Tea @Three: What is this ‘novel thing’ of which you speak?
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, friends, fiends, octopi and anyone else out there who is sensibly sitting in with a quiet brew instead of braving the atrocious amounts of wind out there this morning.
As November begins to wrap itself up in shiny paper and tinsel and writers across the globe chew their knuckles to the bone and pull out the last of their hair and dissolve into soft pools of jelly on the floor I thought I would share what we here in the Bitter North (Mordor some like to call it) have been doing to celebrate National Novel Writing Month.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a novel as : A long printed story about imaginary characters and events.
Even if we lay aside all the comments we hear abut writers being turned down by mainstream publishing houses because their plots, characters, style or creative format is deemed ‘niche’ and therefore not all that profitable, there are still two words in that description which close off the world of baking and consuming novels to large groups of people – those words are LONG and PRINTED.
Those of you who only know me through the aetherweb are probably unaware that I have PMA (Persistent Migraine with Auras) with Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (cool huh? I thought so when I finally got a name for it!) This means that for as long as I can remember, I have seen an overlay of lights, colours and patterns on top of around and behind everything else. Sometimes there are sounds too and occasionally objects become very tiny and far away then grow big again. I was an early consumer of literature (by 2 I could stomach a short book and by 5 I was eating Narnia) and I recorded my first horror stories on cassette when I was 4 , but digesting long amounts of small printed text in identical format throughout has always been very difficult for me. I do it because I love stories. But it’s hard. It wasn’t until I discovered House Of Leaves in my teens that I realised a novel could be something else…
We live in an age where technology allows us to create interactive book formats, audio, braille, tactile books, stories that arrive in a series of boxes through the mail…
Our small storytelling group is fortunately blessed with some fabulous little (and big!) people who have a variety of ways of processing sensory information as well as attention, emotional, social and physical issues which render the classic format of a classic 80,000 word novel problematic. So this month we have been exploring different ways of creating and consuming works of novel fiction.
There is always a danger that when folks with what others might term ‘special needs’ (don’t we all have those?) attempt something like this the rest of society expects that we are lowering the bar or going to produce something substandard that everyone can smile at and say ‘awwww bless!’ So we also set ourselves some really tough challenges to make sure our stories were as tight and top notch as they could be, just presented in an alternative format.
I have already shared our tea books with you all. Here are some of the other things we have been up to…
Messages on bottles
Bottles, cartons, jars and tins or cylinders made from oiled paper all make lovely tactile surfaces for writing on. You can hold the physical object in your hands in a way that is great for those who need to fidget or find holding a heavy book or turning fiddly pages a strain on their joints (several members have hypermobility with arthritis and this can be a big issue). The beauty of light shining through the inked on words is enchanting and holds the attention of the reader and writing on the curves and small sections proved a very manageable and enjoyable task for those of us who struggle to attend to one thing for a long time. The containers can be painted first then inked with sharpies when dry, or left plain. We put LED candles inside ours but I would love to see them hung outside in summer where they would catch the light, or the glass bottles filled with coloured water.
These were surprisingly difficult to make well. We planned out our stories and then thought about a series of sounds that could be put together to convey that story to a listener. We tried using sounds we could make ourselves, such as footsteps or cutlery, doors etc. and soon realised that even the most obvious sounds don’t always convey the action we need them to. We later experimented with various apps to layer in music and other sounds and eventually ended up with some pretty good ‘sound stories’ but nobody was entirely happy with their finished pieces and so I think we will come back to this project again.
Everyone loved these – even the two year olds in the group had a go! – a series of photographs were taken to tell a story. See what you think of this one…
Stories Hidden Inside
Inside a bottle, an envelope, a box, a shoe… we carefully selected a series of objects that told a story, some collections were obvious, some needed explaining, some were extremely powerful, poignant and sad – it was amazing how as few as three or four objects, carefully chosen, could move us to tears just as much as 50,000 well chosen words.
