The Journey

The timeline I am working with is rather simple, but I still needed some basic organization.  Since the majority of the active plot in this story will be on a boat from port to port, I took a world map and plotted course of a two person circumnavigation (inspired by an actual circumnavigation) and modified it according to different languages and sailing efficiency.

I have sailing experience but not enough.  My research on this has to be extensive.  Lucky for me, I have close people with tons more experience.  I must be able to convey what it is to sail across the Pacific without actually doing this.  Sure, I can throw some technical jargon in and make it sound convincing, but this will harm me in two ways, sailors won’t believe me and non-sailors will get bored.  So I must take the intimate experiences of mine and others to project a smooth depiction of a sailing journey.

Some things to consider for the journey:

  • Supplies—food, water, booze, drugs, clothing
  • Equipment, primitive and modern
  • Weather
  • Port regulations
  • Situations that can be magnified so a trans-Pacific trip isn’t just one paragraph
  • Baldur’s condition should deteriorate early on to provoke his language madness and megalomania
  • One or two love interests for Baldur which will haunt his emotions about Jennifer

To break the linear timeline and path of the journey, I want to lay out points in the story where I will inject backstory, just to break the monotony.  I don’t want a book that is backstory in the first half, plot in the second.

Tomorrow, I want to tackle some of the philosophical and moral principles that I’ll convey.

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Ten Rules for Writing x2

Here are some favorite rules of other authors.

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  1. Write.  –Neil Gaiman
  2. Use short paragraphs.  –Ernest Hemingway
  3. Every character should want something even if it’s a glass of water.  –Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  4. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.  –Elmore Leonard
  5. Write the book you want to read.  –Chuck Palahniuk
  6. If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water. –Hemingway
  7. If you’re using a computer, always safe guard new text with a memory stick.  –Margaret Atwood
  8. The first twelve years are the worst.  –Anne Enright
  9. Never complain about not being understood.  You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.  –David Hare
  10. Read widely and with discrimination.  Bad writing is contagious.  –PD James

Here’s a Ten Rules for Writing list I wrote.

  1. Live first, write second.  Experience is the best form of reference.
  2. Use a good dictionary, get the most out of your words.
  3. Use the thesaurus sparingly.  Too many fancy words can bog down your writing and make you seem like an asshole.  But, this is fine if your narrative is assholish.
  4. Learn whatever you can, be honest with yourself and your knowledge.  Don’t be a know-it-all.  Nobody likes a know-it-all, not even other know-it-alls.  People can see through bullshit.
  5.  Don’t leave your characters alone for too long.  Like real people, they will become cold and resentful if you don’t pay attention to them.
  6. Feel free to make up words, in modest.  Purists may not like it, but screw them.
  7. Write under any type of circumstance.  Bizarre shit will come out of your head when you’re sick, drunk, angry, et cetera.
  8. Embrace your emotions, whatever they may be.  No one likes a robot, unless of course your character is a robot.
  9. Learn to make fun of yourself.  Everyone’s an idiot at some point.  This type of humility can develop your writing and connect readers to you and your character’s humanness, unless again you’re a robot.
  10.  Justify your use of language, a nice person uses nice words.  Styles make characters, even if they’re robots.

Narrative Voice

Voice is paramount in literary fiction.  Publishing houses and agents are always yapping about finding original voices and whatnot.  I couldn’t agree more.  Your narrative voice channels your story, leads your readers to know your characters, and takes the dryness out of your writing.  A good narrative voice thrives on creativity.

It took me years to be able to separate myself from my characters’ voices (not that you have to, Kerouac, H.S. Thomson et al.)  Even now with full knowledge of what’s being written, my characters’ voices are unmistakably relative to my own.  Only through years of crappy writing did I get comfortable with the simple idea that my characters are my children, not me, but they have been endowed with some of my traits, naturally.  Even with all the effort to separate yourself from your narrative, people who know you and read your work will inevitably hear your voice for a bit if not all of the time, not a big deal really.  I got over it.

I can’t write anything in my character’s voice until November 1st, that would be cheating under my perception of the rules.  So I’m developing it completely in my head.

