Sunday, 1 December 2013

How I Failed NaNoWriMo

Weekly updates, I said. Regular posting. Blogging.

Rule number one: The Doctor lies. And so does Charley. Sometimes intentionally.

This year's NaNoWriMo was easily the most difficult NaNo yet - not in the least becaues I seriously underestimated how fast deadlines could come flying out of the woodwork at the slightest provocation. It's a wonder I managed to haul myself across the 50k mark at all, and owing no small thanks to the fact that the NaNo wordcount simulator bumped me up to 65k, evidently out of some unconscious sympathy for my plight.

And yet, this year's novel The Ten Paradox, only makes up around 35k of the finished document. 


I made a terrible horrible mistake. A rather pointed terrible horrible mistake. Its name was Ten.

Ten was not the character I expected to be working with on this project. Initially, it started out as more of an amoral otherworldly entity, bent on achieving some manner of aim through whatever means possible – aided particularly by its hyper intelligent understanding of basic motivation, owing to a sort of inverted ageless wisdom that granted it psychic-level intuition on human operations. A complex antagonist, certainly, but still conducive to the story.

Sadly, a few complex lectures on discourse, lexicon, and one seriously strange fever dream later . . . things got more complicated.

The Ten I attempted to portray was my attempt at exploring the theme of otherness and exile to the extreme, as a counterbalance to the positive outcast figures of Flynne, my protagonist, and Ashraff, the secondary hero. They were designed to break character moulds and introduce engaging, exciting characters who also happened to be agender / muslim / non-white – among other things, of course. 

Whether or not they fulfilled those roles is an entirely different, and horrifically doubtful, matter. But as this is a first draft, I was intending to give myself some leeway – and hey, I liked them well enough for characters I had to make up in twenty four hours based on three word prompts!

I think I could have worked a story well enough around them . . . but not Ten.

Ten is beyond words – literally. I created it with the intention of separating it entirely from human reality and expression; a creature torn from its plane of existence and trapped in the astral void between its former place and ours, existing independent of both while being entirely dependent on drawing its strength from the maintenance of that gap. A creature of fractured reality, a breach-born monster left over from the torn remains of something from a parallel plane.

Ten was intended to demonstrate the tragedy of severance. Its complete isolation in its existent state, severed from anything that could be called thought, emotion or even comprehension of the ideas of the former, show it up as a creature incapable, essentially, of life. It did not live, it just was. Its actions are unconscious, and any emotion or motivation that may be ascribed to it can be ascribed only insofar as we are limited by our human understanding of the world – based around language, expression of stimuli, connections made between our selves and the world in which we live and form conception of ourselves, of others, and of the world itself. 

As a result, Ten is incommunicable, and therefore cannot be communicated to or from – though it may utter words, it treats them only signs, signifiers of something it neither understands nor feels any drive to. Much like its strange shape, it attempts to link itself to the world by imitation, but is thwarted, for no true imitation or becoming can occur without the understanding, of which Ten is incapable.

How can a character who is supposed to form the thematic and narrative crux of a story operate like this? It can’t. For antagonistic purposes, Ten was useless – and without the action and reaction that drives stories forward, the narrative shrivelled up and died from the moment I dragged it out of its reclusive sulk and forced it onto the page.

However, even if Ten had remained in the simplified form in which I first created it, even if I had hauled myself kicking and screaming through the rest of this story with a half-baked, under-worked, poorly de-constructed version of the creature I wanted to create, it would still have been useless.

Why? Because I am more interested in Ten than I am in anything else. There’s a reason why worldbuilding, backstory, setting – all those things that I am usually enamoured of to the point of ridiculousness – never get a look in. I was not interested. My thoughts lay entirely with the story’s eponymous paradox. It was Ten’s story I wanted to write all this time, exploring the ramifications of its nature, of its circumstance, and of what could emerge from something so severed from everything else when thrust into an environment that reacted so vehemently to it.

But how can I tell the story of something that I constructed with the very purpose of resisting understanding, description, and examination?

I put myself into a box, and from that box I cannot escape save by taking out a knife and ripping it to sad, pulpy pieces.

I wanted to write a story about something that defied the grip of story.

That, my friends, is the true Ten Paradox.

~ Charley R


  1. For the record, I love the idea of Ten, although I can't imagine how you could derive any sort of character from it. I truly hope you figure out this paradox, because this sounds amazing.

    1. Haha, I shall engage the little wretch in a battle later on, I think. I have other novels demanding my attention in the meantime, at least. You know what they say - let the story rest a bit, and then smack it over the head when it's not looking!