Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ubermadchen Summer 2015 Progress Report

From June 19 to yesterday.


Next stop: Graz

Usually I begin with an estimated word count. It was probably around 17,000 words when my computer broke, and I'd guess another couple thousand for the pages I've handwritten. Definitely not as much as last summer, but then, I wasn't working last summer.

Last night I finished the journey from Salzburg to Graz, which means I am somewhat behind on my schedule since I had hoped to have extensive planning for Graz done before going back to school for Autumn Quarter. I will work on it today and tomorrow, of course, and hopefully get a good portion done, but I doubt I'll be able to plan it all in two days. And my quarter is going to be busy, so I'll definitely have to be more disciplined than I have been if I want to wrap Graz by the end of the year. I did leave myself with some buffer in Winter Quarter, though, so as long as I make sure I'm never too far from a writing session in Autumn Quarter, I will be able to meet my deadline of Spring 2016.

This summer I wrote the second to last big section, Salzburg. The later scenes feel somewhat sparse since I was working longhand and I tend to compress the writing more when I have to write each word out. Then I wrote two scenes to get the girls from Salzburg to Graz, and that honestly should not have taken as long as it did. But I'm satisfied with the way the scene I finished last night went.

What did I learn from what I wrote? That research is important. I wrote a scene I really enjoyed in which the girls take a funicular up to the fortress, and then discovered later that the passenger rail only got put in in the 1800s. Then I found out that Festung Hohensalzburg is a palace/castle as well as a fortress, but since I'm writing fantasy historical here I can handwave and say it served a strictly military function. For most of the time I was in Indonesia I wrote when I didn't have internet (i.e. not at work) so some historical facts and details are missing and will need to be filled in upon revision.

Characters can become flat quickly, so be on guard. There's one character who is essentially a plot device, and his backstory needs fleshing out because no one is this generous and willing to look the other way without a reason. More alarmingly, I remember at one point realizing that despite having traveled with her the whole book, I'm not sure if I really know Katya. She's a streetsmart extrovert, which is the opposite of me, and I'm worried she doesn't read as a real person. Her experiences are very different from Marilla's, so it makes sense that Marilla would occasionally have difficulty understanding why she does things, but I am the author and I don't have that luxury.

Terez, on the other hand, I feel I understand much better after this summer, with all my confusion and resentments about gender. She is also a nonbinary ace, although I suspect she is not agender. (Also a note on pronouns: they/them and she/her probably are both okay for Terez, though I don't know how common nonbinary pronouns were in the 1700s.) Demographic parallels aside, I realized Terez was being too passive and thus I became more critical of my writing choices, e.g. in this situation, who really would be the one to ask a question? Which of the three girls is most likely to act in these circumstances?

In terms of the scenes I wrote: I don't know how effective any of the exploring-the-city scenes were since I haven't been to the places I'm writing about. Conversation scenes are easy to get lost in, and I know I pay less attention to the physical world than most people so I will have to keep an eye out for that when I revise because Marilla is much more observant than I am and she would be noticing details, expressions, nuances as much as paying attention to the words being spoken.

Why do I like fortress scenes so damn much?

I love technical magic stuff. In one scene I found Logstash a useful metaphor for a magic tracking system. But remember: always leave a little room for chaos. It's also fun to think about how magic use would evolve, as science and technology progress. (I mean "as" in two ways: "at the same time as" and "in the same way as".)

Minor characters: I think I'm getting more economical with these. No idea if I'm doing appreciably better but I'm able to do the same with less work. Given the revolving door of supporting characters (this is what happens when your characters travel) it's good that the process of minor character creation is becoming less burdensome, even if the returns aren't increasing.

In this story, magicians have auras of different colors, and I think I need to make a table or chart with all the colors I've already used. I'm pretty sure I have repeats of a comforting dark green aura, but nothing pink or yellow. (Call it my own bias for dark and cool colors.)

More about characters: I'm becoming more socially aware and consequently more uncomfortable with the extreme whiteness of most of my casts. The GW universe is easy to change, since the cultures are aggressively mixed anyway and given the gods' chronic racebending, systematic racism likely would not persist in a majority of places.

But the UM world is historical, and the characters' races will have an impact on how people respond to them. I came across an OOTD on Tumblr of a really pretty black girl wearing a light blue dress and immediately thought, that's Marilla! But is it Marilla? It could be, but I need to think about what in the story would change if Marilla was black. Part of the important tension between Josefina and Marilla stems from Josefina's ill treatment as a Roma girl when they are in France, where Marilla's feeling of utter belonging makes her more confident and also more entitled.

I am open to the idea of altering Marilla's race, but since she's the main character and race, unfortunately, affects pretty much everything, I'd need to think way more than I can right now about what would change. After I'm done with the first draft I'll revisit the question. Representation is important, too important to do haphazardly.

I'll close with some practical remarks. Since my computer broke, I am really glad I put my writing on Microsoft OneDrive. (Any cloud service will do, that one just happened to come built in.) I was also lucky that my computer broke while I was at work and everything had been synced. I need to be better about backing things up on hard drives, though, since if my computer had crashed a couple weeks earlier I could have lost two weeks of work. Lesson: back up your work.

Typing while under a mosquito net: there is no ergonomic way to do this. If there is, please let me know for future reference.

When writing longhand, pen or pencil works fine as long as the writing implement doesn't break or give you trouble writing. Crossing things out >> erasing.

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