We are just over the halfway point in the insanity that is the NaNoWriMo challenge. I feel like I'm doing pretty well, being at just over 33,000 words at this point. The writing is going well. My Sweet Hubs is wonderfully supportive, assuaging my guilt about not paying attention to anyone except my imagination and my qwerty keyboard.
I have a confession to make. I am a pantser. I know that this is not the way a professional writes a novel, but I can't help it. It works for me. I figure out who my main characters are, the time and place for the storyline to evolve, and I put my hands on the home row. There may or may not be a general idea of where a story is going. For my NaNo project, I had a myriad of ideas, but settled on nothing. I just sat down and started writing.
For me, writing this is a lot like playing Barbies when I was a child. I didn't have a whole life figured out for them. I just put Barbie and Ken together and imagined what they would do. And what they would do next, and so on. Except, here I am not limited to how many dolls my parents could afford. I can put my dolls anywhere in the world and make them anything I want them to be. (What was that one episode of the Twilight Zone where the people find out that they are really just the playthings of some enormous child?)
Maybe I shouldn't admit that I'm a pantser. I imagine there are some readers out there who will say that they can tell I'm a pantser by my writing. Maybe they can, but I don't think so. I certainly hope not! The evolution of a story is not just a random thing for me. I guide it, I research detail I need as I go along, or else I write down questions for future research and revision. Where would a young man in the Bitterroot Valley go to enlist in the army in 1861? Writing takes research. Or maybe, revising takes research.
Don't think that this means I just dash off whatever comes to me and that's all there is to it. My first draft is pretty much pure writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. Then comes the work of revision, revision, revision.
With that in mind, I'm going to share a small excerpt from "A Light In The Mountains", my NaNo project.
If you'd like to see the first chapter, click here.
It was three more weeks before Genesis Nash pulled up his courage and spoke to his father about going off to war. Exodus waited to see what would happen before he considered it further.
Abram was pitching hay to the milk cow when Genesis came to him. “Pop,” he began. “Um. Uh. Did you know that George Yeager and Amos McNeeley both went off to join the war?
Abram put the pitchfork aside, leaned against the stall and took a deep breath. “And.?”
“And... They’re both my age. Well, Amos is younger.”
“And they’re going off to fight the Rebels.”
“And I’m thinking about going, too.” Genesis hurried to continue before Abram could say anything. “I know you both think I’m too young. But I’m almost old enough and they won’t ask anyway. I’ve heard they don’t ask.”
“Why do you want to fight the Rebels?” Abram asked.
“Well. They shouldn’t be trying to break up the union this way. And they shouldn’t have fired on Fort Sumter.” Genesis’ answer lacked fire and he knew it. “Pop. If I don’t go off and see this, I might never get another chance. It will be the adventure I’ll remember all of my life. I’m a man now. I’ve got to go and join.”
“What can I tell you, then, son? It won’t be an adventure. Oh, it will seem like one at first, and then when you get in your first fight and have to look a man in the face and kill him, the adventure will be gone and you’ll know that it’s hell on earth to war.”
“But they’re Rebs! They’re the enemy! What’s so bad about killing an enemy?”
“That’s what a young man thinks: that it’s easy to kill an enemy. But when you look right at him, and you see a face not unlike your own, and he speaks your language and maybe his father went to school with yours… and when you kill him and see the life evaporate from his eyes and you know you did it. Then you will know." Abram said, then continued.
“I know you don’t believe me now. That’s alright. It’s just important for you to hear me so that you will remember my words on that future day when you will need them. Call him ‘enemy’ now, son, but remember always that he is a man. He is someone’s son, brother, husband… and to him you are the ‘enemy’. Never forget that whatever you are fighting over, he is still a man, just like you.”
Now Genesis sat down and took a moment to collect his thoughts. “Did you kill anyone in the Mexican War, Pop?”
“I did, and I will never forget it. I doubt I’ll ever get over it, either. He couldn’t have been more than 16. The way his eyes changed when he died…the light went out behind them, and he was gone. And it was me that killed him.” Abram’s voice trailed away.