It’s Camp Time Again!

Anna Camp

Anna tries to sneak away to do a little writing at camp.

We’ve been busy for the past few weekends, between house repairs and guests from out of town.  So we haven’t really had time to write blog posts.  But now it’s July, and Camp NaNoWriMo is in session again.  It’s lots of fun, and we’ve been meeting up regularly to have write-ins with some of the people in our local NaNoWriMo group, just like we would in November.

I’m working on a novel that’s a sequel to two previous novels.  It took most of June to get prepared to write it, because I had to reread those two books and then figure out what all the characters had been doing in the time since.  And, because it’s a nautical story and I’m not really into boating, I had to do a lot of research.

S is finishing up a regency romance that she started a while ago.  And then she will be working on some fanfic projects when she’s done with that.

She has a new computer: a Lenovo X1 Yoga that she has named Gwen, after a female spy in our shared fantasy universe.  Her old computer, Konrad, developed a problem where it turned off suddenly without warning.  That’s bad enough if you’re just scrolling through your Twitter account, but if it happens when you’re trying to write, it’s really annoying.  So far Gwen is working out well, which is nice.  I’m still using Ellard, my HP Elitebook 850, S has promised that when I need a new computer, she will support me in getting a really nice one.  So that’s something to look forward to.

And now, back to writing.  I’m past the climax now, and now I just need to write a few chapters that wrap everything up nicely.

 

J

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Last Minute Changes

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Hewlett suddenly realizes he messed up the chronology in his fanfic. Simcoe wishes he’d just  post the next chapter already.

We’re still working on our revisions. S is trying to get the timeline right for her massive Turn fanfic. This can be very tricky. A lot of TV shows play fast and loose with their internal timeline, and Turn is no exception. S is going back and rewatching every episode to make sure that her scenes match up with the show, as much as she possibly can. Last night, for example, she realized that she’d written a scene where Ben and Caleb have a conversation, after which Ben goes and has supper with other officers. The trouble is that on the show, there are some scenes with Abe in between those events, and it’s clear that—at the very least—a day and a night must pass between Ben’s conversation and the supper. So now she has to figure out how to separate those two Ben scenes.

These problems are not unique to fanfic. I’m revising a story that takes place in our own Myrciaverse, and I had a very similar problem come up. My latest novel (which might hypothetically be S’s birthday present) is actually a series of short stories that happen between Old Habits Die Hard and Called to Account during the Myrcian civil war. As I was reading through the book this past week, I suddenly realized I’d made a serious mistake.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers (S might be reading this), but basically what I did was this: in the fifth and last story, I had character A ask character B to help character C escape. And I hinted that in fact character B and her bosses had agreed to do so. The trouble is that Called to Account takes place about half a year later, and in that story, it’s a major plot point that character B’s bosses have no idea where exactly character C has escaped to, and are desperate to find him.

You can see the problem, of course. If I just kept my new story as it was, it would suggest that somehow B’s bosses helped C escape, and then, in the course of a few months, completely forgot that fact. This is, at best, extremely problematic. So I had to figure out how to change the new story to fit what happens in Called to Account. It wasn’t terribly difficult to fix—it just required deleting a few lines and adding a couple paragraphs here and there. But it still took me a while to work it all out in my head and make sure that the new story still made sense on its own.

Eventually it all worked out, and I think the story is better now. Just don’t tell S about it. I want it to be a surprise for her.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to. Now we get to go do yard work—something that always makes even the toughest revisions seem like fun by comparison.

J

Leaving Camp

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Having finished Camp NaNo, George heads boldly into revision.

It’s May now, and that means April Camp NaNoWriMo is over. S and I celebrated our customary double win. I finished Old Habits Die Hard, and now we’re reading through it. S finished her new Turn fanfic, which we have been slowly typing up. I believe there are still three chapters that haven’t been typed yet.

May means revision, and it also means starting on a new story that might hypothetically be a present for someone whose birthday comes at the end of this month. I’m not naming any names, you understand. I’ve got an idea for a series of stories, each with different POV characters, that together make up sort-of a novel. I don’t normally write short stories, and these stories won’t really be all that short, but it’s interesting to think in terms of shorter, episodic story arcs, rather than a single longer one.

