Deadlines and Timetables

November is just around the corner, and for most aspiring writers that means it’s almost time for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWritMo for short – where the objective / challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel within a month. Or at least the first draft of a novel, as there is the time constraint placed on completing this task, so the (ideal) goal is to just keep writing without editing. This will be my second year participating in this seemingly impossible yet attainable feat – I was unable to complete the task last year, as I tend to plot, edit and research while I write, so that “distracted” me from actually writing the novel. I suppose that makes me more a Plotter than a Pantser, as (evidenced by many of my blog posts) I like to know where the overall plot is headed and prefer to fully (or as fully as possible) realize my characters’ personalities, motivations and overall appearance.

Interestingly enough, the process of writing that (unfinished) novel prompted a new wave of ideas and attracted a whole bunch of plot bunnies that prompted me to refocus my energies towards the Epic Saga. The novel I had proposed to and started to write was the fan fiction novel Carpe Noctem, based on characters from the short-lived Broadway musical Dance of the Vampires. While I was unable to finish that novel within the month deadline, it did spark the aforementioned ideas and plot bunnies, and brought into perspective an angle to the Epic Saga (known as the MASC Chronicles) that was innovative and intriguing. I’m still working on Carpe Noctem, both plotting and writing , and hope to publish it one day (though I’d need to figure out how to get permission to use the handful of characters that are not of my own creation – I figure I’d cross that bridge when I’m closer to completing that tale).

But I digress (slightly).

This year’s NaNoWritMo entry is a novel of my own creation, though (very) loosely inspired by other works – in fact, it will be the first novel in the first series of the three-part Epic Saga, entitled One More Angel In Heaven. I have made preliminary outlines and have a general (vague) idea how the mystery will unfold, though the exact details have yet to be determined. Most of the main characters have been selected and generally developed, though I presume that their personalities and motives and motivations will change once I start writing.

Writing within a specified timetable with a hard deadline has never been my strong suit, as I’ve been plotting and thinking about these stories over the past two decades (albeit on and off – real life does “interrupt” the writing process) – there have been times where I don’t write a single word or even think about the novels, and there are other times when that’s all I think about, leading to hours of plotting, researching and writing, resulting in a few chapters of narrative (as well as Word files full of character and plot development).

Perhaps that’s the “trouble” in the way I write – the ideas and Muses come and go as they please – it’s something that is beyond my control. I have plans to write a total of 36 books (most of which will be novels, and at least one collection of short stories) for the MASC Chronicles – all of which have been given titles (though for most of the saga that’s all I’ve got written down).  Each series will be interconnected with one another at some level, but for the most part each series within the Saga could stand alone from one another (I have yet to determine whether or not that will be the case).

Anyway.

Actually, my aforementioned inability to write within a specific timetable is not quite true, as I’ve managed to keep to my weekly schedule of writing something for this blog. I’ve been diligent and successful in posting a blog each week since I first started this blog over 6 months ago – though whether or not the topic of each week’s blog has been relevant to my writing process is debatable, but then again these are random musings on various topics, and not a continuous narrative flow.

Nevertheless, as this week is the final week before NaNoWritMo gets underway, I thought it apt to write down my musings on the nature of setting and sticking to deadlines and specific timetables. With any luck I will succeed in completing the NaNoWritMo objective, and for those few weeks in November, I’ll probably be posting updates on my progress [as I do intend to keep to writing a blog entry each week.)

November is bound to be quite an interesting month, though I know I’ll be distracted by outside, real world things, such as the airing of the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who (of which I hope I will be able to watch online, as there are plans for concurrent global airing), the UK airings of the final four Poirot episodes (of which I know I’ll have to painstakingly wait at least 6 months or so for the US airing of the last five episodes – the first of the last batch of Poirot episodes aired earlier in June), the US Thanksgiving holiday, and whatever else might happen next month.

Wish me luck.

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Romance in Relationships

Love and romance are everywhere – it’s the topic and/or theme of almost every song ever written, and it’s a theme that is inserted into every movie, television series, play, musical and in literature, (whether or not it needs to be there). Of course, love is a universal and ubiquitous emotion that has infinite degrees of intensity, from familial to romantic, instantaneous to gradual, directed towards a person, place, or idea, and has the potential to change one’s perspective on themselves, others and the world around them. Everyone (generally speaking) wants some kind of love in their lives, and will actively seek out a romantic connection – some will find it instantaneously, while others will spend a lifetime searching and not find it. It’s a little wonder that the romance genre, regardless of media, is, and has been so popular, with readers/viewers living vicariously through the characters’ often idealized romantic entanglements.

