NaNoWriMo and a half

Screenshot anime Inou-Battle

Right now, writing stories is fun! I love writing books about Books of the Truth. ^_^

I wrote earlier in the month about my “winning” NaNoWriMo – it is not actually a competition except with ourselves and with time, admittedly worthy adversaries – and how my victory felt hollow because I had taken to heart the National Novel Writing Month’s slogan of “quantity over quality”. It is not like I was writing gibberish or random sentences, but my 50 000 words were basically an exploration of wish fulfillment and the price thereof. It was, I now think, aiming downward, digging into a lower world. My favorite writing goes in the opposite direction: Aiming upward, toward higher goals, higher worlds that humble and amaze those who are found worthy to see them. But of course that is hard to write.

Even so, after a few days of well deserved rest, I started on a second story which was more satisfying. It may even grow to something publishable one day if I get to live.


The basic worldbuilding is actually one I have used before: Parallel to the mundane world (to several mundane worlds, actually) lies a magical world dominated by wizards. They are not the formal rulers of the realm; there are kings for that. But they rule by majesty and lead through awe, for their power is not inherited by blood nor is it bestowed by ritual, but is the power of wisdom won by learning the Truth. They are Hermetic mages, although that name would not be familiar in their world. When a teenager has read a thousand books in his or her lifetime, the Wizard Guild will know, and a representative is sent to induct them into the knowledge of the Truth. They are given access to the hidden libraries that contain the 20 000 Books of Truth, also called the Books of Thoth  (or Thothe in the local language, which is more fond of vowels than ours.)

Thothe was the legendary divine king of Atalan. In his lifetime he achieved all knowledge, insight and wisdom that one can bear and still remain in a human body. He invented a new and better system of writing, and wrote his wisdom down in the legendary 20 000 Books of Truth. After giving his books to the world, Thothe laid off his human body and ascended to the heights of the spirit world, but before this he  promised to return in the world’s greatest hour of need to save human civilization once again. It is said that whoever reads and understands all the Books of Truth will be the reincarnation of Thothe.

Reading 20 000 heavy tomes of concentrated wisdom seems too much for a single lifetime, but this is where the Gift of Thothe comes in. Each of the Books gives a magical ability to those who have read it, and the first book, named simply the Book of Truth, bestows upon its reader the Gift of Thothe, that every moment spent reading the Truth, thinking of the Truth, meditating on the Truth, practicing the Truth and dreaming of the Truth will not age their physical body. Therefore, wizards who are ardent in their pursuit of the Truth can live for hundreds of years. They can become immensely powerful, to the point where the people of their world refers to them as gods (roughly translated – it is known by all that they are not the Creator, but they are thought to be His servants and representatives.) But there is yet another limit.

Thothe describes the Truth as a tree whose root is in Heaven and its branches here below. Its trunk is one, but in order to reach us down here, it has many boughs and branches. After reading the Book of Truth, you can choose one of various branches to follow. Each of the books that represents a main branch can be read directly after you have understood the Book of Truth, while others require you to first read the book that is the “trunk of the branch”, which then opens the way for one or more other books and so on. Some of these branches are open for all wizards. But there are seven pairs of branches that are complementary, and to most they appear opposite. If you have begun to study one of them, the opposite branch will make no sense at all. The words and sentences will be readable, but you will not be able to get the message, because it will seem opposite to the Truth you already know. Only people with a particularly great inner capacity for the Truth will be able to grasp one such pair, and any who does so is sure to be known as a god and nominated to the High Council. Only legendary gods, appearing rarely through history, have been known to learn as many as three of the pairs. And it is said that only Thothe, on his return, will know them all.

Well, Thothe may have to hurry up, for a new challenge is upon the world. But to understand this, we have to return to the mundane worlds, worlds such as our own.

When a teenager in our world has read a thousand books in his or her lifetime, a librarian will give them the 1001st Book, which seems to be a fantasy novel about a young boy who has read a thousand books and gains the ability to spend his dreams in the magical world. It gives some details about this world and the kind of things one may expect there, and also an introduction to the writing system, the Runes of Thothe, which is one in which each rune represents one syllable. They are constructed in a logical way, so that syllables that have a sound in common will also have some features in common. If the teenager goes on to actually learn this syllabic script, they will wake up one night in the Magic World, in a body that is a copy of the one they had in the mundane world. There a wizard or group of wizards will take them under wing and provide for them as they begin to learn the Truth and become a wizard in their own right.

