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Nano '07 through '09- A Comparison.

I was poking through Google Documents today, looking for a version of this year's Nano which had one more sentence in it than the other nine dozen identical copies of this year's Nano (this is an issue with Google Documents, it backs up fast and often, and doesn't ask you first) when I ran into a version of last year's Nano, sitting there all innocent-like. This made me realise I had not even so much as glanced at last year's Nano since December 1st 2008, and furthermore, I had only the dimmest of dim memories of the thing. Seriously, it was as if some highly-specialised lobotomist had gone through my brain and removed everything other than a vague sense of the plot and characters.

Intrigued, I read on. Pretty quickly, I realised that there are quite a few parallels between the two stories, parallels which, due to the aforementioned total selective amnesia, I had no idea of while I was writing this year's Nano. Themes that crop up in both Nanos, some character archetypes which I reuse on a worryingly regular basis, and even some completely identical lines. More on those, later.

So, this is sort of a needlessly long crit/appraisal/rundown of Nano '09 compared to Nano '08, with, depending on how in-depth I feel, Nano '07 thrown in for good measure. As well as the reccurring themes, I'm going to be looking at things which jumped out at me, things which were horrible and things that just... made no sense, and maybe even some ways in which I seem to have improved.

A quick recap before I begin...

Nano '07 - Skyway (hereafter referred to as SKW)
This thing died on its feet 11k in. Its lifespan might have been doubtful to begin with, due to it being not that much more than a big ol' blended smoothie made from Bioshock, Portal, and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. In this short and ill-fated story, an engineer working at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in a very large futuristic megacity finds a prototype killer robot glove thing in the posession of a dead superspy, and promptly gets it jammed irreversibly onto his arm. Hijinks ensue, or would have done if I hadn't given up on the whole thing shortly after I realised what a piece of plagaristic dross I was writing. Some of the lines aren't bad, though.

Nano '08 - Snapdragon Mckee and the Million Pound Ghost (hereafter referred to as SMatMPG)
I managed to win last year, left the file mouldering in My Documents, and never looked at it again. It wasn't that I hated the story, but something must have put me off finishing it, to the extent that it created the odd lack of memory which I described earlier. It feels like it was written by someone else... someone on a lot more sugar. In SMatMPG, a girl finds out that she will inherit a million pounds if she finds evidence of paranormal activity within a strict deadline set by her dead uncle's will. Hijinks ensue, or would have if I had finished the damn thing instead of redacting it from my memory.

Nano '09 - The Mainline Creation (hereafter referred to as TMC)
November still being a very recent, insane sort of memory of panic and forced writing sessions (I think I ended up writing the last 25k in a week) I might have a hard time looking at it objectively, but I'll try. This time round, a man gets a job working for a quite-possibly-mad inventor on the verge of an amazing scientiftic breakthrough, and has to juggle said scientific mayhem with his own severe and rather boring financial problems. This still feels like my most successful attempt yet, but I still didn't finish, and- a week after deadline and counting- I haven't got as much as a paragraph nearer to The End.

Okay. In no particular order, the first thing that caught my eye was,

Stupid Names
This is an area in which I seem to have improved. SKW contained names like Jesper Madderick and Jeremiah Elwood Sky. SMatMPD went one step further with, yes, Snapdragon McKee, a name so monumentally obnoxious that it probably would have killed the doctor required to sign the birth certificate out of sheer idiocy. After having to type it out a few dozen times, I sort of realised this, and probably would have changed it to 'Sarah McKee' if I'd persisted much longer. I still can't bear typing 'Snapdragon' more than once, even now.

TMC veers into the danger zone a few times with names like Gregory Mainline, but for the most part, the names are much less moronic and more simple and easy to remember, like Mark Collins or Lucie Bates. Somewhere along the way, I must have learned that shoving an exotic, sparkly name up the reader's nose does not automatically give the character an engaging personality. It just makes the reader snicker about how the character must had had the shit ripped out of them at school.

