Friday, July 29, 2011

Camp NaNo and A Big Thank You

Despite the coming month of August, and Camp NaNoWriMo's official launch next Monday, this week has been one of sad news for Wrimos across the planet. Every participant has received an e-mail announcing that Chris Baty, Executive Director of the OLL (NaNo's parent organisation) is stepping down this coming January.
It's hard to imagine that this man once sat with a bunch of overly caffeinated friends and decided that they would write a 50,000 word-novel in a month. They picked July that first time, and while others enjoyed cocktails next to swimming pools, they sat down and typed until their fingertips bled.
Now there's more than 200,000 participants attempting it every year, with varying degrees of success, and I know for a fact that there's a lot of these folks who think of NaNo as a life-changing event.
I wouldn't be where I am today without NaNo. I don't think I'd even be a writer. NaNoWriMo was my door to the writing world, and I know who I must thank for that.
So, thank you, Chris Baty. We'll miss you.
With that said, the NaNoWriMo programs come to a strange full-circle this year, with Camp NaNoWriMo (a lite version of the November event) taking place during July and August. I've prodded my region into joining the party, and we are now waiting for August 1st to begin our mad typing once more.
This is my occasion to go through my last revisions (for now, I mean) of White Echoes, a related short story I've been meaning to write, and to push forward some worldbuilding for the next WIP getting my attention (I've been map drawing again!).
Also, this is my occasion to organise a real kick-ass camping trips with close friends, eat tons of marshmallows and exchange stories around a fire. It's Camp NaNoWriMo, after all! We can't stay inside all month.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Map Evolution

Mapping is a progressive business for me. I can't sit down, draw a bunch of lines, sprinkle mountains and rivers over it and then draw circles where I want cities to be. Well, I could, but it would be meaningless. I've tried, and have a lot of trouble defining my world after the map is drawn.

My map-drawing goes hand in hand with the worldbuilding. I imagine kingdoms/countries and their relations to one another. I know which are bigger, which are more military, which should have what kind of climate. They aren't drawn, but I have an end goal in mind. I also know my major storyline locations, and have a good idea of where they must be located (one relative to another, at any rate).

Then I sketch. Sketching maps is perhaps the only art-sy thing I can do. It was made even easier with my touchscreen laptop. Now I sketch straight into Paint. (yes, Paint. I don't have nor need anything else)

So, let's have some pictures. I am admittedly proud of my maps.

First sketch!
Everything with a name on there is important plotwise. Once I had that map, I took a closer look at each country. I always have a good idea of what must go in each and how I want the map to unfold, but the actual drawing, to me, is setting in stones these details. It means I have something solid I can reference to in the novel.

I started with Regaria
It was at that point that I realised that for the balance of power to really make sense in the novel, I'd need more than three countries. The plotter in me facepalmed hard, ranted inwardly that I should've done all that before I wrote the latest draft, and I ignored it. No point in beating myself over it.

I went ahead, added two new kingdoms and finished the lines around this continent.

From that point it was mainly a matter of adding the details that were in my notes. Drawing maps to me is part basic geography knowledge (and I really mean basic. I'm not a geography buff at all), part imagination in order to create unique locations, part historical logic. There's a couple of rules and tricks I set for myself when I draw.

  1. Pay attention to your mountain ranges. They should follow a certain tectonic plate logic.
  2. Rivers flow from higher ground into the ocean (or lower ground, if you have some place below the sea's level).
  3. Most important cities will be near a waterway. Population is likely more concentrated in such areas too.
  4. Water currents, hot and cold, have a major impact on climate. 
The end result of all this map-drawing fun was this:
TADAM! (And I just realised my cold water current lines are wrong. OOPS)
It is, in truth, still missing details in Mikken and Durham. I'll have them before I launch another rewrite. Just in case.

And now it's your turn! Do you have any tips for maps? Where do you start yours?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Worldbuilding with a Timeline

Of all the things very characteristic of speculative fiction, worldbuilding is probably my favourite. There is something enchanting in the act of bringing a whole different universe to life, mashing up together original concepts (if there is such a thing) with classic trends of humanity. Not to mention the effect one idea has on the rest of the setting. Connecting the dots through explanations, consequences and other Cool Ideas.