I must confess that I’m not that much of a fan of the romance genre, or at least my sensibility towards it is probably not the norm – I sometimes find most romance stories formulaic (almost to the point of cliché) that can detract from the main narrative. Perhaps this perspective is due to the repetitive use and (often unnecessary) inclusion and/or emphasis of romance in movies, TV shows and in books, where boy meets girl, they fall in love, but need to overcome obstacles due to differences in ethnicity, social standing or (as prevalent in science fiction/fantasy stories) species; there’s a more appropriate suitor (more times than not, the childhood best friend), which often leads to a ‘love angle’ [technically speaking if character A (most often a teenage girl) is torn between two love interests (one being the childhood best friend and the other being the self-proclaimed ‘soul mate’) it’s more akin to a right angle, than a triangle, unless character A is in love with character B, but character B is in love with character C], complications usually arise, secrets revealed, and eventually all (or most) loose ends are resolved, leading to the ‘right’ pairing living happily ever after.

Anyway.

As this blog is first and foremost about writing, I’ll focus on romance in books (though I will most inevitably digress into my thoughts on movies and TV). This topic quasi-arose from comments made in my previous blog about familial relationships, and how some stories (published and otherwise) focus and expound more on a character’s romantic relationships at the expense of developing said character’s relationship with their family (whether it be immediate or extended). Over the course of my plotting, musing and writing the stories that comprise the MASC Chronicles, there is little to no reference to any kind of romantic love story present.  There will be some sort of romantic entanglement somewhere within the series/saga, but it’ll probably be more subtle (or at least gradual) and interwoven within the overall narrative – or in other words, any kind of romantic subplot will be integral to the plot. It’s simply not the genre in which I write. Or perhaps my literary perspective on love and romance is more influenced by the novels I prefer to read – mainly mysteries of the ‘cozy’ genre – while there are references to romance and love, it’s not the focal point of the story (though often times it does turn out to be the motive in those novels.)

Love and romance are complex and complicated, with its own rules to follow – relationships, as stated in previous blogs, is important in any narrative. With that in mind, I am in the firm belief that there are varying degrees of love in relationships, romance being only one aspect of such a relationship; there’s also love of family, love of friends (without benefits, mind you), and love of ideas, to name just a few. These sorts of love seem to be underrepresented in most novels at the expense (perhaps) of promoting romantic love.

As plotted thus far, the MASC Chronicles is complex and complicated as is, throwing love and romance into the mix will only add to the complexity, which may or may not enrich the overall story (I haven’t plotted that far into the saga yet), but there is bound to be expressions of love within the story, however form it may (or may not) take.

After all, not all love stories need to be romantic ones.

The (Family) Ties That Bind

A good amount of my musings thus far have been centered on technical issues:  narrative structure, pacing, character development and so on; this one is no different, though perhaps is a variation/expansion of an earlier blog topic – namely of the importance of relationships.  How characters relate to one another (or sometimes how they do, can and/or will not) is a vital factor of any narrative (whether it be a stand-alone novel, series or epic saga – all of which I am attempting to write). It is often said that family is all that one ever has in life upon which he/she can rely, though sometimes family bonds are not always the most beneficial to a person (fictional or otherwise).  This week’s topic stems from my recent excursion to the theatre – it’s often in the Fall when I am drawn to the bright lights on Broadway, it’s the other great passion in my life thus far, which has had a monumental influence on my writing style and has been the source of many interesting plot/narrative/character ideas, Also, I much prefer live theater over most other entertainment media due to the quality of writing in theater (for the most part) is far better than the formulaic  and/or recycled storytelling on TV and movies – it seems like most movies are just remakes (or “reboots”) of old movie series, old TV shows, or endless sequels; the same goes for TV – most TV series are either clones of other genre TV shows (umpteen shows focused on lawyers, police, vampires, etc.) or remakes of older TV shows or fantastic British programs (which almost always fail, as the American remakes often remove the British humor/drama that made the original series fantastic for the sake of being suitable for Middle America). Not to say that this syndrome hasn’t affected live theater – it has in a way, slowly but surely, with the advent of jukebox musicals, and the source material for musicals derived from movies or comic books.

Anyway.

I recently saw the Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie, which mainly focused on the relationships and interactions between three members of a family – a mother and her two adult children (a son and daughter), and the unexpected outsider whose presence and actions has a lasting impression and impact on the family. This  is an overwhelmingly general  overview of the classic Tennessee Williams play, but is a description that will suffice for the purposes of this blog entry [I have written my own musings on the play, which can be found here]. I decided to revisit the topic of relationships due to the influence the play had on me, and how this kind of family unit interacts with one another, how each family member perceives  themselves, and how their behavior and actions impact on others –

There will be many families (and generations thereof) throughout the MASC Chronicles, with characters who will interact with their own kin and with those of other families; there will be a web of relationships within and without each family that will intersect and diverge, and ultimately shape the flow of events that occur. Yes, I do realize that this is all sounding a bit soapy, but then again, there’s a reason why they’re called soap operas – with the stress on the “opera” part of the term. Operas, by nature, are often sweeping epics full of heightened melodrama (and soaring arias), of grand love, shocking plot twists and (most often) a tragic ending. Whether or not these qualities will find their way into my Epic Saga, is debatable, but then again, having cited theater (mainly musical theatre) as an inspiration, there’s a good chance some of these elements will find their way somewhere/time in the MASC Chronicles. Some families might rally around and protect their own, others might sell them out to the highest bidder; some may have ulterior motives, others might be the saving grace of human existence. The possibilities are endless.

