Thursday, 13 October 2011

Nano Prep: One Sentence Wonders

That feeling of waiting just another second...
That picture sums up two feelings for me: October 31st, and the feeling that you really can twiddle your life away in a car.

Let's focus on October 31. Midnight. The opening nanoseconds of November 1, heralding the opening writer's block of Nanowrimo. It doesn't have to be that way, tightening your teeth and spreading your lips in a death-like grimace of agony as you realize inspiration is running circles around your ability to actually communicate in a meaningful fashion.

What does that have to do with the fact that I've put way too much mileage on my car? It's a magic number. 100,000 miles on my car is the moment I exhale and really rip loose. It means I no longer have to treat it like new, I no longer have an excuse to ignore my responsibility to change the oil, and kicking the tires means checking the air pressure with a device that gives you an actual number.

November first (or 11/1) gives me a magic number as a writer. It means I don't need to listen to that internal editor, I no longer have an excuse to procrastinate adding to a novel, and checking a word count means not closing the document until I've added more than double (or even triple) digits.

To avoid my traditional writer rictus, I like to start a story notebook before I get to the actual writing part. I'm a plotter; I plot. If you're a p-p-pantser, start with inspiration, but pick out a pretty and handy notebook for the middle. Trust me.

For those of us who are diving into the arena of idea hunting, I would say grab your butterfly nets but we are a deadly kind of lepidoptorist. We are hunting our dream moths with daggers made of pens that, rather than stab these ghostly creatures, will instead draw details on their delicate half-formed wings to weigh them down with words. What I need to do today is pin down the bare skeleton of what I think my novel may or may not be about.

I turn to Jim Butcher in many things, mostly those matters to do with solving common household issues involving vampire courts and the occasional neighborly fae, but in this post I turn to his (abandoned?) writer blog for the one sentence story skeleton.

Now all I need is something to happen, a protagonist, a goal, and an antagonist with his own opposition providing ability. Easy!

Something happening is the perfect beginning. You know that disappointed feeling when you read those books where the protagonist wakes up and there isn't anyone waving a gun in his face? I get that feeling too when I wake up on my more boring mornings. Waking up is the start of my day, but it isn't the start of my story. Some days my story doesn't start when we smell smoke, but only when we realize we're smelling smoke. Yes, I can set the scene by showing you my office and my ability to stare at a single sheet of paper for roughly five minutes before blinking back to reality and signing it, but the story isn't rolling until the fire shows up. For the purposes of Nano which can stand for either "forward momentum" or "don't look back", depending on your school of training (it's okay, I'll get to that later), the more exciting part of the story you jump into, the easier it will be to keep on plowing through that word count.

My story for Nano, I have decided, doesn't start until someone gets out of jail. Lots of cool stories start this way, like Blues Brothers, Lady Vengeance, and at least one of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels.

So someone gets out of jail, and my protagonist - we'll call her a fourteen year old girl for now, because I have a terrible soft spot for young adult fiction - has to pursue a goal.

Pursuing a goal is much easier to do when I know who the antagonist is. Let's say he's an elderly gentleman, gaunt, skin stretched so thin you can see the blood vessels moving in his veins, the kind of man for whom the word gaunt is a compliment. He's rich, too, and eccentric, because eccentric excuses so much. If we still used words like eccentric, we could excuse the whole cast of Jersey Shore. Or, not really, but you know what I mean.

Rich and eccentric people tend to collect things, or people tend to collect things, rich people tend to collect extravagant things, and rich and eccentric people tend to collect weird extravagant things.

He's a book collector. Nothing against book collectors, but if you're lining your library shelves with books made of human flesh, there is a small chance your invitation to my next party will get lost in the mail. He has lent out some of these books to protect them from someone who was trying to break into his library and wishes to recall them. Unfortunately, most of these people aren't willing to give up the books - how about these books, with their strange incantations, can make you a god by a certain full moon - and will instead attempt their own ceremony. The book collector wants these books back. Oh, and the books were tied to bloodlines. To return a book is to kill its former owner. There's the stake!

So what does my 14yo have to do with this? How about her older brother, hard up for cash and needing to leave the city, packs up his siblings and takes the job to retrieve the books? He has to leave the city because someone got out of jail. My something happens is now the big brother taking the job. The WHY of his job-acceptance is someone getting out of jail.

Her goal in all of this? One of the books found its way to her little brother. Now her goal is to ensure her big brother fails in his job in order for her to save her little brother's life...

This is kind of a mess of a story so far, but that's why I'm think about it in October. My sentence is several paragraphs long, but it boils down to this:

When her big brother takes a mysterious job to collect specific old volumes of a cursed book set, (my protagonist) must ensure these books stay with their current owners to save her little brother's life. But will she succeed when (creepy rich collector), mystical beings called Collectors, and her own father stand in her way?

It's still a tangled ball of noodles, but it's getting there.

What's your story skeleton?

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