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#AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo: challenge complete

So with the conclusion of November comes reflection, as well as the pleasure of saying that the full piece is now up online: “The Faun of Rome: A Romance”, by Oscar Wilde edited by Nate Maturin.

This November has been one of the most productive #AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo’s I’ve had, I think in part because it was a combination of the two. Having those two styles of work to complete, when I got tired of plotting or figuring out what people were going to say, I could turn to finding references and connections. I always work best when I have multiple projects on the go, so this was a good combination for me.

The last few days were a little bit of a rush because, after finishing the novel itself, there were all of that paratextual elements to put together, and then of course all of the mark-up for putting each page on Scalar. I didn’t regret reverting back to Scalar 1 for a second. In fact, I’m really glad that I did. Still, though, publishing each page was a laborious process, and if I were to do a similar project again for web, I would probably write in a different application, rather than Scrivener, which is better suited to producing PDFs or the research stages of a project.

One of the things that I didn’t get time to do during November itself was produce a map of Rome, and Tuscany, based on the trips, meeting places, and homes that are mentioned in the novel. I think it would be an interesting visualisation, particularly within the city itself, to show where characters are pushed together and where they are able to find free space for themselves. I’m looking forward to doing this when I get a chance, as I’d like to keep improving the piece.

Finally, although I had some good fun producing matching Voyant visualisations for the two corpuses, they actually threw up some points that I would address if I were to redraft the novel. There wasn’t enough clear water between the two text’s use of proper names, for example. Any updating or editing will probably include addressing some of these points.

This experience threw up for me the question of how conscious authors are of the interpretive mechanisms that are going to be brought to bear on their works. When writing this piece, I had half an eye to the question, “What would an educated reader be excited by here?” Some of the answers were, “Echoes of later works”, and “Stylistic tics”, and I am curious about how much that sort of thinking affects writers more broadly. Although of course a writer is always thinking of the reader and how they might respond to the words on the page, never before when I’ve been writing have I been so conscious at a micro level of how each decision, semi-colon or period, alliteration, chiasmus, etc., etc., might be interpreted.

I’m going to give myself a few weeks now, and then I plan to re-read everything with only my academic head on!

Neo-Victorian #AcWriMo: week 3

Week three is up, and my #AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo project is on-track at 36,500 words and counting.

I spent a fair amount of time this week tinkering around with Scalar to try to improve the styling, and I’m increasingly sceptical of the merits of Scalar for digital publishing. It might be useful for people without the time or inclination to produce something independently, but the Scalar 2 interface is currently poor. In the end, I abandoned it and reverted the whole piece back to Scalar 1 in order to get something that was more manageable. In Scalar 2, for example, it proved difficult to change the background colour (because it overlays its grey-and-white page over the top of it) or right-align any text without it intervening into the space left for the annotation tab. The whole structure seems to be under-developed at the moment, so reverting felt like the right thing to do.

I also had to go through the pieces already posted in order to deal with html that followed me from Scrivener. I haven’t used Scrivener for quite a long time, as it didn’t really suit my PhD writing process. Although I still like the organisational structure it gives for chapters and other pieces, which works well for creative projects, for future chapters I’m going to take things first through Atom and do some marking up there, as the Scalar HTML content pane isn’t very friendly for larger pieces (this is one of the few points where the Scalar 2 interface had the upperhand).

In terms of the writing itself, the story is finally branching out from the original, so the amount of creative work required has increased substantially. There’s quite a lot of research to be done, but I’m looking forward to getting the story substantially completed this week, and then getting to work on the framing and final touches. Only 10 days left!

Neo-Vic digital humanities project, week 2

So this is week 2 of #NaNoWriMo, and I wrote last week about how I was tackling getting the digital humanities portion of my project—a rewriting of Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun as though by a young Oscar Wilde—up online. In terms of the actual Scalar presentation itself, there’s still some CSS stuff to do, but here are the first few pieces of the novel, letters and prefatory materials! I’m not hugely bowled over by what Scalar offers in terms of other website presentation, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt at the moment, and Hypothes.is is up and running, so annotations are more than welcome.

