Friday, August 26, 2011

Write A Book In A Day

That's what they call it.

It's a school thing. It's a competition associated with Katherine Susannah Pritchard, and it's exactly what it sounds like. Once your school is registered, on a given day at 0800 the competition people send you a bunch of details that have to go into your story. And by 2000 that night, you have to email them your book.

The local high school has a few avid writers, and they've been asking me to do something with them for a while. They leaned on their teachers, and eventually the gears turned, the wheels ground, and we all agreed to do this WABIAD thing. The high school folks were 'specially nice in that they even agreed to let young Jake join in for the day.

I did two prep sessions. The Friday before last, we did a couple hours on character: how to build character, using and understanding motivation, and how characters act as the main point of entrance to the narrative for the reader. Last Friday, we did a kind of dry run, putting together story outlines based on sets of data of the sort the WABIAD organisers supply.

And today was the Big Day.

Naturally, things had to be difficult. Firstly, Natalie went to Hobart last night. She's away for the weekend. Obviously, that made things a bit challenging since Jake and I had to be at the school by 0800 - but Genghis and the Mau-mau also had to get to their school at the usual time. Likewise, Jake and I were prepared to be busy until 2000... but of course, Genghis and the Mau-mau were on a school bus home by 1500.


Happily, Viking Neighbour Anna was prepared to accept Genghis and the Mau-mau in the evening. It probably helped that one of her progeny was also involved in the WABIAD competition, and I gave him a lift home when we were done... but nevertheless, I'm grateful. There's no conceivable way I could have handled this otherwise.

The WABIAD day was - well, actually, it was extremely bloody cool. They had enough kids signed up to make two teams of ten or so. The first lot had to write with a lifeguard, an artist, and one non-human character - an elf. The had to use a wrecker's yard as a setting, and they had to address the issue "one good turn deserves another".

Not too difficult, really. They jumped right in and got going.

Unfortunately, the second group kinda got screwed. They had to write about a gangster, a sandalwood cutter, and their nonhuman character was a doll. Their setting was a peace rally, and worst of all, their 'issue' was 'drought'.

That's a bit of a bastard combination, really. Not impossible, of course, but not at all pleasant. You really have to twist things to make 'drought' your central issue when your setting is 'a peace rally'. I have to give them credit. They handled it well.

Both groups also got a list of words that had to be used: 'ginormous', 'beef stroganoff', 'plopped', 'amongst', and a couple of others.

It was one blue-arsed hell of a hectic day. Really.

It started with mad brainstorming and character design. Then the writing and illustrating took off. (Yes. The books have to be illustrated, and they have to have a front cover and a back cover too. And for high-school level, they have to be a minimum of 4000 words long.) By lunch, the bulk of the drafting was done, and we were well into the editing and proofing.

But things got out of synch. Chapters got mislaid or missed out. Computers spat the dummy at inopportune times. Collating and proofing was slow, troublesome work. It got quite tense towards the end, doing final proofs, and hunting for typos, etc, while juggling image files and text files...

... and I have to say, I fucking HATE Microsoft Word. What a fucking awful piece of shitbag software! Overcomplicated, slow, resource-hogging crap that desperately tries to impose all kinds of idiotic formats and standards on you. What fucking good is a goddam grammar checker when you're writing large slabs of dialogue? FUCK!

But - yes. We managed to get both files emailed away to the WABIAD folks in the last half hour before the deadline. And there was pizza all around.

The students had themselves a fantastic time. I actually cannot recall another time I've seen twenty school students work twelve solid hours so cheerfully and enthusiastically. By the time we were printing out copies, they were swarming the photocopier, competing to see who could get the first complete version to take home for the oldies.

Not a single cross or cranky word did I hear all day. Lots of hilarity. Ridiculous characters, silly dialogue, crazy ideas -- and a tremendous spirit of co-operation. Everybody jumped in, and tried to help everyone else.

Jake in particular had a great time. He got his writing done well before 1100, and went around helping out others, and writing the blurb for the back cover, and so forth. He even had time to refine his mad pie-seller character: in the end, he was a French expat who cursed the police in French that Jake dug up via Google, and who suffered from myokymia of the eyelid. His Beef Stroganoff pies were apparently notorious for causing constipation - which was handy, since evil gangster Barry Broxburn had slipped laxatives into the ice-cream trucks which attended the peace rally...

So now I'm home. It's 2130, and the kids are in bed. I've managed to neck a couple of decent beers, and... holy shit, I'm exhausted. I've read, edited, and proofed every single word of both books (though I'm not the only one to do that!) I've helped twenty different authors through plot hitches, over character motivation humps, and down the long, winding road to a proper denouement. I've helped invent names for characters. I've cut much-loved passages, and insisted on added detail in sections otherwise too dull or pedestrian, and I've been question-answerer and dogsbody and grammarian and I've done the bakery run for lunch, and yeah, shit, I am really, seriously worn out.

"Elves And Trees -- And Everything In Between" went to 7500 words.

"Paradise Mislaid" made it to 6500.

Both books went out on time.

Two teachers put in the hardest yards I've seen at a school in years... and twenty-odd people had a really, really entertaining day.