National Novel Writing Month

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When I was thirteen, I started work on a six-part series — not-really-fantasy-but-kind-of. The first (and only) book was eventually titled The Two Masters. It told the story of Princess Ariana and her escape from a traitor-ridden kingdom, while the rebel Jarek wrestled with either taking revenge against the kingdom who enslaved his people or keeping the Princess Ariana alive. Or something like that.

I thought about this story night and day for two years. I drew scenes from the book in my math notebook — fierce warrior women riding astride tigers, the petulant Jarek, and a girl suspiciously just like Eowyn standing atop a tower full of butterflies. I acted it out in the overgrown orchard in my front yard. I fell asleep replaying my favorite scenes over and over again.

Surprisingly, I did finish a 24,000 word draft, and even revised it. Want to read an excerpt from each? Well, here you go.

Embarrassingly excerpted from Princess Ariana

“Princess Ariana!” The heavy step of Ariana’s most trusted protector and knight rang throughout the hall, causing Ariana to stop mid-step and turn about slightly.

“Yes, Captos?” Ariana replied fearfully, her face suddenly losing its normal rosy color, draining into a pinched, pale complexion. “Oh, ‘tis not Mother, is it Captos? Please don’t say ‘tis.” She leaned against the marble walls of the hall, her arms pressing into its coolness, hoping to close out the dread of losing her beloved mother.

“Nay, fair maiden, ‘tis not your mother this time,” Captos replied reassuringly, bowing low as was custom, his richly embroidered cape sweeping the ground. Ariana let out a long sigh of relief. Her mother’s constant battle with death…it was haunting her night and day, and she dreaded even seeing her trustworthy bodyguard for fear of hearing bad news.

“What ‘tis it, Captos?” Ariana asked, her tight face relaxing, relief pumping the roses back into her cheeks. “Am I wanted?”

“Yes, m’lady, your father is asking for you in your mother’s bedchamber.”

I read aloud this passage to a writer friend, once, and I couldn’t get through it without dying of laughter. Isn’t the dialogue just riveting? And that grammatical use of ’tis — I must have been re-reading the Felicity Merriman books.

My teenage self recognized this train wreck for what it was and attempted to rescue it. I had just finished reading the Lord of the Ring series, so I borrowed heavily, and poorly, from it.

Softly his arm stole round his daughter’s shoulders and pulled her into him; they walked in silence away from the others. It was a warm silence. She had not been in his arms for a long while. He smelled of fur and sorrow and cold; his heartbeat throbbed in her ear. One hand he placed on his breast, fingering a chain there, as he always did when about to discuss something of contradiction to someone he loved.

“Ariana.”

“What?”

“Ariana,” he said, “I would tell you to be strong, but I dare not ask you anything I cannot do myself. I try to be a good leader, Ariana; you are my daughter.”

She let him ramble on.

“Ariana—daughter, precious, I—” He only said, “Niece Roanna, your aunt is dead.”

She fled from his arm and froze, eyes wild. Eny sat down neatly, tongue hanging out. His eyes pricked the niece’s thinning lips, the water trickling out of an old dam breaking. They strayed to the King, uncomfortable; to the master, with eyes searching; to the mistress, white and taut.

The sun dimmed.

“Uncle, I am so sorry,” Roanna cried. She burst into tears and the hands cupped over her eyes could not hold them back. She apologized, said she had to go back to the sickroom and wandered off to her duties.

“She died free, my lady. You have great hope,” said Master.

None of the three were sure she had caught her breath again; she struggled, with a terrified face; she had frozen up, shriveled inward. When at last she gulped a breath, her lords could again breathe free; but she turned away, slowly at first, and then quickly.

Facepalm.

I overcorrected. I made it too complicated. I even wrote two new languages for this story. (I’d translate hymns during church instead of paying attention.)

I think I got discouraged, looking back at previous paragraphs and not having the slightest idea of what I was saying, so I stopped two-thirds into my revision.

That was the last time I seriously tried to write a novel.

I won’t detail my thoughts on amateur noveling. I’m embarrassed by it, because many amateur novelists aren’t good, but they think they are, and they self-publish, and they might force me to read their work, and I’d have to lie about it, because I’m a people-pleaser who could never tell somebody to their face that the thing they’ve been working on for years and years is cliched.

