Hello, esteemed readers! This post marks the end of Week 3 of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo 2011). For NaNoWriMo, I have departed from my favored genre of science fiction and opted instead for a historical animal fiction novel about the fate of the Atlantic population of Grey Whales at the outbreak of the American Revolution. The book is called Cetus Finalis and it is coming along fine as frog hair split three ways.
For those of you who have been following my progress, as of last week, I was 43% of the way to 50k words, having used 50% of the allotted time to get there. Inspired by a reader’s comment, I am not going to report on my word count this week. Instead, for Week 3, I am going to focus on qualitative rather than quantitative NaNo progress. Namely, character development, plot bunnies, and writing style.
Characters: I feel that my characters in this book have become real faster than in my previous novel. By sitting and writing intensively every day, the characters are never given a chance to fluctuate in and out of my memory. All of their temperaments and motivations remain clear and dynamic to me. This is a significant point of progress for me, because I used to feel that character development was more difficult for me than plot development, and in this book I feel like the characters are really leading the way.
Plot Bunnies: I took 3 days off this week for a creative consultation with my esteemed friend and colleague, Ryan Hurtgen. Ryan is a musician and writer with an impeccable sense of narrative balance. He is also the front man for the L.A.-based experimental pop band René Breton. Their last album, Asleep In Green, written by Ryan, is accompanied by a book of short stories exploring the dream realm of dadaist and surrealist sensibilities. Ryan is always working on multiple projects and constantly writing songs. It’s an honor to work with him, because he is so talented and driven. René Breton came to San Francisco on tour to play the Hotel Utah Saloon. Lucky for me, Ryan stayed in the City for a couple of days and we got to have an in-depth discussion about Cetus Finalis. I was able to solidify all of the plot points for the second half of the book, making for a lot less head scratching, freeing my mind up to bring the characters along the tale. With his help, I corralled my plot bunnies 10 times faster than I could have on my own. Thank you, Ryan!
Writing Style: There’s no way around it – NaNo is making my writing better. Voice is a big deal for writers and I feel that this NaNo, because of the sheer volume of writing and concentration of creative activity, has helped me precisely hone in on the voice for this piece. That said, I present you, at long last, with a teaser, an excerpt, a little morsel of Cetus Finalis to give you a sense of what I’ve actually been doing these three weeks.
Bjorn awoke sunburned and covered in flies feasting on the crusted sandy blood over most of his body, but alive. There were still a few barbs of Unnur’s debris sticking out of his right arm and chest, the angry red flesh of infected wounds puckered around jabs of wood. He pulled them out, grunting from the pain, washed them in salt water, and staunched the blood flow with what was left of his shirt. He then passed out from exhaustion and may have died there, from infection, dehydration, and loss of blood, had not a passing fisherman discovered him and dragged him home on a net. For a day and a night, Bjorn slept, waking partially to sip soup or tea from a spoon placed to his lips. The shock of the tragedy hovered looming and unmistakable beyond the darkness at the edge of his vision. After a few feeble sips, his eyes closed again.
The fisherman was a salty old bachelor making a living from his coastal home south of Nantucket. He preferred his own company, and was not keen on rescuing Bjorn, but he knew that no one else would be along before the man died. The striper and cod had been good that morning. He had just tethered his boat at the quay to begin unloading when he saw the cut and battered man, obviously a sailor judging by what was left of his clothes.
“I’m glad yeer up. I’m gettin’ tired a feedin’ yee.”
-Where am I?- asked Bjorn.
Roger remained slouched back in his creaky wooden kitchen chair, his hand resting comfortably around his rum glass on the table top. His eyebrow shot up at the sound of the blond stranger’s speech.
“A Norseman, eh?” said the old fisherman. “Don’t waste your breath. I don’t speak Danish, or Swedish, or Icelandic, or whatever northern language yeer speakin’.”
Bjorn didn’t understand a word of the old man’s speech. He figured it was English, because he had been on his way to America. He looked around, noticed the one window in the room was in the door. It was a two room fishing cottage on a spur of rock overlooking the shore, near the old man’s fishing boat, Marianne. The room they were in was the kitchen, office, and dining room. On the table was a copy of the King James bible, open on its back somewhere near Ezekiel. Next to the book was the old man’s rum glass. The room beyond was the old man’s bed room. On the floor, gathered around one of the table legs, was the net the old man now needed to mend after dragging Bjorn home. He had laid the net out to dry during the day and night that Bjorn slept and sipped. Now the old man had brought it in to keep it dry. He didn’t have the knuckles for mending anyway. I’ll ask Ella for help, thought the old man, kicking the tattered net, estimating its age and value. Maybe I’ll ask Lyle what a new net from Nantucket costs. It may be time for something new. Lyle also knew a language or two, maybe he can speak with this fella. The Parson’s studied, too. Parson Mailer may be able to speak with him.
Tune in next week to see if I finished!
Thanks for reading,