This is a writing process story, all about the making of sausage that goes on behind the writing. So I’ll forewarn you that it might be boring before I continue to do it anyway.
I’ve done several entries in the past on why I do Nano, and also put together some tips and tricks that I think might be helpful to the first time Nano-er. But I haven’t actually done a technical post on what my prep looks like at all. So I thought I would do that in case anyone is interested. Are you interested?
It’s not terribly hard, nor does it take too long. It just takes some thinking.
First, I come up with a plot summary and then make the cover (which you saw last time). That’s usually the part I share. And then I spend several days thinking about the actual plot of the story. Like, I know I have a suffragette who is in a love triangle because she needs money, but what does the rest of her life look like? What is her family like, her home life? What does she want and think she needs? Who are her friends? What does she do for fun?
When I have that figured out, mostly by stream-of-consciousness writing, I then put the plot summary together. I know when I start that I’m not likely to adhere to it fully. Someone will do something 1/3 of the way through that makes the back half stuff inconsequential. Or a non-main character will demand more time. Or a main character will turn out horribly boring. But it’s a start. And without it, I can’t operate on the CRAZY schedule Nano demands. I have tried and failed. More than once.
There are two things I keep in mind while writing the summary. The first is, I try to let the characters and their choices/wants drive the narrative. That helps avoid cliche, which you should also probably try and do. The second is that each plot point will take between 1500 and 2000 words to write, so I should aim for 30 of them if I’m going to have a 50,000 word novel at the end.
When November 1st starts, I just start with the first point and write until I have 1500-2000 words. Then I move to the next. Take it in small chunks and it becomes a not-so-insurmountable task.
As an example, here’s what I had for Ruby of Ra, which I’m working hardcore on editing now while others are reading Blue Gentian. It already doesn’t look like this, but it’s where the novel came from. I’m not sharing In Suffrage or In Health because I’m afraid I’ll ruin the magic for myself if too many people know the gory details. Better to share something that’s already done. Also, we already know this plot worked, because it was a winner. We don’t really know about Suffrage yet… (cross your fingers for me)
Once I have all 3 of these pieces, I’m 100% ready to go for Nano. All that’s left to do is wait for that clock to roll over to 12:01 am on November 1st.
1952: Nine years after Ruby Keene’s mother was discovered drowned in the Grand Canyon, she is dealing with the aftermath of polio, high school, and her father’s refusal to take her on his latest archaeological expedition with his grad students. But when she wheedles her way into the canyon, she realizes that her mother’s death wasn’t an accident. It was a duty, a birthright to protect a long-forgotten Egyptian Temple located in the craggy red peaks; only it seems the temple isn’t forgotten anymore. Now, Ruby must journey to perform the deadly task that killed her mother, lest a rampant Goddess eat the world.
- Ruby gets polio, mom leaves and Ruby finds out later (once she’s well) that Mom died in a flood in the Grand Canyon. Dad’s at war, so she moves in with Gran for the duration. Emphasis on Ruby and Mom’s fun surrounding the swimming pool, and “games” they would play there (really training).
- 9 years later. Ruby’s life currently, at the school, soda shop, and university. Introduce her polio limitations, but also her struggle to become the perfect 1950s girl without any girls around, and when she’s wearing a brace. Dad is an anthropology professor, and Gran is around a lot to help.
- Ruby helps Dad’s assistant Roy in the lab and meets newest exchange student Mando, from Egypt. They find a scarab amulet that was in dregs of dirt from last year. Dad won’t let her go on the summer archeological expedition to the Grand Canyon because of her polio.
- Ruby’s birthday. Dad gives her Mom’s scarab amulet, and confesses that he carried it in the war. Ruby is mad at mom, and isn’t thrilled to get it. She remembers a disturbing incident where she almost drowned at the pool, but the amulet made the water melt out of her pores.
- Ruby attends a polio benefit with Gran, to help fundraise. At the event, the necklace burns her when the pictures of polio start to come on. She has bad dreams all night. The next morning, Ruby learns there was a horrible earthquake in California. She thinks they’re not related.
