Incurable Curiosity

In-cur-able: (adj.) Not likely to be changed. Cu-ri-os-i-ty: (n) A desire to know.


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I Still Haven’t Written ‘The End’

It’s Nov. 30, and we’re getting down to the last hour of NaNoWriMo.  I began National Novel Writing Month with the bare bones of a story in mind and a determination to give it life. I’m still typing away, but my story won’t be finished tonight. The characters are still taking shape and the four plot lines are somewhat unconnected fragments. I don’t see that as a bad thing, though.

Here are some of the things I learned from this writing adventure:

  • When it comes to writing, I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner.
  • Third-person writing is more difficult than it sounds.
  • Plots do not just happen, but sometimes plot themes do.
  • Dialogue is an art form.

In all, I’m quite satisfied with this first attempt at NaNoWriMo. No, I didn’t make the 50,000 word goal, and I don’t have a finished story. But I do have a 10,000-word start on a short story that will be finished, and there’s an idea in those words. And I’ve started a habit of looking for potential stories everywhere.

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They Don’t Have Names

None of my characters (16 so far) have names. Instead they are identified by how they identify themselves – does that make sense?

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An excerpt from the blank book itself:

I don’t know how I got to where I am today. This was supposed to be the job of a lifetime, something I’d be proud to write about after I retire. Instead, I’m bone tired of the world and all of the trouble it breeds. I’ve seen everything bad and very little good. Even the good is never purely good, because everything is corrupted by something. Beautiful forests are clouded by smog, tribal villages are being turned into tourist traps, to say nothing of the former empires becoming literal trash heaps.

That’s just the land. People are the greatest tragedy. Every assignment brings its own set of challenges, but it’s the people I meet that never leave my mind. Widows struggling to make ends meet after their husbands have been killed in a meaningless war, children abandoned because of their gender, entire cities of people working for the same factory to pay back a massive rebuilding debt. The good ones do die young, and the bad never get caught.

So many times I could have reported corruption! But who would listen? Most of the time it was the authorities behind the evil, and there was no one to challenge their power. My editor threatened my job once when he discovered that I was checking into the other business dealings of a resort owner in the Caribbean. He said that if I went any further he would cut me off and leave me to take the consequences of investigating Mr. Jones. I let that one alone since I didn’t have a name established enough to fall back on. It’s not a choice I’m proud of.

Another time I had solid evidence of a hotel that used slaves purchased – purchased! – on the black market to clean the rooms and tend the landscaping. I also suspected that the young girls were assigned to certain visiting dignitaries’ rooms for other purposes, but that was impossible to prove without the girls’ testimony, and it appeared that they had been ordered to stay away from the other guests, especially Americans. I tried going to the authorities with my evidence, but they warned me to back off, saying that it was fairly easy to get lost in the mountains, and with it being hunting season – ‘accidents’ happen…. I would have expected something like that in South America or even Asia, but this was in a wealthy European nation!

There have been other times, other places, other crimes, but it all comes back to greed in the end. And I’ve been too afraid to do anything about it.

I’m just so tired of this world. Sometimes I find myself wondering what it would be like to disappear into life among the population of whatever city I’m assigned to next. To walk away from the stress, the deadlines, the jet lag. To get back into life instead of just watching it from an outsider’s perspective. Would that mean that I’d become part of what I just wrote about despising? I don’t know anymore.

I’m going to Seattle next week to check out a restaurant featuring a new menu of coffee-based entrees. I’ll pass this along there.

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Thoughts, opinions, and critiques are gladly taken.


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A Non-writing Weekend and Chapter 1

Confession: I didn’t write much in ‘The Blank Book’ over the weekend. The story froze in my mind, and nothing I tried could get it moving again. I was able to work out some details of the story’s chronology, though, so I have something of a plan to work from instead of writing random passages.

It also seems that I have stumbled on a side effect of searching for inspiration for a specific project: You get ideas for everything except what you’re working on.

Anyway, this is the first part of Chapter 1, written last week:

After debating it in her head for two solid minutes – what if someone sees and accuses me of stealing? – the young traveler decided to pick up the book, if only to find out who it rightfully belonged to. The book itself was of medium size, sturdy construction, and bound by well-worn mahogany leather. She cautiously lifted the front cover, half hoping to see a name identifying an owner, half wishing that it would be blank.

In fact it was neither. There inside the front facing page was a simple notation written in a clear, confident print: “Write in me, then pass along.” On the top right corner was a date: 9/17/08. Hmm, almost three years ago. That was it; no signature, no further instructions, nothing. Quickly flipping through, she found that several pages in a row were written in one script, then the next few were written in a dramatically different style. It looked like the whole book, except for a few pages at the end, had been written in, and by at least a dozen people. Some pages had places where ink had bled through, others had what looked like water stains on them, a few consecutive pages contained sketches, and and about a third of the way through the book there was a thin blue ribbon that must have been used as a bookmark.

Hey, this might be an interesting read, and no one has come to claim it yet… it isn’t illegal to take something if it says to take it, right? Just then there was the call for her train. Feeling rather like the heroine in a spy novel, the girl hastily stuffed the mysterious journal into her backpack and joined the crowd lining up to file into the train.

