Note: this is a repost of this journal entry. The original had some formatting errors and then I accidentally shared an older draft version.
Friday, 13 November 2015
I missed writing yesterday. The predictable mid-Nanowrimo slump has arrived in full force. Aching wrists from typing too much. Compulsive refreshing of my facebook newsfeed, which always results in a slump in my mental health, lack of sleep from too much caffeine and staring at a screen at night, in-real-life responsibilities that just won’t take “no” for an answer – the school nurse calling to say one of my kids has a very high temperature and needs to be picked up immediately and will need to stay at home until the fever goes away, the other child having to prepare for the upcoming ballet school concert and all the fuss that entails. My response has been to deactivate my facebook account, and I’ve set it to automatically reactivate after NaNoWriMo ends, and conveniently just before my birthday, too, so I can revel in that annual influx of greetings while I eat complimentary birthday burritos from the local Mexican restaurant.
I told myself that this would be the NaNoWriMo when I would look after my health. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and apart from taking a long walk that one time and a ten minute aerobics session and doing some mindfulness, I’ve managed to stuff up my sleeping patterns, come down with a severe headache, hurt my back from slouching over the computer, and binged on too much junk food. If the weather had been more conducive, and my sleep more refreshing, I probably ought to have taken a few bike rides. A half hour bike ride every two or three days would be a big help… if I could just get off my butt and ride.
In addition, while I’ve liked my story so far, it’s reached this significant stage in the plot that I’m finding difficult to tie up. Do I press on or just put it to the side for now and jump to my next major plot point, filling in the blanks when I need to pad out the word count in the panicked last day of nano? At this stage my main characters have just been married in an ancient ceremony inherited from the ancestors that doubles as a coronation. The questions arise: how much or how little do I describe the details of the ceremony? It’s an invented religion in what is essentially an alien universe – what sort of ceremony would they have, or is it basically a normal Western Earth wedding in a church except that I use the word “building” instead of church? (I can’t think about the word church in the sense of “ornate religious building” without the Pentecostal line I’ve heard over the years that ‘the “church” is us and not a building, and a building is just that, nothing more!’ ringing in my ears, and maybe that’s why Pente buildings look like grandiose warehouses without a shred of aesthetic beauty to them and oops, did I type that out aloud…). The ceremony, as I wrote it, was the first moment so far when I said, “This story is lame.” Then, as it went from wedding to the space where the newlyweds who have had no physical contact with each other so far somehow have to morph into husband and wife and King and Queen in an imagined egalitarian royal hierarchy and here I am the prudish housewife trying to skirt around the obvious in my writing and I’m like, you know what, I want my King to be an enlightened kind of guy who respects the Queen’s physical autonomy and refuses to coerce any kind of, um, conjugal benefits and then… well… you know. And then I find myself thinking, darn it, all of my characters should just be celibate… but that’s not believable because so much of the future plot revolves around Zaira’s tension between meeting a man she actually really likes and that’s going to be even worse for me to write.
So… Now, don’t hang me for this but I think Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series was not only better-written than people want to think, but it handled the wedding night scene pretty well… It wasn’t in any way graphic but it definitely wasn’t a sexless book. She just didn’t need to share the details.
I’ve said before that I’m an avid Anne Rice reader over here and anyone familiar with her work knows she isn’t just a maker of vampire, witch, werewolf, angel, and Jesus stories; she also writes erotica that makes Fifty Shades of Gray seem tame (though in Rice’s work the women have autonomy and there’s a whole lot more consent and mutual respect in relationships, where what little I’ve seen of Gray doesn’t appear to have that element), BUT that said, I don’t read Rice’s erotica because I just don’t. It’s not my literary interest. So it stands to reason, I guess, that writing sexually charged scenes simply isn’t within my skill set.
This is a really convoluted way of saying that I haven’t worked on my Nanowrimo for a couple of days partly because my main characters are now standing there on their wedding night wondering what happens next. And, in that strange way that happens when I’m writing and the characters start to take on a life of their own, they’re now looking to me and saying, “What do we do?”
The male character Aulay, who’s a lot more, shall we say, adaptable and comfortable around bodies after years of training as a Healer, is in my head saying to me, “You know what, Omniscient Narrator, I’m actually going to make the most of this marriage thing, and I actually find Zaira pretty attractive, so I want you to write this in.”
