Last week I published my blog post and WordPress sent me a notification: boom. 50 posts.
My reaction was not “woah I have written 50 blog posts” or “woah I’m still here and haven’t disappeared yet” or even “woah no space monkeys sighted around here yet.” Instead it was “NEXT WEEK IS POST 51??“
The pressure was on.
I like odd numbers – sure – but 51 holds a special place in my heart due to a novel I wrote under that name.
As many aspiring authors, I am sure, I find it hard to summarize or introduce any of my works in progress, unless I am far detached from them… far enough to be able to make fun of them at long lengths and don’t care what people think about them.
For me 51 is not in that stage, so plans for this post were made in a conversation went something like this:
Me: We could do this the normal way. We give premise, we dump the collage goodies, we rant about cinnamon bun characters, we tempt them with snippets, and then at the end we have them all pledge their loyalty to our novel they’ll probably never read.
Me: Do you have any better idea?
Me: Hmm. Really.
Me: How about this. So I was trying to figure out a cool title for this post and I had Everything 51, 51st post, 51 the novel and I realized there’s no third 51! Which of course we need.
Me: Right. And?
Me: We will introduce 51 through 51 bullet points. We get to use pretty bullet points, we get to use more 51s, and we get to use the oxford comma.
Me: Why do we always use the weirdest excuses for things?
So this post is in tribute to 51 the novel, an introduction to those who haven’t heard about it before and an update for those who have and were wondering what happened to it.
Beware. This is going to be long.
How it All Started
(the story of the plot bunny of the century, feat. spotify playlists, nanowrimo fever, and a trench coat)
Once upon a time, I was happily doing NaNoWriMo 2018. I had a pretty great story in my opinion. I was doing super well. Keeping up my streak. Minding my own business.
And then this big buff plot dustbunny dude just shows up and holds me at gunpoint: and demands me to do what he says or there will be consequences. Sure he’s a dustbunny armed with a plot (a very shiny plot) but I can overpower him right. Well he was wearing a trench coat and had a pair of dark dark sunglasses and did I mention, a gun?
Okay sooo also maybe I wasn’t minding my own business. I might have gone out looking for an adventure…?
So the initial seed of an idea was planted last November when I needed a break from NaNoWriMo (you know that thing where you write 50,000 words in a month) and so asked a writer-friend for a short story prompt so… I could write even more…?
Because that makes sense.
Okay okay I know it doesn’t make *perfect* sense, but wait until you are cranking a couple thousand words a day for the same project.
You get kinda tired of it. Of your characters. Of your plot. Especially the end of the second week (which as I have explained to people is about the point you decide that there are dragons in your world.)
Well I wrote a couple thousand words of a short story that felt more like a novel. I started plotting. I wrote a couple pages on how time-traveling might work and how it would affect users of such a technology. By the end of those two mini projects, I had met my characters. They had brought to me their problems, which I prodded and poked and plotted from.
And that night my family was going to watch a movie together and my Dad while we were waiting played the Johnny Cash song, Hurt.
And immediately I knew that song was the heart of the story I had just found.
So I opened Spotify and started a playlist with just that song on it. And yes I didn’t know what to call it so I left it blank which meant Spotify auto named it “My Playlist #51.” the embarrassing truth comes fully out into the open: I got the title of 51 from my playlist. But! I promise it ties into the story and for the record I don’t have 51 playlists anymore.
So everything’s good now, right…?
You know? A quick tip, no charge: don’t name your novel after a number. Why?
Five reasons not to name your novel a number:
- That number will begin to haunt you and you will see it EVERYWHERE. At the grocery store. In phone numbers. In license plates. In calorie lists. Everywhere.
- Emails about it are hard to hunt down for later reference. When you search for correspondence about your novel in your inbox, timestamps including that number will bring up every email ever (who knew I wrote so many emails at 3:51 or 4:51 or 5:51?) Good luck finding anything.
