Tuesday, 15 November 2011

NaNoWriMo, Dialogue, Falling In Love...

So. Well, sorry I haven't updated this for a while - as you've probably gathered, I'm doing NaNoWriMo, and I got behind at the weekend due to a monumental hangover, and am only just now back on target. Although, as I'm writing this blog rather than my novel, and haven't finished my quota for today, this positive state of affairs might not last...

Anyway. The novel is going as well as can be expected, in the sense that I haven't yet run out of plot (I'm fairly sure I will at some point, but I'm refusing to think about that right now). And I haven't reread any of it, which probably helps with my morale. No doubt I will finish it, thinking it's wonderful, and then go back and be horrified by what absolute tripe it is. Maybe that's the point of NaNoWriMo, though. It might be shit, but at least I'll have 50,000 words of it...

But it has been making me think. Which I suppose is a good thing. (Well, I hope so. You never know with thinking, it's a dangerous business.)

My novel, by the way, is called The School of Glass, and, as I've mentioned before, it's slash fiction. (Not fanfiction, but original slash - for more thoughts on slash versus fanfic, see my previous blog...) Which means it's basically a love story. With other elements, obviously, but the emotional thing is much more foregrounded than in any of my other novels. (Except possibly bits of Tyme's End, I guess. And The Broken Road. And Come The Revolution... hmmm. Looks like I write a lot about emotions, now that I think about it. And have a tendency to make sweeping generalisations about my own work which are just wrong. Oh well.)

Anyway, at the moment my protagonists hate each other. And I'm really enjoying writing them into a situation where they can be nastier and nastier, while trying to keep my options open for later, when the reader will have to start rooting for them to get together. It's intriguing. Right now I'm working up to some actual physical damage... and not in a good way. (Or rather, it isn't good for the characters. I'm hoping there will be a certain... frisson... for the reader.)* And the long downhill slope - from first dislike to visceral detestation - is quite easy, really. Hatred, once it's mutual, is surprisingly logical. And satisfying to write.

But it does make me think about what happens on the other side, when they have to start fancying each other. It raises all sorts of questions about why and how you (well, I, I suppose) fall in love with people. Not to mention the knotty problem of how that's expressed in words...

In a way it's really the same old issue of writing about emotion. You can approach it with the classic tactic of avoiding the label, and going instead for the physical and mental experience of what that state is like. In the way that, as a rule of thumb, you can't say, 'I felt angry', you have to say, 'I felt sick. How could he have done this to me?'. Or, rather than 'I felt happy', you might say 'the fresh air went to my head like champagne'. (Those examples are purely to explain the principle. Please don't judge me...) To make emotion immediate, it has to come to the reader in a vivid, non-abstract image. So, when you're in love with someone, you look at them and your stomach flips over, your heart races, your - well. You get the idea. Probably best not to go into too much detail... :)

And that works, up to a point. But, even in life, the symptoms aren't everything. There is something else, clearly. But I'm damned if I can say what it is.

Or rather - and more to the point - if I can write it. This is partly to do with the fact that we will never, let's face it, care about a character as much as we care about ourselves. Obviously. So romance in books is already at a major disadvantage, in much the same way that watching your friends snog has very little of the same effect as actually snogging someone yourself. Romance has to be better, much better, than it is in the real world. Someone in a book says, 'I love you,' and it just doesn't... well, it doesn't make your heart beat faster, or make you shiver or catch your breath. People have said things to me that have gone to my head like a drug, that I've actually felt in my chest like a shot of adrenalin... things which have turned me on like a light switch... and yet if I typed them here they'd make you wince. At best. (Don't worry, I'm not going to.) A character saying, 'You know I love you. I absolutely love you,' just doesn't cut it. Even though in real life it sometimes, actually, does.

So you have to try to create the intensity of it all, when you're hampered by a) the fact that you have to use words and b) the fact that it's fiction. It's well nigh impossible. Or at least it looks it, from this end of the book. Maybe by the time I actually get to the soppy section it'll seem much easier. (Then again... should I draw any conclusions from my use of the word "soppy" to refer to anything associated with romance?)

