I’ve actually been pretty good with the 750 Words these days! Once again, it’s mainly because I’m using it for a specific single purpose instead of trying to write something new every day. [In this case, I’m low-key doing a bit of ongoing personal writing tied in with a not-quite-trunked, still-on-the-backburner project, but y’all probably know what it is anyway.] I’m lucking out because the writing I’m doing for it is super easy, and I can hit the numbers I want in about twenty minutes, leaving me with a perfect amount of time for the blogging and work on MU4.
Speaking of MU4, the day after I posted Monday’s entry here, I came to the conclusion that the only way I’d be able to break this low-stakes mindset is to do a complete one-eighty. My first thought was: you want tension? I’ll give you some f***ing tension. I realized I couldn’t just build up to it: I had to make it happen, and make it happen now. An ultimate oh shit moment. And I ran with it.
And it worked! This was exactly the push I needed to get this novel back on track, to give it the boost it so desperately needed. I already know I’m going to need to do some heavy revision of the previous six chapters at some future point to make it work, but that’s par for the course anyway. The important thing here is that I’m right where I need to be again. Now all I have to do is keep it going!
I’ll admit I’m having a bit of a problem with MU4 lately. I have some interesting ideas, but my brain seems to be stuck in low-stakes mode for some reason. I don’t blame anything or anyone other than myself for that; I’d put myself in that mode near the start of the pandemic to a) get through it and deal with the Former Day Job and post-FDJ personal stuff, and b) get into the mood that writing Diwa & Kaffi required. Thing is, I’ve been having trouble getting out of that mode ever since.
This is partly why I’m writing MU4, to be honest. If there was any universe that could get me back into the higher-stakes brainspace, it’s the Mendaihu Universe. It’s much easier said than done, however…I like what I have so far, but I REALLY need to start raising the volume, so to speak. I’ve written several scenes that I think are great, but I seem to be stopping short of Big Epic Action almost every single time.
So I think I really need to shake it up a bit. Whatever’s going on with both my new and old characters, I need to do more with them. They need to get in on the action, get stuck in oh shit situations, do things with consequences. Why am I avoiding writing that? Well, it could very well be that Certain Real Life Politics over the last five or so years took a lot out of me and I’m merely avoiding the emotional stress from it and elsewhere, but I can only avoid it for so long.
I need to connect and channel that tension again. Feed it into something creative. I’m good at that. I know I am. I just need to take that step and do it again.
Every now and again I get to a chapter or a scene that is just not working. No matter what I do to it, no matter what I try, it just…fails. It’s frustrating, sure, but I’ve come to the realization that the true source of frustration lies not in the inability to fix what I have, but in the time wasted going trying to make it work in the first place. Thankfully I don’t let that eat at me too much.
I’m no perfectionist, but I am a writer who trusts their instincts. If this is a scene that just ain’t cutting it, I’ll give it the old college try for a day or so just to see if it’s salvageable. Sometimes it works — I’ll come up with a solution that wasn’t coming to me the day before, or I’ll allow myself some time to work through it in my head first. But more often than not, if it isn’t going to work after a few days, it’s not going to work, period. Cut the offending piece and pasted it in my Outtakes document. [And yes, all of my novels have at least one of those.]
I say this after about three days of trying to write the latest chapter of MU4 and not quite getting anywhere with it. There’s a mood I think works, but there’s no plot, just a few connecting scenes, and that makes for pretty boring prose. My mistake was that I went into the scene unsure where I wanted to go and hoping it would tell me. Sometimes that works, but often times it doesn’t. So what I need to do is cut the whole thing and start from scratch.
It’s frustrating, yes, but sometimes it’s got to be done to move forward.
There’s a little bit of real life inspiration in pretty much everything I write, and I’m sure that’s true for nearly every writer. Every story I’ve written does have at least one moment, scene or setting based on reality.
I wrote the Bridgetown Trilogy when I was working at the Yankee Candle warehouse, and while there aren’t specifically any scenes that take place in such a location, it did inspire a few ideas. For instance, the brief mention of Hallera, a planet where people live within instead of on its surface, comes from when I worked second shift and would look out from the dock bays into the deserted semi-darkness of the rear lot at 11:30 at night. There’s also a newer character in MU4 whose day job is working behind the scenes at the Bridgetown Nullport. Several names in the trilogy are Tuckerized from former coworkers in one way or another.
It also explains why the trilogy also had a lot of characters whose day jobs weren’t high-status and they specifically enjoyed Life Outside of Work. Those who were high-status were there for a reason, and their jobs tied in with the story in one way or another. Call me blue collar if you will, but those office job characters never really sounded like much fun to write to me. Even Diana Meeks in In My Blue World, who crunched numbers for a living, didn’t necessarily like her job and it’s barely mentioned.