Considerations for Baldur’s voice:

  • First person omniscient – I might have to justify this voice later, but I know that this form gives me the most power over knowledge of other characters, I won’t have to explain why Baldur knows the intimate thoughts of other characters until the end.  After all, it is fiction so you can do whatever the hell you want.
  • Past tense mainly – I will have a few excerpts in present tense, but these will be limited emotionally charged anecdote.
  • Baldur will not, in diction, speak taboo words, but this won’t apply to his narrative, e.g. he’ll explain why certain words are taboo
  • I want Baldur to be sensitive and nice but with a contradictory edge that will make the reader question him, he does have a history of being insensitive
  • Lots of idioms and word explanations, this will be tricky –has to be done right to not be boring
  • Never self-loathing, revels in his optimal circumstances even when things get bad he takes full responsibility of his choices (this gets into philosophy which I’ll discuss another day)
  •  He has two main abstract desires.  To be understood, and for everyone to understand each other.  The latter is impossible, but he, through his drunken misconceptions of reality, thinks that he can offer the world a solution for peace.  A way back to mortal Eden or Paradise(more on this later, this is the Gordian knot of Baldur’s psychology and deserves its own blog post.)
  • I need Baldur to slowly expose his megalomania, at some point he should compare himself as a cross between Alexander the Great and Jesus Christ

Tomorrow I will make a Ten Rules for Writing list compiled from other authors’ lists.

Tools I use

Dictionaries, encyclopedias, books/magazines, wordlists, visual aids, and life.

Dictionary:  Not just for reference, but inspiration too

I can kill awful amounts of time in the dictionary, digital or real.  They’re invaluable to me.  Some months ago I lost my access to the online Oxford English Dictionary, not good.  But I make due with a handful of others.

My suggestion for new writers is to use the dictionary just as much as you would an encyclopedia.  Dictionaries (decent ones) are in their own way encyclopedic.  The roots of words tell stories, these stories or etymologies are creative and sometimes inspiring.  It is also good to know all the uses of a word, this can open creative pathways.

Encyclopedia:  Use it as a starting point for getting other books

Do you remember your first term paper, let’s say in about fifth grade?  The first rule of a book report/term paper is that you shouldn’t plagiarize other works in particular the encyclopedia which is your starting point.  It’s no surprise that when you get to college the same rule applies.  But students still do it and out of Wikipedia for that matter.  The same rule as fifth grade, same starting point.

Wikipedia gets a bad name because of the insane amounts of plagiarism, even citations from it are a no-no.  This doesn’t mean that it is a bad reference source.  I use it more than anything when I’m on the internet.  It allows for you to do guided research in a library for the handful of books you need.

Books:  Reading away from the computer, a relief

I have only a few so far and a handful more to get.

  • Atlas of Languages
  • Grammar Bible
  • Book on Child Language Development
  • Yachting magazines
  • Collection of Emerson’s work
  • Prose Edda

Need to get

  • Alcoholics Anonymous book and other material
  • Mahabharata and other Vedic texts
  •  Collection of different undecipherable ancient languages

Wordlists:  Lexical Depth

For Dipso, I’ll be making several wordlists.

The first one I did was Alcoholism.  Here is a sample of the list:

Alcohol

C2H5OH

besotted

crapulent

crapulous

sodden

tipsy

blind

crocked

pissed

pixilated

pickled

Some of these I had never heard of which is awesome for me and the English language.  I can use these words and keep them alive, and they’ll enrich the language of my character’s narrative.  In my opinion, using an extensive amount of vocabulary has you walking a sword edge.  You can make a story stronger, but you can also make it unreadable with too many collegiate or archaic or jargon words that just make you seem smart.  I tend to define words that are uncommon if I absolutely have to use them.  And of course strong context helps which is how I will utilize the above words. You can also get away with using loads of uncommon words if you’re justified, Nabakov pulled it off well in Lolita.

I do have to take caution with my wordlist of linguistics.  I must make sure that all justified use of jargon words is easily understood by all readers.

Visual Aids:  They’re fun to make and brighten your writing day when you’re stuck

For Dipso:

  • I’m going to draw a map of the Baldur’s sailing route around the world.
  • Coincide language maps with the journey
  • Pin up several different types of alphabets, syllabaries, pictographs, ideograms, hieroglyphs, et cetera
  • Language family trees
  • International Phonetic Alphabet chart
  • Pictures of different ancient boats/ships
  • Examples of traditional tattooing, especially Pacific Island and Nepal
  • Different types of booze bottles
  • Photos of different places

 

Life:  Recall all experiences related to anything relevant

Of course writers use their experiences to give depth to their writing.  I personally try to avoid using situations verbatim, I’d like to save that stuff for an autobiography.  I let the story and the character take a basic situation and make it unique to them.  For example, everyone has had an embarrassing trip and fall, fairly universal, I just stylize it to the story with the conveyance of my own emotional regard.

Tomorrow, I want to discuss voice.  This is huge for literary fiction.  I’ve given the consideration of voice a great amount of my thoughts.

Last Character Concepts: The Lover and The Sage

I have two more characters that I need to go into detail about, Sarbagya and Jennifer.

