The Time Detectives
I love time travel. It's one of my favorite fictional concepts. The elevator pitch is that in the near-future time travel has become excessively commonplace. The original version of this was written the very first year I did NaNo, which was in 2010. It stunk, mostly because I fell into the trap of writing more and more viewpoint characters every time I decided to end a scene. In the end, there was the soldier who went touring with his pet robot, the detective who was trying to solve a murder, the writer who was coming back from a colony on Mars, the junkie whose time travel get-rich-quick scheme had fallen through, the teenage girl who'd gone back in time to save her father, the young guy whose plans to travel back to Edo Japan had been dashed, and probably one or two others. All that in about 36,000 words - or about a third of a regular novel (I didn't win that year either). I believe that I had recently read The Stand by Stephen King, and heard that his method of writing it was to simply end every chapter on a cliffhanger and then introduce a new character. Perhaps I'd only read part of that book, because now I see it as a very flawed piece of writing.
There was far too much going on. I still liked the worldbuilding I had done though - I liked extrapolating from a relatively simple concept and charting out all of the changes that it made in the world - and so decided to take the single thread that I'd liked best and try to turn that into its own thing. The title of that is Detective Jones and the Murder that Wasn't, which I really like as a title. It's sitting at 8,000 words and probably won't be touched again until I've binged on some detective stories. I stopped right about when I realized that I was writing in a genre that I don't actually read, namely a mystery novel. Worse, I was playing with the standard format, which I think you really don't want to do when you don't have the background knowledge. The plot is pretty simple - the title protagonist is trying to solve a murder that hasn't happened yet. It's just a matter of the twists and turns that the plot takes in getting to its resolution. Since I've basically admitted ignorance on this subject (and haven't worked on this one for nine months now) it's questionable whether I'll ever get back to it. In the meantime, I've written some short fiction in the setting with the same characters in order to get more of a feel for it.
Robot, Wizard, Vampire
I wrote 20,000 words of this in March and then more or less haven't looked back. Someone on Facebook had said that including these three things in the same setting violated some principle of world-building, and I disagreed and then started writing this. The premise is that there have been two secret societies in the world for a long time, fighting a secret war with each other, until eventually the vampires find a cure for their sunlight problem and take over the world. The story begins about three years later, when a trio of young wizards have managed to create a robot through a combination of technology and magic. Also, the whole thing is set during the 1970s in New York City.
At the time, I was thinking that it was just trashy enough to work. Wizards, robots, and vampires all fighting together? So long as you could get past the initial hurdle of suspension of disbelief inherent in the first chapter (wherein a member of the Sanguine Senate is staked through the heart by a robot forged from arcane knowledge) it would offer plenty of awesomeness. This one actually has a decent outline - something I've been trying to do more often - but eventually I realized that I hadn't nailed down the magic system enough, and really needed to do that before I continued on. That more or less stalled me out, because I didn't really find the magic system to be all that fun. It was supposed to be a perfect match for making robots, but just ... I don't know. Even talking about it now I lose enthusiasm. I guess the proper thing to do would be to write out what magic can and cannot do and then go back to it. The plot has enough twists and turns to be interesting. and it's got a vaguely young adult feel to it - though I'm sure it's a little more ultra-violent than it would be if I were actually on contract to write that book.
Oh, and two of the three teenage wizards are William (Gates) and Steve (Jobs), which is never spelled out in the text but what I thought was a neat easter egg.
I wrote a first chapter for this, which I really loved, and two other scenes, which I also really loved, but I'm having a lot of trouble making more of it. The first chapter shows two dark wizards on the eve of a full moon, getting ready to sacrifice a child they stole from an orphanage and finding that he's simply too cute. Eventually they end up raising him. It's a fantasy comedy.
The big problem here is that I'm really not that funny. I don't think that I can do a comedy, since when I look at something like Terry Pratchett I see that there's something funny on nearly every page. That seems like it would take a hugely disproportionate amount of effort on my part to emulate. The worldbuilding for the setting is fantastic and I think lends a lot of humor to the proceedings, but I'm not sure that I can actually write comedy - just as I'm not sure that I can write mystery. Drama seems to be much more my thing.
I do work on this one only when I'm feeling funny, which is not a particularly good way to build up the "being funny when you're not feeling funny" muscle. It's also resulted in a scattering of chapters all over the place without connective tissue. The plot follows the young boy who was raised by the dark wizards as he tries to find his place in the world. He meets (and falls in love with) a princess, and there's a bunch of prophecy, mistaken identity, and things of that nature throughout. Also battle nuns. It sits at around 15,000 words.
Mostly I wish that someone else would write what's in my head so I could read it.
This is another bit of fantasy. There's a large cabal of extremely powerful wizards who exert control over the entire world, and have maintained a peace for hundreds of years. Magic in this setting is extremely powerful but takes an enormous toll, and so the cabal keeps its position mostly through the sacrifice of its individual members. This was a case of me inventing a magic system first and writing a story second - something that I really love to do, since extrapolation from some baseline is a thing that I really like.
This story was actually started twice. The first time, it was a single person's viewpoint, a childhood as told through the eyes of a wizard who had given up many of his memories to fuel his magic. I liked that, but felt that it moved a bit too slow, and besides that the story wasn't really about the wizard, it was about the falling apart of the long peace that the wizards have maintained. You can't use up five chapters on mage school and a discovery of magical talent if none of that plays into the plot. So I rewrote it to feature some more viewpoint characters, with the chapters of the wizard growing up as flashback chapters. My biggest problem was that I didn't (and still don't) know where the plot is going. A wizard defects, and another wizard is sent to chase him. Both are damaged creatures, with much of themselves given up to fuel the magic. I know it ends with the cabal either destroyed or utterly changed, but I don't know how it gets there.
There are others, of course, things that don't have their own folders, or things that I just started writing with no clear end in mind. Everything else is below ten thousand words, which is about the point where I say to myself "alright, I'm serious about this one". There's the one where a small group of adventurers travel to more and more magical lands as their journey continues. There's on that involves the wizards in charge of wiping memories from the muggles and maintaining the Masquerade - something that may no longer be possible with the advent of the home video recorder. There's floating islands and robots that write novels and all manner of half-finished thoughts that make it a paragraph or two before petering out.
I really do need to learn how to finish things, but I think my biggest hurdle right now is the lack of feedback.