NaNoFeed: Traveling Shovel of Death for the win (embracing the spirit of destruction)

2014-11-07 TravelingShovelOfDeath2014 - v3 - 5x8

Back in September 2008, I heard about National Novel Writing Month. I had just turned in my letter of resignation at the toxic ex-day-job (the earlier one, not the one I just left). I started reading the forums, and rapidly found the single most useful writing tool ever.
Well, OK, I will grant that maybe a pen or keyboard is more useful than the Traveling Shovel of Death, but only just.

Here’s how the magic shovel works: you use it to kill a character, and then you pass it on to the next writer in need of a jump-start for their plot.

“The urge to destruction is also a creative urge,” said Michael Bakunin, and while he was talking about dissent and/or revolution, the lesson applies equally well to novel-writing. You do all that world-building and character-establishing just so that you can set fire to it and send your characters screaming into the street.

Which, by the way, is the sort of thing we try to avoid in life. Not smashing up the joint and burning stuff down is, in the main, the foundation of a happy life with our fellow humans.

On the other hand, novels exist so that we may escape our problems by reading about somebody else’s. So on the long dull commute by bus or train to the day job, you will see the occasional fellow-commuter with their nose in a book reading about commutes to vacation destinations such as Mordor.

Currently, I’m struggling to the 10K-word point as I eke out two parallel novels. (Projected length for each project is in the 60-70K range, so this is actually fairly meager progress.) In one, we’re touring the wreckage of civil-engineering hubris with an archaeology team, and in the other, we’re setting up Act One of the opera, where Plucky Orphan thinks that he’s found love and a substitute family. Oho, no, it’s about to get smashed to pieces. (I have a research list including weaponized welding equipment, shipyard layout, and a few other things. In fact, there is welding equipment in both novels. In my Romance with Rayguns, we will definitely have a chase scene with professional assassins in a shipyard.)

But I digress.

Most of this week I have been plotting, figuring out where I plant the bombs deep in the structure of the first part of the story, so that they may create maximum damage when they go off, but in a controlled and elegant way. Kind of like really high-end commercial demolition.

Whacking characters in the back of the head with a shovel has a certain crudity, and also works up a sweat. The lazy (or efficient) author delegates — to villains. I am very happy with both of my fraternal-twin novels because they are villain-rich. I have young villains, middle-aged villains, and old-but-staggeringly-well-preserved villains, of all genders and several cultures. My villains all think it’s about them, and consider the heroes as annoying obstacles to Having Their Own Way aka Happily Ever After, Evil Style. So I can put my feet up (as I imagine devils do) and watch the plot hum along nicely, because my Villain Posse is on the job.

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One Response to NaNoFeed: Traveling Shovel of Death for the win (embracing the spirit of destruction)

  1. Alex Grover says:

    “You do all that world-building and character-establishing just so that you can set fire to it and send your characters screaming into the street.”

    Absolutely love it. Can’t wait to employ the Traveling Shovel of Death in a future work (I’m A-OK with my one character “dying” in my NaNoWriMo book). Good to see your perspectives on villains, though I always attempt to create characters with ambiguous morals over being part of the clear-cut villain posse. It’s nevertheless so much fun having the villain everyone loves.

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