It's all fun, almost no work. To me, anyway.

There comes a point where I have all a bunch of important ideas laid out, though, and while my head has a difformed map in it, I can no longer go on without one. Geography is IMPORTANT. Yep, capital letters and all.

It is a simple truth that almost eluded me when I started worldbuilding for White Echoes. Because, well, in science fiction travel is a lot easier. Distances don't quite mean the same. Important, yes, these days when we think of going from A to B, we don't often consider the geography. A plane will take us over.

Except I have a world where there are no planes, only zeppelins, and these are restricted. Not to mention a whole bunch of factors that make travelling costly and all.

Even more importantly... this world has a past. Unless there is a good reason for which humans could always travel easy and cheap, there will have been a point in history in which things such as rivers and mountains mattered. Even today, ships are an important way to move cargo and a large port will be an important economic advantage.

All of this to say, think not only of the present, but also of the past. When you place important cities on a map, create frontiers between kingdoms or invent epic conflict between nations, never forget to consider not only what is today, but how it was in the past.

It's an obvious lesson, but one I just had to remind myself of. Thought I'd share.

(Also, there will be a mappish post in the close future. Because I happen to like maps, and I happen to like sharing things I like. Yep.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Most Horrible and Perfect Sentence of A Dance with Dragons

First, a note: No spoilers, I swear. You can read on safely, fellow fans.

Ten days ago was the release date of GRR Martin's A Dance with Dragons, a book for which I, along with many fans, have been waiting a long time. Not that I mind - there's plenty of other books to read in the meantime - but once it was there, I wasn't going to wait another day.

I bought on Tuesday and spent my week doing little else with my free time than read through the thousand-page epic.* I was done Saturday afternoon, and "forced" the book in a friend's hand so I'd have someone to discuss spoilery goodness with.

Not that I'll expand much on the book. By now there's plenty of reviews out there if you're curious. 

See, Martin does grim and brutal super well. He's known for the frequent character deaths and general grittiness of his setting. And among a bloody description of a city's ruins after the war came by (bodies in the water, entire streets burnt down, etc.) was a sentence fragment so perfect  I just had to stop.

Maybe it's just me, but that sentence caught my attention, and that rarely ever happens when I read. And with all the set-up I just did, maybe you'll be disappointed. :P It's still one of the most horrible and perfect sentence I've read in a looong time (hence the title!)

So, here goes. Remember: part of a list of war-related horrors. It wasn't standing alone. And if you're eating anything, put it down.

Children fighting over half-cooked puppies.

And that's it! Tell me, do you remember powerful descriptions that made you stop and pause?

*It's 959 pages of actual text, but with the appendix it goes over 1000. So, I decide that it qualifies!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Six Thousand Feet in the Air

Chose promise, chose due.

 I promised to tell you all about my hot air balloon trip, and this is where it happens. This post is going to be long and full of pictures. You have been warned!

My first flight plan was cancelled due to bad weather. You don't fly if it's raining, or if the ground is wet. It'd be possible, but it takes more heat to rise, since water makes the balloon heavier. Plus, the view from the sky isn't as clear, and it's nowhere near as cool. So, we waited for the sun and a call from our trusted pilot.

The sun, it seems, decided to come one Saturday morning... at 5:30 am. Which means I was up at 4 am, a feat in and of itself! Honestly, though, I'd been semi-awake since 2 am, alternating between proper sleep and eyes-wide-open-with-excitement. Balloon Ride, my kid mind said. Proper research! my writer mind added. Happy times were to be had today.

So we got up, went there, and then moved with the four other passengers, the pilot and the rest of the crew to our take-off site. They took out the basket there, tied the enveloppe to it and only then did they begin to remove the enveloppe from its bag.

There it was. My first writerly heart attack.

