Brand new characters are always an intriguing exercise, because I don’t always know where I’m going to be taking them. Some of them, like Caren in the Bridgetown Trilogy, are sort of based on tropes (she was originally a mix of Agent Scully in X-Files with a touch of Captain Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell but became something altogether different). Others, like Zuze in In My Blue World, are characters I already know inside and out before I even start.
While writing MU4, I’ve been introducing a few new characters into the Mendaihu Universe and it’s true, I’m still working out where they’ll end up by the end. I have an entirely new character, Lizzie Kapranos, whose drive is decidedly not like Caren’s; she knows who she is and where she fits in, so her conflict is the refusal to give in so easily to conformity. [Tuckerization time: she’s named after Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice and singer Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. A fierce free-thinker and a bit of an oddball but not without a sense of humor.] Like Miss Bennett, Lizzie is all about staying true to what she believes in. Also like her, Lizzie will (eventually) admit to being wrong when she makes errors in judgement or action.
This might be partly why my word count has been so glacial these last few weeks, as I work out the scene with all that in mind, but to be honest that’s part of the appeal of writing new characters. I get to learn something new about them, and about the story. Their actions will influence what comes next, whether it’s positive or negative. Another new character, Eika, embodies this to the extreme: she’s the id escaping highly restrictive boundaries and set free. Eika is a chaos element in a way, while Lizzie is the stability element. And both characters are completely aware of that role. In the process, Eika and Lizzie are polar opposites but also the key to Balance. And Balance has always been a big part of the Mendaihu Universe.
Do I know where these two will go, and if they’ll ever meet? Maybe? I’m not sure? But it’s in my mind and it’s a vague signpost further into the story that I’m heading towards. And that’s all I really need.
In writing something elsewhere, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve been using MS Word exclusively for twenty years now. I believe it was sometime in March or April of 2003 that I bought my first completely new PC off the Dell website. With my own money and everything! I’d been using the previous writing programs that came with Windows 3.1 and 98 — MS Write and WordPad — and I realized this would be an excellent upgrade. This was one of those ‘customize your own personal computer’ specials Dell had and I spent the slightly extra money to have that added along with a decent media player that could play cds and dvds. I wasn’t (and still am not) a PC gamer so all that processing power and speed went to those two apps.
Over the years I’ve heard many pros and cons of Word from the writing community. Some swear by it, others swear at it. I’ve heard many writers suggest other programs and refuse to touch this one. Me? I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences with it. I don’t think it’s ever crashed once on me (not including when it was actually the PC doing the crashing). As long as I keep up my habit of frequently saving my work (thanks, Dropbox!), all is well. Even now that it’s part of the Office 365 umbrella, It’s worked a peach.
All of my novels from A Division of Souls forwards were written, edited and revised using Word, and it’s even used to do the formatting for their Smashwords editions. I’m using it now for MU4. I’ve learned how to use more of its fiddly editing and formatting functions and they’ve pretty much become part of the tool bar at the top header.
I’ll use a Word-like app for reading on my tablet and e-reader, but I don’t plan on switching to anything else at this point.
One of the things in the back of my mind while writing MU4 has been that as much as I enjoy a nod to a previous story, the last thing I want to do is open this novel the same way A Division of Souls did. This is partly why it’s taken me a good couple of tries to nail the landing in these first few chapters. The stakes are just as high, but they’re different stakes this time.
I’ve also been reminding myself that this is a universe that is in constant motion. Sure, there are moments of quietness and contemplation in these stories, but that’s when the mind is in motion. This is how I remember writing the previous novels: every session has to have at least one scene where something moves. It can be incremental, or it can be the steadfast refusal to do so, or it can be a rash unthinking decision.
The Mendaihu Universe always had a theme of Balance In Motion; there are a few scenes in the original trilogy where someone says that life is always changing and never static (or something close to it), and it’s up to ourselves whether to move with the changes or stay in one place. Denni’s decision in this case was the one that changed fate: she chose the former, to adjust her role as the One of All Sacred when and where necessary. No former Ones had done ever done that.
