All I really want to do is write in my novel

It’s true.  Unfortunately, the universe is conspiring against me.  The homework alert level has been raised to orange and a half.  Fortunately, it should die down by the weekend.

I’m still sticking by the 500 words per day goal that I had before.  I just decided to modify it so that if I write more than 500 words on a particular day, it will count for missed words from the day before.  I’ve noticed that when I sit down to write 500 words, I usually write 1,000.  Since, with papers and tests throwing things out of whack, I can’t always make 500 words each individual day, at least I can write 500 words FOR every day.  I’ll probably have some time to catch up on Wednesday.

1,066 words and I don’t think I’ll be doing nanowrimo this year

I put in about a thousand words.  I’m at a point in the story right now where a lot of stuff starts happening.  There are about three or four new characters that I want to introduce, and I have all these great ideas about how to do it, about who they really are, what ideas really move them, what they really believe and stand for, what they will struggle with, and how they’re going to play into the story, but I’ve been stuck at this one scene for the whole week–not because I don’t know how to write it, but because I haven’t had the time to just sit down and finish it.  It’s the scene where Leila finally gets back, and she talks with her father the King about Ian and Aaron and what happened in the desert.  It’s basically the kingdom’s first contact experience with the “aliens”–the rest of humanity.  There are going to be a lot of first contact experiences in this story.

So, the problem is basically that I’ve got a TON of ideas, I know where I want the story to go, I keep running the story through my head over and over during my free time…but I never have the time to write it.  It doesn’t help that I write really long blog entries, either. 🙂 Or have tons and tons of homework.  It’s honestly a huge incentive to learn how to use my time efficiently.  I think by the end of this semester, I’ll be doing my homework first thing after my classes (GASP!!!! I’ve NEVER done that before!) and setting more goals and stuff.

One thing, though: since I’ve got so many ideas for this story, I don’t think I”ll be doing nanowrimo.  I just don’t want to pull myself out of this universe and stop working on my ideas for this story.  It would be too big of a break in what I’m doing right now.  I will, however, be doing a lot of writing during November! We’ll probably be having some Quark get togethers for nanowrimo participants, and it’ll be a good opportunity to get some writing in.

Another awesome writing meeting!

So, we had a writing meeting last Tuesday!  There were quite a few people there!  Gamila, Jakeson, Danke, Travis, Drek, Kaci, Ben (his board name is the same as his real name, believe it or not!), Tom, and Patrick (I think that’s it, but I’m not sure.  If I forgot your name, please forgive me!), so altogether there were about ten people!  We definitely filled up the small library room, and the discussion was very lively!

We had some excellent stories, and I don’t think there were any stories that were boring or turned everyone off.  One story was a little bit edgy, but not unacceptable, and it didn’t cause any schisms or anything.  In fact, some of the more conservative members of the group complimented me personally afterwards for how I handled the situation.  Quark has been shaken up by some trouble stirrers in the past (you’re welcome for the compliment, Joel), and I’ve been a little bit worried about how to handle controversies in the group on my watch.  I’ve been chatting up with Aneeka and Reigheena, two former Quark writing vp’s, on this subject, and I think people from all the different perspectives appreciated how this situation was handled.  And really, I did like the story that was submitted.  Even though it was edgy for a squeaky clean BYU club, it wasn’t unacceptable at all, and I thought it added to the story rather than weakening it.

A lot of people liked how the meetings went, and found the feedback to be helpful but one of the old timers contacted me on g-chat a couple days later with some possible areas that we need to improve.  The areas he suggested had more to do with us as a group than me as a leader, though I’ve definitely got a role to play.  Basically, we need to learn some better etiquette, both as writers and as critiquers.  His suggestions have spawned off a thread on the Quark forums, so I’ll refer all you quarkies to that for the full discussion on this topic, but I’ll briefly summarize it here.  Basically, we need to remember three things:

1) Try to avoid tangents (like anime and star trek)

2) If you’re the writer, don’t argue with the feedback you receive

3) Try to adhere to a sense of order in the way we give feedback: let people with comments on page one go first, on page two second, etc.