Next week we will be turning one of our stories into code by choosing either coloured or shaped beads to represent each element or word in our story and then threading them into wearable novels. This is a follow on from an activity a few years ago when we made wearable story jackets, shoes and trousers which could be added to over time.
We also did a lot of spoken word story telling in the form of roll-and-tell (or some prefered to roll-and-write which was fine. Here are some of the D6 games we played…
Roll a D6 and tell a story that begins with the word matching your number:
- Clunk 1.Sorry! 1.We
- Oh! 2.Violent 2.Perched
- Silently 3.Swish 3.Struggling
- Never 4.Five 4.Why
- You 5.Sand 5.Flames
- Falling 6.White 6.Bone
Roll a D6 and create a character that is like…
1. Glass 1. Marble
2.Autumn 2. Spring
3. Cider Apples 3. Evening
4. Chalk cliffs 4. A broken pot
5. Rain 5. Moss
6. A Utility knife 6. Lemon sherbert
Roll a D6 and create a setting that contains the word (or is inspired by the word) ….
1.Silk 1. cardboard 1. Smoke
2. Velvet 2. Pigeons 2. Laughter
3. Acrid 3. Bare 3. Luminous
4.Stale 4. Iron 4. Pin
5. Vivid 5. Air 5. Sickly
6. Crunch 6. Chestnuts 6. Close
Roll a D6 and tell a story (or add an event to your story) that begins “suddenly…”
- A monster 1. Sound 1. Breath
- Light 2.Pain 2. Droplets
- An animal 3. A person 3.The scent of
- A trap 4. Fatigue 4. Weight
- A person 5. Fear 5. Vibration
- The hand of god 6. Hunger 6. Memory
And here are the D20 challenges we gave ourselves for editing, improving, experimenting and tightening up… Roll a D20 then re-tell / re-write your piece as follows…
- Don’t use any colours or visual descriptions
- Don’t use sounds
- Only use descriptive words associated with taste and touch
- Don’t use weather or landscape to reflect the mood / atmosphere
- Use only dialogue
- Use no dialogue
- For every adjective, find 3 alternatives
- Use metaphors and similes that seem completely out of place
- Tell it from the perspective of three different characters or objects
- Don’t use the same word twice
- Write it twice, each at a different time of day
- Use no adjectives
- Sum up the whole scene in one word
- Choose a paragraph and remove as many words as you can
- Double the length of the scene or paragraph
- For every verb find 2 different ways of describing the action
- Choose a colour and make every adjective fit that colour theme. Repeat with a different colour
- Write a synopsis of your piece in one sentence
- Write or tell it in just 250 words
- Write or tell a synopsis of your story in one paragraph.
So we have been using this month to celebrate all that a novel can be and I have also been working hard on the very last novel that will make up the Smith and Skarry series – yes, yes, I know I haven’t actually published the first one yet and the second and third are only half done but that’s the way I roll I guess, it came to me how the thing should end and so I thought it best to write what was flowing. I say ‘write’ but as each book is meant to be a hybrid graphic novel / novella there’s a lot of story boarding too. It may well be a hopeless endeavour as I still haven’t found another illustrator and my own art skills are way too shabby but ‘hey ho’ it keeps me off the streets 😀
And now a lil ‘heads up’ that the next two months round here may be a little chaotic (because they aren’t already…) I am moving house and also at some point going to have an operation (no idea when yet) I’m scheduling as many posts for Dec and Jan as I can in advance but I’m not sure when I will have computer access over that time so if I don’t respond to your lovely comments / emails etc immediately please understand I’m not being rude, I’m just on my back getting high on opiates or something.
And now we must all take a huge calming breath and brace ourselves because next week I will publish my recommended steampunk Christmas reading list (email me if you want to be added to that) and after that…. WIZMAS! (Or Christmas as I think you call it? ) anyhoo it all translates as madness and I have to polish my spurtle , order extra oats, buy a new hat, brush up on my spuelling technique and get cracking on a new witch hunting wagon…
Biggest blessings on all your novel endeavours