NaNoWriMo to the Rescue!

Nothing on the blog for awhile…partly due to the new rules for Fantasy Battles: The Ninth Age, but also partly because I finished my book! Party time! Ish…still need it publishing. And edited/proofread by people not me. I’ve slung it out to half a dozen or so proof readers who have very kindly offered their services for free. Depending on how successful it is I’ll take them out to dinner or get them a lottery ticket each or something.

The day after I’d finished my edits to the first draft and emailing the manuscript out I found myself at a bit of a loose end. I’m off work on Annual Leave at the moment – couldn’t carry it all over so had to use some – and spent most of the morning bumming around, half-heartedly playing computer games or disinterestedly reading. I’ve also finished X-COM 2, a fantastic game (and game series) that I highly recommend, so really had nothing else to do. It was awfully unsettling after driving myself hard to read and edit my entire novel over the two weeks before.

But then November started, and with it NaNoWriMo – or National November Writing Month. This gave me new drive to start something completely new, along with my fellow writer James from my writing group who was very enthusiastic about the whole thing. I have no idea what he’s writing, as he’s finished his novel too, so I look forward to thinking about it.

So what did I choose to do? Some gripping, sci-fi horror? Something dark and Lovecraftian? No. I’m writing a fairly light-hearted (I hope) Young Adult Modern Fantasy novel. Not the same modern fantasy as Fifty Shades, you’ll be glad to hear (or not, perhaps). It’s about a teenage girl – Tess – who has just turned eighteen, is about to go off to university and is dealing with the loss of her best friend – Cody – who died during a bank robbery. Her dad’s often away as he’s in the army and her birth-mother ran away when she was little, and although her step-mother – Abi – tries hard and is actually lovely, Tess always has difficulty getting on with her.

Very modern, pretty YA (I think) and deals with a lot of issues that people can connect to, if not share the experience of. But where’s the fantasy? Well, Cody comes back as a ghost and Tess is the only one who can see or hear him. They decide he’s stuck in limbo and the only way to set him at peace is to solve his murder – which is not what it first seems – and they get sucked into a wonderful world of ghouls and ghosts.

Probably. I’m working on the plot, having been mired somewhat after writing 9.5k words in two days. Which is a lot – and it’s fairly well written too, an advantage of being a passable-or-better author and having free time at the moment. But I am encountering problems. First, Tess is an eighteen year old girl – I am not, have never been and have absolutely zero wish to ever be one of these. Nothing against eighteen year old girls, I just probably couldn’t handle the shift from being a slightly autistic, introverted adult man. However, as a result I don’t know if her character is believable, feels natural to read or thinks like she should. I’m going with the idea that eighteen year old girls are admirably diverse in their attitudes, mind-sets and behaviours so that anything that about Tess that doesn’t fit a mould can be explained as a quirk of character.

Fit a mould. Dangerous phrase in the modern world to use about young women, and I fully appreciate and understand why. However, while Tess needs to be unique in some ways, she also needs to be accessible and familiar to my target audience – which is the kind who read YA with a female main character. Even if this was just teenage girls, which I strong suspect is not the case, as mentioned they have many and varied personalities. My worry is that if Tess isn’t a little broad in her scope, she may exclude some of the target audience.

Is this bad? Will it detract from the novel? Maybe, maybe not. Should I worry about it so much? Same answer. I think Tess is a fairly balanced human being, with enough imbalance caused by trauma and being at the tail end of adolescence, and so would currently class her as a strong protagonist. Her main supportive parent is her step-mother, Abi, as her father just isn’t around due to being on duty – which Tess totally understands and treats as if this was normal, since it’s happened most of her life. Apart from Cody, who’s a fairly typical teenage nerd – apart from being dead – with a decent sense of humour (I think), the only other male character at the moment is one of Tess’s teacher’s, Mr Madiera. I have selfishly added him in as someone entertaining to write who doesn’t necessarily have to get involved in the plot. He’s kind of a non-creepy Master Roshi, and gives me a third party Tess can go to get advice that she can also reasonably choose not to take seriously.

There is, as a result, what one could call a strong yet subtle feminist undertone to what I’m writing for NaNoWriMo. This is not the same as a militant feminist undertone – I am not trying to make men out as evil, I am just writing the story so that the main characters are female, and they are strong characters even if haunted by some self-doubt – as any main character should be. I am not writing it with a goal in mind, a ‘message to preach’ about women not needing men, nor with any message in mind. But since I have chosen to write with a female main character, I feel that perhaps it should be written with that in mind.

So there were some things I decided early on:

1) No crush on Cody. Partly, he’s dead, and I’m not going to explore the boundaries of ‘supernatural romance’ left untouched by Twilight. Also, they don’t need a romance. They flirt, there’s teasing, and it’s fun. I don’t want to ruin that by hamming up a romance. Especially involving a dead guy. It would take away from Tess’s badass factor, leading me on to point two.

2) I want Tess to become a bit of a badass. She starts a bit mopey but her best friend did get killed on her birthday, so I think it’s understandable that she’s a little bit depressed initially. However, the way she and Cody interact he’s definitely the side-kick and she’s the hero – as is appropriate for a story about her. So she should get the chance to do some cool hero shit, all of her own creation and inspiration.

3) Linked to becoming a badass, no chosen one bullshit. Tess is going to make her own place in the world – she’s a free, independent character and doesn’t need no goddamned prophecy how to live her life.

4) I have to include the school side of things, because it’s something YA audiences can connect to and related to something James posted from an interview with Stephen King (or possibly another author, I can’t remember exactly) in which the author made clear a concern that reality was being abandoned or omitted from fiction, even that which was set in the modern world. This means the mundane, boring and everyday things like going to school or work, having an evening to oneself where nothing remarkable happens. You know, that thing we’re trying to escape by reading; real life. However, the exclusion of this does remove an easy connection point between characters and readers, and I think it’ll be fun to include. Hey, just look at the Harry Potter series – Rowling makes constant references to the stress of classes and exams, and the actual plot is at times almost coincidental to the characters’ academic lives. Oh, and it made her rich.


So that’s my list of things to keep in mind. As yet Tess has not become a butt-kicking, Buffy-esque badass but I’m only 9.5k words in so she has time to get there. Today is going to be spent mainly on plot detail and construction so I have a framework to write to. I will be consulting friends who have at some stage in their life been teenage girls for character tips but I’m going to give myself some credit as a creative writer and author, and assume I can give Tess a good showing before having to seek help.

The story is also very fun to write. It’s light-hearted tone and ability to be insincere are a massive relief after the oppressively dark corridors lit by guttering torches, which bear witness to acts no one wishes to see, and the constant, oppressive hunted tone of Man of Shadow (nee Perfect Crime). Having characters who are either carefree or just generally relaxed is a nice break, and I feel that I can chill out a bit while writing for them. I’m going to throw in some dark revelations and horrific implications later on, as part of plot escalation and my need for everything to be about the futile fight against engulfing, inevitable entropy, but for now everything is well lit, the food is hot and Tess’s biggest concern how she’s going to tell Cody she needs time to sleep so she can avoid doing it in class.

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