Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: April Camp Nano 2015

What Happened to “Solid First Drafts”?

As some readers will recall, I felt compelled to write about how I typically write solid first drafts back on the 14th of November of last year. I waxed poetic on my writing history and basically boasted about my writing skills.

Masks shot that all to hell.

I wrote the first incomplete draft of Masks in November of 2014—last year, the very same month I wrote that bragging post about solid first drafts. Of course, at the time, I thought I was well on my way to creating that solid first draft I bragged about. Oh, I was aware I’d have to do a bit of work on it—that it wouldn’t be perfect—but I thought I could handle the challenge of writing my first mystery book without too much trouble. Yes, it was a challenge, but it wasn’t beyond my abilities.

Since then, Masks has been cut to a scene I find acceptable twice, then rewritten from that point. I’m pleased to be able to say the second cut happened at a scene that happened later in the manuscript than the first cut did, though not by much. Maybe two or three scenes after the initial cut was made.

The first time I cut Masks, I did what I had before, and started working on the plot cards as I wrote. Since I was doing this rewrite over the course of the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had to meet a specific wordcount goal each day. Since I’d set my total goal at 25k, I had to get only about 834 words a day. If you check my stats, you’ll see how inconsistent I was, and part of that, particularly later on in the month, is because I was struggling with the story again.

Yes, again.

I had a vague notion what the problem was, but since I was on a deadline with words, I tried to push through and continue writing. Unfortunately, the outline wasn’t moving any more, and I ate that up after a few days of writing, so I had to stop and consider things. I was looking at failing Camp Nano if I tried to force things as I had been doing. So, after much thought, I forced myself to cut everything I was dissatisfied with and start from the new cut-point. As is obvious, I did meet the 25k word goal, and that’s because I saved my cut words since I had after all written them over the duration of the writing challenge.

I copied and saved the plot cards I was keeping (those I’d already written out as scenes) and did my 2-plot-cards-per-1-scene-written habit since I was still at the tail end of the Camp Nano challenge and still needed words. This time, I put more thought into my plot cards as I wrote them.

In the first manuscript, I lost track of a number of subplot threads that fed into the red herrings I needed to establish in the mystery. In the second version, I lost track of the conflict Eirni was supposed to keep dragging into his relationship with Yavaniel. Because I want both these elements, I need to take the plotting of Masks slower. I see that now. Rushing through like I do on my standard books won’t serve me well here; I’ve got to spend time on the background work—I actually have to list out all those plot points I usually try to keep in my head! And then I actually have to employ them in the WIP. I’m not used to doing things this way (though I must say since I started this habit with Masks, it’s serving me equally well with my non-mystery stuff).

Masks is on hiatus right now. My creative mind has decided it’s time to work on stuff from Chraest, and I’ve made a number of breakthroughs on TPOM3 the past couple weeks, so I’ve been working on that as time and attention allow (I’ve been rather out of focus since my surgery, but things are starting to settle into place like I want them to). I also seem to be in a bit of a writing downswing; it’s creative, to be sure, but I’m just not writing as much as I’d like, though I’m trying not to push myself.

April 2015 Camp Nano Winner! (And May “Plans”)

Camp Nano April 2015 Winner!

April 2015 Camp Nano Winner’s Banner

April’s primary goal was to participate in Camp Nano, which I did. I was a bit concerned at the end, because I hit a block in my writing and ended up having to cut a fair portion of v1.2 of Masks. I wouldn’t have done this except that the block was such that I could not convince myself to write on the project until I “fixed” the issue I saw. I did save all I’d written from the first, and I added that with my new words on v1.3 when I validated the novel.

I liked the way the Nano people changed the camp system. It was nice to be in a cabin with people I know, who at least posted stuff to chat even if they made little or no progress on their Nano projects. I think my cabin met the cabin-wide goal count mainly because of one of our overachieving writers wrote around 100k over the course of the month. Without her wordage, our cabin wouldn’t have met its goal.

I’m letting Masks rest for a bit now. In part because real life is going to intervene next week with my partial hysterectomy, and in part because I’m starting to feel a writing downswing coming on. I intend to go with the flow on this and do what I can but not push myself. The plan is to do a lot of reading. My hope is that by going along with it since I’m mindful enough to feel it coming on it won’t last as long and I’ll be back to writing about the time I’ve recovered enough from my surgery to spend more time at my desk.