I should point out, at this point, that while I have identified these problems I have absolutely no words of wisdom to offer as an answer. I'm just letting you in on my preoccupations.

So there we go. My characters will blunder on for the moment, hating each other, and sooner or later they will have to start the long slow U-turn that will lead them to True Love. Or something. It'll be an interesting journey - for me, at least... From profound enmity to romantic passion... or, as a friend of mine said in a (fairly) similar context, from "fuck off" to "fuck me".

Then again... maybe that's a perfect beginning for a relationship.

*OK, this sounds kinkier than it was meant to. But I still can't bring myself to delete it.


  1. You know, given how utterly fabulously slashy and brilliant The Traitor Game was, even if this NaNo creation of yours never graces a publishers desk...I still really want to read it. Just stick it in a word doc and we don't have to tell anyone...

    Elin :)

  2. I'm fascinated by what you say on the language of love - you told us that even you are not comfortable that you can say, or write, what it is about love that makes it 'love' and that will paint a clear picture for us reader.

    It's really heartening to know that you [oddly, you are the only lady author that I've read and therefore are the only female view I really have on 'love'] struggle to find the words to describe this thing, I wonder whether that's why in 'real life' we seem to have settled with the simplest construction available; 'I love you' and then we rely on our collective awareness of what it should be, to tell us what it is.

    Personally I think the words just haven't been invented with which to truly capture the feelings that being in love give us. The words we do have available fall so short that they are like thunderously crass fireworks that would scare off the pure and beautiful, brown eyed creature that is the love we feel.

    I can appreciate it's not something a writer would embrace but I wonder if there is in fact a positive to be found in the fact that something cannot be encapsulated by the written word - if we cannot experience it through the clever wordsmithery of the writer then our only hope is maybe to experience it; my own life has shown me that the retelling of the experience of love is beautifully elusive and slips out of the grasp of language like water through fingers, all I have to prove it's there is how my heart feels about her, how my face flushes when she is near, how my heart quickens and my focus shifts.

    But here I am trying to write it down as well; it won't be written down, I think love is unwriteable.... which is what our favourite author was saying in the first place! I agree with you, I think you are right BR Collins.


    PS can't wait for Broken Road!!

  3. Hmmm. Interesting.

    Thank you, Elin! Actually I'm thinking that if I can't find a mainstream publisher (and to be honest, I don't think slash is going to be anyone's cup of tea, really) I might stick it in an ebook. But don't worry, you will be the first to know! :)

    And thanks RayAlmasy, too. I think you're totally right that language is really only a series of communally-agreed shortcuts - so yes, 'I love you' works because we all think we know what it means... But it's a fascinating problem, I think - especially as, when you think about it, you can't really express ANYTHING properly in words. (The taste of sugar, for example, or pain, or the colour green...) It's just that, the more vivid it is to experience, the more you notice the shortfall. So you're probably right that it's fighting a losing battle. But we have to try anyway. It's just a question of how well we can fail! (I am reminded of Becket: 'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.')

    And from time to time you do come across a book which captures something that feels true. Not as good as really falling in love, but with something of the same thrill - and it's a space where we can have that experience without the risk of disillusionment or heartbreak... That's what we're aiming for, I guess.

    Anyway. Glad you're looking forward to 'The Broken Road' - in the meantime, can I encourage you to read some other "lady authors"? :)

  4. I have to say that you are an amazing writer, and I would love to read this novel when it's finally finished.

    The way you describe and actually create emotions between your characters is amazing. I think you are very successful in that aspect.

    (Actually, I won't compare reading about characters emotions and watching your friends fall in love in any way because when you read fiction you invest in the fictional relationship in a way you don't with your friends because; 1) It's not real life and you can project and fantasize all you want about fictional characters 2) You are reading for them and their relationship while you know it's fiction which I guess has a different effect in us than watching "real life." Of course, there are people who project and invest in other people's affairs, but... I don't think that is that healthy.)