One night in the mundane world corresponds to eight days in the magic world; time flows differently there. The world is very similar to ours (except much of the polar caps have melted and the sea level is about 30 meteres higher) but for some reason the moon is much closer to Earth, with a month lasting only 8 days. (The tides are also higher, obviously.) It is only on the Moonday night, when the moon is new, that a wizard may cross over between the worlds. Normally only the mind crosses over, and the body in the Magic World will age 8 times as fast, if not for the Gift of Thothe. This causes some interesting side effects for the teenagers who, at least until they have fully understood the Book of Truth, will be gradually older in one world than the other. (This plays a role in this year’s story, as the main character’s cousin is a middle school senior in Mundania but two years older in the Magic World. That’s incidentally the same age as the main character, just saying.)

Now, the civilization of Atalan has survived the disastrous flooding that covered its homeland in water nearly 10 000 years ago, 2 000 years after the reign of Thothe. It lives in balance with nature, growing food organically, its population in balance due to the advanced health care provided by the wizards, and high standards of hygiene. Although the civilization is pre-industrial, literacy is universal and people live simple but healthy lives, enjoying good food and cultural activities. Those who do not want to have children (or not have more children) get their fertility turned off by a wizard who has the necessary magical knowledge. Likewise those who want children can have their fertility increased. Various forms of fertility magic are at the core of the Atalan civilization, boosting both agriculture and animal husbandry, as well as voluntarily regulating population.

But lately, civilization is under threat. Someone has introduced steam age industry on the continent west of the ocean (presumably North America), along with ironclad ships and gunpowder. Most likely it is a crossover wizard that has turned against the traditions of his new world and taught them as much of our science as their society was able to duplicate. Traders protected by powerful warships and soldiers have arrived on the coast, forcing the local towns to let them set up their trading bases. From here they have begun flooding the land with cheap mass produced goods, disturbing the delicate balance of society. But this is just the beginning: The invaders are also marketing a different philosophy, one that says that wizardry is just tricks and psychology, that there is no Truth, no gods and no spirit world. The people, they say, are being suppressed by a ruling class of tricksters holding them down in a primitive agrarian society and a sparse population, whereas industry could provide them with unlimited luxuries and fill booming cities with their happy offspring.

While a culture war is taking place on the coasts of Europe, the invading army from the west has already taken control of the British Isles (which are somewhat smaller due to the flooding) and deposed the local kings, killed any wizards they could find, and outlawed religion under threat of capital punishment. The rest of Europe is likely to follow … unless the wizards can hold the invading barbarians off until Thothe returns.

Sounds like something that could become publishable one day, doesn’t it? If I manage to keep my teens reasonably chaste, at least. You know how they can be, it can be hard to make them concentrate on the Truth for long.

Won NaNoWriMo

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“You shouldn’t be embarrassed about writing a novel.” Well, unless it is as bad as mine.

I totally won NaNoWriMo this year. I wrote over 50 000 words of one continuous story. That’s all it takes, and I did it in less than two weeks. Mission accomplished with margin, as we had one month to do it. I am a master of quantity, woo.

The quality was terrible. I think a decent editor would have killed about 90% of it. There was all kind of irrelevant stuff, only one character worth mentioning, very little plot and virtually no drama. It was basically a mix of wish fulfillment and midlife angst. But no one is asking about that on Quantity is king. At least I got verified that I still have that. Also I dispensed with some of my signature writing traits, like the long dialogs, often humorous, and barely worksafe humorous references to human sexuality. This year’s story would probably have passed a Republican party convention without any critical remarks, except that it was repetitive and lacked direction.

So yeah, it was an OK practice, but nothing more than that. It is not something that could be salvaged and made into a publishable work without a complete reboot.

I am not sure whether I am going to continue doing NaNoWriMo, even if I live for more years, which I sincerely hope. I feel that I have mastered quantitative writing now. I hope there will never be a time when I need to write for a living. And if there was, I would rather write fact than fiction, these days. There is so much beauty in truth. Just before NaNoWriMo started, I signed up for an edX MOOC about exoplanets. It is somewhat heavy on math, but, exoplanets! Planets around other stars! Alien worlds! Thousands of them! Isn’t that much more interesting that the petty power plays of insignificant humans? Let alone insignificant imaginary humans.