Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Category Archives: Shikigami

NaNoWriMo 2013 (2): After

The last 1500 or so words of NaNo this year have been dragging and slow. Yes, I am closing NaNo today, even if I have a couple of days left. This is the first year since 2009 that I only work on one story, and I guess I could even start something else right now and keep counting, but I don’t really feel up to such a thing. It would be just for two days and I have a couple of open things that need attention. I particularly want to go back to Kokeshi although truth be told right now I draw a blank regarding that one. But I am blaming on sleep deprivation XD

I have finished The Shikigami of Blood , clocking in at 86175 words according to the word processor, a few more according to the NaNoWriMo validation scheme. The timeline I had reworked previously this year has worked 99.99% well. I found two inconsistencies, both of them in The Shikigami of Night (book 5), and one of them was a note of “move this scene!!” right now, just after that comment I have another one reading “why did I want to move this, it fits awesomely for Blood. The other one was Azusa popping in Osaka when she was still in Beppu, but that can easily be cut away.

Writing-wise, here we have the stats for this year (like every year, click for bigger):
nano13endg

And here the comparison with the previous attempts:
nano13comp

Not bad for running on a few months-old timeline and without October work on it XD (never mind being ill and miserable for most of the month). It is the second most productive NaNo, wordcount-wise, but not story-wise, and not only because I only worked on one novel. Here’s a list of tasks that arise now:

  1. Life is going to need at least three more chapters after this (one of them was written in Power, but I’ll get to Power later on) and a complete change of the epilogue.
  2. Chance should get another couple of chapters too, towards the end, to cover the New Years party
  3. Power is going to be completely rewritten. While that part I had clear before, now I have an idea about how to get around to doing it
  4. Night and Trust will get minor adaptations. Especially Night needs a few POV changes
  5. All five previous books need a rework on the scene separation

Throughout Blood I took a complete re-evaluation of the Shirota Kyoko character, and I have found that I have enjoyed writing her – although a few times I feel I have been a bit repetitive on her thoughts, but it is a first draft, that should be polished later on. Her decisions towards her personal life surprised me, but I find now that they make sense, according to how her character has developed. It also helped explain Kwang Ho and their dynamics.

nano13winbanner I have really enjoyed revisiting the scenes that have a lot of different point of views – the rescue in Tokyo, the hospital scenes in Hiroshima and Osaka. Once again Kazuki has been the easiest character to write, but some others were very difficult to get in – like Hiro, who gets a lot of phone time, but little actual… being there.

Finally, character-wise, there is Terazuma. He will carry the responsibility of the second part of Power, as he will be the voice of the stranger, the newcomer. His background working for a more traditional yakuza family should work to underline how the Shirota manor and the Osaka Shikigami are “unique”. He should also provide explanations of the mechanics of the gang on a wider level than we had till now. You know why? Because good secretaries should be ruling the world.

All in all, finishing Blood has given me a huge feeling of “OMG so much work to do!!” rather than one of “OMG done, yay!!!” Story of my life XD

NaNoWriMo 2013 (1): Somewhere in-between

nano13-during It’s November again and even if I skipped the prep post, yes I am doing NaNoWriMo. This time, apparently, all the bacteria in the world seem to be tagging along. A very bad sinusitis (diagnosis #4) has left me with coughing, fever, headaches, face-aches, chest-aches and I will not go into the state of my nose nor the amount of tissues involved in my daily routine at the moment (as I write these lines I’ve fished out the last tissue on a pack of 100). I am in general feeling rather miserable. The first few days of NaNo when only coughing was involved went very, very well. Lately however, it’s hard to even concentrate on the screen, so productivity has plummeted down. I’m rather fed up with the situation and the illness, considering that I have been ill for seven weeks now.

Sinusitis aside, this year I am working on the final book of the Osaka Shikigami, The Shikigami of Blood. Take “final” with a grain of salt, though, as this will mean that at least one third of The Shikigami of Life will need rewriting for point-of-view consistency and continuity. When I started writing Life, I would have never expected it to become a series. The Shikigami of Blood wraps up the whole global look at the Osaka Shikigami gang, at least that is the idea I am working on.

Many things have changed, but probably the character of Shirota has been the greatest change. From a ‘token’ female that aimed to be a strong character to an actual strong female character. I should not be surprised though considering the transformation Okonogi Azusa from The Shikigami of Trust underwent. She has changed in the basics, my view on her – and accordingly, her views on the world – have switched, and her story has changed accordingly.

