I have a lot of love for NaNoWriMo. It’s enthusiastic, encouraging, inclusive, and – most wonderfully of all – embraces even a failed attempt as having value. Also, it was how I met up with the York NaNo group, who are genuinely very lovely and were great company while I lived in Yorkshire (and continue to be through the magic of the internet).
So this year I’m going to fail NaNoWriMo.
I’m not even mad about it. Previous winning attempts at 50k have been me buckling down on a WIP and just *getting it done*, because there was nothing between me and the end of the novel other than getting my arse in the chair and just doing it.
This year? I had a title – The Raven and the Red God – and a rough idea of what I wanted to write about, and…that was really about it. I don’t know what it is about my head this time, but I actually needed to start writing before I could decide what I wanted. And what I wrote? Wasn’t exactly what I wanted. It was too generically fantasy, too serious in its tone. I liked the beats I was laying down, but everything else failed to fit.
So I stopped writing there, before I went any further. Things had to change.
First, names. The names were just whatever came into my head, a mix of Scots and Scandinavian names. I went hunting for sources and came up with a better list of possibilities. A few careful find and replace commands later (yes, yes, find and replace can be a problem but under 20k? It’s easy to check them all) and I felt much better about how the names matched their characters.
Then, characters. It was a bit thin on the ground with people – essentially turning into a two-hander. I sat and brainstormed some scenes and came up with a new roster of people to add, and how they would be introduced.
Then, the world. I wanted a highland setting, and a little less civilised than most fantasy. I imagined a world a little closer to an ice age, and people who had just started to settle after generations of nomadic movement. I looked at Pictish and Dalriadic settlements, the tribes of Bhutan and Yunnan, their clothes and buildings, their rituals and habits. I started peeling away the standard trappings of a pseudo medieval fantasy world and started down a different path. Some of it will remain – the common language of fantasy writing demands some touchstones, if only so readers can orient themselves – but largely this will be a different world.
Folklore. I’ve always treated magic with a fairly light touch. Here, I decided to take things in the opposite direction, and really go all out with the magic that fills and shapes the world. The characters might not understand how it works, but they know they are living in a universe of strange and often terrible things.
So, with the end of November approaching, I am nowhere near 50,000 words, but I am much happier about what I am writing. Which is more than enough for me to be happy with.