Walking Backwards into the Future

NaNoWriMo count so far: 31747.

The scene I just finished was a great example of the improv rule: Everything you need has already been improvised in a scene. I managed to tie together three previously unrelated details I’d mentioned for the sake of scenery and ambience, but now integrated them into a character action as well. It made the scene feel not just organic, but added a sort of “OH, THAT’S WHY” penny dropping moment to this chapter.

In Improv, there’s a game called Walking Backwards into the Future: http://www.unexpectedcommunications.com/the-unexpected-blog/walking-backward-into-the-future

The way we played it, you would pace off and somebody would improvise a space-object and hand it to you and you’d then incorporate it into the story. But after five objects, that was it. You could spin off of THOSE objects, but the idea was to keep yourself from frittering away down new and novel paths and instead wrap back to the story and offers established. You justified those offers and they all reinforced each other.

You’ve probably seen that improv where somebody, trying to be funny, keeps throwing new and random shit at his partners for them to pick up. At first the juxtaposition can amuse, but it wears on because none of the old offers matter in the face of the new offer. That can be very frustrating.  Whereas when you found a way to tie two established offers together in a NEW way, the whole scene raised to a new level.

So here’s my writing tip/suggesion/thing to try for your NaNo or for the next time you get stuck: Is there a detail you’ve overlooked or some fruitful bit of world building that you’ve already established that you can link to another seemingly unrelated detail? Look back and see what you’ve written and let it guide you into the future.

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Non-Fictional Musings About The Hugos

Based on the recent Hugo affray, I had a bit from Guards! Guards! drop into my head. (Stop right here if you don’t want spoilers.) Early in the book, the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night decide to summon a dragon to right all their perceived wrongs:

“I dunno that the Patrician is a threat, exactly,” he said. “He’s not your actual tyrant, as such. Not as bad as some we’ve had. I mean, he doesn’t actually oppress.”

“I get oppressed all the time,” said Brother Doorkeeper. “Master Critchley, where I work, he oppresses me morning, noon and night, shouting at me and everything. And the woman in the vegetable shop, she oppresses me all the time.”

“That’s right,” said Brother Plasterer. “My landlord oppresses me something wicked. Banging on the door and going on and on about all the rent I allegedly owe, which is a total lie. And the people next door oppress me all night long. I tell them, I work all day, a man’s got to have some time to learn to play the tuba. That’s oppression, that is. If I’m not under the heel of the oppressor, I don’t know who is.”

“Put like that-” said Brother Watchtower slowly- “I reckon my brother-in-law is oppressing me all the time with having this new horse and buggy he’s been and bought. I haven’t got one. I mean, where’s the justice in that? I bet a king wouldn’t let that sort of oppression go on, people’s wives oppressing ’em with why haven’t they got a new coach like our Rodney and that.”

The Supreme Grand Master listened to this with a slightly light-headed feeling. It was as if he’d known that there were such things as avalanches, but had never dreamed when he dropped the little snowball on top of the mountain that it could lead to such astonishing results. He was hardly having to egg them on at all.

“I bet a king’d have something to say about landlords,” said Brother Plasterer.

“And he’d outlaw people with showy coaches,” said Brother Watchtower. “Probably bought with stolen money, too, I reckon.”

“I think,” said the Supreme Grand Master, tweaking things a little, “that a wise king would only, as it were, outlaw showy coaches for the undeserving. “

There was a thoughtful pause in the conversation as the assembled Brethren mentally divided the universe into the deserving and the undeserving, and put themselves on the appropriate side.

While the dragon they summon is at first obliging, it soon becomes too much for them. Their association with the dragon ends with them becoming so much dragon-charred fricassee, but a little on the dry side.

“We never intended this,” he said weakly. “Honestly. No offense. We just wanted what was due to us.”

A skeletal hand patted him on the shoulder, not unkindly.

And Death said, CONGRATULATIONS.

And there it is. Currently, certain Morose Canines are upset with how their plans to get what was due them has turned into people not much liking their associates of a more rabid nature. After all, they just wanted what was due them. Never mind that a few days before the announcements went out and the shit duly hit the fan, they were congratulating themselves on a job well-done. (I learned that the Puppy slates had likely done well, not by Vast Conspiracy Mail, but by the online twitterings of various Puppy followers, who were already excitedly congratulating themselves on their gaming of the Hugos.)

