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Writing diary

23 November 2010 Leave a comment

The manuscript that I began at the start of the month as part of National Novel Writing Month has pretty much ground to a halt at a touch under 17,000 words. My first week back from China saw me writing every day and producing around 2,000 words a day. But on Friday I reached a bit of a crisis, as I could no longer see where the writing was going. Since then I’ve been going back to the (now legendary) drawing board to lay the foundations that should have been laid earlier. Today I mostly completed a kind of potted history of the world up until the point at which my story starts. In the next few days, I plan to brainstorm more of the details that will go into the story’s background – and which I will then sweep away with the first words of actual story.

What I wrote up until Friday had definite merit. In particular, I created four characters with diverse personalities and personal problems. Unfortunately, the whole work just wasn’t quite what I’d intended to write. It happens sometimes that your imagination takes you on tangents that may or may not work out. Also, I think the first character I made – and therefore the first viewpoint character – was a little too YA for my taste.

I now have a firmer basis to continue writing – or, more properly to start writing again, this time on version 2. I have plenty of ideas about the plot, but they’re all either vague or disconnected at the moment. Setting down a real plot, a series of causes and effects slowly building in intensity to the story’s climax will be another important task I have to undertake soon. It’s vital, because I need to know what I’m writing towards in order to write. It’s also incredibly difficult.

I think that conceiving a short story is like trying to visualise a small group of objects, like five apples, or a moment from a film. Trying to conceive a novel, or, worse, a series of novels, is like trying to visualise a million apples or every moment in a film simultaneously. Caveat scriptor, indeed.

NaNoWriMo update

8 November 2010 Leave a comment

I haven’t been writing much lately – the demands of travel in China and of simply being in China (Charlie told me that the pollution makes you tired) have drained my energy and taken up my time. I had a day of rest today and wrote about 1,800 words, which is my average daily target – but that does nothing to make up for lost time. I finished the first chapter and now need to think about the second, and my second viewpoint character.

Target word count: 12,600. Actual word count: 5,000.

Sick and tired

8 November 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I went to the Summer Palace, which just outside central Beijing at the end of one of the subway lines, with Charlie and Mark. The occasion was overshadowed by a couple of things: firstly, I’d been sick the night before so I was feeling a little tired and fragile of stomach; secondly, for the first time since I’d been in China, the weather wasn’t great – it was hazy and smoggy – it reminded me of my first day in India, although the sky wasn’t quite as brown as that.

Whereas the day before, I’d been to the Temple of Heaven and taken my time wandering around at will taking photographs of whatever caught my fancy, at the Summer Palace, with a couple of friends, there was a different dynamic. It was more about chatting than sightseeing, and with the weather as it was, the sights weren’t highly seeable anyway.

We had arranged to meet on the platform at Beigongmen Station in northwest Beijing (not the track, as Charlie had originally suggested – a suggestion that my inner pedant could not resist correcting), but I was fifteen minutes late, partly because I hadn’t set out early enough and partly because I got on the wrong train at first and went a couple of stops in the wrong direction. When I got there there was no sign of Charlie or Mark. I walked up and down the platform, went up the escalator, hung around up there for a minute, went down again, up again and finally sat down to read on one of the few benches on the platform. I was still suffering a little from the night before and was dehydrated because I had felt up to consuming anything.

I’d read a page or so before Charlie and Mark turned up, the former apologising profusely. We went out of the station and headed to a vendor of street food. Charlie bought a thing made of a large, thin pancake with a couple of eggs fried on top of it (maybe some other stuff – I can’t remember) then folded up and served in a plastic bag. I tried a bite – it seemed tasty, but I couldn’t really stomach food.

There was some construction or renovation work going at the palace, so shortly after we entered and we had crossed a bridge over a picturesque pool surrounded by buildings we were faced with a barrier. So we went round instead of going straight up to a temple on top of a hill looking over the boating lake. We didn’t go into the big temple just below it, but walked down to the lake. There were hordes of tourists walking along the lakeside. We walked round to a seventeen-arched bridge that led to a small island and then headed out – at an entrance at some distance from the subway station, so we had to walk a long way back. Whilst in the palace, I bought a deck of playing cards with Chinese emperors’ faces in place of the normal spades, kings etc.

After taking the subway a couple of stops, we got out to take a taxi to one particular university in an area of universities. At this university we went to a Muslim restaurant – only it wasn’t there because the building had been demolished. After making enquiries of passersby (a large proportion of which were young non-Chinese – all students here studying Chinese, probably) we found the restaurant in a nearby building – the university dining hall, in fact. It was called ‘Muslim Restaurant’ – which may not have been a direct translation of the Arabic text above the door.