Hmm. I (slightly) digress.

Once again.

Family is important. Family relationships are important, however form they take – they may be destructive, manipulative, and deceitful, they can be reliable, nurturing and harmonious, a mix of both or varying degrees of those extremes. The multifaceted aspect of family dynamics is what drives great storytelling, creates almost endless possibilities for good narrative arcs, and more times than not, quite a  headache for the writer who has to sort through all these possibilities and make sense of the motives and motivations of a story’s characters.

Oh.

That’s me, isn’t it?

Oh well.

But then again, that’s half the fun of being a writer – finding and creating a world where almost anything can happen (and almost always does happen).

Finding Narrative Structure

An integral part in creating a story is figuring out the overall structure for the narrative, and how that narrative will fit within the confines of a series and/or saga (unless the story about which you are writing is intended to be a stand-alone novel – in that case, it’s the narrative structure of that single novel is of paramount concern). As stated (briefly) in previous entries, I’ve committed myself to writing an Epic Saga (and yes, the capital letters is warranted, as the scope of the MASC Chronicles, the chosen name for intended Epic Saga, extends across a vast amount of time, touches upon multiple genres, and features a very large cast of characters) and pinpointing the exact narrative structure and sequence of events has been a challenging endeavor. one that I relish in figuring out – at some point there will be index cards stuck on a cork board, with notes and musings written in a vast array of colors, which will (hopefully) provide a visual layout of the intricate ties the characters and plot points that will occur within each series, and how everything will make sense within the entire saga. I probably should invest in a whiteboard to map out the sequence of events with the same zeal as a football coach who charts out game plans (or whatever the correct terminology is – I’m not much of a sports fan).

Anyway.

While I still struggle with figuring out the sequence of events throughout the series/saga, I have (tentatively) figured out how each novel is to be structured (technically speaking of course – the actual sequence of events within the story is still under construction, as it were), and it alludes to my other great passion in life: theatre. I am quite an avid theatergoer, and overall theatre nerd/geek/dork – I have a great love for musicals and plays, amassing a good amount of (quasi-useless) knowledge about various shows, composers, playwrights and actors associated with any given production. I count among my acquaintances a number of theater actors (many of whom have acted on Broadway and off), and also count among my good friends composers and playwrights (some of whom have had their work performed off-off Broadway). If I could get over my quasi-inability to write plausible, non-melodramatic dialogue, I could be a playwright myself (of course, I do hope to adapt my own novels to the stage and/of screen one day).

But I digress (slightly).

A musical or a play is usually structured with two acts, and an intermission in between –  there are some plays/musicals that only have one-act, and then there are others that have multiple acts/intermissions.  More times than not, the action in a play/musical introduces a problem, task or other undertaking for which the characters need to resolve,overcome, or accomplish – obstacles are strewn along the way, and there is a build up to a dramatic high point by the end of the first act, sometimes a startling revelation, or cataclysmic event or, in the case of some musicals, a rousing, self-affirming anthem. Regardless of which device is used, it’s something that almost requires the need for an intermission, so that the audience can process what has transpired on stage (and a time to stretch one’s legs, make a restroom run or to buy merchandise and/or drinks). The second act picks up the action left off from the first act and progresses to the next dramatic high point wherein loose ends are tied, problems are resolved, and/or a task has been achieved (or not, depending on how the play/musical is structured). The aforementioned is only a vastly general outline of what plays/musicals are (and one I’ve just thought up from my experiences in seeing plays and musicals).

OK. the point of all that was to quasi-illustrate how I plan to structure my novels – that there will be essentially three parts: two acts and an intermission (though in the case of my novel(s), this will technically be more an interlude than an intermission). Each chapter will be a rough equivalent to a scene and will build up to a high point, wherein the interlude will impart other relevant information independent (maybe) to the narrative flow. Per my (intended) narrative structure, each “act” will be imparted in 1st person perspective (one I have only recently explored, as I have always tended to write in 3rd person omnipresent, which will the perspective used in the interlude/intermission). The actual details on how each scene/chapter will unfold is among the next set of tasks I will undertake.

What I (somewhat) know is that each novel will be a (quasi) self-contained story, and will be one aspect of a larger narrative – akin to a massive play cycle such as The Coast of Utopia trilogy, or perhaps as epic as Wagner’s Ring Cycle [at the rate I’m plotting out the Epic Saga, the latter might be a better comparison]. Of course, structuring my novels in this fashion is a bit forward thinking  on my part in anticipation of the possibility of adapting these stories into plays (maybe a musical), television series or film series. (Wishful thinking, perhaps, but one needs dreams).

Figuring out the structure of a novel (or several) is essential to the writing process, the rest is in the details (and figuring out who goes where and when and how and why is an interesting challenge). Time travel may be involved somehow and…

Oops.

Spoilers.