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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

March 2017

The Story Arc

Over on the Camp NaNoWriMo bulletin board, I suggested that those of you having trouble coming up with a story line should spend a little time watching hour-long TV dramas. If you don’t have time for that, think about a favorite children’s book or nursery rhyme. “The Three Little Pigs” serves the purpose well.
 
Here’s a diagram of a story arc to guide you.:

 
Three little pigs are the heroes, and their goal is finding a home that will assure their survival. The villain is the big bad wolf living in the neighborhood because, unfortunately, he likes pork. (Crisis #1)
 
 Pig #1 builds a house (his solution), although his choice of grass as building material is pretty weak. BBW comes along and blows it away. (Crisis #2)
 
Pig #2 builds a better house, using sticks this time (recovery from crisis) but BBW crushes it easily.  (Crisis #3) Tension is now high.
 
Pig #3 steps up and builds his house of bricks (an even better solution to their problem). BBW can’t destroy it from the outside, so he crawls onto the roof to stomp it in. If this house doesn’t survive, our pigs are doomed. (Crisis #4)
 
But BBW falls down the chimney and lands in a pot of water boiling on the fire. (Climax. It’s something of a miracle, but, hey, this is a fairy tale!)
 
Pigs throw a few veggies into the pot and they all feast on wolf stew for dinner before living happily ever after. (denouement)

I Can Feel It Coming. . .

Camp NaNoWriMo is almost here ! Just two more days before we hit the keyboards.  And I'm almost ready. My camp shirt hangs in the closet. My Scrivener files are set up with a chapter-by chapter tentative outline, character sketches, a few pictures that show the period, a historical timeline, and a collection of articles on relevant historical events. The opening chapters are written (in first draft form). Now I'm looking ahead, hoping to complete the 50,000 to 70,000 words it will take to finish an early draft of this manuscript. Will I do it? Who knows? But I'm going to try. I've been at this business long enough to know that nothing works as well as just applying seat of pants to computer chair.

But besides the novel about antebellum Charleston, I have a new idea bouncing around in my head this morning, and I'm thinking -- ever the optimist, she is! -- that I can accomplish both at once.  Here's what's cooking around the campfire.

One of the interesting highlights of doing the April or June Camp NaNoWriMo experience is the casual atmosphere. Participants write, but they also toast some imaginary marshmallows and exchange scary stories with the other campers. The program assigns us to "cabins," in which we get to know ten or twelve other campers. I asked to be assigned to a cabin with other writers of historical fiction, and then, hopeful to the end, to people who were close to my own age. The last time I did this, my cabin contained some thirteen-year-olds who got homesick or bored and disappeared after only a few days.  My match-ups this year are much better, although it's hard to find other writers in their late 70s. So my cabin holds mostly those who want to write historical novels. We have three or four other retired women, several in their mid to late thirties, and a few who won't talk about their age (maybe that's a give-away!) Four of us have already published; the others are still newbies.

And we have our own little bulletin board where we can share ideas, doubts, questions, and mutually-helpful ideas. Several of our newcomers have already expressed some anxiety about two areas -- not knowing what to write and wondering about the possibilities of self-publishing. i think, perhaps, I can be of help in both areas. 

I'm going to limit my cabin bulletin board postings to tips on writing and publishing. We're limited to 600 characters, so these will be short. However, I can link them to longer posts on each topic here on this blog. And who knows? Maybe by the end of the month, I'll also have a good start on that updated second edition of "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese" that I've been thinking about and promising for a couple of years.

Can I finish the first draft of a novel in thirty days? Sure i can! Can I  do two of them at once? That remains to be seen.


My Love-Hate Relationship with NaNoWriMo

I first met the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) folks back in 2011, when I was struggling with plans to write a biographical novel about the Yankee missionaries who went to South Carolina during the Civil War to serve a huge population of abandoned slaves. I had too many stories, too many characters, too many crises, and not nearly enough satisfactory conclusions. 

The NaNoWriMo instructions were clear: just sit down and write. Quit thinking and over-thinking. That comes later. Just write, as quickly and as much as you can. Take the month of November--30 days--and write at least 1667 words every day. At the end of the month you'll have written 50,000 words. That's almost enough for a novel. If you complete the task, NaNoWriMo will reward your win by printing your completed manuscript in paperback format so you can see your work in print. Then you'll know where to go from there.

I took them at their word and worked myself into exhaustion for a month. I did it and the result was a 176-page book called "Gideon's Ladies."  IT WAS AWFUL! But I learned. When I looked at my raw writing in print I saw every flaw. But I could also see where I had gone wrong and what I needed to do to correct it. So with an awful example before me, i started over, asked myself the right questions, and eventually published "The Road to Frogmore," a much improved version. (And by the way, CreateSpace still keeps that original manuscript in their listing of my works, although it is not available for sale.) 