- Ruby is allowed to go to the Grand Canyon after all! Friends of her mom’s (Madge), and a bunch of people will be there. Ruby will be expected to do work as a JR assistant to the grad students.
- Mando moves in with Ruby and Dad for the 2 weeks between the end of school and the trip to the canyon. He and Ruby hit it off at first, and they chat a bit about the Egyptian revolution that is just over. Mando admits to being a soldier, but he won’t talk about the scarab tattoo on his arm. There’s a break-in at the school and the scarab they found was stolen, too. The police think it was an inside job. Ruby becomes suspicious of Mando trying to buddy up to her, especially when he tries too hard once he learns her mother’s maiden name.
- The U-Mass group travels to the Grand Canyon. Ruby brings the amulet with her, because it seems right somehow. Ruby is seated on the flight next to Mando, and he eventually tells her the tale of Sekhmet to keep her from freaking out on her first flight.
- Everyone from all 3 schools gets together for dinner, and to plan their method of attack on the sites they’ll visit. Ruby meets mom’s friend Madge for the first time. Ruby hangs out with the undergrads and finds intellectual stimulation is better than high school frivolity.
- Madge corners Ruby after dinner and tries to warn her that she’ll be restless once they start to breach the walls of the canyon. Ruby thinks Madge’s tales of the supernatural are silly. When she gets back to the hotel room she’s sharing with Dad, she asks him how he and mom met. He says when he was an undergrad, she and Madge had gotten lost while hiking and they met then.
- Descent into the canyon. Riding the mule is hard for Ruby, but she won’t admit it because she doesn’t want to prove Dad right. Mando is still trying to be friendly, but Ruby is standoffish. The expedition all has rooms in a giant bunk house at Phantom Ranch – girls on one side and boys on the other.
- In the wee hours of the morning, Ruby has nightmares about the floating tree again, and also about a large cat. She wakes up pouring water from her pores onto the bunk mattress. Madge wakes her up and helps her change her sheets so no one else knows. Ruby is willing now to listen to Madge’s story that there’s someone abusing an Egyptian temple in the Grand Canyon, using it to do nefarious things to the goddess Sekhmet, but still doesn’t really believe it. Madge claims to have a letter from Ruby’s mom, but Ruby says she doesn’t want to read anything from a woman who abandoned her.
- A large cat has prowled around Phantom Ranch in the night. The expedition moves to the first dig site. Ruby will sleep in a tent with Grad student Anne. There are weird lights on the cliff face that night in the distance.
- Mando confronts Ruby and tells her that he believes she’s a Daughter of Ra. He tells her she should do some exercises to find out if she is, and Ruby gets really mad at him. She tells him she won’t do it.
- Digging commences. Ruby is stuck with menial jobs, but is glad for the chance to actually do something physical for once. Roy and Anne don’t coddle her like Dad always did. At night, though, she’s having CRAZY blood filled dreams and is having a hard time hiding them from Anne.
- Ruby has been thinking about the letter, and with her dreams getting worse, she finally asks Madge to read it. Mom lays out the whole thing for her. She’s been selected by blood to protect the Grand Canyon temple, and she will know by the dreams and by all the horrible strife in the world that there’s something bad going on there. Ruby thinks of the polio epidemic and the earthquake and all sorts of other things and realizes the signs point that direction. All of them. Mom says the only way to fix everything is to do a purge of the temple by channeling a whole bunch of water through it. The amulet should keep her from dying, but the more people who help her channel the water, the easier it becomes. If it isn’t done exactly right, though, everyone can drown.
- Mando assaults Ruby, practically drowning her in the river. But the amulet saves her. She’s pissed beyond belief about it, but he says it’s proof that she really is a Daughter of Ra. He needs her help to find the temple, because he’s been tasked by the Egyptian government to shut it down. But it was such a secret program that even the new president can’t get any information on it. Ruby won’t help him.