That being said, I have to mention that I am aware that the Osaka Shikigami universe is a very romanticised view on the yakuza. I think that Axis 95/11 is a more accurate, less idealised portrayal. If I were to just have to choose an adjective, I would say that it is much more brutal.

I enjoy the Osaka Shikigami verse though, although it drives me crazy sometimes too. It is like a puzzle to put together, and all in all is just one big story taken together into six volumes. I also have to say that I am very happy that Shirota turned out to be female in the end, but even when Blood is written, the story will be far from being done.

Let’s see what the future brings…

Osaka Shikigami Scenery

The Osaka Shikigami world is rooted in, quite obviously, Osaka. When I was there I took quite a few pictures of the area, and while a lot of them were recognisable landmarks, other were chosen specifically for writing reference. Here are a few of both. If some of the descriptions may look vague, it’s because saying more would end up in a spoiler:

First, this is how non-descript Osaka looks like. These are photographs of random suburbs taken from train stations, away from the touristic places:

This is the harbour area. I did write a yakuza fight in the docks’ warehouses, thus the first pic. The second… well, when I was there I knew that something had happened there but I still don’t know what (though I have my suspicions). It will have to do with Book 6 or with the revised Book 4 version:

The entertainment districts: Namba (難波) / Dōtonbori (道頓堀) on the first picture, and Shin Sekai (新世界) on second picture, showing the Tsūtenkaku Tower (通天閣) and Billy Ken, “The God of Things as They Should Be). If there is something that caught my attention about Osaka is the huge amount of wiring that goes over it, no matter where:

In the traditional Osaka side we have The Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings (Shitennō-ji, 四天王寺), which is a Buddhist temple with an attached graveyard, and many smaller shrines around. It is some sort of spiritual compound:

Finally, this is Osaka Castle, which has not really been featured, but shall be. Cause I’m the author and I say so XD Furthermore, the Las Vegas Samurai Casino featured in The Shikigami of Chance was remodelled to look like the main tower.

Rebuilding the Shikigami Timeline

If there is something that I’ve been putting back is working on The Shikigami of Blood. Part of the reason is that I dreaded checking the timeline, because I knew that The Shikigami of Life ran on a totally different timeline than The Shikigami of Night and The Shikigami of Trust, and The Shikigami of Chance might be kind of… odd. Surprisingly enough, the correlation is much better than expected, with only three Koreans in the Room (continuity errors) [link] for relatively minor events that will be eventually rearranged.

Something else that was keeping me from doing this was that I had not decided on an efficient method to rearrange the timeline – I do have a file, but at the moment it is rather… chaotic. Yesterday I decided that I would try with cards. I went over Life, Chance, Night and Trust and used little cards to write down the main events and all the scenes that featured Shirota. I worked on Life first, then added the events on Night, and finally the ones that I know have to happen in Blood. Finally I fit in Trust. I think that while the idea of “year” that I have in my head won’t work, the relative course of events is coherent.

That’s good at least XD

The next logistic problem was what to do with them, and I eventually glued them to my faithful notebook, with space for notes, and then built a new timeline file.

In case you are curious there are 79 cards, covering from about halfway Chance to the end of Trust. Blood starts a little bit earlier than Night, which sets the kickstart of Life about 1/4 into it.

I have been thinking about making a graphic timeline, but the problem with that is that the length span of the books is different – while Life happens in just a few months, Chance takes over a year. I’ve tried some timelining software, but in the end, I think the cards idea has been the most efficient one – at least, it is the method that has finally seen the timeline merged and reorganised!

Just don’t hope for the cards to be even and neat… I go for pragmatics, not pretty! (Read as: yeaaah, with all my hand-bones problems I could not cut straight with a pair of scissors if my life depended on it XD)

The Shikigami of Life: Back to the drawing board

When in November 2009 I finished The Shikigami of Life, I had absolutely zero clue what I had gotten myself into, and what was going to come from it. Maybe by April 2010 I was worrying by the sheer amount of characters popping up, and by that summer I knew I was doomed – Okonogi Kazuki had come into existence.

I had not expected under any circumstances to develop a series out of a not seed that was barely researched at all and built from movie and manga references, with just a tiny bit of Wikipedia reading. In summer 2012, almost a hundred of yakuza-related articles and a couple of books later, I tackled the task of rechecking the manuscript once again and go through an extensive editing (12 hours in a plane without much else to do helped the efficiency a lot, as I mentioned here [link]).