- No one can remember it. There are an infinite number of well… numbers. And it’s hard to connect meaning to a number for a story you’ve never read.
- It’s utterly confusing used in conversation. You know those conversations about your writing that people overhear? It’s confusing enough some of the out of context quotes that spring out of those, (such as when someone thinks you’re talking about a mutual friend but really it’s a character) but when you add a title in the mix and it’s a number? (“Oh I was working on 51” Pause. “…51 what?” “No, I was working on 51, the novel.” “You read 51 books?!?” “No.. no… never mind.” )
- It doesn’t give a good picture of what the story is about. Them: “Oh! You’re writing about Area 51? Are aliens real in your world??”
Since the first moments to now, 51 has really grown. It has had its highs and lows. Things developed and changed. Including the method of story-telling which made me start completely over 27,000 words in.
The way I put it is I am a pantser not a plotter. I start a story and I just start writing and the most random things happen and I’m having the time of my life and then. I hit a brick wall. Or fall into a plot hole and can’t get out of. And it’s all my fault. So then I plot out these big things and grand schemes!
And then I start writing and totally forget what I plotted out.
And then I get stuck.
And the cycle goes round and round again until Vola! A novel.
“Soooo… now that you’ve gotten those rants out. What is the story like… actually about??”
Here we go.
The (semi)formal Introduction To Plot and Characters
The story is about Zebulun, a rising college student, who simply wants to get out of the poor side of town he grew up in and get away from his dad who he has never gotten along with. Only the day before he leaves for the university – his ticket out – his father is murdered by an anonymous shooter. All of a sudden, Zeb finds himself sucked into a timewar… kidnapped as a pawn in a huge mess of political campaigns and well… can I say mess again? The people who kidnap him claim they did so to protect him but they won’t let him go and force him at gunpoint to join them as they run for their lives. Zeb is forced into a world he didn’t know existed as he tries to figure out what in the world is going on while also getting out of it and returning home.
The heart of the story is about human interaction and hopelessness and depression and how to redeem pasts and move on in life and fight even if you’re the only one. It’s also about the fragility of life and the power of actions.
Or something like that.
Setting: EvErYwHeRe. It is time-travel is it not? (#bestexcuse “timetravel” second only to “I’m a writer”)
Picture a metropolis with an ivy league school. And then some rural America weeds and grease. And then future overpopulated cities falling apart. White sterile insane asylums with boarded up windows. Desert camps of outcasts in a future society. Then people in leather jackets driving motorcycles. And time-traveling assassins and agents.
Now more on some of the characters…
Zeb (the MC (main character)): black jeans, black sweatshirt, untrusting, impulsive, constant anger, desperate, dry humor, likes to be alone
Charlie: empathetic, tries to be strong for others, helps others even if it hurts her, also emotionally unsteady, the sarcasm queen, and an adoring younger sister of an protective big dreams brother who died in a fight, but she’s willing to die herself for the cause
Alex: a literal teddy bear of a friend (Zeb’s bf)
Roger: no-nonsense, wears sunglasses, crosses arms, drives a jeep, could kill with a punch, in a constant state of *is not impressed* and a man who knows more than anyone else, and lives in the gray area,
Emmerson: innovative big thinker, head of time-travelers guild in future, head of one side of the war, calm, tries to be empathetic, striving to build a system that works, professional, always in a suit, man of power
Walter: a man in his fifties looking like he lives in the fifties, trench coat, fedora, generally polite, drives a Buick, smirks, plays the neutral party, confident, amused by other people’s nervousness and angst (looking at you Zeb), likes to poke and prod
The original short story that started it: 1372 words
Draft 1.0 (which only covered about 0.08 of the story *gags*): 27,055 words
Draft 2.0: 75,905 words
This post about 51: 1646 words so far
A Glimpse of 51 Through Pictures
^^ an diagram of the plot, credit: oldest brother, two character collages in my attempt to capture the vibe, and the mock cover I made for camp nanowrimo so long ago ^^
A Glimpse of 51 Through Words (aka snippets)
You heard that right.
