Monday Meta (4/9/2012)

Not much to say about yesterday’s writing. I worked on another "beginning" scene, from Ordicus Metherel’s POV the night he falls into a coma, which sort of sets the whole book into motion. I am still not happy with it, so the search for a way to start this book continues. (This one fails because there is too much information delivered. It’s really frickin’ hard to introduce a new world in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the reader.)

The other scene I worked on was sort of an introspective look at Mila the night after she went off on Hayden. Those are the kinds of scenes I generally prefer to write (getting inside characters’ heads), especially when I find my interest in a story fading. I still haven’t quite figured out what is motivating her actions, though. She has become a much bigger character than was even intended.

An Unintended Day Off

Yesterday was an epic fail of a writing day, the biggest failure in recent memory. I suppose I could lie and say I was too busy with Easter festivities, but the truth is that I didn’t do anything special and in fact had the same amount of time for writing that I always do on Sundays.

I managed to write a single sentence during the day. Actually, I wrote two versions of the same sentence. (Because someone asked, that sentence was: “Mila thought the man deserved a beating for displaying such insolence in front of the sovereign.”) Then, around 9:00 pm, I buckled down to put 2,000 words on the page before bed no matter what … and got through about 100 words before giving up for the night.

This is becoming a worrisome problem (the inability to write on weekends). Suppose I were a full-time writer. Every day would essentially be a weekend. Then I’d be totally screwed. I need to figure this out.

It’s also worrisome that I haven’t been much “into” this Tel book for the past few days. Supposedly that means I need to go back and find the “spark” that made this project interesting to me in the first place. Or I just need to quit getting distracted. Or something.

Burning Grain, New Characters, and Names

Yesterday’s writing: Vence rescued the Metherel cousins from the castle prison. Of course, as planned, he was caught in the process. Then I started a new chapter from Mila’s POV, where Lord Garret receives the news that someone has poisoned his troops, burned up his food stores, and freed his prisoners. He goes to have a chat with Vence, now a prisoner.

There’s another “getting things right” issue I worry about here. Does flour burn? :) I have no idea. I’m just assuming that if you dump lamp oil on a bunch of sacks of flour and grain and then set them on fire, they would actually burn. I seem to recall stories of grain silos exploding, and I think they did something like that in Mythbusters. I’m also making the possibly bold assumption that a fire would actually burn for a while inside a closed stone room inside a castle.

A new character popped up in these scenes: Cedrec the steward. I don’t know if “steward” is the historically correct job title for him, but he’s the guy who handles all the mundane bits of running a castle and reports to the lord. (In GoT terms, he might be the “Hand of the King.”) Basically I needed someone to wake up Lord Garret and tell him something bad happened, and it didn’t seem like something a lowly guard or servant would do.

It’s kind of annoying when a new character appears like this, because now I have to start thinking things like: Where did he come from? What does he look like? What’s he sound like? What does he wear? Did he work for the Andalorans before, or did he come with the castle? Is he like that guy in the White House who’s there through all the different administrations to manage the staff? But if he is, wouldn’t that be kind of awkward to work for the guy who just violently overthrew the previous castle owner? And it just goes on and on. And I’ll have to go back and insert him into some previous scenes, too.

You might be wondering where I get these names. (You probably aren’t, but that’s what I’m going to write about anyway). For this book, I use this supposedly census-based Random Name Generator with the obscurity factor set to 99 until I find something I like. Many of the names I use unchanged, which tells me there are a lot of people in the world with fantasy-sounding names. Here’s one that just came up: Indira Dilgard. That could be a character in this book. And another: Margit. A good first name for a woman. And here’s two more: Coretta and Gayle. I try to use somewhat modern-sounding names and surnames for the Elahi in Tel. The Buhites, on the other hand, typically get one or two syllable, simple names (Ril, Ali, Swen, etc.). (Like one might give to a pet.)

