As I said last month, this year’s NaNo project started out as an AU (alternate universe, for those not acquainted with fanfic terms) fanfic of my favorite movie, Velvet Goldmine. But this wasn’t going to be one of those “serial numbers just barely filed off” projects; I did so little planning before it became an original project that almost nothing about it ever had a connection to the movie. (The movie’s main three male characters were imported, but none of them have much connection to the originals. Cal is the most like his inspiration, Curt Wild, but even he has a lot of differences, given his knowledge of steam-powered airship design, affinity with giant birds of prey and his tragic first love, who is the person he loved most in the world, and who was always totally original. Except that he kind of looks like Ichabod Crane. (From the Disney animated version.) I’m not sure why he looks like that. It just sort of happened.)
So, my reflections on finishing the project: first and foremost, it’s a mess. The point of this first book (in a series of eight, as currently planned) was to get them to learn about the MacGuffin (it doesn’t have a name yet) and get their hands on the book of clues as to where to find the pieces of it. Well, okay, that’s not the whole point, but that’s its role in the bigger story. So part of the process of finding out about it was to find the journal of the dead fiance of one of the main characters. He had been researching the MacGuffin (and was killed over it), and had in turn learned a lot of his information from the journal of a man who lived a thousand years earlier. (Very sturdy paper!) So I kind of had this huge info dump as one of the characters was reading the dead fiance’s journal. I mean, I broke it up over a few days, with other things happening in between, but…not good storytelling. I’m thinking that my first task in a re-write will be to write the entire journal of the man from a thousand years earlier, divide it up into neat little chunks, and stick them at the beginning of each chapter.
But that’s barely scratching the surface of what needs to be done.
One of my leads, Elliot, has a photographic memory, but starts out the book illiterate. So, right away, I have my work cut out for me. First off, I have to research photographic memories, and get a basic idea of whether or not he’d actually be able to do any of the stuff I said he could. (Though given the fantasy world setting, I have a bit of lee-way there.) Then I need to figure out how he managed to maintain his illiteracy until he was 19. (Not that he actually wanted to, mind you.) My original thought in the planning phase was “well, he’s from a tiny farming town, so no one ever tried to teach him.” Only his country is largely inspired by Victorian Britain, so there was no way that he was given no schooling. I only realized that like the day NaNo started (or maybe one or two days earlier), when I had no time to research possible reasons why he would have failed to learn to read. As I was writing, I was thinking some kind of disability, which I could research later, and then re-write his behavior to match it. So I had him acting a little weird, sometimes slow and sometimes super-perceptive. But ultimately, there’s just no way he could have such a convenient disability — especially in that I have no idea if one can have both a learning disability and a photographic memory. But I constantly had Elliot (and another guy from his village) refer to himself as “touched,” not in the more modern sense of “crazy” but in the old “touched by the faeries” sense, because people didn’t understand what to make of someone who could copy out a page of a book (for example) from memory without knowing what any of it said. So, long story short, I was thinking I might make it so that he could actually see faeries, and the reason he didn’t learn to read in school was the simplest possible explanation: rather than paying attention to the teacher, he was watching the faeries dance (or whatever they were doing) and if no one else could see them, that would only make them all the more leery of the poor kid. If I end up going with that explanation, then I have to go in and normalize his weirder behavior, and if I don’t, then I have no idea what I do need to do.
Of course, it all needs a lot of work. There were a lot of things where stuff really should have happened, but I was too eager to get to the next stage to actually have any of it happen. For example, when they went to where Elliot’s dead fiance was killed, realistically, they should have gone across to the island where the dead fiance had been studying an ancient temple (and where he found the thousand year old diary) and examined the temple themselves. But I couldn’t imagine the townspeople giving them a ride to the temple, so I took two stupid steps to get them out of going there: one, I said that the same men who killed the fiance had destroyed the ruins of the temple, and two, I had the message that the king’s men were trying to steal the airship arrive the very next morning, so they’d have to flee. I really shouldn’t have done either of those things.
Random other thoughts: I have a deep problem with names. Here’s an excerpt from the lengthy sequence where Cal is reading the journal of Elliot’s dead fiance:
“I don’t know if it has anything to do with it,” the journal went on. “Maybe it’s nothing. But I know about that temple. The [ArghNoNameReady] Temple. There’s a book about it in the University library. [HandyGuy] [TheUsefullyKnowledgable] wrote a book about it called The Temple of the [MacGuffin].