Things I plan on fiddling with throughout may include Tricks and Traps, the second in a series of novelettes/novellas featuring a mercenary team, set on Elindu—actually, in the Heartland there, where Masks is set, though they’re set in different eras. I’d like to get a good number of plot cards on Whispers on the Wind (Shi’u’s story) as well; this is something I really need to get crackin’ on because I want this to be my November Nano project. Also, I’m considering working some on Degrees of Subtlety because I read through it the past couple days and I’m finally seeing things I need to in order to make progress on its outline; in fact, last night, I spent some time moving the unwritten cards over to a new file so I can rework what I have of the outline, though I’ll probably be brining in a number of the “discarded” plot cards over into the new outline; and another thing I need to do is spend some time working out the plot points for this story, which I feel I can do now since I’m seeing things more clearly.

I know that sounds like a lot for a month when I’m not going to push myself, but it’s where my creative mind’s been flitting the past week or so. I’m just not holding myself to any hard-and-fast goals for the duration.

Distracted

I’ve been taking it easy with my Camp Nano project, Masks this month. I set the wordcount goal to 25k and haven’t been freaking out if I don’t write on it for a few days. This, I think has been a good thing, because it’s allowed my creative mind to relax. If you look at my Camp Nano stats, you’ll see I’m at the end of a surplus of wordage, though, and part of the reason for that is because I’ve gotten distracted.

Over the past week or so, I’ve taken a tour of most of my incomplete fantasy works, mainly because I got hit with a desire to read them. As is sometimes the case when I make a tour of my wips, I had a desire to read only those which were incomplete. Over the duration of this tour, I came up with ideas for some of my wips, and I felt a vague desire to write on one or two of them, primarily Unwritten Letters.

So that’s what I’ve been doing the past few days. I had about 27 plot cards outlined ahead on UL, so I’ve been taking it slowly and doing a scene every two or three days. I intend to write on Masks tonight, but it’s been good to get a break from it. I’m thinking Maybe, if my mind still wants to play with UL when the next month of Camp Nano comes up, and I’m able to make progress on plot cards for it, I’ll write on UL for that month.

It’s felt good to get back into Merolén’s head. It’s a story that makes me glad I’ve started outlining my stories, even if I don’t do complete outlines for them all at first. Because of the outline, I’ve been able to bring romantic subplots into the story, and I don’t think I’d have been able to do so if I were writing it without the outline. Basically, what I’ve been doing with Merolén is my best to surround him with romances, because, from the first, I’ve seen Unwritten Letters as a kind of romance in absentia. The reader knows things that Merolén is unaware of, and that’s been fun too. I like giving the reader tidbits the MCs either had no knowledge of whatsoever, or have only partial or faulty knowledge of. It’s supposed to heighten the tension—and that’s another thing that the outline helps with.

As for Masks, part of the reason why I’m not writing as much on it is because I’ve left behind a major subplot that I can’t seem to resurrect. I want Eirni to to be a lot more resistant to working with Yavaniel, and it’s just not working out that way this time around. After this month’s Camp Nano, I think I’m going to go through and do some heavy editing, because if I try to continue with things as they are much longer, I’m not going to be able to make any progress on it at all. It should be easy to fix. I just need to read through the wip and pinpoint places where Eirni can be an ass, to put it bluntly. I’ve always seen Masks as mostly Eirni’s story than Yavaniel’s, primarily because Eirni has a lot of growing and changing to do over the course of the investigation. I’ve also been toying with the idea of including the pov of one or more of the conspirators, and I need to figure out how the ringleader is going to make the conspiracy an act of vengeance on someone who she believes ruined her happiness when that red herring has little to do with what they’re actually doing. I may have to change things a great deal. It’s going to take some thought, and I’ll probably have to cut the story back to the point I cut it before in order to make all these plot points work like I want them to.

I don’t really mind all this work on Masks. It’s a totally new genre/subgenre for me. Fantasy, yes, but also a mystery, and I’m enjoying all the work on it. This is part of the reason why I’ve always wanted to write a mystery story. It’s been fun, and that, to me, is what counts most. It’s always been my view that if I don’t have fun writing these stories, my readers won’t have fun reading them.

Masks and Music

I’ve said before in previous posts that I typically work up a pretty extensive playlist for my stories. Usually, I’ll find these just listening to my computer randomly play songs. Once, I went through the entire list of music on my computer and created a list—for Unwritten Letters, if I remember right—by picking the songs deliberately, andI at first hated the list, but was driven to listen to it in order to make progress, which was a weird experience.