The stories are all going to take place during the same period of imaginary civil war in our Myrciaverse, covering the five years between the end of the novel I just wrote and the start of Called to Account, which I wrote as S’s Christmas present in 2015. I once made up a timeline of everything that happens during that century-long civil war, and about a week ago, as I was trying to come up with something to write next, I was looking at the events that happen in the five-year gap between books. A lot of it was interesting, but I couldn’t think of a single storyline that reasonably tied it all together. Hence, a series of shorter stories.

Also, as our friend who blogs over at Philosofishal pointed out to me, May is Short Story Month. So there’s that, too. Of course, the Short Story Month people seem to be envisioning much shorter stories than what I’m writing, but whatever.

In case anyone is curious about the progress of our recent move, we’re still settling into New Unicorn HQ. Today S continued organizing our awesome new library. Yesterday we planted a bunch of daylilies, so we’re both feeling as if we’ve accomplished a lot this weekend. Our hope is that over time, the lilies will spread out and take over a lot of the empty space in our garden. And then with any luck there will be less yard work.

And now we need to go start on supper. The party just never stops here.

J

What Did I Say?

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George is especially careful about what he says. (Pic from farfarawaysite.com)

As Camp NaNo comes to an end, J and I are revising the projects we worked on during the month. J wrote another Myrcia ‘verse novel that I am very much looking forward to reading, and I wrote some fanfic. I actually posted a completed short piece a few days ago, but I have a longer Turn fanfic that needs some work. Where I want to focus most in revision is on the voice of one of my POV characters. (Who happens to be George Washington, by the way.) J has been helping me get it typed up, so he’s gotten a taste of what I’m doing and what I’d like to achieve. When it comes to fixing Washington’s voice, these are the things we’ve come up with me to focus on.

Word choice

This is probably the most obvious part of character voice—what words does the character use. Some word choice decisions are easy to make, like when a character has specific technical knowledge, they speak in technical terms. As an example, J has been to law school, so he makes jokes about things like “prior consideration” and “meretricious consideration” that someone who has no legal training would never say. (These are the legal reasons, he tells me, that I am not allowed to pay him in kisses when he does me a favor.)

But there are also harder word choice issues. As I’m going through my first draft, there are words that don’t quite hit the ear as well as I would like them to. Last night, J found one for me. Originally, I wrote:

But he could not stand the way Benjamin looked at him.

J, bless his heart, immediately suggested I change “stand” to “endure,” which sounds a million times more like the Washington I’m trying to write. So, it will be a slog, but I really need to go through all of his POV chapters, and look for those words that just don’t sound quite like Washington, and replace as many as I can.

Level of Formality

How formal is the character? This is a character voice trait J and I have been talking a lot about since we first started writing. Does the character always get forms of address correct? Do they lean toward being too formal or too familiar? Are they painfully correct in their grammar? (For this last one, we often talk about the possibly apocryphal statement of Winston Churchill’s about never ending sentences with a preposition, meaning, would the character actually say, “up with which I will not put”?)

If there is one thing J and I agree on, it is that Washington is very formal. And he is formal in a studied way. We both agree that Turn does an excellent job of translating what we know of the real Washington to the character played so brilliantly by Ian Kahn. Washington lacked much formal education, and he regretted this and felt self-conscious about it all his life. He attempted to teach himself as much as he could, but people intentionally trying to be correct often come across as stilted, as opposed to someone who learned proper behavior at a young age when it could become a seamless part of their personality. And yet, I don’t want my Washington to ever cross that line into awkwardness or pomposity, so it’s a delicate balance I’m not quite hitting just yet. But that’s what revision is for after all.

Dialog vs Internal Monologue

J also pointed out that characters’ internal thoughts do not have to have the same level of formality as their speech. Washington will definitely always be formal in his dialog, but we both agree that he might be slightly less formal in his own mind. He might even think about whether or not what he just said was the correct level of formal. It’s a subtle difference, but I’m going to see if I can manage it.

