Writer’s Life: Noveling Without A Net

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Nov 8, 2010 in Writer's Life

Photo by hbp_pix Creative Commons

I love outlining. I really do. Every since I first learned how to structure one in grade school, I was hooked. Roman numerals, capital letters, cardinal numbers…it was all very exciting. There’s something extremely satisfying about seeing your novel lined out perfectly on a few sheets of paper. Within a couple of minutes you can experience all of the peaks and valleys, twists and turns of your story. But for me, it’s too satisfying. Once I know what’s going to happen in the story, I can’t see the point of actually writing it.

That’s why I went in to this year’s NaNovel with a very basic premise — a guy in a space station slum — since I was pretty sure I wanted to do a space opera. A week prior to November 1st, I looked through random articles on Wikipedia to generate some ideas and came up with the flatworm (I love you wikipedia) and a China reference from which I formulated a couple of supporting roles. And I thought barely sentient tofu should be involved, because why not? There was no plot in sight, but I knew I had 50,000 words to figure that out.

I’ll admit it. Noveling without a net is about as close as I’ll ever come to being reckless. It’s sort of exciting knowing there’s the possibility this could all turn into an intergalactic train wreck. But so far, my characters haven’t let me down. I don’t make them do things they don’t want to do, and in return, they tempt me with inklings of plot ideas, just enough to get me to the next chapter. It all comes down to trust. You dig the holes for your characters, and trust that you’ve given them enough breadth to want to fight their way out.

What’s your outlook? Does the fear of doing a literary faceplant into concrete stifle you or excite you?



Writer’s Life: It starts!

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Nov 1, 2010 in Writer's Life

Photo by Digipam, Creative Commons

The euphoria of Day 1 of NaNoing has set in. 2500 words so far. I have characters! I have kind of a plot! Neither of which existed a week ago. Last night I attended the NaNoWriMo Midnight Write, dragged my half-asleep self across town to commiserate with 50 other writers about our lack of planning and excitedly count down the minutes until we could write on our novels. There was some impromptu brain storming that happened, and mad props go out to Kyle who seemed to have put about ten times as much thought into my novel as I had. We bounced ideas off each other, and a lot of them stuck.

The event went on until 2am, but I only stayed the first thirty minutes past midnight, during which I rewarded each 100 words with the consumption of sweet and sour gummi worms. It was an appropriate reward, as you will soon see. So without further ado, he’s a brief excerpt from chapter one of my yet to be titled space opera.


Echium Stahl seethed as he pressed his fingers against the giant hickey on his left shoulder. It was tender to the touch, oozed slightly, smelled funny. It wasn’t his first, but he sure as hell hoped it would be his last.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Thebiak said, giving his best impression of innocence. His eyestalks twitched, segments writhed.

“Shhh,” Echium said. His nephew Jole was sleeping not even a meter away– safely, not gnawed half to death by the giant flatworm that passed for Echium’s best friend more days than not. He was thankful for that at least. Thebiak’s poison was already working its way through Echium’s system. He had half an hour to get to the clinic for the antidote. Maybe less.

Echium waded across the dark room, pawed around for his coveralls, then pulled Jole’s gravboots down from the cubby where they stayed. He’d be back before his nephew missed them, either that, or he’d be dead. Either way there was no getting across the station in time without them. As an afterthought, he snagged Thebiak by the scruff and stuffed him into a duffle bag.

“You got me into this,” Echium said under his breath. “If I’m checking into the big curd farm in the sky, then you’re coming with me.”

“It was an accident,” came Thebiak’s muffled voice from inside the bag.

“What part of ‘don’t eat me’ don’t you understand?”

Echium flinched as Jole turned in his sleeping tube. He bit his lip, then kicked off, the barely-gee of the inner ring slums allowing him to glide across the room. He fished around for the grab bar, then silently eased himself into the cramped quarters of the family sprawl. His sister-in-law’s snores echoed through the room. Soft light from the astral aurora broke through the room’s only porthole and bathed her in a faint orange glow.

The room was packed floor to ceiling with her art—crude sculptures made from the found objects Merle would smuggle back to her from other worlds. Most were crap, couldn’t give them away if she’d wanted to. And the ones that would fetch a few beans, she refused to part with, saying they reminded her too much of her husband.

In any case, it reduced her already undersized dwelling to a thin walkway to the front door, and Amina slept in the middle of it all. Echium would have to float right past her, so he took a spare moment to steady his aim and kicked off once again, keeping his duffle bag clutched close to his chest, legs pressed tightly together. He held his breath as he came within centimeters of grazing her cheek with his elbow, but he passed without incident and orchestrated a soundless landing near the door.

His bite wound throbbed something fierce, a sharp ache that set his teeth on edge.  His eyes burned like coals inside their sockets. The way his symptoms were progressing, the fever might kill him before the poison did. Echium forced the pain back and concentrated on the task at hand, though his mind was quickly going to curd. He stared blankly at the door access panel, trying to remember the lock code he’d entered each and every morning for the past five years. Started with a nine, he was sure of that. Pretty sure. Nine-four-seven-one. He typed on the keypad, and the door whispered open in front of him, the stench of the barely-gee slums smacking him in the face.

Echium was about to step into the corridor when he felt a tug at his coveralls. He turned. Jole hovered there, thin as a rail, wearing nothing but his sleep shorts, hair pressed to the side of his face. His eyes were slits. In the dim light, his face looked much like Merle’s had at that age, sharp angles, tight brow–a face worn well past its thirteen years.

