On Tuesday, Leinad walked into a large, brick church building and sat down on an old sofa in the foyer. He waited around for a while, glancing briefly over a sheet of paper with some scribbled facts about Mexico City’s pollution and crown-of-thorns starfish, before standing up to chat nervously with a young man in a bow-tie. Presently, an elderly man entered the foyer and ushered the two young men into the large church hall, which was filled with desks — all empty, except for two which had booklets reading “2014 HSC Geography Exam” lying on them.
The two young men sat, nervously emptied their pencil-cases as the old man intoned the malpractice warning, and then tensed, ready to begin.
Three hours and five minutes later, having filled in 20 multiple choice bubbles, answered four sets of short-answer questions, and written eleven pages worth of essays, Leinad straightened up. As he walked out of the church hall into the bright, spring day, he was filled with one sublime thought: he was done with school forever. The only thing preventing him from skipping down the street was his backpack, filled to bursting with books to be returned to school.
I have, of course, been very busy with study and exams — and more study, and more exams — for quite some time. Two years ago, I quit homeschooling and started studying in the public school system by a distance. Though I was fortunate to have excellent teachers and classmates, and I learnt a lot of things, the sharp increase in workload kept me from regular blogging and recreational fiction-writing for quite some time.
But now it is over! After a hectic three and a half weeks, in which I sat 18 hours worth of exams (and wrote about 86 pages of essays, 18 pages of short answers, 20 pages of Maths working, and filled in 57 multiple choice bubbles), I am free. Just in time to catch the second half of NaNo WriMo!
As I write this post, I am on the plane home from my exams (I had to travel a fair way to sit them). Earlier in the flight, I began my NaNo Novel. It’s the first novel I’m writing since 2011, and I daresay my skills in writing long fiction have grown rusty (if I ever had them), but I am eagerly taking on the challenge. My hope is that by the time I start University in mid-February, I will have written and polished my first ever high-quality novel.
But I won’t bore you by blathering on about my life. I’m writing this because I’m so relieved and happy to done with school (and because I can’t seem to sleep on this flight). But you shouldn’t be relieved and happy. Your NaNo Novel is calling you. You should be writing.
One day, when I was nine, I felt inspired. I decided that it was time I wrote a novel, so in a short space of time I thought up a world, developed a very general storyline, and got going. Eight months later: ta-da! I had my very first completed novel. Since then, I’ve done it about four more times. Each time, I’ve been relatively spontaneous: I may have picked a general setting and story-line up to a few weeks beforehand, but I didn’t do much pre-planning. And other than NaNo WriMo pep-talks, I certainly had no novel-writing instruction. But now for the first time, six years on from that first attempt at glory, I’m going to do it differently: I will take lessons on how to do it. I’m going to do the One Year Adventure Novel.
Compared to the NaNo WriMo, this thing is so different. The NaNo WriMo is to get people to sit down and write: you “win” if you achieve your word-count goal; quality doesn’t matter. So you churn it out. When I did the NaNo WriMo last year, I wrote 32 k and I’m sure I didn’t spend more than 30 hours on it in total. For the One Year Adventure Novel I’ll probably have a similar word-count, but there are 3 lessons of about an hour each (a bit more for us, because my sister and I tend to chit-chat…) for about 30 weeks. That makes for nearly 100 hours. Where do the extra 70 hours go? Into planning, planning, and more planning.
Another way in which this differs greatly from the NaNoWriMo, is that the story options are limited. Rather than being allowed to write anything we want, Daniel Schwabauer, the video-teacher, tells us things that we can and can’t do with our novel. This is supposed to make things easier, based on the quote “boundaries inspire creativity”. The three major restrictions that we have so far are (1) the story must be of the “Heroic Quest” genre: such as, for instance, The Lord of the Rings – rather than “the Man who Learned Better” genre, like A Christmas Carol, or “Boy gets Girl”, like Pride and Prejudice. (2) The hero must be roughly my age. (3) It has to be in the first person.
These restrictions are in place mainly to make it easier for beginning authors to write – and to write something good. I had no problems with doing a Heroic Quest novel, and the protagonist probably would have been close to my age anyway, but having to write in the first person seemed at first to be a stringent limitation. But I am trying to reconcile myself to the idea: having written five novels in the third person, surely it is time to try something different. Thus so far, none of the restrictions have been strict enough that they seem like a real drawback to the program. And you learn so many awesomely helpful things!
Yesterday’s lesson was on five elements that I should have in my novel(s):
(1) Someone to Care About.
(2) Something to Want.
(3) Something to Dread.
(4) Something to Suffer.
(5) Something to Learn.
I won’t go into them in detail, at least not today, but it is very useful to have all these things in mind while you are crafting the story. In the past I haven’t thought about these things as I wrote; so some stories didn’t have all thee elements. Probably the element I struggle with most is “Someone to Care About”. Most of my protagonists are to be fairly average Joes, but adventures just happen to them. This time I want to make my story more character driven: I want Joe (actually his name’s Alan but anyway…) to make a conscious decision to face danger — otherwise we won’t be that likeable. He doesn’t even need a stereotype brave guy — he could be like Rowan of Rin — he just needs to face his fears. On the other hand, I don’t want to make Joe too perfect, because then I’m afraid he won’t learn anything. At the moment I’m trying to think of a good flaw to give him so that he can overcome it…
Indeed, today is when I will get the chance to sort these things out — because today’s lesson is “Someone to Care About”. So I’ll think of these things while I do science. I don’t know how writing in first person will affect this though — it might make it harder. One would think it would be easy to be intimate with the protagonist in the first person, but paradoxically, the opposite sometimes seems to be the case. The main character often becomes more of a lens through which you see the rest of the story: and you don’t focus on the lens, the lens helps you to focus on everything else.
Anyway, hopefully this newfound knowledge will translate into a good novel; but it’s entirely possible that I’ll drown in it all and write a shocker. I think what is most likely to bring me down, however, is the fact that I don’t know what I’ll learn, or what I’ll be told to do or not to do. Because of this, I’m more detached from my novel than usual, mainly thinking about it during lesson time — rather than when I’m having a shower or washing up. On the whole though, I’m pretty optimistic about this — and after all, I’ve got a whole year to do it. That should help shouldn’t it?