So Many Words, So Many Problems

typewriter-1386501-mWell, I’m in the final stretches of Camp NaNoWriMo. From a production standpoint, it’s been a success. I’ve got over 81,000 words so far and am on track to get to my goal of 90,000 by month end without killing myself (probably).. You can see my stats here.I will have about 28 very lengthy chapters, many of which I may never use, hopefully bringing my ultimate wordcount somewhere in the neighborhood of War and Peace

Aside from pure volume however, it’s been a mixed bag. I’ve learned a few things:

  • First of all, writing this fast is not optimal for me. I do like to write a first draft pretty quickly- it doesn’t seem to do me any good to agonize over every word- but I like a lot more preparation before I sit down to write my daily words. I like to read over and edit what I did the day before, maybe read a few previous chapters that are pertinent, and maybe journal a bit about what I’m planning. Having to crank out 3,000 words each and every day was just enough that I couldn’t do it as part of my regular routine. 

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The Ten Commandments of Camp

Last week was my first really tough one. As I passed the 50K mark, I started to feel really, really tired. So, I took a day off. After all, I was way ahead on my word count. Then, the next day didn’t go so well. I wrote, but only a thousand words and they were torture. Then, I took another day off. Enough already!

The last couple of days, I seem to be back on track, and still in position to finish on time, even if I don’t write any extra. Spending a bit of time on the NaNoWriMo forums helped get me back on track. It’s where everyone goes to complain and get sympathy. It can be pretty entertaining. There was one thread that inspired me to come up with some rules of my own. Until last week, I didn’t think I needed them, but you know what they say about pride . . . Continue reading

Character Profile: Kendryk

It’s no big secret that a few (Ok, four out of six) of my main characters are based on actual historical figures. I went overboard with my protagonist, and based him on not one, but two real people, both of them coincidentally named Frederick.

A Van Dyck portrait of Prince Karl Ludwig, Frederick & Elizabeth's eldest son
A Van Dyck portrait of Prince Karl Ludwig, Frederick & Elizabeth’s eldest son

I started by basing Kendryk Bernotas, Prince of Terragand on Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Kendryk is pretty much exactly like him, but better. And cuter. However, Kendryk is not a Mary Sue, I swear! He starts out pretty perfect, but he’s not. Very.

As my plotting progressed, I found myself drawing more and more on the life and actions of the other Frederick, the Wise, Elector of Saxony. This guy died nearly a hundred years before the beginning of the Thirty Years War, but was instrumental in helping Martin Luther survive and flourish. Since I decided to compress those hundred years, it all worked out. Continue reading

Major Players: Frederick and Elizabeth

One rainy summer afternoon, many, many years ago, I was doing the guided tour of Heidelberg Castle in Germany. The guide explained how the formal gardens- mostly in ruins today- were considered the 8th wonder of the world at the time they were built back in 1615. What caught my attention as a romantic 18-year-old was the fact that they had been built by one of the rulers of Heidelberg, Frederick V, Elector Palatine for his English wife, Elizabeth Stuart.

Frederick V in 1613
Frederick V in 1613

He loved her so much that he spared no trouble or expense to create the most fabulous home for her. It wasn’t just the garden, either. He rebuilt a whole wing of the castle in the “English style,” so she wouldn’t be homesick. The guide then went on to speculate that it was this love for Elizabeth that drove Frederick to give in to her ambitious machinations, leading him to accept the Bohemian crown, finally resulting in the whole Winter King debacle.

Elizabeth of Bohemia
Elizabeth of Bohemia

Needless to say, I was impressed, and my teenage heartstrings were tugged by the tragic romance of it all. I did have to disregard the portraits of the protagonists, because it was a little hard to picture people wearing such stiff collars having squishy feelings. Still, I think it’s safe to say that the tiny seed that grew into the book I’m writing now was planted that day.

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Badass of the Month: Cuirassier

In doing some technical research for another main character, I came across these guys. Cuirassiers were named for the breastplates (cuirasses) they wore, and were a type of heavy cavalry popular well into the 19th century. In fact, they were still around to a limited extent in World War I, and still possess a regiment in the French Army today.