“My gravboots,” Jole murmured.

Echium’s eyes flicked to Amina, still sleeping soundly. If she woke up, she’d have questions. Echium couldn’t lie to her. Not that he hadn’t tried, but boy that woman had a way of dragging the truth out of him, and he couldn’t risk her finding out he’d been harboring a man-eating parasite in her home for the last six months.

“My gravboots,” Jole said again, louder.

“I need to borrow them. It’s an emergency. I promise I’ll have them back to you in thirty minutes.”

“My gravboots.” There was something odd about his voice and the way his body drifted lazily, too loose even for someone who’d just woken up. He was sleepdrifting. Jole had done it often as a small child. Poor kid was a bundle of nerves then. He’d grown out of it for a while, but since his father had died, Jole’s anxiety had all but consumed his life.

“Hey, kid. Why don’t you go back to your tube, okay?” Echium turned him by the shoulders, but Jole did a full three-sixty, his spin slowing as he came to face Echium again, arms reached out now. Echium could give Jole a gentle shove back inside, shut the door, and be halfway down the corridor with a strong push. It was tempting. He was dying after all, but he didn’t want his nephew remembering him as a thief who had stolen his most prized possession. If he were fully awake, Echium could bargain with him, toss a few beans his way, but instead he handed the boots over, glancing at the initials stitched into their backs in fraying navy blue thread: MVS – Merle Verne Stahl…his father’s boots.

Jole hugged the boots to his chest, then pressed away back to his room like an apparition. Echium shut the door to his sister-in-law’s sprawl, then laughed to himself. So much for that idea.

“You’re never going to make it,” came Thebiak’s voice from the bag. “Let me out. I can get the antidote for you.”

“The delirium won’t set in for another ten minutes,” he told the flatworm. “Try me again then.”

Echium sped down the hallway, bouncing from grab bar to grab bar, often overshooting or undershooting, leaving him at the mercy of barely-gee to send him slowly forth, wasting away precious seconds of his life.

“I’m serious. I can get to the clinic and back three times over before you can get halfway there. This is my fault. Let me make it right.”

“You know I can’t.”

“You don’t trust me, is that it?” Thebiak’s muffled voice sounded hurt.

“It’s not personal. I owe you my life. So if I don’t make it, I guess that makes us even. Or something. But I’ve got to worry about the rest of the people aboard Vero-Avalon.”

“Most of them are still asleep, if that makes you feel any better. Besides, I just fed.”

The throbbing started up again, spreading under Echium’s arm and down his side. He shivered and clutched the bag close, rougher than perhaps he ought to have. Thebiak rustled inside, but was quiet at least. It was pointless to argue with flatworm logic, and fevering like this, there was no way he could possibly win.




Wirter’s Life: Countdown to NaNoWriMo!

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 26, 2010 in Writer's Life

Less than a week to go until November 1st!

Maybe some of you are still on the fence about whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I love it to bits, but I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone. (My writer friend Patrice is one of them, but I won’t hold that against her.)  NaNoWriMo has done a lot for me, and each year as the acorns pelt me from above and the temperature starts to dip below 90 degrees, I know novel writing season is right around the corner.

There’s a lot to love about NaNoWriMo. For me, I wouldn’t even be writing if I hadn’t heard about the event 6 years ago. It sounded perfect for me. I love insane challenges and random hobbies, especially those that don’t cost a lot. All I needed was a computer, and I had that! Unfortunately, I saw the ad for NaNoWriMo towards the end of November, but I wasn’t about to let another whole year go by before I tried it, so I attempted to do my own version in April where I finished my first “novel” in twenty-one days. It wasn’t crap. It wasn’t great either, but it was good enough to entertain my friends and family. They passed it on to their friends to read, which is just about the biggest compliment you can get.

I got hooked on writing, then, not by the act of writing itself, but seeing people react to the words that I’d put on the page, and I couldn’t wait to write my first real NaNovel. That November, I joined some 60,000 people in a frenzy of creativity. Again I hit 50k and even went beyond, but more importantly, I saw what a writing community was. I got to leave my house and go to write-ins at coffee shops. I met other writers, talked about writing. Made friends — some that I see only one month out of the year, but also some who are very near and dear. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely, isolated activity. Doing it en masse, you get lots of encouragement, tips and pointers, and stories of come-from-behind victories that can help keep you going. Plus it’s a great excuse to consume ridiculous quantities of caffeine and chocolate.

Don’t fall for the hype though. NaNoWriMo is not all about fun times and slapping high fives with your fellow Wrimos while sipping fancy coffee drinks. It’s hard work. It’ll warp your brain, leave your fingers cramped, and reduce your social life to something resembling a Sasquatch’s. You’ll hate it some days. You’ll be bitter about seeing your friend’s word counts rise exponentially, and secretly gloat about those who drop out of the race before you. The dark recesses of your mind will start bleeding out on the page, and you’ll learn things about yourself that you really didn’t want to know.

But in the end, if you keep at it, you’ll have a 50,000-word draft. It may be pretty decent, or it may in fact be something so hideous that you can’t find a drawer deep enough to hide it in. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve done something people spend all their lives talking about and never doing. You set out to do a difficult task that requires imagination, dedication, and sacrifice. It’s your novel — 50,000 words that came out of YOU — a story that would not exist in this world if you hadn’t brought it into fruition. And that’s a beautiful thing.


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