The Woobie
Everything goes wrong for this character. They are a spineless sack of guts, and they are not even particularly noble or 'good' to make up for it. Therefore, everything that can possibly happen to them, does, and does with a certain playful sadism. I seem to really freakin' love this archetype. Ross in SKW and Colin in SMatMPD, both important characters, embodied the Woobie. They both start the stories in a hole, with no particular ray of light at the end of the tunnel, and within their first couple of scenes have stumbled haplessly deeper into the shit. Ross is framed for murder, and at the mercy of a crazed supercomputer attached to his body. Colin is a graverobber and a gambling addict, although he would much rather not be either and ends up getting used by practically everyone else in the story, not to mention terrified to within an inch of his life by a murderous ghost.

In TMC, the Woobie crops up again (in a minor role, this time) in the person of Evan, a hapless executive who gets fired for no reason other than to demonstrate what a badass the antagonist is. This doesn't aid either his fragile self-esteem or his borderline alcoholism, and within the space of three chapters he collapses into a disintergrating wreck. Either I'm like Clarice Starling, 'drawn to the plight,' or I'm way too fond of writing myself sad little tortured punching bags.

The Tess
Again, I seem unreasonably fond of this archetype. A bolshy, loud-mouthed troll-woman, and the best friend of the main character. In SMatMPD, Mallory Gynt (a borderline silly name) fills this role. In TMC, Mallory gains ten years and a couple of bra sizes and becomes the even more obnoxious and crass Rita Taylor. The Tess will always tell the main character what she thinks, loudly and often. Mostly it will turn out to be the sage advice he/she needed to hear, but it will always be peppered with insults and/or remarks about the main character's personality/hygiene/virility. The main character will always put up with the Tess, though, and treat her cheerfully horrific rudeness as a slightly frustrating quirk, despite the fact that if a real person behaved like this, they would be kicked to the kerb quite quickly, on account of the wrecking-ball effect they have on any social situation they are introduced to. The Tess is named after the eponymous character in Aaron Alexovich's Serenity Rose books.

Great Big Fuckoff Red Brick Gothic Victorian Houses

These are an obsession of mine, apparently. I say 'apparently' because, as already stated, I did not write TMC with any conscious memory of specific things from SMatMPD, so any similarities are straight from my subconscious. And yet... the House returns. In SManMPD, the house Snapdraggle stands to win is

'...an extremely tall building, a looming confusion of red brick, ivy, and annoyed-looking gargoyles. Sarah's first estimate upon getting out of her car was that it had about ninety zillion floors, revised after a closer look to seven plus various pointy attic structures.''

Describing Mainline Mansion in TMC, on the other hand, I wrote that

'...the house didn't just take up most of the block, it was the block. Towering red brick walls rose up for at least seven stories... windows scattered in a seemingly random pattern across the walls- some tiny and narrow, some huge and upright... the effect was quite a lot like four or five different houses had been driving without due care and attention towards the corner of Penumbra Avenue, and had hit each other head-on. The skewbald copper turrets of the roof loomed above those of its neighbours, each one bristling with scalloped tiles, indignant-looking gargoyles, and random pointy bits that would have severely ruined the day of any bird trying to land on them.'

It would seem that I just really like red brick and gargoyles. If you think the seven floors and the lines about the gargoyles' expressions seem really freakin' similar for two stories written a year apart with no knowledge or memory of the other, then you ain't seen nothing yet.

Needlessly Overdramatic Interiors
The architectural similarities don't just extend to the outside of the mansions. In SMatMPG, the main foyer has a 'startlingly large front hall with an eye-hurting red-and-white marble floor' and a staircase which 'did not spiral, but instead went up and up in a great long sweep of thick plushy carpet the same sandy red as the squares in the floor.' The main foyer of Mainline Manor, on the other hand, has a 'vast expanse of cracked black-and-white marble floor' and a staircase which 'towered over (Mark's) head, sweeping in a sheer curve up the face of the room to a balcony far overhead.' which, apart from overusing the concept of 'overhead', solidifies the idea that Mainline Mansion is just a monochromatic version of Snapfraggle's uncle's house with a coating of dust. Both foyers lead to a long hallway, and in both cases there is a huge kitchen, which brings us to;

Food Fixation

Both Snapsparkle and Mark Collins are amateur chefs- Snapbucket likes to bake, Mark dreams of being a chef on TV. In fact, both stories open with the main characters at work, baking/cooking in a fairly menial environment for a living, and acutely aware that this is not where they want to remain all their lives. They both see the potential in the huge kitchens in their respective Needlessly Overdramatic Interiors, although in Mark's case this pleasure is a little tempered by the kitchen of Mainline Mansion being knee-deep in crap. I don't really know what this similarity means, other than that I kind of wish I was better at cooking, and that I need to clean our grill.

