These two microfiction writing tags popped on to my Twitter radar this morning so I decided to give SF a rest for a while and come up with an answer. As most of the respondents had added a picture to go with their efforts I chose to do the same. Turned out to be a great way to find inspiration.“Have you ever stood, listening to the silence that comes after the snow? There is nothing to rival such quiet. But don’t linger too long in your chilly wonder. That silence is the world holding its breath, waiting to see if the monster will pounce.”
Today I decided to join in with the #MurderMonday challenge on Twitter, but rather than writing a one shot in 250 characters, I decided to skip ahead several chapters in my WIP and write a scene between my two main characters. This will be quite near the end of the story, when Haas and Strand have finally started to warm to one another. 😉
“The truth has a cost.” He whispered. “Are you willing to pay it?” She was on the run, with a bounty on her life, but nothing had threatened her resolve until the moment his lips had brushed against hers.
“Damn you, Strand.” She muttered. “I don’t know anymore.”
Of course, because it’s me, when I originally had a go at writing this scene it came out way longer than this. Cutting it down to something Tweet sized has taken something away from the atmosphere I feel. Tell you what, you decide. Here’s the original version.
“The truth comes at a cost.” He whispered, his breath warming her cheek. “Are you willing to pay it?”
She was marooned, on the run, with a bounty on her life, but nothing, not even a near miss with an assassin’s bullet had threatened her resolve until this moment, until his lips had made fleeting contact with hers.
“Damn you, Strand.” She muttered. “I don’t know anymore.”
Which one do you prefer?
Well, I suppose it was always going to be a difficult mountain to climb, when twelve hours of my day are devoted to the paying of bills and the putting of food on the table, but my NaNoWriMo effort for this year only managed to scrape over 17,000 words, against a 50,000 word target.
I had fully plotted the first two thirds of my story, and set myself a writing schedule, but in the end such a high word count was not compatible, either with having a full time job or with the way I write. I had hoped that by breaking down the target into three daily chunks of 555 words I would be able to nail the target with no problems, but it just didn’t work out that way. My afternoon word sprint was always going to be a struggle because that’s when I tend to be at my lowest energy level and if I missed one of the other daily sprints, well that was my daily word count ruined. In the end all those missed sprints added up. It does mean I now know that the morning is the only real viable writing time of day for me. On that basis I’ve come up with a new writing schedule for 2018. A daily word count of 700 words should allow me to produce something of novel length in about 6 months.
Hopefully, now that I know what is realistic for me I can settle in to a regular writing schedule and not be disheartened by what feels like a total lack of progress.
As someone who greatly misses the old Kindle Weekend Write-Ins I have been looking for an alternative to their 500 words in 48 hours challenge, and the variety of micro-fiction hashtags on Twitter is bewildering. There’s certainly something for everyone.
Throughout NaNoWriMo I have been taking part in the #WIPitWed challenge, posting a small, Twitter friendly excerpt of my Work In Progress every Wednesday. Of course, that has meant letting bits of my first draft out in to the wild, snippets like this one for instance. But at least no-one’s told me I’m shit yet. 🙂
As someone who has a full time job, finding the time to write 1667 words a day for a month, has been something of a worry for the last few weeks. Being time poor has led me to fail spectacularly for the last two years. So this year I decided to come up with a definite writing schedule.
To do so, I had to think long and hard about how I write, when I would get the most time, and what time of day I am alert enough to rattle off a decent amount of words.
Answering the first question did not bode well. I tend only to write a few hundred words at a time before I get distracted by something else. That meant doing the full word count in a single hit was going to be very challenging and I didn’t want to set myself an unrealistic goal. I was therefore going to have to split my writing into small chunks throughout the day.
Time was also going to be a big issue, so I looked at my working day. I start and finish early and for the most part I get the majority of my mundane workload done in the few hours before lunch. That left me with the early morning, mid afternoon and early evening, in which I could be reasonably confident of getting some words in.