Now that the likes of David Gerrold and Connie Willis and GRRM have said that they resent this in the most scorching of terms, and now that at least two nominees have withdrawn, so as not to be associated with the more rabid canine fellowship, a number of the morose puppies are upset that everyone else is upset and weirdly, oh so weirdly, associating the two slates. Funny that.

Funny how making common cause with a man who called black women half-savages pisses people off. Funny how putting forth the work of a man who posts violent homophobic diatribes pisses people off. Funny that.

“We just wanted what was due us.”

CONGRATULATIONS.

Behind the Cloud

Randomly looking up a writing prompt and found this list of 180 prompts. I chose #13.


He tied his boat off and started to climb the cliffs. He knew that no one had lived to tell what was behind the cloud, but still he climbed.

Rasai, his dead sister, he carried in his belt pouch. She had told him where to find her bones, when the beetles were done feasting on her flesh, and it was she who had supervised the delicate exhumation, counting off every bone in a sing-song voice. She exclaimed sadly over the skull, which was nearly unrecognisable. The left side had been stove in, and all that remained of the orbit and the sclerotic ring were mere slivers of crusted and stained bone. The beak too had been broken off, sheared away with a viciousness that surprised him. Scarcely any bone had remained intact and true.

It had taken him a week to find all of Rasai’s bones, and she had not been satisfied even at the end. But the wandering moon was fast catching up to its shepherd, and would soon be occluded. If he didn’t undertake the journey to the clouded land now, it would be seasons and seasons before he could free Rasai. So he had knotted the bones up into the pouch, clambered into his coracle, and spreading his feathered arms, sailed for the clouded land from which no one had ever returned.

Nobody had waved him off. Nobody had cried funeral songs for him. Nobody had tried to stop him.

If there had been anybody left, he did not think he would have had the courage to free Rasai, even though he was but a lowly male. If there had been anybody left to fill the silence, to cover up Rasai’s constant whispers with the loudness of their breathing, he might never have done his duty.

But there was nobody left. The land was too quiet. His sister’s dead whispers were too loud.

“Don’t think I can’t tell that you begrudge me this,” said Rasai as he laboriously clawed his way up a slippery incline. His phalanxes slipped in the scree, and he felt his body slam against jagged stone, accompanied by a sickening snapping sound. Her bones, not his, he realised with guilt.

“You did that on purpose,” she accused.

Had he? He didn’t think so.

“In the old days,” Rasai said, “You would have come here with an honor guard of the brothers. There would be seven of you bearing my bones to the clouded mountain.”

Seven of us to die for one sister. Yes, well, times being what they were, you only have one brother left to sacrifice, Rasai, my queen. One brother, one subject, the tiniest of kingdoms.

The Halloween Before Everything Changed

He wanted to make Halloween special for Pia and Angelika. His momma had given him some money, so he had bundled his sisters on the 22 bus and taken them to the dollar store in Japantown

Angelika found a sparkling wand with silver ribbons and a star-shaped button on the handle. If you pressed the button, it played “You Light Up My Life” and turned colours. She waved it in a dangerously wide circle and proclaimed that she was going to be a Sparkle Fairy, whatever that was.

Pia decided she was going to be a ninja turtle, Donatello by preference. She had found a purple bandana and purple sweat bands and was engaged in trying to detach the handle from a cheap mop when Darnell rounded her up. “Darnell, can you help me turn this into a bo staff?” She always said “bo staff”—never staff or bo, even though Darnell tried to tell her this was redundant.

“Sure, Pia, but after we pay for it,” he said, plucking the mop from her hands.

“What are you going to be this year?” she asked him as they made their way through the tiny crowded aisles to the front of the store.

“Nothing,” he said. “I’m too old to go trick or treating. Momma said.”

Pia made a face. “I’m never going to get too old go trick or treating.”

“You have to go trick or treating,” said Angelika. “We always go trick or treating.”