Pappenheim’s Cuirassiers during the 30 Years War

We’ve already discussed how cavalry was undergoing some serious changes in the period before and during the Thirty Years War. The increased use of firearms and pike made traditional cavalry nearly obsolete. But there was still a use for big guys on big horses, wearing a lot of armor. Yay!

The armor was as follows: a full-coverage helmet, or burgonet. How anyone saw or heard anything while wearing one of these, I do not know. They sometimes had scary-looking masks on them, which gave rise to the name of “Totenkopf,” or Death’s Head. I’m sure some of you have heard of that appellation in other contexts.*coughSScough*

Helmet belonging to Prince Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony

Then, they pretty much covered themselves in really heavy, thick armor that could stop bullets. In fact, the armor sometimes came from the manufacturer already dented, to prove that it had been tested against firearms. It could weigh up to eighty pounds. It probably got pretty sweaty in there, too.

After the helmet came the gorget, which covered the neck. Then, the breast- and back-plates which protected the torso. Shoulders were covered by pauldrons, the elbows by couters, and rerebraces and vambraces covered the upper and lower arms, respectively. Yes, there will be a quiz!

German cuirassier gauntlets, ca 1620

They also wore armored gauntlets to protect hands and wrists, but the right-hand ones were often left off because it was difficult to reload a pistol while wearing. Or doing anything else, I imagine!

I mean seriously, could YOU ride a horse, draw and fire pistols and use a sword with any kind of accuracy wearing metal gloves? Reloading would be the least of my worries. I guess that’s why they’re badasses and I am not.

Here’s a nice example of the full armor:

Cuirassier 3/4 Armor, Germany ca 1620

If you’re interested in more, or just want to do well on quiz, you can take a look at my pinterest board with even more cool-looking pieces.

On to the weapons!

From the best three pages (seriously, they’re the only pages that are fun to read) of Peter Wilson’s book on The Thirty Years War, we get the following:

Pistols were carried in the saddle holsters with the triggers facing outwards, because their long barrels meant they had to be drawn with the hand turned towards the back.

As most men were right-handed, they had to hold the reins in their left hand and reach over to draw their left-hand side pistol or their sword. (pg. 92)

Ugh, sounds complicated. Cuirassiers typically carried wheellock pistols, which were the successor to the matchlock. Since the matchlock needed to be lit with an actual flame in order to fire, the wheellock was superior in many ways. It was safer, because you were less likely to be blown up by your own gunpowder, since yes, carrying an open flame on your person along with the gunpowder on your person seems like a recipe for disaster.

A pair of wheellock pistols

It was also more reliable, because the slow matches that lit matchlocks could go out in the rain (most fighting was in Germany which = rainy), and could be hard to light when wet, while the wheellock had a covered priming pan that kept the powder dry and let sparks be generated in any kind of weather.

A Walloon sword

Even with those technological improvements, pistols were still not terribly reliable. So cuirassiers always carried something sharp as well. One popular item was the Walloon sword, and in fact some basket-handled rapiers made during the Thirty Years War were called Pappenheimer rapiers after the excellent Imperial cavalry general Gottfried, Count Pappenheim.

So, how did cuirassiers fight? They were frequently sent up against blocks of pike and musket, which had to be made to break up before cavalry could be effective. If the pikes stayed in formation, the horses would simply refuse to ride into them. Yet more evidence that horses are smarter than people.

One tactic that developed was called the caracole. From Wilson:

Successive ranks would trot within range, fire and ride back to reload, sacrificing the psychological impact of shock tactics to the accumulative effect of firepower.

Even men trained to charge home with cold steel would often panic and break off their attack around ten metres from their target, ‘bouncing’ back to their start positions.

Many regiments were composed of a mix of cuirassiers and arquebusiers into the 1620s, with the former deployed in the front ranks if the unit made a charge. (pg. 94)

This tactic became less and less effective as infantry became more numerous, better-trained, and used better weapons. Some commanders adjusted to this by expecting the cuirassiers to go aggressively hand-to-hand, using their pistols only when they were close enough to fire directly against their opponents armor, to make sure it went through. That’s not very nice.

Some started to add mace heads, hammer heads or axe blades to their pistols, so they could continue to use them once the barrel was empty. Cause yeah, I don’t know about you, but I would be less than pleased to find myself staring at the whites of their eyes after firing my two measly rounds. Time for a bit of bludgeoning!