As I was editing, I became aware of more problems than I had thought in the beginning. Maybe not problems for a standalone, but as part of the series, The Shikigami of Life seriously lacks rounding. Characters that are key in later books are barely mentioned if they are lucky, and others plain did not even exist when the first version was finished. Furthermore, there is a POV problem – about one fourth of the book has a POV which is not Nao or Takuma’s; this presents a problem against the structure present in other books.

This was not too obvious on the part of the book that happens in Tokyo, except for one or two scenes, but is huge in the Osaka part. For now, thus, my strategy has been cutting out everything that is not Takuma and Nao’s bare story. Some scenes work for The Shikigami of Life changing the point of view, and others I am planning to rewrite completely. A few others will be rewritten and placed in The Shikigami of Blood.

For now I think I’ve pointed out every continuity error, and while a few have only been flagged and not corrected yet, and reworked most of the one-sentencers into coherent paragraphs, though a few stay. About… 1% of them, to be honest XD. I’ve also added a helload of verbs and reworked fragments into coherent sentences.

On the other hand, there are more than a few scenes to be added. At least two with Okonogi, one with Kyuuwa. I am not sure about how to add more references to the twins, but that should be in too. The introduction of Ima shall be moved from The Shikigami of Power into The Shikigami of Life, effectively adding a chapter and pushing the ending back. The epilogue will be completely changed and what is written integrated in The Shikigami of Blood eventually.

I think the result will be a significantly different book, even if the main story remains the same, and will fit in much better with the general universe – unfortunately, when the universe started growing the original timeline had to change for coherence’s sake, along with several planning errors (never mind the Korean In The Room [link]). Research has been and is being included – not an explanation but as background, or used to scratch a few impossible scenes out.

As you can see, I’ve been working out on a printed copy, and this has just been the first step: identifying the problems and fixing writing style. The next step is move this to the digital files and start solving the big continuity no-gos.

However, editing hurts my brain XD”. It really does, concentration is hard and I usually lack creative relief. Unfortunately, I need to focus on editing on non-writing periods, else I neglect the editing process in favour of the writing process. I am, nevertheless, satisfied with the work I’ve been doing on The Shikigami of Life and I will come back to working on it ‘soon’ in relative terms, probably this year after NaNo ^^

A few thoughts on how the trip to Japan has influenced my writing

Osaka: ShintennojiI am really surprised at how this trip has affected my writing, because it was not the way I was fearing.

Expectation: Myriad of established and new characters roaring to be written. Plotbunnies eating me alive. Continuous headache.

Reality:

  • Heat
  • One untitled short story inspired by an amazing evening in Swallowtails’ Butler Café
  • A complete trigger of Hyakki Yagyō (formerly Youkai), a story that has been for long in the back of my mind about an onmyōji / paranormal detective. Youkai was originaly devised as a background “drama script” for a fanfiction, but somehow it rooted. Later on I used it in a short story, were one of the main characters, a writer, was the creator of a story with the same background.
  • Sense of place and better understanding of the day-to-day Japanese culture, which includes:
    • Appreciating face towels
    • Realising the ratio of see-through umbrellas vs. regular umbrellas
    • Learning about money trays when you pay somewhere
    • Realising the amount of power transmission lines
    • The (usually) disposable humid napkin you’re given in every restaurant when you sit down to clean your hands before food
  • Glimpses of the not-daily Japanese culture observing a Matsuri
  • Lots of wondering about spirituality due to the behaviour of people in temples / shrines.
  • Anchorage of a great deal of Osaka Shikigami scenarios.

Osaka: Namba
This last point has been especially important, since after all the Osaka Shikigami is my biggest project at the moment, and also very obvious since I spent most of the 11.5 hours on the plane ride back editing The Shikigami of Life (Osaka Guardians, Book 1).

You may or may not know that I originally wrote Life as a standalone for NaNoWriMo 2009. It was not until March 2010 that the background boomed into a whole series. Thus, the first draft of Life needed a lot of retouching to (I seem to be in a list-mood today. Fun):

  • Fix the timeline. The general Shikigami timeline was built after writing Life, so some details don’t fit
  • Fix the Korean in the room, a blaring continuity error [link]
  • Fix smaller continutity errors or details that got amended in later books
  • Introduce background characters
  • Erase or rewrite most of the scenes from Shirota’s point of view to move them to The Shikigami of Blood
  • Add the scenes from Nao and Takuma’s points of view from The Shikigami of Power
  • Polish the writing style, getting rid of the brutal abuse of one-line paragraphs.

