National Novel Writing Month is fast approaching. I haven’t gotten into NaNoWriMo in the past, not least because I always seem to forget about it until mid-November, but this year I have not been caught off guard.
It’s not the most artistically-inclined event, since the goal is to produce a 50,000-word novel in 30 days or less, but focusing on the art and refinement isn’t my issue right now. I can refine and replot and quibble and reshape things to more accurately present the story I want – what I’m missing is the joy I used to take in actually putting a ridiculous number of words on a page. It’s high time that I reclaimed it. I need to force myself to hammer something out, and this is the perfect time. This is the time to invoke the badger.
The rules of NaNoWriMo are very clear that you can’t write so much as one word of the story prior to 12:00 AM November 1, but you are free to plot and plan and research as much as you want in advance. In my case, this means sorting through the ideas in my head that have bounced around and percolated for so long and deciding on one that will get my sole attention for thirty days. Let’s meet some candidates.
Book #1 working title: Daybreak
Premise: A medieval fantasy deconstruction/reconstruction. Immediately after the defeat of a magically-superpowered tyrant, the much-lauded heroes set about rebuilding and restoring the country he ruined in his last days. Unfortunately, the new king has no social or diplomatic skills, the knights in shining armor are coping with trauma and PTSD, the surviving general has good reason to kill all her new allies, two wizards are playing chess with whole continents, and there’s a serial killer loose in the capital calling themself the Enemy of Death.
Pros: A rich cast that I am deeply familiar with and fond of (and fond of making suffer), and a plot that I’ve tried writing in a different form in the past, so I have a sense of what worked before and where I want to make the most changes. Potentially short enough that a good rough draft might fit in 50,000 words.
Cons: The grief and cynicism substantially outnumbers the cheer in this story – most of the happy people are faking it most of the time. That could be a bit of a slog. Also contains some complicated and volatile events in the backstory that I would hate to write in a hurtful or offensive way. (Optionally, I could cut it down in the NaNoWriMo edition to both shorten and simplify.)
Book #2 working title: Three Days of Magic
Premise: A trio of friends attend a mage convention in a city that is, for three days, sealed off from the outside world in a dome (for everyone’s protection). On the first morning, a famed wizard is found dead, and their attempts to solve the murder lead them to a time-travel device which should allow them to prevent it. All hell breaks loose, leading to the nightmarish prospect of being trapped in a three-day loop that always goes horribly wrong regardless of all attempts to save it, but must not be allowed to end lest the world is devoured.
Pros: Again, I love these protagonists. In particular the lead has this wonderful live-for-today dynamic because she’s a rare kind of mage that can essentially invoke a miracle at any time if she’s willing to die in the process. For her whole life she’s been thinking about what it means to be the textbook-perfect custom-built Heroic Sacrifice waiting to happen. It helps fill her story with these rollercoaster heights of joy back-to-back with sorrow, and the rest of the worldbuilding follows that theme as much as possible. (The degree to which the ending is a downer will probably vary enormously by reader perspective.)
Cons: I am all to aware that it’s easy to love a character too much, and I’m wary about having her become an insufferable Author’s Darling. She doesn’t know everything or get all the best lines, and one of the recurring plot points is that her sheer power isn’t so useful as legends would have one believe, but it’s a risk. The whole time-travel thing also has the potential to sprawl out of control, which would be unfortunate mid-November.
Book #3 working title: Spark
Premise: Two siblings set out to chase their rather divergent dreams – one is looking to get really, really rich; the other is trying to figure out how you go about becoming a mythic world-saving hero when no mysterious old mentor appears with a ready-made quest. They politely abduct a snarky, mind-reading priestess, can’t seem to get rid of a friendly sailor, and their search for a fantastic treasure hits a snag when they end up penniless and ditched in a unknown land without their magic universal translator.
Pros: A plot that does not cleave to the more clichéd fantasy lines – just being broke is a legitimate problem (and getting rich is a legitimate dream), religions are varied and complex and unfalsifiable, and the one person who wants to ‘save the world’ is considered eccentric at best. I have only a rough collection of ideas for how the actual plot unfolds (which I could expand over the coming weeks), which might give some much-needed flexibility in an intense process like NaNoWriMo.
Cons: The rough collection of ideas may not yet be sufficiently fertile ground to produce a sustained story, and then we’d just have 50,000 words of the engineer and the priestess arguing over spirituality, extraordinary claims, and falsifiability, while the would-be-champion and the sailor make out in the corner.
These are not the only ideas I’m weighing, but they are probably the best candidates for my purposes. I could go on and on about each of them in greater detail, but that’s risky for all sorts of mysterious reasons. Which would y’all like to see most? What sorts of writing considerations are you making with a month and a bit to go before November 1? NaNoWriMo veterans, any advice on what helped you get through in the past (or led to your unjust stumbling before the finish line)?