Camp Update

Hey, it’s already been a week since Camp NaNoWriMo started. I’ve surprised everyone, including myself, by religiously writing 3000 words a day, no matter what. So far, the main challenge has been getting started. Once I do, it’s been going very easily. One time, the getting started part was so difficult, I didn’t manage it until 3 a.m., but I figure that anything I get done before sunrise counts.

campSo, as of this morning, I’ve written 21,185 words, and am on the verge of finishing Chapter 12. One thing that’s helped me a lot is #NaNoWordsprints on Twitter. I was so proud of myself for managing 1200 words in 30 minutes, until I saw that several others had done more. That triggered my competitive nature, so I wrote even faster. Yesterday, 3000 words happened in exactly 66 minutes.

How’s the quality? I’m sure you’re wondering. Well, it varies. But it seems that, even when I write slowly, my first draft is going to be crap. No matter how carefully I choose each word, I will want to choose different words later. So, I might as well get the first round done fast, right?

And since I absolutely love editing, it’s all good. In fact, my “treat” for getting my 3000 words done is that I get to edit previous chapters for as long as I’d like. I should probably see a therapist about living dangerously.

So far, I have nearly 65,000 words in my twelve chapters. But, if I edit aggressively, -and I do- I’ll probably cut at least 1000 words per chapter. No adverb is safe! *eyes aggressively above threateningly*

When all is said and done, I will still provide hours and hours for your reading pleasure.

Major Character Mini-Profiles

You’ve probably seen these characters around this blog before, but they’ve evolved a lot since I last talked about them. In coming weeks/months, I’ll give you some more in-depth profiles, but here are some quick summaries for now.chess2The key players:

Kendryk: Only 21, he’s ruled Terragand for five years, and done it well. But when a radical priest prophesies his role in the coming chaos,Kendryk has to decide if he’ll believe him, risking everything that matters to him in the process.

Teodora: Recently succeeded to the throne of an unwieldy empire under questionable circumstances. she finds rebellions springing up faster than she can put them down. Kendryk is just another trouble-maker, for now.

Braeden: A veteran of the famous winged Sanova Hussars, he’s always been happy to fight for whoever paid him. Now he has a personal grudge against his employer, but can’t change sides without abandoning his friends and comrades. Continue reading

Bohemia Part 3: The Winter King

Some of you might have noticed that my book is tentatively titled The Winter King. That’s just a working title for now until I find something better. After all the changes I’ve made, there will be neither winter nor a king involved. However, the battle taking place in the prologue excerpt does resemble the Battle of White Mountain (below) at least a little bit.

Once Frederick became king, he quickly felt the Emperor’s wrath. Spanish troops moved into and occupied his home in the Rhineland and there was nothing he could do about it. Also, annoyingly, his father-in-law refused to support the rebellion.

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I’m Going to Summer Camp!

campCamp NaNoWriMo, that is. NaNoWriMo is sponsoring a camp to help you write anything your heart desires during the month of July. My goal is to write 90,000 words, 3,000 words a day. I’ve been doing 2,000 most days and having a blast, so hopefully kicking it up a notch won’t kill me. I’m even in a cabin, with cabin-mates!

You can check out my novel here, and even read an excerpt from the prologue, an unplanned sneak-peek that surprised even me! Can’t say I’m ready to expose this to the world, but it’s gotta happen sometime.

As some of you probably know, I first started this whole project  for last NaNoWriMo. While I wrote over 53,000 words, it didn’t really work out well. I hadn’t planned much of a story- I figured I’d more or less follow historical events using my imaginary characters. It turned out to be boring, unwieldy and very far from complete.

So, I started from scratch, worked on setting up a real structure, doing a lot more research, world-building ,and creating really detailed character profiles. I currently  have eight chapters and a prologue written, mostly unedited and highly variable in quality.  I have another six chapters planned out in detail and another six sketched out roughly.

I already have some 35,000 words down, but this thing is going to be massive, apparently. It seems I have long-winded characters who are dealing with complex situations. Even the more taciturn sorts fight complicated battles with a lot of different weapons. So yes, words. Many, many words.