Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Countdown Is On

NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday. I am suitably excited and nervous and full of dread, especially since I have to be at work at 6 a.m. that day -- no midnight NaNo running starts this year. To make the project seem even remotely feasible, I've been reading all sorts of self-help books and blogs. I have been trying to follow Alexandra Sokoloff's suggestions on plotting, characterization, and  setting. Ms. Sokoloff  suggests that we start by making a master list of our favourite books and movies -- and/or the books and movies we wish we had written. When I did that, I realized that my favourites are all about character. It doesn't matter what happens to the characters (and in some of my favourite books, Terrible Things Happen.) or where these things happen, as long as I get the chance to know the characters and love them. Wait. That's not altogether true. I much prefer happy endings. I adore chick flicks. Nonetheless, I don't care how happy the ending is if I haven't fallen in love with the characters.

So I had a revelation. I write that way. I am much less concerned  with plot than with character, and setting is almost an afterthought. My favourite movie really should be My Dinner with Andre.

This brings me to today. Today, I came across a post at Write Anything   that dealt with the topic of Setting and set out several exercises to hone one's skills at description. I played with the last one, and this is what I wrote:


There are three iron tables outside The Vault to which smokers retreat from time to time. There, they can watch the cars go by, make faces at the dogs that always seem to be tied to the lamp post, and shiver in the Vancouver Island damp. Meanwhile, the rest of us have the benefit of huge windows
that let in what sunlight penetrates the clouds. We can sit on the main floor, where the bar is,at high bar stools arranged around little -- that is, small in circumference -- tables. There aren't many of them, because part of the room is taken up by the stage, which is used a couple of nights a week for professional shows or Open Mike.

Or we can sit in considerably more comfortable, shorter chairs at shorter tables on  the mezzanine, which is a mere five steps up. The kitchen is located right behind the bar, and from a perch on the mezzanine we can see everything that goes on in the kitchen. Better yet, we can watch the proprietor or his staff prepare perfect cappuccinos, lattes, etc. at those intimidating Italian machines. Of course, we can also hear all this happening -- particularly the coffee making, which is a very noisy operation --louder by far than the music that's piped in. To distract us from the noisefest, there are paintings on the very high walls --works by local artists of an avant-garde bent. The walls themselves are painted an unfortunate yellow, sort of goldenrod, but muddier.

Speaking of the walls, and the art, there is a certain amount of art involved in choosing a place to sit. If you wish to write at your computer, you probably want to sit at one of the tables near the electrical outlets. After a while, you learn where those outlets are. They are generally hidden behind the furniture, but with a bit of acrobatic effort, you can get plugged in, and then you're set for hours. The wi-fi is great, and nobody appears to care how long you stay. Occasionally someone will wander over and offer to sell you a carving of an eagle or a whale, but otherwise you are comfortably incognito.

At the back of the main floor, as you head toward the washrooms, there is an antique (read "battered") buffet on which are stacked fliers, business cards, and several huge plants that bring to mind the Little Shop of Horrors. Adjacent to the buffet is a bulletin board on which are tacked yet more cards, fliers, warnings of impending doom, calls to action...and across the way, behind the pastry case, is the vault door. It's a real vault door, harking back to this venue's origins as a bank. When its banking days were over, the building had several more lives - as an insurance agency and a clothing store and I don't know what else -- before it found its true calling as Demeter's Vault.

Somehow, it all works. I plan to spend much of November at The Vault, as I did last year -- but this time I've managed to convince a few more NaNovelists to meet me there, so my dream of completely taking the place over may yet come true.

6 comments:

AngelMay said...

"an unfortunate yellow" - I like it. But I do think I would never get anything at all done if other people were joining me. Writing is a lonely occupation. I've never thought of it as a group activity.

Best of luck this next month, girl. :)

Sandra Leigh said...

Thank you, my dear. NaNo is funny that way. People share their outlines, chat about their characters, compete to see who can write the most words in .... minutes. It's all in good fun. At yesterday's get-together, I discovered that I was the only one not writing either science fiction or fantasy. Of course, I was forty years older than anybody else at the table!

John Hayes said...

Good luck with the November writing! I'm truly sorry to have fallen out of touch. Loved your description of the Vault!

Sandra Leigh said...

John, it's not you that's fallen out of touch. 'tis I. Do check Facebook, though. I put something up there yesterday, just for you.

John Hayes said...

Well, perhaps we both have! But thanks for the nice words & the Big Mama Thornton video, & hope to be in better touch now. Good to see this blog active!

Kathryn Magendie said...

I'm a character-driven writer myself!

Alex Sokoloff is wonderful .... intelligent, witty, and kind...


Good Luck to you! Fire it up!