Finding her seat, the girl pulled the book out of her backpack as quickly as possible. Hopefully whoever sat next to her wouldn’t be the nosy type. Fortunately, the seat next to her remained vacant as the last call was sounded, though a professor-type gentleman claimed the seat across from her.

“Always bring something sensational to read, eh?” The man asked with a chuckle.

Surprised, the girl replied, “No, this isn’t my journal.” She hesitated for a second, then added, “But I did bring a copy of ‘Dorian Gray’ with me for later.”

“Good choice, good choice. What are you reading, then? If you don’t mind my asking, that is – looks interesting.”

“Something I just picked up, actually.” Why am I telling him this?

“Ah. I will leave you to your reading, then.”

“Uh, thanks.”

The gentleman removed an iPod from his coat pocket and inserted a pair of noise-canceling earbuds into his ears. I guess he won’t mind a lack of small talk, then.

“Ok, what do we have here?” She muttered to herself as she opened the book again. Taking a quick second look at the first page, she was once again mystified by the short note written in black ink. If this was some kind of advertising campaign, there was no indication of it there. A turn of the page revealed a more interesting tale.

I am a thief.

Those were the first words written on a page of small, tight lettering drawn in heavy pencil. The confession looked very bold as an opening statement, sitting there on the college-ruled line running neatly along the page.


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A Renewed Perspective

Day 4 of NaNoWriMo. I have come to a realization: It isn’t about word count or deadlines; it’s about the story.

I have been stressing over how I’m going to meet the 50,000 word goal by November 30. The bar graph shows me that I am way off the mark already. The ‘At this rate you will finish on’ indicator tells me that I will finish on Christmas Eve. The progress bar has only the slightest sliver of blue at the left hand side.

Unfortunately, there is something that the stats page lacks: A story progress indicator.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo without a plot in mind. Thankfully I got an idea that wrote itself out in my head on Oct. 31, but translating an abstract into a reality is a whole other thing. I assume it’s a journey for even the most experienced writers who have traveled that road time after time. For me, it’s blazing a trail through completely unfamiliar territory. Everything is new, everything is exciting: meeting my characters (they’re becoming good friends already!), discovering their stories, learning how everything will turn out in the end. Even the frustrations of writing seem like agreeable challenges.

So why am I trying to measure this experience by how many words I can type in a day?

It’s a wonderful goal that is pushing me to get this thing written, but in the end that won’t be what I remember. In the end I will have gotten an idea out of my head and into reality. In the end I will have (hopefully) improved my written organizational skills. In the end I will have accomplished a goal. And maybe, just maybe, I will have written a novel.

The story may not be 50,000 words, but if it’s complete, I’ll be satisfied.

And now I will step off the soapbox and return to the world of words.


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Making It Beyond the First Words and Staying Organized

Not even 24 hours into NaNoWriMo, I’ve run into my first roadblock: Figuring out how to maintain three plot lines at once. To keep things organized, I have made three separate word documents, one per plot thread. I’ll worry about putting it all together later.

Ok, that moment of freaking out over my first writing roadblock is over. Stay tuned for further first-time-novelist-moment updates!


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The First Words

The Blank Book

Prologue:

Time: Mid-day

Place: Grand Central Station

The lunch hour commuting crowd has thinned out a bit, not that you could tell in a place that is always chaotic in some way. A bored teenager sits with her back against the wall, trying to block out the noise with her iPod as she waits for the next train. Suddenly the music stops – and right before the end of the song, too. Lovely, now that note will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day. And I can’t even charge this thing until I get to Grandma’s. That’s what, 13 hours from now?

She digs around in her backpack for a minute, then gives up. Looking around for some other distraction – This book has to last me until the next stop at least, and I really don’t want to break out the sequel until there’s no other option – she sees a leather-covered volume sitting on an unoccupied bench two seats to her left.

I wonder if that’s someone’s journal? Not exactly the most brilliant thing to go leaving in a train station. Skimming through an abandoned magazine, she keeps an eye on the book, checking every few minutes to see if someone claims it. Finally her curiosity becomes too much, and she moves over to the bench holding the book. Maybe someone’s name or something is inside the cover…..

(Word Count: 233)


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Preparing for An Adventure Into the Unknown: NaNoWriMo 2011

In the spirit of adventure, I have signed up for the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge, which dares writers to create a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30.

It really will be an adventure for several reasons:

  1. This is my first NaNoWriMo.
  2. I have never tried to write a fictional work beyond short-story length.
  3. Writing fiction in general is a foreign thing to me.
  4. I have no plot line (though I do have several potential stories scattered around).
What I hope to gain from this experience:
  1. An understanding of the basics of story writing. I have read a few things on the topic, but why not test the sink-or-swim theory?
  2. An expanded writing horizon. It may fail miserably or exceed my highest hopes, but I won’t know until I give it a try.
And I might be trying to satisfy my habit of going after ridiculously unrealistic goals, too.
In any case, I’ll try to post some of what I’m writing here. As always, feedback is a beautiful thing, and I’d welcome some accountability. Until the 1st, I’ll also be finishing up some drafts that have been idling, so expect several posts over the next few days.