? Certainly not. This is why I don’t press my dragons-are-just-characters tales on my family, yet neither do I stop writing them. The tale I’m currently working on includes sex before marriage. It isn’t a romantic ideal, but I think some people will appreciate the honesty behind it.

Discovering literature like this has really changed me. It’s provided liberation. It’s shown me that a story I find amazing, someone else will find purely appalling and terrible. And that’s OK, because we are all different individuals with different tolerances and expectations. It’s sent a message to me that whatever you do, do it, and do it well. Hold your head up about it. Not everyone is going to enjoy it. Know what else? Everyone doesn’t need to.

Since I’ve given examples of things I love, here’s one I don’t: Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I had to read this for one of my classes, and while it was initially interesting, I hated the ending. I hated that the narrator, a man who slaved away for his family and one morning woke up as a beetle, was loathed by those he loved, abused by them, and when he died, they rejoiced in it. Know why I hate it? Because it goes against everything I’ve ever learned to value. It goes against caring for your family. It goes against hard work. At least that’s how I see it. Kafka intended for it to be a statement that in the natural order of things, the son isn’t supposed to support his mother and sister, he is supposed to go out into the world and support his wife and kids, so his unnatural transformation was a reflection on what happens if you don’t–or so that’s how the classroom discussion went.  I seemed to be one of the few who still hated the story after.

My opinion doesn’t make it any less of a work of literature. And I still remember it when I’ve forgotten so many others.

Just food for thought.

Nicolette

PS, I hit 41k on NaNoWriMo today. 🙂

Curse you, 30k!

My cousin’s kid makes this really cute sound whenever his air plane takes a nose-dive into the sandpit. It goes something like this:

NNNNnnnnnnrrrrroooooooooom…..KKKKSSSSHHH!

That’s the sound my head makes today as I tackle the monster which rears its head at me every 30,000 words. It’s my death omen or something. Once I’m out of the 30k’s, I’m fantastic. But for whatever reason, getting over the 30k hump is most frustrating.  So, to extend the earlier metaphor, my air plane of a novel is taking a nap in the sand.

…and yes, this post is an avoidance strategy. Sorry. Back to NaNo-ing.

Nicolette

Battle Roar: 25,550 Words

In reality I started this post with that many words. The count is actually higher now, but let me be honest: I like all the 5’s in that number and wish to keep the title like that.

Of course I want to give a little shout out of this accomplishment, but it is more than that. See, the truth is that I also need a little bit of a break from the story. I ended it on a turning point, and I’m not quite mentally prepared to launch into the next direction quite yet.  I’ve been practicing the reward system lately. Yesterday I allowed myself a candy bar for typing up what I’d written down. Yes, I know there’s that meme…let me go find it…

Here it is:

:-P   borrowed from here: http://www.healthguru.sg/health-disease/dont-reward-yourself-with-food-you-are-not-a-dog/
😛 borrowed from here: http://www.healthguru.sg/health-disease/dont-reward-yourself-with-food-you-are-not-a-dog/

Well, pooh. If I want to reward myself with food, then by golly I’m going to give in and do it. Who’s with me?!

Aside from this…My reward for 25,000 was a break and guilt-free internet access. And then I was going to go shopping for a couple of gifts. I have a friend in Utah who swoons over such British things like Jammie Dodgers, Smarties, Kindereggs, and David Tennant. Alas one of those things is beyond my reach. But the rest are within budget. I’m going to make up a sort of care package for my mother, whose birthday is later this month. I’ll end up spending more on shipping than on gifts, but eh, whatever.

So: This is my reward for 25k! I’ll leave you now so I may get on burning the rest of my weekly allowance.

😀

Till next time,

Nicolette