Being that I live on the much quieter northwest side of San Francisco and currently work at a supermarket, I’m sure that the world of retail might make its eventual appearance somewhere in one of my projects, whether it’s MU4 or something else. One might see retail as drone-like as office work — you’re just another easily replaceable number, apparently — but there’s also a much closer connection to the Outside World that office work doesn’t always provide. Interesting and unique customers and locals become inspirations for characters and background crowds the more you interact with them. Vendors and delivery drivers become secondary characters with unsung but important roles that could help you out of a tricky plot twist. Coworkers once again get Tuckerized as street names and, if they’re interested enough (like many of my YC coworkers were), they’ll ask how the story is coming along.
There’s something about being a little closer to a community at this level that helps me feel more connected to the characters I create. There’s a shine to them that pulls me closer, wanting to know more about their personal lives and how they interact and interconnect with others. It might not be as glamorous or as high-paying as some of my previous positions, but I’ve become rich in other ways whenever I embrace that kind of connection, and that makes all the difference to me.
So, you ask. We’ve shown that the Shenaihu are not the antagonists of the Mendaihu in this universe. And yet…who is?
That’s a very good question indeed, because it took me a long time to figure that out myself. In the Bridgetown Trilogy we learn that the two do not necessarily have a protagonist/antagonist relationship, but one of balance. One exists to balance out the other in some shape or form. Both sides had a reason for doing what they do, whether that action is noble or misguided. But the fact remains that there is balance between the two. It is nuanced and often contradictory, but it’s there and that’s how life is. I thought about this early on when writing A Division of Souls as an extension of the Golden Rule: similarity and difference working together peacefully.
This was the question I’d been asking myself: who wants to upset that balance? Whoever that happens to be in MU4 is the real antagonist. The person or group — or even a belief — must have a reason to ensure that the true balance between the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu cannot hold. Which brings up the next question: why would they want to do that?
It occurred to me recently that the answer to that question will not be found in a goal-oriented way. Maybe they are doing this to gain power, but that’s only one of the end results and not necessarily a goal. I started thinking about how in this current political climate, there are those who see progressive movement as a positive evolution, and there are those who see it as a perversion of stasis.
Thus the drive of the antagonist of MU4 (and perhaps whatever comes after it) could be precisely that: a person or a group — or belief — that sees only the perversion and fights to eradicate it. [Which of course begs further thoughts about the balance between those two. But that’s a bit further into this created future.] They want to create barriers that keep this evolution from taking place at any cost.
So far I have two concrete things for this antagonist: a name for the group, and their sigil. And a pretty good idea of how far they’re willing to take it.
It occurs to me that in writing MU4, this is the first novel in this universe that I’m actually writing while living in a large city, rather than in a small town somewhere in New England. [Not that San Francisco is a large city geography-wise, as it’s only 7 x 7 miles, but it is about 815k residents.] When I was writing the original Bridgetown Trilogy, I envisioned the Bridgetown Sprawl very much like a portion of Los Angeles, which I’d never visited let alone seen or researched to any extent. It was just a personal vision of a large city.
Years later, however, I’ve made multiple trips down to LA and lived in the Bay Area for several years, and also visited many other large cities and metropolises. Has this personal vision changed since then? Well, I don’t think so, at least not by much. I kind of understand the idea of distance better, for one. And thanks to my years living in the Boston area, I understand how different neighborhoods look different depending on their own locations, altitudes and so on. For example, I took that into account when I pictured Branden Hill being slightly higher in elevation than Main Street sector, but also less condensed, a mixture of residences and school campuses.
I’m kind of doing the opposite with these first few opening chapters of MU4, which take place in the Wilderlands area just west of Bridgetown. I’m using memories of living back in New England, but I’m also picturing the unincorporated areas and satellite towns here in northern California. A small city like Petaluma, or a cozy small town like Half Moon Bay. It feels kind of strange writing this sort of thing, as I really don’t think I’d have written it if we were living back on the east coast. I feel like I’m doing the exact opposite of what I’d done with the trilogy: writing a personal vision of woodlands and small towns.
Not to fear, though…Bridgetown is definitely going to be playing a big part in this novel as well. I am curious, however, if this vision of city sprawl will be different from before.
One thing I’ve been looking forward to in writing MU4 is that many scenes take place in locations that weren’t in the original trilogy. For instance, three of the first four chapters I’ve written so far take place outside the Bridgetown Sprawl, specifically in and around a small outpost town west of the city. It has specific ties to the trilogy, but as of now those ties aren’t the main focus.
It’s been fun and refreshing so far to write these characters in this new location. I’d been wanting to write a MU story set in the Wilderlands for ages! While this doesn’t solely take place here, a good portion of it will. This of course means giving the location a distinct layout, perhaps a map or two that I can use for reference, just as I did with Bridgetown. It’ll also have its own set of rules that I will need to follow. This is a special place in the mythology, so what happens here will affect everything that happens after.
Creating the setting has always been one of my favorite parts of writing novels, to tell the truth. Such as the city shared in two different universes/timelines for In My Blue World. The bayside cities and suburbs of Diwa & Kaffi. Even the small New England town of Meet the Lidwells. I love creating layers of this kind of background: its geography, its size and shape, its population. Little things that might not be completely important to the story as a whole, but certainly makes it more real.
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.
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!