Monday, November 11, 2013

Sailing Venus: The creative process

I believe it is safe to say, by any objective measure, that I stink at this whole NaNoWriMo concept. According to the online word cruncher, I've written just a shade over 2,600 words. By my standard manuscript page counting method, I've topped out at almost 3,200 words. By any metric, that's anemic production for a write-a-thon challenge where the goal is 50,000 words in a single month.

Still, I have reached a few milestones. That 2,600 words represents a completed first chapter. And I've already introduced revisions to my story outline as well as made a handful of interesting discovers--things that just popped up in the course of writing--that should serve me well farther down the line.

I'm nowhere near the 1K daily average I'd hoped for, but progress is progress. Not awful, considering I'm still in the worldbuilding/setup phase without strong plot forces kicking in yet to drive the narrative.

I'm writing Sailing Venus differently than I've written any other fiction. Because I had such an overwhelming amount of information, the Chicken Ranch book forced me to outline it out of necessity. I don't enjoy outlining, but found it useful for that non-fiction project, even though I found myself revising the outline repeatedly. So, I committed to outlining. In fact, I went a step further--I sketched out the narrative structure of Sailing Venus using Blake Snyder's beat sheet (adapted for novel-length work as opposed to screenplays), with additional influences from Dan Decker's Anatomy of a Screenplay. Apart from the "what happens when" framework the basic outline gives, these other approaches help clarify specific character arcs and thematic elements. Using their nomenclature, I've wrapped up the "opening image" with Chapter 1 and am moving into the "theme stated" phase with Chapter 2. There's overlap, of course--these ideas have fuzzy edges rather than sharp boundaries--but my story concept is hewing pretty closely to the model, much to my surprise and delight.

"Opening image," equates to a lot of worldbuilding in a very short amount of time, conveying the idea of a dangerous, expansive world and a complex method of transport in this environment (Spoiler alert! The events in Sailing Venus do, in fact, take place on Venus). I feel I have to establish how technically challenging it is to successfully pilot the futuristic sailplane Windsprint immediately, so that later on, when the story intensifies, readers already have this understanding hardwired into their perceptions. I won't need to waste time or momentum re-hashing these details. This is a deliberate worldbuilding and narrative structure choice decided upon by your humble author. Granted, that's a relatively straightforward application of strategy, but I hope to impart some behind-the-scenes appreciation of the writing process with these mini-essays. My writing process, at least.

"Theme stated," for me, is entirely about character development. Anatomy of a Screenplay defines this section as establishing character structure, drive structure and the objective opponent. In this, Erica's immediate objective opponent is her father, as they have a contentious relationship and can't quite seem to find any common ground despite good faith effort on both their parts. This is the core of the character arc as well as a recurrent theme throughout the book. It provides subtext to every scene--he father is a looming presence even when he's not around. So, classic YA territory here.

But this is a science fiction adventure, inspired by the great Winston juveniles. The real antagonist is Venus itself. This breaks hard from the directives found in Anatomy of a Screenplay, which insists on a character antagonist. I found myself acutely conscious of this conflict as I read taht book, but that work is very clear that its focus is wholly on the Hollywood story model, so it isn't 100 percent applicable to my story needs. But I did find elements I could readily apply to my novel, despite not fitting the norm. If Man vs. Nature was good enough for Jack London, then it (in this case, Girl vs. Planet) is good enough for me. Venus is quite sincerely out to kill every human who approaches it, and is relentless in its determination. In this way, Venus wholly fills the role of antagonist, even though the planet lacks any motivation or intent. Venus simply is, and literally has the resources of an entire world to throw at our protagonist. The fact that it is utterly indifferent to the Erica's fate, I believe, makes the scenario all the more chilling.

Now Playing: Johann Sebastian Bach Harpsichord Concertos 1
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