Finally, I had to think about how I work and when I’m alert enough to churn out a few hundred words in a single sitting. I’m a lark rather than a night owl. I get up early and I’m usually in bed by 9.30pm. In terms of alertness I’m good first thing in the morning and in the early evening, but tend to flag a bit in between.
Taking all this into account I decided my best option would be to do short word sprints. Splitting the word count in half would not suit my short attention span. Even 800 words tends to be beyond my capabilities in a single sitting. So I settled on three, very short word sprints of 555 words each, per day. That gives me a daily word count of 1665 words. Two extra words and I’ve hit the target for each day.
In terms of the time of day I would be most likely to be successful at producing 555 words, early morning and early evening were going to be my two best options. That would mean adding the third word sprint in after lunch. Not my best time of day, but it gives me the optimum amount of time to recharge my batteries between the morning and evening sessions.
So my prescription for NaNoWriMo is set; three word sprints of 555 words per day, morning, afternoon, and evening. Rather like taking a course of medicine. I’m going to call it The Spoonful Of Sugar Method.
In order to prep for this year’s NaNoWriMo I have been working on my opening scene. A bit of a cheat as far as the word count goes, but it does mean I’m not faced with thee dreaded blank page on day one.
Reading back over my first efforts I was not entirely comfortable with it. I wanted to sound like a ‘serious writer’ dammit, and my writing was coming out stuffed full of snark!
Nevertheless I took the leap and posted my first paragraph on the NaNoWriMo site as my novel excerpt. A day later I received an IM from a NaNo buddy with the following feedback.
“Your novel sounds really interesting and it’s something I’d love to read! Also love your writing style.”
A pleasant surprise, considering the one thing I was most disappointed with was my style! Knowing that someone else enjoyed reading my very rough first paragraph, saved me from ditching the whole lot and writing it differently, in what would probably have turned out to be a completely characterless style. I will have to keep reminding myself of this experience and that, ultimately I am writing from a human point of view. We’re allowed to have our own, unique voice, with bouts of sarcasm, humour, cynicism and weariness.
I have to say it has been bloody tough finding a visual reference for Commander Haas’ sidekick. Dr Silas Strand is a human who arrived on our alien world over a decade ago to assist with the plague relief effort. He’s been stranded inside the quarantine zone ever since.
Away from his home world and with no real human company to speak of, Dr Strand has become a bit worn around the edges. His clothes have seen better days and so have his ethics. The occasional aid drops from outside the quarantine zone are not nearly enough to keep his medical practice supplied, so over the years he’s been forced to do deals with smugglers and turn a blind eye to the dubious business practices of local whore master and Mayor of Badr City, Pin Hunh.
The arrival of by-the-book law enforcer Neylan Haas is going to cause a few wrinkles for Strand to say the least.
I had a pretty definite idea of how I wanted Strand to look; a dark haired man in his forties, disheveled and world-weary but with the self-confidence that many physicians possess. Hunting through my usual sources though I was left with the definite impression that most men in the future will either be steroid enhanced super-warriors, n’er do well thieves or elvish princes.
Finally however, I found my man, in the shape of a video game character. There were plenty of pieces of fan art for Joel from The Last Of Us that were just what I was looking for, but I’ve selected this one as my principle muse. I think he and Neylan will have quite a sparky friendship in the end.
I know some readers found this book boring. Perhaps they were coming at it as readers of the ‘blow stuff up, shoot anything that moves’ kind of sci-fi. Personally, I find that kind of thriller unsatisfying, whether it’s sci-fi or not.
I actually chose this book, not as a fan of sci-fi, but as a mystery junkie, and I loved it. Its a real slow burner, with a narrator who’s not some war-grizzled veteran, or retired gunslinger. Instead, Alex Benedict is an antiques dealer, whose mentor and uncle was an archaeologist and academic. Hence, this is sci-fi for history nerds, those of us who are familiar with long hours in dusty library stacks, pouring over the barely legible journals of the long dead. It’s one for those of us who know the crushing disappointment of excavating a promising archaeological site, only to get to the bottom of the hole and find absolutely nothing. It even has a little something for the English literature student, with a vital clue being hidden in a piece of heavily symbolic poetry.