Jennifer is the main love interest of Baldur.  Although her part in the story isn’t going to be that great, she will have a profound effect on Baldur’s emotional growth.  She’s an ideal woman for Baldur (or anyone for that matter).  The problem is that she is too good in Baldur’s eyes.  He feels that his life has been too good already and doesn’t deserve such a perfect woman.  Baldur seems to be developing the Martyr complex that I wanted him to have.

I had to struggle with the significant other element of this story which is quite the opposite of what I dealt with in Flush.  The reason I even bother creating it is simple though.  I believe that a writer needs to have an emotional connection to write literary fiction.  Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be love for a person only, emotions span most anything.  Emotional lacking is also a thing, two of my biggest writing influences, Vonnegut and Palahniuk, use this successfully.  Not my thing though, I like dealing with emotions in all forms.

Jennifer: The Love Interest

  • Two character flaws(if I can say that) is that she is too nice and sexually restrained which Baldur doesn’t consciously dislike, but this over-niceness makes him doubt her emotions for him, and he wishes she would at least argue with him about something
  • Cherokee Language revivalist—met Baldur at a Moribund Language Convention
  • Contrary to what Baldur doubted, she is devastated when he departs on his quest, this changes her significantly
  • Helps other Native American languages nearing extinction to survive and grow, even plans to resurrect a one someday
  • She is what occupies Baldur’s mind when he is on his death bed
  • Baldur wants her to have more flaws, this is unrealistic of course, she doesn’t have negative traits because she is enraptured by her love for him (which he can’t see)
In a psychological sense, Baldur wants Jennifer to be more like his mother even though he doesn’t consciously ever think this.  Baldur has many moral ideals, Jennifer is living proof of these ideals.  This makes for a psychological conundrum which will drive the negative aspects of Baldur’s megalomania and martyr complex.

Sarbagya (Sarba for short):  Sagacious Helper

This is a character that I’m adding to aid Baldur on his quest to fill the role of the Sage who helps the Hero.  I cannot avoid these kind of epic elements, Joseph Campbell’s works are a huge inspiration.

I’ll add Sarga for a few reasons:

  • He is a good character to expose some of the deep dark secrets of Odin’s soldiery
  • Knows a few languages that Baldur needs to break a part of the Proto-Language code(more about this later)
  • A Gurkha that served with Odin in the same mercenary corporation
  • He calls himself a recovering murderer, devotes himself to Hinduism
  • Sings out of the Vedas frequently, tells Baldur of the Language of God in India that no human can understand
  • On a personal quest for Soma, a drink of the gods
  • Does calligraphy and traditional Nepalese tattooing
  • Happy-go-lucky
  • As fun as the old sage warrior is, he’s still deadly and has no hesitation in defending Baldur and Fetu till the death

That’s all I could squeeze in.  For the next few days I will be working on wordlists, philosophical threads, the adventure map, and several other conceptual aids that I’ll need to create a smooth month writing.

Conception of Characters 3: Brother and 2nd Father

Today I did the initial research for the last two main characters, Fetu and James Villard.  I have much more research to do so my back stories are believable.

Fetu is Baldur’s adopted brother.  This character started from one concept.  I wanted a character that would criticize the insecure male’s overzealous of display of strength before an altercation.  So Fetu will carry around consent and release forms prior to getting in any physical conflict at least in the US or Europe (this will not apply in many third world countries and he knows that).  Not only would this show a person’s resolve in partaking in a physical altercation, but release the combatant from responsibility of damage.  There is more to this but I won’t get into it now.

And I wanted another type of addict, so I thought a meth addict might be of assistance to Baldur on his journey.  So Fetu is a meth addict.

A few weeks ago I decided to make him Samoan and to make him adopted.  The Samoan culture has an emphasis on masculine strength and they are also great sailors.  I didn’t come up with a name until last week.  I chose Fetu because it means ‘star’ which is also the Samoan god of night.  This is perfect for a sailor meth addict who has no problems sailing all night long.

Fetu: Baldur’s adopted brother.  Some details.

  • Older than Balder by a few years
  • Adopted when he was around ten or twelve
  • Emotionally reserved because of his parents’ deaths
  • Knows many of the Samoan skills (from both his time on the islands or from Odin), tree climbing, the fire knife dance, basketweaving, coconut shell carving, traditional tattooing (from Odin in his late teens), boatmaking and sailing
  • Very protective of Baldur especially after Baldur denounces violence shortly before their trip around the world
  • Left at age eighteen to go into the Marine Corps, this has a profound negative effect on Baldur which leads him to be anti-national and anti-warfare
  • Besides being a meth addict, Fetu is very healthy.  Because of his mother’s and grandmother’s death from diabetes, he refuses to eat processed foods.  He blames their modern western diet on their diabetes.
  • Obsessed with all forms of stimulants but meth is his favorite

I’m having some issues with the James Villard character.  I have put him into different classifications that I might have a hard time justifying.  But here’s what I got so far.