And that’s what I’m up to as we pack up and get ready to leave Camp. What I’ll be doing in May is anyone’s guess. Besides posting this fic once it’s ready, I’ll probably return to the Regency erotica I had been working on before Turn happened to me. I’m actually quite pleased with what I’ve done on it, and look forward to getting back to it.

~S

Revision at Camp

Washington Letter

George suddenly realizes just how much revision his first draft is going to need.

S and I are still hard at work on our projects for Camp NaNoWriMo. In fact, if all goes well, we might both finish today. I’ve got one more chapter to write in my novel, Old Habits Die Hard, and S has one chapter left in the big fanfic project she’s working on. We’ve both already hit our goals for the month, which means yet another double win for Team Unicorn.

Once we finish writing, it’ll be time to start revising. I already started rereading my book from the beginning, even as I was finishing it up. I had time to do this because I’ve been trying to limit myself to only writing three chapters a day. Yes, I know that sounds like a humblebrag, but in the past (particularly during November) I have sometimes just kept writing and writing, even long after I had done a reasonable amount of work for the day. It’s exhausting. The difference between writing 5,000 words a day and writing 8,000 or 10,000 is whether I get to do anything else besides writing.

In other news, we’re still in the process of moving. With luck (fingers crossed) we may have a buyer for the original Unicorn HQ. Once that’s finished, I think we will have to go out for dinner or something to celebrate. Or maybe just take a nap. It’s been a very long moving adventure for us.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with us. Now back to writing!

J

Busy at Camp

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Anna hits her word count for the day.  Ben and Caleb haven’t even started their projects yet.

We’re in the middle of the first week of Camp NaNoWriMo, and of course we were so excited about it, that we forgot to post a blog on Sunday. I suppose we could also blame it on the fact that Sunday was Easter, but let’s be honest: we forgot.

I’m ten chapters into my new novel, Old Habits Die Hard. One of the main characters is a nun trying to save her convent. Hence the title. (Picture S groaning and holding her head.) So far I think it’s going pretty well. I’ve introduced most of the POV characters, and I’m in the middle of the inciting incident, where the characters become invested in the plot. And hopefully the reader, too.

S is working on some fanfic projects, of course. Maybe next week she’ll post something about them. She’s writing in a new fandom: Turn, the TV show about Revolutionary War spies. It’s been kind of fun helping her do research on George Washington and other various figures of the time. My parents are getting rid of some of their books, and I made sure to grab any that had anything to do with the Revolution.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to. I’ve got to get back to work. My next chapter is from the POV of a sad teenage girl who is missing the boy she loves, but can never have. Her life is hard enough already; I think it would be unkind of me to keep her waiting any longer.

J

Heading into Camp

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From the set of Turn via landis487 Instagram.

Amidst all the boxes and cleaning and repairmen of not one but two houses, we’re attempting to get ready for Camp NaNoWriMo. J is doing his usual outlining and character prompts for a new Myrcia ‘verse novel, and I’m…. As I often do for Camp, I’m going to juggle multiple projects, trying to make a little headway on all of them, and then running with whichever particularly catches my fancy. There’s a Regency erotica novella I started a few months ago that is honestly going quite well when I can squeeze in time to work on it. And I might try to tackle some Vikings fanfic that I’ve promised some folks and I’ve been meaning to write for ages. And I will definitely find time for a Turn fanfic I’m planning and have even written a bit of. (I’ll admit, I’ve become quite smitten with the Tallmadge/Washington ship, and I’m looking forward to writing more of this one a lot.) And who knows what else might pop up for me. It’s Camp, so anything can happen.

~S

Learning All the Wrong Lessons

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My homework was never quite like this.

Not that we’re bloodthirsty or anything, but we sure like ourselves a good character death.  We’ve talked here before about when it’s appropriate, and sometimes even necessary, to kill characters.

Just in case you don’t feel like clicking on those links, our three rules for offing a character are as follows:

1) Would it be intellectually dishonest not to kill the character?

2) Is it dramatically the right choice?

3) Does the character dying have interesting repercussions for those left alive?