This week involved a bigger focused on thinking about content. How would Wilde change this novel, narratively and stylistically? What pressures would his prejudices, concerns, and experiences have brought to bear on Hawthorne’s original story?

As part of examining the style of the original, and thinking about which terms and phrases I might want to include/exclude in order to shift it closer to Wilde’s own, I used Voyant to produce some clouds and other visualisations.

The Voyant site proved a little unreliable. It produced a bunch of default visualisations from Hawthorne’s text almost instantly, but then went into spinning-beachball-of-death mode when I tried to export a simple word cloud. I tried switching browsers, only to a get a server-unavailable error message, and so that was the end of the first effort! It worked better after a quick pause, although I continue to find the multi-paned interface really cluttered. One thing that is definitely coming up for me in this project is that the tools that are available are not necessarily as user-friendly as they could be. That’s something that digital humanities needs to be willing to address—either in terms of training or in terms of the tools that we actually provide for each other—in order to normalise the use of these approaches.

In any event, the visualisations made me feel that Hawthorne’s novel (or at least the first, on which I’m working at the moment) was actually really rather boring! The predominance of “said”, both in word clouds, the link visualisation, and in co-locates analyses was just staggering, so I removed it (as well as “chapter”). Still, there were some few phrases that repeated (but only at a low frequency of two occurrences each) that caught my eye:

  • “On the edge of a precipice let us”
  • “At the foot of the precipice”
  • “Caught it in the air and”
  • “Foot on the head of his”
  • “Himself at full length on the”
  • “In the bowels of the earth”
  • “Of the palace of the caesars”
  • “One of the angles of the”
  • “The door of the little courtyard”
  • “They had now emerged from the”

I’m still trying to determine whether I want to conduct a comparative analysis of Wilde’s style based on his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, or a wider corpus, perhaps focusing more on the earlier works. At the same time, I need to produce a narrative that Wilde might have found compelling, or at least amusing and worth telling. It’s difficult to focus on these two components simultaneously, so this next week is definitely going to be content-focused. If I can establish a strong new narrative, then hopefully much of the style will come with that, and small tweaks can be made later on the basis of some of these macro-analyses.


Neo-Vic DH writing project: week 1

Week 1 of NaNoWriMo is now complete, and as I mentioned in my planning post, I’m using the month as an opportunity to pursue a digital humanities, neo-Victorian project that I’ve had on my mind rather a while: an intertextual, part-epistolary rewriting of Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun in the style of Oscar Wilde.

NaNo has been going pretty well this week. I’m on target, in terms of word count, so I thought that I would take a little time last weekend to think about the digital presentation of the piece. My aim from the beginning was to use Scalar to present the project as a whole, setting up multiple paths through the content that would otherwise be common fare in a new critical edition.

It took me two attempts to put up the content that I had already produced (some letters, some chapters, and some editorial commentary). The first attempt I made on my own, existing Scalar account. However, as I began to think through how I might use hypothes.is to present editorial inventions like explanatory footnotes, it occurred to me that the project itself might be better presented by the ‘editor’ (my meta-narratorial invention). A quick gmail account later, and I was starting all over again on a new Scalar account.

In terms of the experience using Scalar itself, I will say that it is pretty non-intuitive, and as yet the product is not the most attractive. The individual pages themselves (in the “basic” Scalar 2 layout) resemble the pages that I’m used to working on via COVE’s annotation.studio site. There is something off about the way that text is arranged on the white of the “page” that isn’t quite as I would like, although it does at least make space for the bulk of the annotation bar in the margin, when that’s activated. I’m fully willing to accept that this is in part a personal failing, and that a little more work will lead to me improving it.

