Saturday, 8 December 2012


French trench in a quiet sector, 1917
So, it's been a week since the madness of writing that was NaNoWriMo.  What can I now say about the affair apart from the very obvious fact that it stopped my attempt to post here twice every week?  Well, it was an eye-opener. For perhaps the first time in, well, ever, I actually wrote knowing where I was going. I didn't know the details of any given scene when I started but I knew what I wanted to show in it and I aimed to get each scene completed in as few words as possible.

Would you like to know more?

German soldiers in 1918 near the Marne
Given that the point of the exercise was to write as much as possible this sounds like an odd way to write. But I found it liberating. I was writing the plot in my head that I've had ever since I bought Fundamental by the Pet Shop Boys way back in 2005/6 and with extras that I have gained since then - such as the analogue First World War I created back in 2008 and the characters I created in 2007 and the scene I wrote in 2005, edited in 2006 and published in 2007. As a consequence I knew where I was going and reasoned that each track would give me a credible chapter.

Barbed wire near the Aisne in 1917
French soldiers eat soup near the front in camouflaged barracks
So, I aimed to listen to one track for each chapter - making me all the more determined to keep sections and scenes short so that I could listen to the whole album. In another stroke of difference I decided not to write in chapters at first, this would encourage me to write short scenes and worry about chapter length another time. Finally, in knowing where I wanted to go and not writing a prologue I had to write all the way to the end to listen to my favourite track and write the scene in my head that it evoked.  Something I was very keen to do.

Colourised photograph. A British soldier in Ypres, 1917,
identifies a comrade
Behind the lines, Allied soldiers, 1917
As it was I got to track 5, about, before the end of the month. An attempt to write a few short scenes to cover my First World War analogue got hijacked by the characters and my own desire to give it room to breathe. There were so many incidental characters and I knew that they would have to die or be wounded for the plot to work. However, I didn't want the reader knowing these people only because they had to die. I wanted them to understand the emotions of my central character. For that I had to give these characters room to be characters. I had to allow them to live a little. I had to have some die and be replaced by others along the way too, to maintain that realism of the setting. I also had to weave in the technological changes I wanted to make in my analogue.

Front line at Oise in 1917. A concrete blockhouse captured
from the Germans by French soldiers
In essence, track 4 took over 38,000 words to cover and encompassed an extra track that I only found as I was about to write a scene. I think that scene may well be the most important scene in the novel and, arguably, the hardest scene I've ever written. But for all the right reasons.

I don't know that this is the place to put any work in progress on the novel - it's about the Boy after all - but if I ever get the thing whipped into shape I may well post links here.

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