James Villard:   Baldur’s supposed biological father

  • Billionaire Televangelist who was originally from the Boston Brahmin elite, his family doesn’t care much for him because of the negative attention he gets from his antics
  • Charismatic but compulsively lies, and is megalomaniacal
  • Nothing really good about the character in the beginning, but will go through a profound redemption after the climax
  • From the first generation of the Boston Brahmin that doesn’t keep their dying dialect, Baldur will notice this and maybe say this “You’ve lost your way it seems.”

James Villard can be considered a minor character, but since he drives so much of the little plot I got and also many moral undertows, I have to have extensive depth to him.

I have a few minor characters that I have to work on tomorrow.  I can’t possibly work on all of them because the act of writing a story lends itself to minor character creation.

The minor characters tomorrow:  Jennifer (number one girl’s name in the 70’s)—Baldur’s true love interest, a few of his whimsical lovers he finds around the world, Sarbagya—the aged Gurkha warrior, fellow comrade of Odin who assists Baldur and Fetu along their journey.

Conception of Characters: Mother and Father

I have three parent characters and one brother I have to develop.  I’m going to focus on the real parents today.

Baldur was raised by his mother, Nastasia, and his father, Odin.  Early on in the story, Odin will die of heart failure.  His death will trigger events to bring James Villard into the story.  He will be the possible biological father of Baldur.  Baldur never knew about this until Odin dies, and James Villard never made an effort to find out until Odin died.  I don’t think I’ll let the reader know, I may not have a paternity test happen.   I’m toying with the idea of uncertainty as some moral backdrop for James Villard.  With him entering, several things will be set into motion, for example, Baldur’s and Nastasia’s emotional psychological issues, the plot itself, and a moral/philosophical underbelly.

His brother, Fetu, is not biologically related.  Fetu was adopted by Odin and Nas when his grandmother went into a diabetic coma and died.  Fetu is from Samoa and his father, Afi, was a fellow mercenary who died along side Odin when fighting in an African conflict.  Odin promised Afi that he would take care of his son if his grandmother died. More on Fetu tomorrow.

I’ll start with Odin.  He will have prominence in the story though he dies early on.  Baldur will constantly be reflecting on his father’s teachings.

We all know Odin is from Norse mythology, and it seems corny at first glance to name Baldur’s father Odin—too close to the myth.  But I can simply justify it with the Odin character being from Sweden and being a Norse religion revivalist.  This understanding of his heritage will lead him to name his son Baldur.

Odin Ankarsvard:  Some details from my sheet and my head.

  • Has one eye and a beard like Myth Odin, but mine lost his from shrapnel during combat, and not as a quid pro quo for the Wisdom of the Ages from Mimir’s Well
  • Altruistic but very firm like the Odin of Myth
  • Beekeeper and a mead maker
  • Lover of animals, falconer, horsewhisperer
  • Influence for Baldur’s alcoholism.  The honey he harvested went to making mead which he drank a lot of and contributed to his heart failure
  • “It’s not magic, it’s willpower.”  A quote to his sons
  • The small fortune he got from mercenary service went to buying his family a private island in Lake Superior where Baldur spends most of his childhood
  • Sailor and mercenary soldier (Ankarsvard comes from anchor-sword in Old Norse), blacksmith, fisherman, hunter, man’s man
  • Emotionally detached unless he’s really drunk, what he saw in Africa destroyed his faith in humanity, this is also why he names his son Baldur.  Myth Baldur’s death is the spark that starts the War of the Gods, Ragnarok which starts the world anew.  My Odin wants the world to start anew

I’ll stop there and start on Nastasia.

Nastasia is from Poland.    She was born under a bad sign.  Her mother was raped by an SS soldier during WWII and stayed in a Lebensborn facility where she gave birth to and partially raised Nastasia.  Sick of the conditions of Post-war Poland, they fled to America.  As a teenager Nas’ mother dies, and she becomes a prostitute but still manages to go to school and put herself through college.  She gets sick of New York and moves back to Europe (not sure exactly where, Prague maybe, need to do research).   In Europe, she meets James Villard in Paris and has a two week affair until he finds out that she used to be a prostitute.  He goes back to America.  During this same time, Odin is on leave from mercenary business and meets a drunk and somber Nastasia in a bar.  They fall in love.  Baldur is conceived.