This is not a book to read if you want a quick, cheap thrill. This is a book for cosy nights on the sofa, with the TV off, the cat on your lap and the wind howling outside. Like an expensive box of chocolates, this is a book to savour slowly.
So after breakfast I duly headed over to Pixlr to cobble together a book cover for my story (paying a designer to do it is always the kiss of death for an unfinished work), and with a bit of assistance from the Flaming Text title generator this was the result.
Considering my graphics skills are extremely rusty I’m quite happy with that.
My next task was to come up with a synopsis and an excerpt.
Well the excerpt is still in my head, but I did manage to come up with a partial synopsis / book jacket blurb. I had to keep it simple, primarily because I’m not absolutely sure how the story will end yet, so for inspiration I drew on the micro-blurbs for the Alex Benedict novels by Jack McDevitt.
“You can’t win a war when the people you expect to fight it for you are already dead. The Pavonovirus left entire civilisations ruined, the survivors scattered across planets locked in a perpetual quarantine. That’s how peace was gained on Orion’s Arm, not through the efforts of diplomats and governments, but through a random, indiscriminate act of nature.
At least that’s the official story. Then someone tries to frame Commander Neylan Haas for murder. Sworn to uphold the law, Haas now finds herself hunted by her own colleagues. Stranded on a quarantine planet, where the locals have a much more frontier approach to justice, she’ll have to resort to some unorthodox methods to unpick a decade old conspiracy and clear her name.
The truth, when it is finally revealed, will prove that some secrets are best left buried among the distant stars.”
It needs a little work I’ll admit, but with NaNoWriMo the story is the priority, and it’s nearly time to knuckle down.
Amongst all the aspects I’ve been thinking about for my NaNoWriMo story this year, my principal character is probably the one piece of the puzzle I am most sure of.
Her name is Neylan Haas and she holds the rank of Commander with the Solarian Regulators, the principle law enforcement agency for the Solarian Admiralty (think NCIS in space). She is an accomplished navigator and sat in the co-pilot’s seat on the Armed Pursuit Vehicle Abilene, until it crashed, stranding her on a plague planet with more of a frontier approach to law and order than she’s used to.
Finding a look for her has been a challenge. Science fiction and fantasy art are awash with female characters. Sadly most of them are squeezed into skin tight outfits, masquerading as flight suits, and pictured in unrealistic pin-up style poses. All tits and bum. Not what I want for Commander Haas.
Fortunately, I stumbled on to this image yesterday. I don’t know who the artist is, but she’s as close to perfect as I could hope for, especially as I had planned to make Haas a red head.
Her uniform is not bordering on soft-core, her footwear is practical for someone in her line of work and I can tell that her jacket has been inspired by the Naval frock coats of the 18th century. Perfect for a navy style organisation.
As the majority of Neylan’s story will take place on a planet, rather than in space, this style of uniform also makes much more sense than a full flight suit, although I will no doubt have to provide her with some civvies too.
The other aspect of Neylan’s look I needed to deal with was finding her a prosthetic arm. This will play an integral part in the story and was probably the only part of her overall look that I considered non-negotiable.
I was surprised, and then not surprised, to discover that when it comes to art and even technical concept drawings, prosthetics for women are given little consideration. All the designs I could find were drawn with over-muscled men in mind, and as a non-engineer this was the one aspect of Neylan’s look that I really needed a visual cue for. But after weeks of searching things were not looking hopeful.
Finally though, and just at the point when I was about to give up, I found this image on Pinterest. It’s just what I was looking for; a fully integrated prosthetic arm, designed for an average female physique. It even matches her uniform!
So, that is Commander Haas in a nutshell, or as much of her as I can give away at this stage. Now, I have to give her a partner in crime…