Ahhh snippets. Don’t tell me this isn’t why you are here.
Enjoy some salty flavors from Zeb’s POV…
And more from Charlie’s POV
And another from a POV I will not disclose from much later on (bahaha)
Moral of the story: don’t trust people with your donuts.
51 Facts about 51:
- It is not about Area 51, or set there, despite popular belief.
- There are less than 51 characters in 51, don’t worry
- 51 is written in present tense
- 51 is told in chunks of POVs from five different people
- I wrote the first couple chapters of 51 by hand on a legal pad late at night.
- When walking through Boston on a road trip this winter I found a college named “Emerson” that is by a street named “Charles” so that was pretty cool.
- The first thing I did in my first round of editing was chopping out two huge passages of prose I lowkey adored but that bogged the plot down. It was both tragic and relieving (don’t worry I still have them, they just aren’t part of the story any more)
- The original scene/short story which I wanted to be the climax ended up falling through but I plan to try to work it back in.
- Speaking of climax and pacing and all… the first (half)draft of 51 took 27,000 words what in my second draft only took 9,000 words (and what will in the future be sliced in half)
- In the sequel/sister novel/confused project that I started to write I kept accidentally calling (and still continue to) one of the characters “Alex” after the character in 51.
- With 51 I’ve been experimenting with dialogue a lot, so recently I began writing “interrogation files” in which it’s purely a name and then what they say (e.g. ELMER: That can’t be true. AGENT: Do you have proof otherwise? etc.)
- Originally the title was “Fifty-One” but I was not satisfied and turned to the actual digits: “51”
- 51 is the first novel I’ve written with a prologue I semi-like. I also wrote it before knowing details about the plot (when I was purely pantsing it as I do) but I wanted to pretend like I did, so I ended up with the paragraphs in the very first draft: “A monkey in a cage was about to be released. The lion would roar. But he must stop them all. The mouse that scares the elephant in the room. And causes it to run before the lion could pounce. Before the monkey could scream./This was his destiny. This was his calling.” Yeah. No idea what that means. Don’t judge my writing abilities off that thank you. xD
- My younger brother started writing a soundtrack for 51. How cool is that?
- I named the English/Literature college at the university that Zebulon goes to after a writer friend and her mother who also writes (and gives amazing reading suggestions)
- Right when I started writing 51 a writer I followed announced her new serial series. A time traveling adventure. So I stopped reading her posts because I didn’t want to be influenced by her story.
- I recently forgot one of the main character’s name (Walter) and still haven’t forgiven myself fully
- 51 was the first novel I made character collages (or any collages for). I used Canva and Befunky Collage Maker. Both are free.
- It was also the first novel I made a playlist for. One of my greatest achievements if I say so myself. It’s so gloriously fitting.
- Currently, only one person has read 51 in full (beyond me haha) and two other people have read the first fourth or so.
- The person who has read it in full… well that was an emotional experience for both of us I think it would be fair to say. O.o I had to call her at the halfway point and nervously laugh at her while I watched her process it. It was scary let me tell you.
- I’m starting to wonder if I should have named it 21 or some smaller number…
- Poor Stephen, one of my characters, only gets to chapters of POV when everyone else gets about fifty.
- The villain in the novel was going to have a POV but I couldn’t get it to work out. It is however something I plan to write in the next draft.
- Sticking “time” to the front of just about anything adds entire layers of elements. For example: a bus? Nope a timebus. Box? No. Timebox. Etc. You try it. xD
- 51 has a baby horse named moe.
- Chalk stars, leather jackets, and french fries also show up in 51
- Charlie shares her name with my great-grandfather’s buick and a brick wall
- My main character’s name was originally just Zeb but as I wrote 51 I discovered that it was a shortened version of Zebulon.
- Names in the rest of the novel actually play a big part in the plot.
- Apparently there is a wikipedia page of motorcycle models? Very helpful in the creation of this novel.