Rescue In Progress

Only wrote 800 words yesterday, which still put me 500 words over my 5-day goal. Most of those words went into the continuation of Vence’s subversive mission to bring down the castle. After poisoning the well, his next goal is to rescue Hayden and three Metherel cousins from the prison. (Except when he gets to the prison, only the three cousins are there. Mila took Hayden upstairs the day before.) The two guards at the prison are easily dispatched, so now he’s ready to open the cell doors. Not much to say about it, really, except I thought the guards were a little too easily dispatched (but really, they deserved it, since they were not paying attention). I might go back and make it a little harder in a revision.

Poison and Pain

In the continuing adventures of authoring The Sovereign of Tel:

First I wrote about Vence, who had infiltrated the castle, starting his plan to weaken it from the inside. First he had Ali (the cook) add some poison to the food supplies going to the castle soldiers, then, after dark, he dumped a bunch of poison into the castle’s well.

When I’m writing about medieval life, I worry a lot about "getting things right." So when I put an indoor well into this castle, I wasn’t sure if actual castles had indoor wells, even though, to me, it seems like a pretty logical thing to do. If you’re building a castle to withstand sieges for months on end, you would need to have some supply of water inside the castle walls, right? So why not build it inside the keep so it would be super convenient? I couldn’t think of any reason this couldn’t be done with 14th century technology. I found a few references to castle wells in my primary research sources (Google), so I feel pretty good about that bit.

What I’m not confident about is the poison that Vence is using. I made up something for the text with a note to come back and review it later. He gave Ali one "bottle" to put in the food, and he dumped about a gallon of "stuff" into the well. Is that enough to make everyone sick? Is it too much? Is it even possible to make people sick without killing them? Would anyone in the 14th century know how to do that? I have no idea. Somehow I don’t think I’m going to find a lot of references to "how medieval poisons worked" on Google, either. (Boy, was I wrong.)

After that scene, I worked on a revision/continuation of a scene fragment that occurs at about the same time. Hayden Metherel (Elenora’s brother) is held prisoner in the castle. Mila Collato, in her continuing efforts to degrade, humiliate, and generally cause pain to Hayden, has him chained to a wall. Mila gets too close to him and he lashes out and tries to choke her to death. Mila has a bit of a meltdown (somewhat understandably under the circumstances) and ends up whipping him senseless.

Hayden and Mila are tough characters to write. They are both messed up in different ways. This scene was Hayden’s POV, but we get to see just how close to the brink of sanity Mila treads. It’s definitely one of the most emotionally turbulent scenes in the book so far. (It’s not clear to me why Mila is so close to the brink of sanity, or why she has such a grudge against Hayden, but I feel like that will come out soon.)

The biggest challenge writing this scene was avoiding clichés. I try to notice when I’m using a cliché phrase in my writing, and come up with alternate phrasing. For example, in describing the pain of being flogged, the cliché phrase would be something like: "Pain exploded in his back" or "the world erupted in pain" or something like that. I sooo wanted to write that, but I forced myself to think of something else. What I came up with was, "When the lashes of the whip landed on his back, pain overloaded all of his nerves." Not terribly dramatic, but at least it’s different.

The other cliché thing I tried to avoid was where the character thinks to himself, "I won’t scream," and then they do scream. (Usually in a paragraph by itself.) That’s been done way too much. So Hayden did in fact tell himself not to scream, but I left it sort of ambiguous as to whether he did or not. He thinks he didn’t scream, but things were pretty fuzzy. "Time became something he couldn’t perceive."

You can probably tell by now that I skip around a lot when I’m writing. It was a revolutionary moment for me as a creative writer when it sunk into my head that you don’t have to write everything in the exact order it happens. I highly recommend it.

I started my writing evening early, and I pushed myself until I passed 70,000 words total, so I ended up with 2,500 for the day, finishing about 9:15. So it was pretty good writing day. I only have to write a handful of words Friday to make my 8,000 word weekday goal.