So what about MU4, then? Well, without giving too much detail, let’s just say there’s a schism going on: the ones who have adjusted their fates and those who have refused. One of MU4‘s themes is about how far people will follow those paths. There’s dedication, and then there’s extremism. There’s response and then there’s reaction.
I’m just as curious as you are to where all this movement will take us.
OKAY! So it’s been a bit of a weird week, what with the Day Job schedule and all the PC issues I’ve been having of late. On Wednesday night I chose the nuclear option and did a factory reset of my computer, and spent my day off reinstalling several apps I use the most. [I should add that in doing the reset, it finally let me upgrade to Windows 11 as well. I’m still getting used to the changes, though there don’t seem to be too many that are all that significant.] The PC is now behaving quite nicely again, other than the continuing Bluetooth keyboard stickiness (which I’m yet to figure out how fix).
The good news is that everything is back to normal and I can get started on writing again! Even better news is that this gave me the time at work to think about the next chapter. I knew who was going to feature in it, but it had to be different from my original outtake from a month or so ago. And the amusing thing is that this new approach was influenced by…the original 1993 opening of Vigil! Heh. See, this is why I’m a packrat when it comes to my writing!
Anyway, now that I’m back on track (FINALLY), I’m hoping I can get a headstart soon!
I’m usually pretty good at being patient. If I have to wait for a certain length of time, I’m not all that bothered by it because I’m good at keeping myself occupied in the meantime. [This is especially helpful when I’m working a very busy eight hour shift at the day job. The trick is that I break it up into two-hour increments, and take my lunch or my ten-minute breaks in between.]
Writing a novel, on the other hand, can sometimes be a lesson in just how long I’m able to wait. It’s a different kind of time management, based on the pacing of the story and the time I’m able to spend working on it. In this case, working on MU4 has definitely been a case of patience-testing. I’m purposely not distracting myself with other more compact story ideas, which has happened in the past. I’m determined to see this one through. I do have distraction issues of another sort, however, which I’ve mentioned plenty of times: the Don’t Wanna’s. It’s not that I don’t want to write the story, I just don’t wanna do the work.
Once I get past that, however, I’m good to go. Power up the Word document and get stuck in. And once I’m there, patience is the last thing I worry about: I rely solely on what I need to write at that point in time. Whether it’s a lot of words or just a few, I give the best I can, and that’s when I enjoy it the most. That’s when I realize I could do this all damn day if I wanted. [And have, though rarely.]
It’s after I finish the session when that patience-testing comes in, of course. It’s when I’ve written just a few hundred words and the scene has moved ever so slowly and I’m far from finishing it, that’s when I want to surge ahead and get to the next scene! It’s not that the scene is glacial; it’s just that I’m moving slowly and deliberately.
I picked up John Lennon’s Skywriting By Word of Mouth not that long after it came out in the mid-80s, probably sometime around the start of my junior year in high school. It was a collection of his post-Beatle writings mainly composed during his five-year hiatus in the late 70s. Some of it was autobiographical, but a considerable part of it (such as the above) was in his classic absurdist style, and I was immediately drawn to that. I was a kid that loved puns and wordplay, and I was immediately drawn to its stream of conscious humor and weirdness. I loved the idea of utterly random phrases woven together by shared words and homophones.
This in turn inspired me to write such things in a similar vein, my own versions written on the school computers (we had Apple IIcs in the computer lab, where I wrote this sort of stuff when I wasn’t playing Lemonade Stand or Jungle Hunt when I should have been doing homework). I think part of it was the need to find another creative avenue after multiple years stuck in the Infamous War Novel, and a need to just have fun. My version of this nonsense verse was heavy with music references (“sunshine in the shade and drink their lemonade when the sun shine my shoestring on my guitar”) and written under the nom de plume Johannes Brezhnev, with the title Oy Vay. [I don’t entirely remember why I latched onto that Yiddish phrase, though it may have been used in a then-recent Bloom County strip, of which I was a huge fan.]
