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24 October 2011 @ 08:32 pm
The best laid plans of mice and writers  
So I found a bunch of book cover threads on the NaNoWriMo boards and got shiny object syndrome to name my novel and make my own. I scoured an online Mandarin dictionary for meaningful phrases to use, which gave me the title and cover idea in one fell swoop. I spent a chunk of the weekend - and some time today, home in a feverish haze - pushing it through several improving incarnations.

I wanted to convey a sense of formidable energy with a straightforward style balancing classic flair and modern simplicity. 发迹 - fa ji - means "arise to power and position." It's rendered in the Kai font - I had to hand tweak its shapes to look closer to calligraphy.

Click for full size. Font and pattern credits are on its deviantArt page. The original file is a high-res printable that I saved at 25%. OPTIMISM FTW

I also got the NaNo trial of Scrivener - writing software that's all about arranging your work in logical chunks to organize, reorder, and summary view it as needed. This trial gives you time to use the planning features and a chance to muck around with editing in the first week of December. You get a discount on the full license if you participate in NaNo - half off if you win. So far, it's great - sure beats my standard procedure of dumping all my plans in one Google doc to split as it gets unwieldy.

And that brings me to the Substantial Topic of the Day - novel planning, and how it's surprisingly worked for me thus far.

When I first got the idea to write this, I was scared. Shit scared. All my other stories involve one main arc and occasional side plots that are more about resolution for a supporting character. How was I going to plan all the arcs I needed, have them properly intertwine, and achieve narrative balance when describing them?

The answer, as it turned out - one at a time.

All logical consequences flow from a solid beginning. I focused on setting up Gao Feng Tao - the boss man - with a thriving business, some ways he could characteristically acquire more, and temptation toward the big time and shadier tactics required. I nailed down the employment situations of his closest cousins with an eye toward involving them in his ascension - first by circumstance, later by planning. This involved a combination of early specifics and looking ahead to judge their potential for further development.

From there, more arcs naturally follow from circumstance. What happens when an investment partner gets upset? What if the counterfeiting operation becomes too prominent? What about previously impossible goals now within reach, and a new ruthlessness impelling one to go for them? Personal conflict comes into play as well with regard to employment, living, or family situations. Sketch out the possibilities as high-level summaries, letting them organically evolve and keeping the what-if dependencies in mind. You might push them in some direction or another - an unlucky break, a sudden betrayal - but such should be a choice of a fork in the road rather than dragging the cart off through Never Never Land for the sake of making things happen. I praise The Wire to highest heaven because it does this so damn well.

In Scrivener, I'm planning a combination of scene specifics and general notes. I don't know how I'll show the aftermath of a business takeover, but I can sketch out its key points to divide up later on. I might have a gap in events and make a note reminding myself to connect the dots (la la la la la). Unknown resolutions are noted as such so I can get back to them later. Each scene is tagged with participatory characters so I can interleave them in a balanced way.

Yeah, yeah, there's always revision, but it goes so much better with a sound first draft.
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: Leaves' Eyes - Scarborough Fair
Erniequufer on October 25th, 2011 05:42 am (UTC)
Mad props for even attempting something like this. Would love to read it when finished.

And, in case you're interested, here's a link to the Remembering the Kanji pdf, also available in dead tree edition from the U of Hawaii website (or Amazon). It's for Japanese, but (1) a lot of the characters overlap, and (2) I'm sure the method could easily be applied to Chinese (traditional or simplified) as well.

My favorite online Japanese-English dictionary is here. Again, this is Japanese, but I'd look for something similar in the Chinese character treatment for Mandarin.
The Heavy Metal Matador: Kuribo's Shoerydain on October 26th, 2011 05:19 am (UTC)
Heh, thanks. ^_^ My adrenaline rush of planning is wearing off, and I'm starting to wonder exactly what I got myself into. I'm somewhere in the Realm of ???? on the underpants gnome profit scale, but at least I have some specific points of the arc that keeps eluding my attempts at a concrete plan. I also feel that said plan is dangling just out of reach. From past experience, it will solidify if I distract myself sufficiently instead of worrying about it further.

In prior years, I've shared NaNo drafts with limited audiences. I'm not sure if I'll actually finish the novel in 50K, but I should have enough cohesive to pass around. I'm quite happy with my plan for the beginning, so at least I can show that part even if the rest has a bunch of blanks and bullshit.

Thanks for the language links! I poke at Japanese now and then - I picked up bits and pieces writing a FAQ for imported Warriors Orochi 2 and looking through Kanji Damage to work on basic recognition. (And to see how the author manages to turn most anything into a Yo Mama joke.)
Erniequufer on October 26th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC)
Kanji Damage appears to basically use the same approach as Remembering the Kanji, so I toally approve of it, though I'm far enough through RTK that I'm just going to stick with that. I'm also using an online textbook - or was, and will again when I finish RTK - that does actually use a "yo mama" joke to learn the kanji for "beforehand".

Your outline of the novel sounds pretty cool, and I'd agree with the distraction approach. I often find - and there's science to back it up - that your thinking can benefit by working on something for awhile, then walking away and letting your subconscious process it for a while. Good luck!