To spare my friends and family that awkwardness and to protect my good name, I told myself I would never finish a novel (so why bother?). But above all, I promised myself I would never, never, never write a kind-of-but-not-really-fantasy. Period.

All amateur Christian novelists wrote kind-of fantasy of one sort or another. If I ever broke my first rule of never writing a novel, I would break it with a great, modern-day, non-magical, completely ordinary story.

Of course, to my deepest humiliation, not only am I participating in National Novel Writing Month, I’m writing a kind-of-not-really fantasy…and enjoying it.

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo or written a novel?

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12 thoughts on “National Novel Writing Month

  1. Bethany

    I almost died over the use of ’tis. ;)
    And all those math drawings? I was jelly of your skills. And my sorta-not-really-fantasy-novel (which included and dog AND a knight dude…don’t know where THAT idea came from…) only lasted four pages. Probably because I didn’t get up at 5:00 and write for two hours while listening to a LOTR soundtrack! :)

    Good luck!

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  2. Abigail

    This post made me laugh a lot and feel better about my life, and I’m so glad that you’re enjoying your current project! Please give us an update at the end of the month with your concluding thoughts. :)

    This is my seventh year doing NaNoWriMo. I share your cringing awareness of how bad amateur fiction usually is, but even with years of agonizing over how horrible my own stories were, I still felt compelled to write. After my first NaNo novel, I lamented to my older sister how disorganized, pointless, and absurd my kind-of-not-really fantasy was. She agreed that yes, it was all those things, and informed me that she had read one scene after I left my computer open in my room momentarily. She then declared that I knew absolutely nothing about romance, and went on a spiel about how naive, clueless, and sheltered I was.

    The good news is that I managed to forgive her… this August. The other good news is that I swore off writing anything romantic for the next year and wrote my next NaNo novel about the Petersons, a homeschool family I created. I discovered that realistic fiction about large families is My Thing. Even though I’m currently writing a murder mystery for NaNo, I write about the Petersons all the time, blithely referring to some of the characters as my imaginary friends, and writing about different times and events in their lives. I have a wildly complex canon and chronology, and share the stories with my best friend, even though no one else gets to read them. Slice-of-life is my thing, because then I can write from personal experience and observation, and don’t have to try to be the next J.R.R. Tolkien. ;)

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    • Bailey Steger

      This was so fun to read!! Oh, my goodness, I would never recover from such a harsh and honest critique, especially if it were true. :O I love slice of life stories, and try to work in homeschoolers randomly whenever I can. :)

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      • Abigail

        Thanks! I still maintain that she was completely out of line with calling me naive and sheltered… I occasionally go back and reread that scene to confirm that even though it was absolutely atrocious, the fundamental concepts correspond to reality. It took me a long time to recover from the humiliation, so I’m glad I can laugh about it now.

        I used to bring up this grievance from time to time during family reminisces… My sister has no memory of the event. Isn’t that always the way it works? XD

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  3. Rebekah

    As someone who’s been writing stories since I was five or six, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your excerpts!!! I spent a week camping with one of my best friends this summer and we entertained each other with old stories of ours. She tends toward too much description and I tend toward too much dialogue, so we’re great at laughing at each other’s writing.

    Good luck with your novel writing!! Are you going to share any of it when you’re done?

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  4. Allison Caylor

    Love this post. I was convinced I was going to be published in my teens and write full-time after that. Facepalm. Thankfully, life intervened, and I realized there is absolutely no hurry in writing… if you have a truly good novel in you, it’ll come out, far better for the ripening of decades. But despite my theoretical patience, I find myself working here and there on my (gulp) not-really-fantasy-but-kind-of, even now, as a wife and mother with zero time. Unfortunately, it is my genre for sure. (I’m too lazy for historical.)

    I relate to this whole post so much. :) :)

    Like

  5. Elizabeth Erazo

    Oh, I went through a YA Horror phase (vampire named Crispin), wish-fulfillment fantasy (LOTR inspired of course), straight up fan-fiction, and of course gritty realism.

    Sigh. But none made it as far as yours did! That’s pretty amazing you managed that output in my eyes.

    Like

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