I had already mentioned that my story was going to be based on Swallows and Amazons. This book, and the 11 books that came after it, are very dear to my heart. And since I did not want to do NaNoWriMo, did not want to write fiction at all, I thought it would be easier to start with a story and some characters that someone else had created. I am not sure it turned out to be easier, though, for a few reasons.
The original stories took place in the 1930s in England's Lake District. The main characters - John, Susan, Titty, and Roger Walker, and Nancy and Peggy Blackett, ranged in age from about 7 to about 12. I moved the story to 1960, when the Swallows and Amazons have been through the war, married, and had children.
The main story started out like this: The 6 children, now grown, converge at the holiday cottage at which their adventures began. Captain Flint, uncle to the Amazons and friend to all, has died while traveling. They are called there by their parents, not for a funeral, but to come together to pay tribute to the dead man. (Nancy and Peggy's mother is Captain Flint's sister and lives on the lake. Captain Flint had lived in a houseboat there. The Walker children's parents have bought the holiday cottage and retired there.) While there, they fix up the old boats they sailed in 30 years before, send their kids on adventures similar to those they had enjoyed in their youth, and generally have a fine time. They all realize how much they have missed the place, and all manage to find a way to come and live there.
It sounds dippy, I know. But it gets dippier.
I ended up bringing Captain Flint back to life, because as I was typing up the scene in which his nieces and friends are mourning his death while standing on the deck of his houseboat, I had the uncontrollable urge for him to appear. Not supernaturally. He rows up to his boat in a dinghy and appears just as they fire off the cannon as a salute to him. Hey, I needed the several thousand words to tell the story about his "death" and return. But more than that - Captain Flint had to return, dramatically. Now I understand what writers mean when they say their story line or a character surprises them.
I also added in a sullen teen to give me a conflict point and some drama. It is set in 1960, after all. There's got to be a rebel. This is Titty's 15-year-old daughter, who treats everyone shabbily and wants nothing but to go home, until her actions put her little sister in peril. Melodrama, yes. I found that melodrama is so easy to write!
What was not to easy to write were the details I needed to make the story come alive. All along I kept thinking "I need to learn more about that" and "wish I had time to research that." When the objective is to slap down 50,000 words in 30 days, and still have some semblance of a family/home life, research isn't really part of the picture. So if I want to carry on, there are some topics I need to study.
The original books had a lot of sailing in them. But I don't know anything about sailing. I remember a lot of the words, but I can't really write about it properly. So most of my action takes place on land, which is fine, but is not in keeping with the original story. I suppose I could do a little studying and learn - and understand - enough vocabulary that I could fix that.
My main characters came of age in England during World War II. So the war has to figure in the story, even though it's set several years after. I had to know what they did during the war years. For example, what could a young woman living in the lake district do to support the war effort without leaving home? Was there any military action in that part of England or was it remote enough that the was wouldn't be visible? A quick google showed me that there is plenty to say about the war in that area. .
Two characters, Nancy and Titty, had to be involved in codes and codebreaking. That was obvious to me based on what I knew of them from the original stories. I wondered what that would be, though. The seminarian told me about the German Enigma machine and code-breaking work at Bletchely Park in England. This was perfect for my characters - many if not most of the workers there were women - but it really needed more research to do it right. So that part of my story is a little blurry right now.
So, what do I have now? 50,000+ words of a very rough draft of a melodramatic, overly-sentimental novel with little historical detail.
What will I do with it? For now I'm going to set it aside. I've finished what I set out to do this month. I loved doing it, most of the time. But, I'm not finished forever, I don't think. I have a few books from the library on the Enigma machine and the codebreaking efforts. I'm going to finish reading Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's Trunk, which tells the story of the real people and places on which the original stories were based. I don't think that will really help me with the story but it's a fun read. It's already given me some insecurity over my characters: I found out that the real-life Roger, who in my story was a ship's engineer who lost an arm in the war, actually became a doctor. But I think I'll get over that. It is fiction, after all.
It's possible, even likely, that I'll never get back to the story, though. I have other things to focus on now. This month of writing has left my house and our homeschool a little disorganized.
Even if nothing ever comes of it, it was so worth the time and effort. It was a wild month, fun and frustrating at the same time. Looking forward to next year!