A Shell of a Book

The Devil’s Spiral Shell is finished, and my third year of completing National Novel Writing Month is at an end.

Here’s a breakdown:

22 days of typing (after missing the first two with an anniversary trip)

50,324 words (2287 words per day)

184 pages (8.4 pages a day)

 

When I began this project, I wasn’t sure what would happen in the book. Here’s a look at some quotes from when I began the book and my thoughts on those quotes now.

— I’ve dreamed up a main character, a basic plot, and something evil to keep them all busy.

The plot changed very little from the rough outline I imagined before I began to write.

Eldon, my main character, went through a lot less suffering than I had imagined he would. He ended up a man on a mission instead of a man crippled by anxiety and barely able to leave his house. This kept the story interesting. Eldon also had to share the story with Derrick, who became a co-lead character. Derrick’s devil-may-care attitude helped me pull anxious, fearful Eldon out of his shell and into the story.

The evil keeping those two busy got worse as the story progressed, and I dig that. Anytime I thought of something that had ever made me squirm, I forced myself to work it into the story. By the time I finished, The Devil’s Spiral Shell was a detective story exploring a museum dedicated to my own worst fears.

— I have no idea how it will end, or if there will be romance. I don’t think it will be gory, but I make no promises. This is the least I’ve planned a novel for NaNoWriMo, so we’ll see if that ends in inspiration or embarrassment.

The ending of the book came as a surprise, but I was happy about how it came together. It felt satisfying, even though it left much of the mystery intact.

No romance. Poor Eldon has a long way to go before he’s even able to start dating.

I don’t think the book is that gory, but it is definitely upsetting and gross in places. I told my wife about a few key scenes and she shuddered, so that can’t be all bad.

I’m inspired by the end product, but I’m also a little nervous about the overall cohesiveness of the narrative. The story moved along so quickly, and the pace is so frantic, I’m not sure I gave the reader enough information to stay in the chase. I also worry about the level of detail in the set pieces. I can imagine each with enough horrifying detail to get my heart pumping, but I’m not sure if I adequately shared that terror with the rest of the world.

Months from now, when I can approach it with a clean slate, revising The Devil’s Spiral Shell will make for an interesting experience.

-Axel

I Know the End is Nearing, Because I Know the Ending – NaNoWriMo Day 20.

Today The Devil’s Spiral Shell cruised past 4o,ooo words. I am on pace to officially finish the novel on the first available opportunity — November 25th. If I’m am feeling especially saucy, I will be ready to submit the final novel at 12:01 AM on November 25th.

Rather than talking exclusively about the time I spend at the laptop writing (90 minutes to 2 hours each day), I decided it would be more revealing to talk about how I live inside the novel for a full month.

When I wake up and make my way to the shower, I’m back in the novel before I’m fully awake in the real world. I know I have a date with the computer coming up, and I don’t want to run out of story before I start typing. Imagining in front of a computer is like lying to someone who has proof you’re guilty – you can never come up with material fast enough to save your own ass.

Most days, I go straight from the shower to the keyboard. I eat breakfast and start typing between bites of cereal, and then I’m typing like mad when the bowl is empty. Some days I have a trashy horror movie playing while I type, other days I type in silence. Neither seems to provide me with any clear advantage. During this time, I keep typing and refuse to get stuck. If something in the plot doesn’t add up, or if I don’t feel inspired, I force the words onto the screen until it does work. Some of my happiest accidents have happened this way.

When I knock out 2000 words, I update my progress and save the file. I put the computer away, but I never really leave the world of the novel.

For the rest of the day, when I’m not involved in anything that requires deep thought, I am back in the novel with Derrick and Eldon, my protagonists. Sometimes I focus on where they are going and where they currently are. Sometime, I revisit where they’ve been to find details to weave into the story.

