Last week I left everyone with the message that you didn’t lose when you attempted NaNoWriMo, that you walk away from the experience with more than you put into it. I still stand by that perspective.
If you participate (or plant yourself and start writing any month!) magic happens regardless.
Stories grow to be more than you thought you had at the onset. Characters take on facets you didn’t realize existed. You draft a lot of awfulness at high speed, yet there are times you pause, smile, and marvel that a particular phrase or sentence came out of your head.
It’s growth, but it doesn’t happen if you keep procrastinating. Not if NaNo passes and then New Year’s and pretty soon winter is over. My experience is those winters add up to years in a hurry. There are mistakes, but’s there’s learning. Ideas give way to new ideas. Practiced methods become insights that become skills. Drafting gives birth to editing.
How about a glance at my “failures?” Okay.
For my first NaNo I jumped in at the last instant and treated the experience as a fun experiment. I decided to try my hand at a romantic mystery where I’d use multiple Points of View, which I hadn’t done in the strictest sense before. It was also my last story in Distant 3rd. It wasn’t very good, but I stretched myself and it paved the way for additional advancements.
Background Noise (opening)
It’s unsettling, to say the least, to open your eyes and discover you’re lying on your couch, your apartment door is wide open, and an intruder is standing over you. It’s also a poor way to start your day, which is why Miranda Larson opened her mouth to scream.
“Damn.” A big hand dropped over her mouth and her eyes widened. “Let’s not have any of that, okay?” Rather then nod or shake her head her already wide eyes further dilated. “I’m not here to hurt you…wouldn’t even be in your apartment if you hadn’t passed out after you opened the door.”
Soft, brown eyes on a big man studied her until her blue eyes diverted. “Ah, you’re remembering.” He released a heavy exhale. “Okay, I’m going to pull my hand away and step back. All right?”
Her chin lifted and fell beneath his hand. Another moment passed while he drifted into thought as if weighing his decision and then he too nodded, smiled, and released her. The towering intruder retreated several steps, his hands raised in truce. Miranda shoved her own hands down on the threadbare cushion beneath her and sat up, her back tight to the corner the couch and end table created.
Last year I wrote my first new fantasy in more than a decade. Again, I worked with multiple POVs, but this time I attempted Deep 3rd, though it was a bit of a mess because my Deep 3rd knowledge was minimal at the time. The story has SO many issues, yet there are pieces that may see the light of day eventually. In particular was the scene in the Curiosity Shop.
Bleeding Heritage (meeting the shopkeeper)
A short, thin man appeared faster than blurred vision could process, his be-speckled eyes at a shared eye level. His carved face was narrow, his dark hair longish, and his nose a beak too big for the body, yet at home on the face. There was an intensity and distraction in his eyes demanding attention. His high voice cackled with intimacy as if he knew her soul and kept it hidden in a jar.
“Ah, a backdoor customer.” He glanced around her, his eyes narrowing.
Had he noted the barred door? “There…there were men.”
Crooked, jagged teeth appeared. “No matter. Here, the customer is all that matters. Here, all the customer’s imagination can summon is available.” The head tilted again as he regarded her, his gaze moving with keen interest to the face. “You are a wonder, my dear. Such—and this is said as the sincerest form of flattery—exotic features. I’ve not seen your like before, and now I find myself fearing I shall never do so again.”
“Exotic? I don’t…what?”
A slim hand sporting long fingers rose to the side of her head and brushed at the hair there. It fell forward into view. Black hair streaked with silver. She fingered it. Who had such hair? She stared at unfamiliar hands. In the false place she’d looked different, like…what? There were no mirrors in the other place.
The air warmed, stroking her cheek and slithered around her neck. Clamminess tingled on her skin. The air was rich with musky incense drifting like innocent clouds harboring lightning menace. Her midsection tightened and she set a hand there.
He took her hand in a gentle grip offering a caress and retreated through the chattering beads. “Welcome to my little Curiosity Shop.” His voice danced in her ears, spreading sensuality and easing her chaos into a submissive state.
This NaNo hasn’t happened, of course, but the plan is to write the sequel to the novel I wrote last April. Having learned the advantages of preparation in past years I already have a narrative outline and character sketches. And there’s more. For instance, there’s a journal that comes into the possession of the protagonist. The novel will focus on her reactions to its contents and not the actual entries, but it does exist. Seriously. I wrote it. It’s 9K words of backstory, so it isn’t polished writing, but if it’s real to me it’s real to the protagonist. Here’s an entry:
Journal entry for 21 SrMS 4160
I located the old man again and bought him another ale. Damn it, despite the risks, something keeps telling me to pursue this topic further. Either that or I’m bored. This time I went seeking details instead of drunken tales. He claimed the name wasn’t Oaken back then and that they’d come from far to the south. I asked him how far south? He said further south than Carrdia. Is this the Aramon story again in a different form? Are the two related? Is it possible the Oaken family was descended from Aramon royalty?
Damn, my curiosity remains strong. I should let this go, but part of me thinks this is important, even if the facts refuse to point towards the Estamens. Haden’s fires, the only place I can hope to verify any of this is at Oaken Castle. Knoss Citadel is the only place I’d less like to visit. I tried to get more out of him, but was clear he knew nothing else. I don’t think I can let this go.
There’s lots of other delicious backstory bits I’ve written, like the life and culture of demons, the history of the ancient city of Meldenphire, and the pivotal backstory that includes the moment when a twelve year-old girl’s life changed and her path became steeped in sorcery and evil:
After the death of her parents
A smile formed that his snow white face embraced all the way to his black eyes. “Hush. Let’s not discuss such things. I’m here to take you with me to a place where you’ll be safe and where you can flourish. Carrdia hasn’t seen your like in all its history.”
Still crying, she inhaled. The burning was gone, the pain was fading. In its place was something new, something that’d long struggled to emerge. It was comforting, flooding her with a warmth much like a hug. “It’s gone?”
“Not gone. Adapting your body for lifelong change. For you to survive you must feed it a special diet. It is the way for women. You’ll come to understand.”
He leaned over so the bodies were no longer in view. “All necessary for your survival.” He held her hand. “Breath deep again.”
She did so and smiled. “It’s spreading.”
“Yes… It’s the essence of who you are. Your gift consumes lifeforce and gives you great power. Soon you’ll understand. How does it feel?”
Her smile widened. “Exquisite.”
All that I’ve shared here doesn’t appear in any novel. It’s all pieces, pieces of the learning experience, of future stories, and of building blocks. There’s no trash. It all serves a purpose, but it requires perspective to spot it in the pan amidst the sediment. It requires you to crouch beside the stream and sift and sift until the nuggets surface. When isn’t it all worthwhile? When nothing is written.