As my writing methods changed, so did NaNoWriMo. They added smaller versions of their contests in April and July, These "Camp" experiences were more like writing retreats. Authors joined others in cabins, where they were more or less matched with others writing the same sorts of materials. The program kept tract of each author's progress but added the combined word counts for each cabin. Cabin-mates could chat with each other, talk about writing problems, or ask for help. Writers were also allowed to set their own word-count goals, which took some of the pressure off. 

After my first experience, I had decided that a November writing month was not for me. I had too many distractions that month--travel plans, Thanksgiving, meeting commitments. April and July suited me much better. I wrote a major portion of "Damned Yankee" in April 2013 and a finalizing section of Yankee Reconstructed in July 2015. But each time, I then swore off ever doing another NaNoWriMo marathon. I didn't need that kind of motivation any more, I told myself.

Flash forward to November 2016. My African-American genealogist friend decided to try NaNoWriMo for herself. Me? I was ready to start my next ambitious project--all on my own. And the results? My brilliant friend finished early with a blazing total of 74,450 words. Me? Well, as of today, after 130 days of planning, thinking, dreaming, and scribbling, I have written 11,525 words. 

I'll save you the trouble of doing the math.  That's 77 words a day. At this rate, I'll be working on this #$%^&  book for 1559 more days, with a completion date scheduled for sometime in May, 2021. Clearly, I need to stop hating NaNoWriMo and get back in that regimen.

Yes, I'm committed--again! Starting April 1--and the irony of April Fool's Day is not lost on me!--I'll be showing up for Sasquatch Camp 2017--where we will pursue the impossible and hope to find some bright ideas. I've even ordered the camp shirt.


Let's Take the Survey One Step Further


Yesterday, I gave readers a chance to speak up about a book plan I have been contemplating. Faced with an extremely complicated story, I suggested that it might work better as a two-volume series. 

The consensus seems to be in favor of a two-book series--the first  in the form of the protagonist's diary entries; the second a "twenty-years-later" novel exploring the lives of those she wrote about in the first book. 

Now, which set of titles do you like better?

"Compromise" followed by "Consequences"

. . . or . . . .

"A Life of Compromise" followed by "A Lifetime of Consequences"

I've checked both forms and did not find any current books using any of those exact titles, so my choices are open. 

Please vote for your preference. And thanks for your help.

A Question about a New Book -- or Two

Alright, my faithful readers, it’s spring, or so the weatherman, if not the calendar, says. And spring is a time for new beginnings. I’ve changed the picture on my computer background (flowers, now, instead iof snow}. Next Sunday we switch to Daylight Savings Time. Out in the yard, my herbs are flourishing, and –unfortunately – so are the moles, who seem to have invited a whole new troop of tunnelers to explore my open areas. Trees are budding out, Bradford pear trees are turning the landscape white, and there are sprigs of green grass everywhere. I’m caught up on housework, and the kitchen is stocked with prepared meals and Girl Scout cookies. (What’s not to love?)
 
What hasn’t changed? My writer’s block. My proclivity to research just one more little area before actually putting any words on paper. That same outline for a new book, which seems to be expanding its scope without yet providing a a clear map of how I should go about writing it.  I’ve been fiddling with it since last fall, and if you took a peek at my Scrivener files, you’d find a complete outline just ready to go. Except that it isn’t.  Recently, a couple of friends have asked whether I’m deep into writing yet, and I’ve struggled to answer that. It simply hasn't sprouted yet. 
 
The story bouncing around in my head is awfully complicated. It covers a span of more than twenty years and contains multiple conflicts. There’s a background of the Civil War, of course, but also a family drama, a spy story based on historical fact, an international incident, a rape, fratricide, a kidnapping, a hidden identity, and a backstory concealed in a diary written in code. Its characters include a businessman turned pirate, two paralyzed people (one by stroke, one by accident), an opium-addicted prostitute, an expatriate English woman born into the lesser nobility, a French family of slave-owners, and a couple of visitors from my “Yankee” series. Just putting that list together makes me tired. Sounds fascinating,  you say? Maybe so. But also a web so hopelessly tangled that I haven’t been able to find a loose end to start with.
 
So here’s the new thought bouncing around in my spring-inspired brain this morning. What if I’m not thinking of one book, but two? First would come the early story—all pre-Civil War, all written in first-person—in short, the diary of  the expatriate English woman who is seeing antebellum America and learning about South Carolina’s “peculiar institution” for the first time. The reader would meet most of the characters mentioned above, but in their early years, before their own lives deteriorate. The book would concentrate on the gradual alteration of the main character as her childhood innocence gives way to acceptance of the unthinkable, just as the idealism of the young Republic yields to seemingly unsurmountable differences between North and South.
 
The second book would be set during the early years of the Civil War.  The reader would meet the same characters but in a period during which each of them faces a new challenge. This will be the book that handles the international incident, the piracy and blockade-running, the collapse of “King Cotton,” the mystery surrounding the identity of one of the characters, and the fall-out from earlier scandals that everyone thought were buried forever.
 
What think you?  I’d love to pick the brains of future readers.