04 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Update: Day 4 and Pratchett Relaxation

Here it is, Day 4 of National Novel Writing Month, and I’m currently a bit ahead of the Day 8 mark. This is about par for the course for me—I find it hard not to at pound out at least three thousand words a day; I’m just feel like I’m warmed up at 1,667 words. Also, I keep coming back later in the day to add just a bit more, which usually means another thousand words. Thus, I’ve done about 4,200 for today.

Nonetheless, because I’m writing short stories, the momentum is quite different this year. This morning I started on a new short story, a pure sword-and-sorcery adventure. This one is clipping along quite well, although as I’ve learned over years of work, my initial reaction to how well a piece goes down on the page has no direct connection to how it finally ends up. This story may turn out wonderful, or it may need a lot of revision work to get to its best form. Hard to tell at this point. The story I finished last night came out onto the page a touch more grudgingly than some, but I’m eager to take my second look at it in a few weeks and see what, exactly, I’ve got.

Now, to another important issue: how am I finding ways to relax during NaNoWriMo? This is an important concern. I don’t believe that NaNo should utterly consume the writer’s life to the point that he or she never see another human being during the month of November. Nor should it mean a writer deny him or herself of the pleasures usually partaken in life. For me, books and movies are my main entertainment conduits that do not involved dance shoes (i.e., the split between my private entertainment and my social entertainment). What I choose to read during National Novel Writing Month is an important part of the event, since whatever I do read in the breaks between typing gets imprinted in my mind in a special way—even when it’s utter garbage, like SeaFire.

I do tend to go for lighter material during NaNo, as well as nonfiction. When I say “light” I don’t mean “inconsequential” (I tend to avoid that sort of literature entirely) but “amusing” and . . . well, not Cornell Woolrich or Tolstoy, okay?

At this moment, the book of choice is one of Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” novels, Men At Arms (1993). Pratchett received a Lifetime Achievement award at this year’s World Fantasy Convention, and delivered an amusing speech by proxy (he lives in England and was unable to attend; he also has Alzheimer’s disease, and this probably affects how much public speaking he does). Since the death of Douglas Adams (wow, do I miss him), Pratchett has been the English-speaking world’s #1 speculative fiction humorist. The enormous Discworld series is Pratchett’s playground for hitting every fantasy convention possible with his weird wit, as well as many contemporary targets.

I prefer Adams to Pratchett, and although I’ve to date finished reading six of the Discworld novels, I don’t count myself a fan. I’ve enjoyed them, but not loved them. However, I’ve mostly read books from earlier in the series (I started with the original one, 1983’s episodic The Colour of Magic), and fans tell me the later ones feature tighter plotting and character developments around the parody.

And I’m beginning to see what they mean. As I wend toward the end of the seventh Discworld novel I’ve read, I can announce that Men At Arms is the first of this series that I am wholeheartedly enjoying. This book features “The Night Watch,” one of number of groups that participate in mini-series within that greater Discworld setting. Pratchett makes the story a combination of a mystery novel (who is killing with a mystery weapon stolen from the Assassins guild?) and a social commentary about blind racial prejudice within a city (mostly dwarves vs. trolls). The suspense around the tracking of the killing weapon is quite genuine, as are the tensions in the racial divide, and the way Pratchett invests Captain Sam Vimes with a sense of duty to his post even as he is poised to leave it for a privileged marriage is stirring—this is the first Pratchett novel I’ve read where I feel rooted in a character’s struggle, instead of reading along for the next joke.

And Men at Arms is all the funnier because I feel rooted in the plot from the very beginning; the jokes hit with much more accuracy when they are adorning a very well-oiled piece of urban fantasy. Maybe I don’t laugh out loud as much as I do at Douglas Adams’s work, but I must say that dear Mr. Pratchett has me hooked with this one. It’s a terrific break from my own furious and serious (maybe too serious?) plotting.