The food there was OK – the roast chicken and lamb shish kebab were very tasty, and there was some delicious bread. I could feel as I ate, though, that it wasn’t such a good idea for me to eat so much. And indeed, later that night, I developed a bad headache and threw up a couple of times.

I slept to nearly midday today, deliberately giving my body some much needed rest. The rest wasn’t very consistent, as people in my dorm were coming and going all evening and morning, but it seemed to do the trick. During the day I went to Starbucks for a tea and did some writing then came back to the hostel, watched some Prison Break and did some more writing. I had dinner at a bare little restaurant that I’d noticed on the main road near the hostel and that is often full of people. I ordered a stir-fry and a bowl of soup that was much larger than I’d expected. The stir-fry was tasty, but very greasy and rather salty, and it started to make me feel queasy. The soup wasn’t great.

Today, I also signed up for a trip to the Great Wall. I’m to be in the hostel’s bar/restaurant at 7:15 tomorrow morning – which means I should probably get ready and go to bed.

NaNoWriMo update

3 November 2010 4 comments

Yesterday, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, I only wrote 600 words of my 1,800 target. Today, however, I made up some ground by writing 2,000 words – 700 in the morning, 1300 in the evening, after dinner and sightseeing in the Forbidden City in Beijing. What I’ve been writing has flowed quite smoothly. My first character has turned out to be a resentful, but spirited coward. The story has a natural opening, although I’m not too sure of exactly what’s going to happen next. I think I’ve made a good start.

Target word count: 3,600. Actual word count: 2,600.

Free at last

25 October 2010 2 comments

My last day at work was Friday. I had thought it was going to be today, which is the day I agreed to finish working, but I was told that I didn’t need to work on the Monday – which I forgot and had to be retold on Friday. Min-seon, the office manager, who I used to give lessons to, took me out for lunch and said that she’d miss me – not sure I believe that.

The previous night was supposed to be a leaving meal for me and Andrew, the Korean guy who also taught at EducaKorea and managed the Learning Center. Having very little work to do I was ready to go at the official finishing time of 6 o’clock, but Andrew told me people would be leaving at 7. So I left anyway and went to roleplaying. Probably not a very nice gesture to my colleagues, but the prospect didn’t fill me with much joy. Besides which, the night’s roleplaying session was an important one and it overran by an hour.

It was also my last roleplaying session for a while, as I’m heading to China on Thursday for a couple of weeks.

I haven’t blogged about my life recently, so here’s an update of the last few weeks.

Korean drivers aren’t held in high esteem by foreigners. I think Koreans just take them for granted. In some ways, though, Korean drivers are very tolerant of pedestrians. If there’s a small road joining a main road and there are no traffic lights, I’ve found that drivers, while they will certainly try to squeeze between people crossing the small road, they will also wait patiently if there are no gaps in the flow of pedestrians.

A while ago, walking back to the office from my Starbucks writing lunch, while crossing one such road an Audi saloon came towards me too fast. Already halfway across the road, I was confident that it was stop, but it came close to hitting me. I was holding my travel cup at my side, so I accidentally on purpose let it clunk against the car’s bonnet. The man inside honked his horn and shouted something at me as I walked away. I took no notice. From the amount of time it too the car to drive past me up the road, I’m sure he got out to check his paintwork. I wonder what would have happened if he’d seen some damage.

I’ve been wanting to get into hiking again – especially since I bought a new pair of hiking boots over the summer – they cost 150,000 won – about £75. A few weeks ago I went to Namhansanseong by myself on Sunday – it was a location that had been suggested by my friend and avid hiker, Botond.

There was a scary moment on the subway train. I was sitting there reading and there was a loud cry – pretty much a scream – from somewhere on my right. A young chubby guy ran down the carriage shouting wordlessly, holding something in his hand, apparently nothing wrong with him. When he got to the next car he stopped. Completely random and very unnerving. I had felt the adrenaline fountain inside me in a split second, and it took a while for my system to settle down.

The hike was pretty pleasant. After a bit of trek through the town, past all the hiking gear shops, you get to the foot of the hills and trudge up the hillside past a few small temples and plots of short towers made of piled rocks – many of them improbably slender. Then you reach the South Gate of the fortress.

It started raining pretty heavily while I was having a break there, so I put on my newly purchased rain jacket and headed off into the downpour while Koreans huddled under the gate’s roof. Not too long afterwards the rain stopped and the clouds cleared away leaving bright sunshine and good visibility. This latter was important because from some parts of the walls you can see all of Seoul to the northwest.