The other challenge, which I quickly overcame when I started from scratch, was the need to have a fairly strong visualisation of the content ahead of time. Setting up pages and paths was something that I played around with quite a bit before I identified that I wanted at least three distinct paths: the novel itself (let’s face it, many readers skip the critical apparatus of a scholarly edition anyway!); the correspondence itself; and an arrangement in chronological order of when sections were written (i.e. letters and chapters intermixed). Initially, I wanted to have an “editorial” path too, using the comment type in Scalar to present the editor’s “footnotes”. However, it seemed difficult to position those with the same sort of accuracy as I wanted, interlinking words, sentences and paragraphs with the commentary, and that’s when I decided to employ hypothes.is instead.

The result, I suspect, is going to resemble quite closely the vision for annotated editions on COVE, but with multiple routes through the material. In a way, I’m slightly disappointed by that outcome, as it might imply a lack of imagination on my part! However, I do take heart from the fact that, despite quite a different set of intentions, I’ve come to use a lot of similar apparatus, as it suggests that COVE is making the best, most intuitive use of the range of tools at digital humanists’ disposal.

Because I’m not quite persuaded by the pages’ appearance yet—I need to think more about what media, if any, I want to embed, and their layouts may therefore change—I don’t want to make the project public just yet, although I will try to do that in a week or so. In the meantime, here’s a Scalar visualisation of the content and paths that I’ve uploaded so far!


Neo-Vic lit, Oscar Wilde and NaNoWriMo

It has been years since I’ve had enough time to do any writing creatively. I’ve dabbled a bit each summer, but the full-time job and part-time PhD have been more than enough to handle. Now that I’m on career break to focus on writing up, though, I think I might actually get a chance to focus on some creative projects, and the fact that it’s almost November is just perfect. I’m going to go back to NaNoWriMo!

While researching my PhD chapter on Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray, I did a lot of wider reading and reread Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun. The homologies between the two novels—with characters and art blended in unusual ways—got me thinking, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Hawthorne’s tale might have been told differently. (Despite the very best efforts of Elisa New and her class on American poetry, my enjoyment of more overtly Puritanical nineteenth-century American fiction is always tempered.)

I started wondering how the bare facts of the story might be retold by a young Oscar Wilde, travelling Rome and the surrounding area. The ideas and values that produced Dorian Gray might have led the story in a completely different direction. I made some notes and toyed around with the idea a little a few years ago, so I’m going to resurrect it. As well as reframing the novel as a piece of neo-Victorian literature, I also plan to construct a critical paratext around the new text, framing it as a digital critical edition, with analyses of differences in style, form, and content.

Although most of my fiction and poetry writing has been digital, I’ve never conceived of novel-writing as a digital humanities project before, and it’s going to be fun to try out some of the skills that I’ve used annotating and creating editions on NAVSA’s Central Online Victorian Educator on an independent project.

Literary fiction is a bitch to write!

I posted on Twitter yesterday that, according to the NaNo site, I’m 19 days behind (i.e. I’ll finish on 19 December). Somehow, in the course of eight days, I managed to get 19 days behind! Not great, eh?

As a a sop to myself after only completing 100-odd words last night, I posted an excerpt on the site. This is the first time, and I felt a bit nervous, which is odd, as when I used to write a lot, I would post things online quickly, without a second thought, and even read the comments afterwards (nice people were nice). 
I think I am just hideously out of practice. Today I have 3 hours on a train, and I’m determined to make good use of it. If I don’t manage 2,000+ words, I’ll be disappointed (and totally off-track).

Halloween NaNo jitters…

NaNoWriMo starts in around two and a half hours now, and oh dear, I’m thoroughly unprepared! I started filling out the pre-formed Character sheets that Scrivener comes with, but I didn’t get very far. I kept thinking that I had a little while yet, but I don’t anymore, and it’s not even as though my novel is going to be plot-driven, so I can’t write action until I settle in. I fear that tomorrow’s contribution is likely to be a lot of sentence fragments describing character development and plot markers, and hopefully over the weekend I can get together something that resembles a plan.

I think this hasn’t really been helped by the very interesting article I stumbled upon on the NaNo forums about creating characters…. If only I’d stumbled across it sooner!