With Lethal Ladies wrapped up for now, I'm using this week as a breather. I have to decide on the next serial, though I think I know which story it will be. In the meantime, a trip through NaNos past.
Lethal Ladies was my 2006 NaNovel. As commented all the way through, there were growing pains. Jumping from short story to novel is a leap. The prep I did for the story fell short, as did the story as originally plotted. I was fortunate enough to be able to adjust on the fly when I saw the problem. For this, hooray and huzzah for tabletop RPGs, both as player and as DM, which let me keep my wits after a good night's sleep when I realized I was 23 000 words short.
For 2007, I tried a romance. I had found a call for submissions earlier in the year for a new imprint of Dorchester Publishing that focused on science-fiction romance novels. The Dunning-Kruger effect hit hard. I did not realize how difficult a story where romance was front and centre could be. To prepare, I read some of the books available from the imprint plus a couple of interesting looking Harlequins, mainly from the Athena Force series.
The result, Digital Magic, an urban fantasy where the lead character, Jackie, had next to no interest in the male leads. Jackie was far more interested in the magic she was learning. The men were there, and the fantasy plot was well in force, but no chemistry at all formed. Part of it was the time spent world-building. Jackie was brand new to using magic, learning the basics. Strangeness was happening all around, and the villain of the piece, Donna, was content to let Jackie's power build.
The story has elements that I could salvage. The magic system has great potential, being based on mages having to find a metaphor to understand and use it. The general plot could be reused, though Jackie didn't quite fit as a damsel in distress. To be fair, she was going to rescue herself instead of letting some man do it for her. If I can work out the first installment, I had an idea for a follow up with the same characters.
As I got ready for NaNo 2008, I tried to work out my main problem. The answer I found was not knowing the characters well enough. I hadn't fleshed out Jackie enough in my mind to realize that giving her a puzzle meant she focused on the puzzle. With that in mind, I went through the characters I had worked with already and found Nasty. As a bonus, I could expand the S13-verse, introduce characters I was trying to find a way to fit in, and play around with superhero tropes. Crossover was born.
With Digital Magic having reached the 55 000 word mark but unfinished, I had two goals. First, at least 55 000 words, ideally more, to improve on 2007's output. Second, finish the story. Helping me out, AC Cubed was the first weekend of November. I could adjust my needed daily word count to 2000 words per day and start the real work on November 6th, with anything written before that day a bonus. I had several 2000 word days over the previous two years; now, it was a matter of sustaining the rate.
Crossover finished the month at about 60 000 words. I also finished the story. It's a great feeling to add the words, "The End" to a work. Knowing the characters, especially how they'd react, got me through many a stretch. I still needed to look up details, but choosing Cleveland led to putting a super-powered fight outside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I even managed to luck out on placeholder names for an intersection. I was hoping that there would be an intersection of Main and Washington in Cleveland. There was, and in a great spot relative to the hotel and the Hall of Fame.
I threw myself into the tropes of superhero comics. Heroes fighting each other. Evil doppelgangers. Alternate universes. Power armour. With the villains, I could let them plot, showcasing them for a bit, allowing them to be on centre stage while the heroes went about their business at the superhero con. Oh, yes, I pulled in knowledge about conventions, about panels, about the behind the scenes workings. Fans in costume, all gathered to see Peregrine. Yes, Crossover made it easy by practically writing itself.
With Crossover's success in 2008, I kept working with characters I knew well enough. For 2009, I returned to a character I had role-played in a couple of games, Brenna Halliday. Brenna started in a superhero play-by-email game. She was a terminally shy teenager who inherited the Soul Blade, a mystical power that passed from mother to daughter. Adding to Brenna's fun, the Blade was expected to go to her younger sister, Grace, who received all the training. Brenna and her mother weren't seeing eye to eye, even after her mom's death. Worse, the Blade would ensure that there was an heir, so the wielder would get hot flashes anytime someone suitable passed by. Just want a terminally shy girl wants. In addition to the Soul Blade, Brenna was able to see and hear ghosts and to psychically read objects. The latter wasn't under her control; Brenna would wear long sleeves, skirts, and lace gloves to prevent unwanted visions.
Pulling Brenna from the game and into her own story wasn't difficult. I aged her a bit, putting her in her twenties. I thought out where her career would have gone, the limitations she had because of her abilities. Then I worked out the villain's plan. I introduced complications, including a potential boyfriend. All the romance I couldn't find for 2007 appeared in The Soul Blade. Almost derailed the story; I wasn't ready for Brenna to hop into bed with her friend, the police officer, at least not so early in the story.