However, as I was editing the scenes (I got about 150 pages done) I realised that I was placing the actions in my mind. One striking example came when Nao went to buy a phone to call Osaka. Before he went to “a shop” and looked for “a quite spot” to talk. Now he headed towards Akihabara, and settled to talk by the stone bridge to the south. As promised, there will be pics soon. For now, this how the edit looks. I am sure my future self will hate her past self for the whole lot of smartass comments:

Shikigami Stamps!

My wonderful beta [link] handmade me an ink stamp of the Shikigami!

Shiki stamp

I put to good use as soon as I managed to find an ink pad, after all I have a few print outs for tomorrow’s plane ride.

Shiki stamp use all

Shiki stamp use closeup

Warning!

This is my new “continuity error” flag. It is a bit of a self joke, and actually has nothing much to do with Koreans, just with one Korean in particular. Here’s the story: halfway through The Shikigami of Life, back when it was only a standalone, I came up with the idea that my Strong Female Character’s bedroom was off-limits to any men. It was a fun and easy way to convey her authority, so I wrote it into the book.

Cool? Cool.

Not cool.

Because a few chapters before that I had already written her Korean bodyguard standing inside that bedroom. Whoops.

Big whoops. Especially when it escapes you on the first edit. And on the second edit. And on the third. And seems to be an insignificant detail, and your beta reader does not catch it. And you print the whole thing. And send it off to friends (who never noticed either, by the way. I’m good at hiding continuity errors?). And suddenly you’re looking up an unrelated scene for the next book and the Korean in the bedroom punches you in the eye.

Moral of the story? Be alert and beware of Koreans in the bedroom.

Unless of course you’re into Koreans and want to welcome them in your bedroom. But that is another tale.

Hanafuda Card Deck

Well, I finally got my hanafuda deck [link] out for some pictures as I promised here [link]. I was too lazy to take a picture of each card one by one, so I grouped them up by clubs or months. The goal of hanafuda is to match the cards in pairs, preferably with the highest number of points (yaku) available. You get extra points for bright (three or more 20-point-cards), ribbons/scrolls, animals, sakura-cup…

January Pine: 20 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

February Plum: 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

March Cherry Blossom: 20 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

April Wisteria: 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

May Iris: 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

June peony: 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

July Bush Clover: 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

August Chinese Silver Grass (Susuki) : 20 pts – 10 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

September Chrysanthemum: 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

October Maple: 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt

November Willow: 20 pts – 10 pts – 5 pts – 1 pt

December Paulownia: 20 pts – 1 pt – 1 pt – 1 pt

Bright Cards:

Rules seem to vary slightly from game to game, some people count the total number of points and add the combinations, and other just count the combos up.

Timewaster? Most probably, but it is a card game. Card games are not supposed to be much more than entertaining. Some of them are honest trades, like poker. Bonus points if you get the movie reference. Unless you live in Vegas or Macao, then I guess it’s a life-making trade.

Self-challenge for Blood: Get a hanafuda game in. Let’s see if I remember XD

Hanafuda 2.0

A while back I told you about Hanafuda Card Game (花札), which along with dice and pachinko is one of the games associated with yakuza. I posted pictures of my deck of cards, too [link]. I am not a games person, but I guess that the whole background of this makes me like it, and I was happy when I found a free game app for my smartphone.

This is the free hanafuda game that I play. It was created by Hidetoshi Hayakawa [link], using the hachihachihana (八八花) design, which is the same one that I have on my deck. You can upgrade to a different design, but I love this one anyway. It has one and two-player mode and on and off-line options. I play with the CPU offline, and sometimes I even win! And there is proof! Here are a few screen shots from different games, showing the pretty cards (this reminds me that I should not be lazy and put my cards out to take pictures and make a proper table. Meanwhile you can check here [link]):

There are lots of hanafuda games in the Japanese smartphone market, I can’t help but imagining a yakuza or two having a game in his phone. Betcha they even have strip-hanafuda version. Here is one of those Japanese games, Futari de Hanafuda (二人で花札, something like “Hanafuda for two”) by NHN Japan Corp. [link] that my lovely beta was kind enough to send to me. As much as I like the hachihachihana design, I have to admit I love the boar, which stands for the 10-point card in July (Clover Bush), you can see here that our boar is fighting the deer (October Maple 10-point card):

Anybody else plays hanafuda on their phones? I’d love some screenshots!