I still have the original printouts! I haven’t read them in years, so I’m sure some of them have not aged very well at all — after all, this is part of my juvenilia pile — but every now and again I bring back that style just for funsies. When I’m a hundred or so words short doing my 750 Words and have nothing of import to write, I’ll bring the style back out (I now refer to them as “wibblies” because why not).
It’s nonsense verse and serves no purpose, but it’s a lot of fun to write!
I’m definitely not hitting any huge numbers or even finishing scenes as of yet, but I’ll hit those goals once again, soon enough. I’m not going to push it. Right now, my only writing goal is to get something written. The other day it was a little over six hundred. Tonight it’s probably more like two hundred.
Again, this is how I remember writing A Division of Souls: at the beginning of the project, it was about forward motion, even if it was a little at a time. This allowed me to take my time absorbing the scene and the characters within it, really get to know them a bit. These are mostly all new characters I’m introducing right now, the main cast that will take over where the original gang left off, and I’m learning about them as I go. This has already paid dividends as I’m getting to know one of the new mains more intimately, flaws and all. Which lets me figure out what’s going to happen next.
So yeah, that’s all I have to report here right now. Here, have a new groove from Unknown Mortal Orchestra that’s been playing on my PC lately!
The hardest thing about writing MU4 so far has been making a personal connection with my characters. I know what I want from them, and I think I know how I want them to evolve, but getting to those points has been fraught with missing by inches.
I also know, this time for a fact, that I’m not trying hard enough. I’m still suffering through waves of the Don’t Wannas with an equal serving of Easily Distracted. I want to write this novel, damn it all, I’m just avoiding working on it, and I’m starting to piss myself off because of it.
If this means I have to take desperate measures, I’ll do it. I’ve already uninstalled or removed several apps from my phone to minimize distraction during Day Job breaks I should be spending less passively. But though I’ve been doing all my actual writing work at home and I do close my web browsers come writing time, I still have too many distractions. If this means unpinning nearly every shortcut from the Task Bar, so be it. Making it harder to open distraction apps usually works for me simply by utilizing the Out of Sight Out of Mind method, and I’d rather not use one of those ‘won’t/can’t open until forty-five minutes pass’ apps if I can help it.
Still — the issue remains that when I am writing, I’m still not quite making that connection. I’m not connecting on that emotional level I’m aiming for. They still feel too distant. And again, that’s a personal issue I have to work through: I have to let myself establish that level, allow myself to take that deep dive. I know I can do it and I’ve done it before.
Eventually I’ll make that connection I’m longing for. I just need to keep trying.
I seem to have finally caught a cold and gotten a fever for the first time since I started the Day Job last March. That’s actually a pretty good run! I’ve had a few days where I was running on fumes (these were usually the midday 11:30 to 8 shifts) but this is the first time in quite a while that I called in sick and taken the day off!
I’m hoping the fever will have broken by the time this posts, however. Either way, I’m taking the rest of the week off from blogging to recuperate. See you next week!
Out of all my books, In My Blue World seems to be my most popular ebook by a mile on Smashwords. Which, yay! Thank you so much! I’m thrilled that y’all love it as much as I do! I did my best to create a story where it wasn’t just about Conquering the Villain or Trying to Escape a Terrible Fate. This was about three strong-willed sisters who faced their fears head-on rather than run away, and about two women who never give up on what they truly believe in.
[And yes, I do of course have moments of I wish I’d written that scene differently or I could have done this bit so much better whenever I reread it, but I also know that every writer has that feeling.]
A couple years back I actually did have a loose outline plan for a sequel to the book. It was, amusingly enough, inspired not by ELO but a video by K/DA, the animated foursome connected to the League of Legends game. After all, I’d set up the ending of In My Blue World to be open-ended and ready for any number of sequels or related stories. There’s definitely room for expanding this particular created world in all sorts of directions.
So…am I going to be doing this again, writing multiple books at the same time? Or will one of them fall by the wayside again while I work on the latest shiny thing? Or will I figure out a way to make it all work despite the odds? It’s a bit early to tell right now to make any decisions. But I do have a pretty good idea of what I’d like to do with it, and hopefully I can find the time and energy to work on it!