Everything in  is a temp name. Unlike in previous efforts, I’ve decided to use brackets to make sure I can’t miss any in doing find-replace stuff. Speaking of names, when the name generator gave me “Fergus Hughes” I thought it was perfect for the name of Elliot’s dead lover, but the more I looked at Fergus in context as a name, the more it felt wrong for that character. Dunno what I do want to name him, though.
Also, I have a weird problem with typos. Not the usual kind. (Though I do sometimes do the usual kind, like when I wrote about two guys sitting there sipping their “beets”.) Weird stuff. Like “be glad we took us with you.” Or in this sequence…
Elliot headed to the tavern, where he found Cal half-passed out, lying across the top of a table. “You’re going to hurt yourself at this rate,” Elliot told him, frowning at him with concern. That was a tactic his mother used to use. It hadn’t worked on his father, but it had always worked on Elliot.
Cal sat up, with a sloppy grin on his face, and let out a wet laugh. “Hey, there’s the little guy! You’re finally gonna join me for a drink!” “Who cares?” Cal let out a wet laugh. “’Sides, I can take it! Donchu know I’m Oscan? We can-we can drink you under the table any day! So bring it on!”
“I’m not interested in getting drunk with you,” Elliot sighed, sitting at the table. “It’s just that I’m bored.”
“So pull up a mug and pour yourself a seat,” Cal insisted. “A drink or two will drive away the boredom!”
“I don’t think seats can be poured,” Elliot countered, somewhat appalled giggled.
That “pull up a mug and pour yourself a seat” thing was not originally drunken misspeaking. That was a typo that I decided to run with. And you see all that strikethrough text? I went almost three hundred words into an “angry drunk” version of the scene before deciding that it stank, sliding it all into strikethrough and trying again. The new version eventually went to what I feel like is one of the best passages I’ve ever written. (Not that it has that much competition…) It takes a while to get there, but here it is:
“Stop talkin’ ‘bout that guy,” Cal said. “Here, have a drink. Cheer yourself up. Not good to waste your time obsessin’ about a dead guy. You’re too pretty to spend your life moping.” As he spoke, he pushed his mug towards Elliot. Not only was the liquid inside horribly smelly, but the mug itself clearly hadn’t been washed in days, and had drips and dribbles of several colors dried on the outside.
Elliot pushed Cal’s hand and the mug within it away from him. As he did so, he felt that the drips on the outside weren’t completely dry, leaving an unpleasant sticky feeling on his fingers. “I am not going to get drunk with you! And I’m not obsessed. I’m just…not quite ready to let go yet.” After he had spent years thinking Fergus had forgotten about him, only to learn that he had never stopped loving him for a moment, and had died a horrible death that Elliot had known nothing about…he owed it to Fergus to spend a long time tying himself up in his own grief. “But if you’re so uninterested in dead people, then give me Fergus’s journal back!” Elliot was desperate to know if Fergus ever mentioned him in his own private thoughts. What if he had sounded more eager than he really was in his letters, because he hadn’t wanted to hurt Elliot’s feelings by admitting that his ardor was beginning to cool?
“You don’t want that boring old thing,” Cal insisted. “C’mon, let’s have a good time.” He put an arm around Elliot’s shoulders, bringing their faces so close together that Cal’s booze breath was overpowering. “I wanna see how well you can handle your liquor.”
Elliot shoved his arm off his shoulders. “What did you do with Fergus’s journal?” Elliot demanded.
“I didn’t do nothing with it! It’s just in my room. Stop being so boring! Loosen up, experience life!”
“How is this experiencing life?!” Elliot asked, gesturing at the cold, empty, stone tavern. “Drinking yourself stupid in an empty room? This is avoiding life—this is a sickness! Try and think about how this looks to everyone else for a change! Do you think Ouden and I like seeing you do this to yourself? I thought we were starting to be friends, but—”
“We are friends, that’s why we should drink together!”
“—friends don’t want to see their friends spend their whole lives crazed with drink!” Elliot went on, ignoring the interruption. “Did you always act like this? Is that the real reason the prince left you?”
Cal’s smile faded for a moment. “Payden loved to drink with me,” he said, a nostalgic smile replacing the old one. “For a Beretanian, he could drink pretty good. Bet you can’t drink half as much as he could,” he added, pushing the mug towards Elliot again.
