Today’s soundtrack: music on (Dead Letter Circus – This is the Warning; Wintersun – The Forest Seasons), music off, music on, and off again. Silence. The sound of rain and birdsong outside.
Current word count: 0/50,000 words.
November 1, 2017 has arrived here in Melbourne, Australia, awash with grey skies and steady rain. The birds are enjoying the weather: I can hear rainbow lorikeets, crimson rosellas, red wattlebirds, blackbirds, and spotted turtle doves chattering in the trees. The gloom cast over the yard contrasts with the bright pink rhododendron. And the rain has, to my relief, driven the neighbours indoors after a week of them standing on their roof doing renovation work. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist but often it seems to me that the beginning of NaNoWriMo has historically been a signal to our neighbours – regardless of where we live – to begin noisy renovations and work in positions where they can see straight into our yard and windows. Though it could also be simply that November usually also heralds the beginning of sunny weather and is a last chance to do major renovations before the busyness of Christmas and the intolerable heat of Melbourne summers.
I have a blank Word Document file open before me, entitled ‘NaNoWriMo 2017.’ My working NaNo title is “Asmund,” which was all I could come up with at the time I created the novel file on my author page. Titles have always been my weak point, whether naming a story-in-progress or back when I was struggling through a Journalism degree at university trying to make snappy titles for inanely boring hard news articles. Asmund is the name of one of my story’s main characters. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to be the main character, per say, but so far he has proven the easiest to picture as a human (But is he human? He might be something else! Who knows? I certainly don’t… yet!).
I am still getting to know my characters. Often I find that my writing process speeds up once I have a “relationship” of sorts with the characters. I get to know them as people, as individuals. I get to see how they do or don’t get along. I get to know what motivates them.
This story will be my fifth NaNo journey and it is unique for a number of reasons:
- I have a lot more characters than usual. My past stories have suffered by being under-populated – sort of like if Lord of the Rings was hundreds of pages of just Frodo and Sam walking and suffering. Thankfully LOTR has a whole Middle Earth’s wealth of different people, characters, types of sentient and sapient beings, cultures and languages. The characters aren’t homogenised, either – each one has individual personality quirks and traits and inner struggles.
- I am trying to write a script, not a novel, this time around. I hope it will eventually become a graphic novel or webcomic that I’ve wanted to write and illustrate for years.
- I had more time than usual to prepare by participating in Camp NaNoWriMo earlier this year. I’ve been creating notes and name lists and ideas since March. Normally I’m a NaNo “Pantser” but this year I’ve taken the necessary step to become a “Plantser.” One of these days I might even actually plan a story thoroughly prior to writing it – but if I reach that level of organisation I’m not sure I’ll be me, it’ll probably be an imposter!
- My son will also be participating in the full NaNo for the first time this year (he previously attempted the NaNo Young Writer’s event in 2014) so I am cautiously optimistic that having another person in my house also competing will be a good accountability tool!
- I come into this event having (finally!) read all of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces (book number 54 on my reading list this year!), which I have no doubt will be a source of great inspiration for me. My prior awareness of that text was an oversimplified series of story tropes: eg, to write a great story simply take one orphan, raise him in difficult circumstances, introduce him to a wise old mentor who knows the truth of his origins, give him a set of increasingly difficult tasks to overcome while collecting or destroying an object of magical significance, confront him with romantic temptations that may divert his journey’s goals, have him triumph albeit with great suffering, and send him back home transformed but never again able to relate to normality. You see this in all kinds of ancient and modern literature, in the great religious narratives, in Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings – I mean the list is exceptionally long. Campbell’s text draws on traditional folklore and religious narratives, often choosing a more obscure tale to illustrate a point than resorting to what I would’ve expected (from my vantage point as an Anglo-Celtic/Norse-Gael Australian with a mostly Christian background). There are some very profound reasons as to why this type of narrative is popular and gripping, why it connects with people across cultures, and why so many stories considered great and enduring connect with this pattern. But having read Campbell’s brilliant text, I have a deeper understanding of why it works, while also appreciating that the ‘hero’s journey’ is far more complex and diverse than it is often stereotyped, and why it matters as an historically important psychological and sociological functional mythology. That means that while I will probably draw from elements of the hero’s journey in my NaNo story, I don’t have to necessarily resort to a cheap imitation of Harry Potter or Odysseus or Jesus Christ.