To that, I’d add a very helpful fourth guideline that Jakeson suggested:

4) If you’re submitting an excerpt from the novel, give a short synopsis at the beginning of the piece, so we know whether the excerpt is from the beginning, middle, or end, and can give relevant criticism.

Gamila also suggested to me on g-chat that writers should also describe what part of the writing process they’re in; whether this is a rough draft, one of the first revisions, or whether the author is trying to polish up a final draft.  That sounds like a good idea to me, though I haven’t yet brought it up with the others.  I plan on doing that soon.

There have been some suggestions that we break up the group, since it’s becoming so large.  In general, though, I think it’s best to wait that out.  I had the idea while g-chatting with Drek of splitting the group into a fantasy section and a sci fi section, where we’d meet every Saturday at the same time and place and alternate between the sections.  Under this idea, people would still be free to come to every meeting, but we’d lower the submissions-per-meeting to about four and get someone to moderate the fantasy section (since I already have way too much free time as it is).

Of course, this depends on how many people we retain.  I think we should keep things as they are for now, then wait and see how many people are still coming regularly in November and December.

It was a good meeting this week, but I was surprised because it really did leave me exhausted.  The closest parallel I can think of is when you’re a missionary and you come out of an intense-but-disorganized lesson with an excited investigator who loves to talk.  It left me exhausted like that.  It was a good meeting, and I hope that in the future we’ll learn to build off of each other and find our “groove.”

Thoughts on the universe of my story

I’ve been thinking in the last couple of days (it hurts, but I’ve found that it generally pays off well).  Specifically, about the culture of this world that I’m creating for my novel.

It takes place in the far future, after a 300-or-so year war with hostile AI.  Kind of like Battlestar Galactica, with the Cylons.  But really, the story has nothing to do with that war.  It has to do with what happens after the war is over.

Just so you know, world building is one of the things I love to do when I write.  I don’t get as into it as some epic fantasy writers, with inventing new languages and naming every landform on the face of their world, but I really do get into it.  I think that sci fi world building differs from fantasy world building in that sci fi focuses more on how some sort of technology, historical event, or other thing would alter basic humanity as we generally know it, whereas fantasy tends to be about building a world from the ground up.  Sometimes I have a hard time getting into fantasy for that reason–I’m more interested in what it is that’s causing the fictional reality than in the fictional reality itself.  And it can also be annoying to have to remember more than a couple dozen proper names full of multiple apostrophes.

<spoiler alert> So, in this world, just as the war was starting out, a group of refugees (like in BSG) got stranded from the rest of humanity, and fled out into unexplored space.  They ended up landing on this planet that had just been discovered and explored a few years earlier by a group of scientists.  The planet was uninhabited, but in all ways it was able to support unassisted human life.  Basically, it was like a second earth, with its own biosphere, seasons, and everything else.  This is significant because all of the hundred or so other planets that humans have colonized up until this point have basically needed to be terraformed before they could be inhabited by large numbers of people.

The refugees land on the planet and set up a sort of EMP field in orbit that basically fries a certain type of futuristic computer circuitry when it enters the field.  This is to defend the refugee colony from the hostile AI, which they believe has completely wiped out humanity by this time.  They land in the fertile areas of the continent, near the ocean and river deltas, but almost as soon as they touch down they find remnants of an ancient civilization (is it human? is it alien? how did it get there? bwahaha!) and are violently chased off of the land into a desert by these strange robotic things that shoot anything that comes near the ancient ruins.

So now, completely deprived of everything and poor and starving on a strange planet, the society is in turmoil, loses its history, its technology, most of its accumulated knowledge from the outside world, and exists in a state of starving chaos on the edge of a desert.  After about a generation or two, it reaches a tenuous equilibrium, with the development of some basic agriculture and a rudimentary economy, but the political system is very authoritarian and the rule of law is thrown out when it’s convenient.  Social justice is a distant dream of only the most optimistic, and there really is no moral code that everyone abides by.  The strong do what they wish, with the weak at their mercy.