- A guitar gets smashed in this novel over someone’s head.
- So does a violin and actually an entire music store front.
- 51 is an extremely large number.
- Did you know 51 is halfway to 102?
- First line of 51: “Any life can change in a second.”
- Last line of 51: “But above I see it through a broken apartment building: a little dying star is trying to breathe again.”
Aaaand we fail to find 51 random facts about 51. Consider the rest of this post to hold the remaining 14 facts.
If this not enough for you you can read more about 51 in these main three blog posts (though I think I’ve covered everything I did in those):
- In which I introduced it on my blog
- The turning point in which I almost threw out the entire idea out the window but my oldest brother convinced me to start over instead and try again
- The post announcing the completion of the first full manuscript
“So” you might say. “That’s great and all but now what? What if I want to read it?”
As I told one of my brothers recently, “I wish I had waited ten years to write 51.”
His response: “You still can.”
The truth of the matter is that I do not regret writing 51. At all. But I comprehend that the idea behind 51 grapples with questions and ideas beyond my limited understanding. A large part of it centers around abusive relationships. Around politics. Around places I’ve never been. And around how life and relationships are complex.
And quite bluntly, the people in 51 would say things I would never say, and thus I hold them back. If 51 were a movie it would be violent. And it would be dark and messy.
It’s not humorous. It’s not whimsical. It’s not delightful.
In fact, when I first had the idea for 51, it struck me as a sophisticatedly unique, complicated, groundbreaking story and that’s why I clung to it, which is almost the same tune that got me started on writing poetry that I have long since repented of (to be respected, to be mature, to be scholarly). To be exact, the attraction to 51 was found in the fact I found it nerdy and filled with intrigue, thickly layered, and more “like something [name of older sister, both journalist and writer] or [oldest brother] might write” from years of hearing their amazing novel ideas while I was writing things like Mary Had a Little Lamb on repeat.
While I grew to love the story for itself and not it’s wowing abilities as I saw it, it still was supposed to be dark and murky, knowledgeable, challenging, worldly, capturing real struggles but in the end redemptive. None of these really describe me or any of my previous works (unless you count the naive approach to my first novel ever, which at the time I would have said fit those adjectives nicely but which couldn’t be farther from the truth). While 51 turned out fairly fine, it could have been richer, deeper, more advanced, and that thought is something I’ve wondered about. Simply put: I don’t think I’m the right author for this story.
So what am I going to do? Publish it? Not unless it has a total face lift. Sell it? Give it to someone else? While I’ve considered that, I’ve come to the point where I’m putting it away in my file box and let it quietly simmer on the back stove. I still have a huge document of notes and ideas, thoughts and questions, scene sketches, and things I need to research that I continually add to and plan to continually add to.
(This might or might not be because every time I tell myself I’m completely done with it I get a brilliant idea. Such as the day I tell one of my accountability buddies that officially I’m done writing for a month, and then I get an idea for 51 and as I’m debating over it, I numbly raise a mop bucket to the shelf and dump dirty water in my eye. Go figure.)
I’ll probably poke and prod it a bit too and let a couple more people read it and give advice and insight.
(cause let me tell you it is needed)
And I have a six page document of a “Draft 3.0 Game Plan.”
Ending with a Hoodwinked gif I forgot I put there that summarizes this point. xD
In summary: I’m making no promises, to myself or anyone else, but letting it sit and see what happens. Yet another experiment for the project that birthed my love for experiments.
Now. Some of you might have noticed something I mentioned on point ten of 51 random facts about 51.
I mentioned me writing a… sequel?
The Sequel(ish thingy)
During the process of 51, I knew where it was going to end and I knew I did not want to write a sequel. In fact I went as far as to say “I’ll never write a sequel.” I felt comfortable saying that because I was positive it would never happen.
And now here we are and so much for that.