After 84 000 words, I still didn't have an ending. The climax had started. The army of skeletons were marching through San Diego. The police were trying to stop or at least herd the army away from civilians. A demon had possession of his victim. However, Brenna's family had too many unresolved subplots. Worse, Brenna and her police officer had unresolved sexual tension that needed resolving. There just wasn't any room to wrap up everything and end the novel at the right place. The story is currently in Limbo and does deserve to be worked on again.
The Soul Blade was my best word count ever. Unemployment helped; spend the morning hunting for a job, spend the rest of the day writing for lack of a better idea. Could I ever hope to equal the output in the years to come?
Feedback from friends about The Soul Blade showed that I might have known the characters too well. The reasoning for what they did, while natural for them, was obscure to my beta reader. I had to back down on the familiarity a little. For 2010, I spent time on a few ideas before deciding on By the Numbers, a Shadowun story. I had a good idea of two of the characters, but still had vague ideas about two others. I had also written some setting primers, meant more for potential players. Another interest of mine, though, helped.
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a fun show. Take cheesy movies, let Joel or Mike and the bots at them, sit back and enjoy. Why not have my characters do that to one of my primers? MST3K is just riffing, which is what a lot of people do with friends over cheesy movies anyway. So, riff my cast did. It worked. I got an insight on all of them.
Each NaNo, I have tried to do something different. Lethal Ladies was just trying NaNo. Digital Magic incorporated romance, or should have. Crossover was all about superheroes, first time in NaNo. The Soul Blade was proper urban fantasy, though it did have romance. For 2010, I tried outlining for the first time. The results are mixed. Without the outline, which can be done prior to November, I might not have worked out the direction of the story. At the same time, there was something missing, a spark that the previous years had. Even with the outline, the ending changed drastically and saw one of the characters leave the team.
By the Numbers finished with over 58 000 words. A little short for a novel, a little long for a novella. But the story was finished. I had even left room for further stories. I have played around with using the characters again, and have realized that the title needs to be changed. The titles for each year start off as working titles, giving me room to adjust them as needed. By the Numbers turned out to be the first that does need changing. To contrast, Crossover may be the perfect name for 2008's work, being a crossover of titles and signifying the crossing over of dimensions done by the villains. Go fig.
Once again, I wanted to do something different. This year, erotica. This story might never be released. It had a convoluted origin. I had wanted to try a fantasy novel, and had two characters in mind; Bronya, tall and blonde, and Morwenna, redhead extrordinaire. Lovers and mages. However, a fantasy setting just did not work for them. I kept trying to work out when and where they would work best. I even tried picturing them in Shadowrun. However, I flashed upon a scene where Morwenna drove a flying car in pursuit and Bronya stood on the roof, sword in one hand, readied spell in the other. With a mental shrug, I figured, why not? I hadn't written any type of science fiction yet.
I managed to break past 50 000 words, but once I had a bit of buffer in case of discrepancy between my word processor and the official NaNo word count, I ended the work. Other ideas were poking at me, demanding my attention, and I gave in. The space opera-y work added elements of mystery, and nothing was working together the way I wanted. I may return to the story. It may never appear on this blog.
If you go back to the early days of this blog, you'll find the prep work for NaNo 2012. The new challenge this year was to blog my progress, on top of writing. I had started working out which story idea to play with and wound up with Beaver Flight. While working on the story, I realized that it was in the completely wrong format; the more I progressed, the more I realized that the story should have been serialized and visual. I still reached the 50 000 word mark, but at that point, I set the story aside.
The most recent NaNo, The Devil You Know was inspired by several elements. First, it was another urban fantasy, the first time I had repeated a genre. Second, it was current, with BitCoins being a key plot device. Third, I had a black box character in Jack; I knew what he would do in a situation, but the reasoning was kept hidden even to me. Jack's a scary person.
While the story was doing well, I faded close to the 52 000 word mark. I reached the goal, then I had to stop. I need to get back to the story. BitCoins are major news, I know what happens next in the scene I left off at, and I have how the story wraps up. It's the bits in between that need work. With not quite 52k words, I may have to go back and add other perspectives. Fortunately, I have a few characters whose insights will help.
With three years of incomplete stories, I do need a NaNo that sees the work finished. Thus, starting the prep work early this year. I'm just jotting down some of the ideas to see how much more work is needed. I do hope that one of them will be the one that gets finished.