Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Steve Johnson and the Ninth World

Yesterday, I pondered on whether I should do NaNoWriMo. Now I'm officially in, and my novel is giong to be called Steve Johnson and the Ninth World. (I know, I know; the title's a work in progress. Suggestions are welcome!)

The novel is about Steve, a normal guy who just moved to Virginia. Looking to make some friends, he joins a pickup game of Numenera at the local public library. The novel then follows the life of Steve and his new friends over the course of the year. The novel covers both the "real-life" lives of Steve and his friends as well as the "in-game" life of the characters they portray through the ongoing Numenera campaign.

So how did I come up with this story? Well, when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, I thought about the goal. The goal (for me, anyway), is to write a novel, which, for the purposes of NaNoWriMo, at least, is 50,000 words. That's approximately 1700 words per day, or around seven pages, for the 30 days of November. That's a LOT of writing! To pull it off, I decided I'm going to have to write about something I know a lot about. It can't be something that requires too much extensive research, and it has to cater to my strengths as a writer. NaNoWriMo isn't an opportunity to grow as a writer; it's a chance to get some shit done, son! So I gotta play to my strengths. And my strengths are in tabletop gaming. I know role-playing games better than anything else I know of in my life. So I knew my NaNoWriMo novel would be about RPGs. Not the world of an RPG, no sci-fi/fantasy stuff here, but a novel about the actual experience of playing a role-playing game.

I then did up basic outlines of six major characters that will be in the novel. Why six? Again, the goal: finish the novel! With six characters, I have an ability to jump around a lot, if necessary. I know me, and I know I'll get bored quickly with one particular character or plotline. So giving myself six characters gives me a vast canvas on which to work. If I'm tired of the "main" story with Steve, I jump over to one of the other characters. And, of course, the relationships between these six characters to each other will run the gamut from passionate love to seething hatred. That's not only fun to write, it's interesting to read about.

On top of all that, I have plenty of material to pull from. There's a reason this novel takes place in northern Virginia. That's where I live! I have every intention of pulling from my real life to complicate, illustrate, and/or elaborate on these characters as the story unfolds. None of these six characters are going to be replicas of real people I know, but they will have collections of characteristics, quirks, and experiences that may be familiar to some friends of mine.

In addition to the six characters and their storylines, I have an entire Numenera campaign to write about. Again: more options on things I can write about so that when I sit down to hit my daily 1700 word goal, I can go off in any direction I want. If I'm tired of writing contemporary fiction about adults dealing with adult life shit, I can start writing about their adventures in the Ninth World.

Why Numenera? Why not something more recognizable, like Dungeons & Dragons? Well, three reasons. First, D&D has been done before. Movies like The Gamers, books like Of Dice and Men...the whole "nerds are people too!" storyline has been beaten to death. I want to do something different, and changing the game illustrates that. The second reason is more logistical: copyrights. Although I'm no where near the publishing stage yet, I would hate to have my knees cut from under me if/when I complete my novel and publish it, only to have Wizards of the Coast slap me with a Cease & Desist. Numenera has a clear Fair Use Policy, so I know exactly where I stand with them.

The third reason is thematic. Boredom and banality, and our efforts to deal with it in our day-to-day lives, will be a major theme of the novel. Numenera, with its wildly imaginative setting, provides a stark contrast to the bland, mundane world the characters of my novel live in. This contrast will not only help punctuate what makes roleplaying games great; it also allows the reader a respite from the more mundane themes of the novel, and stretch out into something a little crazier.

So yes: I am going to write 1700 words a day, at a breakneck pace, about six different characters and two different branching storylines, almost to the point of free association. I'm going to get it all down, and then rearrange it, cut it, paste it, and slowly coax it into something resembling a coherent narrative.

Some of you are probably thinking "I can't do that! I can't just jump around from scene to scene, plotline to plotline!" My response is "why the hell not?" Isn't it all coming from the same brain? You play to your strengths, you write what you want to write. If you come up with the climactic fight scene while you're sitting at work, but you haven't written the stuff leading up to the fight, don't wait till you write up to it: write that goddam fight scene right now! Too many writers, from my experience, try to write a novel the way they read one. It gets to the point where some writers tell me they simply love it when the story "jumps off the page," and the characters "take a life of their own." That's all well and good, and if you're just looking to amuse yourself, then go to town. But if the goal is to write a complete novel, then you've got to do anything and everything necessary to get that sumbitch written. Getting it down comes first. Getting it right comes later. The amount of pushback I get from people about this is astonishing.

Steve Johnson and the Ninth World is going to add to, at the least in the beginning, be an extremely chaotic mess. A barely-readable mish-mash of genres, plotlines, and ideas. A colossal disaster on the page. But you know what? As long as that disaster pans out to 1700 words a day, I call it a win!

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