When you read that something is X feet tall and X feet wide, you think "Wow, that's big."  But "big" isn't a concrete measure, and in my mind at least, it doesn't really click until I've seen it. Just like it's one thing to know the Eiffel Tower is tall, another to stand underneath it and look up. Or one thing to be told that northern lights are pretty, and another to see them. Some concepts are too abstracts to grasp with a solid exemple. Hot air balloon bigginess is one.

So we weren't in the sky yet and I already had one small plot problem to solve. But I took heart: that's why I'd come (in addition to the 'having fun' part).

Besides, I wasn't going to dwell on it. Not when they asked for volunteers to hold the enveloppe's mouth open!

Me with a crazy face, holding the enveloppe

So now I know how it strains the arms to hold it, how freaking complicated it'd be to take off alone, how hot the air gets once they use the burners to warm it (that's why the gloves) and about how long it takes. And yep, that's another balloon preparing for take-off behind us. We were three that morning.

Unlike the enveloppe, the basket was a bit smaller than expected. We weren't squeezed inside, but any tighter and it would no longer have been comfortable. But it was comfy. Also, you don't feel a thing when you take off. You're talking and enjoying yourself, and suddenly the world lowers and you wonder why. Then you look down and see this:

That's the third balloon. It was quite smaller
Once you're in the air, the entire world shushes down. Well, okay, not for the first half hour of the flight, because I kept asking questions to the pilot. "What's that rope?" "And that big red one?" "How does it feel when you go higher? In winter? In bad weather?" "How much propane do you need?"*

Once I shut up, though... complete quiet. Nothing but the soft whistling of gas heading to the burner, and the occasional WHOOOSH when he pushed the buttons. No cars, no birds, no people. Only you, the sky and the world, 6000 feet below.

Now, enough talking and more showing. This is what it looked like from above:

That's Quebec City on the other side of the St-Lawrence River

I call it the Brocoli Forest
We're at 3000 ft now. Nope, they did not crash in the river
Despite the fact that my mind kept wondering how I was going to fix my newly found plot problems, this hot air balloon trip is one of the most relaxing experiences I've ever had. It's an instant slow down. More than anything I've done in vacation, it took me out of my speedy-speed life and allowed me to take a breather.

The landing was super smooth too, and we shared champagne with the crew and the farmer whose field we'd used as a landing ground.

That's my pilot, in his super cool hat. He's awesome, funny and talkative.
My plot problems are now fixed, thanks to the boyfriend's many thoughtful suggestions and all I've learned on the trip. It's turned a cool scene into an absolutely epic one, and added a new storyline branch to the novel. The balloon trip was a great experience, both for the novel and for the pure awesomeness of it.

Oh, and just in case you'd consider flying around Quebec City or Montreal, my pilot is Jacques Brouard. He has his own little enterprise called Québec Montgolfière and has been flying for more than 20 years now. I recommend him. Seriously.

That's the little story of my brief time in a balloon. You can ask all the questions you want in the comments if there's something you wanted to know, and that I forgot to say. :)

*The last one is super important, considering propane is a rarity in my world.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Complete Disconnect

Hello, interwebs!

You might've noticed my vacations where spontaneously extended. It's not often that I pull the plug on my computer and leave the strange lands of the internets for so long. It felt strange, at first. I kept wondering what you guys were discussing, what I was missing. I was worried I'd miss the gem of information that I needed to push me further as a writer.

Then I realised I was being silly. I stopped thinking of my life in potential blog posts. I stopped wondering what the internet was going on about. I pulled the plug on twitter, on the forums, on everything but e-mails.

It felt so good.

And I got so much done! I moved in a new house, I took a hot air balloon trip, I finished my third draft, planned its revision, planned a short story in the same universe, saw four music concert (it's the Summer Festival here. Lots of concerts all the time for 10 days), had fun with friends and boyfriends and just... lived. Without the internet. Yes, I assure you, that's possible!

Now I feel recharged. I won't be posting every day of the week. I want to ease myself into this smooth and easy. I think I enjoyed the taste of what can be done with all the freed time. But I promise you, by the end of the week there will be pictures taken from a hot air balloon.

Until next time!