This evening I made a decision: I will not be writing a novel this November as part of National Novel Writing Month.
After five years of participating in and completing the challenge, this is a very weird thought. But because I’m a masochist, I couldn’t resist taking part anyway. My reasons for not writing a novel weren’t related to time commitments, wrist concerns, or even that I don’t think I can commit to a long piece of writing like that — although all of those are valid reasons. I just don’t want to write any more novels right now.
I have a dozen ideas. I have stories begging to be written. But I also have half a dozen novels in various stages of editing, and I can’t face adding another one to the pile. Nor do I really want to write a second or third draft this month, because I feel like all I’ve done recently is edit.
So I’m writing short stories.
I know. This could go terribly, terribly wrong. Simply put, I’m not a short story writer. I can’t deal with the level of character development needed in such a short piece. I always end up turning them into novellas, even when they start out as flash fiction. It just never works.
Which is why I’m not trying to come up with my own plots for these. I’m basing them on folk songs instead.
Some of them are simple retellings, drawing on themes and ideas explored in the original songs. Some of them are like spin-offs, exploring what might have happened afterwards. Some of them are alternate universe versions, or they might be (I haven’t planned any of those so far).
Most of them will have next to no romance. Because I don’t like writing it. Instead, the ones that rely on ‘true love’ or whatever will explore other kinds of love: friendship, sisterly affection, parental dedication, etc etc. The ones that do have romance will either be gender swapped so that the roles are reversed, or they’ll be LGBTQ. Just to make things more interesting.
And then, because trying to write 50k in short stories wasn’t a crazy enough idea, I decided to make it harder for myself. I’m going to be posting them on Wattpad. I only joined the site today, and it was while writing the first of these stories that I came up with the idea — while I’m new to this writing community and as such don’t have any readers, I think I’m more likely to actually follow through and finish the stories if I have something to do with them, even if that’s just posting them on the internet for everyone or no one to read.
Plus, it gives me an excuse to make covers. I’m using a site called Canva which has been awesome so far, and I reckon I’ll probably use it for my next Kindle book, whether that’s a poetry collection or something else. It allows for a lot of customising, there are templates, it’s just great. The cover above is intended as a general catch-all cover for the stories, but I’ve also made individual ones for the first three stories.
The first story is based on the Ballad of Tam Lin, and so far I’ve posted two chapters or pages on Wattpad, so it’ll probably be finished before November begins. Instead of a girl and a mysterious lover who has been stolen away by fairies, I’m writing about a girl trying to rescue her sister from that fate. It’s got a fairly nonspecific folk song setting, so this doesn’t count as an alternate universe one (but it is a no-romance one).
You can read it now if you wish, but I’ll just give the first couple of paragraphs here.
Even the priests agree that you shouldn’t stray on a night like this. Stay within sight of the church, they say. Let the shadow of the cross fall on you, and you will be safe. When confronted about what, exactly, they think will happen to those who stray — well, that’s when it becomes clear that they’re not immune to stories any more than the rest of us.
The woods are flame-coloured in the daylight, but as night falls they’re a murky brown, indistinguishable from the dusk. The leaves beneath my feet are sodden, the mud slurping at my boots and worming its way through the holes and worn patches to squelch against my skin. I’m trying to be quiet, and the woods do their best to help me: when I tread on a fallen branch, it gives way with a dull snicker instead of snapping, intensifying the smell of leaf-mould around me. By all rights the rain ought to have robbed this place of its otherworldliness, its sharp autumnal power, but it only adds to it.
There’s not much moon tonight. I can barely see where I’m going, but I know the way. I’ve come this way every year since I had the sense to sneak away from the bonfires and the prayers.
I’m looking forward to finishing this one, but in the meantime here’s a quick rundown of the other two I’ve planned so far.
I love Carla Gover’s Lady Isabell and the Elfin Knight — I love how the heroine comes out on top. I haven’t entirely decided how I’m going to rewrite this one — I think I might just expand on the story told in the song, and explore it as a piece of prose. So that’ll mean looking in more depth at Isabell and her emotions, which could be fun. That said, I might decide to change it a bit more, but since I love the song so much because of its plot, I think that’s unlikely.
Anais Mitchell’s version of Child #209, Geordie, is a great song — but it ends right at the exciting point, when the heroine threatens the judge who has just condemned her lover to death. She says if she had him in a public square, she’d fight him for the life of her Geordie. Other versions have a different ending, but what I plan to do here is explore what could happen next, focusing on what I’d like to happen next.
Which means there will be a duel. And I’m excited about that. I just haven’t yet figured out who’s going to win it…
With each of these stories running to less than 5,000 words (well, that’s the plan), I’m going to be hard pushed to find enough songs to adapt to reach that 50,000 word total. Maybe I won’t manage it. Maybe I’ll fail NaNo for the first time ever. But to give myself a fighting chance, I’d love it if you could recommend folk songs for me to adapt. Creepy is good, romance is less good unless it can be adapted — let me know of anything that comes to mind!
Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo? What are you writing?