NaNoWriMo 2016

The challenge: write a 50,000-word story during the month of November.

It’s been four years since I seriously attempted NaNoWriMo, or “National Novel Writing Month”. I’ve been doing plenty of other things besides writing, of course, and even in the space of writing I’ve got the “Determination” series now. (Which I’ve been neglecting again, stuck on part 4 and then putting on hold for November because, well, NaNoWriMo.) As usual November will be plenty busy as well, between work and family and the Japanese class I’m now taking.

So why NaNoWriMo? Why do this to myself? Well, certainly every NaNoWriMo in the past has been a blast, and it’s fun to hang out with other writers (both people I know and people I don’t). But mostly because once again this year I have an idea, and I really want to see if I can do it.

So, what’s the idea?

A family trip in a haunted hotel goes exactly how you’d expect with a synopsis starting with “a family trip in a haunted hotel”.

Murder. It goes murder.

I’ve been easing up to this for a few weeks now, and the more I think about it the more plausible it gets, and the more excited I get. That said, I’ve not at all experienced in mystery, so I imagine this will turn out very poorly.

But sometimes that’s what NaNoWriMo is for; it’s a chance to push yourself to do something you’ve maybe always been meaning to do. (It’s amazing what you can do with a deadline and a little support, right?) November’s always busy, but if you’re not already up to your ears in responsibilities, you should consider it. Come to a kick-off meetup—the site can tell you where your local one is. Come up with an idea and run with it. And come find me on the site (username: chigaijin), because come November I don’t expect to be seeing much of the outside world.

The premise and framing of this year’s story is heavily inspired by “that visual novel” うみねこのく頃に, or Umineko: When They Cry, and so I figured the latter deserved a better summary than the one in the post I’ve been linking to. Umineko is the story of a family conference on a private island that turns into supernatural murder; the first episode ends with all eighteen characters dead or missing. Both Umineko and its predecessor Higurashi: When They Cry have a clever device where the story then restarts, but things play out differently, and you use the commonalities between the stories to figure out what must have happened in each one.

(Note: I haven’t finished Umineko yet. Please don’t spoil it for me and my reading group!)

What makes Umineko so great? Part of it is that there are multiple things going on: besides the murder mystery, there’s also a mysterious epitaph that is said to reveal the location of the family treasure, and then a power struggle of sorts on the supernatural plane. Like Higurashi, the characters also all have deep backstories that aren’t revealed at first, to the point where I end up sympathizing with a lot of them even after having wanted to write them off as being horrible people. (Oh, and they are horrible people. Even without the murder.)

Separately from the story itself is the medium: visual novel. It’s essentially like reading a book with pictures, sound effects, and a soundtrack—and seriously, it’s a great soundtrack. The “second credits” song for the first episode and the way it’s presented may even have been one of the top reasons I stuck around, the capstone on a series of memorable, inspirational tracks.

Umineko has been inspiring me in music, in art, and in writing for the past few months, so it’s clearly left an impression.

But even besides all this, a lot of the fun has come from discussing this story, its mysteries and its ideas, with my three-person reading group: one who is also reading for the first time, and the one who recommended it to both of us. So if you do start reading, I highly recommend coercing convincing someone else to read with you.

If I’ve convinced you, the first half of Umineko—the so-called “question arcs”—are available on Steam, and I’m sure the rest will be up in a few months. (Don’t watch the anime; apparently everyone says it is an awful adaptation.) And if all goes well, you’ll be able to read my story early next year as well.

See you in December!