If you see me staring into space in November, I’m in the book. In October Derrick and Eldon didn’t exist. Now, I can walk through a department store and tell you what they would notice, and how they would react. Their enemies didn’t exist, either, but know I can tell you the entire history of the people who want Derrick and Eldon dead, back hundreds of years ago. In my private time, I’m always taking the bits and pieces from real life I need to thicken their story, so it’s real when I open the curtains and show everyone the monsters.

After I kiss my wife goodnight and listen to her fall asleep, I try to find the feel of the book. Sometimes, I find music that takes me there, and other times I imagine a certain style of lighting or a mental snapshot. I imagine the story I’m writing until it makes me feel the same way I want readers to feel. I’m never exactly sure when I fall asleep, so I know I’m dreaming inside the book I’m creating.

Then I wake up, gather what’s left of my dreams, and put together another day’s worth of writing.

The moral of the story? I’m going to be lonely without these characters on November 25th. National Novel Writing Month gives a writer the focus and motivation to magically create a world with pure imagination and then live inside of it for one full month.

Sometimes, the book feels like a nice fringe benefit. Taking the trip is the real headliner.

-Axel

The Fear is Growing – NaNoWriMo Day 10.

In one week, I have written 19,498 words, which amounts to 70 typed, double-spaced pages of writing. Here are some notes.

1) The scope of this thing is going to kill me. Originally, The Devil’s Spiral Shell was supposed to be a claustrophobic horror tale of a guy coming to terms with the horrors of death and aging. Now, the book has taken place in two major cities and is headed to the third. Characters keep popping in and out. I’m dreading the second draft of this one.

2) The character of Derrick was supposed to be a foil to Eldon, my main character, and not much more. Now he’s competing to become a secondary main character. I just can’t stop writing dialogue for him.

3) I’m working in so many of my own personal phobias of awful things to have happen to you physically. Writing out that kind of nastiness is both relaxing and unnerving.

4) Still not sure how it’s going to end, but I know which characters I wouldn’t trust if I were you.

-Axel

Stay Sick – NaNoWriMo Day 4.

I won’t bore you with updates on every day of National Novel Writing Month, but I will update when things get interesting.

I try to write 2000 words a day, to finish on the first day I can — November 25th. Yesterday, I put together 3000 words, getting me closer to be being back on track after a wonderful two day vacation delay.

I’d like to put together another 3000 words today, which won’t be hard at all if the Minnesota Vikings decide to play like buffoons again today.

Two more characters showed up yesterday, with brand new problems and backstories. The novel decided it would be set in Minneapolis (the first scene takes place outside of First Avenue. A character has died, and the plot is ensnaring Eldon, my main character.

I’ve imagined enough of the back story that today could be a gentle walk toward confrontation and conclusion, but I want more from this book.

Instead, today is the day I fight to keep the book unsafe, unsettling, and unforgiving. Much of the battle will be fought and (hopefully) won in these 3000 words.

-Axel

Mo is for Momentum.

I’ll be busy this year and will start National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) a few days later. I’ve decided to take this as a challenge instead of a setback. You get 30 days to write 50,000 words of novel.  You can do it, but you have to start strong and keep going.

This will be my third year of spending November with my brain completely captivated with one story, and I couldn’t be happier. I recently re-read the first novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo, currently titled “Orphans,” and think it has serious potential as a “small town evil” thrill ride. With a little gussying up, second NaNoWriMo novel “Perfect Hair” (and that could change at any time) could make it as a young adult novel.

With both of these books, I took chances I wouldn’t have the guts to spend a year or two writing about. In both cases, I added range to my writing and surprised myself. Which means this year I’m researching for The Big Fear. That’s not a title; that’s how I want to feel when I’m writing it. I’m going to gamble on writing something so scary I use a nightlight when I go to bed. And then I want to get up and do it again, every day, for most of November.

After all, that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. It’s only one month, and you have to write so fast you don’t have time to rethink anything. The momentum carries you through your own anxieties.

Which is probably why you should try it too, if you’ve got a story you’ve been chickening out of writing.

-Axel