Post NaNoWriMo Reflections

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.

NaNoWriMo 2017: Devising A Writing Schedule

medicine bottleAs 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.

NaNoWriMo 2017: Finding My Voice

NaNo-2017-Participant-BadgeIn 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.

NaNoWriMo 2017: The Partner in Crime

Joel: The Last Of UsI 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.

NaNoWriMo 2017: Announce Your Novel

The Regulator coverWell, I’ve had quite a busy morning. The next NaNoWriMo challenge dropped into my inbox last night, and it was ‘Announce Your Novel’.

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.

NaNoWriMo 2017: Creating A Character

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.

Science fiction female pilotFinding 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 Female prostheticin 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…

NaNoWriMo 2017: The Opening Scene

Crashed spaceship

As part of my ongoing preparations for NaNoWriMo17 I have been mulling over my opening scene, which involves my principal character surviving a spaceship crash.

It’s taken me quite a while to find a little visual inspiration for this one. The ship needed to be able to fulfill a law enforcement role, so it had to look capable of speed and manoeuvrability in planetary atmospheres, as well as in space. It also needs to be big enough to require at least two crew, whilst comfortably accommodating the odd passenger.

As for the planet it crashes on, my first thought had been to make it a desert world, with a sparse, scrubby landscape, but I had already decided that the indigenous, intelligent race of this world would be bird-like in their anatomy. It seemed odd to drop them into a world with little in the way of vegetation!

I have to say, it’s been tough finding the right look, and I’ve gazed at some fabulous science fiction art over the last few weeks, but finally, I think I’ve found my muse; “Spaceship” by JongWoong Park. The size of the ship looks about right, compared to the human figure, she looks pretty nifty too, and the surrounding landscape appears temperate, without being too verdant.

The ship also benefits from having a livery similar to what I was contemplating for my spaceship, but more on that later…

NaNoWriMo 2017: Creating A World

Last year I mothballed an idea for a science fiction who-dunnit, featuring a law enforcement officer who is framed for the assassination of an alien diplomat.

Recently I decided to reprise the idea for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and in preparation I’ve been scouring the web for some visual inspiration. This is often how ideas start in my head, with a visual clue, or jumping off point, and I find it very useful to hang on to those clues, if for no other reason than to make sure my imagination doesn’t get too carried away!

For this story I had a pretty specific idea already of what my setting would look like; a high density alien city of ancient origin, built in and on a long dead volcano. Finally, I wanted it to be surrounded by a lake, or shallow sea.

Desktop wallpapers are a great source of inspiration for landscapes and cityscapes so I headed over to AlphaCoders to browse their impressive collection. Fortunately, I found exactly what I was looking for, or as near as damn it at least.

This fabulous image reminds me of a painting by John Constable and I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the old French style chateau with its compact, masonry walls and tiled roofs, and the gleaming, high concept towers that appear to be growing out of the rock, just as a city half buried in an extinct volcano would do.

The chateau in particular intrigues me. I know I don’t have to stick to every detail of the image, but the story involves not just the murder of an alien ambassador, but also a cold case. That cold case is the strange death of an elderly astronomer, and I need somewhere for an old man to call home. A crumbling chateau, or perhaps something a little more modest, but equally ancient, could be perfect.

Next I need to find my principal characters…