After a couple of generations, a new prophet comes out of the wilderness with a revolutionary religion.  It spreads quickly until it becomes universal throughout the community.  This revolution teaches the principles of social justice, establishes a new theology and cosmology, exhorts its adherents to live a moral lifestyle, and creates a new culture that, in many ways, washes away the negative effects of the years of chaos in the generations before.  It establishes a stable social order in which the civilization can finally start to grow and progress.

Of course, it doesn’t come without negative consequences, since over the next couple of generations religious schisms divide the people, political entities seek to use the religious framework to justify their attempts to conquer each other, and a few short religious wars cause limited trauma and destruction.  However, generally speaking, the religion does a tremendous job of bringing about civilization in the midst of barbarous chaos.  From this, a unique and exotic culture develops over the next hundred years in isolation from the rest of humanity.

The novel begins as the main character, Ian Steffek, finds himself suddenly thrown out of the world he has known and into this strange and exotic culture.  As the remnants of humanity on the other planets slowly start to rebuild after the terrible war, they come increasingly into contact with this unique and–in many ways–alien culture, and a clash of cultures starts to develop, with the main character caught in the middle. <end spoiler alert>

Basically, I need to create a tribal/medieval culture for this civilization on the lost planet.  And, since I’m studying Arabic and the Middle East, and because I want to use this novel as a way of sorting out my thoughts on contemporary issues like the allegedly inevitable clash of civilizations and the many terrible conflicts that are causing so much pain and suffering in that troubled region of the world.  Apparently, I’ve been doing a fairly good job, because many of the comments at the last writing meeting went along the lines of “I really like how you’ve written about Arab culture here.”

But the thing is, is it really such a good idea to base a fictional culture so much off of a real culture?

Of course, my response is that I really don’t know very much at all about Arab culture–REAL Arab culture–and so the stuff in my novel is going to be different.  But is it different enough?  If people look at this book and say “basically they land on a planet full of Arabs,” is that a good thing or a bad thing?  I tend to believe I should think of some ways to make this culture unique and have it stand on its own, apart from anything else we know.  But do I really need to do that?

I don’t know.  But I don’t really want people to point at my book and say “look, it’s a bunch of Arabs on another planet.” I want them to point and say “look, it’s a culture that feels as foreign to us as the Arabs.” Because, really, I can’t write about Arab culture.  It’s just too foreign to me.  I’d butcher it up really bad.  I can write about what I think Arab culture is like, but it won’t be an accurate representation of the thing itself.

But really, I don’t want this culture to represent the Arabs.  When I started out, I did.  I basically started with this vague notion of trying to symbolize different Middle East struggles by the conflict of this society with the rest of humanity.  I scrapped that idea really fast–not only because writing fiction with a conscious and clearly defined normative message in mind is generally a very bad idea, but because I actually started to learn something about the Middle East, and realized that there’s no way this civilization could effectively mimic the Middle East as we know it today.  There’ s just too much history and too many complications.  I’d fall flat on my face with every word.

So, that’s where I’m at now.  I need to create a culture that can stand on its own, with a story unique to itself.  I’m not here to tell the story of the Arabs or the Middle East, I’m here to tell the story of Nova Salem (I might change that name sometime in the future…) and the Lost Colony that landed there (I’m definitely going to change that title).

How to do this, I don’t really know.  But I’m going to do it, because come April, the rough draft WILL be finished!

400 words, but hey

400 words tonight. I tried, really I did, to write more, but after a while I simply became completely incoherent. It seems like my brain shuts down and goes to sleep before my body. Towards the end (as in the moment before I wrote this blog post), my mind was just swimming. I couldn’t think straight or visualize the scnees too mcuh. bleha and typiwing was paingful. As it si now. tomorrow inshallah