That Line Where...

Coming back to the spooky similarity of some lines in the book, here are a couple of other situations in which my brain clearly threw up a stock phrase which, God knows why, is burned into my vocabulary in letters of flame.

'Be alert. Be healthily sceptical. And don't sign anything.' - Mallory in SMatMPG.
'Keep your wits about you, don't spend any of your own money, and don't sign anything.' - Rita in TMC.

'Hell, there could have been a tapdancing pink dinosaur out there, waving madly while wearing a John Wayne cowboy hat, and it still would have passed completely unnoticed.' - SKW
'He could have tapdanced in in a pink dress with his head on fire singing Christmas carols at full volume, and Gregory would still be hell-bent on being moody about his work.' - TMC

'The fridge contained a single tomato, half a jar of mayonnaise, a crinkled aluminium-foil lump of uncertain origin, and an egg.' - TMC
'Milk, bread, half a packet of cheddar, two eggs in a cardboard box made to hold twelve, a single tomato, and a box of mushrooms. In the sad case of Colin's fridge, the box of mushrooms probably used to be a box of something else.' - SMatMPG

There are quite a few more, as well.

The Part Where One Character Suspects Another of Not Listening, and Says Something Bizarre to Test This Theory
Kinda speaks for itse lf.

The reason I asked,” she said, just to make sure, “is that someone claiming to be Mum's brother turned up at work today and offered me fame, fortune, and my very own jet-ski if I agreed to give him a lock of my hair. I just thought I'd run it past you first.” “Gosh,” said Mr. McKee. “Could you pass me that ring spanner there, love?” - SMatMPG

'You'd think they'd have some flexibility.'
'Oh, hey, look over by those railings. It's Doris Day snogging the Loch Ness Monster.'
'Yeah....' - TMC


Certain themes occur in all three stories. I seem to have several, sometimes rather cliched, morals in my head, and they keep leaking into my work.

The Ten Laws of an Erin F Nano story

1) Big businesses do not care about the little people.
2) Gambling is worse than crack.
3) Obsessive behaviour will eventually be rewarded, unless your obsession is money-related, in which case, see 4.
4) If your obsession is money-related, your obsessive behaviour will eventually destroy your life.
5) Women drag men into romance, never vice-versa.
6) Nice people always win, especially if they are poor.
7) The public are sheep and will put up with no end of improbable crap until their eyes are opened by the heroes.
8) Greed is always bad, unless you are poor, in which case, see 6.
9) Fathers must be workaholic and often absent. Mothers must be entirely absent or dead. Uncles must be enigmatic eccentrics.
10) Bad guys can be spotted immediately by their flawless, genuine, friendly laughter.

My Favourite Lines

Having depressed myself a bit with all of these comparisons, I'd like to end with my favourite lines from all three Nanos so far. I still want to finish TMC, and I will start working on it again, just as soon as the thought of doing so stops making me want to poke my eyes out with a yoghurt spoon.

'When the great machines sneezed, it was the job of Ross and his colleagues to be there with a tissue. That was what he did. That was all he did. Anyone could be an engineer, the famours slogan ran. To most citizens, this phrase doubled as a not-so-subtle threat.' - SKW

'...And he kept on treading, with unerring accuracy, on squeaky floorboards. It wasn't even as if you'd expect a nice new house like this to have squeaky floorboards, at least not so many whump whump whump.
“Wait,” she said out loud. “Whump whump whump?”
Whump. Whump. Whump. It sounded, she thought, like someone standing in the next room, hitting the interconnecting wall with a broom.
' - SMatMPG. (I just bloody love this bit, the way the whumps infiltrate Snapbabble's train of thought. I wish I could remember if I nicked it from anywhere or not.)

'He topped up his glass with a liberal hand, and aim which would have been familiar to anyone who has ever tried to accurately pour jelly into a mould in a ship during a hurricane.' - TMC.


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