As I got to the west side of the fortress, having gone anti-clockwise around the perimiter (apart from one shortcut), it got more crowded with non-hikers – people there just for a short jaunt out to some historic buildings and who lack all the expensive clothing and gear that marks the serious hiker (and there are lots of these in Korea). As I headed wearily back to the South Gate, going downhill much of the way, my boots began to feel uncomfortable, my toes pressing againt the fronts.

Two weeks later I went back with Habiba and her colleagues June and Aiden.

In between these two hikes (if memory serves) Habiba, her friend Jessica and I went to the Busan International Film Festival (known as PIFF because it was established back when people used the older McCune-Reischauer system of transliterating Hangul into Roman letters). We saw three films on the Saturday but none on the Sunday.

The three we saw were all interesting in various ways – Honey was an understated Turkish film about a boy whose father has an accident while out collecting honey from his hives up in trees in the forest; Portraits in a Sea of Lies – the best of the three – was a moving Colombian film about a withdrawn young woman who goes on a roadtrip with her cocky cousin to find the deeds to a plot of land; and Viridiana was a strange 1950s drama by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel, about a young woman whose uncle tries to seduce and then commits suicide, apparently forcing her to live on in his mansion and take in a load of troubled homeless people.

The blurb about this last film promised cannibalism, so we were all disappointed when it didn’t materialise – blame Korean translators. Actually, no – blame Korean managers: some PIFF bigwig probably just went to someone in their office and said, ‘Here, you speak English: translate all this by next week.’

Some time ago I went had some problems with my shoulder. I first went to what I think was a Korean acupuncture clinic and when this didn’t do much I went to an orthopaedic hospital that seemed to do the job. I went back there more recently with pain in my left hip. It’s a feeling I get from time to time, especially after playing guitar. This time, however, it was completely random and about the sharpest it’s ever been.

I had more physiotherapy of the heat, ultrasound and electric kind, plus some medication, and that helped a lot. I also had a few X-rays (you can’t go to the doctor in Korea without getting a handful of X-rays done), which showed that there’s a slight problem with my L4 vertebra, near the base of my spine. There’s a little extra space where the disc is, implying, I think, some inflammation. The doctor said it wasn’t anything serious, just a sign of getting older, and he recommended that I strengthen my back muscles and don’t sit at a desk too much. I should get on that – at least the first part: you can’t be a writer without applying the seat of the trousers to the seat of a chair.

I’ve been working on my writing and trying to set things up to help my writing goals. I started a new blog, for instance – this one to be a ‘public’ one, while I think Infinite Probability should be a private record of my personal life. To this end, I think I’m going to transfer some things from here to there – namely my book reviews and Lexicon. I also rejoined Critters – and have found that it’s recently been renovated and looks like a fairly contemporary web site (the old one was very basic). I’ve already had some feedback on one of my stories (‘The Green Marble’) that all makes good sense and that I want to incorporate into the next version of the piece. I just need to get down to the hard work of rewriting. I’m also intending to take part in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) in November and see if I can’t write 50,000 in 30 days.

I’ve also been putting a lot of work into a roleplaying game system. It’s very hard work, though. Every decision you make for how things should work have repercussions pretty much throughout the system. Even my goals in creating the game are difficult to balance – part of me wants simplicity, part of me wants realism. Still a fair way to go with this project, but I think a lot of the fundamentals are in place now.

Now that I’m not working, I should have more time to work on the things that are important to me. Sightseeing in China might get in the way for a bit. Natural laziness might get in the way full stop.

Writing Diary

20 October 2010 Leave a comment

Last night I had a bumper writing session. I had dinner at a place near work and then went to Starbucks for about three hours. I wrote nearly 2,000 words on the ghost story I started earlier in the month. After a coffee and a tea, I didn’t sleep too well, but I’m very proud of the work I got done and its quantity.

At lunchtime today I got another 400 words done, bringing the total up to 2,600 or so.

Goals, Motivation, Conflict and Tension

30 September 2010 Leave a comment

Kristen Lamb posted a link on her latest blog post to what she described as the ‘formula to great writing’. It’s from another blog about writing, this one called Adventures in Children’s Publishing.

It advises making charts of the goals, motivation, conflict and tension relating to your characters. It explains that good characters have conflicting goals – internal and external ones, for example. Characters should also have conflicting goals – this leads to the greatest level of tension, which is what keeps people reading.

Read the full article here.