One of the examples we used to show the proper killing of a character was Ned Stark from Game of Thrones.  As S wrote:

It would be incredibly dishonest and make the mighty Lannisters look incredibly weak if Ned Stark fails to die. And the drama in that moment is heart wrenching. Plus, so much of what matters in the moment of his death is how it will change the lives of his children, most importantly Robb. Everything about Ned Stark’s death accomplishes precisely what a writer (and reader/viewer) hopes it will.

So Ned’s death was a great moment in the story, and a great moment in TV.  Unfortunately, as we were watching The 100 this past week, it occurred to us that other shows are learning exactly the wrong lesson from Game of Thrones.  Rather than learning that killing a character can drive the story and provide motivation for the characters, it appears as if the writers of The 100 learned that it’s really cool to just bump off characters randomly for shock value.

In what’s been called the show’s ongoing Hunger Games storyline, characters like Jasper and Roan keep getting killed, not because there’s any logic or justification for it, but seemingly just because the writers want us to think “ZOMG!  They totally killed that guy!”  And then applaud them for their bold storytelling.  The worst part is the violation of the third of our rules: there are zero repercussions for anyone left alive, and in fact the other characters barely remember those who died at all.  But then again, that’s always been a problem for that show.  See, for example, poor old…oh, what’s his name?  It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Oh yes, Finn.

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Remember when he was the love of Clarke’s life?  No?  Well, that’s okay.  Neither does Clarke. 

So that’s what’s been on our mind this week.  In other news, S just finished posting her latest fanfic series, and the feedback from readers has been very good.  So huzzah for her!  And I’m about ten chapters into my latest Myrciaverse book, which might hypothetically be a birthday present for someone who might hypothetically be S.

Yes, we write stories for each other for our birthdays.  It’s the unicorniest thing ever.  So I’ve got to get back to that.  In the meantime, let’s all hope The 100 figures out how to make character deaths count.  I mean, I’m not holding my breath, but it could happen.

J

The Long and the Short of It

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my silly edit from Versailles

Last weekend I finished the longest solo work of my writing life. (J and I discussed that I’ve easily written 200K+ words of the Quartet on my own, but that’s not really a solo project.) It’s a Musketeers fanfic of limited appeal I started it back in July. It will never be widely read, and it took a boatload of time and effort to write, but I’m really glad I did it. I think it’s quite good, which is something I almost never say about my own writing. I’m, frankly, crazy proud of it. I’m still in the process of posting it for the rest of the world to see, so it’s not out of my life yet, but the blood and tears have been shed, and it’s time to think about what’s next.

Returning to the pattern I had going about this time last year, I think I’m going to juggle multiple projects, at least until one insists upon itself and demands my full attention. Some of it’s going to be original fiction, some is going to be fanfic, and some of it will be Myrcia ‘verse. It’s going to be a mix of short and long pieces, with a healthy dose of outlining thrown in.

The Swift True Road/Mercenary stories

This is my Italian Renaissance mercenary novel I started back for NaNoWriMo.  I never felt truly comfortable with the setting, and my outline is a giant mess, and I was trying to squeeze way too much into one novel. Dropping it was one of the best choices I ever made. But I do want to get back to it, and this time I want to do it right. I asked J for advice, and he came up with something I wasn’t expecting.

Write short stories.

“Huh?” I thought as I tried to figure out how that was going to fix my novel, but then he explained. Since part of my problem was not feeling comfortable in the world, J suggested I write some short stories, almost like character prompts. I should focus on one character and a part of the setting I need to understand better, and just write that. Once I’ve written, for instance, Francesco’s first night in camp as a mercenary, I’ll know more about that character and how mercenary camps work. (It also helps focus my research, so I’m not “GAH! Must know entire Renaissance world!”) I want to write at least one story for each of my named characters, so I’m thinking that perhaps after a dozen or so of these, I’ll be ready to dive back into restructuring the novel. And I’ll have a nice little collection of short stories I might look into posting somewhere.

Two Shots of Bourbon/Versailles fanfic

I think I’m about to dive into a new fandom with my fanfic—Versailles. I mentioned the show briefly  after we finished watching Season 1 the first time, and since then my obsession with the show has just grown. I’m particularly interested in the brothers at the center of the show, Louis XIV and Philippe I, Duke of Orleans. But as I’ve started outlining my first fanfic and toying with ideas, I’m finding myself a little hesitant for a lot of reasons. My biggest concern is getting Louis’s voice right. Chatting with the lovely Storyskein this morning, I mentioned that maybe I should do a one-shot from Louis’s POV before diving into the longer fic I have planned. In other words…

Write short stories.