Pia nodded. “Since forever.”

Angelika poked him with her star wand. “I will make you four! Then you can go trick or treating with us.”

“Okay,” said Darnell, humouring her. “I’m four. What now?”

Angelika smiled smugly. “Now I’m older ‘n you so’s you have to do what I say. I’m your big sister.”

Pia grinned. “Me too! I’m your big sister too. Now we both get to boss you around.”

Angelika continued. “And that means you have to be a Sparkle Knight to guard me.”

“Already do that,” said Darnell.

“I need another ninja turtle for my turtle gang,” said Pia. “You can be Leonardo, because you aren’t cool enough to be Michelangelo or Raphael. You are bossy like Leonardo.”

“But he is my Sparkle Knight,” wailed Angelika.

“Tell you what,” said Darnell. “I will be a Sparkle Turtle Ninja to guard Angi and to fight next to Pia.”

Pia added green nail polish to his basket, and dragged him to the front of the store. “This is going to be the best Halloween ever!”

Freaky Dreams: October 1st Edition

October 1: My dreams last night were kinda freaky. I dreamt that I was swimming with a famous dude in his pool of exotic fish but I got brushed by a particular kind of jelly fish, and its venom started making my skin go grey. So the famous dude (rather Cumberbatchian) had his manservant bring him the amputation kit they kept, and they started sawing my left arm off. I remember looking at it in the dream and watching the bone and skin separate.

Fossilised Hedgehog

“I had a hedgehog once,” I told Ola.

“Once?”

“When I was a teenager,” I said. “I worked in a petstore.”

“What was his name?” she asked.

“Um, I’ve forgotten,” I said. “Well, I remember my friend’s hedgehog. She named hers Hegel.”

“Hegel?” asked Ola.

“Hegel. The German Idealist,” I said. “Dude who wrote the dialectic of Lordship and Bondage.”

“Right, him.”

“Now I remember,” I said. “Schpink. I named my hedgehog Schpink. I even remember where I buried him. Up Provo Canyon in the woods next to the Girl Scout camp. In a plastic Tupperware container. That’s going to be a nasty surprise for somebody someday.”

“Someday,” said Ola. “That stuff doesn’t break down.”

“Long after we’re all dead, when our species is gone and has been replaced, some alien lifeform is going to find that little plastic container with a very nasty hedgehog corpse in it.”

“Like Jurassic Park,” Ola put in. “They could use the DNA to revive hedgehogs.”

“It’s a future hedgehog fossil. Sort of.”

We thought about the small distant corpse and wrinkled our noses.

Writing Report: On the Lake

Tonight I strolled down to Lake Union, sprawled next to the dock, and wrote by hand in my purple notebook of outlining-ness. I wrote some motivational scenes from a character’s viewpoint, I wrote some emotional stream of consciousness, and then I did an analysis on whether or not the snakes should be united in hating Jason (Meg’s boyfriend) when the book opens or divided. United they slither means that Megs has immediate opposition in all things, which raises the stakes for her, since there is nothing worse than having your family hate your boyfriend. But it’s so early in the book’s structure. And divided gives them a chance to display the opposing personalities of all three characters early on: Megs, Elaphe, and Ignatius. Or I can have all three of them kibitz on the subject and have Eph and Igs come to a reluctant agreement over Jason for differing reasons. Which is what I’m tending towards.

Problems I’m worried about: A) Making Megs unlikeable by not being spined up enough to leave Jason already and holding onto what is evidentally a dying relationship and B) if this would be inconsistent with the rest of her personality which is rather bold otherwise. I wonder how much of this is self-sabotage–she does have insecurities, even if she gets prickly and defensive and not-giving a fuck outwardly–and how much is her realising he is a toxic douchebag at this point. (Not an irretrievable toxic douchebag, mind you, but Jason’s salvation is NOT going to come via Megs.)


When not writing Snakes stuff, I wrote descriptive sentences about the waterfront. I even parlayed some of those back into the narratives for Meg’s emotional landscape, as the idea of boats and wakes was evocative emotionally speaking.

Tomorrow night is another improv night, so bound to be a bit light on the writing front, unless I manage during lunch.