- They move to the second dig site. Lights on the cliff-face still happen, and Ruby is now finding the paw prints of a large cat outside her tent in the morning. Anne is VERY concerned. Dad’s concerned too, but preoccupied with how the dig is going to spend much time worrying about Ruby.
- Ruby gets with Madge. She can no longer pretend this isn’t happening, and she decides to accept her role. They’ll need to gather as many of the women together as possible to make the ritual easier.
- The girls in the group all have a council, and Ruby shows them all the crazy things she can do to prove it’s real. They decide they have to go to the temple and do the ritual. Everyone is against Ruby going because of her polio, but eventually everyone realizes that Ruby is the only one who can do it. Madge knows where it is because she was with Mom when she did the ritual and died.
- Mando stops Ruby and tells her that she shouldn’t investigate anything happening on the cliffs, that it’s for him to do. Ruby doesn’t listen. The ladies do some practicing with Ruby (per suggestions in Mom’s letter) to prepare themselves.
- The women leave in the middle of the night and go towards the temple. Long chapter of traveling, in which Ruby has a hard time of it because of her polio. Ruby thinks they’re being followed by Mando, but no one else seems to think so.
- They reach the Temple. With some spying, they realize that the temple is occupied by 2 or 3 Egyptians and there is a strange altar in the middle with offerings on it, in which an electric hologram (or what looks like it) of a cat woman is in agony. Ruby is almost caught when Mando pulls her back into hiding. It turns out he’s followed them for sure.
- The women are all pissed to see Mando. He’s worried, because he was sort of told what it should look like and this isn’t anything to do with it. He doesn’t know what this is, it’s so much stronger. The gals decide that it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the center there, if they just perform the ceremony then all they’re problems will be solved. They let Mando stay in the room, but he can’t be a member of the channeling circle. They camp on the cliff face, but will try to sneak in during the middle of the night.
- Sneaking into the temple to perform the ceremony goes awry. It all starts fine, but Ruby disturbs the set-up in the middle and accidentally unleashes Hathor from Sekhemet. She comes after everyone like a wildcat, and the only way Ruby can contain her is to break the amulet. Mando is especially hurt. As soon as the amulet is broken, it starts to rain.
- The rain continues, and when they take stock it looks like a lot of people are in bad shape. Ruby doesn’t know what to do. Her only options at this point are to let Hathor continue eating the world, or die trying to do the ritual without the amulet (which probably won’t work anyway. It didn’t for Mom). The canyon below them starts to flood.
- Ruby has another dream where Mom gets her to perform the ceremony. She wakes up and starts to tend to the injured people. She is sopping up Mando when he presses the scarab from the lab into her hands. He stole it when he figured out what it was way back before they even left for the Grand Canyon.
- They set up the ritual, and everyone is in such rough shape that it seems impossible they’ll be able to be successful. Hathor is still a dominant force and tries to fight them, but they leave a few people out of the ritual to take care of her and fight her. The ceremony works and it stops raining.
- Ruby doesn’t quite recover. She can’t seem to come back into herself, and she’s half dreaming. She has a meeting with Ra and Sekhemet who thank her for her service.
- The frightened ladies finally bring Ruby back to consciousness. They travel back to Phantom Ranch, bedraggled. Reunion with Dad, who was VERY worried about her. When the ladies recover, they realize that the waters were healing waters and they heal faster. Ruby finds that she still has polio and all, but she finds that she has greater mobility. Whether that’s from all the exercise she’s been doing or not, she doesn’t know. Mando asks for forgiveness for being such an ass and Ruby gives it to him.
- Eilogue: Ruby gains greater self-confidence and freedom. The Polio and her status as not being like the 1950s magazine ladies no longer bothers her like it used to and she refuses to be the poster child for it any longer. The Polio vaccine becomes available, and a new Egyptian president takes over. Maybe scenes of her dancing with Ellen in the diner and chatting up Chad Haskins. But also, the lesson she learned about being around intellectuals at college and how great that was really stuck, too.