Friday, 2 December 2011

The Joy of NaNoWriMo

Well, it's the first of December and I can relax. November is behind me.

November is the month of NaNoWriMo. It's not some kind of Mork & Mindy pachyderm reference. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and the point of the exercise is to get people writing creatively. For this, I applaud it.

It is fair to say it has taken over my life over the last 30 days. The point of the exercise is to write 50,000 words in a month. This is only actually 1,667 words per day, or about 4 pages of single spaced A4 with a 12 point font. It is doable. It is surpassable. When I did some research and found that 50,000 words is actually a novella and not a novel, I wanted to do more. My total word count for the 30 days of November was 80,071 and I still probably have another 30,000 words to go before the story is complete. But today is a day for putting my feet up and drinking too much. I do feel I have something to celebrate.

I have been obsessed by the project. I couldn't sleep for writing. I would try, and then I would get inspiration for something and would have to type it up before it went the way of all ignored ideas, confined to the bin of oblivion. I didn't eat. Mainly, I lived on a diet of Golden Virginia and the occasional Battenberg cake to keep the energy levels up.

And I discovered some dark sides to myself I didn't know were there. I am not writing a book for children. One of my main characters is a psychopathic rapist, another the victim of paedophilia. Societal ills from racism to Thatcher are themes in one section of the book, the dark underbelly of suburbia in another. And the way the orcs get treated in the fantasy section was tantamount to genocide.

The scary part is that none of this was planned. I had a vague idea of the wider story arc, I knew kind of what was going to happen but I was constantly surprised by the behaviour of the characters I created. They had their own very clear ideas of who they wanted to be. It didn't feel like I was controlling them at all. They arrived fully formed and told me who they were. I felt more like a journalist documenting the eruption of a volcano than a novelist creating the unreal. Jim Morrison said 'the role of the artist is not to invent, but to receive.' I understand what he meant now.

So yeah, I got loads out of the NaNoWriMo experience. I got insomnia, I got obsessed, I got exhausted but ultimately, I got the first 80% of a novel I'm actually really proud of. I recommend it.

So what is the book about? In a sense, it's a little like Tron or the Matrix, in that characters are trapped within a computer game. But it's a very different story to both of them. I don't consider the idea of characters being trapped inside a computer game a story anyway. Were that the case, Tron and the Matrix would have many more similarities. I consider the inside of a computer game a location, a plot device, an updating of the old dramatic dream sequence where anything is possible. Shakespeare used it a few times and he wasn't the first.

Basically, in the year 2051, computer technology has got amazingly good and is entirely based on organic components and nanobots made from stem cells. Four people get trapped within a virtual reality game so real there are times they don't know they're playing it. They have to find their way out before their real world bodies die of dehydration. That can take up to a week, but there will be serious organ failure if it takes that long, especially to the brain which is largely water-based. But meanwhile, they have a mad evil genius controlling the game from the outside, playing with them like puppets and manipulating them and their world for his own amusement. Mwah ha ha. So my characters start off in a fantasy role playing game, their characters elves and barbarians as they slaughter orcs and try to escape, then get picked up and moved to a Grand Theft Auto game, re-imagined as London in the 1980s. Bring on the stolen cars, the hookers and the ghost of Thatcher. Now, they are in the land of the Sims, living the suburban dream, where your happiness is largely determined by the cost of your possessions. Not that different to the 80s, then...

And from here? Still not sure. There will be a dramatic conclusion. There will be a poignant epilogue, reflective and tinged with reminiscent melancholy. But as for the details? I'll let my characters tell me. This is their world now.