I already have a one-shot piece in mind to write from Louis’s POV, after which switching to Philippe’s POV for a story would probably not go amiss. (Just because I’m not as nervous about getting his voice correct right now doesn’t mean I won’t be later if I skip practicing it now.) Also, a couple of short pieces would be a nice way to introduce myself to a new fandom. Plus, having just finished my longest work, I could probably use the mental change of something shorter.

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When I’ll get around to actually writing this, who knows. I certainly won’t be ready for April Camp NaNoWriMo, but perhaps July Camp or NaNo proper in November. In any case, it’s never too early to start extreme outlining. I actually outlined Oleg 3 (Fiat Justitia) a year and a half before I wrote it, so there’s no reason I can’t get to work on this at any time J might be up to diving into it with me. (I will admit I really adore outlining with J. It’s one of my great joys in life.) I already know a lot of what I want to do in this one, it will just be a matter of filling in blanks.

And that’s what’s on my plate. And it looks really quite tasty. I’ll be sure to report back on how the short story theory works out.

~S

It’s Not a Retcon Until You Hit “Publish”

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Don’t zoom in unless you want spoilers!

Here at Unicorn HQ, we have a three-day weekend, which means plenty of time for writing projects.  At the moment, of course, we’re just sitting around drinking coffee, but we’ll get back to work later on.  Maybe after we go grocery shopping.  But rest assured, we’ll be hard at work sometime soon.

Last night, we worked on the outline for S’s latest fanfic saga.  Maybe at some point she’ll post some more about it, but for now all you need to know is that it’s a sort of romance story with a love triangle.  As originally conceived, it was all about the romance, though with just enough plot to explain how, at various points of the story, two of the three members of the triangle get into rather serious trouble.  (I can’t say how they get in trouble, because that would be a spoiler.)

So a few weeks ago, S started posting chapters of this fanfic at her favorite fanfic-publishing site.  And an odd thing happened.  It turned out that her readers were actually quite interested in the plot.  They liked her original characters and said they were looking forward to seeing what happened later.

You can see her problem now, can’t you?  The plot was never intended to be important.  It was just window dressing—an excuse to get the members of the love triangle in position (as it were) for their romance to blossom.  Now S suddenly realized that she really needed to flesh out the plot.  And that meant going back and outlining again.

We got out the butcher paper, rolled it out on the floor, and she wrote out a quick summary of each chapter.  Then we went through, figured out where the plotting and political intrigue could be expanded, and wrote it in with a pencil.  After that, we did some quick character profiles for some of her original characters.  In the story as originally written, these people barely showed up.  But if they’re going to become a bit more important, S needs to know what they look like, where they’re from, and what their motivations are.

This kind of re-outlining is always a bit tricky.  When you write a scene, it hopefully has a certain flow or rhythm to it.  So it’s not always easy to find places to add new information.  Let’s say you have a scene where Susan and Bob are talking about their friend Frank.  And in your new outline, you’ve decided (for some reason) that it’s really important to find some way to mention that Susan and Frank went to college together.  Maybe that could be entirely straightforward—rather than telling a story about something stupid Frank did at last year’s office Christmas party, you can just change that so it’s a story about something Frank did at a frat party in college.  Bingo—you’ve got that information into the scene for the reader to see, and almost nothing had to change.

Sometimes, though, you’re left pulling your hair and banging your head against the keyboard, thinking, “There’s no where to put it!  There’s no reason why Susan’s college years would ever come up in this conversation!”  Now you’re faced with either rewriting the conversation from scratch, or writing a new scene.  Which means more outlining, of course.

But that’s what you have to do, and that’s what we’re up to this weekend.  Also, I’m still working my way through the reference guide that I’m writing about the main city in the Myrciaverse.  Last night I invented a number of markets and shopping districts.  It’s good fun.  Just the thing for a cold winter afternoon.

J