A couple months after completing 51, I started thinking through new levels for it. That was around that time I began really getting into some of the later sequels of Ender’s Game, one of my favorite series and a series I respect and hold in awe. That was the later months of 2019 and as ideas usually come, TB (the nickname for the project) came in the shape of a wakened phrase and mental picture in the depths of my subconscious. December 2019, I sent 51’s number #1 fan and my number #1 accountability partner a message: “Remember how I said I would never write a sequel for 51?”
Cue violently blinking, rereading of message, and hyperventilating.
I wanted to explore the world of 51 and what happens to all the different powers of people groups. So many questions and the intrigue of what would happen next big picture wise was too appealing. That’s where it started, that and the image of a “timebus” which had flashed before me in remembrance of long ago when I heard it in a passing conversation and had written it down.
Then, as entirely normal with ideas, this idea grew. I decided the importance of a story where someone struggles with carrying out their newfound morals and further challenging ideas.
Also I realized 51 honestly ends at such a cliffhanger.
It ends at turning point and while it seemed to end so perfectly, it’s really only just beginning. I knew that all along of course. Sort of. There was this idea, to leave it mid air, for the reader to want to return and reimagine what happens next, still ending on a resolution of types with the emotional driving point for just the right balance and at a pivotal moment. Yet I began to think about where it ends.
And wow? I was going to leave my characters there? At that point? With that?
I would point out the ridiculousness of it.
But of course
And so even as I began starting files on each of my nine main characters and keeping them up, I started taking notes about what happens. As I think about it, one of the stories which has played a huge part in the formation of TB and has changed my mindset of 51 is The Matrix. There are (a concerning amount of) parallels (but don’t worry no matrix or blue pills or robots or missing realities). In the area of story arcs, 51 is almost the beginning half of Matrix, TB is the second half. Or 51 is The Matrix, and TB is the terrible sequel that everyone said should never have been made (and that I have never seen)?
And so with the two sides fighting for attention, the great game of see-saw started. I wanted it to be a standalone, pick them up in any order, enjoy the story. I wanted it to continue Zeb’s story from his side. His struggles. I wanted it to focus entirely on the TB crew’s struggles. All the suspense on their side as they ask things like who is this man named Zebulon?
You of course see the problem that I decided to ignore for a couple thousand words.
I want the impossible balance of the best of both worlds. Keyword: impossible.
That was one of the reasons the sequel was buried earlier (though when I say that I am still adding notes to it because that’s what I do).
So yes I started writing a sequel/sister story/confused brainchild with identity problems earlier this year (for Camp NaNoWriMo this year) but I stopped because I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere until I figured out what to do with it and with 51.
But know that the premise of that story was pretty epic and had things like timebuses and heists and a crew of nine people who had never met before and who are being blackmailed into hunting down someone there are no records for and they have no idea why.
And sure I could point out that 51 was started last year for Camp NaNoWriMo and I didn’t finish it or reach my goal, but gave up. But then after that ended up starting over and finishing it.
But I’m not going to point out that parallel between 51 and the TB story.
And So They All Lived Happily Ever After…
Here ends the relation of the story of me, a plot bunny in a trench coat that held me at gunpoint, how I thought it looked cute (big mistake) and so fed it and then watched it grow, and how now it’s a massive ever-hungry beast about to ravage the world, and how I locked it up in my closet and am hoping it doesn’t kill me in the night.
So there you go 51, you rascal you. A tribute in your honor.
And there we go readers!
(Or at least those of you that lasted this long. If you have I am honestly surprised, so kudos to you. Are you bored? Or do you just like stalking other people’s writings as much as I do?)
That was a lot of words. A lot of heavy thingies and ranty thingies only to end in “im-sorry-this-is-not-a-call-for-beta-readers.” Instead it was everything you might have wanted to know about 51 and probably more in one huge incredibly long post.
As one might say, you have been drenched by this writer who loves rain and ramblings about stories.
Kermit = you
Log = wherever you are spending your happy little day
Freezing water = my blog post
Until next week!
~ evelyn ~