Masks has proven very, very different, though. I’ve been able to find only two songs which work for it when I want the boost music gives me for writing. I had them listed on my Nano page last November. One, which I don’t listen to much, to be honest, when working on Masks is “Time Space” by Chang Jing; I don’t know why it works, but if the other song just isn’t working or I can’t stand to listen to it, “Time Space” does the job—it’s an adequate patch.

The song I listen to most for writing on this project is “Heavy In Your Arms” by Florence + the Machine. This song has a mood and a feeling that just resonates with me and the story in such a way that I find myself able to do my little hyperfocus thing and get things done on Masks. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to work past the “I can sing along to this song!” enthusiasm I occasionally have when I first turn this song on, but once I do, I’m able to come up with plot cards and write to it. I’ll even take myself to my bedroom and really focus on the Masks by having “Heavy In Your Arms” playing on my mp3 player while I lay with my eyes closed.

That’s what’s odd about this story. I can’t seem to find any other songs to make this story go. It’s either one or the other, and I much prefer “Heavy In Your Arms,” to the point where if I can’t stand to listen to it, I don’t work on Masks at all.

I suspect I’ll have a similar issue with other books in the JID series. I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a different song to push me along in each book, though, instead of being stuck listening to “Heavy In Your Arms” for them all. That would soooo suck.

And I thought it sucked being stuck with the same list of songs I have for the Discordant Harmonies series. At least that’s a variety!

Camp Nano Masks Going Well

Well, my rewrite of Masks is progressing quite nicely. I’m doing two plot cards per scene written, and taking my time writing. This generally means I spend a day or two writing scenes, then a day or two conceiving plot cards. The Plot Points list I made is helping, and I color-coded it in highlight colors to make it easier for me to pick things out, since sometimes huge blocks of text can overwhelm me to the point of anxiety.

What this basically means is that I have a list of main plotpoints and a series of subpoints that derive from each of the main points. Some plot points and their subpoints are all one block of color, usually because they’re main plot thread info. Other plot points are in different colors, or have subpoints in different colors, to indicate whether the information in question is ongoing info (for the series), tied to the main plot thread in this book, a subplot in this book, related to something my sleuths uncover in the pursuit of info regarding the various victims, or a red-herring.

In the scene I wrote a few days ago, I introduced the main red herring and one of the culprits, which was fun. Also threw my sleuths a curveball in the form of a cooperative anti-Maireadi Chancellor who doesn’t want to ruin his reputation as someone who abides by the law and is more than happy to cooperate with investigations. This is the same Chancellor who wooed his way into close (but not romantic) friendship with a previous Chancellor who was subsequently rightfully convicted for skimming public funds for his private use. Yavaniel thinks the anti-Maireadi chancellor has the funds still missing from that investigation, and doesn’t realize one of the others he meets is the one who actually received the funds—and is now using them to pay the other two conspirators.

I’m having a lot of fun.

In my original version of this WIP, I had a lot more conflict and animosity between Eirni and Yavaniel, most of it coming from Eirni. There hasn’t been quite so much this time around, but I’ve been working on what of the outline I have to insert more, which is part of the reason why I’m going so slowly with things and why my CampNano goal is for only 25,000 words. I’m not going to let Yavaniel complain about Eirni to their superiors, because Yavaniel needs Eirni too much for their investigations. What I’m going to do is probably save Eirni’s eventual suspension for another book, for a time when it’ll be even more difficult for Yavaniel to function without him. Well, it may happen in this book, but I’m not sure I can make it reasonable. The thing is, I want both my sleuths to forget about that suspension hanging over Eirni’s head until Eirni does something to induce someone besides Yavaniel to write him up the third time, and right now, it’s still very fresh in Eirni’s mind and one of the few things inducing him to cooperate at all with someone whom he’d far rather not have to associate with at all. As much as it would drive him nuts to be suspended, it would also be a relief to him, and I don’t want to make things too easy for him. And, as I said, there’s the possibility of making things more difficult for Yavaniel later on—or having Eirni disobey the restriction and risk getting in trouble to investigate when he’s not on payroll. Depends on what the story requires.

And, as if to prove I’m on the right track with this version of Masks, I’m plotting a lot of scenes I look forward to writing and writing a lot of favorite scenes. That’s always a good sign that a story is going the right direction for me.

As I said, much fun.

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