My last few posts have talked about entering the 3-Day Novel contest, my plan to write Undine (an HP Lovecraft-goes to the Interlake gothic), how I managed to start late, and how I wrote Act I.
Sunday (Day 2):
I woke up, walked out for coffee and a cinnamon bun, and then it was day 2. The writing is going to be slow on Day 1, when you’re warming up, and by the 3rd day you should have enough momentum built up to roll you out the door, but the 2nd day is when the real work happens.
I had to write 3 nearly finished pages an hour; you can type faster than that but it’s hard to write much more (1). So while you might have roughly figured on something sort of happening at a certain point, you don’t really have time to worry about your outline, only about what has to happen next. And if there isn’t enough narrative push to tell you, it’s best not to worry about the plot. Just do like Raymond Chandler: have a man come through the door holding a gun (2) and write your way out of it.
So that 2nd day, unplanned and expected settings and secondary characters appeared and involved themselves and revealed things I hadn’t known about the central mystery of Undine (the narrator’s missing girlfriend). I had an unplanned journey by road and water. The RCMP came back. My protagonist had the dreams of a troubled man alone in a cabin in the woods.
I moved my writing spot between tables and chairs, I went for brief walks (no indoor toilet). I had coffee. I could have drunk a lot of coffee to keep going, obviously, or I could have used Ritalin or Allertec or something. And it’s not that I didn’t think about it — but it’s a 3-day contest and I’m not Hunter S. Thompson, and you know, I wasn’t trying to stay awake because I had to fix Apollo 13: it was just a writing challenge for me and my normal brain.
Taking a hint from the 3DN website, I bought dark chocolate and ordered a pizza (no indoor toilet at our cabin, but we do have delivery pizza). That was the best advice they had and probably the best advice I can give too: if you think of the 3DN as an exploration of your underworld, then pizza and dark chocolate are your iron rations(3). Don’t worry about fibre; there’ll be plenty of time to poop after you level up, when the book is done.
By the end of the 2nd day I was not quite done the 2nd Act, but I had a good sense of how it would end. And I went to bed and dreamt the dreams of a troubled man alone in a cabin in the woods.
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- Italo Calvino famously played with this idea in his collection of linked opening chapters, If On a Winter Night a Traveller and, look, I know that was the point, but still, reading it is a matter of feeling repeatedly cheated that the promise of the openings will not be fulfilled.
- Well, John Creasey did maybe. He wrote hundreds of novels: westerns, mysteries, science fiction, and they were surprisingly … not bad … even good, sometimes, though you might say they were the sort of quickly novels that were best read quickly. Last week, after many years, I re-read one of his best-regarded novels, The Famine. The Famine is one of a long series about Z5, an international agency that was always fighting off mysterious global threats, usually perpetrated by megalomaniacs bent on drastically thinning the Earth’s population.
In this case the global threat was a famine caused by a race of hungry mutant midgets that bread faster than rabbits. One solution after another is tried until Z5 realizes the only way to save the human race is to keep the useful people in well-guarded cities, while tricking everyone else into going into the countryside to either die of starvation or be eaten by midgets — drastically thinning the earth’s population.
If you read it quickly enough maybe you won’t pause to wonder, what was it like for Dr. Palfrey, leader of Z5, to ponder that irony? Or for all the people doomed by their leaders? Or for all the Useful People when they emerged to find the ruined world full of the skeletons of everyone they had sent off to find their slow or violent deaths? I think John Creasey could either worry about little details like those or keep to his daily 6,000 words, but not both.
- Figuratively. Could be any forcing action. But I think I did use a gun once.
- Iron rations, nothing; a large pizza will pretty much do one man for two days. That’s lembas-good!)