Nastasia Adamczyk:

  • Strong and independent, but can be loud and domineering
  • Deep mistrust in men which is countered by Odin’s sincerity
  • Nurtures Baldur so that he is kind and in touch with his emotions, but sometimes over-nurtures him, he was her only comfort until when Odin was away on missions
  • Has a over-protectiveness like Frigga, Baldur’s mother in myth, which causes her to be proactive in making sure that Baldur never gets hurt, this develops psychological issues for Baldur
  • Kept her Catholic faith through the worst of times, but does not believe in the church itself

I didn’t originally intend for Nas to have such a dark background but I just went with the flow in my head.  All I knew was that Baldur’s parents had to have issues because the family fights are going to be bilingual.  For example, Nas yells at Odin in Polish, and he in Swedish, all the while living in America and speaking English.  I probably won’t say exactly why Baldur has language issues, but they will be there.  This is an important aspect of his character which he truly gets from his mother, and that is perseverance to the extreme.

Tomorrow I will work on Fetu and James Villard.

Conception of Characters: The Protagonist

The goal of this blog is to show the techniques I use to write a novel.  I want people to see in some detail how I plan to write this fifty thousand word novel in just a month.  I have learned over the last ten years  to keep in mind two major things:  rough drafts always suck, editing phase is most crucial.

A few reasons for me to blog this process: so people can see in detail how I create stories,  so I can organize all the elements that I have to pack into my brain, and also to be an inspiration and/or learning tool for some aspiring writer out there.

Dipso (or Thirst) was seeded in my brain a few years ago.  I’ve done nothing with it except for thinking about it.  I was too focused on finishing Flush to write anything.  It has been festering and is ready to come out.  All I had was a nameless character with a few basic concepts.

Since I’m writing in the way of literary fiction, character development is paramount.  I care very little about plot at this point.  The psychology of the characters will feed at plot at any given time so I needn’t worry.  I have a climax and that is all I need.  (Having a climax early is a very important tool that many authors use.)

My favorite tool for character development is a corkboard.

I will constantly be adding to these character sheets during the entirety of the book.  Your characters are like children, they need constant attention.  At times you need to guide them, but if you really put time into your characters, they develop a will of their own.  A well developed character can defy you inside your head (sounds strange and schizo this happens).

The Main Character

Baldur – The protagonist:  This is definitely the creation most akin to myself.  I’ve bequeathed a few major things that I know a lot about, linguistics and alcoholism.  They say “write what you know”, and I’m a firm believer in that.  Hemingway had what he called The Iceberg Method (or similar).  He believed you should know a lot about a subject and only expose the tip, crucial for literary fiction since it is so psychologically involved.

I tend to use names to help drive a story.  I decided to go with a Nordic mythological element for the protagonist.  I like using mythological and religious themes because they represent so much of a characters psychology.  Also, myth references help with vivid vocabulary when I hit a writer’s wall (a blog about wordlists will be posted later).

Baldur in myth has a few things that I will steal for my character Baldur:

  • A mother figure that willfully creates a near perfect child but with one inevitably fatal flaw (alcoholism)
  • Baldur means ‘brave’ so I will use this trait (linked to the word bold), also in Anglo-Saxon there is a derivation that means ‘shining one’ (this is a godly implication found in many myths worldwide) so I will most likely tie in some messianic element like that of Dionysus or Mithras
  • Baldur’s father is Odin so my Baldur will also have a father name Odin who is a Swedish expatriate ex-mercenary (another direct mythological name reference sounds weird but I’ll explain later why I’m doing this)
  • Baldur in myth prophesies his death and dies due to his weakness (mistletoe) which starts a chain of events that lead to Ragnarok, my Baldur will also die from his weakness (alcoholism) which set a chain of events that start World War Three
Other character traits:
  • Baldur was raised in the sailing tradition along with shipbuilding, both taught to him by Father Odin
  • Fear of flying and falling, he despises gravity
  • Overly nice and polite, refrains from using taboo words in any language
  • Unrealistic expectations with his love interest
  • Talks slowly and carefully, experienced language confusion because of his multilingual household, I got this idea from Zamenhof’s childhood (the creator of Esperanto) – as a child, Baldur’s teacher’s actually though him to be retarded because he had several speech impediments and used a mixture of vocab from English, Polish (from the mother), and Swedish (from the father)
There is much more that I won’t write here.  This is just a sample of what my corkboard page looks like.
Tomorrow, I’ll post about the parental figures, his mother Nastia, ‘real’ father Odin, biological father James Villard.
Once I have all the characters laid out, I’ll work on word lists to cover the motifs in the story.
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