And Zaira, the Hermit, is saying, “No, Omniscient Narrator, I don’t want to do this. He’s hot, I’ll admit that, but I can’t just throw out a decade of being a nun because the plot demands it. Don’t I get to define the limits of my physical autonomy?”
And then Aulay says, “Well, here’s the dilemma, because quite frankly I do respect Zaira’s freedom to say, ‘No,’ because in my work as a Healer I saw what happened to women who didn’t have that freedom and it made me sick. My vows are to heal and help, not to harm.”
And I, Omniscient Narrator, am now stuck in a little showdown with my characters. “Now, come on guys,” I say to them, “I know this is awkward for all of us and I want to respect your privacy. But as you see from my plot chart over here in Scrivener, you actually need to make a baby at some point.”
“I don’t want to do that,” Zaira tells me. “I thought this was an adventure novel, not a maternity novel.”
And I ponder her and think, She has a good point.
“Don’t forget that I’m telepathic, Narrator, and I heard you think that,” Zaira tells me.
Aulay’s over there waving his hand. “Is a baby integral to the story or does it unnecessarily complicate things and… does that plot chart say Zaira’s going to fall in love with someone else?” He looks crestfallen. In my mind, of course, because all of this is happening in my head.
“Well, perhaps,” I say. “I am willing to alter that as the story evolves. After all, you two seem to have a clearer idea of what you want. I’m just telling your stories.”
Aulay looks grim. “You know, maybe it’s the dark and brooding music you’re listening to right now, Narrator, but I can’t help but think that we ought to skip to the next plot point.” He looks askance at Zaira.
“You know what, Narrator, I do very much like Aulay,” she says. “He’s been wonderful. I just need to adjust to the new circumstances. I miss my home and I’m not happy in this cold old castle. Do you think you could move us to a nicer location? That would help.”
I sigh, looking at my plot charts. And I look into my characters’ eyes, in my imagination, and say, “All right, but it will take me some time. I have to draw up some maps before I forget which town goes where. I’ll get back to you.”
“Thank you, Omniscient and Greatly Benevolent Narrator,” Zaira says. Then she frowns at me. “But keep in mind I would never describe you as Greatly Benevolent because I’m not the kind of woman that flatters people.”
Aulay pipes up. “Thank you,” he adds, “but can you reconsider the bit about Zaira falling for someone else? I really like her.”
“No promises, sorry,” I say. “But I will be as kind as possible.”
“I don’t want to have kids,” Zaira adds hastily.
“We’ll see,” I say, and slink off back to my computer.
Anyone who knows me well in-real-life will know that my capacity for imagination almost overrides my capacity for engaging with physical reality. Those who knew me during my “I’m a Unicorn phase,” circa 1987, will attest to that…
Beyond that, the first person vs third person issue has raised itself again. The reality is that my story entails a whole lot of inner work and inner talk on behalf of the main character Zaira. The premise of my story is that she’s telepathically gifted and so a lot of the story is set on how she tries to balance the constant barrage of other people’s mental and emotional noise while trying to deal with her own personal battles as someone whose identity is shrouded in mystery (is she really the descendant of some abominable race of half-humans, half-aliens or is that just a rumour based on misinterpretations of ancient texts?) and who is forced into a position of immense social power and privilege when all she wanted was to be a Hermit and contemplative. Because so much of the story deals with her inner experience, as though she’s a female Thomas Merton with butt-kicking telapathy powers, the story is starting to sound like a series of, “Then she felt…” or “Then she thought…” or “Then she reasoned…” statements. While I like the story itself, the second draft process will likely involve rewriting the entire thing from Zaira’s perspective and in her own voice. So far the third person option has simply meant that some chapters centre on Aulay, but he’s telepathic, too, though not as strongly as Zaira, and it’s still a lot of, “Then he sensed…” or “Then he intuited…” statements. The only real value of third person is that it opens up space to explore the scheming and conniving of Torny, a woman who up until this point was the effective ruler of the planet… until she was forced to obey an ancient edict that would see Zaira and Aulay elevated above her in status.
Of course, I could try second person but the story would be clunky and absurd and would essentially sound like a letter I wrote to Zaira: “Then you went to the castle and found Aulay in his underpants and admired his rock-hard abs…” (As I typed this, the characters in my imagination glared at me and said that if they’d known it was that kind of story they wouldn’t have volunteered to come into existence.)
Current word count: 17,655 / 50,000 words.