“Fergus would hate me if I agreed to join you in this,” Elliot said, shaking his head. “And I’d hate me, too.” As he felt tears suddenly welling up in his eyes, Elliot smiled despite himself. “Of course I would, if Fergus would.” He placed a hand on his heart. “Because Fergus lives here now. He’s part of me, and he’ll always be with me, and I have to live my life right for his sake. I know I’ll probably find someone else someday, but I know Fergus wants me to be happy, so I won’t feel guilty about it.” Elliot put his hand over Cal’s heart instead. “If you really loved that master of yours, then he’s in here. Do you think he wants to see you like this?”
A choking sound came from Cal’s throat, and Elliot thought he could see tears in Cal’s eyes, but then the other man shoved his hand away. “If you wanna be a killjoy, you can go hang out with Ouden,” he growled, then downed his entire mug in one long gulp. “I’m gettin’ another drink.”
Important detail: the “master” Elliot mentioned is Cal’s dead lover, who was…hmm, how do I explain it? Okay, you know about the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and his young lover Antinoos? Cal was to his dead lover what Antinoos was to Hadrian (literally; Osca is based on Imperial Rome but with roughly 19th century technology), and the proper term for what he was to Cal is “domnus” (from the Latin dominus, lord or master, as Cal’s language is essentially Latin), but it translates to “master” in the languages spoken by the other characters. So in Cal’s POV, it’s always “domnus,” but the others say “master.” Which would hopefully not be confusing in context, but it’s hard for me to say since I’m so close to it. (As to the whole translation thing, btw, they have and alchemical potion that basically works like a Babel Fish. Because trying to have everyone learn everyone else’s languages would complicate this way too much. And they already have freakin’ pegasi and giant eagles, so alchemy does not seem like a stretch.) Anyway, Cal wasn’t a slave, or even a servant, but he had been assigned to a position as the dead guy’s catamite. It’s just that then they actually fell in love. (It’s important to note that the dead guy primarily wanted someone to talk to, not to have sex with. And I never managed to get it written down, but he had given the people making the assignments a list of things he was looking for in a companion, so the assignment was not totally random, and their compatibility is not a complete surprise.)
Oh, and Prince Payden is an ex-boyfriend of Cal’s. Specifically, the one that was originally Brian Slade. Not that there’s any similarity between the two apart from them both being bisexual and pretty; even the nature of their break-ups with Cal and Curt is completely different.
That quoted section brings up one of the big surprises of the month’s endeavor, though. You may have come to the conclusion that Cal was making advances on Elliot during part of that quote. And, indeed, he was. But as originally planned, Elliot was already supposed to be smitten with Cal long before book one was over, and Cal was never supposed to see their relationship as anything more than “friends with benefits,” across the whole series. Instead, Cal is already interested, and Elliot is nowhere near ready to move on past his dead fiance, and doesn’t seem to like Cal very much. (Hence merely “starting to be friends” instead of Cal’s more certain “we are friends.”) I don’t want to force the characters into anything that doesn’t feel natural, but if things keep going this way, it’s going to really mess up some of my later plans. The ending (of the series) will have to be scrapped, at least in part, and a big sequence I had planned where someone else came between them will never work as planned if Elliot isn’t the more passionate party in the relationship. (Or if there isn’t a relationship.) It’s not a huge deal, but definitely a surprise. Especially having Cal end up being interested and Elliot being utterly indifferent. That really was the last thing I was expecting from them. It has at least taught me not to make any further plans for interpersonal relationships until I’ve re-written this first book and gotten it to a finished state; who knows what’s going to happen the next time around?
Aaaaaanyway, it’s a mess, and as shallow and amateurish as everything I write, but I feel like there’s at least a core that’s somewhat worth cleaning up. Which is important, since I have to make it publicly available eventually in order to spite a creep on the NaNo forum who (and I’m not making this up) said I would be a racist if I had people of more than one skin color in my novel. I mean, he’s a well-known troll who hangs around on the Reference Desk and Worldbuilding boards and attacks everyone who posts, trying to discourage them from writing, but…ugh, people like that tick me off.
Oh, yeah, one last problem with the book: it still doesn’t have a name. I have no idea what I wanna call it. Or the series. Kind of a problem…though it’ll be a bigger problem after the rewrite, naturally. (Not sure when I’m going to start the re-write. I want to let it sit for several months before I go back to it. If it’s not as fresh in my mind, I’ll spot things I’d miss if I looked at it now.)
And I’m thinking of actually using the half-off code for Scrivener this year; this rewrite is going to be pretty complex, so maybe I need something a little more high-level than Word this time.