Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another Year, Another Novel


This November was my second National Novel Writing Month, and I won again! --For the value of "winning" which is "writing fifty thousand words in thirty days." Unlike last year, however, I did not finish the story, which will probably end up in the vicinity of 80,000 words.

Also unlike last year, I had to flay myself through the last few thousand words. I felt like a wiggling kid trying to make it until the bell rings. I would force myself to write a few lines, then check my word count, then drag out another paragraph and check it again. Until finally:



Why did I have to pull words out like teeth? I wasn't tired of the plot, or the characters, or the world. On the contrary, I'm in love with them.

It's the story of four children--a Scale from the sea, a Skin from the desert, a Fur from the forest, and a Feather from the mountains--on a quest to reconcile their estranged parents, the Sky Mother and the Earth Father. While they're at it, they might be able to end slavery, defeat the pirates, and overthrow a despotic emperor--if only they can stop quarreling for five minutes.

I've been doodling these characters since high school, and I still have sketches where they're peeking out from between Modern European History vocab words. I haven't gotten tired of them in over ten years, and I didn't get tired of them in the last month. I think the problem, instead, was the worry that I hadn't done enough planning.

The more I wrote, the more I worried. I'd be in the middle of a scene, and suddenly I'd be paralyzed by the realization that I hadn't decided how Scales built their boats. Or I hadn't made consistent rules in my head for naming characters. Or I needed to put a rebel Skin camp somewhere that contradicted an earlier decision about desert geography. What to DO?

If I hadn't been in the middle of NaNoWriMo, I'd probably have stopped writing the novel and gone back to sketching maps and filling out spreadsheets. But it was November, and I had to bang out the words. And, as awful as a lot of that writing is, I'm glad that I wrote it.

Now I have fifty thousand words to rewrite, to motivate plot-knitting and world-spinning and character-sculpting. The majority of it will never be shown to anyone--be grateful!--but here's a tolerable excerpt:

 "Will you tell me a story?" Kishaio asked.

Arin snorted, scattering leaves. "Do I look like a nursemaid?"

He was hoping she would be offended, roll over and ignore him. But she looked at him steadily, and said, "It's just a story. Travelers tell each other stories, don't they?"

"Not me," he snapped.

"All right," she said, sitting up. "Do you mind if I tell one?"

He sighed. Being left alone was not an option, apparently.

Taking the Feather boy's silence for consent, Kishaio began.

*

The Earth fell in love with the Sky, and to attract her attention, he grew plants and animals, decking himself out in splendid colors, until at last she agreed to wed him. He inseminated her with the stars, and from her womb the moon were born four children. They lived with her until they grew out of childhood, and then she sent them to visit their father.

But as the children fell to earth, they were distracted by all the sights, and they decided to spend some time exploring before looking for their father. Desirous of independence and greatness, the eldest laid claim to the first land they touched--the high, majestic mountain ranges, the winds and the stones and the kingly views. "These peaks are mine," he told his siblings. "Go on, and find lands to call your own." And he spoke to a great eagle, and followed her to her eyrie, and made himself a nest.

So the remaining three walked down from the mountains, and they found themselves in thick green forests, full of cool shadows and the smell of fresh earth. The next eldest of them said, "I will take these woods for my own. Keep walking, children!" And there she met with a tall, dark stag, and ran with him through the trees, and bedded herself down in the grass.

The two youngest walked and walked, and they found many miles of forest, and many mountain ranges, but these lands were closed to them, for the winds whispered allegiance to their elder brother, and the trees owed obedience to their elder sister.

At last they came down into wide, empty lands where the sun beat fiercely down (as though their mother cried: Remember! Remember to look for your father! but they had already forgotten) and the rocks were starkly colorful, surrounded by swirling sands. The elder of the two smiled. "I like this land, little sister," he said, and when a glittering snake-queen drew her patterns in the sand, he began to follow her.

"But what place is left for me?" cried the one remaining. Her brother paused, and flicked his tongue at her kindly.

"Run over my sands, little one, and keep running. I feel that you will find the vastest kingdom of us all."

So she ran over the sands, far from the forests and the mountains, until the sand gave way to splashing water. This was not the cold alpine lakes of her eldest brother, nor yet the rustling streams of her sister. This water was wide and deep and salty, studded with specks of land like tiny jewels, and when the youngest child plunged into it, she found a paradise of fantastic creatures. The largest fish in the sea, himself like a small island, bowed to her, and offered his milt for her eggs.

And so the four Peoples of the earth were formed.

*

When Kishaio finished the tale, she lay back down and smiled at Arin.

"You're not a bad storyteller," he said grudgingly. "But it's a ridiculous account of creation. Did you make it up yourself?"

Kishaio looked surprised, and shook her head. "That's how we all tell it, in the Sea."

"It doesn't make any sense! How could they have forgotten their father when they were standing right on him?" He thumped one hand on the ground. "The children didn't have to look for the Earth Father--he welcomed them onto himself.

"He divided his country among them, giving the mountains to the eldest, the forests to the next, the sands to the third, and the sea to the youngest. The Earth was happy to have his children with him at last, and he gave them food and water, and materials to build homes with. So they were grateful to their father, and forgot their mother, far away above them.

"The Sky Mother wept with joy to see her children grown, and sorrow to have lost their love, but her tears only sank into the ground and watered their crops. She beat her sun down upon them, begging them to look up, but they only saw how the light helped their food to grow. Finally the Sky made a voice, as best she could, a wind that blew down across the land and called to her children to remember her.

"But the children's father had grown jealous, and wanted to keep them all to himself. So he took with wind of the Sky Mother's love and used it to whip up fierce waves in the sea, so the Scales grew afraid, and tied up their ships and huddled in their houses. The wind stirred up dust storms in the sand, so the Skins had to lock their doors and shut their windows and cover their faces with cloth until the dust passed. It tore down trees and branches, so the Furs ran in fear and took what shelter they could. Of the four Peoples, these three were all too afraid of what their father had done with the wind to hear their mother calling them home.

"Only the Feathers heard their mother's voice in the wind, and they spread their wings and took to the air to fly home to her. But their father pulled on them with all his strength, and they could not break free, so they soared restlessly, caught between Earth and Sky, ever longing to return to their mother but unable to do so.

"And thus do the four Peoples remain entrapped by their father's will."

Satisfied that the record had been set straight, Arin looked over at Kishaio, and saw that she had fallen asleep, her head pillowed on her folded hands, her breathing soft and even.

"You slippery little Scale," he said after a minute. "You just tricked me into telling you a story."

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